Written by Mriganka Mukhopadhyay.

In February 2016, Ananya Azad, Shammi Haque and their friends created a Facebook event for organizing a ‘Kiss of Love‘ campaign on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The event was scheduled to be held in Dhaka on 14 February, 2016.  Azad, a prominent atheist blogger from Bangladesh and son of well-known Bengali poet Humayun Azad, was abused online and received death threats while Haque received multiple rape threats from a section of Bangladeshi youth.

They were termed as anti-Islam, promiscuous, and agents of India and the western world. It was a mere Facebook event page but it exposed the extent to which the youth in Bangladesh have become radicalized. Religious fundamentalism has reached the roots of Bangladeshi society and there have been prominent hints of growing conservatism.  This is reflected in the way women are forced to wear a hijab in public, in the way that xenophobic ideas are spread during India-Bangladesh cricket matches and in the way atheist bloggers are murdered in broad daylight on the streets. It is for this same reason that bloggers like Ananya Azad are compelled to emigrate to European countries such as Germany.

Giving the excuse of Muslim aggression against Hindus, Hindu Samhati have successfully orchestrated communal riots in Bengal in the last couple of years.

Surprisingly, the main foot-soldiers of such hate-campaigns are the youth of the country. These are teenagers and young men, some studying in high schools and universities while others are dropouts, often brainwashed by radical Islamic clerics sharing close links with Al-Qaida or Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

These global terrorist organizations operate in Bangladesh mainly through banned groups such as the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) or Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). Such links became prominent during the much-publicized attack of 1 July 2016 at the Holey Artisan Bakery, a well-known café in a posh locality of Dhaka where a group of five radicalized, university-educated, young Bangladeshi terrorists held hostages which ultimately led to the killing of nearly three dozen people including civilians, policemen and militants in the course of gunfight.

It was later revealed during investigations that these university-educated young men were trained by agents of the Islamic State. The Dhaka terrorist attack was not an isolated event. It was soon followed by similar terrorist attacks in other parts of the country and these attacks continued throughout 2016. In July 2017, the US Department of State released a report reporting that “although terrorist attacks and fatalities from terrorism declined globally” in 2016, Bangladesh “experienced a significant increase in terrorist activity”. Such terror attacks have continued this year, as well. The most prominent of them have been the suicide bombing attacks in the compound of the elite Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB) headquarters in Dhaka and in a militant hideout in Sylhet. In both the incidents in March 2017, the Islamic State claimed responsibilities.

Radicalism provokes Reactionary politics

The radicalized Bangladeshi youth, among many other things, expresses a remarkable dislike for India, as well as the minority in Bangladesh. Interestingly, Hindu nationalists have taken advantage of this. The Hindu nationalist groups like Hindu Samhati, an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar operating in West Bengal, are portraying an inflated image of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh.

According to the Indian right wing, Bengali Hindus are a minority not only in Bangladesh but also in West Bengal and Jihadi forces are infiltrating India through the Indo-Bangla borders, spreading Islamist propaganda in India. Hindu Samhati claims that the minority Hindu community are victimised in Bangladesh. According to this organization, Hindus are forcefully converted to Islam, Hindu priests are beaten to death and Hindu temples are burnt in Bangladesh and such similar acts are repeated in West Bengal as well. They inevitably conclude that there is a growing “Islamization” of West Bengal, and an increasing “fear” among the Hindu population of West Bengal.

This propaganda of Hindu nationalists has given rise to a hate-mongering politics in Bengal and have successfully created a sense of insecurity among the citizens of West Bengal. Giving the excuse of Muslim aggression against Hindus, Hindu Samhati have successfully orchestrated communal riots in Bengal in the last couple of years. They consider that the governments of Bangladesh and West Bengal are responsible for the ‘so-called’ misery of Bengali Hindus in both sides of the borders.

Quite interestingly, the Hindu Samhati and some other Hindu nationalist organizations consider Donald Trump as a friend of India. Hindu Samhati’s support for Trump was recently voiced in the speech of Samhati’s founder-president, Tapan Ghosh.

Where do we stand?

Growing fundamentalism has made the world a dangerous place to live. The two Bengals on both sides of the Indo-Bangladesh border are no exception. In spite of being one linguistic community, Bengalis have become a pawn for two different forms of religious identity politics. This creates a politico-cultural crisis for the region and its people. On the one hand, there is a growing de-secularization of society and rise of xenophobic political culture and on the other there is a growth of neo-right wing ideas.

We have to understand that global Islamist fundamentalism and national/regional religious nationalism are two sides of the same coin which are being promoted under a rubric of a neo-liberal economic regime. Religion, if used for political opportunism, can convert into an instrument of violence and hatred. It is extremely difficult to disaggregate religion, politics and the culture of identity-formation from one another. The illusion that has been created by exclusivist identity politics is a dangerous enemy of world peace. It is difficult to discover an antidote for such kinds of illusion and mass-hysteria.

Mriganka Mukhopadhyay is a Historian of Religion. He is currently working on his PhD project on Theosophy in India at the University of Amsterdam. Image Credit: by Indian Ministry of External Affairs/Flickr.

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