The murders of liberals, bloggers, secularists and LGBT rights activists continue in Bangladesh. Over the past few weeks, a Hindu tailor, a gay rights advocate, a social media activist and a Sufi leader have been killed by suspected Islamists.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, the leading Islamist group, denies any link to the attacks, while Islamic State has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.
Past history and its consequences:
The murders cannot be seen in isolation from the ongoing war crimes trials of those who sided with the Pakistan Army during the Liberation War of 1971, causing countless deaths in the months leading up to the creation of Bangladesh.
The conflict goes back to the Shahbag protests in 2013 which sought capital punishment for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla and a ban on the organisation.
The Awami League government set up the war crimes trials despite threats from the islamists and also sought to delegitimize groups such as the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Reason for clashes:
The attacks are but indications of two sets of ideas on the country’s past, present and future.
The first set imagines Bangladesh as a nation born out of struggle against the linguistic and cultural hegemony of then West Pakistan. The country so founded laid commitment to liberal, secular and civic values.
The second imagines the country as outpost of political Islam. The murdered activists had bravely taken positions against Islamist extremists.
As the government has failed to bring the assassins of bloggers, rights activists and others to justice, Ms. Hasina’s government might jeopardize Bangladesh’s future as a democratic nation.
Already, groups such as the Islamic State seem to be encouraged by the actions of the Islamists extremists and have publicly sought to deepen their base in Bangladesh.
The longer the government remains inactive the stronger the forces of extremism will become.