By Myskin Kabir:
The basis for the liberation struggle of Bangladesh was the creation of a secular nation. The country initially started its journey with the ideology that people of all religions should live inseparably. But then reality collided with the dream of making a secular Bangladesh. The architect of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, was assassinated only three years after clinching liberation from Pakistan. Being a part of Pakistan put a tag of Islamic nation on East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Bengali sentiments clashed with Pakistan and the ill treatment of Bengalis by Pakistan made us chose the path of separation. The dilemma we face, however, was not entirely solved after separating from Pakistan.
The introduction of Islam into politics in Bangladesh took place during the military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, and later under the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) government. After the 2001 election, when the BNP government was in power for the last time, we saw the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups like Harkatul Jihad and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh. This is evidence of a gradual growth of fundamentalist sentiments in the country.
When the Awami League, which claims to be a secular party in Bangladesh, came to power in 2009, they were adamant about trying the war criminals of the 1971 Liberation War. BNP and its allies, the right-wing extremists of Bangladesh including Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, were in a lot of trouble. Many of the war criminals that have been accused and executed are members of either the BNP or the Jamaat-e-Islami. Previously they had enjoyed ministerial or even higher posts during the BNP- Jamaat government in 2001. People like Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Quader Mollah were executed recently while others are awaiting trial.
Before, during and after the election of 2014, when the BNP government didn’t contest the elections and Awami League won without any challenge from them, the BNP-led alliance wreaked havoc in the country. Earlier there were protests from the opposition but this was the first time that civilians were attacked. Public buses were the targets of petrol bombs, many people suffered burn injuries and many lost their lives. Even later during under the Awami League government, the number of attacks on free thinkers, minorities and on civilians didn’t reduce. A strike of nearly three months adversely affected the economic and social life of the Bangladeshi people.
Every day there is news of murders, abductions, rapes etc. The government is facing challenges one after another and they appear to be struggling to control the situation. Recently, the killing of some foreigners raised the question of IS (Islamic State) presence in the country. But it’s evident that it’s the local thugs who took advantage of IS’s name. It also warns us that the possibility of IS ties with the local extremists is a huge threat to the country. IS would get to achieve its goals in such an alliance and local extremist thugs would get international ‘recognition’.
In a country like ours where there is still a high level of illiteracy and people are growing more and more conservative every day with new propaganda coming to them, the country is in a fix whether to be secular or follow the new restrictions imposed by religious authorities. Where millions of Bangladeshi people work in western Asian countries or the Middle East, sending huge remittances to the country, they not only increase the foreign aid in Bangladesh but also bring in conservative ideologies from those Islamic countries. Many people in those countries which are run by Shariah law are funding mosques and madrassas in the country and they want us to be conservative like them. In many of these countries, they follow a Wahhabi ideology. When brought into ours, the conflict between our culture and orthodox practices leads to internal tensions within the country, which is quite visible now.
The attacks on free thinkers recently have put a question mark on the level of tolerance in the country. You cannot simply kill someone for having a different opinion than yours or being an atheist. It has become a trend in the country that all those who come out publicly saying that they are atheists, are being attacked.
According to some Islamic scholars, people who convert to any other religion or become atheists should be penalised with death. It’s not the law of Islam, it’s the conservative mindset of orthodox people. Previously, scholars like Daud Haider in 1970s and, later, Taslima Nasreen became controversial and were made to live in exile, away from their own country. Humayun Azad, a famous free-thinker of the country was brutally attacked and recently, Avijit Roy and other bloggers were killed.
But it’s the Bengali culture that still makes us secular even though a lot of threats were made by the extremists warning people against celebrating the Bangla new year. Our women came out in large numbers on that day and proved that it’s not possible to stop us from being liberal. Even though we proved our faith in our culture but we have to ensure that we raise our voices against any wrongdoers. It’s obviously wrong to hurt Islamic sentiments, but it’s condemnable and un-Islamic to kill free thinkers also.