Is the Bangladesh crackdown fighting fire with fire?

By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan, The Daily Star/ANN

DHAKA, The Daily Star/ANN — Secret killing was once a problem of the rich and famous, but the game has turned on its head in Bangladesh. Priests, teachers, bloggers, a barber, a grocer and a homeopath are among those who have been assassinated in this country in the past few months. Throughout history, ordinary people have been victims of famine, pestilence, genocides and massacres, but have almost never been singled out for targeted killings out of political interest. For the first time, we are seeing a phenomenon in which the “little” guys are being sacrificed on the altar of a supposedly “grand” design. Many times in history, one man’s death has had momentous effects on the course of events. A group of six assassins killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, starting a chain reaction that culminated in World War I. The murder of Julius Caesar sparked a cycle of civil war in Rome resulting in one of the most significant constitutional transformations in history when the republican system of government became an empire. The American people still believe that their history could have taken a different turn if not for the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

While Bangladesh politics is still reeling under the impact of the country’s two assassinated presidents, a fresh assassination spree over the last year and a half has been extraordinary in its selection of ordinary targets. The victims come from diverse religious and professional backgrounds. Most of them were hacked to death for reasons known only to their killers. None of them were politically involved. None of them were wealthy or famous by any standard. Except for the bloggers, none of them are known to have harbored radical political or religious beliefs.

Death of Democracy In a grisly way, these serial murders symbolize yet another phase in the death of democracy. If people are afraid to speak and are denied their right to vote, they’re now being killed to prove that they’re also dispensable. It could be a telltale sign of an attempt from all quarters to silence the people so that they know the public doesn’t matter in the affairs of this republic. It also could be a harebrained scheme of the killers to scare the people into believing that if they don’t fight for their “rights,” they will be dead as well. Political scientists David Laitin and James Fearon of Stanford University studied 122 civil wars that raged between 1945 and 2002. They claimed that the standard rebel tactic is to provoke indiscriminate retaliation by the government in order to help rebels recruit more sympathizers to their movement. One of the dangers of crackdowns on insurgents or militants is that it often douses fire with kerosene.

Many insurgencies are born as ideas whose time has come. That was how nomadic rebels were able to bring down the Roman Empire. In what’s called the origin of guerilla warfare and terrorism, the Akkadian empire was dismantled in the 22nd century B.C. Nations struggling with insurgencies have always faced this dilemma. Excessive force used to quell insurgents often backfires and topples governments. Again, leniency is misread as a sign of weakness, and encourages insurgents to go on fighting.