Leaving Islam





Rising tide of Islamism catapulted Jamaat into the forefront; how is the U.S. reacting to this new reality in Bangladesh?

By Jamal Hasan

I have contemplated to write an essay on rising tide of Wahhabi Islam in my birthplace, Bangladesh. But a succession of events in Bangladesh in the last couple of months triggered by rising fundamentalism has captured my time. In this article, I will objectively analyze the spate of words delivered by a diversified bunch of people in and outside Bangladesh to hammer down my thesis that Uncle Sam nurtured Islamic fundamentalists quite unwittingly and now they are coming home to roost. For the sake of brevity, I will only discuss the case of Bangladesh leaving aside myriad of similar problems that had plagued other Islamic nations.

The Washington Post on July 17, 2004 had this front-page story with the title, "Interviews of Muslims to Broaden / FBI Hopes to Avert a Terrorist Attack." The news goes on like this…. "FBI agents have launched a series of interviews of Muslims and Arab Americans in the Washington area and across the country, hoping to glean information that could prevent a major terrorist attack during the election year." The story also disclosed the following, "this is not a general population. They are identified by intelligence or investigative information," said an FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with department policy. He added that the questioning did not signify that the people were under investigation themselves."

Folks, juxtapose the above news story with a revealing diplomatic dispatch that came to my knowledge only a few days ago from a source in USA. The source said, a couple of weeks ago the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry K. Thomas in a meeting in Washington DC praised the Islamic fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami party. Quite a few expatriate Bangladeshis, I was told, had attended the meeting among others. I cannot exactly quote what Ambassador Thomas told the audience. It went something like this, "We should not be concerned about Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh. Our main concern is Shibir. Jamaat came to power through democratic process." What an outrageous statement! I was literally falling from the chair when I realized how ignorant our Ambassador was about the organizational structure of Bangladeshi jihadists! I thought if we continue to have such ignorance and naďveté in our State Department, dozens of 9/11 would not be totally impossibility. We need to do some homework before we venture to speak on a subject, which is not our forte. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas must know for a starter that Islamic Chhatra Shibir (or Shibir as a short version) is a part and parcel of Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh. It is the youth or student wing of the party, which is definitely lot more militant and violent than its parent organization. The Shibir activists have been notorious for cutting ligaments of political opponents' hands so that the victims die slowly. In a sense it was worse than beheading because the victim felt the pain while heading towards death. The youth wing of the Jamaati outfit has been indulging in such practices for more than a decade. These jihadists terrorized college and university campuses all over Bangladesh. They had started their bloody act after the military ruler the pseudo Islamist General Hussain Mohammad Ershad took control of Bangladesh illegitimately.

Now some critics may say, U.S. policy in different parts of the world is not coherent. They may argue, while USA did not object to secular Algerian military's suppressing the Islamist political party Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), which became widely popular as far back as in the early nineties, the same USA is incredibly soft on Bangladeshi Islamists. If our memory is not too short, a little more than a month ago the same Ambassador opined in Dhaka that the Bangladesh government should be allowed to end its term. The critics have a good example of the other end of a double standard where USA has welcomed the unconstitutional removal of a democratically elected government in the recent past. Quite a few high officials of the U.S. State Department welcomed the ouster of democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who could hardly finish his term. Now let us dissect the validity of assessment of the two situations.

The Haitian leader, Aristide, might have been a left-oriented politician or he could be a bit of anti-Western. However, it is crystal clear he was neither Islamist, nor did he have any ambition to destroy Western civilization. On the contrary, Bangladesh's garden variety Islamists of all hue and color cannot be trusted, period. They are part of a mysterious global cobweb of Ummah that has the ultimate agenda to destroy the West, including the United States of America.

USA's kowtowing the Bangladeshi Islamists is a continuation of a now defunct Cold War policy. One-time religious extremists of different nationalities were very much needed to combat global communism. USA and some other Western nations supported and nurtured Islamic fundamentalists quite blindly because it served their purpose. In 1971, the members of Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistani in occupied Bangladesh killed scores of innocent secular Bengali intellectuals cold-bloodedly. At the time that gross human rights violation was not a big factor for many Western countries. As long as the Jamaatis acted against Soviet hegemony, that was okay for them. That is why, immediately after liberation some ringleaders of al-Badr (military wing of Jamaat-i-Islami) fled to USA and UK and had been living in those countries quite peacefully. But the tragedy of September 11 had changed the situation drastically. Nowadays, they cannot do everything as freely as before. Quite a few mosques in USA and UK had been found to be tied to al-Qaeda jihadists. Although Bangladeshi Islamist leaders living in Western land are by far smartest in the crop, but little do they realize that it may not be too difficult to unearth the subtle linkage among all the jihadists of the world?

