The revelation\nthat the ISIS-aligned Islamists who attacked a restaurant frequented by\nexpatriates and members of Bangladesh’s elite class, in one of Dhaka’s richest neighbourhoods\non 1 July, were drawn largely from the urban middle class has shocked and\ndismayed the nation. The government has vehemently denied the claims of\nallegiance to ISIS, insisting that they were home-grown terrorists affiliated\nto domestic outfits – the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) in this instance.Assigning\nblame to an organisation that was nurtured by state patronage under the then coalition government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and\nJamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) is beneficial to their opponents, the current Awami\nLeague government. JMB operated primarily in North-West Bangladesh, its members\ndrawn from the rural, lower and lower-middle classes. This is in stark contrast\nto the identities of the July 1 attackers that have emerged from eyewitness\naccounts and footage, and ISIS’s own claims, supported by images.Emergence of\nConservative IslamThe decades of\nthe politicisation of Islam in post-independence Bangladesh by BNP and Jamaat,\ntheir staunch ally whom they revived from the ranks of Pakistani agents during\nthe Liberation War, has resulted in the proliferation of an increasingly conservative, intolerant\nand radical form of Islam throughout Bangladeshi society. \n\nPolitical Islam became inseparable from the religion itself, determining how it is perceived and interpreted. This translated into the seeds of Islamism being planted amongst the rural, lower and lower-middle classes.An educational\nsystem that did not function properly was supplemented by institutions that\ntaught a conservative and fanatical brand of Islam, a foreign import from the\nMiddle East, at odds with the pluralist Islamic traditions of a once secular\nnation. Additionally, the thriving migrant labour industry in Bangladesh drew\non these classes. Most of the people supplied by this industry went to the\nMiddle East as well, returning home with the same poisonous religious dogma.\nPiety and fundamentalism became indistinguishable amongst the masses, whom\npoliticians sought to control rather than enlighten. Radicalising\nPeople Through New MediaThe juncture\nbetween the deeply stratified classes comprises mosques and preachers. Islam\ntaught from the pulpit is almost unanimously etched with various degrees of conservatism. This\nhas created a foundation of intolerance within society, which has been ignored\nby a country determined to paint itself as secular and inclusive.The paths\ndiverge again, with social mobility allowing people to have greater access to\ntelevision and the internet. These, in turn, have been used to indoctrinate\npeople into fanatical interpretations of Islam. Indeed, the Islamists involved\nin the 1 July attack were followers of the controversial proselytisers Anjem\nChoudhary, Shami Witness and Zakir Naik.Low Literacy Rate and FundamentalismLiteracy\nremains low in Bangladesh, making audio-visual means of dissemination the most\neffective way of spreading any message. Whenever there was a threat to the\nnarrow view of the world engendered by the politics of Islam and its offspring Islamism, it was quickly extinguished. Ekushey Television, the country’s first\nprivate television channel that was distributed terrestrially alongside the\nstate channel, BTV, was one such that brought progressive values to the entire\ncountry.After two\nyears of transmission, its threat was removed as it was taken off air by the\nBNP-Jamaat coalition in 2002. Awami League, too, has been compliant with this\npolitical landscape rather than challenging it and reviving secularism. A case\nin point is when it bowed to the pressure exerted by Hefazat-e-Islam, a network\nof fundamentalist clerics, and indefinitely postponed plans for much-needed\nreform in the education system. Sinister\nSilence of PoliticiansBoth the\nmadarsa system and the English medium system – the two ends of the educational\nspectrum – teach foreign syllabi and instil foreign values in an alien language. Students are dissociated and, in the absence of a functioning social framework\nthat brings them back into the fold, they are vulnerable to drifting. The key\ndifferences between how the social classes receive similar information are\nlanguage and medium.Whether it is\nsimplistic vitriol or pseudo-intellectual speeches, both are delivered with\npassion and conviction, and both repeat the line of Islam being at once the\ngreat equaliser and the greatest religion in the world, in whose service one\nmust dedicate their life. As Bangladesh has welcomed this message because of\nits politicians, it has embraced intolerance, paving the way for extremism.\n\n A ruling class, detached from the common man and his realities, has added to the frustration and alienation that simmer under the surface.None of these\ndistinct issues are being addressed by the politicians, be they from the ruling\nAwami League or its political opposition coalition of BNP and Jamaat. The\neffects of the potent cocktail that has been brewing across the classes are\nbeing felt. As both sides of the political divide indulge in opportunism and a\nblame game, extremism is escalating, undeterred and untreated. The class divide\nis prominent in Bangladesh, but it is transcended by Islamism. Debating who is\nmore vulnerable is as futile as debating who is responsible if nothing is done\nto stem its flow. The July attack is a harbinger for worse to come unless\nthis is rectified. \n\n(The writer is a columnist for Dhaka Tribune whose socio-political writings include the short story collection, “Yours, Etcetera” and the poetry collection, “Requiem”. He can be reached at @ikhtisad)Also read:Dhaka Siege: Blow for Hasina Govt, Spells Trouble for the RegionDhaka Requiem: From Stories of Liberation to a Dirge for the Dead We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.