Leaving Islam





Eid Day blasts are symptomatic of Bangladesh’s highly polarized society

 By A.H. Jaffor Ullah

“The wise man avoids evil by anticipating it.”

— Publilius Syrus

Hours after the bombs went off in four cinema halls in Mymensingh town on Eid evening over a period of about 30 minutes the news of the blasts was beamed all over the world.  Thanks to the Internet and in particular the Yahoo news site.  Reports accompanying some grotesque pictures were posted in the Yahoo news site and we all were awed reading the dispatches from Bangladesh by Reuters and Associated Press reporters.  We also viewed four photos of the crime scene.  One photo showed a wailing mother who lost her son in the blast.  In another photo, few shocked relatives sat beside a victim whose face was covered with a cloth in reverence to the dead.  Two other photos showed the crime scene, which was the interior of a cinema hall.  In one, so much blood was seen on the floor that one could imagine the extent of the damage caused by the blast.  In short, the photos and theirs captions vividly described the intensity of the blast in which at least 15 people were dead and 300 people were injured, severely.  The blasts that happened in succession over 30 minutes in several cinema halls pale the other bomb blasts that have rocked this tiny nation of 130 million in the last four years.

The odd thing about the recent bombings in Mymensingh is that the incidents could not have happened on any other day.  In harmony with other Muslims all over the world, Bangladesh’s people also celebrate Eid to end the month-long fasting during Ramadan.  Many urbanites flock to cinema halls to view recently released movies in a big silver screen.  This year’s Eid is no different but the blasts in several cinema halls in Mymensingh town have all but marred the geniality and reverence of the day. 

There is unidentified group(s) of extremists in Bangladesh who have been involved in blasting bombs in public gatherings, church, secular functions, political rallies, etc.  Their actions are becoming bolder as day passes by.  The targets of these horrible bombings are the liberal folks who attend in droves musical soirees, Bangla New Years Day celebration, and political rallies those that are all arranged by secularist organizations, and political parties.  The terrorists even have targeted church gatherings too.  In June 2001, bomb was placed in a church in Baniar Char, a place near Gopalganj.  The extremists have even marred the sanctity of Pahela Baishakh, the Bangla New Year Day celebration at Ramna Boto Mool in mid April 2001.  Barely three years ago, the extremists bombed an open-air stage in which several people have lost their lives hosting some cultural functions sponsored by Udichi group in Jessore town in southwestern part of Bangladesh. 

If one carefully analyzes these bombing incidents, a clear picture emerges out.  The group(s) who is planting these bombs is avowed anti-secularists and they don’t like free mixing of adult males and females in public.  These extremists also abhor celebration of culturally oriented functions.  They also do not like minority religions, which are aplenty in Bangladesh.  If one carefully looks at the victims, one will see that no Muslim gatherings were ever targeted.  Thus, it makes a very strong case for some unidentified fundamentalist Muslim group(s) who might be behind some of these bombings.  This is the first time that any cabinet member from Mrs. Khaleda Zia Administration had pointed fingers at Osama bin Laden’s Jihadi organization al-Qaeda.  Bangladesh’s Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury said the attacks could be the work of Osama bin Laden al-Qaeda network or another terrorist group.  This was reported by the Reuters reporter in a news report posted in the Yahoo mews site at 3:29 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on December 7, 2002 (early morning hours in Dhaka, December 8, 2002).  It is noteworthy that on September 28, 2002, a similar bomb incident happened in which two powerful bombs were detonated in Satkhira; the Roxy Cinema was hit with a bomb in which few people were killed and many were injured.  Half an hour later, another powerful bomb rocked an exhibition site where a circus show was in progress.  Scores of people were injured in that bomb blast and few were killed after receiving fatal injuries.  There is some uncanny resemblance between the Satkhira bombing and the latest blasting of the bomb in Mymensingh’s cinema halls.  It is also very clear that the group(s) that is involved in the bombing abhor the idea of merry-making.  Could this then be the work of some fringe Islamic group that abhors plebeian fun making? 

