Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hefazat-e-Jamaat, Nothing Else : On the Recent Developments in Bangladesh

-Subhash Gatade
Talibaner aar ek naam – hefazat-e-Islam!” (Another name for Taliban, Hefazat-e-Islam)
                                                                            - Slogan raised at Shahbagh square

To such a degree has Religion fuelled conflict, complicated politics, retarded social development and impaired human relations across the world, that one is often tempted to propose that Religion is innately an enemy of Humanity, if not indeed of itself a crime against Humanity. Certainly it cannot be denied that Religion has proved again and again a spur, a motivator and a justification for the commission of some of the most horrifying crimes against Humanity, despite its fervent affirmations of peace. Let us, however, steer away from hyperbolic propositions and simply settle for this moderating moral imperative: that it is time that the world adopted a position that refuses to countenance Religion as an acceptable justification for, excuse or extenuation of – crimes against Humanity.

(Wole Soyinka, Source: Granta )

I

The above quote was part of a long intervention made by Wole Soyinka, Nigerian writer, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, and the first one from Africa, as part of UNESCO International High Panel, in a Conference on the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence.(21 September 2012) . The immediate context for Soyinka’s speech – was the desecration and destruction of centuries old tombs of Muslim saints in Timbuktu, Mali by radical Islamist group Ansar-al Dime which had ‘discovered’ them to be unIslamic. There were rumours that the ‘invaluable library-treasures of Timbuktu may be next.’ on their agenda. Cautioning people about the fact that “[t]he science-fiction archetype of the mad scientist who craves to dominate the world has been replaced by the mad cleric who can only conceive of the world in his own image, proudly flaunting Bond’s 007 credentials – License to Kill.” he urged leaders to “..[u]nderstand this, and admit that no nation has any lack of its own dangerous loonies, be they known as Ansar-Dine of Mali, or Terry Jones of Florida, the earlier they will turn their attention to real issues truly deserving human priority. “

One was reminded of Soyinka’s words when one was witness to the march organised by the newly emergent group Hefazat-e-Islam ( can be loosely translated as ‘Defenders of Islam’) on the streets of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh and the consequent mayhem that followed. The contrast was evident even to laypersons.

While people of Bangladesh were seem to reinvigorating the spirit of its four decade old war of liberation, the campaign launched by youth activists and bloggers demanding exemplary punishment to war criminals was gaining further momentum, with tens of thousands of men and women congregating at Shahbagh square, and Bangladesh’s largest religious-political outfit, Jamaat-e-Islami was further finding itself in a tight spot since the war crimes trials began, as many of its leading activists stood convicted for their crimes against humanity during 1971, came the news that Hefazat-e-Islam, a relatively new group based in Chittagong, bursting out on the centre stage of the nation’s politics with its demands which were at complete variance with this new mood. While the overwhelming demand was to ban ‘politics based on religion’, the Hefazat brigade was seeking the exact opposite.

Hefazat-e-Islam activist demanding death penalty for Athiests



It was a time when this new historic moment in the not so long history of the nation was seen to ” .[e]mpower people, particularly urban youth, to speak up and realize that even ordinary people can make a difference when they unite; that they do not need political patronage to voice their demands and dissatisfaction.”; a moment which “[i]nstilled in people to encourage them to be active citizens instead of waiting for the state to take action” ; a moment which aimed to “[e]nd the culture of impunity” ; (quotes from "Savar Tragedy: Solution in Tragedy - Navine Murshid) came the news that these loonies of a different kind were targeting the bloggers themselves who had played a key role in the new mobilisation as being ‘atheist’ and asking for strict action against them. The charter of demands put forward by them talked of banning public mixing of sexes and death penalty to those who according to them are engaged in ‘blasphemy’. As has been noted elsewhere the charter of demands presented by them made their intentions very clear which were meant to reverse the achievements made by the four decade old country – which has passed through different turmoils in the intervening period – in its journey towards secularism and democracy and aimed at turning it into an Islamic nation.

