Impoverished, predominantly Muslim and below-media-radar Bangladesh continues to wage a careful war on militant Islamist terrorists.
This is good news. Bangladesh is the world's eighth most populous country, with around 168 million people.
Unfortunately, the latest news begins with an act of calculated Islamist terror that also had a greed-driven criminal angle.
Beginning October 30, militant Islamists conducted a series of attacks on a Hindu neighborhood in the Nasirnagar sub-district (eastern Bangladesh). The attacks injured at least 100 Bangladeshi Hindus (150 according to one report) and damaged 17 Hindu shrines and temples. The attackers looted shrines and businesses. They also looted the homes of at least 100 Hindu families.
The Islamists justified their attacks as retribution for outrageous religious sacrilege. They accused a Hindu from the brutalized community of making a comment on social media disrespecting the Great Mosque of Mecca, a venerated Islamic holy site.
Yes, in the sensitive, easily perturbed minds of violent Islamist extremists, an internet comment by one young man justifies hideous sectarian violence and the mass looting of an entire community.
Of course the roused Islamist militants were so infuriated by the lone comment's disrespect they completely ignored local police who attempted to assuage their hot button-ignited passion by arresting the young fellow on the legally spurious charge of "hurting religious sentiment."
But no matter. The militants attacked the Hindu community.
Here are some instructive demographic statistics. Bangladesh says eight percent of its population is Hindu. Hindus claim eight is a slight undercount. Nasirnagar is located in Brahmanbaria district. The name (Brahmin) hints at the region's historical Hindu connections. About 40 percent of Nasirnagar's current population is Hindu.
The militant Islamist attacks and looting spurred outrage throughout Bangladesh — in Muslim and as well as Hindu and Buddhist communities. Political and civic groups demanded the government quickly investigate the crime and then arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.
By November 6, national police had arrested 53 people allegedly involved in the attacks and theft. Authorities indicate more arrests could occur.
An initial investigation by Bangladesh's National Human Rights Commission found evidence that the riot and attacks were a "pre-planned conspiracy."
In other words, forget the Islamists' faux outrage and venting over a snarky internet comment. The attacks on Hindus were pre-planned, and militant leaders were seeking an excuse to launch a communal war.
According to Reuters, the NHRC also concluded the Nasirnagar sub-district administration and police were "negligent and callous in handling" the situation. Nasirnagar authorities let the militant Islamists conduct political demonstrations to express their alleged outrage and grievance at the comment's disrespect.
Militants used the demonstrations as a cover operation for triggering the riot. The riot, in many respects, was a cover for a looting expedition.
A spokesman for the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (which defends the rights of Bangladesh religious minorities) claimed the attacks had a goal: to drive Hindus from their homes. This echoes the aim of Serbian Orthodox vigilantes who attacked Bosnian Muslim villages in 1991. The world decried that cruelty.
The attacks and theft by the Islamist militants were criminal acts. Local police malfeasance was inexcusable. However, the national government in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation didn't ignore the wrongs. It responded appropriately.
That's no surprise. StrategyPage.com recently reported "Islamic terrorists are very much a tiny minority in Bangladesh and a very unpopular one at that." Though Islamic terrorist-related murders in 2016 are likely to triple the 42 registered in 2015, StrategyPage concluded that long-term trends demonstrate Islamist terrorism has "a difficult time getting a foothold in Bangladesh."
Bangladesh was once East Pakistan. Today Bangladesh's government contends Pakistan supports Islamic terrorism within Bangladesh. There's ugly history behind the claim. In the 1971 Bangladesh rebellion against Pakistan, Islamist radicals committed numerous atrocities. Memory of those atrocities helps explain Bangladesh's commitment to fight al-Qaida, ISIS and their affiliates.
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