While in case of Bangladesh, the U.S. foreign policy direction did not change drastically from the Cold War period, in the Afghanistan theater that is quite a different scenario. Immediately before the start of the Afghan War, the U.S. Administration skillfully aligned itself with the anti-Taliban (and anti-al-Qaeda) Northern Alliance force. This force was again had been closely linked with Russia, some countries of the former Soviet Union and India. In short, the new scenario was just the opposite of what went on during Afghan Mujahedeens' war against Soviet occupying force a decade ago. This new alignment worked well and apparently, the result was better than what happened in the recent Iraq war. The ultimate result is the diminishing power of the Talibans and al-Qaeda, the entities, which are ideologically very close to Bangladesh's Jamaat-i-Islami.

Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh evolved from the womb of Jamaat-i-Islami of Pakistan. Do the readers care to know that the Pakistani Jamaat was responsible for massacring minority Ahmadiya more than forty years ago? Therefore, the Jamaatis traversed a bloody path to the present stage. But can they be trusted? Primarily the Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh is a purely Wahhabite outfit which has a global agenda to conquer and rule the world under a Utopian Caliphate. Till their final goal is reached, the Bangladeshi Jamaatis, the most patient and conniving among the bunch, are ready to wait for hundred years if the need be. It is unique that this is the same party, which resisted the birth of a nation, could become part of the national government today. It is also ironic that two notorious war criminals are gracing the present Bangladesh cabinet today. But that hardly ruffles feathers amongst amnesiac Bangladeshis.

USA has acted reactively in the Afghan theater aligning itself with the former Soviet Asian Republics. Some of the leaders of the newly born Asian countries neighboring Afghanistan are former communists. Nevertheless, the United States had no problem forging a unique coalition with new partners in its global war on terror. Conversely, in case of Bangladesh, the United States showed a cold shoulder to almost all the secular nationalist and left-oriented political parties. It is such a big blunder on the part of USA, the price she may have to pay in the future could be quite heavy.

Before the October 2001 parliamentary election, according to some Bangladesh watchers, USA's favor tilted towards Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Khaleda Zia's late husband General Ziaur Rahman was US's favorite. Conversely, Awami League with all its baggage of socialism, nationalistic protectionism did not become an attractive choice for America. The 1996 parliamentary election in Bangladesh was closely watched in Europe. Some German South Asia analysts felt that many U.S. policymakers did not have much liking for Sheikh Hasina. The main reason for this view, according to the German analysts, Sheikh Hasina being a daughter of the "pro-Socialist" Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could move the country back to a socialistic model in a cinch. Of course, this apprehension later turned out to be totally baseless. Hasina was no less capitalist than many of the current leaders of the Third World countries.

Dealing with familiar faces is typically the most viable option in bilateral relations. USA had a history of distrusting secular nationalist forces of India and Bangladesh. That is why, even in post-9/11 climate the victory of Indian National Congress in the last Indian Parliamentary election was greeted with a lukewarm support in US capital. Even a moderate daily like Washington Post was far from being soft on the new victors. In the backdrop of global war on Islamic terrorism, siding with Hindu nationalists of India may not be an illogical step. But, there is hardly any justification for linking with a Wahhabite Islamist group like Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh.

Jamaatis are the people who are undoubtedly cold-blooded, calculative, cruel, sneaky, manipulative, pragmatist, brutal, determined, patient, flexible and adaptive to change. While the U.S. failed to read the mind of the Jamaatis, they were glad to be back in business in full swing. The smartest decision for the Jamaat-i-Islami was to forge a coalition with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party before Bangladesh's general election. During the time of 2001 election, the Islamic fundamentalist party leaders could not imagine that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia would be a manna from heaven. Who could have imagined that she would metamorphose to be "more Catholic than the Pope"!

