Bangladesh is under attack. From within. The purpose of the assault is to obliterate the precarious democracy that has taken root in the country. The assault will fail, but only if and when it is countered with comprehensive measures. It is time for Bangladesh—state, polity, and society—to address the issue deliberately, with the required seriousness and sobriety, away from escapist denial as well as from alarmist catastrophism.
We cannot fault the attackers for hiding their motives. They have proclaimed their aims with clarity. These radical Islamist forces are out to negate the legitimacy and authority of our political and social system. And they explicitly spelt out their plan in the August 17 nationwide bombings; they are organized, united and have a consistent message: the very paradigm under which Bangladesh operates, its ‘democracy’, is invalid. Their target is not a tactical political gain, it is a system overhaul.
Like other rejectionist ideologies, theirs is one of destruction, not an alternative political or social program. They can assert their desire to apply ‘God’s Law,’ while being incapable of formulating any concrete or realistic plan for such a constructive application. There is, however, little time to ponder on the content of their ideologies. Their destructive plan is in operation. It should be understood for what it is, a corrosive affliction affecting our society, and it should be countered swiftly.
Some deemed the August bombings of minor significance; others attributed them to foreign powers. These bombings, however, might have raised our collective national threshold of tolerance to acts of violence. The first ever suicide bombing, an act in drastic opposition to our social, religious, and cultural values, was to take place soon afterwards, without the due shock and outrage from many, still engaged in minimizing the threat. To the contrary, some identified the target as the individual judges and noted some dissatisfaction with their performance, as an indirect explanation, if not justification, of the terror act. The target, however, was not the judges themselves. It was the judiciary system as a whole, and the values that our society cherishes.
While many, in government and beyond, were engaged in an exercise of minimizing denial, the terrorists struck again, underlining the fact that suicide bombings are now part and parcel of the Bangladeshi political landscape.
It was not enough for the attackers to try to unravel our institutions. Our culture is also their target. The second suicide bombing attack sent the message that our Bengali heritage is not compatible with their radical ideology.
The Udichi attack carries a substantive message. This prominent cultural group performs an important social function, offering a stage for drama, poetry and the artistic community. It is also a pre-independence organization whose role in the very inception of Bangladesh has not gone unnoticed. It is therefore deplorable that only members of the opposition Awami League were there to show solidarity with the victims of the terror incident. This was an attack on Bangladesh. All of Bangladesh ought to respond.
While the home minister and the LGRD minister are justified in stating that ‘there is no way to stop a man who wants to die,’ public condemnation of suicide acts must not be politicized and reduced to bi-partisan rivalry. It does not matter who were made the victims in a particular incident. It should not be up to Matia Chowdhury of the Awami League to tend to the victims for one attack, and members of the ruling party to attend to, to sympathize with, others.
Such rivalry increases the erosion of confidence in the political class, and provides points of entry to destructive forces aiming at discrediting the political system. We should not send mixed signals to the radical forces that their terrorization of our society will solicit a divided response, depending on whom they select as the next victims.
As the situation spins out of control, it is time to end the non-starter arguments. The time for distraction will only take away from a vital situation that is creating itself as a result of mismanagement. It does not matter whether it is the agents of other nations or fringe fanatics who are behind this string of attacks. What matters is that new action needs to be taken before radical forces push those in power – and those without– out for good.
Suicide bombers know that their method of sending a message is inexpensive, effective and guaranteed media coverage. Not only have they caught onto our local grievances and found an endless recruitment pool, the radical fringes in Bangladesh have adopted a cheap imported warfare practice of blowing themselves up. They are willing to die for a cause that will indeed, if left unchecked, redefine our normality.
By acknowledging the crisis of confidence in the political leadership, it is incumbent on all political forces to deny these radical forces the right to speak for the masses. It is not too late to send those willing to die to get their message across, a signal that we too are not willing to tolerate such cheapening of life. The stakes are higher than mere political gain. Indeed, they are for democracy in Bangladesh altogether.