A Special Report by ICC
7/2/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Against the setting of rising social turmoil and a weakened political framework, attacks against Christians in Bangladesh are increasing, even as the nation cries out for the government to quickly discover its political will.
On June 5, Muslim extremists entered the Tumilia mission, a Catholic compound, and physically attacked a priest, Father Abel, as he came out of his room. International Christian Concern (ICC) sources confirmed that it was targeted persecution on the Christians by a group of Islamists.
On June 6, the same group of Islamists attacked an entire village in Dinajpur, in northern Bangladesh. As Christians fled and sought shelter in a Catholic Church’s mission compound, a mob of more than 100 Muslims, armed with local weapons, stormed in and beat up the priest and seminary students.
“They broke the main gate, destroyed the barb wire fence and entered the compound. They beat up Father Uzzal, seminarians and destroyed some parts of the building...vandalized and looted everything,” according to an ICC source, who also said, “The Muslims wait for any excuse to attack the religious minorities.”
The attack was fueled by a conflict between Christians and Muslims over a trespassing incident, during which a Muslim man died from a heart attack. Christians hold that Muslims in the region continued to trespass on their land to steal mangoes, despite their requests to cease and desist. The man’s unfortunate death was blamed on the Christians and the attack ensued. No arrests were made in either incident.
Christians are at the bottom of Bangladesh’s social hierarchy. The majority of discrimination against Bangladeshi Christians comes from sections of Muslims who beat them, extort money from them, deny them access to public water wells or destroy their rickshaws to eliminate their only source of income, according to the Voice of the Martyrs.
“In the Dinajpur diocese in the north-west of the country Catholic Christians are being repeatedly attacked by Muslim groups,” according to Véronique Vogel, head of the Indian section of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic Charity, who also said, “A few months ago Buddhists were attacked and now it's the turn of the Christians. Not only religious motives are involved here, but also political ones.”
Concerning the background to the unrest, Véronique Vogel says, “There is a great shortage of land in Bangladesh, for example. Some groups therefore sometimes put simple people under great pressure with the aim of taking over their land. If on top of this they belong to a different religious community a religious and political conflict will soon develop. Bangladesh is a powder keg, a very poor country with serious social problems.”
One of Bangladesh’s serious social problems is human trafficking, with nearly 13 women and children trafficked from Bangladesh every day. Low-income Christian families are commonly targeted by traffickers because of their faith and economic vulnerability.
In a recent incident, Islamists are bizarrely seeking to retrieve Christian children who were rescued from traffickers and forcibly converted to Islam. Despite the children being forcefully converted from Christianity to Islam, they are viewed by their Islamic captors as Muslims for life, according to Charisma News.
More disturbingly, since discovering the role of Christians in the rescue of the children, radical Islamists have gone on the offensive and accused Christians of forcibly converting people with financial incentives. “Most Christian missionaries are converting people by offering money among the poor people to give them a leg up," says Nizampuri, a leader in the radical Islamic political group Hefazat-e-Islam, as reported by World Watch Monitor. “Once the poor people take money, the missionaries put pressure on them to be converted.”
As if that were not absurd enough, Islamists have even issued threats against the Christian rescuers, in a determined effort to reclaim the rescued children. “The madrassa leaders came to know about the involvement of Christians in the rescue. They know about our involvement. I am scared and trying to be careful,” says an ICC contact.
At the same time, Bangladesh’s political structure is weakening by the day. On May 6, violent protests erupted across Bangladesh, with Islamic fundamentalists demanding passage of an anti-blasphemy law. Its attempts to subvert the ruling government by exploiting religious identity and sentiment are feared to go a long way towards the results of the upcoming elections.
Aside from Bangladesh’s feuding political parties, its poverty-stricken laborers are suffering the negligence of corrupt officials. On April 24, a building collapsed, killing more than 700 factory workers. Six months earlier, another unsafe building burned to the ground, killing 112 garment workers. The incidents were met with callousness from corrupt officials and international calls to boycott the Bangladeshi clothing industry.
The signs of Bangladesh’s eroding social and political fabric are all too obvious. There is no hope for the future of Bangladesh’s people, especially religious minorities, without a strong show of political will from the government to establish a reliable judicial system that takes punitive action against persecutors, corrupt officials, human traffickers and anyone else who threatens the values of religious freedom, communal peace and the safety of all citizens.
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