While participation of young girls and women outnumbered men at Shahbagh, Hefazat jamboree was a all men affair and when they saw a woman journalist assigned to cover their ‘long march” she was brutally targeted by them for violating one of their prime demands : a ban on women mixing with men in public. In the presence of thousands of rallyists, comprising mainly of students and teachers of madrassas, she was badly beaten by them mercilessly for daring to join the men-only rally. If fellow journalists would not have risked their lives, they would have lynched her on the spot.

While the Shahbagh protesters were keen that there movement remained completely peaceful, the conduct of the self proclaimed defenders of Islam who descended on Dhaka in May again was its antithesis. As reported on a blog –

  "..beating up bystanders, ransacking political party offices and killing political workers, looting shops and homes, attacking and mauling journalists and torching entire neighbourhoods – went on for a whole day and left the city in flames. The police crackdown last night has been violent and brutal as well. At the end of the day, more than 25 people are dead and many hundreds are injured or missing.” (The Daily Star, BBC World)

According to a leading newspaper (The Daily Star, Hefajat’s barbarity, Shocking and condemnable, 7 May 2013) :

THE wanton violence and destruction perpetrated by Hefajat-e-Islam on Sunday and Monday defies logic and description. We wonder what measure of madness can overcome a group of people who, in the name of ventilating their demands, can go berserk and indulge in senseless destruction of public and private property. They behaved as if they were in an enemy territory. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms...By creating mayhem, by destroying public and private assets, by turning a part of the capital into a battle-zone, Hefajat has blatantly violated its democratic right, and for which, we feel, it owes an apology to the nation.”

It is true that the violence engaged in by the activists of Hefazat-e-Islam with help and support from the Jamaat-Shibir as well as from the main opposition party BNP, and the strong reaction of the security forces leading to many deaths would be debated for a long time to come. It is also possible that the way the people in power in Bangladesh have tried to pander to the demands of the fanatics by arresting four bloggers and the general clampdown on political gatherings may create a situation in the near future when the struggle against fundos/fundamentalists may not be able to achieve the crescendo it reached earlier or may be put on the backburner for a while. It should not be a matter of worry at all.


As noted by Gita Sehgal in one of her write-ups, Bangladesh of 1971 has sort of become the template for many of the conflicts which define the late 20 th century. A closer look at the genocidal conflicts in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia in 90s or for that matter in Gujarat in 2002, could said to have already occurred in Bangladesh. One has been witness to widespread and systematic gang rapes, targeted killings of men and boys and the role of militias, composed of religious fundamentalists, in all these regions and the havoc they played with lives of innocents. And in this background, the key thing to remember at this juncture is that in whatsoever manner the struggle unfolds itself, Shahbagh has demonstrated that ordinary people very well understand the great hiatus between words and deeds of the fundos and they want people to be punished for crimes, however, long it might take. Looking at the a culture of impunity which prevails in this part of South Asia, where the murderous and the rich and the powerful get away after committing heinous crimes, it is definitely a positive development.

II

And what about Jamaatis !

Despite all their tantrums – raising the bogey of ‘Islam being in danger’ through Hefazat-e-Islam and other similar desperate acts, whether the Jamaatis would be ever able to obfuscate their crimes which they committed during B’desh’s war of independence? It seems impossible. In fact, as far as their gory past is concerned it would come back to haunt them again and again as the latest judgment by the War Crimes Tribunal demonstrates.

A senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Mohammad Kamaruzzaman was sentenced to death (May 9, 2013) for mass murder and other crimes against humanity. He is the third Jamaat leader to be sentenced to death by the Tribunal after Abdul Kalam Azad alias Bacchu Razakar and Delawar Hosain Sayeedi. The court convicted Kamaruzzaman for his role in collaborating in the mass murder of 164 unarmed civilians in Sohagpur on July 25, 1971. According to prosecution lawyers Kamaruzzaman, who happens to be assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, was a principal organiser of the so called elite Al Badr militia forces manned by Bengali collaborators of the Pakistani army, in northern Mymensingh region which subsequently carried out mass murders and atrocities in other parts of the country also.

