Terrorists are once again demonstrating their mastery of the macabre spectacle to compel the attention of people and governments the world over.
If the beheadings that ISIS specialises in and the chilling efficiency of the attack on the editors of Charlie Hebdo weren’t gruesome enough, Islamic extremists in Bangladesh used meat cleavers to hack to death the Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger Avijit Roy in public view in Dhaka as the writer was returning from a book fair along with his wife on February 26.
The attack in Dhaka points to disturbing trends both in Bangladesh and further afield. Religious extremists are attacking liberal, secular figures and their worldviews using hate speech and physical violence.
Those celebrating Roy’s murder on social media represent his killing as an ‘achievement’ on a par with the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, underlining their breach with liberal values that extremists maintain and perpetuate, which is very damaging to democratic societies. Extremists also use spectacular killings to spread fear and ensure compliance in societies.
Bangladeshi civil society activists have bravely staged protests in Dhaka following Mr Roy’s death but extremists will test their resolve in the future.
Such challenges can only be tackled with credible State capacity, which Bangladesh seems to have little of at the moment. That the extremists could openly threaten Mr Roy and murder him in the capital points to Bangladesh’s broken politics and the weak rule of law it has wrought.
The country has seen so much chaos that it is difficult to discern which systems actually work on a daily basis. Its politics are split by an unrelenting contest between the Awami League, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and Khaleda Zia’s BNP, which has the support of Islamist parties. The country is divided by religious-secular disputes that originate in Bangladesh’s violent passage to independence in 1971.
Debates over the role of parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami in the massacres of pro-freedom intellectuals polarise society and feed into political preferences.
There is regrettably no end in sight. The BNP’s call for a nationwide transport blockade in an effort to force Hasina from power has resulted in widespread violence killing more than 70 people.
Ms Hasina has to take her share of the blame for the deteriorating situation. She has strong secular credentials but is showing authoritarian tendencies under pressure. Her son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, who is also her ICT adviser, has called for prominent civil society activists, an eminent jurist and the editor of a leading daily, the Daily Star, to be arrested and tried for treason on evidently baseless charges.
Ms Hasina must firmly eschew such moves and take political risks to stop her country’s slide into further chaos.