Zafar Iqbal’s case, Islamist and Facebook extremism

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visits Prof Muhammed Zafar Iqbal at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka yesterday. Prof Zafar Iqbal, a faculty member of Computer Science and Engineering department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, was attacked with a knife on the campus on Saturday. Photo: BSS


Prof. Zafar Iqbal’s case has shaken everyone up because his public stature was so large that he seemed almost invincible. He had said what he had had felt he should say and had remain unscathed. He had some minor brushes with his opponents but nothing serious. Zafar Iqbal had become a voice of several generations unhappy with political and social leadership.


He was considered clean, idealistic and who upheld the ‘spirit of 1971’ as is generally understood. All that came crashing down on 3rd March when Faizul, a young man who police claim may be linked to some Jihadist organizations  or maybe acted on his own leanings tried to kill Prof. Iqbal as an “enemy of Islam”.


Prof. Iqbal is now under treatment at CMH Dhaka and the would- be- killer, after a public beating, is in RAB and police hands having confessed to his motivation by and his affinity for Jongibad. His fate is almost certain which is death at official hands by one means or another. But what exactly does incidental and systemic security mean in an age of Violent Extremism is uncertain.


Ineffective police, criminal’s uncertain identity?


That police can’t guarantee safety and that civilian intellectuals are not a priority in the protection list is clear to all. Several policemen were standing next to him and checking their mobile phones as the attacker waited to attack. How a man, could get so close to a person who had been on several Islamist hit lists is a big issue because once he was so close, the next step of launching the attack was easy as events show. What is a security protocol supposed to do in general cases would be good to know when they are protecting someone.


But the identity of the criminal is also important. If he is associated with an organization and the law agencies are saying he is probably associated with Ansar – al- Islam,a Jihadist outfit, it means one approach of doing business. In such a  case, the police can try to trace his accomplices and the nucleus that bred him. But if he is a lone attacker, motivated by personal hatred, then the insecurity parameter is expanded as just about anyone can be a killer.


In the last 18 months or so, the law enforcers have broken the back of the Islamic militant activists, after the Gulshan attack. Though they do raise their heads once in a while, they as a threat are barely there. Zafar Iqbal, living as he does in Sylhet could be attacked anytime by these outfits if they wanted a high profile victim but nothing of that sort had happened.


Bangladesh has one of the most active spook agencies operating and if they had a peep about an impending attack they would have been better prepared.  No such alert was there. So was this once more an intelligence failure?


But could it be a lone wolf?


His background is murky with his family following “unusual” practices of Islam which led to conflict with the local mosque, his madrassa education roots are unclear, his livelihood of selling gamcha seems worth more investigations. His mode of operation, lack of an escape plan and getting caught in the act in the midst of a crowd seems he is not yet a veteran assassin. But he certainly has sympathy for Jongibad which is why he tried to kill the Professor.


So if he is part of a jongi outfit, the scoop and law enforcement agencies need to answer. How they slipped past the nest After all, they have been given unlimited powers to do their task including protect high profile targets like Zafar Iqbal which they failed to do so.


A hating society on FB


But if he is a long attacker, it becomes a more worrisome issue as it means society is producing killers that is ready to attack at random against their self selected target. In this thread, he resembles the mass killers of the US more, who attack out of racist and individual hatred and commit unsurpassed mayhem. Tackling that is a big task and that needs a systemic approach. However, all the factors that promotes peaceful co-existence is absent in our society as in the US. But they can cope and we can’t.


The Facebook reaction after the attack is a good indicator of the troubled times. There is more collection of hate and animosity on its pages than elsewhere in our life or history. Many have even posted comments saying how disappointed they are that the assassin failed while others feel that it was deserving. In return there was hate too and also hate for each other irrespective of their position.


Politically too, it has given rose to almost absurd levels of hostility. BNP claimed that the attack was part of the Government’s conspiracy while the AL hit back saying that the BNP was behind the attack. It may be comical and immature but also true.


The hate fest goes on which shows how low and acrimonious we are as a people. Be that it be, it’s also important to recognize that we must decide whether we want to be haters, a kind of verbally violent Jongibad or not. It does seem that those who love to hate are in the majority right now by many numbers. The assassin killing Bangladesh is its own citizens.

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