Locals and foreigners in Dhaka formally grieved for the victims of the
Gulshan Attack one month after the incident. The local and
international reaction to the July 1 terror attack at Gulshan has been
far more intensive than the collective reaction to all the previous
terror attacks in Bangladesh since 1999; there had never been any such
mass grieving for terrorism-victims previously.
Now, why was the Gulshan café attack so significant? Because, it was
for the first time, terrorists attacked the heart of the elite enclave
and diplomatic zone in Bangladesh, killing 17 foreigners and three
well-to-do Bangladeshis. Most importantly, rich, secular-educated
urban terrorists killed the foreigners exclusively because of their
ethno-national and religious identities; and the three Bangladeshis
from well-to-do families for not being “good Muslims”. At the end of
the day, who the terrorists are matters, but who the victims are,
matters most. The class is ubiquitous!
In the backdrop of hyped up fear, conspiracy theories, and singling
out private universities as “new madrasas”, Bangladeshi politicians,
analysts, and intellectuals are surprised, secular-educated, rich
urban youths, not poor, madrasa-educated Taliban took part in the
Gulshan Attack. Their surprise reflects their innocence about Islamist
terrorist outfits in the world, overwhelmingly led and manned by upper
class, Muslim technocrats. The perception, that only devout
mosque-attending Muslims, and madrasa-educated Taliban are Islamist
terrorists is balderdash.
Terrorist outfits like al Qaeda, Islamic State, HUJI, and JMB didn’t
emerge out of mosques and madrasas. Only Afghan and Pakistani Taliban,
and the fierce Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan are exceptions in this
regard. The US-sponsored “jihad” for Afghanistan, and the
Pakistan-sponsored “jihad” for Kashmir, and their promotion of
Islamist extremism through mosques and madrasas turned these places
into the epicentres of Islamist terrorism. There’s nothing to
celebrate about madrasas. They teach Islamic rituals, fatalism and
next-worldliness; and demonise democracy, modernism, secularism,
women’s liberation and equal rights; but there’s no evidence madrasas
initiated their students or Taliban into terrorism.
Faction-ridden Muslim clerics in Bangladesh often vilify each other as
deviant, and even as promoters of terrorism. Recently, Maulana
Fariduddin Maswood – the imam of the Sholakia Eidgah and the Chief of
the Bangladesh Jamiat-ul-Ulama – publicly stated in Dhaka that books
prescribed by the Bangladesh Madrasa Board promoted Islamist
extremism. To him, the Education Minister’s alleged oversight
virtually amounted to promoting jihad in Bangladesh.
As the ongoing Arabization-cum-Wahhabization process has alienated
people from secularism and democracy, so have massive corruption and
impunity of the rich and powerful estranged many from the state of
Bangladesh. Illegitimate rulers like General Ershad were mainly
responsible for legitimizing political Islam in Bangladesh. Islamist
extremism is just the other side of the coin. If the state retains
Islam as the “state religion”, at the end of the day, one can’t really
blame Muslim youths for taking up arms to establish “true Islam” or
Sharia, for peace, order, and a corruption-free society!
What retired basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinks about Islam
and terrorism is very interesting: “ISIS represents Islam like the KKK
represents Christianity”. Although terrorism has nothing to do with
Islam, terrorist leaders are so good at invoking and exploiting Islam
that not only their followers but terrorism experts also start
believing that al Qaeda and ISIS et al are primarily Islam-oriented
terrorist outfits. Hence the quest for the “violent aspect” of Islam!
Imputing Islamist terror attacks to Islam is like blaming certain
types of fertilizer, which terrorists use to make bombs to blow up
I could cite dozens of Quranic verses, including the so-called
“violent verses”, to illustrate the negative correlation of Islam and
terrorism. The following Quranic verses dispel some of the myths about
Islam’s alleged support for discriminations against non-Muslims, and
unjust wars and terrorism:
a) “Surely among Muslims, Jews, Christians and Sabians, whoever
believes in God and the Last Day, and whoever does right, shall have
his reward with his Lord and will neither have fear nor regret”
b) “Permission is granted to those [non-Muslims] to take up arms
who were oppressed….And if God has not restrained some men through
some others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where the
name of God is honoured most, would have been razed” (22:39-40).
c) “Fight those in the name of God who fight you, but do not be
aggressive; God does not like aggressors” (2: 190).
d) “…Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption
[done] in the land – it is as if he has killed the entire human race.
And whoever saves one soul – it is as if he has saved the entire
Now, we need convincing answers to the question: Why have urban rich
kids, not poor Taliban, swelled the ranks of ISIS in Bangladesh? Prime
Minister’s Information Advisor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury candidly
admitted the Government and experts had simply failed to understand
the problem by only finger pointing at mosques and madrasas as the
promoters of terrorism in Bangladesh. Author and computer science
professor Zafar Iqbal has also raised the same question. He has also
narrated an episode in his column in a Bengali daily (Kaler Kantha,
July 28) about pro-Government students’ “extortion business” at his
University. This episode being a microcosmic representation of
Bangladesh provides part of the answer to his question too.
Bangladesh is virtually a safe haven for corrupt people. Politicians,
government servants, businessmen, industrialists, bankers,
professionals, labour-, youth-, and student-leaders seem to be busy
making money right and left, through extortions, bribes, and
plundering in the public and private sectors. The growing youth bulge
– more than 40 percent of the population is in the18 to 39-year-old
age group – and the widening gap between the rich and poor, with
massive 45 percent unemployment among educated youths, Bangladesh is a
fertile breeding ground for terrorism and anarchy. According to
UNICEF, 7.4 million children aged between five and 17 are working as
domestic servants, agricultural and factory labourers in Bangladesh.
These statistics are very discomforting.
Instead of addressing the problems of governance, poverty, and mass
alienation of people from society, the Government is trying to
“reform” Islam as a counterpoise to terrorism. Although there is no
positive correlation between terrorism and mosque-madrasa
establishments, yet the Government has started preparing a
standardized Khutba or Friday Prayer sermon through the Islamic
Foundation for all mosques in Bangladesh to prevent the spread of any
terrorist ideas through unapproved sermons. The Government has already
spent 260 million-taka on this project.
Since terrorism is a political not an Islamic problem, promoting any
“de-contaminated” Islam would change nothing. We need to understand
what the terrorists want to reform, before trying to reform them. But
first of all we need transparent and accountable governance with
equal opportunity for all. Historically, poverty-stricken classes
never staged any revolutionary or terrorist movement anywhere in the
world. The poor, marginalized, and uninformed madrasa students in
Bangladesh are too weak and disorganized to spearhead any violent or
revolutionary movement. This explains why urban, rich, and
secular-educated – not rural, poor, and madrasa-educated – youths are
the main foot soldiers of Islamist terror in Bangladesh.
Dr Hashmi teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University in
the US. He is the author of several books, including his latest,
Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and
Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: email@example.com