A crackdown on radical Islamist political activity in South Asia is drawing the ire of American Muslim political groups which claim they stand against radicalism.
Bangladesh's democratic government has taken a series of steps to stem the tide of Islamic extremism since it won elections in December 2008.
Most of the actions by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party, the Awami League, target the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistani-tied Islamist party which seeks to impose Shariah in Bangladesh.
Among the steps taken:
- Four senior Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leaders, including the party's leader Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, were arrested in July in connection with mass killings and other war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
- A recent ban was imposed on books by Islamist scholar Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi in mosques and libraries across Bangladesh. Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party in 1941 in Lahore, Pakistan, then part of British India. He is a leading pioneer of Islamic revivalism in South Asia and has been reported to be inspired by the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood, a global Islamic revivalist movement founded in Egypt in 1928 that seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate based on Islamic law.
- Bangladesh's Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict in July overturning a 1979 constitutional amendment legitimizing military rule and sanctioning the participation of religious parties in politics.
- Earlier this year, police arrested Mohiuddin Ahmed and Syed Golam Mawla, top leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist movement that seeks to establish a worldwide Islamist caliphate ruled by Shariah.
Bangladesh has many Islamic terrorist groups, including the Jamaat ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), and al-Qaida-affiliated groups.
The Muslim American Society (MAS), an organization with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood headquartered in Alexandria, Va., issued a press release that "expressed grave concern over the human rights conditions in Bangladesh." It blasted the moves as "oppression of religious elements" and accused the democratically-elected government of a "descent into authoritarianism."
MAS' political and public relations wing, the Freedom Foundation, along with the American Muslim Task Force (AMTF), later organized a rally outside the United Nations to protest the "arrest of key leaders of the Islamic Movement in Bangladesh (Jamaat-e-Islami), student activists, journalists and members of the political opposition."
Bangladesh is slowly becoming an attractive haven for international terrorist groups, including al-Qaida. Pakistani groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) that are affiliated with al-Qaida reportedly have a presence in the country.
Despite the crackdown, the government still faces challenges from Islamic radicals and violent extremists seeking to destabilize the country's democratic institutions and establish Shariah. The former government of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) included Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Islami Oikya Jote ("Islamic Unity Front").
This situation helped expand the influence of Islamic radicals in Bangladesh and created space for terrorist groups to operate in the country with relative impunity.
The Islami Oikya Jote is alleged to have ties to the extremist HuJI-B, a group on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations. HuJI-B was founded in 1992 by Bangladeshi mujahedin returning from Afghanistan reportedly with assistance from Osama bin Laden.
The organization is a signatory to bin Laden's 1998 fatwa that declared holy war against America and allies. The group is also tied to the January 2002 attack on the American Center in Calcutta.
In addition to direct assistance to anti-terrorism programs, education reform, including better oversight of Bangladesh's madrassas that serve as breeding grounds for radical Islamic extremism, must be a key U.S. priority.
Washington must urge Dhaka to enact legislation that would "require financial transparency, curriculum reform, and compulsory registration of all madrassas," Hassan told the IPT.
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