Shahbag movement and Awami League

Published on Thursday, April 4, 2013

Almost all political parties in Bangladesh are talking in the same language. The present Awami League government, the opposition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jatiyo party, a coalition partner of the Awami League government have branded the present youth movement activists as atheists. The government has arrested four online activists with allegations against them of defaming Islam. This is political dishonesty. This is government acting against its own people. This is betrayal of freedom of speech and expression. This is abusing power to undermine human rights.

The very fact that the depiction of someone as an atheist and forcing that individual to declare that he is a pious Muslim is a testimony that our societal development has not reached the maturity where rigorous engagement with different faiths without subordinating one's pursuit of reasoning to religious commands is possible.

Is Bangladesh becoming tolerant of barbarism because it was committed decades back? Are Bangladeshis losing moral moorings of simple civilized code of conduct while many other countries even today are hunting down and prosecuting people who committed crimes during the Second World War? Is there nothing to be learned from the lessons of Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and the more recent ones of Milosevic, Robert Taylor, Rwandan and Srebrenica genocide?

German sociologist Dieter Senghaas argues in his book entitled "clash within civilization" that if there is going to be a clash it is more probable to occur within a civilization than between different civilizations because all cultures today have undergone more inner conflict and turmoil than ever before in the past. According to Senghaas the concept of the "clash within Civilization" means that the future pattern of conflict will be drawn by cultural fault lines within civilizations caused by process of modernization within societies.

Comparatively in more developed societies fundamentalist radicalism is regarded as aberration that needs correction lest the pious and the faithful are grouped together with the aberrant behavior of a minuscule percentage of people. The non-violent and disciplined nature of the youth movement has attracted international attention and billed as a democratic expression of views.- Sumit Ganguli (of Indiana University) looks positively at the events in Bangladesh. He writes: "The Awami League-backed trials of Jamaat leaders have resurrected the horrors of the 1971 uprising and war. But as the demonstrations in Shahbag show, they have also emboldened those who still harbor hopes of a secular and unified Bangladesh. If those protests continue (and continue peacefully), they could be a sign that Bangladeshis reject a xenophobic vision of Islam and are ready for social and political harmony. And in that case, this poverty-afflicted country could, against all odds, become a poster child for religious forbearance everywhere."

But one cannot be certain that we have reached that level of maturity where communicative action will be free and non-coerced and all participants shall have equal voice to reach a consensus. Such a desire may seem idealistic for a society still mired in poverty, illiteracy and inequality and where clash within civilizations in the shape of inter and intra-religious intolerance expressed through violence and political victimization is a common occurrence. The emergence of Hifazat-e-Islam, an outfit now demanding the unconditional release of Maulana Delwar Hossain Saydee convicted of committing crimes against humanity, as a counter to the Shahbagh youth movement is a case in point. But then again how much should one believe in the supposed "threat" posed by the radical Islamist political party and its student wing? Clearly these forces lack public support. Besides the current movement by the protestors at the New Generation Square has rekindled the demand that Jamaat-e-Islami and their followers should not be allowed to do politics in Bangladesh. The proposed banning of politics by Jamaat has broad public support of the people of Bangladesh. An imponderable will be how this is seen by some of the conservative and authoritarian Arab countries where millions of Bangladeshis find employment. In these countries both Jamaat and its foreign supporters have been engaged in portraying the war crimes trials as assault on Islam as Bangladesh liberation war was portrayed by then Pakistan government as an Indian conspiracy to dismember a Muslim country. Bangladesh will have to guard against such disinformation propaganda by Jamaat and its allies, both domestic and international, and refute through diplomacy and dissemination of information to the disinformation-vulnerable countries clearly stating the position that a democratically elected government has to respond to the wishes of the people more so when the demand of the people relates to crimes against humanity.

Banning of Jamaat-e-Islami does not mean that Bangladeshis have embraced atheism or agnosticism or even our entry into secular age. The ban can be based on the party's criminal past and their refusal to be loyal to our collective identity of a nation born of a bloody liberation war. Jamaat leaders' trial for crimes against humanity is a testimony of the party's past. The recent assault on the law enforcement authorities by the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami and the most recent murder of the architect-blogger who was one of the leaders of the on-going agitation at the New Generation Roundabout by Islamist armed cadre should remove any misgivings if one has about banning Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party in Bangladesh.

From a broader point of view Shahbagh protestors have encouraged the people to believe that Bangladesh's future will remain in safe hands. In the background of the inability of successive administrations to fulfill the expectations of the people many were apprehensive that the realization of "Golden Bengal" will remain an elusive dream. But the dedication and unwavering commitment shown by the youth in the New Generation Roundabout to a set of demands through a peaceful and disciplined movement has demonstrated that the country has still a vast reservoir of youthful talent unmarred by greed for power and money that can steer the country in the right direction. The youth of Bangladesh has shown that clash within the same civilization is more likely to occur when immorality transgresses the boundary of fairness and the transgressors have to account for their misdeeds in a court of law where justice is dispensed without fear or favor of the crowd. As most of the people of Bangladesh are devout but moderate Muslims they do not need an Islamist party to safeguard Islam because Islam is not in danger in Bangladesh.

It is unfortunate that at a time when the 2013 Human Development Report has identified Bangladesh along with China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam as belonging to a group of 18 countries that have recorded rapid growth in human development along with the World Bank and the IMF reports saying more or less the same thing our political leaders are embroiled in a bitter power struggle. Sooner a solution is arrived better it will be for the people of Bangladesh.

If the Will of Shahbag wins then Bangladesh will win!!! We have perhaps reached the most critical moment in the history of our country.If the Will of Shahbag loses then we will lose. Our dream for a free and prosperous country will remain an elusive dream. In this regard the present government of Bangladesh has the most important role to play. If the present government fails to play that role then the coming days would be pathetic for the people of Bangladesh and Awami League would be thrown into the dustbin of history.

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