Bangladesh has always prided itself on its religious tolerance and secularism. In fact, the country is a shining example where Islam has coexisted with democracy. However, all that is changing fast with the rise of religious fundamentalism in the country. There is growing violence against minorities (religious and sexual) as well as authors and bloggers expressing contrarian views about religion and freedom of expression.
The recent murder of a Hindu tailor Nikhil Joarder by Islamist militants on the unsubstantiated charges that he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad has sent shock waves through the Hindu community. Over the past three years more than 20 people, including Hindu and Muslim bloggers, academics, foreigners and religious minorities, have been killed.
The father of murdered blogger Avijit Roy has claimed that the government "silently supports" attacks on bloggers...
Earlier this year, machete-wielding radicals brutally murdered Rezaul Karim Siddique, professor of English, at Rajshahi University, Bangladesh on the specious charge that he was propagating atheism in the campus, a claim vehemently denied by his daughter and colleagues at the university. Siddique is the fourth professor of the university to be murdered by Islamist militants. It is alleged his murder may have been motivated by his involvement in organizing cultural events, especially the founding of a musical school in Bagmara, a bastion of outlawed Islamist group Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Culture, especially music, is considered un-Islamic and is anathema to ideologues.
The JMB and other groups claiming allegiance to the Islamic State have not only targeted non-Muslims, but also Muslims who do not subscribe to their ideology. For instance, Muhammad Khizir Khan, the former chairman of the Bangladesh Power Development Board and a religious instructor on Sufism, was slaughtered (Sufis are seekers of truth through love and devotion). Foreigners have also been targeted. While Italian US Aid worker Cesare Tavella and Japanese investor Kunio Hoshi lost their lives, Italian . priest Piero Parolari survived a shooting attack.
The spate of ideological murders is an assault on Bangladesh's secular principles.
Many of the bloggers, publishers and writers who have found their names in the hitlist released by the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) have either fled the country or gone into hiding in fear for their lives. The father of murdered blogger Avijit Roy has claimed that the government "silently supports" attacks on bloggers who, like his son, fight for freedom of expression and against state censorship. PEN America, an advocacy group promoting freedom of expression, in a scathing attack on the government has issued a statement that "The persistent failure of the Bangladesh Government and the international community to better protect threatened thinkers has created a climate of fear and direct threat to free thought in the country."
Even as the people of Bangladesh live in fear of "machete terrorism", the government's lukewarm response has only emboldened radical groups such as the ABT and JMB that specifically target bloggers, writers and publishers striving to defend the civil liberties of Bangladeshis.
The government's inaction will embolden such groups to carry out more such attacks and become vehicles for terrorist organizations such as ISIS to spread their tentacles in the region.
The spate of ideological murders is an assault on Bangladesh's secular principles. The complicity of the Sheik Hasina government is being increasingly questioned. Every time, a crime of this nature occurs, she lays the blame squarely on Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by her bête noir Begum Khalida Zia. Many analysts believe the police are not taking the investigation seriously because of Ms Hasina's comments, which include criticism of the atheist bloggers for sullying the image of the Prophet.
The time has come for the Bangladesh government to launch an all-out attack on the members of AMT and JMB, before the situation spirals out of control. It is also surprising that, except for newspaper reports, countries such as the US, UK and India have remained largely silent on the issue. It is time that they bring pressure on the government to act against the perpetrators of such crimes. The government should realize that its inaction will embolden such groups to carry out more such attacks and become vehicles for terrorist organizations such as ISIS to radicalize youth and spread their tentacles in the region.