Bangladesh: Political Islam Asserts Itself

Source: FSSPX News

The Bangladesh Parliament in Dhaka

The case, which dates back to November 2023, concerns a 20-year-old Muslim man, Selim Khan. Victim of reckless outpourings on social networks, the suspect is accused of having attacked the reputation of the founder of Islam on Facebook. Judges are now calling for the introduction of the death penalty to punish the offense of “blasphemy against Islam.” 

Under the Cyber Security Act, Selim Khan faces two years in prison and a fine of more than 500 euros. It is a sentence that may seem quite modest given what is happening in Pakistan. But the two magistrates who dealt with his case don't really see it that way, and that's where the story gets complicated for the young Muslim.

On March 12, 2024, during the hearing, Selim Khan faced Rezaul Hasan and Fahmida Quader. Referring to several fairly explicit verses from the Koran, the two judges asked parliament to introduce the death penalty for the offenses of “blasphemy against Islam.”

This is the first time in the history of a country, which acquired its independence after its partition from Pakistan in 1971, that magistrates have initiated proceedings with the aim of heavily punishing offenses against the religion of Mohammed.

Contacted by the media, Catholic leaders (the Church represents less than 0.5% of a 90% Muslim population, or 400,000 faithful spread across two archdioceses) refused to comment on the initiative of Selim Khan's judges, believing that the subject is “sensitive” and “risky” for the Christian minority.

The debate on the crime of “blasphemy against Islam” must be situated in a resurgence of Islamic activism. For more than 10 years, around 50 people who are atheists or from religious minorities have been brutally murdered in the country. 

Holding her country with an iron fist for 15 years, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – who began her fifth term last January at the age of 76 –  attracted the ire of fundamentalists for refusing to politically impose Islam. As such, she is appreciated by the Catholic community who see in her a safeguard against the excesses of radical Islam.

Known for having boosted the economy and strengthened the textile sector, the daughter of the country's founding father is criticized by Western media for having locked her country and its 170 million inhabitants in an increasingly authoritarian regime. The main opposition party Islamist group – Jamaat-e-Islami – is regularly banned from participating in elections because of its charter, which contravenes the country's secular constitution. 

However, in five years, at the end of what could be her final mandate (Sheikh Hasina will be 81 years old), will the Prime Minister of Bangladesh be able to hand over the reins to one of her children as she wants? That is not certain.

Selim Khan can rest easy for now. He should only receive a relatively benign sentence, because the death penalty for blasphemers is unlikely to be promulgated under the reign of Sheikh Hasina.