#Shahbag Protesters Fight off Atheist Shadow Cast by Islamist Groups

See our special coverage of Bangladesh's #Shahbag Protests

Protesters calling for war criminals in Bangladesh to be put to death are pushing back after Islamists staging violent counter-protests accused the movement of being atheist and anti-Muslim.

Clashes between Bangladesh police and supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country's largest Islamist political party, making a stand against the popular Shahbag movement left four people dead and nearly 1,000 others injured, including 14 journalists, on February 22, 2013.

Rallies at mosques around the country, organized by Jamaat and 12 other like-minded Islamic parties angry over alleged insults to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (Sm) on blogs and Facebook from Shahbag supporters, turned violent. Protesters reportedly vandalized the Shaheed Minar, a structure in remembrance of martyrs for the Bengali language movement, in Sylhet, burned the national flag in Chandpur, and assaulted police and other Muslims during the tumult.

The secretary general for Jamaat, Abdul Quader Mollah, was sentenced to life in prison by an International Crimes Tribunal judge on February 5, 2013 for crimes committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, in which an estimated 200,000 to 3 million people were killed by the Pakistani army with the help of local political and religious militia groups in Bangladesh.

Hundreds of thousands of people attend a grand rally at Projonmo Chattar in the capital's Shahbagh. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (21/2/2013)

Hundreds of thousands of people attend a grand rally at Projonmo Chattar in the capital's Shahbagh. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (21/2/2013)

The short-of-death sentence sparked protests in Shahbag square in Bangladesh capital Dhaka the same day, calling for those who perpetrated mass murder, rape, arson, and other crimes against humanity during the war to be hanged. The movement quickly spread throughout the country, supported by the local blogging community and a variety of political, cultural, and student organizations.

But the Islamist resistance to the movement has religious tensions rising in Bangladesh, where 89 percent of the population is Muslim.

Pro-Jamaat Islamists riot in Bangladesh over 'Blasphemous Blogs'. Image by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright Demotix (22/1/2013)

Pro-Jamaat Islamists riot in Bangladesh over ‘Blasphemous Blogs’. Image by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright Demotix (22/1/2013)

Shahbag supporters beat off the accusations of atheism and blasphemy online.

On Facebook, Nijhoom Majumder republished a famous photo that captured the moment when refugees from East Pakistan poured into India by the millions during the Bangladesh Liberation War as a reminder of the terrible history and why the protests should continue:

আমার মা'কে, আমার বাবাকে, আমার বোনকে, আমার ভাইকে এত তীব্র কষ্ট যারা দিয়েছিলো তাদের বিচার চাইতে গেলেই আমি নাস্তিক? তাদের বিচার চাইতে গেলেই আমি আওয়ামীলীগের দালাল? বিচার চাইতে গেলেই কি আমাকে এইসব অসভ্য প্রোপাগান্ডার মুখে পড়তে হবে?

If I want justice for those who inflicted excruciating pain on my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, they label me as an atheist. If I want trial of war criminals I am labeled as a spokesperson of the ruling party. Do I face all these disgusting propaganda because I want justice?

Facebook user Dipu shared a video from his account about the Shahbag movement.

Former Jahangirnagar University student and Facebook user Saikat Shuvro Aich [bn] posted his reaction on the destruction of the Shaheed Minar and the burning of the national flag:

BNP is a “nationalist” party! But they supported the degradation of the two supreme icons of our nationalist feelings: the Shaheed Minar and our national flag. They strongly supported the hartal (strike) called by the people who committed this acts. They went silent when the Shahbagh movement started and then started making confusing comments. Sometime they talk about saluting the movement, then they said they are not supporting the movement and they will be countering this with their own gonotontro moncho (democracy stage) along with the people who degraded our flag and the Shaheed Minar!

I have heard the term political bankruptcy from childhood. Now seeing BNP, i understand the term. There’s no question of consideration for those who oppose seventy-one (liberation war). Ta Ta, BNP, bye bye.

Shashanka Baran Roy [bn] wrote on Facebook that he is optimistic about the movement:

They burned our national flag and destroyed the Shaheed Minar. This fight is from the soul of every person of this country except the Rajakars Al-Badrs. There is no option except victory.

Blogger, activist, and Facebook user Bijoy Majumder [bn], published:

What is the relation between the demand for hanging of atheist blogger’s and the burning of Shaheed Minar and the National Flag?

The students of Jamia Nuria Islamia Madrassa are protesting against blogger of shahbag who expressing anti Prophet Mohammad on their page. Kamrangirchar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Zahidul Selim. Copyright Demotix (24/2/2013)

The students of Jamia Nuria Islamia Madrassa protest against Shahbag bloggers who express anti-Prophet Mohammad sentiments on their page. Kamrangirchar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Zahidul Selim. Copyright Demotix (24/2/2013)

People living in and outside the country are waging battles for and against the Shahbag movement on Twitter. Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) tweeted:

@TarekFatah: Islamists in Bangladesh threaten PM Hasina: “Arrest the #Shahbag bloggers or we will slaughter them one by one”. http://youtu.be/ngtkv6UWE1k

Shahed Haq (@BrotherShahed) tweeted about Ghulam Azam, one of the people accused of the war crimes:

@BrotherShahed: Politics101: #Shahbag #6: Ghulam Azam was one of the leading figures of the language movement #factcheck http://tinyurl.com/afxomkx

In reply to the tweet, Pinaki (@pim863) wrote:

@pim863: @BrotherShahed how do you sleep at night? look at this what ghulam azam said pic.twitter.com/I8vf6CtddI #shahbag #jamaatis are such liars.

