The rise of militant Fundamentalism and Communal Persecution in Bangladesh

Shahriar Kabir 

One of the most recent reflections about rise of militant fundamentalism in Bangladesh is the attack on the police by “Jamatul Mujahidin”, in Khetlal Thana of Joypurhat district on August 14, 2003. The attackers injured seven policemen including an on-duty police officer. They also snatched away three rifles, some ammunition and wireless set from the police. This incident evoked strong reaction in the national dailies. From the follow-up news we come to know that this particular militant group has spread substantially across the country during the last two years.1

According to the report of Government’s Intelligence Branch, there are 11 militant groups active in Bangladesh. But the actual number of militant groups is more than the figure mentioned above. We know from newspapers that the number is at least 15.2 Though it is not clear since when these militants are operating, it is assumed that they started coming here in the ’80s. Actually after the attack on poet Shamsur Rahman in January 1999 by Harkatul Zihad,3 we came to know a lot about these sorts of militants activists from various newspaper reports.

Earlier Jamat-e-Islami and a few other religious political organizations declared some progressive persons as "Murtad". Amongst them are Prof. Kabir Chowdhury, poet Shamsur Rahman, poet and social activist Sufia Kamal and also a few other socio-cultural activists. And attack on poet Shamsur Rahman, on 18 January 1999 was the consequence of their pledges. After the heinous attack on the celebrated poet, 48 militants were arrested, among them there were two foreigners, one from Pakistan named Mohammed Sajid and the other from South Africa named Ahmed Sadek Ahmed. After the arrest, these two persons confessed in police custody that they had links with Osama Bin Laden. A police personnel said to Reuters by quoting Sadek that by that time Laden had sponsored him by providing taka 2 crore to develop the infrastructure of Madrasas (religious schools). There were 421 madrasas enlisted so far for receiving the money. (Dhaka, 28 January, Reuters)4
At that time leading dailies published series of news about Harkatul Jihad’s activities. It was reported that there are more than 15000 militant workers belonging to Harkatul Jihad; a few of them were also government officials. (The Daily Ittefaq, 24 January 1999). According to a leading English daily, ‘Harkatul Zihad’ has trained 25000 youths during the last 14 years in Chittagong. (The Daily Star, 28 January 1999)

After the four party alliance came to power in October 2001, the activities of the militants have been on the rise. Now the number of these groups is as many as five times more than during the earlier regime. Earlier there were only two or three militant groups known to be active in Bangladesh.

From the recent attackers den some important information came into light. Police recovered several books written by Golam Azam, leader of Jamat-e Islami, named "Islami Oikya Prochesta" (Endeavour for Islamic Unity), “Jamater Rukon” (Rukon candidates of Jamat), monthly report form of Jamat-e Islami Unit Organization, monthly magazine "Prithiby” and other documents. Among the confiscated books some are written by Maolana Masud Azhar, commander of Pakistan-based militant organization “Jaishe Muhammad”,5 such as “Shasatra Pahara”(Armed Vigilance), "Keno Zihad Korbo" (Why We’ll Crusade), "Zihader Chollish Hadis" (Forty Hadis of Zihad), “Jihader Artha Joy” (Meaning of Jihad is Victory), Monthly “Al Mujahid", dairy 2003 of “Islami Chattra Shibir” (Student front of Jamat-e Islami), etc. (Daily Sangbad, Bhorer Kagoj, Prothom Alo, 27 August 2003)

Like any other militant attacks, police initially showed alertness about this incident and arrested some culprits but gradually they became inactive because of pressure from certain influential quarters. At Khetlal though police arrested some militants, reports about the farcical way they were interrogated also came out in newspapers. A local police officer said to journalists¾ "Whenever we started asking questions to them, they uttered ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar’. As a Muslim what could I do then?" (Daily Sangbad, Ajker Kagoj, 20 August 2003)

