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Fight militancy and communal extremists to ensure free & fair election

London, October 25: Speakers at a seminar held in London on 25 October 2018 at the House of Lords titled “Parliamentary Democracy in Bangladesh: Challenging Radicalism & the Way Forward” called upon the European governments & policy makers to reassess their views of Jihadist groups and said Europe needs to understand that the rise of radicalisation and religiously-motivated violence is not just a localised phenomenon in Bangladesh but has serious ramifications for Europe too. They called for effective engagement with the Bangladesh authorities to combat fanatic indoctrination, terrorism and political violence.

Organised by the European Bengai diaspora organisation, European Bangladesh Forum (EBF), the seminar was hosted by Lord Paul Bew, Patron of the EBF. Keynote Speakers at the seminar were Syed Badrul Ahsan, Editor in Charge of The Asian Age, Bangladesh, Dr. Siegfried O Wolf, German political scientist & Director of South Asia Democratic Forum, Shahriar Kabir, President of Forum for Secular Bangladesh & Roberta Bonazzi, President of the European Foundation for Democracy while Discussants were Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Vice Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh and Martin Frampton of Queen Mary University of London. Ansar Ahmed Ullah, President of EBF made opening remarks. The seminar was held at a time when Bangladesh is preparing for the next general elections in December amidst threats of boycott by one of the major political parties, BNP. BNP had earlier threatened to boycott the elections if they are not held under a non-elected, non-party caretaker government.

Keynote speaker Syed Badrul Ahsan said, secular politics is today in broad outlines restored in a significant way, but warned at the same time, the forces against secularism should not be underestimated or ignored, especially at a time when Bangladesh prepares for the next general elections at the end of the year.

Dr. Siegfried Wolf said, western government should not allow parties supporting or patronising terrorism to use their territories and must stop granting them safe-havens, freedom of movement. Political parties that directly or indirectly associate – either through individual members or third entities, such as charities and social organisations, with violent Jihadist organisations must be considered as a part of the Jihadist movement, he opined.

Writer and journalist from Dhaka, Shahriar Kabir said, from 2001 to 2006 Bangladesh witnessed an unprecedented persecution of religious minorities, mostly the Hindus.  In order to convert Bangladesh into a monolithic religious country he added, BNP-Jamat alliance forced more than a quarter million hapless Hindus to leave Bangladesh and take shelter in neighboring India. Despite protests the then BNP coalition government did not take any measure, on the contrary several secular civil society leaders were thrown behind the bar, he added.

Roberta Bonazzi said, radicalization is a global phenomenon and it has no boundary. That is why it needs multilevel cooperation among civil societies and also in the government levels. In this respect Bangladesh needs support and cooperation from European countries and at the same time Europe has a lot to learn from Bangladesh from its successful operation against violent militant Jihadi groups.

Earlier, Lord Paul Bew in his welcome address said, we have to look at the root of violent extremism and religion-based violence, which is not only the significant issue for Bangladesh but also significant for the European countries including the United Kingdom. Through the analysis of the European and global perspectives of the militancy and terrorism, we have to increase mutual understanding and cooperation to ensure the sustainable policy and strategy to fight against extremist threats and violence. Among others, General Secretary of World Sindhi Congress Lakhu Luhana, Director of Humane First Ajanta Deb Roy, Indian writer Priyajit Debsarkar and Dr Abdullah Zakaria took part in the discussions following keynote presentation.

Participants from the local UK Bengali community, Bangladesh and European representatives from the UK, Bangladesh, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands and Germany took part in the seminar. They hoped for a free and fair elections where all can exercise their rights of franchise.