Setting the context:
- Several days ago, article by prime minister aide and son of Bangladesh PM Sajeeb Wazed Joy in the Diplomat claiming that all terrorists operating in Bangladesh were local and homegrown ABT and JMB, and not foreign trained ISIS. In his article appropriately named “Wave of Arrests Reveals Bangladesh Terror Threat Is Home-Grown. It’s not ISIS”, he defends the arrest drive by the government and claimed that opposition personnel were helping these ‘terrorists’, and this in his view showed that the 11,000 arrests (he tried to say they were around 8,000) were arrests of criminals and terrorists, even if they were of the opposition.
- On the same day, Professor Ali Riaz authored an article on Aljazeera named “Bangladesh: Islamist Militancy, Democracy Deficit and Where to Next?” Its main contentions were that the threat of terrorism was real in Bangladesh; that these were foreign terrorists of ISIS and AQIS, and not simply local as claimed by government. Moreover, the government’s undemocratic practices were leading to tightening the noose on the opposition parties and restricting and limiting their freedoms. The government has been lax on terrorism control, and has focused on political wrangling instead, trying to appease religious entities such as the Hefazat-e-Islam (HI) and keep quiet on the blogger deaths in order to maintain its image of being Islam friendly.
While Sajeeb Wazed Joy’s article is clear and precise as to its contentions, article by Ali Riaz needs a bit more understanding in light of events and context.
Sajeeb Wazed’s article can and should be understood from the point of view of the Bangladesh government. Hence the explanation is clear: there are terrorists whom we think are locals, there are locals (opposition people/figures) whom we think are terrorists. Cracking down on one means we are cracking down on both.
To put it bluntly, Ali Riaz has pulled a Bernard Lewis. State the facts. Do a critical analysis. Construct relevant identities, roles and narratives. In his article, Ali Riaz simply ignored the government’s role in recent violence in perpetrating crossfire deaths. He simply ignored that the war crimes trials are have been questioned due to their biasedness. He simply has constructed Jamaat as a political entity that the government has decided to rough over. Despite his cry for upholding of human rights, freedom of expression and the like, when it comes to vouching for political rights of parties like Jamaat to work in a multiparty democracy, Ali Riaz is hollow. He demands stricter action and crackdown by the government, not what he identifies as dewy eyed Islam friendly image by Bangladesh government. By constructing this narrative, the academic has created the illusion an opaque power relationship between religious parties and the government on equal terms. It is not. And shallow analyses like that of Ali Riaz will only exacerbate the woes of this highly unbalanced power relationship where the government has arrested thousands of unarmed and innocent opposition people and will likely continue to do so in the name of combating ‘terrorism’.
Points to be considered in the event of the Gulshan Attack:
Although one needs to be careful about getting too excited on this, there are reasons to be worried. Rumours of JMB, ABT, AQIS et al are not new in Bangladesh. The fact that they allegedly operate in Bangladesh are also not new. What is observable, however, is the following:
- According to an uncorroborated source from the Wikipedia page created by users right after the event, the hostage takers allegedly shouted down three demands over the din of the clashes during the crisis:
- The leader of JMB, Khaled Saifullah, should be released.
- The hostage takers are allowed to leave safely.
- The hostage takers’ mission to establish Islam should be recognized.
Aside from the obvious reference to the JMB (according to Bangladesh police sources of course, which may easily be unreliable or change seeing that the operation was forcefully attended to), the final demand is quite obviously out of place and strange. The words of the demand seem to have been put right into the mouth of the attackers for the media to catch and capitalize upon; we do not know if they have ever been said. This is a tactic similar to the one used by Fox news to highlight that the attackers allegedly said ‘Allahu Akbar’, a characteristic chant (stupid tactic if you ask me) which allegedly is the litmus test to place one in the category of the Moslem terrorist.
- The unprecedented scale of the media attention in light of the surge in public interest in terrorism, especially after the spate of ‘Islamic’ terror attacks in Europe and the US (latest being Orlando bar massacre) and the rise of groups like Daesh means that Bangladesh will not remain ever the same. Earlier Bangladesh usually only received a place in the media map for garments disasters.
