Why radical Islamists in Bangladesh are protesting against Trump's decision on Jerusalem

Hefazat-e-Islam has given a call to lay siege to the US embassy in Dhaka on December 13.

 |  5-minute read |   09-12-2017
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US President Donald Trump's decision to shift US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has, quite expectedly, caused a huge furore among the Palestinians as well as the entire Muslim world opposed to Israel.

While Israelis are naturally very upbeat with the announcement as it not only endorses the Israeli stand, but also vindicates its 60-decade-old policy of legitimising Jerusalem as the western hub of diplomatic activities. 

However, security analysts never really anticipated the fact that reverberations linked to Jerusalem would ever irk Bangladesh.

On December 8 , after the Friday prayers, Hefazat-e-Islam - an outfit comprising violent zealots - held a protest demonstration in front of the famous Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in Dhaka, protesting against Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The massive crowd gathered and the fact that the protest was organised by a fundamentalist organisation, speak volumes about the bigots' ire prevailing in Bangladesh. Such demonstrations do not stop here.

Hefazat-e-Islam, has now  given a call to lay siege to the US embassy in Dhaka on December 13, signalling that the Muslims in this part of the world want to be in the forefront of an agitation on the issue of Jerusalem and exploit the developments for domestic political advantage.

ban_120917043930.jpgHefajat-e-Islam supporters at a rally in Dhaka (Credit: Reuters file photo).

Announcing an anti-Israel and anti-US initiative also spells out warning to the thousands of liberals in Bangladesh that Hefazat-e-Islam is still a force to reckon with and will stay afloat expressing solidarity with the Islamic fraternity in general and Palestine in particular. 

But why did Hefazat-e-Islam of all groups decide to organise the protest demonstrations? This 10-year-old fundamentalist organisation has been looking for opportunities to exploit. It was hardly three-year-old when Bangladesh liberals took to street protests in 2013 against the wanton killings of bloggers, academics and liberals.

Hefazat-e-Islam played a crucial role in clashing with the establishment, implying its support to the killers and intensifying its demand for imposition of Sharia law across Bangladesh. By such a step, it made its presence felt in mainstream Bangladesh.

It succeeded in occupying a political space even as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) stands banned. Hefazat-e-Islam possibly wants to emerge as an alternative to the JeI to counterweight pro- India Hasina and her party as and when the outfit feels the government is tilting too much towards secular or liberal forces. Or for that matter, Hasina tilting towards India. 

Not very long ago, Hefazat-e-Islam was in focus when it successfully launched a movement to remove the statue of the Greek goddess of justice, Themis, that stood in the compound of Bangladesh Supreme Court, describing it a symbol of Hindu culture as the statue wore a sari. Also, an idol is considered to be anti-Islam.

Through these machinations, Hefazat-e-Islama sserted itself a force to reckon with. By such actions, it earned the support of international fundamentalist Muslim organisations, and managed to get close to al Qaeda and, in all likelihood, to ISIS.

Also, it could make its presence felt in the South Asia and South East Asia region in an apparent bid to unite the Muslim populace in the vicinity. Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Southern Thailand, parts of Philippines are easily won over by such gesticulations in a country like Bangladesh. 

Coming back to the Hefazat-e-Islam threat to lay siege to US embassy in Dhaka, even if it's a veiled threat, it should be taken seriously as it speaks about an outfit posing direct challenge to the secular government in Bangladesh as well as the Trump administration.  

This could be an attempt by the Hefazat-e-Islam to unite all fundamentalist reactionary forces in Bangladesh for the "Jerusalem cause" and convert it into a bigger issue, dividing the society on communal lines and keeping the Hasina government on tenterhooks.  

The opposition anti-India and pro-Pakistan, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), would love to soak in this development, especially at a time when the party is going through a really bad patch.

The Global Intelligence Media network, a Canadian news channel, as well as Saudi authorities have very recently alleged that BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, already battling for political survival due to several graft charges, is involved in cases of money-laundering, bribery and other nefarious deals with a humungous investment of $12 million in Saudi malls and other infrastructural projects.

Reeling under such grave charges abroad, and facing graft allegations in Bangladesh itself, Khaleda Zia is on the back foot. The recent developments will also hit the already battered image of her exiled son Tareq Rahman, now living in the UK. 

Khaleda Zia is likely to cling on to anything which will bail her out from political wilderness. She ruled Bangaldesh in partnership with the Jamaat for two terms. This collaboration saw a visible growth in fundamentalism in Bangladesh.  

The threat of laying siege to US embassy in Dhaka and intermittent violent protests are ominous signs reminding us of the rise of Jamaat in Pakistan in the early years of its independence. The rest is history. 

The present situation, therefore, calls for unity among the secular forces in Bangladesh to thwart the monstrous growth of fundamentalism in the pretext of "Jerusalem", or any other issue. The coming are likely to be critical.

Also read: How close are we to nuclear world war?


Shantanu Mukharji Shantanu Mukharji @shantanu2818

The author is a retired IPS officer who has held key positions in the Government of India handling sensitive security issues within and outside India.

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