Throughout November one headline dominated the media – ‘Jamaat-Shibir men continue to attack police’. The spate of attacks across the country left several hundred policemen injured, many of them were hospitalized with serious injuries. In some cases weapons were snatched from the law enforcers while in most occasions their vehicles were vandalized or torched. The government found it an ominous sign of destabilizing the country and subversive activities by the fundamentalist party, which are out to foil the trial of the war criminals. The way police came under attack was somewhat unprecedented and in most cases the police lost the battle to the attackers. At one stage, an English daily newspaper suggested that ‘police got panicky at Jamaat-Shibir offensive.’ In other newspapers and television talk shows, there were analyses about why and how police continued to become the victims of such violence. Though top police officials continued to say that they would not tolerate such violence, we did not see any decisive action to contain it. The month-long act of mayhem and vandalism culminated to Tuesday’s hartal which again was marked with violence. The spate of violence raise one important question — what messages the Islamic fundamentalist party wants to give the government by attacking one of its strong organs?
Psychological benefit of violence
Some political doctrines predispose their adherents to the use of violence. Like other major monotheisms, Islam does not forbid violence on behalf of religiously sanctioned causes, but neither does it encourage it, according to Lisa Anderson, a foremost writer on political Islam. Is Jamaat-Shibir interpreting saving of their leaders from war crime trials as a religiously sanctioned cause? The substantive dogma of Islam does not tell us when or why its followers will resort to violence to further its cause. However, Franz Fanon’s famous defence of the psychological benefits of violence in political struggle is a case in point. Apparently, Jamaat-Shibir is taking this notion of psychological benefits of violence to further their cause. To gain psychological advantage it carried out the violent attacks on their rival students’ organizations in different educational institutions in the country. In an attempt to show their strength, this time they have decided to attack the law enforcers. No other political organization or group dared to swoop on the police the way Jamaat-Shibir did in recent weeks.
Rather than looking to the substance of Islam, some groups are interpreting the political doctrines for a wiliness to embrace violent means to a desired ends though Islam condemns terrorism and suicide. “Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law”, the Quranic verse (6:151) clearly and categorically declared. Does Jamaat adhere to this Quranic verse?
Jihad in Islam
About Jihad, there are so many mis-interpretations. To many Islamists, Jihad means ‘holy war’. According to Mir Zohair Husain, another prominent writer on Islamism, the term Jihad is derived from the Arabic root jhd, which means ‘to strive’, ‘to endeavour’ or to ‘struggle in the way of God’. The term does not merely mean ‘holy war’. Ideally Jihad has three meanings: a battle against evils within oneself (personal jihad); a battle against evils within Muslim community (ummaic jihad); and a struggle against aggressors who are not practicing Muslims (Martial jihad). Martial or violent jihad is referred to in Islam as jihad-i-asghar (literally, the lesser or smaller jihad). Martial jihad should be used to protect and to promote the integrity of Islam and to defend the ummah against hostile non-believers. Personal jihad or jihad-i-akbar is the greatest jihad for any Muslim while ummaic jihad also represents the non-violent struggle for freedom and justice within the dar-al-Islam (Islamic state). Neither of the three above meanings of jihad permits Islamists to wage violent jihad in a predominantly Muslim country like Bangladesh.
ICS branded as a terrorist organization
Islami Chattra Shibir (ICS), the student wing of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami is branded as a terrorist organization by the US-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Responses to Terrorism (START). START (http://www.start.umd.edu) is a project funded by the US Homeland Security and it is based in the University of Maryland. The terrorism profile is prepared by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, another project supported by the Department of Justice and Homeland Security.
According to the profile, the current goal of the ICS is to dedicate itself to the establishment of an Islamic system of education in Bangladesh and the foundation of an Islamic state. It is an active student-militant organization with a large but unknown number of members. It has shown no hesitation to use violence to further its aims.
The US research body also said the ICS is directly funded by the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic political party in Bangladesh. Although ICS is founded as a legitimate students’ organization, it is now an extremely militant organization linked to numerous acts of violence over the years. In addition, the group has also been linked to a number of larger terrorist organizations both in Bangladesh and internationally.
According to the research portal, the violence perpetrated by the ICS can generally be put in two categories. The first category involves inter-fighting between the ICS and other student organizations on university campuses. The second category of violence includes general terrorism beyond the borders of educational institutions. The ICS has been blamed for numerous terrorist attacks throughout Bangladesh.
The research also found the ICS linked to several largest terrorist organizations. It is considered to be nothing more than a recruiting ground for Bangladeshi terrorist groups such as Harkat ul-Jihad and Jamatul Mujahedin. Some others however view ICS as a front for Jamaat-e-Islami terrorist operations. The ICS has also been linked to international groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda but concrete linkages have never been established.
If the Franz Fanon’s theory of psychological benefits of violence works for the Jamaat-Shibir, the country would embrace similar violent activities in the future. It’s time for the government to take decisive action.
Md Asiuzzaman teaches journalism at the Media Studies and Journalism department of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.