What is more significant in this case is that the tribunal has made an important observation in this particular case which will have bearing in rest of the cases before it. It has raised the question of ‘civilian superior responsibility’ for the genocide conducted against people of then East Pakistan or today’s Bangladesh. In fact, in an earlier judgment also the tribunal had talked of ‘command responsibility’ of Jamaat-e-Islami, the parent organisation behind Al-Badr. Looking at these significant observations of the judges, it is incumbent that the government sues Jamaat-e-Islami as an organisation for the crimes it committed against humanity in 1971. While crimes of Bacchu Razakar, Delawar Hosain Sayeedi and the likes of Kamaruzzaman are highly condemnable but allowing the ‘fountainhead’ of such crimes – the parent organisation itself – to go scot free will compound injustice.

It is part of history now how apart from participating in Al Badr and Al Shams militia, set up by the Pakistani army to do the killing, many Jamaat activists became Razakars – literally volunteers – organized by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 whose main function was to arrest and detain nationalist Bengali suspects. There were allegations that such suspects were tortured during custody. The Razakars also received training at the hands of the Pakistan Army. All these organisations were later accused of having violated Geneva Conventions of War by raping, murdering and looting the locals.

Any death is regrettable and those who died due to police fire may also come under this category. What is interesting is Jamaat’s modus operandi. The lone survivor of 14 December mass murder of intellectuals described in a recent TV documentary how Al Badr killed Prof Munier Chowdhury and others. Some were bitten with iron bars to death and at the final point; they would insert such bars into the head of their victims to ensure death. Jamaat-Shibir reportedly did exactly the same couple of weeks ago when they killed some police constables and others. It shows Jamaat-Shibir’s Standard Operating Procedure has remained unchanged for the last four decades…
                                                     (Rabiul H. Zaki, 1952, 1971, the genocide and Shahbagh)

Mr Nikhil Chakravartty, editor of ‘Mainstream’ in his ‘Dacca jottings’ (February 1972, Mainstream) written after his first visit to Dacca after its liberation writes :

The Mullahs were called by the Pak army authorities and told that since East Bengal would have to be ultimately in the hands of Bengali nationals, the time had come for them, the faithful flock, to take over and build a true Islamic state. As part of this theocratic enterprise, it would be necessary to exterminate beforehand all heretics. And the heretics included not only the political elements, the progressives in politics, but anybody who stood for a modern outlook.

It is worth emphasising here that Jamaat’s ‘crimes against humanity’ were not a one time affair, it did not mend ways even after B’desh’s liberation. Developments in the first decade of the 21 st century are a living reminder how its agenda unfolded itself.

III

A key demand of the Shahbagh protesters has been not only banning Jamaat-e-Islami but also boycott of the Jamaat affiliated educational and banking institutions as well as health service. It was not for nothing that many such institutions came under attack in the early phase of the Shahbagh movement, there were also reports that people were withdrawing their monies from banks affiliated to Jamaat.

For an outsider neither the demand of boycott nor reports of its implementation gives an idea of the extent of penetration of such institutions in the society or the influence they wield over different sections of people. Perhaps it would be opportune here to share important extracts from Prof Abdul Barkat’s study of ‘Political Economy of Fundamentalism in Bangladesh’ (Mainstream, Mar 22-28, ’13) It would be opportune here to add that Prof Barkat, is with Dept of economics, Dhaka University and President of Bangladesh Economic Association :

