Machete Murders in Bangladesh:
Islamic Fundamentalists’ Campaign to Enslave Women and Impose Religious Tyranny

Updated: July 4, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


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As we go to press, fundamentalist Islamic jihadists have carried out yet another barbaric crime in Bangladesh. On July 1, Islamist gunmen seized a bakery café in an upscale district of Dhaka, the country’s capital. They held the diners and staff hostage, and then later massacred 20 people, apparently simply because they were from other countries—people from Italy, Japan, India and the U.S. (Two Bangladeshis were also reportedly murdered.) ISIS (the Islamic State) has taken responsibility for this utterly reactionary slaughter.


Islamic fundamentalists are carrying out a campaign of machete murders in the South Asian country of Bangladesh. Since February 2013, they’ve murdered some 39 people—secular thinkers and writers, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, religious minorities, foreign aid workers, and others. And the attacks are continuing: Five were murdered in April, four in May, and three (or more) in June. The killers strike with guns and bombs—but mostly with machetes, slashing the back of their victims’ necks, then riding away on motorbikes. On April 23, a university professor was hacked to death and nearly beheaded, and on the 25th a gay rights activist and his friend were butchered. On April 30, a Hindu tailor was cut down—supposedly for criticizing Islam; on June 5, a Christian grocer; two days later, a Hindu priest. A Bangladeshi blogger who’d exposed the abuse of workers and police brutality was driven into hiding for condemning the Islamists’ murder rampage.

These murders began in early 2013 after tens of thousands gathered at Shahbag Square in the nation’s capital Dhaka to demand prosecution of Islamic leaders for war crimes during the 1971 war that led to the founding of Bangladesh, and against the imposition of religion in political and social life. The Islamic fundamentalists’ first victim was Ahmed Rajib Haider, a secular blogger who helped organize the protests.

No one has claimed responsibility for most of these barbaric killings. Global fundamentalist Islamic jihadist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda as well as Bangladeshi Islamists have been blamed, and infighting among Bangladesh’s reactionary ruling parties may well play a part. But this wave of murders is not simply revenge for a protest. It’s part of the Islamic fundamentalists’ response to the deep changes taking place in Bangladesh.

An Enslaving Traditional Order—Rocked by Global Forces

Daily wage laborers wait for work at a market on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 2012. Photo: AP

For centuries, most people in what is now Bangladesh eked out a subsistence existence, mostly farming small plots of land by hand or with a few animals. Women suffered—and still suffer—under the crushing weight of religiously sanctioned patriarchy (male domination). They’re confined to household drudgery and caring for children, unable to leave their immediate neighborhood unless accompanied by a male relative, denied schooling or social life. Even today, nearly two-thirds of Bangladeshi girls are forced into arranged marriages before they’re 18, usually closing off any chance for an education or job. A staggering 87 percent of the country’s married women have been victims of domestic violence, abuse or torment. Nine in 10 rural men still think they have the “right” to beat their wives.

But in recent decades, the workings of global imperialism have created cracks in the traditional order. Two of every three Bangladeshis still live in the countryside, but tens of millions have been driven by landlessness, destitution, and the promise of jobs to seek survival in Bangladesh’s congested megacities (17 million in Dhaka alone). There, cheap labor has turned Bangladesh into a prime destination for global capitalist investment in its rapidly expanding clothing industry.

Three and a half million workers—80 percent of them young women—slave in sweatshops, often for as little as 21 cents an hour, many for 14 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. Most get to work on foot through squalid shanties stinking of excrement. These factories can be death traps: in April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing or maiming more than 1,100 people. When workers organize against these horrors, they’re met with threats and beatings.

Yet for women to have jobs outside the home and be paid wages, small as they are (though sometimes more than their husbands earn), can have the effect of undermining traditional patriarchy. The same goes for other changes taking place, including the growth of a middle class, more women going to school, and some professions becoming more “feminized.”

Islamic Fundamentalists: Barbaric Means for Barbaric Ends

Map of South Asia

Islamic fundamentalism is an all-encompassing ideology and program that aims to reshape every sphere of social, cultural, and political life in order to strictly and brutally reinforce traditional forms of oppression—especially the patriarchal enslavement of women. In the face of big changes shaking the world, they aim to tighten tradition’s chains.

