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Bangladesh: Mob attack in Ramu on Buddhist shrines: media commentary and citizen groups response, statements

4 October 2012

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  • Ramu massacre a blot on nation’s conscience (Edit, Daily Star)
  • Nip intolerance in the bud (Mahfuz Anam)
  • BNPS Protests Communal Attacks on Buddhists (news report + related URLS)
  • Bangladesh: Minority communities must be protected and arsonists face justice (Amnesty International)

Editorial - The Daily Star, October 3, 2012

Ramu massacre a blot on nation’s conscience
Go all out to heal the victims’ wound

The facts coming out from our on-the-spot investigations into the Ramu desecration of sacred religious sites, a prized part of our heritage and the symbol of communal harmony are more disturbing and insidious than the first reports indicated on Monday. What was confined to the realm of speculation and came to be known in fragmentary and piecemeal manner have now fallen into a pattern. Thanks to information gathered firsthand and presented as a connective narrative, an unprecedented act of subversion has come to light. Penetrating the smokescreen around the circumstances, our findings reveal an entirely unprovoked, premeditated, well-orchestrated operation by a gang in a pillaging and burning orgy. What is however left to be unravelled is the identity of those who masterminded the worst subversive and unprecedented desecration since independence.

Particularly inexplicable and dubious appears to be the role of the police. Despite being tipped off with the news of the brewing storm, the lack of police initiative was utterly inexplicable. Indeed, as we are now aware, residents had appealed to Ramu police chief to take preventive measures as tension was building from September 29, but it was largely ignored. We are aghast at the failure of intelligence when the surrounding ambiance had been tensed up already not to have taken adequate precautions to protect such important religious sites. That a piece of information planted in the social network facebook got displayed and yet the police had no inkling of the scheme being afoot is simply unacceptable. Had pre-emptive measures been taken in the early hours of the rapidly escalating situation, perhaps the unfolding disaster could have been contained.

Our heads hang in shame. We apologise to the community as our heart goes out in sympathy for the victims.

We believe the home minister has his job cut out. Even though initial signs were to the contrary, there should be no politcisation of the issue because it would not only derail investigation but also divert attention away from the culprits. As we must be earnest in our endeavours to heal the mental scars of the Buddhist community, in truth one cannot see any redemption without identifying the ringleaders and perpetrators and meting out severely deterrent punishment to them.

o o o

The Daily Star, October 3, 2012
Front Page

Nip intolerance in the bud
Political blame-game will only strengthen extremists

by Mahfuz Anam

There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind as to the enormity and gravity of the meaning of what has happened at Ramu and in the adjoining areas. Never before in our history have places of worship of a religious minority been ravaged on such a large scale and in so deliberate a manner. Twelve Buddhist temples and more than 50 houses were burnt down and vandalised in a pre-planned manner. And these people are among the most peaceful, docile and non-violent that we have.

Just imagine the feelings of the Buddhist community and of the monks seeing their religious books and Holy Texts torn to bits and burnt, evidence of which was lying all around the destroyed temples for all to see. The best way to understand the agony of our Buddhist compatriots is to imagine how we would have felt if our Holy Book had been desecrated in any manner.

As The Daily Star and other print and electronic media reports make it clear, the whole tragic event was premeditated and carefully planned.

The natural question is: Who did it and for what purpose? Is it just to create unrest and tension in a disturbed region of our country? Is it to embarrass the government? Is it just to spoil the image of Bangladesh? Is it only to create misunderstanding between the majority Muslims and the Buddhists? The purpose, in our view, is far more sinister.

It is to weaken us as a people, as a country and as a culture. It is to hit at the very ethos of Bangladesh. It has been an attack on the very foundations of our state, our values and the principles of our Liberation War. And it has been done through using the religious sentiments of the majority Muslims.

It started with a posting on the social media Facebook. In the account of Uttam Kumar Burua, 25, an unknown Buddhist man, someone ’tagged’ a picture that was insulting to the Muslim Holy Book. Facebook works on developing and enlarging the circle of online ’friends’ who share messages, pictures, etc., between themselves. This ’circle’ of friends grows exponentially as ’friends’ of ’friends’ and their ’friends’ all become part of an ever widening group that grows all the time. In this scenario, anyone within a ’circle of friends’ can ’tag’ a picture on another’s account. In fact, that is how this social media links people.

That is how someone ’tagged’ a picture that was insulting to us, the Muslims.

As it is evident that the whole attack on the Buddhists was premeditated, pre-planned and quite meticulously organised, it is reasonable to conclude that even the ’tagging’ of the picture in the account of a Buddhist youth was part of the plan. Otherwise how so many people could come to know about it in such a short time? We have reports that the offensive picture was sent from one mobile phone to another using Bluetooth technology and through the internet.

The situation raises serious questions about the role, mindset and capabilities of the law enforcement agencies. The police inaction in the early hours of the tragedy, when prompt action could have prevented the burning down of 12 temples, raises doubts about their efficiency, and even their intentions. Can we really brush aside the possibility of local police being complicit? What about our intelligence agencies? We spend hundreds of crores of taka on them, and often see how they harass ordinary citizens over their slightest of ’mistakes’; and yet when it comes to such serious incidents of national security they fail us totally.

