To ban Jamaat or not
FEW believe Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh when it persistently denies that it has been involved in the recent spate of violence that saw Hindu women gang-raped, their houses torched and their properties looted or vandalised. The attacks on the Hindus soon after the January 5 parliamentary elections in the Jamaat-dominated districts, especially Sathkhira and Chapainawabganj, have been particularly harrowing. The attackers made little effort to hide their motive. “We are giving you a hard lesson for going to the polling stations to vote,” the victims quoted some of the attackers as shouting as they swooped on the Hindu men, women and children before setting their homes ablaze.
Jamaat has a history of resorting to violence to eliminate the country's minority Hindus, Buddhists and Christians since the Pakistan days. Hindus, who account for about 10% of the country's 160 population, have been the Islamist party's prime targets. It has long considered Hindus as the most reliable vote bank for the largely secular Awami League, now the country's ruling party. Jamaat believes that it is because of the Hindu votes the Awami League has an edge over BNP, a trusted ally. The ethnic-cleansing type of violence against the Hindus has another motive. It's Jamaat's way of instigating a hostile sentiment in a section of the population who still wrongly blame India for many of the woes that afflict Bangladesh. Jamaat stands to gain heavily if it can do so.
Jamaat's bloody campaign against the Hindus and secular forces during Bangladesh's 1971 independence war is a strong enough proof of the party's deep hatred against the non-Muslim minorities. The Islamist party, led by Ghulam Azam in the then East Pakistan, had been the most trusted collaborator of the Pakistani army, which unleashed mass killings and atrocities leaving at least 3 million innocent civilians killed, 200,000 women raped and 10 million people fleeing to neighbouring India. Top leaders of Jamaat have now been put on trial on charge of crimes against humanity committed during the country's independence war.
Back in 1971, Jamaat killed and raped people in the name of saving Islam. Four decades later nothing has changed in the party's spirit and motivation. It abuses Islam, a religion of peace and democracy, to try to attract religious-minded people to its fold. In theory, it describes itself as a party of peace and communal harmony, but in practice it is an organisation that promotes terrorist activity and supports, openly or clandestinely, the elements which sow the seeds of animosity among the religious communities. In the open, Jamaat poses to be a moderate Islamic party. But in practice it funds and creates fanatic groups. Even terrorist groups such as Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) are reportedly linked to Jamaat. HUJI has reportedly been involved in a number of terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, especially targeting Sheikh Hasina and secular forces. It has also been accused of being involved in some recent terrorist attacks across the border in India. HUJI draws funds and support from jihadists in Pakistan.
Jamaat has long patronised its ferocious student wing Shibir in violence against secular opponents in the universities, especially in Rajshahi University campus, known as its stronghold. Notwithstanding its claim of being a moderate Islamic party, at heart Jamaat remains a communal party that secretly promotes terrorist activities.
This true character of Jamaat has been exposed by the on-going war crimes trial of the party's top leaders, including its chief Motiur Rahman Nizami. Soon after the trial was ordered in 2010, armed cadres of Jamaat and Shibir began hit-and-run attacks on police. The tactics have aimed at harassing the law enforcement agencies and breaking their morale. It also has hijacked BNP's anti-government campaign thanks to the weakness of the leadership of the country's largest opposition party.
So, during the recent opposition campaign of hartals and oborodhs, it was Jamaat and Shibir activists who had been seen on the streets, though mostly in the hit-and-run attacks. The random use of petrol bombs that burned and killed many on board buses and trucks is blamed on Jamaat activists. Can Jamaat deny its involvement in the torching of nearly 500 educational institutions which were meant to be used as polling stations for the January 5 polls?
Jamaat, a party banned after Bangladesh's victory in the 1971 war, has come this long way not only because of its own merit. Patronisation by BNP and the anti-Awami League rightist forces, and support from outside the country, made it possible for the Islamist party to rise as the country's fourth largest political party.
Jamaat is disqualified from taking part in any election as it has lost its registration with the Election Commission as a political party because its avowed principles go against the country's constitution.
According to many people, the EC move has provided an opportunity to totally ban the party. They say Jamaat does not belong to Bangladesh and it has been a shame that it has existed and flourished, and was allowed a share in the 2001-2006 government of Khaleda Zia.
Today, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government is under more pressure than ever to ban Jamaat, especially after the brutal attacks it unleashed on the Hindus.
The writer is former Bureau Chief, AP.