- The increasingly encroaching role of India in Bangladeshi internal affairs in raising voice for anti-terrorism measures in Bangladesh is definitely cause to be worried about, especially when trust between Indian government and Bangladesh populace is at an all time low in light of Indian aggression at the mutual borders, choking up of river systems by India and uncensored support by India for policies of current government of Hasina, who is widely identified as an Indian government puppet in Dhaka.
- Acts of terrorism are sensational; they garner media attention, and help in creating public perceptions. They are also helpful is diverting attention. Puny details of which terrorist group was behind the attack yesterday surely would have paled in comparison to what the Awami League has done of the years: dubious role in Pilkhana tragedy, Motijheel massacre at Shapla Chattar in Dhaka, killings of hundreds of opposition students, workers, common people in the name of cross fire, inter and intra-party feud, human rights violations, etc., widespread documented rigging local and national elections, widespread imprisonment and torture, setting up of kangaroo trial courts and executing key opposition politicians, huge share market and other financial scams, endless corruption in all forms of government, the list seems endless.
But at the end of the day, these puny details of which terror group is responsible are the talk of the town, a testament to the unbelievable power of the media. How else could one explain the complete and utter lack of media or global outcry over the crossfire of three previously abducted university students at the hands of the police in the same night?
- Rita Katz of SITE intelligence claimed that that this was an attack by ISIS according to their own statement, something that the Bangladesh government vehemently denies. Bangladesh authorities have claimed its an attack by Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and as shown before, ‘have’ the evidence of their ‘demands’.Moreover, according to an analyst Mohammad Munshi, “Ansar-ul-Islam (Al-Qaeda affiliated) claimed responsibility for the attack in Gulshan on Twitter while ISIS did the same on its website Amaq. In other words, both groups are claiming the attack. While SITE posted the ISIS claim it did not do the same for Ansar-ul-Islam. Interestingly Twitter has shut down the Ansar-ul-Islam account … By the way ISIS also claimed responsibility for killing a Hindu in Jhenidha district yesterday. It seems different international interests are pushing the claims of their choice “ Three different opposite claims. Utter chaos.
- Gory ‘alleged’ photos of the victims of the attacks on internet appear intentionally, feeding a social media frenzy, allegedly released by ISIS according to SITE intelligence group. But if it was released by ISIS, then what about the BD government claim regarding JMB?
- OC Salahuddin was a loose end for the current government. He was transferred recently to Banani police station, after which he did not make the headlines again for notorious acts, a move which means that there was a fallout with someone higher up in the administration. His past crimes made him a liability for the government. He was killed. Lately, we know about the incident of police officer Babul Akhter, who has been subdued and resigned after the open assassination of his wife. I see a pattern. Do you?
The death of the two policemen will be used for a national outcry and more oppression. Conveniently, one of the dead policemen, OC Salahuddin of Banani thana police, was accused of numerous crimes against common people, including corruption and murder of people in custody and many questionable deaths of individuals in arranged crossfire incidents. Related authorities in the government will not have to worry about him anymore.
There will be more breakdown in law and order as police will execute more crossfire orders. Charges of terrorism will be used against political and non-political opponents alike. As David Bergman pointed out in a recent article, the death of bloggers and killing of an assortment of random people: priests, foreigners, minorities, etc. seemed highly random, and was clearly apolitical. Political assassination/killings would mean the death of administration officials or ruling party officials; hence its highly unlikely mainstream political parties, including Jamaat, were involved. The current killings could be and will be used for political gains by the government.
Control and influence of India in internal affairs of Bangladesh will strengthen in the foreseeable future, a rather natural consequence of India’s boorish nosy foreign policy influenced by the Nehru doctrine.
In this light, the groundwork being laid down for minority-majority strife is similar to that of recent events in Nepal. Recent events of Hindus being attacked and Muslims being incited (the case of the obstruction of Hindus to build Gandaria mosque in Dhaka and the resultant backlash is a good case study) in Bangladesh refer to attempts to incite ethnic tensions and hatred in order to destabilize the country and society.