02/11/2005, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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People defend democracy against rise in Islamic extremism

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Islamic extremism in Bangladesh is a threat that must be kept in check. Fortunately, it has not spread to most of the population which still wants to solve the country's crisis with the weapons of democracy.

Bangladeshis who spoke to AsiaNews said that "extremist groups are present and active in the country but have no following among the people which feels the need to defend democracy".

However, Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh is back on the front pages of newspapers after a grenade attack in the north-eastern town of Laskarpur left five people dead on January 27, including the country's former Finance Minister Shah A.M.S. Kibria, a member of the opposition Awami League.

The deadly incident was the latest in a string of attacks targeting pro-democracy and progressive leaders (politicians, writers, artists) raising concerns even in the international community.

Currently, the country is run by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in coalition with the fundamentalists of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ).

Many observers are concerned that with extremists sharing power, the government is in danger of turning the predominantly Muslim nation into a terrorist factory and radically alter its hitherto moderate image.

AsiaNews's sources said that "since the attack the atmosphere is very tense. From the end of January onward the Awami League has organised strikes and carried out rallies to try to bring down the government". The latter has however minimised the import of the latest bout of violence.

The situation is made worse by the increasing politicisation of religion. The debate over the radicalisation of Islam is heating up and finding a greater echo in the number of letters to the editor local English-language papers are publishing.

Still, according to AsiaNews's sources "people realise the dangers [of fundamentalism] to democracy and want to act against those who are trying to undermine the political and religious life of the country".

"Although mosques and madrassas (Quranic schools) are being built throughout the country, Muslims' wish to profess their faith should not be confused with fundamentalism and terrorism. More importantly, our crisis is important enough to deserve the attention of the international community to help us preserve its democracy".

Bangladesh has a population of over 141,000,000 people. Muslims are 88 per cent; Hindus, 10.5 per cent; Christians, about 0.7 per cent. (MA)

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