January 05, 2016

Bangladesh: Time for comprehensive plan against religious extremism (Edit, New Age)

New Age, 31 December 2015, Editorial
Time for comprehensive plan against religious extremism

TWO globally important countries issuing security alerts for their citizens staying in Bangladesh, in 48 hours, is something that should be taken seriously. The US embassy in Dhaka issued the alert, posted on its web site on Monday, warning of ‘possible attacks’ on hotels and clubs on the occasion of New Year’s Eve celebrations and advising US citizens to avoid large crowds and crowded places during their travel. The United Kingdom also updated its travel alert the same day asking its citizens to stay careful and take appropriate security precautions during their movement. The US government issued another travel alert in September, which preceded the September 28 killing of an Italian aid worker in Dhaka and the October 3 killing of a Japanese citizen in Rangpur. Moreover, the attempt on the life of a pastor of a church in Pabna and the gory bomb attack on a Shia Muslim procession in the capital took place after the travel advice. All this has been referred to just to suggest that the government should take the latest US security message seriously. In September, the government not only ignored the message but also even heavily criticised the US administration for it. It also ruled out the claims made by the Islamist outfit IS of perpetrating the murders of the Italian and Japanese citizens and the attack on the Shia procession.
It is important to note that attacks allegedly by Islamist extremists on different religious minority people and installations still appear far from over. Just a few weeks ago, that too in a short span, attempts were made on the lives of an Italian missionary doctor and a member of ISKCON and a Hindu temple was bombed in Dinajpur. Earlier, unnamed assailants fired into people at a Shia mosque during Friday prayers in Bogra. An Ahmadiyya mosque at Baghmara in Rajshahi recently came under a reported suicide bomb attack. Needless to say, while all the attacks were blamed on the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, an Islamist group that hit the headlines by exploding bombs in a few minutes in all but one districts, the IS has already claimed in its mouthpiece Dabiq to have links with the outfit. But, the government has continued to deny the existence of IS in the country on all the occasions.
It cannot be denied that contrary to the spirit of the independence war in 1971, extreme poverty, the yawning rich-poor divide, coupled with the ideological bankruptcy of the mainstream political parties and subsequent authoritarianism have created a situation which provides a breeding ground for extremism, religious and otherwise. The growing tendency of the incumbents to establish virtually a one-party rule in the country trampling all democratic spirits and norms, on the one hand, and seeking to eliminate the political opposition, in particular, on the other, further contributes to the situation. Under the circumstances, the government would be well advised to make a course correction and take initiatives to build up a national unity to successfully fight religious extremism based on genuine democratic polity. Besides, the social and economic policies of the state must be based on the concept of democratic equality of the citizens. Such a comprehensive programme side by side legal action remains to be the only solution.