Sunday, October 17, 2004

Bangladesh: The BNP has "decided" not to do anything

Governments may come and go, but trust me, once the seeds of fundamentalism are sown, they will continue to grow no matter what. It would be impossible to deal with the issue. This issue, with due respect to other points of view, is more important than removal of the present government as is the demand of the opposition and many other political parties.
It is evident that the ruling party has "decided" not to do anything about it. Once again death threats have been issued to some of most respected citizens of our country for their role in protesting the programmes of desecrating the places of worship of the Ahmadiyyas by a fanatic religious group known as Amra Dhakabashi.

Response to fundamentalism

Shamsher Chowdhury

Religious fundamentalism is a global phenomenon which existed from the very dawn of civilisation. The Christians had it and continue to have it. It is highly pronounced in Judaism. Israel began as a struggle for a free homeland for Jews and slowly turned into a homeland only for Jews. Fundamentalism is there in India in its crudest form.

Fundamentalism in its current form is also a form of protest against the overall erosion of ethical and moral values throughout the world. It is also an expression of anger against the miscarriage of social justice. It is also, in a way, a protest by the few against the gross injustice by many. It is also a reply to the vilification and undue character assassination of the many against a few on account of religious considerations. It is also a protest against imperialistic designs of the powerful nations and vested interest groups. It is also a form of extreme protest to counter extreme measures.

To call it sheer religious fanaticism would not only be wrong, but misleading. Have the countries of the West and America in particular been any less cruel and high-handed in their approach in dealing with the Talibans in Afghanistan or dealing with the so-called terrorists in Iraq? No one country is being fair and honest enough in dealing with religious terrorism anywhere in the world. As long as the so-called global war on terrorism continues to be overshadowed by vested economics and the politics of power, fanaticism or fundamentalism will feature as a permanent element in human civilisation.

I believe that the rising incidence of terrorism -- religious or otherwise -- cannot be countered with military might alone. What is required is political will, collective wisdom, and the explicit desire with an open mind, to bring the so-called leaders of terrorist groups to the table for "discussions" in order to have an insight into their point of views, right or wrong. To be able to sit and talk to your "enemies" should not be viewed as a weakness but as a sign of strength. I am afraid we have no other option.

You have seen how the war against Talibans is going. If anything it has redoubled their will and determination. Despite President Bush's continued harping on his favourite tune that America is winning the war on terrorism and that the world is a safer place now, the incidence of terrorism is continually on the rise. Talk to anyone at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, the principal ally of America in its war on terrorism, and he or she will tell you, on conditions of anonymity, that setbacks are on the rise despite much propaganda to the contrary.

It is high time that every effort be made on an urgent basis to arrest the unbridled march of religious zealotry in the country. It appears that the incident of 8/21 has pushed back or undermined the doubly serious scourge of rising fundamentalism in Bangladesh -- otherwise hitherto known for its secular traditions. The Bangla Bhais are resting somewhere and planning to go into action with renewed vigour. Governments may come and go, but trust me, once the seeds of fundamentalism are sown, they will continue to grow no matter what. It would be impossible to deal with the issue. This issue, with due respect to other points of view, is more important than removal of the present government as is the demand of the opposition and many other political parties.

It is evident that the ruling party has "decided" not to do anything about it. Once again death threats have been issued to some of most respected citizens of our country for their role in protesting the programmes of desecrating the places of worship of the Ahmadiyyas by a fanatic religious group known as Amra Dhakabashi. It is my firm conviction that this rise of the fanatic religious zealots is also directly related to failures of our politicians and the rising spate of miscarriages of justice. Moral and ethical erosions also have played their part. Bangladesh is listed as the number one corrupt country of the world. Corruption has also angered many and has contributed to the fundamentalist factor. To this day I have not heard of any high-profile religious cleric of Islam anywhere in the world being corrupt. Whereas look at politicians, bureaucrats, you name it, anywhere in the globe, corruption is the by-word.

Therefore there has to be an overall change in our strategy in dealing with all forms of terrorism, religious or otherwise. We simply must evolve a mechanism to deal with the problem at its grass-roots levels. It is my belief that it is still possible at least to deal with religious terrorism in Bangladesh in an effective way if we are prepared to tackle it at the grass-roots levels. The element of religious terrorism is still in its infancy in Bangladesh.

To begin with, we simply must separate religion from the state machinery. The government should seriously, diligently, and with all sincerity of purpose, monitor and oversee the operations of the madrassahs. The other day a madrassah teacher allegedly cut the ears of as many as 13 of his pupils. Most of the madrassahs around the country are slowly and surely turning into hot-beds of orthodoxy. The teachers, poorly trained in the teachings of Islam itself, often indulge in absolute narrow and wrong interpretations of the fundamentals of Islam. Most of them are unable to see beyond mosques and mazars.

Besides nearly all of those taught are tender in age, having highly impressionable minds. It is my strongest belief that the majority of the people of the country have never been to madrassahs, yet they happen to be just as much dedicated Muslims as anybody else, if not better. Of late there has been a mushroom growth of madrassahs. The sponsors of these madrassahs are carefully choosing locations of operations in order to avoid undue attention of the people. A friend of mine living in Uttara told me that one such area is Uttara. Most of these madrassahs are flourishing under private sponsorship and apparently follow their own curricula away from any form of governmental supervision. The position with these madrassahs therefore is that since they take no assistance from the government, the governmental authorities have no business either scrutinising or monitoring their ativities. This is a dangerous trend. Education is the heart of a nation. It is thus high time that the government brought all such institutions under public scrutiny.

Bangladesh is Bangladesh. We do not wish to follow the path of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia or any other nation in this regard.

While we must strike hard at the Bangla Bhais, we also be prepared to call and invite some of the more vocal religious clerics to high-profile seminars and meetings and listen to their deliberations.

I leave the matter for our leaders and our intelligentsia to think things further. I am certain that this posture of extreme confrontation will take us nowhere.

Shamsher Chowdhury is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

Daily Star 17/10/2004