The Jamaat-e-Islami: The speaking trumpet of Islamism in Bangladesh – by Djan Sauerborn, Research Associate, South Asia Democratic Forum

There is no doubt that forbidding the Jamaat-e-Islami from the upcoming elections is a step in the right direction towards combating fundamentalism in Bangladesh. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) has stated repeatedly that from their perspective, it is not democracy that has to be upheld and protected in Bangladesh but the “true” form of Islam.  The JeI has been the spearhead of movements against Women’s Rights, religious minorities and pluralistic and democratic values in Bangladesh.

The JeI was formally established from the thoughts of Mawlana Abu Ala Moududi, a strong advocate of the Wahhabi movement in British India which explains its anti-democratic stance within Bangladesh. The party’s objective has been to establish an Islamic state, governed by Sharia Law. Nonetheless, this move by the courts in Bangladesh could create a false sense of Security.

First of all, it is very likely that the current opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), will declare the verdict void if they manage to retain power in the next elections, since the BNP has relied on the JeI in the past to secure their parliamentary majority.

Second , the decision to hinder the JeI from partaking in elections could lead to a further radicalization in the “underground and backrooms”. Not only has the JeI in Bangladesh (as well as in Pakistan) named the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as its “brother organization” it also maintains close ties to the MB in Egypt, Jordan and other outlets.

The MB provides structural, logistical, political but more importantly ideological support to the JeI. Historian and author of ‘Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia’ Professor Ayesha Jalal states that “The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood have been historically linked ideologically and have also had comparable social bases of support.

“If you add to this some broad similarities of context, most notably state authoritarianism, then the links between the two organisations become even more understandable.  So it is hardly surprising to find them expressing admiration for each other.”

This notion of mutual support became even more evident in statement’s of the Muslim Brotherhood calling for an end to the bringing to justice of war criminals persecuted by the “International Crimes Tribunal”. In 1971 several high profile JeI members sided and collaborated with the Armed Forces of Pakistan and organized the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Justice The past is catching up to the perpetrators of war crimes in   Bangladesh, and rightfully so.

More than 40 years have past since Archer Kent Blood, the last American General Consul to East Pakistan, voiced his complete bewilderment (“Blood Telegram”) about the horrendous crimes being committed against humanity during the Bangladesh Liberation War and the placidity within the international community.

The atrocities committed in East-Pakistan can with no doubt be labeled a genocide, albeit a genocide that has received little to no attention in the past.

In addition to its dark legacy, the JeI of Bangladesh has been repeatedly linked to terrorist organizations: the majority of the leaders Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Jagrata Muslim Janata (JMJB) have histories of involvement with JeI and its student wing, Islamic Chatra Shibir.

Given the historical trajectory in Bangladesh’s political history the decision of Bangladesh’s courts to strike down JeI electoral registration is only a drop in a bucket-a bucket with a lot of holes.

The international community must be aware and shed light on the ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami.

The JeI is capable of increasing its capacities and ideological outreach, even if it is not part of the future government or opposition. Internal as well as external decision-makers must be aware of the fact that no role in formal power does not equate to no power at all. Quite the contrary could happen. With political oversight removed or reduced the JeI could emerge as a force stronger than ever.

Although there is, as Siegfried O. Wolf a leading expert on Bangladesh has pointed out in the Bulletin of the South Asia Democratic Forum, a general desire and political will of secular forces to curb the advances of fundamentalists, it is hard to claim that they have been sucessful in their pro-democratic endeavour.

The International Community must remain alert and must prevent itself from being lulled into a false sense of security regarding the dangers of religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

If extremist outlets continue to prosper,especially the progress made regarding the improvement of Women‘s and Minorty Rights is at stake and the secular nature of the state will not be more than a constituional charade.

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