The Spread of ISIS and the Dilemma Bangladesh Faces

Bangladesh has started to face a problem that many other countries have unfortunately faced: radical extremism by organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS. The situation has been exacerbated by a trial that the government conducted and violent attacks by political parties on minorities, the media, and foreigners.

In 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League, instituted the International Crime Tribunal to bring responsibility to those who conducted crimes in the 1971 War of Independence in which “three million people were killed and 200,000 women raped”. While dozens were tried and convicted of war crimes with two executed, the problem was that they all came from the same party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). The executed men were leaders of JeI, including former leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, executed on May 11, 2016.

During the 1971 War of Independence, the JeI actually supported remaining with Pakistan. The party’s student wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) / Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), was accused of committing war crimes, having death squads that “are alleged to have killed several prominent progressive intellectuals and activists during the war”.

The HAF (Hindu American Foundation) has accused the JeI as trying to “create a Taliban style regime in Bangladesh”. The organization has also been accused of being “the most powerful Islamist group in the country and has been the ideological center and recruiting base for several terrorist groups”. According to the HAF, the party has committed crimes, such as:

     Setting off homemade bombs during riots

     Persecution of Hindus. Before and after the recent elections, “495 Hindu homes were damaged, 585 shops were attacked or looted, and 169 temples were vandalised since November 2013”.

     Launching political assassinations of officials and supporters of the Awami League

These attacks started off small yet brutal, many targeting secular bloggers, foreign expatriates, and Muslim officials who disagreed with their beliefs. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, yet the government denied that the Islamic State was in the country. In the past, it has “blamed violence on political opponents and an “international conspiracy” to destabilize the country”.

In the most recent and deplorable attack, gunmen held dozens hostage at the Holey Artisan Bakery in the capital city of Dhaka. In that brutal attack, 28 people were killed, including six attackers and two police officers. The attack was condemned around the world, and yet, the Bangladeshi government has refused to publicly acknowledge that the Islamic State is in the country. Interestingly enough, diplomatic sources have said that “the government had privately conceded that IS had some form of presence in the country”.

The victims of the bakery attack came from all types of nationalities and backgrounds. Seven of the victims were Japanese nationals; “Koyo Ogasawara, Makoto Okamura, Yuko Sakai, Rui Shimodaira, Hiroshi Tanaka, Nobuhiro Kurosaki, and Hideki Hashimoto” according to CNN, which did not have all of the ages or backgrounds of these people. One of those Japanese nationals, Makoto Okamura, was 32 years old and was engaged, hoping to get married. Another victim was Abinta Kabir, who was a student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who was visiting family and friends in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Simona Monti was an Italian woman, 33 years old, who was also pregnant and planning to return back to Italy after a vacation to Bangladesh.

To combat rising terrorism, the government needs to take several political steps first. Although Jamaat-e-Islami is a recognized political party, its persecution through the tribunal process continues, with two members, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, executed on November 22, 2015 due to claims of war crimes during their independence war. Yet, the JeI members should still be issued a fair trial. As Brad Adams, the Asia Director for Human Rights Watch said “Justice and accountability for the terrible crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence are crucial, but trials need to meet international fair trial standards… Unfair trials can’t provide real justice, especially when the death penalty is imposed.” By ending the political persecution of Jamaat-e-Islami, its supporters and members will be part of the political process and can work towards positive solutions.

According to Foreign Policy, “Rising violence in Bangladesh against bloggers and religious minorities has already curbed the participation of moderate voices in political debates”, with this being the second issue that needs addressing. By curbing their voices and not presenting their views, organizations such as the Islamic State have “fertile recruiting grounds”. The solution that Foreign Policy presents is that the international community “should pressure the government to provide a secure space for free media, including providing enhanced security for all of the bloggers on the “hit list,”... and to give up its occasional crackdowns on bloggers, publishers, and other moderate media voices”.

Third, relationships need to be rebuilt between the different subgroups in the country. Bangladesh’s Buddhist minority has been the “target of recent communal violence”. Also, the government has cracked down on Islamist groups, whether they be peaceful groups or violent, in order to ensure that the country remains secular. Thus, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University has advocated for interfaith dialogue, hoping that these efforts would “prove vital to future peace building initiatives”.