..[f]undamentalists have created an “economy within the economy” and “a state within the state” They have adequate economic strength (from micro to macro levels) to sustain their political organisations. The economics of fundamentalism, in the narrow sense of the term, can be explained in terms of enterprises ranging from large financial institutions to household level micro credit, from mosques and madrassas to news media and IT, from nationwide trading enterprises to local level NGOs. The estimated amount of annual net profit generated by these enterprises would be US $ 250 million. All these economic enterprises are run by ideologically motivated and professionally competent persons. At least 10 per cent of their net profits are being used to finance the political organisation, which is sufficient to fund the salary of 500,000 full-timers in Islamic fundamentalist politics.. The relative strength of the economics of fundamentalism in B’desh can be traced to the fact that its annual net profit is equivalent to six per cent of the government’s annual development budget and the annual growth rate of the economy controlled by the fundamentalists is higher(7.5 per cent to nine per cent) than that of the national economy ( five per cent to six per cent)..

Discussing how fundamentalism is experimenting the effectiveness of various politico-economic models with the help of cadre based politics, he discusses how the following twelve, constitute the key sectoral elements of the model : “financial institutions, educational institutions, pharmaceutical-diagnostic and health related institutions, religious organisations, transport related organisations, real estate, news media and IT, local government, NGOs, Bangla Bhai or JMB, Jamaetul Muzahideen Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Bangladesh HuJi-B) (and such programme based organisations0, and occupational/professional activity based organisations including of farmers and industrial workers.”

According to him:

The estimated annual net profit of economic fundamentalism in B’desh would be about US $250 million. The highest share of such profit, 27 per cent (of the total net profit), comes from financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, leasing companies, etc.

The second highest, 18.8 per cent of the total net profit, comes from NGOs, trusts and foundations, 10.8 per cent comes from trading concerns, 10.4 per cent profit comes from the pharmaceutical industry and health institutions including diagnostic centres, 9.2 per cent comes from educational institutions, 8.5 per cent comes from real estate business, 7.8 per cent comes from the media and IT business, and 7.5 per cent comes from the transport sector.

Explaining the methodology of estimation, Prof Barkat makes it clear that it is largely based on heuristic estimates, but the pattern is indicative of the direction.

It needs to be recognised that the rise of the politics and economics of fundamentalism in B’desh has led to institutionalisation of fundamentalism which implies organised penetration of Islamist fundamentalist forces in all key spheres of life and state operation. In fact, the relative strength of this institutionalised fundamentalism is also evident in formation and operation of Islamic Sharia Council against the usual norm of the Central Bank. Prof Barkat adds that this “Islamic Sharia Council – the central policy making body of all Islamic financial institutions – is a body fully controlled by the mainstream Islamist Party (Jamaat-e-Islami in this case) and headed by the Pesh Imam (the head) of the National Mosque, who is a government servant, who preaches in favour of implementation of Sharia rule through the mosque based administration and judiciary. This Islamic Shariah Council is an illegal entity according to the Company Act and Banking Act operating in B’desh. The Central Bank’s attempts to ban this Islamic Shariah Council and even the move to institute a “guideline for Islamic Banking” in B’esh could not be materialised in the past.And finally, an attempt to pass a law in the parliament “against religious extremism” ended up in gross failure.”

IV

“..Should the nation of ours be inundated with blood? Will the humanity get a shiver watching Bangladesh in this pathetic state? We don’t have much time. You decide what would be the proper step to take, and this is my earnest request to you all, my countrymen, including you- respected PM and the leader of the opposition.”.

These were the words of late Professor Humayna Azad, one of the foremost litterateurs of Bangladesh and a leading human rights activist which he had expressed in an open letter to his countrymen just before his mysterious death. (The Bangladesh Observer, 16 August 2004). It was a period when Ms Khaleda Zia happened to be Prime Minister of the country and the present PM Sheikh Haseena was opposition leader. Very few people remember today that Prof Azad, a proclaimed atheist, and a teacher at Dhaka University, had consistently taken a firm stand against the growing talibanisation of Bangladesh then and tried to expose their anti-human activities. In his magnum opus ‘Pak Sar Zameen Azad’ also he questioned the idea of religion becoming a basis for a nation formation. Not only his words but his deeds as well proved to be an anathema to fanatics. It was not surprising that he was brutally attacked by one amongst them in Dhaka when he was coming out of the well known annual book fair in the city. He could never recover completely from the incident. A trip down memory lane makes it clear why Prof Azad was worried about the fate of the nation being ‘inundated with blood’.

