More recognition for fight against Islamist terrorism
Instead of applauding Bangladesh’s efforts to close a traumatic chapter of its past, Western governments have been lukewarm in recognizing Bangladesh’s efforts to fight terrorism. While claiming to respect the International Crimes Tribunal set up by Bangladesh to try alleged war criminals, U.S. State Department spokespersons time and again cautioned Dhaka “not to proceed with executions given the irreversibility of the death sentence.” The European Union also chimed in to reiterate its opposition to capital punishment. Amnesty International urged Bangladesh’s President to grant Kamaruzzaman, infamous killer of 1971, clemency. Human Rights Watch accused the Dhaka tribunal of “persistent and credible allegations of fair trial violations.”
Principled opposition to the death penalty is hardly objectionable, and though Bangladesh has addressed many concerns about its trials, judicial standards certainly don’t match those of Denmark or Switzerland. Yet the chorus of criticism in Western capitals ends up serving a perverse purpose. It strengthens precisely those groups in Bangladesh who most threaten human rights, individual liberty and religious freedom.
Anybody who professes concern for human rights in the world’s third most-populous Muslim-majority nation ought to applaud Bangladesh for showing the pluck to take on a thuggish Islamist movement that would drag the country toward the economic stagnation and widespread violence all too common in other parts of the Muslim world.
Unlike many countries, Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken the ideological fight to the Islamist camp. By pressing ahead with the widely popular trials, Prime Minister (PM) Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh’s founding president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has refused to be cowed by threats of Islamist violence. On her watch, the Supreme Court three years ago restored Bangladesh’s founding status as a secular rather than Islamic republic. (Islam, the faith of about 90% of Bangladeshis, is the state religion.)
However, PM Hasina pays much more than lip service to her country’s moderate Muslim majority. She helps provide it with an ideological alternative to the Islamist call to regulate all aspects of the state and society by the harsh tenets of Shariah law. The presence of a secular leader gives Bangladeshi liberals, such as the organizers of the 2013 Shahbag protests, political cover that their counterparts in many other countries lack.
The stakes could scarcely be higher. For example, the murders of atheist bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman-hacked to death in Dhaka by Islamic vigilantes-underscores the fragility of secularist gains in recent years.As violence continues to flare, Bangladesh faces two distinct futures. Either it will emerge as a symbol of moderation in the Islamic world, or it will go down the path of its sibling Pakistan, where decades of state support and apathy toward
But the battle between the BNP and Ms. Hasina’s Awami Leagueisn’t between two equally bad parties. PM Hasina stands for a country whose Muslim majority lives in harmony with both its own distinctive Bengali cultural traditions and with other faiths. The BNP, by allying with Jamaat-e-Islami and opting for violence, mostly offers strife and intolerance.
Over the past four decades, the pendulum in the Islamic world has swung violently away from secularism and toward Islamism. Thanks in part to a plethora of Saudi-funded madrassas, Bangladesh hasn’t been immune to this phenomenon. But here at least the moderate majority stands a good chance of prevailing. If it does, it will be in large part because of the courage to bring powerful Islamist leaders like Muhammad Kamaruzzaman to long-delayed justice by the incumbent government led by PM Hasina.
Ever since the Holey Artesan incident in July, 2016, Western interests have been focused on Bangladesh’s ability to effectively fight Islamist terrorism. Doubts were expressed about the capabilities of Bangladesh’s security forces to be able to cope successfully against the emerging terrorism of the Islamic variety. But our security forces proved to be next to none in the world in not only battling this terrorism very efficiently. The operations of the security forces have meant that today in Bangladesh the terrorists or potential ones are on the run and clearly at a disadvantage in standing up to law enforcers. The dens of the terrorists, their strategic capacities, their arsenal and their networks have been largely destroyed. But these accomplishments have not so much caught the attention of the media, specially the Western media. Surely the opposite situation would be well deserved by Bangladesh.