19 July 2016

Ignorance kills: Bangladesh terrorism is a product of government denial


Twenty people were killed in the July 1 terrorist attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadliest terror attack in Bangladesh’s history. However, the Dhaka cafe massacre’s more immediate roots lie in a crisis of political legitimacy and the stance on religion.

The aftermath of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack has raised questions about the way the government has been dealing with the undeniable presence of Jihadists and religious extremism.

Bangladesh’s constitution has adopted secularism as one of its main principles since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971. However, because the majority of Bangladesh’s population is Muslim, Islam influences all levels of government. As an example, Bangladesh’s High Court rejected a petition brought by secular activists challenging Islam’s status as the country’s official religion within two minutes of the court hearing.

Following this court hearing, numerous atheist bloggers and secular publishers were killed. Instead of prosecuting the murderers, the government instead called on bloggers to refrain in their use of free speech. As a result, many bloggers and even citizens wishing to exercise freedom of expression have fled the country or gone into hiding.

These deaths should have been a wake-up call to the government of Bangladesh that the rise of extremism and Jihadists in the country was heading into troubled waters. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina dismissed the warnings, saying the attacks were a conspiracy by the political opposition to harm her government. Ms. Hasina was determined to avoid connecting the events in Dhaka with extremism in her country, calling on “everyone to unite against these handfuls of criminals” — not radical Islamists or the Islamic State.

“To our knowledge, as such today IS has not been involved in the recruitment of militants, or any militant activities within the boundaries of Bangladesh,” says Hasanul Haq Inu, the country’s information minister.

This has invited the more gradual growth of the Islamisation of Bangladeshi politics – a perfect opportunity for ISIS to make their mark.

Undeniably, the Sheikh Hasina Government’s counter-terrorism policies will be under international pressure now.

“I think all of us will have to be united against terrorism and militancy to establish peace and security and free Bangladesh from terrorism and militancy,” Ms Hasina said.

Security in restaurants has been tightened after the recent attack and the free-to-air channel Islamic TV is to be banned as a result of the attacks amid fears that hardline views on the channel could radicalise the youth of Bangladesh.

The USA , Russia and India have all extended their hands to Bangladesh by offering to strengthen their security after the Gulshan attack.

But alas, Bangladesh has ignored the presence of terrorism in the country – ISIS has already marked their territory. Delayed government action has been the root of the growth of terrorism in Bangladesh. Dhaka will not escape the global reach of Islamic extremism by sticking its head in the sand.

Ilma Amin is a Mannkal Foundation scholar based in Australia.