Jahed Ahmed & Avijit Roy

  [The Bangladesh Observer editorial/November 01, 2004] 

“We did not join the government in power simply to enjoy the share of bread and butter; and ownerships of the cars-houses. Our major aim is Islamic revolution. Should Jamaat ever come to power (on our own) ; we shall introduce Sharia-law (into the country).”  

-Chief leader (“ameer”) of Jamaat-e-Islami and agriculture minister Mullah Motiur Rahman Nizami, Bangladesh , during a speech in 20031


During one of his time-honored radio broadcasts, American President – Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) –while US was already engaged in World War II, had made following comments: When peace any where in the world has been broken; peace every where else is in danger.” FDR is worth recollecting at a time when US again is on war: ‘a war on terror’ against religious fanatics and if I am not mistaken- equally against their patrons across the globe. 

Last 21st August, 2004 in Bangladesh , a well-organized, indiscriminate political mass killing of civilians has occurred (for details- readers may refer back to NYT 22nd August issue) which left at least 20 activists of country’s main opposition party Awamileague dead on the spot, and hundreds of activists/leaders severely injured. While the chief leader of the party, Sheikh Hasina, also a former prime minister, and the one of only two surviving daughters of country’s prime architect of independence- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman- killed in a bloody military coup in 1975 along with family members-  has escaped the death almost miraculously; Mrs. Ivy Rahman, party’s central leader and general secretary of women wing, succumbed to death. Profound shock and grief transformed the tiny country with 140 million populations into a land of fear and awes. To translate his words literally, the reaction of current British High Commissioner- Mr. Anwar Chowdhury, a diplomat with Bangladeshi root- has been as follows: “I am simultaneously shocked and scared!” Mr. Chowdhury himself has escaped a death-attempt only a few months ago, when in a much similar fashion he was targeted by grenade while visiting the tomb of a Muslim saint in Sylhet, a north-eastern city in Bangladesh . Similar have been the reactions of European Union leaders upon their visit of Sheikh Hasina. What is genuinely scary- when an exploded grenade was collected from the spot, it reads on its surface: ARGES 842; the types used during attacks on Indian parliament3 in December 2001 and those used by Taliban militants during US-led war in Afghanistan.  

Despite the certification by Bush administration and some other Western countries “a moderate Muslim country”; in recent years the rise of activities of militant Islamists in Bangladesh has been on an exponential scale, and the paradox is despite its “a moderate Muslim country” certification, even USA State Department, through a circulation issued on 10th December, 2003, has warned its diplomats and citizens living in Bangladesh to exercise cautions. Last year USA embassy in Bangladesh received an anonymous fax threatening to blow it off. Within days- large quantities of weapons including AK-47 guns, grenades, time bombs, etc were seized by police from a area which is adjacent to diplomatic zone.4 According to some newspaper reports- the masterminds behind the weapons are closely involved with the government and subsequent reports, therefore, did not show day light.5 Reverting to 21st August’s grenade attacks, this time even Mr. Harry K. Thomas, the honorable US ambassador in Bangladesh, has been forced to comment  ”a direct attack on democracy” while meeting leader of opposition on last 22nd August. Otherwise- Mr. Thomas too is fond of certifying current Bangladeshi regime as “a moderate Muslim country.”  Meantime several international bomb squads arrived in the country and Interpol consisting of experts from UK, USA and China primarily suspect the attack might be a part of international militant organizations.6 Although main opposition party, the victim of last 21st August’s attack, has demanded that an independent international investigation committee be formed; the government seems be to reluctant about forming such team, probably because of the fear of losing control of influencing investigations. Last 21st August’s grenade attack was not any isolated example. In 2003, in Chittagong , country’s major sea port city and Bogra, a small town- two largest loads of explosives, grenades and surface-to-air based missiles were seized by police. Surprisingly- to date people of the country have not been informed the gang that brought those illegal weapons in.  What might really scare even many American is the news report that according to a report published on 23rd June last year in country’s non-partisan daily Prothom Alo,   Enam Ernet, one of the pivotal finance-providers of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had a bank account and an organization in Bangladesh . What is ever worse- according to a very latest investigative report by another non-partisan weekly7, country’s seven thousand non-registered madrassa (Islamic school, literally speaking) are being controlled by three big madrassa located in Chittagong , which are serving as head-quarters. What is really alarming is the report - government has no control over activities and curriculum of these institutes. What does take place in these madrassas, in particular in those three based in Chittagong? Answer, as per the report, is quite disturbing. “They are the manufacturing centers of militant Islamists. Militant Islamic organization Horkatul Jihad, according to secret service wing, is known to perform and direct all its activities from these three madrassas. Consequently- these institutes are giving birth to hundreds of militant youths,”  says the weekly. Same weekly also clearly mentions names of leaders involved with such destructive and mind manipulative activities. And they all belong to two parties, namely, Islami Okkya Joot (IOJ) and Jamaat-e-Islami which are the partners of present four-party alliance pre-Islamic government in Bangladesh . The 3rd  September 2004 issue of same weekly has made a cover story with the allegation that some of these madarassas are also involved in smuggling of women and children across the border (to Myanmar and India). Interestingly,  A  few of MM members, who had no inclination to follow the herd mentality, could clearly foresee the recent trend of Bangladesh and correctly pointed out over the last couple of years that caused some admonitions from even our patriotic fellow Bangalees (Uber Alles people)10 . Again, we always thought  it was better to speak our mind fearlessly and receive reprobation than to remain reticent about something that was so obvious. Only recent in times, some sane editors of prominent newspapers agreed upon our politically incorrect view, and recognized that Talibanism was becoming a real threat in Bangladesh11

