‘Trying to take political advantage is worsening the situation’

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, talking to Rashed Ahmed Mitul in an interview with New Age, speaks about how global issues and an indulgence of the government in power is exacerbating the problem of militancy

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir

New Age: Politics of religious extremism has apparently taken a violent form in Bangladesh. Why?
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir: The manner in which religious extremism is spreading in Bangladesh, such forms of extremism, we had not even noticed during the period of Pakistan. Very recently, we are noticing these things [extremism]. Some incidents had taken place in isolated ways in the past.
During the tenure of our government a few incidents had occurred and that government, through investigation, had uprooted the organisations involved. That government was able to arrest all leaders of those organisations. They were brought to justice, awarded punishment and the punishments were executed.
Before the takeover of power by the incumbents of the day, deliberate attempts were made by our political counterparts to identify Bangladesh as an extremist state. We had seen this trend after the BNP-led alliance formed the government in 2001.
Indian origin American journalist Aurobinda Adhikar in an article published in Wall Street Journal in 2002 wrote that ‘Is Bangladesh going to be a failed state’. After the article was published, two widely-circulated dailies in Bangladesh, one Bengali and another English newspaper, published such kinds of features.
After that a particular quarter, we had noticed, consciously started to campaign about the rise of fundamentalist politics, terrorism and extremism in Bangladesh. Later, such campaign got intensified.
We had seen while Awami League was in power before 2001 that when US president Bill Clinton visited Bangladesh, the foreign ministry published a booklet, as far as I remember, the title of which was Terrorism in Bangladesh. The cover of the booklet contained a picture of a bearded man holding a blood-stained knife in his hand. The booklet was given to the US ambassador and as a result Clinton had to change his itinerary.
Since then, there has been a deliberate campaign to show that fundamentalism is taking root in Bangladesh. Later on, during the rule of BNP the problem of extremism could not grow in that manner.
After this government came to power, incidents of extremism and terrorism increased and took a violent form. Very recently, bloggers, some freethinkers, and later foreign nationals, were killed in the country. Altogether, I think a certain quarter intentionally carried on a process to highlight issues of terrorism and religious extremism in Bangladesh.
It seems, two things are working behind this. Firstly, the government’s indulgence, because soon after such incidents occur, the government tries to involve the opposition, including BNP, and blames BNP. We do not see a proper investigation to find the perpetrators and as a result, the real offenders are yet to be traced out.
From where have so many extremists emerged to stage such incidents when the Awami League frequently claims that they have eliminated extremists?
The government recently arrested 16,000 people in the name of ‘anti-militant operation’ out of which, only 189 were suspected ‘militants’. Who are the rest of the people and why were they arrested?
Different contradictory and confusing stories and statements are being released over the recent incidents of extremism. On the one hand, Ansarullah Bangla Team is being blamed for the incidents, but later police blamed JMB for it. The IGP, RAB, chief of intelligence agencies gave contradictory statements and brought confusion upon the situation.
The government did not issue any press note to this end. As a result, we did not get any version from the government.
Till now, the incident of the attack on the Gulshan restaurant remains unclear to us and the people.
Why is the menace of extremism rising? I think there are two issues — firstly, it cannot be denied that this is a global issue. At the same time, the failure of the government to identify the perpetrators, lack of fair investigation and using the issue to hit out at political opponents, are reasons this menace is growing.
Secondly, the whole world has a global problem which is a philosophical crisis. The young generation is facing a philosophical crisis and it is a big crisis.
Those involved with such extremism are educated boys and belong to good families, so they are not supposed to be influenced in such manner.
A certain ideological phenomenon is planted into their mindset so they [youth] step into such dangerous paths [extremism].

New Age: Contrary to hitherto middle-class intellectual conviction that madrassahs are the breeding grounds of ‘jihadis’, the violent operations by ‘jihadis’ at the Gulshan restaurant in July points out the fact that non-madrassah youths have embraced politics of extremism. Why?
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir: As far as I have studied, Islam nowhere talks about such forms of politics of extremism. A wrong explanation of Jihad is being circulated. In Islam jihad means self-purification, and to speak up and struggle against injustice. It does not have to be done through weapons or war necessarily. Jihad can also be carried out through cultural activities and changing the mental landscape.
To kill an innocent person is not jihad. It is a great sin in Islam.
In most cases, students from madrassahs are not involved with such forms of extremism. They are given teachings of Islam, Quran and to go into an honest path but are not taught to become extremists.
Islam did not come to Bangladesh through a blood-stained path but through the message of peace and Sufism. Hazrat Shahjalal, Hazrat Baizid Bostami and other preachers spread Islam through the message of peace, not through swords. We should remember these things. Once upon a time, there was a caste system in Hinduism here when lower caste Hindus were exploited and repressed. As a result, firstly they converted to Buddhism and later on, converted to Islam. Islam of Bangladesh is converted Islam.
The important thing is to know whether Islam spread here by the power of the sword or through the inner strength of the message of Islam. Here, the scope for extremism is much smaller.
Things happened only due to the mistake of chiefs in society and those who govern the state.

New Age: Do you think certain particular kinds of socio-political and economic factors play any role behind the youths of society to get attracted to politics of extremism — religious or otherwise? If so, what are the factors?
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir: Economy has a connection to it [extremism]. The tendency of rebellion grows up when one suffers from economic discrepency, finds discrimination and injustice in society.
Definitely, youths have a tendency to speak up against the unjust, to change society and establish justice. Now the youth are confused seeing discrimination, injustice, debased politics and corruption in society.
We politicians unfortunately cannot project idealism before them and cannot show them the right way. As a result, such kind of tendencies [militancy] is being noticed to an extent.
Absence of democracy, corruption, discrimination between various classes of people in society, lack of job opportunities, lack of proper education in educational institutions to raise healthy citizens, absence of democratic atmosphere in educational institutions, absence of student unions in educational institutions, lack of freedom of press are all reasons behind such a phenomenon.

New Age: What is the way out?
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir: Forging a national unity and favourable public opinion is the only way to face such forms of extremism — religious extremism and terrorism.
Islamic leaders and scholars have to be brought into confidence as Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country. The Islamic scholars will have to be engaged in massive campaign to spread the word that this [extremism] is not Islam. Islam is a religion of peace and has to be spread through the path of peace. Corruption has to stop and discrimination has to be brought down. The politicians have to establish themselves as ideals to others.
The youth have to be shown a truly meaningful way of life.
The problem will not be solved with only guns, army or law enforcers.
A cultural movement and change in mentality are necessary to solve the problems.

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