O artigo em baixo foi inicialmente publicado na revista Think South Asia nº11, número de Dezembro, disponível aqui: http://sadf.eu/home/2013/12/15/think-south-asia-11/. Entretanto as eleições deram-se no dia 5 de Janeiro, com o boicote do principal partido da oposição (BNP), que apelou à não-participação nas eleições. O partido do governo (Awami League) ganhou assim as eleições, elegendo dois terços dos deputados. Os extremistas do Jamaat-e-Islami, aliados eleitorais do BNP, preferiram influenciar as eleições através do terror, provocando mais de 20 mortes no dia das eleições e continuando os atentados até hoje, principalmente perseguindo as minorias religiosas (em especial os hindus, os cristãos e os budistas) e muçulmanos moderados. No fundo, os alvos do costume.
The Situation in Bangladesh – November/December 2013
I could have been killed last time I was in Dhaka. Anyone could. In fact, around 30 innocent people died in street bombings and shootings during the 3rd week of November 2013.
The streets of Dhaka are filled with orange and black posters from Hizb ut-Tahrir. The main purpose of this poster is to call the Military to take over power in Bangladesh and establish "Khilafat" (the caliphate). This pan-Islamic political organisation has been legally banned in Bangladesh since 2009, yet they continue to spend fortunes in promoting extremism through propaganda and schemes to take over the elected powers, evident for example in 2011.
In their most recent press release, Hizb ut-Tahrir states that during the last strike 25 people were killed, concluding that "Democracy = Death to People". Of course what they do not understand is that democracy is not responsible for causing these deaths: extremism is. With their hate speeches and incite to violence, Hizb ut-Tharir and other powerful extremist organisations like Jamaat-e-Islami are contributing to the confrontational climate in Bangladesh' society and therefore putting this country on the verge of violent situations where religious and ethnic minorities are always the first ones to suffer. Many people on the street timidly share the opinion that the current strike is not helping in restoring peace and order, which this troubles country needs so desperately.
Hizb ut-Tharir cannot win elections, but their posters help us understand how violent the climate in Bangladesh is right now. Bangladesh has two major parties, the Awami League in power and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) in the opposition. Both are considered to be relatively moderate, the Awami League on the left, BNP on the right. The problem will be the alliances they are forging for the upcoming elections. BNP has a coalition agreement with Jamaat-e-Islami for next elections, and although Jamaat-e-Islami has been barred by the courts from partaking in elections, its influence is and will still be enormous. By financing part of BNP’s campaign, Jamaat-e-Islami will be able to push their extreme Islamist agenda, hurting religious minorities and setting their war criminals free. In 1971 many Jamaat-e-Islami leaders engaged in the tremendous genocide in Bangladesh, where during 9 months of terror 3 million people were killed and around 4 hundred thousand women were raped. The International Crimes Tribunal is trying to end 40 years of impunity by providing fair trials for these war criminals. If Jamaat-e-Islami comes to power with the help of another party, nobody doubts that they will try to end this important Court of Justice.
Just to add another concern, the very active extremist outlet Hefazat-e-Islam is another group to be concerned about. It is politically and financially backed by Jamaat-e-Islami. They are actively producing bombs and violence in order to achieve their 13 points, quote:
1. Restore the phrase ‘Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah’ in the constitution and repeal all the laws contrary to the Quran and Sunnah.
2. Pass a law in parliament keeping a provision of the maximum punishment of death sentence to prevent defaming Allah, the Islamic prophet Muhammad and Islam and smear campaigns against Muslims.
3. Take measures for stringent punishment against self-declared atheists and bloggers, led the so-called Shahbagh movement, and anti-Islamists who made derogatory remarks against Muhammad.
4. Stop infiltration of all alien-culture, including shamelessness in the name of individual’s freedom of expression, ant-social activities, adultery, free mixing of male and female and candle lighting.
5. Make Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels canceling the anti-Islamic women policy and anti-religion education policy.
6. Officially declare Qadianis (Ahmadiyyas) as non-Muslim and stop their propaganda and all conspiratorial ill-moves.
7. Stop setting up sculptures at intersections, schools, colleges and universities across the country.
8. Lift restriction on saying payers in all mosques across the country, including Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, without any hassle and remove obstacles to carrying out religious activities.
9. Stop evil efforts to spread hatred in the mind of young generation regarding Islam through the misrepresentation of religious dresses and cultures in the media.
