Think Again: Islamism and Militancy in Bangladesh

August 13, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: IslamJihadBangladesh

Think Again: Islamism and Militancy in Bangladesh

"It is easy to get Bangladesh very wrong. Dangerously wrong."

Recent events demonstrate that this support for militancy is more than hypothetical. Last month, a dozen alleged members of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent were arrested in Dhaka with a large array of jihadi propaganda along with explosives and other weapons. Other raids have captured militants associated with various jihadi groups including Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Despite these arrests, terrorists continue to carry out attacks with disturbing frequency. On August 7th, Niloy Neely, a secular Bangladeshi blogger was murdered—the fourth attack on secular bloggers in Bangladesh this year alone. Ansar-al-Islam, the Bangladesh chapter of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, claimed responsibility in an email to local media houses. Attacks against secular or anti-Islamist writers in Bangladesh are not a new phenomenon. Neely is actually one of many Bangladeshi writers who have been attacked or killed by Islamist militants. Others, like author Taslima Nasreen, have been forced into exile due to death threats. In fact, Niloy Neel himself wrote on Facebook earlier this year that when he sought help from authorities after being followed, the police advised him to leave the country .

Bangladesh In the Crosshairs

Bangladesh merits greater concern and more serious scrutiny than it has received to date.  The country’s political landscape exhibits important fissures that threaten the political stability of the world's third-largest Muslim country. These are exacerbated by the role of Islamism and Islamist polities in the government and evolving attitudes about the legitimacy of Islamist terrorism. In addition to these deep structural concerns, Pakistan has actively sought to cultivate Bangladesh as a sanctuary and staging ground for the various Islamist terror groups it has sought to use in India, especially Lashkar-e-Taiba. As the Rohingya crisis continues to deepen, Bangladesh will become ever more attractive to an array of Islamist militant groups seeking to recruit the hapless victims of the Burmese government.  Simply focusing upon the Islamic State is to miss the big picture entirely.

In short, it is easy to get Bangladesh very wrong. Dangerously wrong.

C. Christine Fair is an associate professor at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. She is the co-editor, along with Ali Riaz, of Political Islam and Governance in Bangladesh (Routledge 2010) and Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (Oxford University Press 2014).

Seth Oldmixon is a DC-based political communications consultant who served in rural Bangladesh as a Peace Corp Volunteer. He is the founder of Liberty South Asia , an independent, privately funded campaign dedicated to supporting religious freedom and political pluralism in South Asia.