Immediately after coming to power, BNP-Islamist coalition's first step was to sack forty senior police officers; many of them did not even attain the retirement age. The new government alleged those officers were not efficient, they were corrupt, and were leaning towards Awami League. In reality, those officers were the individuals who were not Islamists, some of who were freedom fighters and despised the Jamaatis. The BNP-Islamist coalition's ascension to power opened the floodgate of Islamizing the security services of Bangladesh. In today's Bangladesh, the chameleon Wahhabites' omnipresence can be felt everywhere. After the targeted purging in National Security Intelligence, Defence Forces Intelligence, Customs Department, Border security and many other auxiliary services, Jamaati influence in the whole country's security apparatus have been increased manifold. In addition, Bangladesh army's rank and file is well represented by fresh Madrassah graduates who were deprived to go through the channel of secular education. Jammatization has also touched Bangladesh's diplomatic corps as well. The latest appointment of Golam Arshad, a staunch Jamaati, as the Press Minister in Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC is a glaring example of how much the anti-liberation force has penetrated into the power structure of Bangladesh government. Like the aliens of the TV series "The Invaders," the sympathizers of this Islamist outfit can be found in all facets of Bangladeshi civil society. Some security experts were baffled to realize that for many years the Jamaatis have successfully penetrated the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh. The moles were well placed there too!

When Sheikh Hasina was in power, there were a few attempts on her life. At the time, many analysts suspected Islamists' hand behind the attacks. Ironically, Khaleda Zia did not have to face such nuisance. Not a single attack was targeted against her. Critics of her sarcastically comment, "A darling of the Islamists cannot be the bull's eye of the fanatics."

Slowly and steadily, Bangladesh is inching forward to becoming an intolerant Islamist state. Gross human rights violation is a very common scene. The primary enemies of the state are the secular and liberal intellectuals. Secondly, the authority would not tolerate anybody who would bring the "unpleasant" subject of Bangladesh Genocide and war crime of 1971. With each passing day, increasingly liberal intellectuals and academicians are getting death threats by the mullahs. The fundamentalist government claims they do not have any clue about the origin of the threat. When Dhaka University Professor Dr. Humayun Azad's throat was almost slit by Islamic extremists, the investigative farce led to the arrest of a few Awami League sympathizers. Most recently, Dr. Humayun Azad again received a death threat along with Dr. Muntassir Mamoon and Dr. M.M. Akash and a few other university professors. Dr. Muntassir Mamoon, the academician has been a researcher of Bangladesh Liberation War also. In the eyes of Bangladeshi Islamists, this type of individual has no right to live in "Jamaat-i-Islamic Bangladesh." Some observers say, anytime anyone among the liberal intellectuals may be slaughtered at the hand of Bangladeshi Islamic terrorists. I hope this dire prediction by the pessimists in Bangladesh never come true but there is no telling what lies ahead for those who were declared murtaad or apostate in recent days.

Jamat-i-Islami leaders try their best to appear squeeky clean in front of the world audience. In order not to antagonize Uncle Sam, they are hardly vocal against U.S. foreign policy. Nonetheless, wolf cannot hide beneath sheep skin. The Bangladeshi Jamaatis' connection to global Jihadists is hardly a rumor anymore. Let us take into account the Al-Haramain fiasco. On September 23, 2002 seven aid workers of Arab origin were arrested in Dhaka on suspicion of trafficking in children. All of them worked for Al-Haramain Islamic Institute, a Saudi funded charity. The arrest brought an internal tension inside Bangladesh government. The Islamists, notably the Jamaati cabinet members were not pleased to see Arab aid workers being prosecuted by Bangladesh government. One fine morning the arrested foreigners were hurriedly taken to the airport and were deported out of the country. Some observers were convinced a Jamaati minister played a crucial role in deporting the arrestees. Today, the Al-Haramain charity is suspected of funding al-Qaeda. The U.S. Treasury Department moved to block the charity's assets of the U.S. branch. Another high profile Jamaati leader had been alleged to be involved in maritime arms smuggling helping the cause of South East Asian Islamic militants. For reason unknown, the same leader is not welcome into USA.

