Is Bangladesh already an ultra-Islamist country?

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Article Related Photo December
Article Related Photo December

After 9-month’s bloody war, where three million Bengalis were butchered and 400,000 girls and women raped by the Pakistani occupation forces, on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh was born with the firm determination of being a secular country. But unfortunately, during the last 52 years, Bangladesh has been gradually slipping towards the identity of an ultra-Islamist country while there is growing fear of this South Asian nation becoming a neo-Taliban state. It may be mentioned here that, during the war of independence, Bengali Hindus were the worst-ever victims, as Pakistani occupation forces considered them as Kafir or infidels.

As January 7, 2024 election approaches, there is growing fear within the Hindu populace in Bangladesh, as BNP, Jamaat and Islamist-jihadist forces in the country accuse Hindus of being supportive to Awami League and being its key driving force. But unfortunately, Awami League, which is supposed and expected to be protecting the Hindus in Bangladesh has also been accused of allowing persecution on Hindus, while according to several media outlets in Bharat, Hindus in Bangladesh are “facing genocide” while notorious Digital Security Act (now named as Cyber Security Act) has been used to “trap and jail many innocent Hindus”.

While the terminology “genocide” may be overstated – there is no argument about continuous persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh – irrespective of whichever party or force be in power. In order to understand the gravity of such continuous cruelty on Hindus in Bangladesh and how the country has been gradually heading towards ultra-Islamism, antisemitism thus destroying its secularist fabric, it is important to understand the exact scenario that deserves attention of the international media in particular.

According to statistics released by the Hindu Mohajote, a horrible picture of Hindu repression is presented to the members of the media. The information said, the members of the Hindu religious community have been subjected to various forms of torture and cruel persecution. This time, ultra-Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and their ideological partner and ally – Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) and pro-Islamist and jihadist forces including Hefazat-e-Islami (Hei)

are trying to prevent the election and unseat Awami League government from power with visible blessings of Biden Administration. Since these ultra-Islamist and Hindu-hating forces cannot stop the elections, it is anticipated that they will start vandalism and terrorist acts targeting Hindus as had done in the past.

Hindu Mohajote statistics said, only in 2022, 154 members of the Hindu communities were killed, 849 have received life threat, and 424 have been attempted to murder while 360 have been seriously injured and 39 girls and women were raped in Bangladesh. At least 89,990 acres of land belonging to minority communities – mainly Hindus have been encroached in the last one year while 572 families were evicted from their homes and 445 families were forced to migrate to India.

Apart from this, a total financial loss of BDT 220 crore 89 lakh has been done to the minority community throughout the year.

Islamists have extorted BDT 27 crore 46 lakh and 33 thousand takas from Hindus. During this time, the minorities have suffered a total loss of BDT 22 crores and 89 lakhs of taka.

In 2022 alone, 319 Hindu families and temples were looted, 891 attacks on homes, 519 cases of arson and 173 attacks and vandalism on Hindu businesses took place. Around 57 Hindu houses were encroached, 50 business establishments and 51 temple lands were also encroached.

Following creation of Pakistan on the basis of religious hatred and Islamist bigotry, a notorious law titled ‘Enemy Property Act’ was incorporated that allowed the Pakistani government to confiscate properties of Hindus by branding them as “enemy of the state”. This law is the culmination of several successive discriminatory laws against non-Muslims passed while Bangladesh was part of Pakistan. Unfortunate fact here is – although Awami League is in power for the past consecutive 15 years, it did not take any initiative in scrapping these notorious laws and return Hindu properties to the original owners, as leaders of this party, alongside leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jatiya Party and other have been beneficiaries of rampant loot of Hindu properties under the garb of “Vested Property Act”.

Despite Bangladesh’s one of the fundamental principles is secularism, the country has been inclining towards Islamism, Hindu-hatred and anti-Semitism. It may be mentioned here that while the Bangladesh government has been extremely biased towards the Palestinians, it might have forgotten, Palestine and its leaders including Yasser Arafat had been violently and openly opposed to the war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971.

According to documented facts, during the war of independence of Bangladesh, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim leader in “Mandatory Palestine” had openly called upon the Muslim nations to extend support towards Pakistan.

Yasser Arafat, at the request of Pakistan had travelled to a number of countries with the agenda of getting support towards Pakistani occupation forces. In Arafat’s eyes, Bengali freedom fighters were seen as “terrorists”.

It should be further mentioned here that, on February 4, 1972, Israel had sent a letter to Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs giving recognition to the newly born country. Earlier, the Jewish State had offered assistance and cooperation to Bengali freedom fighters in its war of independence against the Pakistani occupation forces. According to information, Khondoker Mostaq Ahmed, killer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the then Foreign Minister had secretly turned-down the Israeli recognition at the advice of his Pakistani masters.

Despite such documented fact – each of the governments in Bangladesh, including the current Awami League government blindly support Palestinians, including Hamas terrorism in Israel – because – Palestinians are their “Muslim brethren”.