Ishtiaq Opal (@opal_snaps) tweeted that Jamaat, despite its claims, does not support Islam or Bangladesh:

@opal_snaps: jamatis hiring pakistanis against us. how can they still live in this country? #shahbag will not end until jamatis end. pic.twitter.com/uNwXjJWMKp

Twitter user Iftekhar Chowdhury (@iftekhat_chy) had this to say:

@iftekhat_chy: FFollow the footsteps of Muhamaad (PBUH) that is the message Nouman Ali giving here, Don't follow #jamaat's #shahbag http://goo.gl/0VDzT

“Bangladesh Fan” (@BAN_FAN) wrote:

@BAN_FAN: Being a Muslim & Supporting Jamat are two different things. You can be a good Muslim and Reject Politics of Jamat #Shahbag #BanglaSpring

Anu Likhon (@anulikhon) tweeted a note to Jamat:

@anulikhon: Dear #jamat , so it is your best, u ppl can only terrorise ppl , Nothing more. #bangladesh rejects you. #shahbag

Shahbagh protestors gather for a flag rally at Rayerbazar Buddhijbi Monument Saturday.

Shahbagh protestors gather for a flag rally at Rayerbazar Buddhijbi Monument Saturday. Image by Zahidul Selim. Copyright Demotix (23/2/2013)

The Internet was not only host to pro- and anti-Shahbag commentary. Supporters of the Islamic counterprotests even hacked the website of leading English newspaper The Daily Star, and Shahbag-supporting hackers broke into the website of the Bangladesh Islami Student Shibir. Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has until now blocked 12 blogs and Facebook pages [bn] administered by Jamaat-Shibir supporters on charges of inciting hatred and violence.

Jamaat leaders are not the only ones to face prosecution. A couple of leaders of the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party and one leader of the ruling party Awami League also stand accused of genocide, rape, arson and crimes during the country's liberation from Pakistan in 1971.

Dr. Imran H. Sarker, convener of the Bloggers and Online Activists Network [bn], which organized the original Shahbag protests, detailed the six main demands of the movement in a speech on February 21 [bn]:

The 6-points

1. All involved in the murders of Shaheed Rajib Haider, Jafar Munshi, Bahadur Miah, Kishor Russel Mahmud have to be arrested within 7 days.
2. To ban the participation of anti-independence, terrorist group Jamaat-Shibir in politics, form charges and start legal action against Jamaat-E-Islami according to the amended law.
3. The economic institutions which finance the terrorist activities of the group have to be identified and brought within the confines of the law by creating an independent investigation commission.
4. To ensure the speed and endurance of the trial of the war criminals the International Criminal Tribunal has to be institionalized.
5. To ensure the safety of the general people and to stop the violence and terrorist activities of Jamaat-Shibir, law enforcing agencies have to take special steps to arrest the criminals, retrieve illegal arms and expose hideouts. The true face of this group has to be unmasked to the national and international media.
6. Take immediate steps against the mass-media which have incited murder and communal feelings to protect the war criminals.

Shahbag supporters say they will continue with their movement until their demand for capital punishment is met.

This post is part of our special coverage on Bangladesh's #Shahbag protests


  • @Shahbag: the movement now need to be spread to the villages and every corner of the country. People who does not have access to blogs and internet need to have chances to share their feelings on War Criminals and Jamat-Shibir terrorism. We must start that now ….

  • @Shahbag# it is very clear that there are some counter-forces working within the youth leaders of the movement who are trying to create negative image of the movement all around. We have to promote a ‘collective voice’ by promoting and accepting progressive suggestions. However, in some cases, for last few days, it has been observed that few people are trying to ‘over-act’ on the proposed programs of Shahbag. These people are always ‘opportunists’ – stay behind the fire line and enjoy all sorts of opportunity including fame, money and glamor. Be-aware about them and let advices come with good strategic decisions.

  • Honorable leader of opposition in Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia is also afraid of her own ally, Jamaat-Shibir’s brutality and possibility of terrorism – cancelled a much waited meeting with Indian President Mr. Pranab. ভারতের প্রেসিডেন্ট প্রণব মুখার্জির সঙ্গে বাংলাদেশের বিরোধী নেত্রী বেগম
    খালেদা জিয়ার নির্ধারিত বৈঠক বাতিল করা হয়েছে। বিএনপি’র তরফেই ভারতীয়
    হাইকমিশনকে বিষয়টি জানিয়ে দেয়া হয়েছে। বলা হয়েছে, যেহেতু সাক্ষাৎটি
    হরতালের মধ্যে পড়েছে তাই নিরাপত্তা জনিত কারণে বিরোধী নেত্রীর পক্ষে হোটেল
    সোনারগাঁয়ে যাওয়া সম্ভব হবে না। তাই আমরা দুঃখিত। বিএনপি চেয়ারপারসনের
    উপদেষ্টা শমসের মবিন চৌধুরী মানবজমিন অনলাইনকে এ তথ্য নিশ্চিত করেছেন।
    উল্লেখ্য আগামী কাল বিকেলে এই সৌজন্য সাক্ষাতের কথা ছিল। ভারতের
    প্রেসিডেন্ট প্রণব মুখার্জি আজ ঢাকা আসছেন। ভারতের প্রেসিডেন্ট নির্বাচিত
    হওয়ার পর তার এটি প্রথম বিদেশ সফর।

  • […] words insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. During the peak of the #Shahbag protests they started labeling the bloggers as atheists. They had accused that the #Shahbag uprising was instigated by Islamophobe atheist bloggers […]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.