Readers may have taken note of the top sentence at the beginning of this article. This is not any hidden agenda that some militant organizations are determined to convert Bangladesh into another Taliban regime. And many of their patrons, unfortunately, are known to be associated with those who enjoy a close rapport with present USA government, in particular, President Mr. Bush Jr.’s allies and family friends such as regimes in Pakistan and Unholy Royal Saudi Kingdom." Jamaat–e-Islami and other Islamic parties are known to receive direct fiscal support from Saudi Arab based Al Rabeta. No wonder- there hundreds of kindergarten and Islamic schools had been built and are being led by Jamaat; some were even named after Saudi King . It was not long ago before the collapse of Talibans in Afghanistan that thousands of madrassa students in the country’s streets chanted such provocative slogans as “We shall be Taleban, Bangladesh will be an Afghan.” One IOJ leader from Sylhet- mullah Habibur Rahman-even boosted about his direct acquaintance with bin Laden in the past. Another such leader who is now a minister (1971 war criminal Ali Ahsan Mujahidi) said in a public meetings, dated back 12/20/2003, ”in Bangladesh- fundamentalists’ base is so strong that any power, be it any kind, shall have to submit itself before them (us).”8   Strange is the fact- a few months ago, on Bush administration’s  invitation this mullah made a visit to Pennsylvania to attend a religious gathering!  

What is the net effect? Alongside ethnic minority such as Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Quadiyanis, in today’s Bangladesh, even all liberal and secular Muslims/organizations/journalists/intellectuals, etc have become a real minority class and victims of harassment and persecutions. A few months before opposition leader Hasina was attacked, our prominent Mukto-Mona member- country’s leading non-partisan secular humanist intellectual, internationally recognized author and linguist, a Dhaka University professor, Dr. Humayun Azad was brutally assaulted on last 21st February after release of his novel which depicted country’s gradual transformation into a theocracy. Again, to date, no progress has been made as far as investigation of attack on him is concerned. Meantime- sadly Dr. Azad died while availing a PEN (Poet Essayist Novelist) scholarship in Munich , Germany . What is noteworthy- days before his death- repeatedly he attributed assassination attempt on him to the Islamic minister quoted at the top and another Islamic demagogue, mullah Delwar Hussain Saidee of the same party (one among ’71 war criminal gang), MP, who abused and threatened the writer in the national parliament with introducing in Bangladesh, as currently in Pakistan, the ill-famous blasphemy law. 

