“The End of Bin Laden”: What’s happening in Bangladesh?

Blog entry posted 05.18.2011 in Bangladesh
“The End of Bin Laden”: What’s happening in Bangladesh? (Photo: Time Magazine)

With the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, the Islamists of Bangladesh did not react as much as the leaders in other Islamic countries. So I became interested in finding out why there was such calm in Bangladesh which is also a predominantly Muslim country. 

In the aftermath of the 9/11 Twin Towers bombings, in the war on terrorism, Bangladesh joined the U.S.-led coalition to fight international terrorism and offered the United States the use of its airspace, ports and other facilities though some radical Islamic groups urged the government to withdraw from the coalition. In October 2001, about 10,000 Muslims held anti-U.S. protests and chanted, “Don’t kill the innocent civilians in the name of striking down terrorists.” Some protesters carried posters of Osama bin Laden and chanted, “Bravo Laden, You are the hero,” while others burnt effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush (Bangladeshi Muslims hold anti-U.S. protests, Reuters News, October 19, 2001).

Bangladesh soon came to the world’s limelight when journalist Alex Perry, in his internet article, Deadly Cargo, mentioned that some 150 members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda entered Bangladesh on the night of December 21, 2001 with MV Mecca. They arrived in Chittagong with boxes of ammunition and AK-47s. Perry’s report was widely disputed by the Bangladeshi government officials. Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shamser Mobin Chowdhury stated, “The contents of this article are categorically denied by the government of Bangladesh. It is totally fictitious and [a] figment of someone’s imagination.” He added, “There is nothing substantial in the article, which is based mostly on unnamed sources. It is irresponsible and malicious and the people of Bangladesh will end up suffering from this” (Bangladesh calls Time magazine article on militants ‘fictitious,' Associated Press Newswires, October 16, 2002).

On Alex Perry’s article, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mary Ann Peters promptly remarked that Bangladesh was “certainly not a hotbed of radical Islam” and that there was no evidence to support allegations made in the article that Bangladesh was “a haven for hundreds of jihadis.” Ms. Peters added, “Nor is the Embassy aware of any basis for the story that a ship called MV Mecca dropped off a large al-Qaeda group in Chittagong last year.” Ambassador Peters said that the Bangladesh government was a staunch member of the international coalition against terrorism (Bangladesh not a hotbed of radicals, The Independent (Bangladesh), October 21, 2002).

A couple of years later, another article by Aravind Adiga, State of Disgrace, pointed out the alarming rise of violence in Bangladesh. It reported that, since the beginning of 2004, about 971 people had been killed. The Hindus in Bangladesh, who constituted about 10% of the population of the predominantly Muslim nation, were increasingly being intimidated by gangs of Islamic fundamentalists attacking their homes and extorting ransoms from them. With the brutal attack on an academic Dr Humayun Azad, an outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism, in 2004, many intellectuals believed that they could also be systematically targeted by Islamic radicals because they advocated secularism and tolerance. 

Finally, on August 17, 2005, about three hundred bombs exploded simultaneously throughout Bangladesh. The Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin (Party of Holy Warriors, JMB) is alleged to be behind these bombings. The group advocated the replacement of the secular and democratic system of Bangladesh by imposition of Shariah law:

In a Muslim country there can be no laws other than the laws of Allah … The Quran or hadith [examples from the Prophet’s life] do not recognize any democratic or socialist system that is enacted by infidels and non-believers … [We] reject the constitution that conflicts with Allah’s laws and call upon all to abandon the so-called election process and run the affairs of state according to the laws of Allah and the traditions of the Prophet (Cited in Maneeza Hossain,  The Rising Tide of Islamism in Bangladesh).

There are 36 extremist organizations in Bangladesh, of which six have been banned. In 2005 Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin was banned. Harkatul Jihad al Islam (HuJI), which received funding, training and political support from Al Qaeda, was also banned (see Understanding 12 extremist groups of Bangladesh). Since the overt supporters of al-Qaeda have been outlawed, there was no reaction on the death of bin Laden in Bangladesh. A similar situation has been observed in Pakistan.

In Bangladesh, however, other Islamist events against women’s rights are taking place. On April 3, 2011, the IOJ called for a day-long Hartal (strike), which meant that all shops, businesses and educational institutions had to be closed. The strike was called in protest at the Cabinet approval of the National Women Development Policy 2011; this provided equal shares for women in property as well as equal opportunities for employment and business. The IOJ called the Hartal because it claimed that the policy violates the principles of the Quran. Protests against the policy have turned violent with demonstrators vandalizing government cars and buses.

Child marriage is another social problem in Bangladesh. Some parents continue this practice for their own benefit, and some Islamists advocate it in the name of Islam. The current (Awami League) government in Bangladesh has taken several measures to ensure better rights for women and thus treat child marriage as a severe offense. The Islamists, however, have allegedly threatened the government saying that they would “wage jihad in the country if the government will pass any law banning child marriage.” The Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) Chairman Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini further said, “Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women” (see Islamist leader threatens of waging Jihad).

In the midst of the slogans against “women rights,” came the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Mufti Fazlul Huq Amini said it did not bother him if the US has killed bin Laden. Mufti Amini commented, “All these are their issues. I do not bother about it." The government of Bangladesh commented that it was a major development in the global war on terror. The Foreign Ministry media release stated, “Bangladesh values its partnership with the international community in the global effort to root out terrorism and will continue its efforts toward that end regionally, internationally and multilaterally."

Immediately after the news of the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. forces, the Bangladesh government heightened security to “high alert” for the protection of all westerners, especially diplomats and citizens of the United States and Britain. The church leaders in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines hoped that there would not be any repercussion against the religious minorities in the region.

“Security” has been the operative word since the 9/11 Tragedy. Bangladesh and India agreed to combat cross-border terrorism, which meant they would closely work together on issues of Indian and Bangladeshi insurgents hiding in these countries. However, mutual cooperation does not seem to be working. It appears that Indian security people are implementing a “shoot-to-kill” policy in the cross-border area. With regards to Indian atrocities on the innocent Bangladeshis, Brad Adams wrote in The Guardian

Over the past 10 years Indian security forces have killed almost 1,000 people in the border area between India and Bangladesh, turning it into a south Asian killing fields…so far, no one has been prosecuted for any of these killings, in spite of evidence in many cases that makes it clear that the killings were in cold blood against unarmed and defenceless local residents. 

New Delhi has finished building a 2,000 km fence along the border of Bangladesh in order to stop illegal immigration, smuggling and infiltration, but it is alleged that the (Indian) Border Security Force (BSF) has continued “a shoot-to-kill policy,” even against unarmed local villagers. The New York-based Human Rights Watch group, in its 81-page report: Trigger Happy: Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border, revealed, “The BSF - responsible for guarding against extremists, drug and weapons smugglers and human traffickers - is instead using its muscle to detain, torture and kill with impunity…while authorities [the BSF] say the suspects were killed in self-defense or for evading arrest, the Human Rights Watch said they found no evidence in any death it documented that the person was engaged in any activity that would justify such an extreme response.”

As the world rejoices at the demise of “the king of terrorists,” Osama bin Laden, the Bangladeshi government and international community should now evaluate the excessive force that is being employed by the Indian Border Security Force against innocent civilians in the Bangladesh-India cross border area, and the issue of women’s rights (Islamists protest against child marriage) should also be given due consideration.