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Home  Worldwide  Bangladesh  January, 2005  Living dangerously
Living dangerously

The Daily Star
Vol. 5 Num 242Sat. January 29, 2005

Front Page

News Analysis
Living dangerously

Inam Ahmed and Zayadul Ahsan

Lies, half-truths and propaganda — that are what we are living through now.

No-one can say exactly what has been happening, but everyone fears about where Bangladesh is heading for. The death of SAMS Kibria has once again made it clear what can happen to a country when the government is in a self-denial mode, when lies are concocted to bury the truth, when propaganda is woven to protect the perpetrators and when truths are told halfway to lend meaning to meaning.

They all create a dangerous living. And we are living one right now.

The story began long ago when bombs were thrown on a Udichi function in Jessore killing 10. Later, when a bomb was found at Gopalganj where the then prime minister Sheikh Hasina was scheduled to visit, the motive became much clearer. It is reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had investigated the incident and pointed fingers at Harkatul Jihad. A bomb factory was unearthed at the house of Harkatul Bangladesh chief, Mufti Hannan, who has since been on the run. Then again, during the Awami League regime, when US president Bill Clinton visited Bangladesh, his trip to Manikganj was cancelled because of threats from Islamist militants. The signal was very clear. And as usual, the Awami League was then on a denial mode like the BNP is now. So, nothing happened. Slogans were chanted on the capital’s streets by religious bigots proclaiming that they would all become ‘Taliban and turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan’ and the Awami League government limited its actions to blaming the BNP for instigating fundamentalists into taking to the streets. Then everything was pushed under the carpet, believing this would clear the air.

The picture later became even grimmer, more brutal and clearer. Soon after the 2001 general elections and the formation of a coalition government with two fundamentalist parties as partners, the militants gained more power and courage.

Minorities, specially the Hindus, and Awami League supporters were attacked and their property looted. The Daily Star ran detailed reports on the incidents, which were not accepted by the new government led by BNP, flushed with new confidence of a two-thirds majority.

The Ahmadiyyas were the bigots’ next target. They wanted Ahmadiyyas to be pronounced non-Muslims in the fashion of Pakistan. They wanted their books to be banned. And the government half-entertained their wishes by banning Ahmadiyya books and thus acknowledging them as a cognizable force in the society, no matter how perverse their demands are.

In even more sinister developments, arms flowed freely into the country, not in ones or twos, but in bulks, trucks-full and in dangerous counts. Other than the media, no body seemed to care. Probes were dragged into nothing, while the gunrunners remained happily shielded. And then different Islamist groups popped up sporadically across the country — al Baiyenat, Harkatul Jihad, Jamiatul Mujahideen, Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, Hijbut Tawhid and so on. But their existence, except for Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, which was later banned, was routinely denied. In Joypurhat, one of these groups, Jamiatul Mujahideen, vowing to carry out an Islamic revolution, even fought with police and their den was busted. But then nothing else was done. Even before this group surfaced, a number of groups had been arrested in Rajshahi division. In Borguna, 36 militants were arrested at a mosque with documents showing they want to capture power by gun muzzle. As international focus fell on these groups, more denials came to counter them.

Progressive intellectuals were targeted. The country’s eminent poet Shamsur Rahman came under attack by Harkatul militants.

The attack on Professor Humayun Azad, who was always vocal against the fundamentalists, became an eye-opener for all, but not for the government.

The pattern of such attacks became clear when cinemas were bombed in Mymensingh and Satkhira, New Year celebration of Chhayanaut was bombed in Dhaka and Jatras were bombed in Natore, Sherpur and Jamalpur. Instead of going for the real culprits, a number of intellectuals including Dr Muntasir Mamun and Shahriar Kabir were detained and implicated in the bombings. A journalist and political secretary to Hasina, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, was also implicated in the case.

Then came the fateful August 21. Grenades were hurled on an Awami League rally in the capital with a clear intention to eliminate the party’s top leadership. After a few days of bewilderment, genuine concern and embarrassed silence, the government once again resorted to construed lies and propaganda. The blame was once again thrown on Awami League itself.

More alarming was the formation of a so-called judicial probe body that came up with its own interpretation of the event based on guesswork and wishful thinking, blaming an unnamed country for the attack with the ‘aim to put in place a puppet government with the backing of a section inside the country’.

The government did not bother to identify the ‘foreign country’ or the ‘section’ behind it. For such a major ‘conspiracy’, the reaction of the government seemed to be too soft. Whenever someone was caught with a bomb or grenade from time to time, they were linked to the grenade attacks on an ad hoc basis. This further added to the overall confusion.

Then came the infamous Bangla Bhai episode with the rise of an Islamist outfit in the northern region. With blessings of a section of ministers and lawmakers, the self-proclaimed revolutionist carried out his handiwork — killing of people and clamping down his own version of Islamic laws — unabated. He even made advanced announcements of killings of so-called outlaws and carried out the crime 24 hours later. Police waited until the ‘verdict’ was executed and then entered the stage to collect the bodies. The media reported his activities and published his interview with pictures. But the government was bent on making the picture even muddier. The police denied the existence of him and his organisation. The home ministry said he simply does not exist and even the prime minister, after issuing an order for Bangla Bhai’s arrest, said no-one called Bangla Bhai exists. But vexing is the fact that the same police now say there indeed is someone called Bangla Bhai.

Where do then the people stand? How should we read the situation? Is it that the Islamists have finally started their war? And very naturally the Awami League has become its first target? Because, whatever the Awami League stands for, the Islamists still consider it as the main obstacle to their way to take control of the state mechanism.

Or is the motive something else? Something that is more political, with a sinister edge of militant Islamist intention? The strings of attacks on the Awami League leadership has certainly shaken the party to its very roots. It is obvious that no Awami League leader is now safe from these killers.

The spate of killings of AL leaders has definitely greatly reduced the party’s capacity to undertake organisational preparations for the next election. Political observers are speculating on the impact of these killings on the opposition’s capacity to mount a serious challenge to the ruling coalition.

But who stands to gain by this? Certainly not democracy.

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