In March 2014, Dan Mozena, then U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, said that Bangladesh is “a moderate and generally secular and tolerant—though sometimes this is getting stretched at the moment—alternative to violent extremism in a very troubled part of the world.” While Mozena’s statement reflects the general perception that Bangladesh is a success story of a moderate, secular, Muslim democracy, this view never rested on strong empirical grounds. Indeed, since Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971, the durability of both secularism and democracy have been undermined by numerous military coups—many of which involved multiple counter-coups before a clear “victor” emerged—in 1974-75, 1977-1980, 1981-82, 1996, and 2007. (In 2012, the military announced that it had thwarted yet another coup in January of that year.) Bangladesh’s two mainstream political parties are known more for their rivalry, corruption and incompetence than for governance. Since independence, Bangladesh has experienced creeping Islamism that continues to enjoy popular support, and increasingly, Bangladesh is the site of Islamist violence. Between January 2005 and June 2015, nearly 600 people have died in Islamist terrorist attacks, but 90 percent of those have taken place since 2013. That the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claim many of these recent attacks casts a pall over Bangladesh’s ostensible success story.
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