The Islamic resurgence: why Bangladesh is a case apart
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 12:10 authored by Moinul Khan
From 1999 to 2005 Bangladesh, the world’s third largest Muslim country, was swept by a wave of Islamic militancy that triggered an outpouring of media and academic analysis that Bangladesh would likely soon fall prey to Islamists. This thesis argues that the Islamist extremism that Bangladesh experienced during those years was largely the result of an ideology and tactics brought back to Bangladesh by some returnees of the Afghan war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and by a few individuals and groups in Bangladesh who surfaced in response to very specific issues and circumstances. The former believed that the radical ideology they encountered (and imbibed) in Afghanistan could be transplanted to the Muslim community of Bangladesh. But the relative ease by which the Bangladesh Government’s anti-terrorism campaign contained the outbreak of that militancy demonstrated how seriously the radical groups had misunderstood Islam in the Bengali context, a context in which Islam is intimately woven with deeper traditions of tolerance and secularism in Bengali culture, nationalism and identity. Secondly, and further in this vein, the thesis argues that there was no direct linkage between that outbreak of Islamic militancy and the higher profile of Islam in the Bengali polity from 1975 to 1990 or that that development was a manifestation of the Islamic revival in the context of Bangladesh. A third argument of this thesis is that factors which have contributed to the Islamic resurgence elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia, including the national character of Islam, the role of nationalism and identity, culture and modernization, and the role of religion in contemporary politics, have, in the case of Bangladesh, produced a quite different outcome, which prompts the central question that frames this thesis: What is the explanation for the ‘Bangladesh paradox’ – i.e. that while an Islamic agenda has become more apparent or prominent elsewhere in the region, not only has a more conservative Islamic agenda not taken root in Bangladesh but, on the contrary, the secular state and civil society has retained its strength and resilience vis-à-vis Islam-based politics? Broadly, the research provides an insight in that regard in reconstructing perceptions of Islam and Muslim countries, particularly Bangladesh.