For the last several years, a number of law-enforcement officials from Bangladesh have been trained in America under a bilateral agreement between the two countries. Bangladeshi police and army personnel have the opportunity to be trained in USA under a program called Anti Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP), sponsored by the United States Department of State. Law enforcement officers under Bangladeshi Islamic fundamentalist dominated government also got the chance to be trained by U.S. anti-terrorism experts. But the expertise obtained abroad cannot justifiably be implemented at home in some cases. Although Bangladesh's Islamist dominated regime liberally utilizes all tools of modern security needs, it "failed" to identify the perpetrators behind the death threats against secular intellectuals. Moreover, harassment of the moderate Bangladeshis continues unabated. Their telephones are routinely tapped, overseas phone calls are carefully scrutinized, and their Internet activities are closely monitored. While this scenario exposes the symptom of a police state, Khaleda Zia and her Islamist coalition partners are yet to identify the whereabout of a notorious al-Qaeda type Bangladeshi warlord, the so-called Bangla Bhai. This Bangla Bhai has been continuing a rein of terror in a great part of the North Western Bangladesh. In fact, he is almost running a parallel puritanical Taliban like rule. The local law enforcement authority was found to be supportive of the Islamic terrorist's terror tactics. What does that mean? The Talibanization of rural Bangladesh has just got started. Actions speak louder than words. That is what we are seeing in western districts of Bangladesh. The police there are in cahoots with Jagrata Muslim Janata cadres, the army of Bangladesh's Mullah Omar- Bangla Bhai.

Recently, a German Radio Bangla Service broadcaster got a first hand experience of encountering the deadly Bangla Bhai's cadre. The Deutsche Welle reporter had been aggressively pursuing his investigative reporting on the Bangladeshi al-Qaeda from his Köln office. While visiting Bangladesh a few weeks ago, he had the bone chilling experience of being face to face with a group of Islamist goons in the heart of the capital city. That happened in the broad daylight. He was threatened not to continue his anti-Bangla Bhai reporting from the German Radio. The Deutsche Welle higher ups did not take the threat lightly. They took up the matter with the highest authority at the German Foreign Ministry. It happened at a time when German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was planning a tour to Bangladesh. He was well briefed about the situation. The DW authority was hopeful Mr. Fischer would raise the issue while he would be talking to his Bangladeshi counterpart.

While any civilized society always takes death threat issue against its citizens very seriously, Bangladesh had proven to be playing a manipulative game of judicial deceiving. We can recall another episode of investigative caricature happened when a few movie theaters in Mymensingh city were bombed a year and half ago. It was becoming more evident that the homegrown Bangladeshi Islamic zealots were becoming less tolerant of movie theaters where "immoral things" were being played. After the December 2002 movie theaters bomb blast in Mymensingh, Shahriar Kabir, and Dr. Muntassir Mamoon were arrested. Shahriar Kabir is an internationally known human rights activist and a notable researcher of Bangladesh Genocide. Who else can be the best scapegoat? Both Dr. Mamoon and Shahriar Kabir were brutally tortured at the hand of Bangladesh law enforcement personnel who were already brainwashed by the BNP-Jamaat clique who are at the catbird seat in Dhaka since October 2001.

In a Voice of America interview broadcast on July 19, 2004 Dr. Muntassir Mamoon, Professor of History of Dhaka University said, "I have been threatened to be killed for, what they say, anti-Islamic activities." Dr. Mamoon said, "I have not been saying anything anti-Islamic, although I have always opposed to fundamentalism." Dr. Muntassir Mamoon said, "Unless relevant actions are taken against these terrorist outfits who have been threatening journalists and intellectuals and have already killed some journalists, the situation can take a serious turn and Islamic fundamentalists will gain ground in Bangladesh." Professor Mamoon also said, "The good sign is this that people throughout the world have recognized that no good could be done to religion through fundamentalism and terrorism."

A few days ago, in a Charlie Rose Show Dr. Rohan Gunaratna of the Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore said, "The future clash will not occur between civilizations, rather the clash will happen within a civilization and that will be the Islamic civilization." Dr. Gunaratna further said the clash within Islam would be between the moderates and the extremists. He urged the United States to strengthen the hands of the moderates. The other day, U.S. President George Bush while visiting Turkey spoke about the need for secularization of Muslim societies. Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh situation is completely a hopeless case. Strengthened by state patronization of the Islamists are heading towards a collision course against the marginalized secular and liberal creed of the society. The possibility of a bloodbath in the near future cannot be ruled out completely. Without knowing the dire consequence, the U.S. is now patronizing the BNP-Jamaat axis in Bangladesh as they have done so in the late seventies and early eighties in Afghanistan when they armed the Mujaheedins to their teeth. The proverbial chicken came home to roost in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There is no telling; the same may also happen in Bangladesh. Therefore, Caveat Emptor!


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