The Pulse

Bangladesh’s Terrorist Problem

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The Pulse

Bangladesh’s Terrorist Problem

A string of recent attacks against liberal writers demonstrate that the country is also struggling with an extremist fringe.

Bangladesh’s Terrorist Problem
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Sarah

Terrorism has claimed one more life in Bangladesh. The brutal killing of the publisher Faisal Abedin Deepan last Saturday is a shocking reminder to the people Bangladesh that the country is still at war against the Islamic extremist forces after forty five years of independence.

Deepan was the publisher for the expatriate Bangladeshi blogger, Avijit Roy, who was killed in February 2015 on the campus of Dhaka University while on a visit to Bangladesh in order to launch his latest book . Two more publishers were also targeted on Saturday, but both of them survived the attack. In total, four bloggers and one publisher have lost their lives so far in 2015.

The recent killing has caused a backlash throughout the country. People have been pouring onto the streets to protest against the government unwillingness to act. They also burned copies of the book to decry the violence against the writers. Since Saturday, protests have been going on in different parts of the country by people from all parts of Bangladeshi society.

This conflict between Bangladeshi liberal forces and religious extremists is not new. In large part, it is the legacy of the Liberation war of 1971, when the Islamic extremist group Jamaat-e-Islami, with support from Pakistan, staged a concerted attack against the liberal segments of the country for demanding secession in the name of Bengali nationalism and secularism. Despite their defeat, which resulted in Bangladesh’s independence, the extremist forces could not accept the birth of a nation which considered itself Bengali first and Muslim second.

“I feel that this is a war against the 160 million people of Bangladesh,” says Imran H. Sarker, a prominent activist and the convener of the Bloggers’ Association of Bangladesh. He believes that “the war Jamaat-e-Islami declared against Bangladesh in 1971 in the name of Islam is still ongoing.”

In an interview with the Diplomat, he adds that “people are very frightened due to the brutality of extremist forces. But we are not going to leave the country. The liberal voices are not going to be cowed by the extremist groups.”

However, Saturday’s killing has affected the morale of Bangladeshi liberal bloggers. Some of them have gone underground and switched off their mobile phones.

“It’s true that bloggers are in a state of shock,” says Arif Jebtik, a prominent blogger who is on the list of eighty online activists who are on the target list of the extremists. “I have been trying to get in touch with some of them but they are not reachable.”

He blames the government for “not protecting secular writers.” “Bangladesh cannot be the mirror image of Pakistan. Bangladesh has a Muslim population, but it’s also a liberal and secular country. We cannot allow the soul of the nation to be destroyed by reactionary forces,” he adds.

Dhaka-based journalist Shehab Suman says that “this is a silent war against freedom of expression in the country.”

Besides the attack on bloggers and publishers, the country has also witnessed two attacks on foreigners and a bomb blast at a Shia mosque in recent weeks.

At the heart of all these attacks has been a concerted attempt to change the character of the youngest nation in South Asia. Since 1971, extremist groups have been trying to increase their influence throughout the country but have not been able to gain widespread support.

Recently, these actors have become more proactive in trying to undermine the secular nature of the Bangladeshi state. The question that many citizens are asking themselves is whether Bangladesh will turn into another Pakistan, where people are frightened to exercise their freedom of speech and where murder is accepted as long as it is carried out in the name of Islam.

The country cannot avoid these questions. The very fact that hundreds of thinkers, writers, publishers, and students are holding demonstrations across the country shows that liberal voices are determined not to cede any ground to Islamic terrorism.