Renowned writer and journalist of Bangladesh, Haroon Habib was in Kolkata recently to participate in an international conference on the BIMSTEC countries. In 1970-71, Habib had served as an active member of student guerrilla cadet of Awami League in the Liberation war against Pakistan and had escaped to India.
On the sideline of the conference, he talked to The Background.
On the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh.
The root of Islamic fundamentalism goes back to 1971, when Bangladesh was born. It spread its wing through Jamat with the help from Pakistan. After Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took over, they could not make a dent because of the secular outlook of Sheikh Mujib.
In 1975, after the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, the fundamentalist force gained foothold and was able to spread its branches all over the country with the backing of the armed forces. The Army also knew well that the people never accepted them cordially and needed a kind of religious camouflage. When Ershad came to power, fundamentalist groups took the opportunity of his tacit support and came out as a motivated political force.
But when BNP came to power they openly shake their hands with the fundamentalist forces. They did it only to retain power.
In the late 1970’s when former USSR occupied Afghanistan, many Bangladeshi youth, motivated by Islamist concept went to that area to fight the Russian. They became Mujahideen. Later on, they joined terror groups like the Taliban or Al- Qaeda. Afterwards, when the war ended many of them returned to their homeland importing hardcore fundamentalist ideologies. Groups like Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) Bangladesh and some other terrorist outfits were formed. Awami League had a secular ideology and these forces knew it too well. They also knew their existence is threatened as long as Awami League is in power. So they always supported parties opposing Awami.
During Syrian civil war, some young people went there to fight on behalf of ISIS. Later on, they also returned to the country and formed different newer platforms funded by religious extremist groups from outside.
Awami League, in the second term, also did some blunders by giving membership to the people who never honoured its secular ideologies. They joined the ruling party only to achieve personal gains. They are harming both the country and Awami League.
Haroon Habib with the writer
On how to change the present scenario.
We are a tiny nation. We are not well equipped with new technology to fight against the terror groups. But we trust the younger generation of Bangladesh. This generation are still aware of the history of Liberation war (মুক্তিযুদ্ধ) and they most of them honour the Awami League’s secular outlook and ideologies which reflect on its political manifesto. So we hope these young people would never give opportunities to any fundamentalist forces getting the driver seat in the country. Also, we trust India for all kinds of support to curb any adverse situation which affects our national interest and sovereignty.