BD Post Desk
Speakers at a seminar held at the House of Lords in London called upon European governments to reassess their views of Jihadist groups and noted that Europe needs to understand that the rise of radicalisation and religiously-motivated violence is not only a localized phenomenon in Bangladesh and in South Asian countries, but has serious ramifications for Europe too.
They called for effective engagement with the Bangladesh authorities to combat fanatic indoctrination, terrorism and other forms of political violence.
Organised by the European Bangladesh Forum (EBF), the seminar on the theme, “Challenges to Parliamentary Democracy and Threats of Radicalisation in Bangladesh: Way Forward”, was hosted by Lord Paul Bew, Patron of EBF on Thursday.
Speakers at the seminar were Jim Fitzpatrick, Member of the British House of Commons and Vice Chairman of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh; Syed Badrul Ahsan, Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age, Bangladesh; Roberta Bonazzi, founder and President of the European Foundation for Democracy; Dr. Siegfried O Wolf, German political scientist and Director of South Asia Democratic Forum; Shahriar Kabir, President, Forum for Secular Bangladesh and Martin Frampton of Queen Mary University, London. Ansar Ahmed Ullah, President of EBF, delivered the welcome speech.
The seminar was held against the background of preparations in Bangladesh for the forthcoming general elections in the country in December this year amidst threats of boycott by one of the major political parties, the BNP. The BNP had earlier threatened to boycott the elections if they are not held under a non-elected, non-party caretaker government.
Speakers at the seminar were of the view that secular politics has in broad outlines been restored in a significant way, but warned at the same time that the forces arrayed against secularism should not be underestimated or ignored.
Syed Badrul Ahsan, dwelling on the issue of what is at stake for the country, informed the audience of the history of the struggle for secular politics in Bangladesh. He noted that the emergence of Bangladesh was in essence a revolt against the communal politics pursued in Pakistan in the twenty four years between 1947 and 1971. But while liberal, secular politics was established in Bangladesh with the achievement of freedom, he said, there has ironically been a progressive decline in the secular ethos of the country since the assassinations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the four national leaders in 1975.

Ahsan briefed the seminar on the damage done to the constitutional basis of the country through the moves made by the military regimes of General Ziaur Rahman and General H.M. Ershad to foist religion on national politics. He pointed to the inordinate influence of the Hefazat-e-Islam, despite widespread condemnation of its 13-point demand of a fanatical nature, on national politics. Secularism, he said, had a long way to go considering the alarming decline in the figures for the Hindu population of the country.

Dr Siefgried Wolf said western government should not allow parties supporting or patronising terrorism to use their territories and must stop granting them safe-haven, freedom of movement. Political parties that directly or indirectly associate – either through individual members or third entities (Muslim Charity and cultural organisations) – with violent Jihadist organisations must be considered as part of the Jihadist movement, he opined.

In his remarks, Shahriar Kabir said from 2001 to 2006 Bangladesh witnessed an unprecedented persecution of religious minorities, mostly Hindus. In order to convert Bangladesh into a monolithic Muslim country, he added, the BNP-Jamaat alliance forced more than a quarter million hapless Hindus to leave Bangladesh and take shelter in neighboring India. Despite protests the then BNP coalition government did not take any measure. On the contrary, several secular civil society leaders were put behind bars, he added.

Roberta Bonnazi said radicalization is a global phenomenon has no boundaries. That is why it needs multi-level cooperation among civil societies and also at government-to-government levels. In this respect Bangladesh needs support and cooperation from European countries and at the same time Europe has a lot to learn from Bangladesh from its successful operation against militancy and religion-based extremism.

Earlier, Lord Paul Bew, in his welcome address said, “We have to look at the root of violent extremism and religion-based violence, which is not only a significant issue for Bangladesh, but also significant for European countries, including the United Kingdom. Through analyses of European and global perspectives of militancy and terrorism, we have to increase mutual understanding and cooperation to ensure a sustainable policy and strategy against all sorts of extremist threats and violence.”

Among others, General Secretary of World Sindhi Congress, Lakhu Luhana, Director of Humane First Ajanta Deb Roy and writer Priyajit Debsarkar registered their comments on the subjects raised at the seminar.