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Bangladesh 'needs to do more' than just ban militant group

Government needs to address extremism at its roots and not just pay lip service, say critics

Bangladesh 'needs to do more' than just ban militant group

Secular activists stage a rally in Dhaka to demand justice for the killing of U.S.-based Bangladeshi blogger and science writer Avijit Roy in 2015. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporters, Dhaka
Bangladesh

March 10, 2017

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News that Bangladesh has banned an Islamic militant group has been met with skepticism from those concerned about the rise of fundamentalism in the country.

The Home Ministry recently banned Ansar al-Islam, an alleged offshoot of Al-Qaeda. "The activities of Ansar al-Islam threaten peace and stability in Bangladesh ... all activities of this group are banned because they constitute a threat to public order," the notification said.

Ansar al-Islam is the seventh radical group outlawed in Bangladesh since 2005. The group was earlier known as Ansarullah Bangla Team and was banned in 2015 but regrouped.

They have been accused of carrying out a series of attacks on secular bloggers for writing posts they deemed critical of Islam. 

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of Catholic bishop's Justice and Peace Commission said that, by banning the group, the ruling Awami League government is trying to navigate a tough situation.

The government cannot dictate what people can write or not but it also cannot enrage Islamists as it fears they might collaborate with the opposition to depose them, Bishop Rozario told ucanews.com.

"Banning is not a solution because the seed is still there. People need to be made aware; families and societies must be involved in tackling fundamentalism," he said.

M. Shakhwat Hossain, a security analyst, was also skeptical.

"The banning gives the government the legal grounds to take action against the group but it can't uproot it and so there is a chance for re-emergence. It's impossible to destroy extremism unless there is a large social movement in the public psyche against it," Hossain told ucanews.com.

Ananya Azad, a blogger who fled to Germany in June 2015 after receiving death threats, said that, rather than banning militant groups, Bangladesh needs to take strong action.

"Bangladesh's Constitution accepts secularism as a principle but it also recognizes Islam as the state religion; this conflict must come to an end because it allows politics and extremism in the name of Islam. Islamic clerics and madrasa education need to be monitored and action must be undertaken to stop public and individual hate speech," Azad said via email.

"If Bangladesh keeps appeasing Islamists for political gain and turns a blind eye to abuses and attacks on freethinkers the country is sure to suffer worse conditions than Pakistan and Afghanistan in the near future," he added.

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