I had intended to post something tomorrow but such is the speed at which things are moving right now in Bangladesh that I felt compelled to write again today instead.
Links to all the sources used are included at the end for those who wish to study the originals. I admit that this post is entirely my own subjective opinion but one, I hope, that is not without some merit.
Bangladesh versus Banglastan: A civil war of ideals
I was disappointed many times yesterday after posting about the blogging situation despite receiving good response from readers – publicly and privately. The national press made depressing reading and I have to admit I’ve shed some tears today. Several times I’ve read the term ‘Banglastan’ or ‘Talibastan’ used to describe the battle going on right now and I don’t think it is far from the truth.
Alal o Dulal features and excellent analysis of where the two main political parties sit right now and how Shahbhag has changed the whole political front. I’ll come back to this in a moment but first I’ll tell you of the things that concerned me to give appropriate context.
The Hefajat group held their march yesterday and attacked the podium of the Shahbhag movement in the process, though it is being claimed that the Jamaat group had infiltrated their ranks expressly for this purpose. The group have given a 13-point demand which, according to yesterday’s Daily Star the Government were looking at and considering carefully. This worries me a great deal and I reproduce some of the more disturbing demands here (taken from the Star):
2. Enact a law providing for capital punishment for maligning Allah, Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and smear campaigns against Muslims
3. Stop all propaganda and “derogatory comments” about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by the “atheist leaders” of the Shahbagh movement, bloggers and other anti-Islamists; arrest them and ensure stern punishment to them
8. Stop foreign cultural intrusions including free-mingling of men and women and candlelit vigils, and put an end to adultery, injustice, shamelessness, etc. in the name of freedom of expression and conscience
9. Stop turning Dhaka, the city of mosques, into a city of idols, and stop setting up sculptures at intersections, colleges and universities
10. Scrap anti-Islam women policy and education policy and make Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels
I’ll make no comments on these points other than to say they worry me and I am pleased to see they worry many of my Muslim friends living here and abroad. This has nothing to do with Islam, of course, and everything to do with seizing power over people. Nevertheless, these are the points the Government are ‘considering’.
The Hefajat have given the Government three weeks to meet their demands:
““We will cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country on May 5 if our demands are not fulfilled,” Junayed Babu Nagari, secretary general of the Hefajat, told the rally, one of the biggest in recent memory…
…He said, “If you want to go to or stay in power, you have to accept our demands. Otherwise, there will be dire consequences.”” (Daily Star – bold font mine)
Another leader stated:
“The songs and dances shown on television are obscene. These must be stopped.” (Daily Star)
This may all be rhetoric but it is difficult to say. If it is not then we are surely going to see more bloodshed over the next few weeks and months. The force of these statements indicates a rising level of incitement which will not be easily calmed.
However, it was good to read that the Shahbhag movement was galvanised into action when they heard their podium area was being attacked. Hundreds, then thousands came out to show their presence though I am worried by the aggressive nature some hinted at.
Imran Sarker, fast becoming the lead name associated with Shahbhag as a/the leader was quoted saying this:
“We have been carrying out a non-violent movement for the last two months. Please don’t try to incite us [to violence] because, once enraged, we can only be appeased with your blood.” (Italics mine)
Oh no, no, no, no, no.
Although I cannot stand for all that Shahbhag demands, I have been impressed with their pacifist stance so far – and hopeful for the future it could hint at – but when Sarker says things like this I fear the worst. When shahbhag lowers itself to the level of violence all the other political groups have used for decades then it ceases to have any meaning and this particular battle and chapter of history will be over.
I hope that Shahbhag can remember the spirit of Gandhi in all of this. They have the opportunity here to make history – not just in Bangladesh (which I think they have already done) – but to the rest of Asia at least, as an entire movement that can demonstrate the ideal he taught and practised so successfully during his life. While even Gandhi’s personality was not enough to stop rival groups fighting (especially towards the end of his life) Shahbhag is bigger than any one person and has the opportunity to keep showing the nation that it is possible to demonstrate, make a difference and change things without a single person being hurt, without a single car or rickshaw being burnt and without a single bullet being shot or person being killed.
Right now, it looks ready to be sucked into sectarian fighting.
But the blogger named ‘Phantombd’ writing on Alal o Dulal gives an excellent breakdown of the politics behind this and the demography of the votes. They write of how the whole political campaign plan for all sides changed on the 5th February when Shahbhag arose out of nowhere. What has stepped out of the woodwork from this is an ugly militancy that threatens the very nature of just what Bangladesh is. Will that nature be turned? Will Bangladesh become a militant Banglastan?
Phantombd offers a ray of hope – though not without its issues. What none of the parties seem to be allowing for is the women’s vote. This could be the crux to who wins this battle in the end – not the fundamentalists, not the intelligentsia, not the bloggers. Will women vote for the right to free speech, education and equal rights? Or will they vote according to their husbands, their fathers and their brothers? Phantombd thinks they will fight for their rights. I hope so though it is often the woman who, in the village home, is the strict and tradtional follower of Islam. Shahbhag may be too much for such a woman.
Just what it means to follow Allah (or any other deity for that matter) in Bangladesh waits to be seen but it is a tense moment for everyone right now.
Further Reading (Source documents):
- A Crossroads for the future of Bangladesh (kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com)
- Hardline Muslims rally in Bangladesh amid shutdown (theseatonpost.com)
- Bangladesh protesters demand blasphemy law (aljazeera.com)
- Bangladesh Elections 2013 – Analysis (eurasiareview.com)