It was a period when one was witness to repeated, abuses by Islamist vigilante groups which were engaged in a campaign of attacks on minorities. The rising wave of hate speeches in public rallies inciting acts of violence against the Ahmadiyyas and the Hindus and Buddhists had become a regular feature. It was disturbing to note that even cinema halls, sufi shrines, traditional village fairs and cultural functions were then made targets of bomb attacks. Prof Abdul Barkat, in the same writeup has given a compilation of 25 such terrorist acts of religious extremists (1999-2005). Starting from ‘ Bomb explosion at cultural programme at Udichi, Jessore (March6, 1999), bomb explosion on Ahmedia mosque, Khulna ( Oct 8, 1991) ; time bomb explosion in CPB meeting, Dhaka (Jan 20, 2001) ; bomb explosion on Poila Baisakh – Bengali New Year – celebrations, Dhaka (April 14, 2001) ; time bomb explosion on Church, Gopalganj ( June 3, 2001) he ends his list with bombing on Deputy Commissioner’s office, Gazipur (Dec 1, 2005) ; bomb explosion on Udichi Cultural Office, Netrokona ( Dec 8, 2005).

The series of assassinations of respected secular intellectuals, journalists and academics had rather accompanied assassinations and violence against opposition party Awami league leaders as well. In fact, Bangladeshi intelligence agencies warned the government back in 2003 about JMB (Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh) and the threat it posed to the state (Daily Star, August 28, 2005). Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, herself was the target of a bombing at the Awami League Headquarters at a massive rally in Dhaka.(September 2004). Incidentally she had a miraculous escape. Ofcourse Ivy Rehman, the president of the women’s wing of Awami League and 21 other League workers could not prove that lucky. Another towering leader of Awami League, ex finance minister Shah A.M. S. Kibria also faced death at a another political rally organised by Awami League, in Habibganj situated in Northeastern Bangladesh merely five months after the attack on Sheikh Hasina. Just when he had finished his speech handgrenades were thrown at him in which he was fatally wounded. Four other workers of the Awami League also died in the melee.

Situation inside Bangladesh looked so grim that around hundred former civil bureaucrats, diplomats and IGPs jointly issued an appeal to the government in the aftermath of the killing of Mr Kabria plainly stating that ““Bangladesh will suffer the fate of Afghanistan, Darfur / Sudan, and Somalia unless the evils of extremism and intolerance are stemmed immediately,”( January 2005)

Few months after Kibria’s killing an unprecedented number of suicide bombings rocked the country. On 17 th August 2005 there were 350 simultaneous bomb blasts throughout Bangladesh, across 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 district headquarters. A wave of fear struck Bangladesh as bombs exploded almost simultaneously across towns and cities, killing two persons and injuring about 140.The bombs targeted government offices, courts, press clubs and universities in Dhaka and 63 of the country’s 64 district headquarters, sparing only Munshiganj. Leaflets left at blast sites, bearing the name of banned Islamist outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, asked the government and Parliament to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh.

The officially banned terrorist group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh claimed responsibility for the attack. Bangla Bhai’s Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh was also the other principal suspect for the serial bomb blasts. The blasts brought Bangla Bhai back at the centre of discussions on the threat of Islamist jihad in Bangladesh. A former schoolteacher, whose followers were believed to number over 10,000, he had taken part in the Taliban’s jihad in Afghanistan. It would be opportune here to share the manner in which the infamous Banglabhai was engaged in terrorising people.

The young man’s feet were tied to a tree, his head dangling inches above the ground. A microphone was held to his mouth while he was tortured so that the villagers who were not present to witness the “trial” could hear his screams.The first to hear them were the men in uniform who did not stir from the police station, not far from the tree. The screams rose and fell till the man was dead.Their mission accomplished, the killers issued fresh warnings to villagers against straying from the Islamic way, swore their loyalty to Bangla Bhai and left the scene.