10. Stop anti-Islam activities by NGOs across the country, including in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and evil attempts of Christian missionaries for conversion.
11. Stop attacks, mass killing, oppression and indiscriminate shooting on Alem-Ulama, devout followers of Muhammad and towhidi janata (revolutionary people).
12. Stop threatening teachers and students of Qawmi madrasas, Islamic scholars, imams and khatibs and conspiracies against them.
13. Free immediately all the arrested Islamic scholars, madrasa students and towhidi janata and withdraw all false cases filed against them, compensate the victims and bring the assailants to justice.
There are many other groups promoting extremism in Bangladesh and sadly this is the kind of discourse we find ourselves confronted with in Bangladesh nowadays. The country is in an extremely sensitive pre-electoral situation. Despite the impressive reports we receive every day in our countries, none of them are completely able to picture how tense the climate really is. People are afraid. The Police and the Military are on the streets. National strikes are being organized by the opposition parties. In the streets of Dhaka small bombs and explosives like “cocktail molotovs” are being dropped. Different neighborhoods of the city are being affected and from while to while we can hear gun shots in places that used to be safe and secure. Many countries with embassies or relevant information in Bangladesh are advising their nationals not to visit Bangladesh right now.
In 2012 I was in Bangladesh for 11 days and last November it was my 2nd time there. I noticed that many things changed. There is some new infrastructure and many roads and buildings are being built. There is some real progress being made. I first thought that the lack of the usually omnipresent traffic jams were the consequence of the existence of new roads, but that was not its main cause: due to an opposition-called 84 hour “hartal” (strike), many services stopped completely.
Another thing I saw was an overwhelming presence of Police and the Military on the streets, mainly in the intersections between main roads and secondary streets. This strategic placement is to avoid attacks in the main roads of groups coming from narrower streets to drop explosives and cause more casualties. I was travelling by car and within the small distance from the airport to my hotel, Police forces stopped and frisked the car twice. But as they saw that I was a foreigner, they quickly let us go. The respect for foreigners is part of this culture. Each and every road intersection is filled with police forces in groups of 5 to 10 people, all visible carrying machine guns.
On the 1st day, after I left my luggage in the Hotel I went by rickshaw to visit the Holy Rosary Church, which is a beautiful catholic temple. You probably know that Dhaka is known for being the city of rickshaws, with around 4 hundred thousand cycle-rickshaws driving around every day. Nowadays rickshaw is the safest means of transport in Dhaka because it is the only which allows us to jump and run at any time. Some buses, CNG’s and cars were attacked during the last days. So I went through Tejgaon, where the Prime-Minister’s office is, and 10 minutes after we heard an explosion noise and gun shots nearby. The security guard of the church told me to come inside the Church gates and then locked the entrance. After a while, everything was back to “normal”.
People are afraid and tense; we can see that in almost everybody’s eyes. The Bangladeshis are worried about what may happen in the course of the next days, before and during and after elections. In 2012 I told all my friends that I never saw a city with so much life and movement as Dhaka. Many times I even complained that I could not sleep with so much honking in the street, 24 hours per day in a non-stop mode. And trust me, I am a heavy sleeper. But last November I could not see one single person in this main avenue at night. Nobody dares to be out there in this megacity of 15 million people which used to be one of those that never sleeps. It seems that fear is reigning in Dhaka.
The people in Bangladesh, more than ever, need our international support in advancing and stabilizing their legal institutions and democracy. People want peaceful elections, the International Crimes Tribunal to keep providing Justice and honoring the memories of the genocide victims. The economy is growing at a 6% to 7% rate every year. Extremism exists, extremism is well financed, and extremism could damage all these and other achievements. As the Canadian MPs Joe Daniel and Russ Hiebert said in a recent pre-election observation mission report, “the role and participation of Jamaat-e-Islami in national politics requires close scrutiny by authorities as this organization has created deep concerns about the protection of the rights of women, minorities and others. The BNP in particular must also reflect on the possible role that Jamaat may be playing in its party and work to distance itself from this extremist organization”.
It would surely be a setback for Human Rights and Minority Rights in Bangladesh if extremism of any kind came back to power again. Regardless of who wins the next elections, we must hope that Bangladesh finds the peaceful conditions required in order to prosper and keep elevating their standard of living in the years to come.