Terrorism and Jihadism in Bangladesh: The Killing of Rezaul Karim Siddique

His assassination is not only a challenge for democracy but a Jihadist attack on the Bengali nation and culture too

24 April 2016

Image Attribute: Late Dr. A.F.M. Rezaul Karim Siddique, Source: Wikipedia

Saturday, 23 April 2016 marks another sad day for democracy, freedom, and liberal thinking in Bangladesh. Early morning, Professor Rezaul Karim Siddique got brutally murdered as he was waiting in his hometown to catch a bus towards the north-western city of Rajshahi. The 58 years old professor was the fourth academic of Rajshahi University killed and the latest one in a nation-wide series of killings of secular thinkers and writers by Islamist militants. The back-stabbing attack took by surprise not only the victim but also colleagues, students, friends, and family. Professor Siddique was known not to be involved publicly in politics. Furthermore, it seems that there is no evidence that Professor Siddique campaigned for atheism, wrote or spoke against Islam, and never received respective threats. Rather, besides teaching English, he dedicated himself to the promotion of Bengali culture, especially traditionally music, literature, and poetry, at the university as well as in his hometown. In this context, he owned the reputation on purely academic grounds, progressive, and secular person.

However, Islamic State (IS) claims the assassination of Mr. Siddiqui for ‘call to atheism’. But there are no proved yet, that either IS or any other (allied) domestic Jihadist organisation carried out the attack. But the pattern of the attack fitted with previous killings by Islamist militants.Furthermore, the village of Professor Siddique is known for being a hotbed of militants. More concrete, his hometown is a stronghold of the Jihadist organisation Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, in brief, JMB. Having this in mind, Bangladesh authorities are suspecting JMB to be the real driving force behind the killing of Professor Siddique. At the first sight, such a rationale might appear as logical. But it also marks the continuation of a short-sighted and dangerous policy and public rhetoric of the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) for following reasons:

Firstly, identifying solely local members of JMB as the assassins are part of the GoB strategy to downplay the Islamist threat, their influence in urban and rural areas, and the nationwide leverage of Jihadist organisations in the country in general. Until recently, it seems that the rising Jihadist threat gets flanked by a growing culture of apathy towards the Radicalization and Islamisation of Bangladesh’s state and society, including not only authorities but also people with extremely low income as well as the middle class.

Secondly, the GoB continues to neglect any noteworthy presence of IS and other international terrorist groups in Bangladesh. As such, the country’s administration wants to undermine the increasing impression that Bangladesh is turning into a hub for international terrorism challenging the security and social, economic, political stability in Southern Asia (understood as South and South East Asia) and beyond.

Third, it tries to distract the domestic and international observers from the fact that the country lacks a coherent counter-terrorism strategy of the government back by effectively coordinated security sector agents. Instead, the country’s efforts to face the challenge of terrorism suffer from personalized decision-making processes regarding security related matters to the expense of sustainable, institutionalized mechanism for civil-military relations. At the moment, it appears that Ms. Hasina either does not see the ‘right moment’ for introducing new mechanisms and/or her administration as well as the parliament has not the necessary capacities (like functional and effective committees for civilian control, properly equipped and staffed/skilled ministries) to establish a functional, institutionalized relationship with the country’s security forces. In result, military factionalism, rivalries between different security sector agents, political misuse of intelligence information, are some of the negative outcomes of the countries disturb relations between civilians and soldiers. There are no doubts that these issues are creating further roadblocks making the formulation and implementation of a successful counter-terrorism strategy unlikely.

Fourthly, ignoring the threat of international acting Jihadist groups and instead blaming local militant organisation means turning the eyes blind towards the indications for links between JMB and IS and that JMB function as a local ally for IS. Besides JMB, and other domestic terrorist groups like Harakat ul-Jihad al-Islami-Bangladesh (HUJI-B) or the extraordinary rising Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), are increasingly supporting an armed jihadist ideology, sharing jihadist material and that they are taking part in terrorist activities within and outside Bangladesh’s borders. The detaining of 14 Bangladeshi nationals forming the first time a jihadist terror cell comprising foreigners in Singapore must be seen as a clear evidence of the increasing entrenchment of Bangladesh terrorists in the ‘Global Jihad’.

Last but not least, the policy of ignorance avoids any constructive, substantial debate about the contemporary and future impacts and factors Bangladesh have to prepare for in case of an intensification of IS engagement. Therefore, it is most important to understand the origin, genesis, goals, and strategies of IS, which are clearly directed towards the re-establishment of the medieval Khilafah (caliphate) system. This means the creation of a caliphate comprising all current and former Muslim majority countries and countries formerly ruled by Muslims which includes large parts of Central and South Asia besides Spain, Northern Africa and various areas of South-East Europe. As such, IS does not believe in boundaries between Islamic countries and areas with a major Muslim population. Subsequently, they are looking far beyond the Middle East which has severe impacts for South Asia too. It’s recruiting activities in the Af-Pak region (including military operations in Afghanistan) and India should be seen as prove, therefore. The fact that there are not many hindrances available that IS plans to incorporate Bangladesh in its ‘envisioned future caliphate’, at least not yet, should be not misinterpreted that the country will be spared from IS activities.

By having said this, the killing of Professor Siddique marks a new, dramatic dimension of terrorism in Bangladesh. The assassination of a progressive and secular academic goes far beyond an attack on the country’s democracy, vibrant political culture and civil society. The murdering of Siddique, who was promoting not only an English language but also traditional music, literature, poetry determines an assault on the country’s national and cultural soul. It’s not only an attack against democratic, secular and tolerant values; it determines the start of the ‘Jihadist war’ against the Bengali nation, its cultural foundation, and identity. International terrorists are well aware that (sub)-national feelings, local cultures, and traditions, especially the Bengali ones, are working subversive towards their notion of a caliphate. As such, the terrorists will most likely broaden their scope of targets, not only for the sake of silencing the critics of the distorted Jihadist interpretation of Islam, eradicating democracy, liberal and secular thinking, but also the whole Bengali nation and its people could become a potential target of IS and its international and domestic allies.