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Part V: Does Hamas-Like Surprise Await Bangladesh?

Part V: Does Hamas-Like Surprise Await Bangladesh?

Seeing the “Little Picture”

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA

Various Bangladesh officials—from Ambassador Shamsher M. Chowhdury to Home Minister Lutfuzzamen Babar—have been making the rounds in Washington trying to convince the Americans that Bangladesh is taking strong measures to fight Islamist terrorism.  Though many in Congress remain skeptical, they have had some success.  Recently, a US House Subcommittee reported, “The Committee recognizes the steps taken by the Government of Bangladesh to combat terrorism and extremism and notes the challenges posed to the government by Islamic fundamentalism.”

The American kudos came in response to several high-profile actions taken by the Bangladesh government, notably seven death sentences given the terrorists behind the nationwide bombing campaign of late 2005.  The action is indeed significant—although it remains to be seen whether or not the sentences actually will be carried out—but its significance might be something quite less than what the Bangladeshis suggest it is.  For the view they are propagating—whether honestly or disingenuously—misses “the big picture,” and focuses on “the little picture” instead.

It should surprise no one, particularly the Americans that the Bangladesh government acted quickly to show its teeth against the Late Summer Bombers of 2005.  The perpetrators may have belonged to radical Islamic groups and left messages justifying their actions as a call to implement Sharia as the law of the land.  But it was all quite beside the point.  Their actions were essentially criminal; their targets Bangladeshis.  Not only did a great public out force the government’s hand, but allowing this attack on Bangladeshi law and order to stand would severely undermine the authority and effectiveness of this BNP government.  The actions in no way signaled a shift in government policy away from tacit tolerance of terrorists, something that government actions consistently show.  For instance, the government has failed to denounce terrorist attacks consistently both before and since the 2005 bombings—with the exception of those attacks.  Did it condemn the almost concurrent terrorist attacks in New Delhi or help the Indian government track down and bring the terrorists to justice?  In fact, India and Bangladesh continue to snipe at each other for maintaining porous borders that allow the other’s terrorists safe haven.  Or when has this Bangladeshi government condemned terrorist attacks in Israel, Iraq, or Afghanistan?  Some officials have issued general statements, to be sure, they have not laid out a clear and consistent policy and action plan that recognizes the multi-national and ideologically linked terror network.  If the Rapid Action Battalion’s arrest and detention of numerous terrorists hurt Islamists, it was only coincidental; or at the very least, it was because those particular Islamists threatened this government’s viability

Far more telling is the government’s refusal to take concerted action against the elements of an Islamic infrastructure that is preparing generation after generation of Bangladeshis to ignore their nation’s traditional tolerance.  And, unfortunately, in a land where the ruling party and the opposition cannot seem to agree on anything, the actions of the BNP and the Awami League are identical in their back door appeasement of radical Islam.  That back door consists of:  Open support for radical Islam through Islamist coalition partners; a blind eye toward radical Islam’s growing hold on villages; radical education in madrassas; and a media that hones to certain Islamist friendly lines.  Together, these elements support a growing acceptance of a social ethic less conducive to traditional Bangladeshi values and more accepting of the tenets that characterize radical Islam.

It is only a function of intellectual gyrations, not of truth and logic that would allow anyone to believe that the government is a leader in the war on radical Islam.  For the government embraces openly Islamist parties in its ruling coalition.  (Not to let the opposition off the hook, it too slept with the Islamists when it held power and maintain a hands-off policy toward them while undermining the BNP continuously.)  “Jamaat[-e-Islami” and Islamic Oikya Jote are not just fundamentalist organizations,” wrote Dr. Sudha Ramachandran of the Power and Interest News Report.  “They support and have links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and both parties have supported the terrorist activities.”   Moreover, various government officials have expressed concern that certain actions consistent with an uncompromising stand against terrorist “will anger the [Islamic] radical.  If both major parties are truly serious about fighting terrorism, they will make it clear—perhaps in a joint declaration—that they will not form a government with these anti-democratic parties subsequent to the January elections.  Let the people of Bangladesh know that their government’s stand is moral and not just reactive, that there will be a comprehensive program to end terrorism before the results of equivocation lead to more deaths.

