By Shantanu Mukharji
May 26, 2017
A massive news leak that Saudi Arabia was about to give 1 billion US dollars to Bangladesh to build mosques has drawn flak as western intelligentsia has come down heavily on the Saudi leadership most recently for spreading pan Wahhabism in countries like Bangladesh. As the news of the Wahhabi propaganda spread, Saudis retracted from their earlier stance as reflected by the statement issued by their Minister of Culture, Dr Awwad Alawwad who was quick to resort to damage control by ‘clarifying’ that they would go ahead with 1 billion US dollar funding for building as many as 560 mosques only if a formal request came from the government of Bangladesh.
Judging from the so-called clarification, it is evident that Saudi Arabia was all set to donate the huge money for pursuit of its plans to further Islamise Bangladesh. Now the question is why Bangladesh? Answer looks simple because Bangladesh is possibly in the process of fighting Islamic fundamentalism, converting it to be a really secular State and extricate itself from the adverse effects of Jihadi mindset as promotion of fundamentalism has recently seen a growth in terrorist happenings with ISIS stepping up its activities with massive radicalisation and killings of liberals and free thinkers.
Meanwhile, Daniel Pipes, an academic and prime mover behind the think tank ‘Middle East Forum’ maintains that Saudi Arabia is engaged in a long-term strategy to transform a worldwide culture in promoting Wahhabism.
In this context, it may be pointed out that Bangladesh had in the past warming up to Saudi Arabia with its President HM Ershad openly accepting any form of donation from the Saudis which also carried diktats from the Monarchy shaping and influencing policies of the Bangladesh government. It also paved the way for future interventions and Islamisation. Saudi help further bolstered Bangladesh government when for electoral and theocratic conveniences Prime Ministers like Khaleda Zia gave (1991- 1996 and in the second term 2001-2006) cabinet berths to Jamaat e Islami ministers allocating lucrative portfolios. Such assignments helped the Jamaat leaders to carry out Islamic directives and in the process strengthen roots of fundamentalism. Those ministers, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mujahid continued to swear allegiance to Saudi Arabia. Their terms in office saw mushrooming of mosques and madrasas giving further boost to the growth of fundamentalism and reinforcement of ties with Saudi Arabia. In retrospect these machinations look part of the grand design initiated by Saudi Arabia as recently articulated by Pipes and his ilk.
Against this backdrop, fresh Saudi plans to inject 1 billion US dollars worth monetary help to construct mosques do not surprise Saudi watchers but its imperative for the right thinking forces to alert the world against the perils of fanning Wahhabism which poses a threat to the remaining peace loving Islamic nations.
Saudis are already perpetrating excesses on Houthis in Yemen and their incessant attempts to check Iran against its nuclear programmes are all part of plans to control forces opposed to Wahhabism. Bangladesh minorities, already afflicted with highhandedness of diehard Islamists, are apprehensive of any Saudi financial assistance in the form of building of mosques.
Also, secular forces within Bangladesh and in Asia must make the right noises to stall any Saudi plans to fund proliferation of Wahhabism, so detrimental to a peaceful environ in the region.
Shantanu Mukharji, a retired IPS officer, is a security analyst and Bangladesh watcher. He is also a Senior Fellow with the India Police Foundation.