The terrible bomb incidents in various parts of Bangladesh that have plagued the society in the last 5 years are all but symptomatic of a deep polarization that was in the making over the last three decades.  Two Islamic-minded military dictators who allowed proliferation of parochial schools all over Bangladesh did the fault plane of this great divide.  Right now, many researchers in this area think that there are about 60,000 plus madrassahs operating all over the tiny nation of 130 million people.  These religious schools are churning graduates those who do not have acquired any skills.  One of the reasons that Bangladesh has experienced this phenomenal growth in madrassah education is the endowment from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States.  The Saudi royal family to protect their regime at home had thrown money all over the Muslim world to sow the seeds of Wahabism, an austere brand of Islam.  The petro-dollars were at work since 1976-77 in Bangladesh.  The nation was veering towards fundamentalism inch-by-inch and our intellectuals look the other way thinking that no harm may come to this republic of 130 million from mullahs.  In fact, most university-trained folks who run Bangladesh’s bureaucracy pity the madrassah graduates.  They never think that any harm could emanate from the clergies.  Considering this naïve view, Bangladesh has allowed unchecked growth of religious fundamentalism.  Some very clever politicians of the land also wanted to capitalize on this growth of religious fanaticism.  They are often seen performing year round Umrah hajj, visiting Sufi shrines, or participating in Urs (birth or death anniversary of Muslim Sufis).  Many unscrupulous politicians in Bangladesh think that they have a better chance to win an election if they show publicly their new gotten piety.  However, little did they understand that there is a price tag for all these unchecked growths of Islamism?  Now, some of the unlucky folks who are bent on making merriment in a small town fair or enjoying a movie in a cinema house on the Eid Day are paying very dearly with their lives for the redemption of all this unchecked growth of fundamentalism.  The society is also paying a hefty price for the follies of a few because these acts of violence make the Bangladesh society unstable in which real progress is stunted and they are unattainable too.

There are a section of journalists and intellectuals in Bangladesh who would invariably disagree with my assertion calling it a simple-minded analysis.  These people will see the dirty hand of Indian government and in particular the works of RAW behind the bomb blasting in Satkhira and Mymensingh.  One such dunce has already mentioned in one particular e-forum by the name ‘MuktoChinta’ right after the publication of news by the Reuters and Associated Press.  This person already hinted in his quip that perhaps India has a dirty role in the Eid day blast.  Pretty soon, a chorus of protestation will emanate from the Weekly Holiday, the daily newspaper The New Nation, a vernacular newspaper ‘Inquilab,’ and many more like them.  This is not the first time that we heard such condemnation against India every time a tragedy of this proportion had struck Bangladesh.  In all certitudes, Bangladesh’s plebeians will not listen anymore to the glib tongue of these charlatans who have made a lucrative career out of the simplicity of our folks.  The proverbial cat is out of the hat.  It is all but a matter of time when most ordinary folks will understand who are behind all these bombings.

In summary, the Eid Day bomb blasts in four cinema halls in Mymensingh are symptomatic of a highly polarized civil society in Bangladesh.  We have many simple-minded folks who are adherent to folk Islam.  But then, we also have many Jihadists in our society.  Many of them are the graduates of parochial schools, which are aplenty in Bangladesh society.  This ideological divide has taken place over three long decades.  Thanks to funneling of massive petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.  These hard currencies were at work non-stop for over a long period to transform a docile and agrarian society into a violent one.  Again, what happened on Eid evening in four cinema halls in Mymensingh is the aftereffect of way too much Islamization of Bangladesh society.  The founding fathers of Bangladesh had realized this unforeseen danger in 1972 when they had formulated the first constitution, which was secular in nature.  However, the nation’s happy journey to liberalism was roiled by the actions of two military despots who changed the landscape of this docile nation for their own benefit.  The “dividend” of their “investments” has now put the nation into a collision course.  The sooner our intellectuals realize this and make amends to our dictators’ follies, the better it would be going forward for this unfortunate republic.  Therefore, we all should seize the day to discuss the ways to make correction to Bangladesh’s itinerant journey into the realm of gloom and doom.


A.H. Jaffor Ullah writes from New Orleans.  His e-mail address is – [email protected]





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