The incident is one of about 500 cases of killing and torture by Bangla Bhai’s armed Islamic bands that were documented by Taskforce Against Torture, a human rights group founded in Bangladesh three years ago.

(Teacher to tormentor, via Taliban, ASHIS CHAKRABARTI, The Telegraph, Aug 20, 2005)

For any keen observer of Bangladesh the trajectory of the country which declared itself a secular democratic republic at the time of liberation appeared incomprehensible. Parties like Jamaat-e-Islami which had never hidden their sympathies towards Pakistan and had agitated against independence in 1971 were then part of the ruling coalition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( B.N.P.).The party had been banned after independence for its role in the war but had slowly worked its way back to political legitimacy. Responding to the American invasion of Afghanistan supporters of I.O.J. even chanted in the streets of Chittagong and Dhaka ’’Amra sobai hobo Taliban, Bangla hobe Afghanistan,’’ which roughly translates to ‘’We will be the Taliban,and Bangladesh will be Afghanistan.’’

A question worth pondering over is the relationship between spurt in Islamic militancy and Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami. Few links/commonalities between the mainstream Islamist Party and what could be called as religious extremists is obvious.

- The common vision of not only the armed Jihadis but the mainstream Islamic formations is same i.e. “to capture state power” and “establish an Islamic rule”.

- Mainstream Islamic Party has never denounced the bombing activities by these fanatics, forget condemning the bombing organisations

- As newclippings tell us all the militant activists and leaders of JMB who were arrested were either members of Jamaat-e-Islami or its student wing

- Financial transactions related to organising the bomb attacks have been carried out through their bank accounts only

- Mainstream Islamist Party has always lobbied for the release of the terrorists and used administrative support and government machinery to facilitate the release.

Sample some of the newsclippings published during heydays of terrorist activities : “Five JMB leaders arrested in Chittagong were involved with Jamaat politics , Tk 160,000 was transacted through the Islami bank ( Prothom Alo, Sep 21, 2005); “Jamaat link to militants becomes evident” (Daily Star, Sep 22, 2005) ; “Over 1000 militants have been released, and 40 per cent of them belong to Jamaat-e-Islami (Daily Ittefaq, Sep 26, 2005) etc.

Two incidents widely reported are self-explanatory. (See ‘Islamo-fascists in Bangladesh – Whose side are you on?: Javed Anand’, May 1, 2013) :

Syed Najibul Bashar Maizbhandari, international affairs secretary of the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) resigns from the party protesting “the government’s failure to act” against the Jamaat-e-Islami (part of the then ruling coalition) which he said had direct links to terrorist activities across the country. The Daily Star published from Dhaka, quoted police records that the over 100 militants who were arrested during 2005 in connection with the bombings (including the simultaneous bomb blasts at 459 spots in 63 districts across Bangladesh on a single day – August 17 – aimed at establishing Islamic rule in the country) either belonged to the Jamaat or its various wings, or had worked with them previously. (September 26, 2005 )

Syed Najibul Bashar Maizbhandari, was not a lone voice which made the Jamaatis direct connection with terrorist activities explicit. Within two months of his resignation BNP expelled one of its own MPs Abu Hena from the party for blaming a section of his own government and party for patronising militants. What’s more, he charged that two ministers “are doing everything for the militants”. Hena further alleged that the Jamaat was directly involved in the emergence of the outlawed Jamaatul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (25 Nov 2005).

Notwithstanding his expulsion, BNP’s standing committee member and former minister Oli Ahmed and BNP whip Ashraf Hossain also spoke out, implicating the Jamaat-e-Islami in the rise of militancy in the country.

