“When I began my newspaper, [The Weekly Blitz], in 2003 I decided to make an end to the well-orchestrated propaganda campaign against Jews and Christians and especially against Israel … In Bangladesh and especially during Friday prayers, the clerics propagate jihad and encourage the killing of Jews and Christians. When I was a child my father told me not to believe those words but to look at the world’s realities.”
“There is hardly a secular aspect of Bangladeshi society that hasn’t been infiltrated by Islamists,” Choudhury said.
In the political arena, radical Muslim parties have attained power gradually, gaining more and more seats in parliament until they become an essential part of any political coalition. Maneeza Hossain, manager of democracy programs at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, explained in a March 2006 National Review article that the attractiveness of radical ideologies to many in Bangladesh reflects the failure of the two main political parties, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and the Awami League, to offer genuine democratic reforms and economic growth. “The rise of Islamism is not a reflection of ignorance, but a result of disenchantment with the hollow discourse of democracy adopted by the political class against a background of corruption and economic disparity,” Hossain wrote.
Corruption Opens Door to Political Parties Affiliated with Extremist Religious Movements
Islamist actions, on the other hand, are seen as untainted by corruption, a mainstay of political life in Bangladesh, regularly ranked as the world’s most corrupt country by Transparency International. Orphans are enrolled in the more than 64,000 madrassas in the country, and constituencies are provided with funds from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, to build mosques and hospitals, helping Islamism in its many forms to gain further roots.
The efforts of the two main political parties in combating this growing radicalism have been inadequate at best. Instead of continuing the established Bangladeshi practice of a separation between mosque and state, both parties have courted the Islamists. The many concessions made by both parties to gain the support of Islamists and their sympathizers has, among its many effects, increased the use of religious rhetoric in mainstream political discourse. Disturbingly, those who stand against the Islamists are branded as anti-Muslim, with even the country’s constitution labeled as “Christian” by some.
Both mainstream parties are guilty of this complacency and accommodation, but, according to Hossain, it is the BNP that has formed an alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islam, the dominant public Islamist party.
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