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Over the past year there has been a rash of violence against pretty much anyone in Bangladesh who doesn’t subscribe to an extremely conservative view of Islam. “Atheist bloggers, liberal academics, gay-rights campaigners, foreign aid workers, and members of minority religious groups” have all found themselves on the receiving end of machete attacks
As CNN reported, the death toll in these attacks has passed 40.
Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and a number of local Islamist groups like Jamaatul Mujihadeen Bangladesh, have all claimed responsibility in some form or another.
Initially the Bangladeshi government appeared to be taking a frighteningly hands off approach to solving the crimes. Not only were they laissez faire in investigating the killings, but comments made by Bangladeshi officials hinted that their inaction could actually be an implicit endorsement of the violence.
“Why are they using these kind of languages against religious establishment? In our country, we do not allow these kind of languages. It is restricted by our law,” Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kahn said after the killing of blogger Nazimuddin Samad.
And comments from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina following a related spat of murders in April were less than confidence inspiring.
“I don’t consider such writings as freethinking but filthy words. Why would anyone write such words? It’s not at all acceptable if anyone writes against our prophet or other religions,” she said.
The limp wristed response to the killings prompted some to suggest that a bigger problem could be rising.
In April I wrote that:
“The situation in Bangladesh reeks of a weak government, and IS and Al-Qaeda have both demonstrated a frightening ability to establish a foothold and seize power in Muslim majority countries where instability runs rampant. A bird’s eye view of the political situation in Bangladesh reveals a brewing tempest.
It is not outside of the realm of possibility for either Al-Qaeda or IS to bring local Islamist groups together under a unified flag and set their sights on seizing power in Bangladesh. For the Hasina administration Iraq and Syria should serve as case studies for what can happen when terror organizations take advantage of instability.”
And this week, CNN’s Ravi Angwal shared similar concerns.
“Bangladesh could become — or could already be — a battleground for a proxy war between ISIS and al Qaeda. The motive and payoff is clear: a foothold in a country with the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population. It also shares a border with an even bigger prize in India.”
I’m not certain what caused the change of heart, but it seems authorities in Bangladesh have finally woken up and smelled the shami.
As Al Jazeera has reported:
“In recent weeks, police have launched a crackdown on alleged “Islamic militants”, in response to a wave of violence against atheist bloggers, liberal academics, gay-rights campaigners, foreign aid workers, and members of minority religious groups.”
This week, a man named ‘Sharif’ also known as ‘Hadi’ was killed in a gun fight with police in Bangladesh.
Sharif had been wanted in connection with the 2015 murder of writer Avijit Roy. Sharif’s death came one day after the death of Golam Faizullah, who was accused of killing a Hindu. Authorities alleged that Faizullah was a member of a group planning to establish an Islamic state in Bangladesh.
For the sake of Bangladesh’s own peaceful future it is imperative that this crackdown continue. The world has seen what happens when the rise of radical Islamic groups is allowed to go unchecked, and the end result is a nightmare.
By putting rhetoric aside and pursuing those who would kill innocents in the name of religion, the Bangladeshi government has taken a step in the right direction. Not only has Bangladesh struck a blow in favor of free speech, freedom of religion, and gay rights, but they have sent a message that extremist Islamic groups will not ‘establish a foothold’ within their borders.
This contributor is a Marine veteran that has served in the Middle East. Due to the sensitive nature of his current job, he has requested to remain anonymous.