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There Needs to be an Honest Discussion on Bangladesh

Bangladesh War of Liberation

by Muhammad Molla

Half-truths, manipulation, and ignorance have been a prominent feature of Bangladesh politics, and its associated domestic and foreign policy for some years.

To an outsider, with no knowledge of the position, one would assume that Bangladesh is plagued by domestic extremist political groups, constantly seeking to undermine the State, and destroy everything that has been worked for since the nation’s birth in 1971.

To an extent, this is true; however, not in the manner in which it is portrayed at present, and in fact the reality is a mirror image of the popular myth espoused by some commentators.

Since the 1971 War of Liberation there has been tension and mistrust between the various ruling factions in Bangladesh. The ruling Awami League claims it was their victory and terms any opposition to its rule or policies as anti-liberation and anti-Bangladesh. Jamaat-e-Islami, a democratic political party built on a conservative religious ideology, has at different times supported the two main political parties, Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and its senior members have served as ministers in a coalition Government. However, despite having stood shoulder to shoulder with the Awami League on the issue of the caretaker government, its leaders have been targeted in a series of political show trials aimed at weakening the political opposition.

To be clear, Jamaat-e-Islami supported the political unity of Pakistan in 1971. However, some 45 years on, Jamaat-e-Islami do not seek to suggest that they maintain this position, in fact the opposite is true; the Party glories in the independence of Bangladesh, and has steadfastly maintained its commitment to democracy and its principles. As recently as this year a new ‘Human Rights’ manifesto was published by the party, confirming its democratic position, and confirming its commitment to those international human rights instruments to which Bangladesh is a State Party.

Furthermore, in response to the suggestion that Jamaat-e-Islami seeks to impose Shari’a law in Bangladesh. Jamaat-e-Islami is a party built on democratic values that takes it mandate from the people. It does not seek to impose upon the people any principle. It is only the people that can decide how its nation is to be governed. It is the ruling Awami League Party that has imposed its will on the people of Bangladesh. It took power through an illegitimate and unrepresentative election and seeks to maintain its autocratic rule by removing any political opposition and censoring any criticism.

Such facts however are conveniently ignored by their detractors, and in particular the Awami league as it does not suit the narrative that is peddled at every available opportunity.

The narrative or position that is pushed onto the citizens of Bangladesh and the international community is that the ills being suffered by Bangladesh, such as repeated terrorist incidents, are down to the political opposition, notably Jamaat-e-Islami. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that this is the case, and an abundance of evidence to suggest that it is in fact ISIS or Al Qaeda that are responsible for these attacks which is claimed by themselves.

Notably, Jamaat-e-Islami demanded during the recent terrorist attack in Gulshan, Dhaka that those persons involved should be arrested alive in order to get information and to conduct a proper investigation but that demand was ignored and all the terrorists were killed while government persists in the blaming of the opposition. The Awami League rhetoric that terrorist attacks are carried out by ‘homegrown militants’ and ‘anti-liberation forces’ defies logic.

Again, this is ignored by the ruling Awami League, who instead seek to heap the blame onto Jamaat-e-Islami or their purported affiliates, the effect being that the real issue is ignored and therefore the threat of domestic terrorism increases as the groups actually responsible continue to operate, unhindered by the ignorance, and manipulation of the ruling party.

Jamaat-e-Islami has condemned each and every terrorist attack publically and demanded that those groups and individuals that bear criminal responsibility face justice. It has called on the United Nations to carry out an independent investigation, that it appoints a Special Representative for the Situation in Bangladesh and that the UN Human Rights Council forms a Commission of Inquiry. It must be noted that the security situation in Bangladesh is so poor that the international community cannot afford to ignore the deteriorating circumstances any further.

Jamaat-e-Islami has not at any time resorted to violence, even when senior Jamaat leaders were executed following the hopelessly flawed war crimes trials. Of course, there was civil unrest following the executions, that is not denied, but, Awami League supporters were whipped into a frenzy by the Government, encouraged to take to the streets and show their defiance, resulting in unrest; unrest that was seized upon by the Government, and used to justify the deaths of those citizens who fell victim to the increasingly violent and unrestricted security services.

The real threat to Bangladesh and its stability is not Jamaat-e-Islami. That threat emanates from a minority of citizens who seek to follow an extremist ideology – an ideology that rejected by the vast majority of Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami included. This threat is compounded by the current Awami League coalition, which, through its ignorance, and rhetoric replete with half-truths and manipulation is undermining an already fractured society and dismantling any semblance of democracy that Bangladesh may have had.

Jamaat-e-Islami is no threat to Bangladesh, its position on any number of topics is testament to that. It has demanded international investigations into incidents of violence against minority groups, attacks in which the ruling party has blamed Jamaat-e-Islami without any substance, that have encouraged the state security forces to act with such impunity. No such demands have ever been made by the ruling party.

It has confirmed its position insofar as democracy is concerned, and it has published its commitment to human rights for all citizens; again, a significant step further than that taken by the ruling Awami League.

We therefore need to look deeper. The uninformed reader needs to be steadfast in his refusal to be taken in by rhetoric espoused by the Awami League, but rather, look at the facts and reach their own conclusion.

In doing so, they will see how Jamaat-e-Islami have rejected violence, have condemned it when it is used, have condemned the terrorist attacks, and demanded the strengthening of those democratic principles upon which Bangladesh was founded.

In doing so, they will also note that the so-called moderate and secular element of Bangladeshi politics, the ruling coalition, has demonstrably failed to make those same demands, and utter those same condemnations.

The threat to Bangladesh is therefore clear, it is those that currently rule who refuse to condemn, who refuse to investigate, and who refuse to acknowledge that pose a clear and present danger.

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