Jamat-e-Islami, a major partner of the ruling coalition, often seems stronger than BNP, because a number of accused militants linked with Jamat-e-Islami are freed after being arrested or the case is deliberately made weak or investigation is stopped for ‘lack of evidence’. In February 2003 there was a bomb explosion in Panchagar of Dinajpur District. Those involved in the incident confessed their link with Jamat-e-Islami. This time also newspapers mentioned that those arrested in the incident of Khetlal for attacking police had connection with Jamat-e-Islami.6 As usual, leaders of Jamat-e-Islami denied any sort of involvement with these militants. Nowadays Jamat-e-Islami leaders even don’t want to acknowledge their anti-Bangladesh role in 1971. During the war they formed killing squads like Razakar, Al Badar, Al Shams and helped the then Pakistani occupation army to commit genocide and to violate women. Some of them also took part in the atrocities actively. By going through newspapers from 16 August (2001) to 31th August (2003), it is found that nobody from Jamat-e-Islami was arrested in connection with militancy. The administration does not seem to have enough power to arrest them. On August 18 (2003), ‘Bhorer Kagoj’ published a report under the heading "Activists of Jamat Shibir can kill with impunity "; it said " police can’t keep them under arrest because most of the accused are members of Jamat-e-Islami". On August 17, (2003) ‘Janakantha’ published a similar report under the heading of "Why are militants freed so frequently’’. On August 18, ‘Prothom Alo’ wrote, "Militants are allowed to go scot free". All the reports mentioned that militants are getting impunity because of their involvement with Jamat-e Islami.

During former government some militant fundamentalists were brought to book but now under this government they are enjoying all sorts of protection from the government. After coming to power this (coalition) government is playing the same-recorded tape ad nauseam that there are no fundamentalists in the four party coalition, and there are no fundamentalists in Bangladesh. They are not satisfied even with this. They are arresting those people who say that within the government there are fundamentalists even though some leaders of the four party coalition said earlier that they were followers of Laden and Taliban. Even in public meetings they chanted such slogan as ‘We are all Taliban, Bangladesh will become Afghanistan’. If the leaders of four party alliance openly utter such words, what can police do to those who attack on them or to the militants who are undaunted.

Home minister Altaf Hosaain Chowdhury said the attack on police in Joypurhat by Jamatul Mujahidin was an isolated incident. But the Minister in charge of the District said, "Jamatul Mujahidin is trying to overthrow the government. They can do anything (else)". (Sangbad, Bhorer Kagoj, 26 August 2003)

The objective of Islamic militants is to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh. They want to destroy all that is against Islam in their eyes. After the parliamentary election of 1 October 2001, non-Muslims are being systematically oppressed. The main opposition party Awami League has been added to the list of the oppressed along with members of the religious and ethnic minorities and secular-minded intellectuals. Those members of Hindu community, who cast votes for BNP in the last elections, even they are not spared from oppression. To give an example¾ one of the most highlighted incident of Purnima's family in Sirajgonj. Purnima, a minor girl was gang raped by the cadres of BNP. Purnima’s mother told the attackers that she voted for BNP, but she and her family members were not spared.

The four party alliance government headed by Khaleda-Nijami is always refusing to admit any communal violence in the country. They say the daily newspapers are publishing fabricated, distorted and exaggerated news. In the last 22 months, Hindu community members suffered so much that quite a number of them already compelled to leave the country.
Some think that the news of communal onslaught nowadays is less than before, so the communal situation has improved. But regular minority oppression is still going on, particularly in the remote areas. Newspapers don’t get all news of these incidents because:

(1) Victims know it is meaningless to file case against oppressors or some times apprehending more oppression they don’t go to Police Station. If any case of repression is not filed in Police Station, local journalists hardly pay heed to it.
(2) Those who go to Police Station to file cases are not received properly, especially in the case of rape.
(3) The gangsters of ruling political parties often attack the local journalists who send such news to newspapers and are harassed by the administration.
(4) If a minority family is repeatedly victimized, such news doesn’t come to newspapers as being monotonous.
(5) Those papers that once elaborately published the news of minority oppression, now don’t do that for fear of loosing government advertisement and sometimes because of pressures/ threats by government.

