Leaving Islam




Bangladeshi Students Bombed for Celebrating Valentine’s Day

By Chris Blackburn

Bangladesh is on the brink of anarchy and increasingly looks like it could become a new front on the US led War on Terror.

On the 14th February students at Dhaka University were attacked by a series of bombs while they were celebrating St. Valentine's Day. This attack has been seen as another atrocity in what is seen to be a campaign of terror unleashed by radical Islamists against secular and pro-democratic activists.

Students had been warned by local Islamists that celebrating love and romance was forbidden in the Quran and they deemed the events to be un-Islamic. 12 people were badly injured in the explosions but thankfully no one was killed.

Campuses in Bangladesh have increasingly become flashpoints for acts of terrorism as radical Islamists see the open and tolerant atmosphere’s encouraged by universities and colleges as breeding grounds for communists, secularists and pro-democracy activists. Students have been beaten and harassed by Islamists for displaying their support for democracy.

Professors and academics have not escaped these horrific attacks.

Dr Humayan Azad, of Dhaka University , was critically injured on the 27th February 2004 by radical Islamists tied to the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) religious party. Dr. Azad was attacked by a group of men who stabbed him repeatedly with machetes. He was lucky to survive the attack. Dr. Azad managed to name his assailants; however he went into self imposed exile in Germany and died of a heart attack. The stress of his ordeal was believed to have contributed to the attack.

Prof. Mohammad Yunus, of the Rajshahi University , was another victim of Islamist violence on campus. He was violently murdered by unknown assailants in late December, 2004. He had been taking his morning walk around campus when he was set upon by a gang wielding knives and an axe. His attackers covered his head with cloth then set about hacking into his face, neck and throat. It was well known on campus that he had angered Islamists from the student wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami. Professors and students called for the attackers to be arrested.

The country is relatively new, born in 1971. It was formerly known as East Pakistan but the Bengali people fought to remove the Pakistani dictatorship’s control from the country and created a new democracy. The killing of intellectuals by Islamists is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh . During the Bangladeshi War of Liberation in 1971 the pro-independence intelligentsia were systematically targeted for assassination by the same forces that have been accused of committing the atrocities today. Newspaper editors, journalists, students and political activists were rounded up, some being pulled from the homes in the middle of the night and then murdered by members of the JI and Pakistan ’s intelligence services. Human Rights activists and the Awami League are still calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

During the war US Ambassador Archer K. Blood sent a telegram to Washington to protest the war crimes of the Pakistani Army and the Islamist forces but he was rebuked and later removed from his post. Cold War politics made it unable for the US to intervene as they had backed Pakistan . The Bangladeshi people were seen to be pro-Soviet and not worth helping. The country’s independence came at a price however, it is estimated that up to 3 million civilians were murdered. Another cruel aspect of the war was the use of mass rape as a weapon of war by the Pakistani Army. Aid agencies had to quickly set up abortion clinics to deal with the aftermath.

Anwar Chowdhury, The British High Commissioner for Bangladesh was the target of a bomb attack last year while visiting a Muslim shrine. Scotland Yard sent detectives to help investigate the blast, it is not known how much co-operation they received. Last week Washington sent a low key taskforce from the FBI to investigate the recent bombings and murders of Awami League leaders and their supporters. Interpol, the international police agency, has also been brought in to help with the investigations. The Awami League is a political party which is mainly secular and pro-democratic. They have asked for international assistance as they believe the attacks are being covered-up by Islamist supporters in the Government. They also believe they are fighting for their survival. Their best politicians have been murdered in a series of bomb attacks.

Zaiba Malik and Leopondo Bruno Sorentino, both journalists working for Channel 4, were arrested in 2002 while filming a documentary about Islamist terrorism inside Bangladesh . They were trying to investigate the claims of political and defence analysts who were saying that Bangladesh was on the verge of becoming the new Afghanistan . The journalists had heard from sources that Mujahideen fighters allied to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda had been entering the country from Pakistan and creating alliances with home-grown radicals. The journalists were released after high level diplomacy and condemnations from international human rights organisations. The journalists' tapes and recordings were seized and not allowed out of the country after they were deported.

Bangladesh is geographically sandwiched between Pakistan and India , two nuclear rivals whose bitter hatred for each other has nearly resulted in nuclear exchanges. This has been viewed as the main reason Washington has been reluctant to engage in the current situation. It increasingly looks like Syria and Iran are Washington ’s new primary concerns.

The crisis in Bangladesh may be Washington ’s biggest test in the War on Terror. The US response will show the world the Bush administration’s true intentions. George W. Bush has claimed that the US wants to spread democracy in the Muslim world. This is his opportunity. The problem surely cannot be ignored. So will the US ignore the situation and continue to democratise the hydro-carbon enriched Muslim nations or will it help the second largest Muslim democracy from turning into a dangerous failed state? I hope they choose both, but I suspect they will ignore the latter…If history is anything to go by.

Chris Blackburn is a political analyst and writer. His expertise and research areas include intelligence, counter-terrorism and defense. He is also the British representative of the US National Intelligence Conference and Exposition.







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