"Cinema hall Bomb Blast"

Put the deadly genie back into bottle before it is too late! 

By A.H. Jaffor Ullah


�No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency.�

� Theodore Roosevelt


This commentary is on pernicious force that had been unleashed by a vile group to destroy Bangladesh.  This nation�s government is in denial about who is behind all these bombings.  The flap over al-Qaeda connection to Eid day bombings as made by the Home Minister will also be discussed in this article.    

On Eid Day blast in four cinema halls in Mymensingh, at least 17 people have died and hundreds of people were injured.  There is a possibility that the number of deaths in the blast may rise because the local hospital fears that they cannot provide the needed services.  The bombings of Mymensingh�s cinema halls on Eid evening are a grim reminder that Bangladesh society has metamorphosed into a violent one.   

The Eid Day blasts in Mymensingh are not the first wave of bomb blasts in this nation.  In the last 4 years, the nation has witnessed a spate of hate crimes directed against secular programes.  It is quite noteworthy that not a single religious gathering such as Waz Mehfil, prayer session, Ijtema, and any other religious gathering in the nation were the target of any such bomb attack.  On the other hand, an outdoor musical soiree arranged by Udichi cultural group was bombed in Jessore four years ago.  A Christian Church in Baniar Char was the bombed in June 2001.  The Pahela Baishakh festival on Bangla New Year�s Day in mid April 2001 was the scene of carnage in Ramna�s Boto Mool.  In September 2002, two separate bombs were blasted in Satkhira, the southwestern part of Bangladesh, in which a movie theater by the name Roxy was bombed.  Minutes later, another bomb exploded at the site that was hosting an outdoor exhibition.  People were enjoying a circus show in that outdoor festival.  Quite a few people have died in Satkhira and many more were injured.  Only three months have passed by since the Satkhira explosions, and now the nation has witnessed another spate of bombings.  The photos published in the Yahoo news site � 16 colored photos � include some grotesque crime scene.  All in all, the Bangladesh society, which used to be a docile and in which life used to be a placid one has transformed over the years into one of the most violent crime-ridden countries in southeast Asia.   

Under this back drop when the news of Eid day blasts hit the airwaves, Reuters reported in one of their dispatches on December 7, 2002, at that was posted in the Yahoo news site at 12:10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time that Bangladesh�s Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury hinted that according to Bangladesh police the attacks could be the work of Osama bin Laden al-Qaeda network.  Reading this report we heaved a sigh of relief.  We thought good sense has finally returned to our politicians� mind.  They are now admitting that all is not well in Bangladesh.  And they now see the invisible hands of al-Qaeda behind many of the bomb blasts that have taken place in the last couple of years.  To my knowledge, no self-respecting commentators have mentioned in their essays that Osama bin Laden�s organization al-Qaeda is behind all these bombings.  Considering which places were bombed in Bangladesh, some commentators have opined that perhaps some fringe organizations with a strong tie to fundamentalist political parties are behind these hate crimes.  Thus, when we first read in the Reuters report that Bangladesh�s Home Minister has hinted the role of al-Qaeda in these bombings, we felt relieved thinking that good sense has finally prevailed amongst the ruling party politicians.  However, how wrong we were! 

Within hours of the first Reuters report in which the Home Minister�s assertion was published, we read the account of denial by the same minister.  On 11:00 a.m., Dec 08, 2002, we saw in the Yahoo news site an AP dispatch written by Mr. Farid Hossain.  It was titled, �Bangladesh rules out al-Qaida involvement in bombings; toll rises to 18.�  This time the minister said in a news conference, �I ... would like to categorically state here that there is no al-Qaida network on the soil of Bangladesh.�  The Home Minister�s earlier comments did not jibe with the party line.   

The ruling BNP made an alliance with other Islamic fundamentalist parties in Bangladesh.  This alliance was made before October 1, 2001, election.  After winning the parliamentary election, the government of Khaleda Zia included two powerful ministers from Jamaat-i-Islam party.  Also, the BNP is soft on Islamic fundamentalist parties that Bangladesh has many operating for years.  That is precisely why whenever any journalists or commentators would bring the charge of al-Qaeda or any other rogue Islamic organizations� complicity in minority repression or terrorist activities such as bombing incidents over the last 4 years, the government would steadfastly deny those allegations by saying that there is no al-Qaeda cell operating inside the country.   

