Many Rivers, One Sea

Bangladesh and the Challenge of Islamist Militancy

May 2019 9781849048743 240pp


A perennial frontier for Islamic orthodoxy, Bangladesh is witnessing an alarming rise in Islamist-inspired assassinations and terrorist attacks. In July 2016, the world’s attention fell upon a café in a leafy Dhaka neighbourhood as the barbarity of a distant ‘Caliphate’ was visited on this corner of South Asia. Twenty-nine died in the assault on the Holey Bakery, affixing an unbidden nightmare to the image of a supposedly tolerant Muslim nation.

Joseph Allchin probes Bangladesh’s recent and distant past as he investigates how it has become the latest front in world extremism. Delving into the local and global differences between political actors, he exposes the continued influence of the country’s independence struggle on today’s allegiances, and scrutinises the careers of two long-term rivals: current prime minister Sheikh Hasina, and Khaleda Zia, who held the office in 1991–6 and 2001–6.

This unerring investigation examines the relationship between radical Islam and the Bangladeshi political class, laying bare the extremist forces that bedevil the country’s present and future.


‘An important contribution on an under-explored topic [which] must be recommended for all south Asia watchers and observers of Islamist militancy the world over.’ — International Affairs

‘[Many Rivers, One Sea] displays an acute understanding of the sources, evolution and growth of Islamist politics in Bangladesh over the course of the past several decades … telling anecdotes combined with an attention to historical detail make Allchin’s book a truly compelling read.’ — India Today

‘[Allchin] lays out in vivid, if not bloody, detail, the persistence in contemporary Bangladesh of violent extremism in the name of Islam. He has produced one of the best compilations of terror in Bangladesh in English and between two covers.’ — South Asia Journal

‘This is a remarkable book … a notable contribution to the literature on Islamic extremism.’ — Asian Affairs Journal

‘Allchin’s grippingly written account of the rise and modus operandi of [Bangladeshi] militant movements is sobering, and will add to the political challenges the country faces.’ — Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

‘Combining an investigative reporter’s probing eyes and an academic’s rigour, Allchin goes behind the scenes of ongoing Islamist militancy in Bangladesh, contextualising events within the domestic, regional and global political trends in a manner seldom found in media coverage and public discourse. A compelling and captivating narrative.’ — Ali Riaz, Distinguished Professor of Politics and Government, Illinois State University

‘A penetrating look at the background behind Bangladesh’s explosion of Islamist violence, by a journalist who knows the country better than his peers do. Essential reading for students of South Asian extremism.’ — Ellen Barry, Chief International Correspondent, The New York Times

‘An original and thought-provoking book. Drawing on his long and unique relationship with the country, Allchin digs deep beneath surface understandings to explore the complex factors behind Bangladesh’s changing faces.’ — David Lewis, Professor of Social Policy and Development, LSE


Joseph Allchin is a journalist who has covered Bangladesh for the Financial Times, The Economist and other publications.

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