After the 2013 Shahbag Square protests, Hifazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups, issued a 13-point program calling for the imposition of fundamentalist Islam throughout society: adding “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah” to the constitution as a fundamental principal of the state; establishing the death penalty for criticizing Islam; ending the “free mixing of men and women”; ending secular education; and making “Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels.”

These are the goals driving their machete murders. Those who criticize fundamentalist religion and/or promote science, secularism, and critical thinking (which humanity needs to understand and change the world) are targets for savage executions.

The fundamentalists aim to re-imprison women in the home, enslaved to husbands and male relatives. One way is by supporting the violent male backlash taking place against women. In Bangladesh today, there’s an epidemic of rape, including gang rape.

And, according to one news report, “Every week, somewhere in Bangladesh, a woman’s life is changed forever when she is doused with acid and disfigured.... Victims suffer horrific physical injuries. Not only does their skin burn, but often they are severely disfigured. Acid causes the skin tissue to melt, it attacks the eyes, it dissolves the bones. In certain cases, ears and noses are lost completely.” (“Stolen faces: female victims of Bangladesh acid attacks refuse to be beaten,”, Australia, June 25, 2015) The cause? A spurned advance, a missed dowry payment, or any slight to male privilege. Over the past 17 years, there have been 3,240 reported acid attacks. Yes, at least 3,240!

The Islamic fundamentalists blame the victims for refusing to obey suffocating Islamic strictures. Many women are now being forced—by family or society—to wear the burqa. One study reported, “In the villages, various fatwas sanction the stoning of women to death for the ‘crime’ of asking for justice, for having been raped.” (“Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Bangladesh,” Ananya Das)

This is why the Islamists machete-murdered Xulhaz Mannan, who edited Bangladesh’s first LGBT publication and tried to organize the country’s first “Rainbow Rally” for LGBT rights. The oppression of LGBT people has evolved as part of the enforcement of rigid gender roles that enforce patriarchy. The “holy” scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all demand these strict gender roles and forbid homosexuality on pain of death.

And the fundamentalist Islamists are targeting Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists—terrorizing, marginalizing, and even forcing out non-Muslims from Bangladesh as part of establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Bangladeshi activists at a silent protest against killings in Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 15, 2016. At least 18 people, including atheist bloggers, foreign aid workers and religious minorities, have been killed in attacks in Bangladesh over the last two years. Photo: AP

Between June 10 and 16, Bangladesh’s pro-imperialist government rounded up some 11,000 people they declared were “suspects” in these attacks. This supposedly secular government had done nothing for years to stop the machete attacks but instead has conciliated with the fundamentalists and condemned critics of Islam, while its police are widely known for arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and torture. Human rights groups and others warn that the mass roundup is an indiscriminate sweep also aimed at other dissidents; only a small percentage of those arrested reportedly belong to any jihadist group. (Analyzing the struggle among Bangladesh’s rulers is beyond the scope of this article.)

Bangladesh: Crying Out for Communist Revolution—Not Barbaric Islamic Fundamentalism

Bangladesh is a concentrated expression of how the world is flying apart and people are looking for answers. But fundamentalist Islamic Jihad is about turning backward to a draconian hell!

Just several decades ago, Maoism was a powerful current in India and Bangladesh, and it represented a real, radical, and liberating alternative to both feudalism and imperialism, with a vision of re-cohering society on an emancipatory basis. And there’s a strong basis for a revolutionary trend to emerge there today—for instance, the Shahbag protests of tens of thousands against the Islamization of society.

Bob Avakian (BA) has put that alternative on a firmer, more scientific foundation, including in its understanding of gender, the centrality of women’s emancipation to the emancipation of humanity, and most of all the need for a scientific approach to be taken up by masses of people. This new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA is the pathway for advancing—in today’s world with all its changes and turmoil—to overcome oppressive social, class, and gender divisions, and get to a much different and far better world on the road to total human emancipation. There is not a moment to lose to spread this pathbreaking advance in human understanding to every corner of the globe.



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