Published by Liberty South Asia on November 4, 2019

SADF: Do Not Underestimate the threat of Jamaat-e-Islami

Jamaat-e-Islami activists

The South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) is a Brussels-based think tank devoted to South Asia and its relationship with the European Union (EU). In 2015, SADF published a policy brief titled, Democracy Stalemate in Bangladesh – What Role for the International Community? In this brief, SADF argues that “the international community – and in particular the European Union – must assist democratic forces in Bangladesh.” Of particular concern is the rise in extremist violence that would culminate in the Holey Bakery attack a year later. While such reports typically focus on groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State, SADF notes another extremist group at work in Bangladesh: Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI).

As SADF explains,

“The JeI is a subgroup of the Muslim Brotherhood network, which is considered a terrorist organisation in many Arab states and shares the Jihadi international agenda of establishing a global caliphate.”

SADF provides several examples of JeI’s actions taken to advance the jihadi agenda, from participation in “the systematic killing and rape of millions of Bangladeshis during the 1971 War of Liberation” to “violent protests harassing women, damaging buses and cars and creating havoc in the streets.”

JeI may be less well known that higher-profile jihadi groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, but it is no less of a threat, explains SADF:

“The short-term as well as long-term threat potential of JeI cannot be overemphasised. It is foolish to view this economic and political colossus as a push over just because they lack a strong electoral base. It is not alarmist to claim that the JeI, if kept unchecked, has the potential to slowly but surely put an end to secularism and democracy in Bangladesh.”

Unfortunately, the myth that Jamaat-e-Islami is a “political party in opposition” persists, itself the outcome of a long-term public relations campaign by JeI to ingratiate itself in Western capitals. Any successful effort to tackle the scourge of violent extremism in the world will require a comprehensive strategy that addresses both high-profile threats like al Qaeda and ISIS as well as organizations like JeI that are at the forefront of the Islamist movement to erode secular democracy and replace it with totalitarian theocracy.