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Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami /
Jamaytee Islami [Islamic Society]

Bangladesh Jamaytee IslamiA number of political organizations base their platforms on Islamic issues. The group with the oldest tradition was the Muslim League (established in 1906 as the All-India Muslim League), which had been the main force behind the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Because it favored continued union with Pakistan, the Muslim League was almost eliminated from the political stage during and after the independence struggle. It began to stage a comeback during the 1980s and gathered four seats in the 1986 Parliament.

The Muslim League supported complete denationalization and opposed the retention of a 51-percent share of public industries by the government. Its policies closely resembled those that led to the formation of Pakistan. Among other things, the party accused the government of a subservient foreign policy toward India, especially in the matter of water disputes, and it repeatedly called for Islamic rule in Bangladesh.

Besides the Muslim League and Jamaat e Islami, there were a number of small parties, possessing little influence, that were oriented toward a poorly defined Islamic state and an anti-Indian foreign policy. For example, the Bangladesh Khilafat Andolan (Bangldesh Caliphate Movement) wanted to launch a "holy war" (jihad) to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh and called for a government based on the Quran and Sunna. In 1986 another one of these parties, the Islamic United Front, demanded scrapping the 1972 Indo-Bangladeshi Treaty of Cooperation, Friendship, and Peace.

The most important Islamic party during the 1980s and after was Bangladesh Jamaytee Islami [aka Jamaat e Islami]. This party was temporarily banned in the 1970s because of its opposition to independence, but it returned in the 1980s as the premier Islamic party among the opposition. Jamaat e Islami called for a theocracy, not Western-style democracy, but it simultaneously advocated the resignation of Ershad and the restoration of democracy. The party drew much of its strength from dedicated bands of madrasa students and graduates. As of 1988, its unofficial but militant student front was the Islami Chhatro Shibir (Islamic Students Camp). It also had a workers' front called the Sramik Kalyan Federation (Workers Welfare Federation).

The Bangladesh National Party's ruling coalition [2001-2006] included the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami. The party believes government should be based on Islamic principles, as outlined in the Quran, the Muslim holy book. The political opposition in Bangladesh says Jamaat-e-Islami is a front for extremism.

Jamaat Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Mollah claimed that what differentiated Jamaat from the other two major political parties was that Jamaat had an ideology and the other parties did not. According to Jamaat leaders, the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party formed positions that varied election-by-election depending on what they think would garner votes, while Jamaat focused on its end goal.

Jamaat's student wing, Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shabbir, in contrast, is much more focused on the short-term. The Shabbir leadership is concentrating on politics -- both on campus and nationally. It has organized protests against the Awami League government's education policies and holds workshops to promote Islam among students. Shabbir members also spend much of their time clashing with the student wings of the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The JIB does not deny it sided with Pakistan in the 1971 conflict, reasoning that with the existence of a big common enemy like India it would have been better for the two sides of Pakistan, both Muslim, to have remained united. In a memoir written by a JIB member during his imprisonment from 1971 to 1973 on charges of collaboration, the author denied that there had been any attempt by West Pakistan to impose an alien culture on Bengalis. He argued East Pakistan had been insular and parochial, claiming the creation of Pakistan had led to industrialization, which threatened the interests of the Bengali elite who led the liberation effort. "Old customs and superstitions were gradually breaking up, people were beginning to understand the advantages of modern comforts; polished floors were being substituted for mud and sand; bamboo being replaced by cement, porcelain taking the place of brass (...) An air of cosmopolitanism filled the atmosphere. Bengalis (...) were being forced increasingly to come into contact with foreigners whose ways and judgments were so different (...) It was this that appeared to be a threat to the Bengali way of life. A reaction against it developed in the form of xenophobia which really was a mask for the feeling of inferiority which the Bengalis experienced in relation to outsiders."

Many critics believe JIB followers still owe their primary allegiance to Islam (or to Pakistan) rather than to Bangladesh. Secular nationalists allege that JIB has never publicly apologized for its pro-Pakistan stance in 1971, a fact that continues to play against the JIB in the court of public opinion. Acknowledging only that mistakes might have been made, the head of JIB, Matiur Nizami, told reporters in 2009 that "A political decision may be wrong and unrealistic, but we were not involved in any criminal offenses." When asked about the possibility of a formal apology for JIB's 1971 position, he said "If we feel it necessary that we need to speak again, come up with a clearer statement, we will give one." The party may also consider sidelining controversial senior leadership in upcoming internal party elections, according to anonymous party sources quoted by media 31 January 2009. The party was "in two minds" at the moment -- still deciding whether to face the issue legally and politically once and for all, or whether to continue to resist its revival.

While generally denying allegations of war crimes against its members, JIB also remains opposed to the idea of initiating war crimes trials at this late date. "Why now, after nearly 40 years?" said one senior JIB representative. Awami League was in power from 1996 to 2001 -- why did they not pursue the issue then? he asked. The whole thing is politically motivated and will only serve to divide the nation. Further, he added, thousands of Bengalis were killed by the mukti bahini as collaborators and thousands more of the dead were pro-Pakistan Bihari (Urdu-speaking settlers from West Pakistan) resident in Bangladesh. He opined that the investigation would reveal that no-one's hands were clean.