When Mr. Alex Perry, a journalist from for Time Asia magazine wrote an article in October 2002, in which he mentioned that Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has been hiding in the country for many months, the government and other sympathetic newspaper editors in Bangladesh condemned Mr. Perry for his portrayal of Bangladesh a den of Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers.  Alex Perry, South Asia Bureau Chief, Time magazine, shot back, �We're not saying the government is linked.  We're saying the government simply isn't in control and al-Qaeda and Taleban are taking advantage of that.�  The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry had denounced Mr. Perry�s report characterizing it as a sinister attempt by Time magazine to besmirch the country's secular and tolerant reputation.  With this varied backdrop, it was a surprising development that Bangladesh�s Home Minister, Mr. Altaf Hossain Chowdhury would now admit that Eid day bombings in Mymensingh may be the work of al-Qaeda terrorist group.  This would also give credence to the fact that Osama bin Laden�s organization al-Qaeda is present in Bangladesh�s soil. 

Within hours of Reuters report published in the Internet, the Home Minister of Bangladesh had to retract his words.  In a much-publicized news conference, the Home Minister now says something that is 180 degree opposite to what was hinted immediately after the bomb blast.  The minister�s earlier comments did not jibe with his party line.  Sadly, for ideological reason, Bangladesh�s ruling party is in denial for quite while.  They quite do not see that these spates in bombing may indeed be the works hard-core fundamentalists who abhor secular festivities and who oppose any merry-making, which is counter to an austere Wahhabi mindset.   

In any civilized world when a manmade disaster strikes, the authorities do not make any hasty comments without having the facts and figure.  Take the case of 9-11 incidents that have turned this world of ours a topsy-turvy.  The Bush Administration only pointed out the involvement of al-Qaeda when it was determined that the all the hijackers of 4 commercial airplanes were Arabs and some evidences left in the rental car gave credence to the idea that the perpetrators of the crime belonged to Osama bin Laden�s hated group al-Qaeda.  However, in Bangladesh, the PM and her lieutenants are so smart that they hardly need any investigative report.  As the police are still sifting the debris in the rubles of demolished cinema halls to look for clues, the politicians have already found their answers from divine sources.  In unison, they said that Bangladesh has no al-Qaeda terrorists; therefore, the linkage between al-Qaeda and the rash of these bombings are quite absurd.  What a simplistic thinking! 

The PM of Bangladesh is an avowed Islamist who had performed not one but three Umrah Hajj since October 2001.  She has two sworn fundamentalist ministers in her cabinet.  Therefore, it comes as no surprise that immediately after the bombing when one of her ministers hinted to the news media that the bombings could the work of al-Qaeda, the minister had to retract his statement.  The minister�s comment to media was at variance with the party line.  The flap over the minister's comment had embarrassed the PM and something drastic was needed to be done.  Thus, the minister in question had to call a hastily arranged news conference in which he simply had to retract his �damaging� statement.  

The Reuters organization however is sticking to theirs original story in which they said that the Home Mister thinks that the bombings were the works of al-Qaeda.  On December 8, 2002, the Reuters posted a video clip in Yahoo news site narrated by Paul Chapman of Reuters, which this scribe viewed not once but three times.  In it, the Reuters report that Bangladesh ministers say that the bombings were the work of al-Qaeda.  The ministers also opine that the opposition parties are doing this to destabilize the nation.  Therefore, the controversy surrounding the Home Minister�s comment is far from over even though the minister has retracted his statement.   

In summary, in just short 24 hours after the four bomb blasts in Mymensingh, we saw a drama unfolding centering the blame game.  One of the powerful ministers of Khaleda Zia remarked that the bombings could be the work of Osama bin Laden�s organization al-Qaeda.  But then, this statement was deemed very dangerous for Bangladesh because the party in power had been saying all along that Bangladesh does not have any al-Qaeda cell operation inside the country.  At this trying time when American president George Bush had declared a war against Osama�s organization al-Qaeda, Bangladesh government realizes the consequence of such statement by one of her ministers could be very damaging even though it is a much talked about topic amongst the intellectuals in Bangladesh.   

One simply has to look at the bomb victims to realize that this hapless bunch has gone to merry-making on Eid day to movie theaters�that are abhorred by fundamentalists.  These are undoubtedly the works of Islamic fundamentalists.  The sooner the government would accept this matter-of-factly conclusion, the better it would be to look for ways to stop these menacing acts.  However, the way the ruling party is trying to muzzle the voice of one of their own, it would be light years from now that they would admit that some fringes of Islamists are behind all these bombings.  Unless this genie is contained in the bottle right away, it may become a pernicious force to take the nation of 130 million into abyss.  The government should do something constructive rather than arresting some of its critics.  Let good sense prevail. 


A.H. Jaffor Ullah writes from New Orleans. 

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