We investigated some largely minority populated areas and found that the nature of oppression had somewhat changed but it was still going on. It is true that now generally minority people are not oppressed physically but mental torture and extortion is still continuing. Now minority people are told: (A) It is a Muslim country, here non-Muslims can’t live. If they want to live they have to pay money and they won’t be allowed to apply their franchise independently.

Due to the influence of militant fundamentalists over political, social, economical spheres, our age old-tradition of communal harmony and humane values are on the verge of extinction. Our goal of independence could not be achieved for the gradual rise of fundamentalism by directly patronized by ruling parties. The rise of fundamentalism and communalism here in Bangladesh would affect other neighboring countries too. In our sub-continent all the fundamentalists¾ either Muslim or Hindu have same objectives; their target is to destroy secular democracy and to set up theology based government.
Now it is the high time to protect our country from pseudo-Islamization or Talibanization. We need to unite all secular minded persons & organizations to save the country’s sovereignty and to protect the spirit of independence. We should not forget that today the fundamentalists here are gaining strength taking the advantage of our weakness, that is discord among secular democratic forces. They are also getting support from Pakistan and some Middle Eastern countries. We, who believe in secular democracy can’t accept the rise of fundamentalism linked with terrorism by watching it like silent spectators.
We know that there are differences among the political parties in the matter related to gaining state power. The leftists themselves have different opinions on different issues within themselves, which is natural. But now we all should stand against fundamentalists not separately but unitedly like the 1971 war of liberation. In 1992 under the leadership of Jahanara Imam we united and rocked the base of fundamentalists, but we could not sustain the wave longer. Why we failed to keep that movement truly alive is a question. But if we waste our time by debating on these issues that would not bring any fruit.
Today’s round table discussion is an appeal to all the pro-liberation forces, especially political leaders, to come forward to protect our country from the clutches of anti-democratic, fascist, fundamentalist and communal forces. We have to fight against all kind of fundamentalism and communalism in order to preserve secular democracy and humane values, so that our coming generation can live in peace and enjoy equal rights, freedom, social justice and dignity in true sense.


Presided over by National Professor Kabir Chowdhury the round table discussion was attended by senior presidium member of Bangladesh Awami League and former Foreign Minister Abdus Samd Azad MP, Former water Resources Minister and Presidium Member of Awami League Abdur Razzak MP, President of the Communist Party of Bangladesh Monjurul Ahsan Khan, General Secretary of CPB Mujahidul Islam Selim, President of the Workers’ Party of Bangladesh Rashed Khan Menon, General Secretary of the Workers’ Party Bimal Biswas, President of Gana Forum and former Foreign Minister Dr. Kamal Hossain, President of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) Hasanul Haque Inu, President of Sammilita Samajik Andolon Ajoy Roy, President of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalist Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, President of Sammilita Sangskritik Jote Nasiruddin Yousuf, Presidium Member of South Asian People’s Union against Fundamentalism Communalism Prof. Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir, Convener National Committee for protection of Oil-Gas & Port Eng. Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah, Vice President of Nirmul Committee Prof. Muntassir Mamoon, General Secretary of Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council Prof. Neem Chandra Bhowmik, General Secretary of Women’s Voice Shamoly Nasrin Chowdhury, Economist Prof. Musharraf Hossain, Journalist Kamal Lohani, Prof. Hayat Mamud, Sculptor Ferdousi Priobhashini, Advocate Subrata Chowdhury and other socio-cultural & human rights activists.
 


