Bangladesh Terror Attacks: A Narrative of Media and Geopolitics

The narrative of modern day extremism, apart from mass media sensationalism, is also a narrative of control. Perhaps that is why Bangladesh and India have denied that ISIL exists in Bangladesh

Bangladesh Terror Attacks: A Narrative of Media and Geopolitics

Mohammad Hossain- Bangladesh

The Holey Artisan Bakery Massacre in Bangladesh, as so aptly highlighted by all major international media outlets such as BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, etc. along with Indian and Bangladesh news media, is seen as a signal of the rise of a new phase in extremism in the Indian subcontinent. Analysts such as Ali Riaz and Taj Hashmi believe that the phenomenon of extremism in Bangladesh today is a product of international jihadist networks who have exploited the growing polarization within the Bangladeshi society to their advantage. Both believe that this polarization has been increased in part due to the divisive policies of the incumbent Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina. In retrospection of the way that developments surrounding the incident have progressed, it is clear however that the role of the media in the aftermath of the extrem attack needs to be put into context and subject to scrutiny. Moreover, it can be genuinely observed that emphasis on microanalysis of the incident has moved the public focus away from the macro level, the geopolitical context and implications of the incident.

As the details of the incident go, on the 1st of July, 2016, gunmen attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery premises in the diplomatic zone of Gulshan, in the capital Dhaka. Over the course of 12 hours, they had a standoff with police and security forces, holding the customers in the bakery as hostages. Bangladesh army units moved in in the morning, and at the end of the dramatic hostage crisis, 28 people were dead. The dead included 2 policemen-Salahuddin and Robiul Islam, 6 of the attackers and 20 innocent people from varying nationalities. What set it apart from recent events in Bangladesh was the nature of the incident – it was a sensationalized riveting media event. Major global media provided moment by moment analysis over the course of the incident. Social media flooded with live updates and witness accounts of netizens, journalists and experts. The media had a field day after it emerged that the attackers had shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great) during the attack, the media equivalent of an attack surely involving extremist Muslim groups such as ISIL  or Al-Qaeda. And soon enough, it emerged that the attackers were Muslim extremists. A furor ensued however, when SITE intelligence group revealed that the attackers were ISIL extremists, while the Bangladesh government and Indian intelligence analysts insisted that the attackers were from local extremist group Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Meanwhile, SITE published photos of the massacre from inside the café and later photos of five of the attackers, which it said had been published by ISIL media agency ‘Amaq.

After the attack, a frenzied search ensued on social media to identify the attackers. Facebook and twitter accounts of the attackers were identified by enthusiasts and confirmed by family members. In what appeared as a shock to many, the attackers were found to be youth in their early 20’s, English medium students from elite family backgrounds and having studied in prestigious secular institutions. One of the attackers, Rohan Imtiaz, is the son of a ruling party Awami League leader Imtiaz Khan Babul, a leader of the party’s Dhaka City chapter and Bangladesh Olympic Association’s deputy secretary general. Another of them, Nibras Islam, was a fan of Bollywood actress Shraddha Kapoor and a student of a top private educational institution. Families informed that all of the youth had gone missing less than six months ago.

In an effort to identify the root causes, media analysts identified that social media activity showed that several of the youth followed ‘controversial’ preachers. Secular and left leaning media eventually picked on the fact that one of the attackers followed popular Islamic preacher Zakir Naik. A coordinated media campaign by Indian media such as NDTV and India Today among others ensued, whereby the media traced links between the preacher and the attackers, concluding that his speeches incited them to become radicalized. This line of reasoning was clearly followed by secular and liberal Bangladeshi media such as Dhaka Tribune, Daily Star, ProthomAlo and bdnews24 among others, who facilitated and aided in the Bangladeshi government’s decision to place a ban on Zakir Naik’s Peace TV within Bangladesh. Zakir Naik, on his part, has expressed shock at the media trial against him, saying that his video speeches being aired by these media outlets were doctored and taken out of context to misrepresent his views and defame his legacy.

Although intense in its coverage, this media micro analysis has proved to be nothing but nitpicking on religious signs, symbols and personalities to serve vested interests and muddy up waters. The silence of the Bangladeshi government to open up on the issue, compounded by the media’s finicky and vested role to spread more confusion and misinformation, has served to make many question whether we actually will ever know complete details of the incident. It will be impertinent for anybody to deny the role of India in this regard. The rise of extremism in the subcontinent is of great concern to the Indian government, and recent public opinion emanating from the country favours a pro-interventionist strategy for India in Bangladesh.

The narrative of modern day extremism, apart from mass media sensationalism, is also a narrative of control. Perhaps that is why Bangladesh and India have denied that ISIL exists in Bangladesh – its existence is a phenomenon which would mean that Bangladesh opposition and local extremist groups such as JMB can no longer be solely blamed. The narrative of local extremism helps the Bangladesh government explain its divisive politics, extrajudicial killings, human rights abuses, gagging of democratic practices and basic freedoms, along with the routine oppression of the opposition nationalist and Islamist political parties. It also helps the Indian government explain its unconditional support for the Hasina government in Dhaka and safeguard its interests in the light of geopolitical considerations which include growing Chinese and U.S. strategic interests in the South Asian region.



Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Temmuz 2016, 14:14