What about the ruling party’s front organisations, some of whose leaders and activists were seen in the early processions that were inciting people to attack the Buddhists and their temples? The opposition MP was conspicuous by his absence from the scene. Given our propensity to try to cash in on any religious issue they could have well nigh participated in these activities.

What makes the situation highly complex and worrisome is the presence of a large number of Rohingyas in the area. Given the background of the movement for a Rakhaine state on the Myanmar side of the border and their possible and potential links with international and regional extremist groups, this might well emerge as a national security issue for Bangladesh.

What is of utmost importance at this stage is national unity. We must all work together to prevent our state from being weakened, our national purpose for a democratic polity being distracted, our core values of religious tolerance being subverted, our culture of celebrating diversity being destroyed and the principles of our Liberation War of establishing a multi-religious, multi-ethnic democratic state being defeated.

But at this very crucial stage we are, regrettably, witnessing a politicisation of this national threat. No sooner did the Buddhists have had their temples burnt and their houses gutted our political leaders went on a quick march to blame their opponents. The first salvo was fired by our newly appointed home minister alleging, without the slightest shred of evidence, the possible involvement of the local MP who, surprise, surprise, belonged to the BNP. The BNP secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul, soon accused the ruling party of being involved, followed by the BNP chairperson parroting the same. Then both parties’ propaganda machinery went into overdrive and the blame game began to be played in full swing. All this while the extremists were safely nestled somewhere and were having a good laugh at our expense.

It will be suicidal to politicise this very serious threat to the religious harmony that characterizes Bangladesh before the world. We repeat, never in our history has such a massive attack been carried out on the minorities. Only a few days ago we saw massive unrest in Rangamati area that flared up because of an incident involving some boy talking to some girl of a different ethnic group.

When the situation is so fragile that minor inter-personal incidents have the potential of becoming inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, politicising these issues is a sure formula for disaster and a sure chance for the culprits to escape and repeat their heinous crimes.

Will our political leaders listen? Or will they be so overtaken by mutual hatred and so consumed by their thirst for power that they will ignore such a grave threat to what Bangladesh should, must and does, mostly, stand for?

o o o

BNPS Protests Communal Attacks on Buddhists

Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) organized a human chain in banner of Citizen Group on 2 October protesting communal attack and atrocities against the Budhdhist community of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong District. A number of organizations joined the protest held in front of National Press Club. They demanded arrest and exemplary punishment for the perpetrators, compensation to the victims, and security to the minorities.

Presided by Rokeya Kabir, the protest was addressed by Dr. Hamida Hossain, Comrade Kkalequzzaman, Tariq Ali, Numan Ahmed Khan and representatives from Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, Adivasi Adhikar Andalon, Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), Equity BD, Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad, Heed Bagladesh and other civil society groups.

Earlier on 1 October, mobs torched and vandalized a village of Buddhists in Cox’s Bazaar’s Ramu Upazila early on Sunday in one of the worst religious attacks in Bangladesh apparently triggered by a Facebook posting allegedly defaming Islam. The assailants set fire to seven Buddhist temples and nearly 20 homes and looted and damaged more than a hundred others in the hate attack. The media and observers said in unison that the incident was pre-planned.

Text of statement from Amnesty International

3 October 2012

Bangladesh: Minority communities must be protected and arsonists face justice

Tue, 02/10/2012

The perpetrators of arson attacks on temples and Buddhist villages in the south of Bangladesh must be brought to justice and steps taken to ensure ethnic minorities are protected, Amnesty International said.

More than 20 Buddhist temples and monasteries and at least one Hindu temple, along with scores of homes and shops, were set on fire during attacks in southern cities of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong over the weekend and on Monday after thousands of people protested against the posting of an allegedly derogatory image of the Quran on social network site Facebook.

“The scale and ferocity of these appalling attacks on ethnic communities have shocked Muslims and non-Muslims alike and the entire civil society in the country. The Bangladeshi authorities must ensure this does not happen again,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh researcher.

“Amnesty International calls on the leaders of all political parties to condemn publicly the violence against minorities and urge their members not take part in such acts.”

“Reports that police failed to ensure the protection of minority communities - even though they had received news about imminent attacks – are disturbing, and must be investigated.”

The Deputy Inspector General of Police for Chittagong told Amnesty International on Tuesday an investigation had been launched into allegations that the officer in charge of Ramu police station in Cox’s Bazar had neglected his duty to ensure the safety of minority communities.

He also said that up to 300 people had been arrested.

“The terms of reference for the investigation, called for by the Home Minister, must be made public and strong measures must be put in place to protect Buddhist, Hindu and all other witnesses who give evidence,” Faiz said.

“Those identified as responsible for the attack should be brought to justice in adherence to international fair trial standards and all people affected by the violence must be provided with shelter, and assistance to rebuild their homes and places of worship.”

The attacks are believed to be the first to have taken place on such a large scale against minority places of worship in Bangladesh.