Footnotes
1. For round table discussion (held on 3 September 2003) we collected news, editorials, and post-editorials from seven Bengali and English dailies from 16th August to 31st August. The number of items is 275. Besides there are hundreds of news items published on this issue in other newspapers. Those who were arrested in connection of Joypurhat incident said that their network covers Dinajpur, Panchagar, Thakurgaon, Rangpur, Bogra, Joypurhat, Gaibandha, Chapainabagonj, Rajshahi, Natore, Bagerhat, Jessore, Rajbari, Tangail, Jamalpur, Sylhet, Sunamgonj, Begamgonj, Chittagong¾ all together they are spread in 52 districts. They also informed police their main area of activities was Northern region. They usually depend on Madrasas, now the number of their activists are more than 5000 (Sangbad, 21 August2003)
2. Intelligence agencies enlisted 1) Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh, 2) Shahadat-e-Al Hikma, 3) Jamayat-e-Yahia Al Turat, 4) Hijbut Taohid, 5) Al Harakat Al Islamia, 6) Al Markajul -Al Islami, 7) Jamatul falyaa, 8) Taohidi Janata, 9) Biswa Islami Front, 10) Jummatul Al Sadat, and 11) Shahadat-e- Nubayut. (The Daily Janakhantha, 19 August 2003)
This list is incomplete because the largest organization of fundamentalists "Harkatul Zihad" is not in the list. Besides, 5 militants who were arrested in Sunamjgonj recently, are members of "Allahar Dal". Their target is to destroy people’s sovereignty and to establish sovereignty of Allah. (Bhorer Kagoj, 22 August 2003)
After the election of 2001 we have seen "Jaishe Mustafa Bangladesh”, a militant group bring out a procession in Dhaka. (AFP, 5 April, November3, 2003)
Regarding Osama Bin Laden and "Al Qaida" network in Bangladesh there are more than hundreds web sites.
3. 24 January 1999, The Daily Ittefaq reported using CID’s information that there are 28 enlisted poets, artists, cultural activists and intellectuals in the hit-list of "Harkatul Zihad".
4. During investigation Pakistani citizen Mohammad Sajid also informed police that he got Taka 2 crore (@US $ .5 million) and gave it to Bakhtiar who was arrested in Sirajgonj. Bakhtiar confessed to police that he distributed all the money in 421 Madrasas for training activists of "Harkatul Zihad". (WWW.saag.org/papers3/paper232.html)
5. Bengali texts of three books written by Maolana Masud Azhar were recovered from Mujahideens’ den. Supreme commander of Pakistan based "Jaish-e Muhammad" Masud Azhar first came to lime light in December 1999 after hijacking an Indian Airlines plane (IC814). The hijackers demanded freedom of this militant leader after hijacking the plane. Later Indian government was compelled to set him free. After being arrested in India, Masud Azhar said that he was born in Bahwalpur on July 10,1968 in Pakistan. His father was a blind supporter of Islam. From his student life he engaged himself with "Harkatul Mujahidin" and later went to Afghanistan to join Taliban. He came to Bangladesh by an Emirate flight in 1993. One Sajjad Afgani was with him. Later he went to Karachi and Sajjad Afgani to India. In January 1994 he again came to Bangladesh by using Portuguese passport to enter India. On January 29, he went to Delhi by Bangladesh Biman flight. He was arrested when he tried to go to Srinagar from Delhi. (WWW.stratmag.com/issue2nov-15/kargil-html)
6. The main accused of Khetlal incident Montejar was expelled from party as claimed by the leaders of Jamat, but according to newspaper reports he applied for the position of ‘Rukon’. Police doesn’t agree that there is a link between "Jamat-e Islami" and "Jamatul Mujahidin". But police admitted that they got the names of some Shibir's leaders and activists from the confiscated diary. They also found some leaflets of Abbas Ali Khan, former Amir of Jamat, letters & receipts of subscription collection. Besides, a lot of literatures of Jamat-Shibirs were also found.
The house used for training is owned by Mujahidin leader Montejar who is direcly linked with Jamat-e Islami. In the last February 2003 in Kalai Upazila of Joypurhat district, a procession was held under the leadership of Montejar. There he declared that whoever or whatever is related with anti Muslim activities, would be vigorously opposed. From Khetlal police recovered a letter to Montejar written by the district Amir of Jamat-e-Islami that prove Jamat's link with "Jamatul Mujahidin". (Bhorer Kagoj, 20 August 2003)

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 Shahriar Kabir is a writer and a human rights activist in Bangladesh; Member of Mukto-Mona.