V

“The Pakistani soldiers unleashed a reign of terror on the soil of Bangladesh in 1971. They brutally killed innocent people, molested Bengali women and ruined the economy. The Jamaat leaders, Ghulam Azam and Matiur Rahman Nizami, issued the fatwa that those activities were permissible to save Islam” (Dr Mohammed Hannan, Page 252, Bangladeshe Fatwar Itihas, 1999).

Definitely this is not going to be the end of Jamaat’s ongoing depredations against people and their shameful attempts to save its followers from facing punishment for their crimes against humanity.

The way it brought in Hefazat-e-Islam on the scene to further shift the discourse from trial of war criminals to debate on atheists versus believers is for everyone to see. Much has been written on the manner in which it used social media to target the bloggers – the initators of the Shahbagh movement as atheists – to mobilise the believers. Whereas these young bloggers consistently campaigned for a trial of war criminals, banning of Jamaat-e-Islami and also boycotting Jamaat affiliated institutions and some of them were also atheists, it was mischief makers associated with Jamaat only who posted anti-Muslim posts on one of the bloggers account to justify his elimination. It was later found that Ahmed Rajib Haider’s facebook account was hacked after he was brutally murdered in front of his house. Few activists associated with Jamaat-e-Islami belonging to affluent families have been charged with his murder.

It is true that with such mischiefs Jamaat has been able to confuse a section of people who are supporting the Jamaat’s cause under the pretext that the historic Shahbag movement is being led by youth who are atheists, un-Islamic etc.

Any close watcher of Bangladesh’s history would make it clear that this tactics of ‘name calling’ to stigmatise their opponets and silence their critical voices is part of their usual practice since the days of the language movement (1948-52). Youths, who fought for such worthy causes, were then also called atheists and anti-Islamic and it is no surprise that today Jamaat-e-Islami and its apologists would call Shahbagh youths- “atheists”.

Not some time ago one Maolana Shafi, Principal of the Hatazari Madrasa, in an open letter published in the Daily Sangram – mouthpiece of the Jamaat-e-Islami – had issued a fatwa (edict) against Shariar Kabir, famous intellectual and General Secretary of the ‘Committee to Exterminate the Killers and Collaborators of 1971′(Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee), Professor Muntassir Mamoon and some other leaders of the Shahbagh uprising as ‘murtad’, ‘kafirs’(non-believers) etc.

Twenty one years back they similarly hounded Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam, poet Sufia Kamal, writer Showkat Osman, Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Professor Ahmed Sharif, journalist Faiz Ahmed and other top ranking leaders of the ‘Nirmul Committee’ in the same language and even instigated their party workers to kill these renowned personalities. It need be added here that Jahanara Imam, mother of two martyrs during the war of liberation, had taken initiative to set up a ‘people’s court’ exactly 21 years ago to try one of the war criminals Golam Azam, when he came back to B’desh and was awarded citizenship. Thousands of people had attended the people’s court and expressed their anger over dilly-dallying by the parties in power on the issue of trying the war criminals.

A longish extract from Rabiul H. Zaki’s writeup (1952, 1971, the genocide and Shahbagh,) would make it clear how history is repeating itself.

Badruddin Umar in his book “Bhasa Andolon Proshongo, Kotipoy Dolil” (1995) included a treatise named “Pakistan Language Formula: A Scientific Study of the Language Problem of a “Uninational”, Ideological, Islamic State in a “Multilingual” Country” produced by Maulana Ragib Ahsan, Ex Member, Bangal Muslim League Parliamentary Board, Founder, Jamiat Ulema-I-Islam, March 1952. Among other things, Maulana Ahsan theorized the followings:

“The Worship of Language for the sake of Language or of Race and Homeland is the idolatry of the age and Pakistan has come to smash these idols and emancipate man from the slavery of Race, Language, territorial nationalism and materialism”. (page 77)

Bengali “far from being akin to Islamic spirit it is absolutely anti-Islamic and anti-Musalman in its origin, form and spirit. The “Musalmani Bengala” of the Muslamans is not fully developed and requires careful culture to bring it in tune with Islamic culture and ideology of Pakistan”. (page 80) ..