“Bangladesh may be emerging as a haven for Islamic terrorists in South Asia,” said intelligence report by Canada's spy agency- the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in 2003. On last 15th September, 2004- US department of state has released International Religious Freedom Report 20049 on Bangladesh. Readers would be surprised, if they read the report since it portrays only sporadically and sometimes, incorrectly the real danger posed by militant Islamists. For instance- the report does mention “religion exerts a powerful influence on politics, and the Government is sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies, Jamaat Islami and the Islami Okiyya Jote, as well as the majority of its citizens.”  but it unfortunately fails to distinguish the conscience of Wahhabi-based detrimental political party such as Jamaat-e-Islami and most ordinary publics with Sufism-based heritage who had been living in the region amid harmony and peace for years, long before Jamaat’s wahhabism was imported from Saudi-Pakistan into the country. True that common public are sensitive toward religion, but they, however, by no way for politicization of religion which are being done so nakedly by militant Islamic organizations. In another place the report admits US embassy’s failure in changing Jamaat’s fascist demands such as declaring Quadiyanis as non-Muslims after government banned their (Quadiyanis) publications: “The U.S. Embassy twice encouraged Jamaat Islami to reiterate publicly its position that it supports tolerance and minority rights in the context of an attack on a religious minority member. Both times Jammat Islami demurred.”  This is hardly a surprise since back in 2001- after country’s Supreme Court’s ruling that issuing fatwa (injunction issued by Islamic clergy whose main victim is women) is illegal and unconstitutional; thousands of mullahs (many are present government’s partners) came down to street to denounce such rulings. 

A few words before we stop. It would be an injustice not only to 3 millions martyrs who lost lives during 1971 liberation war , but also to the millions of Americans who supported our causes at that time, if we are not to mention following: yes, Bangladesh was a moderate Muslim country. However, it is no more so. It could have been a role model for today’s Muslim world; had features of country’s 1972 constitution such as secularism and ban on the use of religion as a political tool not been dissected out of the constitution. Alas! The country that started its journey as a secular Muslim majority democracy now lies in a point where Islam is the state religion.        

      And as for the missing factor as far as America’s ‘war on terror’ is concerned: it is high time- President Bush stop certifying wrong Muslim political wings as “moderate.” If at all, focus and support should go on identifying those who really deserve it- the liberal Muslims across the globe who are risking their lives both at home and abroad to revive the lost secular heritage of Islam!         


                                    (The end)


About the writers: Jahed Ahmed is a volunteer at Center for Free Inquiry metro NY (www.cfimetrony.org) and a member of advisory committee of Mukto-Mona. Avijit Roy is a Research Scholar  at National University of Singapore. He is the founding moderator of Mukto-Mona. Both Ahmed and Roy hail from Bangladesh. Roy could be reached at charbak_bd@yahoo.com  and Ahmed at worldcitizen73@yahoo.com



  1. Weekly Jai Jai Din, 31st Dec. Issue, 2003 (a pro-government Bangla weekly) (http://www.jaijaidin.com/). This mullah is also a noted 1971 war criminal.
  2. The Short formed name of the Austrian grenade manufacturing company
  3. The Daily Hindu , India 12/18/2001 issue (http://www.thehindu.com/)
  4. 09/30/2003
  5. Daily Prothom Alo (www.prothom-alo.com)  ( 12/31/2003 )
  6. Ibid 08/03/2004
  7. Weekly 2000, ( 08/27/04 ) (http://www.shaptahik2000.com/)
  8. He is Secretary General of Jamayat-e-Islami;  Ref.Daily Jonakantha (www.dailyjanakantha.com)
  9. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35514.htm  
  10. Juktir Aloy Desher Bhabmurti ebong Desh Prem, Avijit Roy, Mukto-Mona.
  11. Ninda Kori, Ninda Kori, Ghrina Kori, Abed Khan, Bhorer Kagoj, May 22, 2004


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