Death of Evangelist Highlights Growing Tension in Bangladesh
Recent Surge in Islamic Nationalism Signals Danger for Minority Christians

by Sarah Page

DUBLIN, May 23 (Compass) -- Just after midnight on April 24, evangelist Hridoy
Roy was murdered as he returned home from a Christian film presentation in
rural Bangladesh. Some organizations claim this is the first martyrdom in the
short history of Bangladesh. However, Roy's tragic death is just one of many
violent attacks against Christians in recent years.

Hridoy was working for a para-church organization. A spokesman from the mission
said a group of at least eight men attacked Hridoy. Entering his house, they
tied him to his bed in "crucifixion style" and repeatedly stabbed him to death.
Hridoy had been warned several times by neighbors to stop showing the "Jesus"
film and other films on the life of Christ.

Bangladesh has suffered religious tensions since 1971, when the nation was
partitioned from Pakistan. However, tensions have increased dramatically since
the election of a fundamentalist Islamic government in October 2001.

The new government is a coalition of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and
three other Islamic parties. The third largest party, Jamaat-e-Islami, wants
Bangladesh to become an Islamic state. Their youth arm, Islami Chhatra Shibir
(CSI), is known for its militancy.

The coalition government has consistently denied any alliance with Muslim
extremists. Yet in December 2001, provincial officials of the BNP were linked
to the harassment of Christians in the Natore district of northern Bangladesh.

A December 2001 edition of the "Daily Janakantha" (a Bangladesh newspaper)
reported the plight of 50 Christian families living in Chatiangacha village,
Natore. Following the elections in October, their rice crops were destroyed by
members of Jubodol, a local militant Islamic group. Then in November, young men
began riding through the village threatening to rape their teenage daughters.

The riders would call out the name of a girl's father and demand 10,000 -- 
20,000 BDT ($200 -- $400) as a "donation." Families were given one week to pay.
If they refused, the riders would return for their daughters.

In some cases where fathers refused payment, they were summoned to the local
office of the BNP. A section of the office was walled up to create an
interrogation chamber. Accused villagers were brought into this room and forced
to make confessions on false charges. They were then asked to pay fines to
"acquit" themselves. According to the "Daily Janakantha," Sanaullah Norrbabu,
general secretary of the BNP in Natore, signed several of the summons
documents.

Persecution is not confined to the north. Helen, a young woman from a Christian
village in southern Bangladesh, told Compass she and her friends never leave
the village alone, but always travel in a group, preferably with a male
companion, to avoid harassment.

The south is the home of many extremist groups. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami
(HuJI), the largest and most militant, is based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
With 15,000 members, HuJI once called itself the "Bangladeshi Taliban" and
claimed it would turn the country into a second Afghanistan. According to the
U.S. State Department, HuJI runs at least six terrorist training camps in the
southern hill region bordering Myanmar (Burma).

Other groups include the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), formed by
Rohingya ethnic refugees from Myanmar. Video tapes recovered in Afghanistan and
shown on CNN in August 2002 indicate that both the RSO and HuJI have ties with
the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The rise of Islamic extremism can be traced in part to the 64,000 "madrassas,"
or Muslim schools, established in Bangladesh over recent years. According to
Bertil Lintner of Asia Pacific Media Services, many of these schools are funded
by Islamic charity groups in Saudi Arabia and the Arab peninsula. In most
cases, no other form of education is available. Not surprisingly, HuJI and
other militant groups draw most of their recruits from the madrassas.

The fact that millions of young Bangladeshis now graduate from Islamic
madrassas is bound to affect their perception of life -- and their attitude
towards "infidel" groups.

In "The Creeping March of Christianity," a thesis written by Islamic scholar
Saidul Islam, the writer accuses Christian organizations of plotting to
overthrow Bangladesh. He describes the work of many Christian NGOs in detail.
"Their activities are a great threat and challenge for the whole nation in
general, and our 88 percent Muslims in particular," he writes.

"The Muslim Ummah owes great responsibility to safeguard the Muslims of
Bangladesh against the plots, conspiracies and attacks of the Christians,"
reads the closing paragraph of Saidul's thesis. "If timely action is not taken
by all concerned, a Lebanon-like situation will fast emerge. We pray to Allah
to give strength, courage and sagacity to the Muslim Ummah to counter the
machination of Christian missionaries and their NGOs."

The public expression of such sentiments, coupled with increasing activity of
Islamic militants, can only mean more trouble for Christians in Bangladesh.

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