The silliness that has ensued for far too many weeks, over the non-issue of whether sculptures or statues (and which is which of the two occasioned even more absurdity) should stand in Bangladesh, with a particular focus on those of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, came to a head this week. It happened after miscreants disgracefully defaced an under-construction sculpture of Bangabandhu in Kushtia town. The video of the incident later went viral, and makes for definitively depressing viewing. Four individuals, all teachers or students of a nearby madrasah, were later arrested, and they claimed to have been inspired by "recent anti-sculpture statements of Hefazot-e-Islam leader Mamunul Haque and Islami Andolan's Faizul Karim."
Now of course, we didn't need Messrs. Mamunul and Faizul to tell us about aniconism, or the avoidance of images or sculptures of sentient beings in some forms of Islamic art, that stems in part from the prohibition of idolatry and in part from the belief that creation of living forms is the Almighty's prerogative. We have known it all along. We also know that the Qur'an does not explicitly prohibit the depiction of human figures; it merely condemns idolatry. Thus aniconism never had to have any bearing on our affairs of state, and never did. We have always had sculptures, and always will. Can anybody imagine the day that Aparajeyo Bangla - depicting the indomitable spirit that guided the War of Liberation- would be brought down? Yet by allowing some retrogressive voices gain prominence in the field of politics, we opened the door to what should have been their irrelevant pronouncements against statues or sculptures become the cause for almost a national identity crisis.
Ultimately it took the regrettable incident at Kushtia to knock some sense back into proceedings on the national front. This week, the courts delivered firm rulings on putting an end to the nonsense. Prominent citizens also spoke out. Two sedition cases were filed with the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Court against the new Amir of Hefazot, Junayed Babunagari, and the other two mentioned above. That may have been harsh, but it probably became unavoidable. Now the self-appointed custodians of faith want to hold "a dialogue with the government to settle the ongoing debate".
Dialogue is never a bad thing, but it should be made clear to them that there is no "ongoing debate". Any entity that sits with the government has the opportunity to make political capital out of it. It's how Hefazot have made it this far in the national framework. By feeding the illusion that there is an issue of pressing concern to sort out, Hefazot may well seek the opportunity to build even more political capital - that must be guarded against.
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