JIB leaders also point out that only one member of JIB was among the 750 individuals convicted during the anti-collaborator sweeps in the early post-conflict period. All others were either not detained, not charged or received amnesty. If they were guilty, it surely would have been apparent then, JIB argues. JIB claims proposing war crimes trials insults the memories of both Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman, who granted the general amnesties and believed Bangladeshis should forgive and forget. JIB leaders also point out that Mujibur Rahman granted clemency to 195 Pakistani soldiers charged with war crimes and permitted their repatriation immediately after the conflict. Surely that clemency should continue to set the standard for Bangladesh, they say.

JIB's major political ally, the BNP, indicated publicly it has no objection to the prosecution of war criminals, if done transparently and fairly. Only the small Islamist party, Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) -- also a member of the BNP's four-party alliance -- publicly supported JIB. Indicating the potential of this issue to divide the nation along religious/secular lines, an IOJ spokesman has asserted the innocence of JIB leadership in recent media interactions.

Some also go beyond a desire to punish war criminals and instead seek nothing less than eliminating JIB from the political process. JIB officials were publicly committed to playing a constructive role in the opposition in the coming years -- driving them underground or against the ropes as an institution in the name of war crimes could well be counterproductive for both the Awami League and the democratic process.

A resolution the Awami League-dominated parliament passed unanimously 29 January 2009 said the new government must immediately take steps to try those suspected of committing war crimes during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence. Those pushing for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal were generally former pro-independence combatants and Awami League supporters, who claimed the issue played a major role in the party's recent electoral victory. Some players went beyond a desire to punish war criminals and instead seek nothing less than eliminating Jamaat-e-Islami (JIB), the nation's largest Islamic party, from the political process. A very sensitive issue which has been highly politicized for decades, the war crimes question divided the nation further along its already-deep Islamist-secular fault line.

The repeal of the Fifth Amendment paved the way for the government to outlaw religious-based political parties, including Jamaat. On 03 January 2010, a panel of the appellate division of the Supreme Court decided in favor of a petition submitted by the Awami League-led government that aims at nullifying the Fifth Amendment of Bangladesh's constitution. The court appears ready to declare all Bangladeshi governments in power following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman until April 1979 illegitimate and all martial law proclamations and actions taken unconstitutional. The nullified amendment also provided for a multi-party system, including religious-based ones, freedom of the Press, judicial independence.

The Supreme Court's overturning the Fifth Amendment was "self executing" and would result in the reversal of 12 constitutional articles, including the article allowing religion-based political parties. As a result, JI and other religious parties would be forced to dissolve.

Four decades after Bangladesh’s violent struggle for independence from Pakistan, in November 2011 the country began the first trial of those accused of war crimes. Senior leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, Delawar Hossain Sayedee, became the first to stand trial for the 1971 crimes. A prosecutor charged him with crimes against humanity, such as genocide, murder and rape. Sayedee was among seven senior Bangladeshi politicians charged with war crimes during the violent nine-month struggle that led to the country’s independence from Pakistan.

In addition to Sayedee, four other suspects belong to the top rungs of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party - Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party. Two belong to the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. They are accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces and committing atrocities during the conflict that killed an estimated three million people.

There were growing concerns about how the trials are being conducted and the credibility of those involved in meting out justice. Observers have long raised concerns about how authorities are conducting the trial and whether the prosecutions are politicized. All seven defendants maintain their innocence and accuse the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of carrying out a political vendetta against them.

On August 01, 2013 a Bangladesh court barred the country's main Islamic party from participating in next year's general election, declaring that its charter conflicts with the country's secular constitution. The ruling by the Dhaka High Court followed a long-running petition that sought to cancel the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party on grounds that it calls for Islamic law.

Convicted of committing war crimes during the nation's war of independence against Pakistan in 1971, Abdul Quader Mollah [ known as Koshai (butcher) Quader in 1971] was hanged 12 December 2013, after the Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeal. In a country in which every aspect of life is party politicised, Mollah and his gang needed only to wait for the government to change (which it does regularly) to get their release. So it was said they had to be hanged to ensure they got the punishment they had earned.

Shortly afterwards, Bangladeshi media reported a series of arson attacks and clashes between police and Islamist protesters, leaving a a number of people dead. Many of the attacks were reported to be on ruling party supporters and minority Hindus, many of whom sided with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and praised the execution.

Motiur Rahman Nizami was sentenced to death in October 2014 by the International Crimes Tribunal, a controversial court established by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010. Nizami, the head of Bangladesh's largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, was convicted of genocide, rape, and orchestrating the massacre of top intellectuals. Opposition politicians and non-profit organizations have accused the tribunal of victimizing her opponents. Four opposition politicians, three of whom belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami, had been convicted by the war crimes tribunal and executed since 2013.

Bangladesh's supreme court May 05, 2016 rejected an appeal of the death sentence given to Islamist party leader Nizami for war crimes during the country's 1971 independence struggle, meaning he could be hanged at any time in the coming days. Nizami, 71, took over as the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami in 2000 and was a minister in the Islamist-allied government of 2001-2006. Prosecutors claim he was responsible for setting up Al-Badr, a pro-Pakistani militia which killed top writers, doctors, and journalists at the height of the conflict. Their bodies were found in a marsh on the outskirts of the capital, blindfolded and with hands tied.

Bangladesh executed a top Islamist leader for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Motiur Rahman Nizami, 73, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged 11 May 2016 inside Dhaka central jail. A tribunal set up to investigate atrocities committed during the nine-month war more than 40 years ago convicted Nizami in 2014 on eight counts, including mass murder and arson.

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Page last modified: 11-05-2016 16:54:35 ZULU