Top 5 things that Make Bangladesh a natural Target for Extremists

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Bangladesh has been plagued by extremist violence for years, but the violence and hostage-taking in Dhaka on Friday and on Saturday morning was a whole new level of disruption.

Why Bangladesh? Here are some reasons:

1. Bangladesh is a multicultural state, where some 9 percent of the population is Hindu. The birthdays of Buddha and Krishna are official holidays. Radical Sunni Muslims, like the US Ku Klux Klan, are about a single ethnicity being exalted above all the others in a society.

2. Among the Muslim majority, large numbers of the Muslims are Sufi mystics. Bangladeshi Sufism had tended to be tolerant and universalist. Many Hindus frequent shrines of Sufi saints. Radical Sunni Muslims want to destroy Sufism and to herd Muslims into the hard line ‘protestant’ Salafi trend.

3. Large numbers of Bangladeshis are secular-minded. There is a significant Communist Party and the secular nationalist Awami League controls the national government. Indeed, it could be argued that of all South Asian countries, Bangladesh has the most secular government now that the fundamentalist BJP is ruling India.

4. Bangladeshi nationalism is grounded in national identity rather than fundamentalist religion. Bangladesh was forged in the crucible of 1971, when Bengali Muslims there signaled that they were disillusioned with the Pakistan project and would seek their own Bengali nationalism rather than subsume it under a South Asian Muslim identity. Radical Muslims hate ethnic nationalism and want to make fundamentalist Muslim universalism the keystone of identity.

5. The Bangladeshi government has been prosecuting Muslim fundamentalists who have committed violent crimes in the past, even executing two former leaders of the fundamentalist Jama’at-i islami. Hard line fundamentalists think they are above the law and insist that violence committed in the name of religion is licit. The radicals are thus ‘haunting’ the Federal government.

Bangladesh shows that a Muslim society can evolve toward Sufism or secularism rather than Salafi puritanism, and as such the country stands as a rebuke to the fundamentalists and hard liners. They know only the language of violence in attempting to provoke social change, and have deployed it in Dhaka. It will not make them more popular.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

NDTV: ” Dhaka restaurant attack: 5 bodies found, 18 hostages rescued”

6 Responses

  1. Where groups contend for conduct that will “”make them more popular” there is a likelihood of civility over a generation after the underlying causes are corrected.

    But in the US, support of foreign extremists as an army of convenience, and failure to ensure peace among nations or assistance for the most unfortunate, ensures that the underlying causes of extremism, such as poverty and Israeli aggression, are exploited and worsened.

    History will record that the greed of the affluent West is the cause that these old contentions have not died away, as they will when the affluent are at last impoverished or neutralized.

  2. Daesh is said to be promising double rewards for acts of jihad during Ramadan, so look for still more violence before the offer expires on Tuesday.

    • Presumably they mean earthly rewards, and not that suicide bombers get 144 virgins. Has anyone seen a published Daesh schedule of rewards for jihad?

  3. Salafi, or at least, conservative religious influence had been growing in Bangladeshi society though for a while over the years. For whatever reason the govt were slow to act on attacks by Sunni extremists on minorities, such as Hindus, Ahmedis, Christians, Shias, etc.

    The govt also tried to deny, recently, that ISIL didn’t have a presence and that it was local fundamentalist groups only acting out, which isn’t untrue but missing context. For some reason it didn’t occur to them that some of these radicals would give allegiance to ISIL and may stage a spectacular terrorist attack on their behalf.

    The trials of the Islamist leaders who were charged with war crimes during the 1971 struggle were said to be flawed by human rights groups (some which urged reconciliation, though I think it was necessary for accountability) and politically motivated (it was) which made things worse.

  4. “Radical Sunni Muslims want to destroy Sufism and to herd Muslims into the hard line ‘protestant’ Salafi trend”? Salafisi are like protestants? How?

  5. This is what the NY Times reported on June 8:
    link to

    “Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers”

    “In a lengthy interview, the chief of the police counterterrorism unit, Monirul Islam, who assumed his post in February, laid out the findings of his investigation in minute detail.

    But secularism is far from universally accepted in Bangladesh, and has always had to contend with a conservative Islamic culture.

    To a surprising extent, the militants have succeeded in their aim of discrediting secularism, the chief investigator said.

    “In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill” the bloggers, gay people and other secularists, he added. “

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