Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bangladesh: Hiding Head in the Sands - Our Inept Pursuit of The Killing Hands

By Ziauddin Choudhury
November 04, 2015
Here we go again. Every time a heinous murder takes place in broad daylight, our people at the helm blast their favourite targets – the political opposition for either directly committing these offenses or having a hand in them. It made good sense to blame the opposition when loots and murders were committed in the name of political agitation, because these acts of anarchy suited politics of the country. But to resuscitate the same accusation when writers, activists, and foreign nationals are killed execution style and when the law enforcement agencies are helpless watchers is not only giving cover to the ineptness of our forces but also aiding the real killers.  We do not seem to know nor care what is hurting us most – our inability to catch the killers or our attempts to put a blanket charge on the political opposition for the killing?
The first step to handle a crisis responsibly is to accept its existence or occurrence, understand what is causing it and then take measures to remove it. Since incidents that resembled organised acts of a militant nature surfaced in the country, our political leaders have been in a state of denial, irrespective of which party was in power. They always tried to dismiss these as handiwork of their political opponents who were only out to harass and destabilise the government. They either did not have the capability or were unwilling to think out of the box.
A typical response of the political leaders then and now has been to term such crimes as either lone wolf activities or the opposition party's attempt to mar the country's image. There has never been a serious and earnest endeavour by our leaders to go deep into the causes for such murders; this clearly shows a pattern that goes beyond the standard acts of a political opposition. One simple fact seems to elude our leaders: that the victims of these crimes are neither political supporters of the party in power, nor of any single platform. Two of them were foreign nationals, and that too, from two different parts of the world. Four died apparently because of their writings and publications, but why the foreign nationals? Does it never strike our leaders that these acts could be connected, and this nexus is of people and organisations that may not believe in a democratic opposition? Does it not strike us that despite all our rhetoric to promote a country of religious tolerance and peace, we might have cracks in society that have allowed pockets of intolerance and growth of ideologies that are not exactly driven by democratic principles of free speech and equality?
Cracks in societal structure do not occur suddenly; these occur over a period of time from weak political leadership, burgeoning corruption, political infighting, faulty education and weakening of law and order.  Weeds grow when a garden is not tended, and that is why we have amongst us elements that have risen to the surface that eventually may eat up the whole garden. In our 45 years of history, we have never been able to establish a clear platform of governance structure that upholds rule of law, transparency in governance, or equality before law for all. Massive corruption has sullied the image of the country while crimes of all nature remained unsolved or unattended.  We have watched helplessly as our institutions collapsed. Educational institutions turned out into commercial enterprises, health establishments into profit-making ventures, and law enforcement into feckless agencies.  
Parallel to these developments has been regrowth of a political ideology arising from manipulation of religion that was the bane of our existence in pre-liberation days. An alliance of some of our political elements with such insidious forces allowed clandestine growth of religious extremists in the country that were often overlooked or tolerated for short term political goals. Added to this was the global phenomenon of militant Islam that has attracted disenchanted and misled youths with a distorted version of the religion and an ideology of nihilism.
There have been signs all along in last two decades of the existence of such extremism in our midst, but we have chosen to deny this for fear that our country as a whole might be branded as a safe harbour of militants. Fortunately for us, these elements have not been able to scale up their terrorism to a level that Pakistan or even India has witnessed in the last decade. But that should be no cause for elation or celebration. In today's world, the Islamic State that Syria and Iraq are battling with need not be a geographic entity; it is a concept and a state of mind that can exist in any part of a community in any part of the world.
The heinous crimes in the past six months in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh have one big similarity -- these were perpetrated to suppress voices that advocated secular thoughts and put more emphasis on humanity over religion. Such thoughts are an anathema to the mindset that wants an end to secularism and democratic principles of free speech, freedom of thought and equality of all religions.
Crimes and criminals are never deterred by rhetoric and blame games.  We cannot escape the reality that these occurred because of the slip up of our law enforcement agencies, and will continue to happen if our leaders look for scapegoats instead of tasking the law enforcement agencies to apprehend the criminals and their mastermind, and bring them to justice. Until that happens I am afraid we will continue to be haunted by the elements of the dark and their shadowy designs on the country.
Ziauddin Choudhury is a political analyst and commentator.

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