At least 50 people have died in riots spread throughout Bangladesh, following a court’s verdict that Delwar Hossain Sayedee should be put to death. The force and scope of these riots demonstrates that the spread of extremism through Bangladesh may be moving quicker than previously thought.
While the Bangladeshi government has been stepping up its efforts to fight extremism, many analysts considered the country to still be quite moderate and stable. The outpouring of support for Delwar Sayedee now calls that assumption into question.
Delwar Hossain Sayedee is widely known in Bangladesh for his firebrand speeches, which reportedly insight violence and have helped raise tensions in the country. His charges stem from violence carried out in the 1971 War for Liberation which saw hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hindu Bangladeshis killed at the hands of Pakistan’s army. The judgment against Sayedee was passed by a war crime tribunal, though international critics have said that it does not meet international standards.
Not surprisingly, at least some of the violence has targeted members of Bangladesh’s Hindu minority. Since independence, Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have lived in relative harmony, especially in comparison to relations in India and Pakistan. The Bangladeshi constitution originally supported secularism though Islam would eventually be made the official state religion. In 1992 and 2001 Bangladesh did experience major riots perpetuated by Muslim extremists against Hindu citizens, many of whom fled to India.
Anti- Hindu attacks have grown increasingly common and violent as Muslim extremists have grown in power in recent years. This extremism is being fueled by the rampant poverty and weak governance found throughout much of Bangladesh, along with global conditions that have encouraged some Muslims to view Islam as “under attack.”
Poor living conditions in combination with a relatively weak central government has helped extremists gain a food hold in Bangladesh’s schools and universities. The government has been stepping up efforts to fight the spread of extremism in Bangladeshi schools and has released guidelines and advice for school officials on how they can combat the rising tide. The government is also planning to integrate the country’s many Islamic schools into the public school systems in an effort to provide greater oversight and closer monitoring.
The government has also launched an agency to anonymously monitor mosques throughout the country. However, while the efforts may bear fruit, Bangladesh is home to thousands of mosques and the government will be pressed to monitor even a fraction of them on a regular basis. The lack of effective oversight could allow extremism to rapidly spread through Bangladesh’s mosques and Islamic schools.
Bangladesh was originally a part of Pakistan until perceived neglect pushed the nation to break away. India, which lies between Pakistan and Bangladesh, sided with the Bangladeshis in an effort to weaken Pakistan. Yet as extremism has spread through Pakistan, long standing family and country ties between Bangladesh and Pakistan have helped radicals to quickly spread their message through Bangladesh. Many of the extremist groups now found in Bangladesh have ties and even operate camps in Pakistan.
So far Bangladesh has avoided major terrorist attacks on its domestic soils, though Bangladeshi citizens have been involved in terrorist plots abroad. In October of 2012 a Bangladeshi man was arrested for allegedly trying to blow up the United States Federal Reserve building in New York City. In 2010 British citizens of Bangladeshi origin were arrested in the United Kingdom for plotting to attack tourists and shoppers during the Christmas holiday season.