Monday, April 10, 2006

Mar. 11, '06

Bangladesh Cracks Down on Militant Extremists

Moderate Muslims around the world, along with their supporters and well-wishers, should be inspired by the recent happenings in Bangladesh. Leaders of two banned militant Islamic organizations, responsible for unleashing death and destruction on an unsuspecting population, were finally cornered in their hideouts earlier this month by law enforcement officials known as Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and taken into custody.

As Abdur Rahman and Siddiqul Islam, respective chiefs of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), await their fate, Bangladeshis are rejoicing. But there is also anger at the havoc these terrorists have wrought and the bad name they have given to a peaceful and progressive society.

On August 17 of last year, for instance, the two organizations were responsible for the synchronized explosion of over 400 crude bombs throughout Bangladesh, killing two and injuring more than 120. More bombings, grenade assassinations and suicide bombings (an unfortunate first for Bangladesh) followed in December, leading to more deaths and injuries and creating a sense of terror throughout the Wisconsin-sized country.
What motivated the terrorists? In the words of their leaders: “To establish Islamic law. It’s a pity that in Bangladesh, where about 90 percent are Muslims, Allah’s rules are not implemented.”

But Bangladeshis realized that their version of Islamic law was nothing but a hodgepodge of misogyny, violence, thirst for power and distorted interpretations of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. They rejected their call for a Taliban-style medieval theocracy and wished fervently for the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to bring the radicals to justice. The arrests couldn’t have come sooner.
The young and vulnerable Bangladeshis who were lured into joining JMB and JMJB and engaged in bombings and other acts of random violence have destroyed not only their own lives but also the lives of their dependents. These victims are now speaking out. And they are not mincing words.

Hurrennesa Baby, 16, is the daughter of Nasir Uddin, a JMB member who blasted bombs and killed people last year and now sits in a jail. “Like many others, our family has been ruined as my father was the lone earning member,” she said. “My family is virtually starving. Our friends and relatives have deserted us. They (the militant kingpins) should be hanged in public.” Omar Ali, 65, is the father of detained JMB member Anisur Rahman. “I would like to see the two militant extremists executed as they ruined my family by misguiding my son into exploding bombs on August 17.”

Similar sentiments are being echoed throughout the country.

The events in Bangladesh are a reminder that moderate Muslim nations are working hard to root out extremists who wear the cloak of religiosity but whose goal is to spread anarchy and mayhem in the name of Islam. This message is sometimes lost on some in the West who tend to paint Muslims and Islamic nations in broad brush strokes and pin the “terrorist” label on all because of the actions of a few. A poll released this month by Washington Post and ABC News found that 46 percent of Americans have a negative view of Islam “fueled in part by political statements and media reports that focus almost solely on the actions of Muslim extremists.” The latest Dubai fiasco only underscores this issue. Congress voted 62 to 2 to kill a deal that would have given Dubai Ports World the rights to operate six U.S. ports. United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Dubai is one of its seven emirates - has proven to be one of the staunchest allies of America in its war against terror and fundamentalism. Dubai services more U.S. military ship than any other foreign country. Yet the idea of linking Dubai to U.S. ports caused a huge uproar throughout America. The sentiment behind the uproar can be summarized as follows: “Arabs are coming. The sky is falling. We are about to be terrorized!” How can America ever hope to win friends in the Middle East, far less “spread democracy”, if it stereotypes all Arabs as suspects?

As an American Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, I draw an important lesson from the recent events in the country of my birth: the importance of Ijtihad in the practice of Islam. Ijtihad means informed independent thinking about theological issues, particularly in the context of the times. Many Muslims are sometimes content to practice Islam based on derivative knowledge, blindly following this sheik or that imam. It is important that we think about Islamic issues ourselves first and then seek opinions and guidance from religious leaders. That way, at the very least, we can engage in enlightened debates with them, thereby practicing a religion more resonant with our reasoning and intuition. Imam Reda Shata of the Bay Ridge mosque in New York explained it this way to his congregants: “Islam is a religion based on intellect. Islam says to you: ‘Think. Don’t close your eyes and just follow your emotions. Don’t follow the sheik. Perhaps you have a better mind than his.’ ”

Bangladeshi authorities are now interrogating the two terrorist leaders to find out who financed their organizations, where their members received training and how arms and ammunitions were smuggled into the country. Although the country has its share of problems - bribery, nepotism, red tape, financial shenanigans by the wealthy and the privileged, to name a few - Bangladeshis (population: 145 million) are solidly behind this effort, even though there is quibbling about whether or not the government could have taken such decisive actions months ago. But it is better late than never. Law enforcement officials are confident that Bangladesh will soon be free from the scourge of terrorism waged in the name of Islam.

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