Hundreds of thousands of Hifazat-e-Islam activists gather for a rally to demand authorities enact an anti-blasphemy law punishing people who insult Islam, Motijheel area in the capital on Saturday. Photo: Ashraful Alam Tito/ UNBconnect, April 06, 2013
The current state of affairs in the political arena of Bangladesh has been constantly gnawing at the peace-loving people with no immediate hope of catharsis. The rash and reckless acts of vandalism committed by the Jamaat-Shibir activists; the prolonged tug of war between the ruling and the opposition parties over power assumption and political ascendancy; the belligerent attitudes of the upstart reactionary group called Hefajat-e-Islam; the stubborn resistance put up by the Gonojagaran Manchya and the large sections of pro-liberation populace; and above all the untold miseries of millions of people caused by recurrent hartals, blockades and demonstrations are making people extremely suffer from nerves. All this is doing serious harm to the private and public property and having a corrosive effect on the country’s economy, stability and progress. There are far more causes for concern. Due to numerous splits in the society caused by trifling ideological disagreements and lack of mutual respect and political tolerance, the situation has recently worsened so gravely that the politically partisan people feel like cutting off their noses to spite the opposition’s faces. To these have been added myriad internecine feuds which have been crippling national integrity. And in this troubled waters are trying to fish the rabid right wingers and religious fanatics. The sudden rise of Hefajat-e-Islam is nothing but an outbreak of religious fanaticism triggered off by the extreme right wingers.
We have had enough of reason to apprehend that Bangladesh is very likely going to be on the track of Pakistan or Afghanistan—two completely failed countries in the world, worst affected by religious extremism and militancy. The independent country—Bangladesh, earned at the cost of 3 million lives, is being made to move far away from the true spirit of the Liberation War. To realize the dream of the Freedom Fighters– to create a secular-democratic society and a non-communal and progressive country as opposed to Pakistan ensuring maximum civil liberty– is increasingly becoming a far cry from reality. With every day that passes, we are becoming ever more despairing. And to our great shock and horror, we observe that the major political parties of Bangladesh are showing more interest in assuming power than in fighting for establishing the spirit of Independence. The ruling party Awami League, though pro-liberation and progressive, is trying to handle the emergent right wingers with kid glove reckoning their profits and losses in the next election. The opposition—BNP, a party with a progressive face and a reactionary soul, has jumped on the Hafajat’s bandwagon and completely sided with the anti-liberation forces to show a striking contrast with ruling Awami League in order to take advantage of the anti-incumbency public sentiment to manipulate people in the next polls. The life and soul of the opportunist Jatio Party, H. M. Ershad, the inveterate political gambler is running with the hare and hunting with the hound to realize his final wish to get back the pedestal he was knocked off. In doing so, all are indulging in the religious extremist groups directly or indirectly. This is where the crux of the matter lies.
Any kind of indulgence in the activities of the rigidly
doctrinaire religious forces may boost their ego and inspire them to take their hidden agenda much further. Today’s trigger-happy Talibans are yesterday’s angry activists pampered by indulgent governments and supported by vested interests. The very same theory can be applied to Bangladesh also. That the religious fundamentalists of Bangladesh have no dearth of financial support is an acknowledged fact. Now, if they can carry on with their operation pretty indulgently, even during the tenure of the pro-liberation government, it’s for sure that they won’t take much longer time to transform Bangladesh into ‘Banglastan’ –a Taliban state built after the fashion of Pakistan or Afghanistan —their dreamlands! Despite being born in the alluvial soil of Bangladesh, and raised in its lush green vegetation, these religious bigots dream of a Kabul or a Kandahar in their subconscious. This is their avowed goal too! So they are thinking this present turbulent situation would be for them a dream come true. The Long March by the Hefajat-e-Islam drops a broad hint of a march towards a Taliban state. There are telltale signs of this on their 13- point demand list. Most of the points are the complete opposite of the fundamentals of the constitution of Bangladesh and human rights. Besides they do not practice what they preach. Although avowedly non-violent, they did not hesitate to raise their hands to a female newswoman. The acts of homicide and vandalism perpetrated recently by the Hefajatees in Fatikchhari bear the testimony to the Taliban propensity for violence. Being worked up by a fake mike announcement, they flew into religious frenzy and came out of their houses in packs. In broad daylight, in the crowded street, people were beaten to death and hundreds of motor vehicles were put to the torch.
So, to comply with their doctrinal resolution is to take a retrograde step. It means demolishing all the sculptures of our social, cultural and political heritage; bidding farewell to co-education and co-work and thereby sending women back to zenana for doing domestic chores only; and introducing the blasphemy law throttling the freedom of expression. How does it feel if our honourable prime minister and the leader of opposition are asked to leave their public offices and go back to private apartments for being women? What would be the future of the country if the half of its population (women) is forced to stay away from working shoulder to shoulder with the other half( men)? What the ‘hefajatees’ (the self-styled caretakers of Islam!) have proposed is simply absurd in the context of 21st century political life. I can bet my bottom dollar that even the women in their own families will not agree with their stance on this weird gender separation concept—the medieval concept of Mardana and Zenana.
To materialize half of their demand is to go for the creation of a Taliban state which would be the worst ever political disaster for Bangladesh. So, much as they claim that they are nonpolitical, the truth is quite the contrary. They have emerged as a diehard political party to be reckoned with. As a matter of fact, Hefajat-e-Islam is a cataclysmic regeneration of the endangered political species in Bangladesh called Jamaat-e-Islami, and the so-called long- marchers are marchers towards establishing a mediaeval militant state. They are having a phoenix resurrection from the ravages of Jamaat-e-Islami and spreading like a swarm of locusts to destroy the crops of the country’s hard-earned independence. This is how the Jamaat-e-Islami is trying to shoot their last bolt to save their masters languishing in prison. Again the Jamaat turned Hefajat has called a blockade programme in Dhaka on next 5 May and is threatening the government with ouster if their demands are not met. They are trying to assert their authority from the beginning and have declared that they would be instrumental in the formation of the next government. The self-proclaimed non-political Hefajatees are trying to climb up the top rung of the power-ladder with a single jump. If not nipped in the bud, the whole nation may be infected with this militancy virus which may find an expression in a Taliban state– a nightmare come true!
Dr. Rashid Askari (currently abroad) writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University