According to a January 23, 2005 New York Times article, there are now 64,000 madrassas in Bangladesh.  There is extensive documentation that the schools were established with tainted money from Saudi Arabia’s wahabists to Osama bin Laden, to Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage—all associated with a rigid, minority interpretation of Islam that holds other religions and variants of Islam (such as Ahmadiyya) illegitimate.  Several reports note that these madrassas reign supreme in Bangladeshi villages where they often represent the only avenue of education.  In 2003, Weekly Blitz editor, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, reported captured Islamists admitted that while previously they confined the madrassas to poorer Dhaka neighborhoods, they were now establishing them in affluent neighborhoods “since politics is mostly controlled by them.”  Shortly thereafter, the government arrested Choudhury allowing those madrassas to spread radical Islam so it could continue the charade that such things did not exist in Bangladesh—a charade it has since abandoned in the face of overwhelming evidence.  Had the government acted vigorously then to prevent the spread of a pernicious ideology under the innocent guise of religion, perhaps it would not be facing the crisis that it is today.

As Time Magazine noted almost four years ago, Jamaat-e-Islami is “the main force behind the phenomenal growth of unlicensed madrasas…of which 30 to 40, run by Mujahideen veterans, are known to shelter militants and recruit fresh fighters.”  But instead of acting when the problem could have been contained, Time said, “so infuriating did [the government] find reports of rising fundamentalism that earlier this year (Khaleda) Zia twice denied that there were any ‘Taliban’ in her government, or even in Bangladesh.”  And still there is no government attempt to regulate the socialization of the nation’s youth to radical thinking, which does not bode well for Bangladesh’s ability to maintain productive international relations in the future.

The other source of radical infrastructure is a media that while active and varied, almost all tend to color within the specified lines on specific issues so that—intentionally or not—only a specific worldview is allowed.  Regardless of what position one takes on the Middle East conflict, for instance, there can be no doubt that there is a plethora of opinion and that it is an issue of critical importance for the War on Terror.  A survey of news about the Middle East reveals that with one or two exceptions, most notably Weekly Blitz, the Bangladeshi press gets its information from one newswire, Agence France-Presse (AFP).  To begin with, thorough journalism should be based on multiple sources, but in addition, AFP has a history of especially compromised journalism regarding Israel and the Middle East.

For instance, in its special bulletins on the 2000 Palestinian Intifada, AFP used Palestinian sources exclusively for about two-thirds of the.  The few using Israeli sources tended to be posted briefly and often at off-hours.  AFP also was one of the most vociferous promoters of the death of Mohammed Dura story: the tale of a Palestinian boy who died in his father’s arms, as was trumpeted by AFP and others, by Israeli fire.  Since that time, the accusation has been totally discredited by independent sources in Europe and elsewhere; and the French reporters responsible were disciplined.  AFP is one of the only holdouts though it admits it has no solid evidence to maintain its position.  It deliberately held back contrary information, both Israeli and investigations and as independent critiques, thus depriving its subscribers of comprehensive news.

What would otherwise be criticized as bad journalism is okay to many if it leads readers to draw predetermined, politically correct but factually incorrect, conclusions.  This imbalance of sources and attention continues.  When Israelis caught Arab boys trying to break through the fence separating Gaza from Israel, it reported the capture by troops while omitting the boys’ own statements that a Palestinian “militant” sent them as guinea pigs to test Israeli reactions.  A recent AFP photo notes an Israeli soldier walking by the body of a Palestinian male an Israeli killed near Hebron—but deprives its readers of the information that the dead Arab had attacked an Israeli soldier with a knife and was killed in the ensuing fight between the two.  Worse than bad journalism, it pushes Bangladeshis to a singular opinion based on faulty or incomplete information—something that truly a free media would avoid at all costs.

When Weekly Blitz editor Choudhury tried to break that wall of ignorance by bringing more wide ranging news and opinion on the Middle East, he was persecuted for it, which fits the Islamist program.  Extreme Sharia grows in large part because those who oppose it can be vilified, ostracized, imprisoned, beaten, or killed,” wrote expert Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the highly esteemed Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.   While there is a great deal of opinion and debate in the Bangladeshi media, it is almost totally absent when it comes to those issues that might cause individuals to question the principles that the radicals are trying to make and parcel of the nation’s mindset—which leads to the sort of fear-based inaction noted earlier, and which is the subject of the next installment in this series.


Posted on 12 Jul 2006 by Weeklyblitz

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