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NATIONAL SHAME

What happened to Buddhists in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh can only be described as a national shame. The savage attacks on Buddhists’ temples and their homes have no parallel in the country’s history of violence against minorities. Smaller groups such as the Hindus and Buddhists in Bangladesh have periodically faced violent attacks on their lives and property. But the scale of the violence in the recent attacks on the Buddhists makes it the worst such event since the nation’s birth in 1971. It has been one of the worst failures not only of the government of Sheikh Hasina Wajed but also of the State. The manner in which large mobs were organized and used to vandalize the temples and homes of Buddhists points to a method in the madness. On the face of it, the attacks were an angry response to an anti-Islam image posted on Facebook. But the violence was clearly not a spontaneous outburst of anger. Most reports from the area suggest that large numbers of people were transported to the scene of violence from far-off places. The failure of the police and the local administration made it possible for criminal elements to burn and loot temples and homes.

However, Ms Wajed does not seem to have fully grasped the enormity of the tragedy and its consequences for Bangladesh. The incident has sparked protests among Buddhist and other groups all over the world. It may do incalculable damage to Bangladesh’s credibility as a democratic country. Ms Wajed’s visit to the affected area may help Buddhists feel a little less insecure. But the prime minister has not helped matters by laying the blame on her political rivals. By doing so, she has reduced a national crisis to an issue in partisan politics. This is no way to ensure a proper inquiry into the tragedy and punishment for the guilty. She has to admit that her administration has failed to protect a minority group from organized violence. The international community will closely watch how her government conducts the inquiry. The tragedy could not have come at a worse time for Ms Wajed whose government has recently faced criticism at home and abroad on several issues, the most important of them being the corruption charges over the Padma river bridge project. Fortunately, protests by civil society against the attacks on the Buddhists hold out hopes for liberty and democracy in Bangladesh.