Most surprisingly, the Bangladesh government considers Israel as an “enemy state”. I have been one of the worst victims of Bangladesh authority’s cruel anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred. Commenting on my suffering, a Bharatiya media outlet named Eastern Herald said:

His sin – his views about Jews and Israel and confronting Jihadism, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and religious extremism. He was put in prison after being wrongly convicted of blasphemy, sedition, and treason. This is how Israel-hating Bangladesh treated my brother – Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Shoaib was put in a condemned cell alongside death row inmates, which was a clear violation of human rights and the rule of law. No country in the world keeps general prisoners inside a Condemned cell.

Human rights are for humans but Shoaib for them was not human anymore. The guy who was regarded as a senior and critical journalist for Bangladesh was not even an equal anymore. I think this was the reason to keep him on cleaning and mopping duty as a convicted prisoner.

Following my arrest, The New York Times in an editorial said:

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim editor and commentator in Bangladesh, has a rare virtue — he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption. When his weekly newspaper, Blitz, published articles favorable to Israel, it was blacklisted by various companies. Some people demanded that the paper be banned. Mr. Choudhury was thrown out of a private television company.

But all of this pales compared with what happened last month. As he boarded a flight in Dhaka, the capital, on his way to a writers’ conference in Tel Aviv, Mr. Choudhury was arrested by security personnel, accused of being a spy and thrown in prison. The charges are a baseless sham. The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières have vigorously condemned his arrest. Governments, including Washington, need to demand his release.

The Tel Aviv meeting Mr. Choudhury was planning to attend was called ”Bridges Through Culture” and the lecture he hoped to deliver concerned the role of the media in establishing peace. Mr. Choudhury, who was going to open a Bangladeshi branch of a group called the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, would have been the first journalist from Bangladesh to speak publicly in Israel.

Mr. Choudhury’s mistreatment is not occurring in a vacuum. Muslim extremism is growing in Bangladesh. Moreover, violence against journalists who stand up to the ruling party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been increasing, especially in the south and especially for those exposing links between politicians and organized crime. On Dec. 4, a correspondent for a southern regional daily was beaten and stabbed by members of the party’s youth wing after publication of an article critical of a key local politician.

On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières sent letters to Khaleda Zia, the prime minister of Bangladesh, expressing grave concern over these developments. Their alarm is quite justified. Bangladesh may now be among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes Mr. Choudhury’s courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable — and vital to defend.

This editorial appeared in print on December 14, 2003, Section 4, Page 10 of the National edition with the headline: The Risks of Journalism in Bangladesh.

Subsequently, the United States Congress passed a bi-partisan resolution (HR-64/2007) in my defense by 409 votes. It may be mentioned here that the European Union Parliament, Parliament of Australia and the UK Parliament had also passed resolutions in my defense.

But nothing could save me from being wrongly convicted with 7-years rigorous imprisonment. Why? Because I speak against radical Islam, jihad, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and persecution of religious minorities. These are my “crimes” and my “worst crime” is – I defend the State of Israel – a country considered as an “enemy state” by the policymakers in Dhaka.

If such cruelty and notoriety can happen with me, despite being a senior journalist and tremendous international pressure in my favor – just imagine the condition of any Hindu in Bangladesh.

The monstrous Digital Security Act

While my fellow journalist in Bharat has said, the Digital Security Act is being used to “trap and jail many innocent Hindus” here again I would like to present another story as to how even Islamist and anti-Bharat elements are taking undue advantage of this monstrous law.

In March 2021, when Bharatiya Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh to attend country’s Golden Jubilee celebration, a staunch supporter of Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) and notoriously anti-Bharat and anti-Hindu posted a video statement of a controversial Islamist named Moulana Azhari, which contains extremely offensive remarks against Bharatiya Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bangladesh visit, while hundreds of people have left comments in the same post, where some of them have called for waging jihad [against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government]. While none of the newspapers in Bangladesh covered this matter, my newspaper did run several reports exposing such notorious acts of this jihadist female. Subsequently I sent numerous emails and letters to various law enforcement agencies seeking action against this anti-Hindu individual. But to my utter dismay, no action was taken. Instead, some influential figures in the Awami League government helped this woman in filing a case against me under the Digital Security Act for the “crime” of exposing her deeds. Subsequently, she even managed to get a charge-sheet against me with the active help of at least one influential leader of Awami League as well as several Islamist and anti-Hindu officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The case is now under trial and I have to appear in court on a regular basis.

This is not the end. The same woman and her sons seem to be not satisfied even after continuing to harass me with the false case under the Digital Security Act. She and her sons have been continuously publishing posts on Facebook and other social media platforms with vile statements targeting me. Although in this case I also have on a number of occasions sought actions from the law enforcement agencies by providing evidence of ongoing crimes of that jihadist female and her sons – there is just stone-cold silence from the authorities concerned.

With such extremely painful realities – if someone asks – “Is Bangladesh already an ultra-Islamist country?” – I really cannot answer.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers. Follow him on X @Salah_Shoaib

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