In a book named “Political History of Bangladesh” (2001), Dr Mohammed Hannan, says, “Prior to the general election in 1954, the Muslim League Government of Pakistan even gave a fatwa issued by their Moulavis that casting vote against the Muslim League would dissolve marriages of the concerned voters”. (Page 251)

In his memoir, “Amar Dekha Rajneeteer Ponchash Bochor” (1989) Abul Mansur Ahmed, provided a vivid description of the Muslim League and Pakistani mindset in 50’s and 60’s:

“They (i.e. leaders of Muslim League) started to say that opposition of Muslim League was akin to opposing Pakistan. Gradually they started to claim that Pakistan came into being for the wellbeing of Islam. In essence opposing Muslim League is opposing Pakistan, which in turn means opposing Pakistan means opposing Islam. …therefore opposition party in Pakistan means enemy of Pakistan and Islam”. (page 40)

In fact, there is enough documentary proof to prove that Jamaat people used similar logic to justify their support to the Pakistani army and their crimes against people during the war for liberation.


..On August 12, 1971, Azam declared, “the supporters of the so-called Bangladesh Movement are the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, and Muslims”.

..On 5 August 1971, Matiur Rahman Nizami (then head of Al Badr) said “Allah entrusted the pious Muslims with the responsibility to save His beloved Pakistan. (But) when the Muslims failed to solve the political problem in a political way, then Allah saved His beloved land through the (Pakistan) army”.

( Courtesy : Daily Prothom Alo, 11 January 2012, a compilation of statements based on what was published in Jamaat’s own newspaper The Daily Sangram in 1971)

VI

Neither the Hefazatis ( as they are called in Bangladesh) – activists of Hefazat-e-Islam – nor the Jamaatis would have imagined in their wildest dreams that their joint actions mainly to save the bunch of war criminals would help open up another front against them. Thousands of women who rallied in the capital on 11 th May raising their voice against the ‘evil designs of fanatic and communal forces’ and demanding a law to stop use of religion in politics for protection of the rights of all citizens, irrespective of gender, race and faith were a testimony to this. It was worth noting that the said rally was organised by a platform of more than hundred women’s, socio-cultural organisations and NGOs under the joint banner of Pratibadi Nari Ganasamabesh to protest the 13 point ‘anti women’ demand charter of Hefajat-e-Islam. The rally was organised in front of the National Press Club which asked the government to take a clear stand against the evil forces for the sake of women’s development and protecting constitutional rights of women.( See : New Age – 12 May 2013 , Women call for halt to religion-based politics)

As a recap it may be added here that Hefajat’s demands, including repeal of the education policy and the women development policy, enactment of an anti-blasphemy law and a ban on free-mixing of men and women, have triggered protests from various quarters, including women.

The rallyists also called for an end to repression and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, all types of violence against women, exemplary punishment of the killers of workers in the Rana Plaza collapse and other factory accidents, compensation for workers and capital punishment for all war criminals.

Social activist Khushi Kabir said, “Together, we will have to fight against communal forces in every house, workplace and anywhere they [fundamentalists] would try to retard women development.”

Chairing the rally Bangladesh Mahila Parishad president Ayesha Khanom clearly said Hefajat-e-Islam was an offshoot of Jamaat-e- Islami and they were plotting to keep women in shackles when they were making significant contributions to the country’s economy and development. She also urged politicians not to use those who traded in religion in the name of ‘voting equation’.

Rejecting the 13 point demand and terming it anti-constitutional , the rallyists called upon the people to build up a social resistance against the ‘evil forces’. Speakers at the rally were unanimous that Hefajat-e Islam appeared just when the war crimes trials were entering the decisive stage and they are trying to victimise women and remove them from the path of progress. (See :The Daily Star, May 12, 2013 Gender equal Bangladesh, Demand women’s organisations, raise voice against Hefajat demands)

In a declaration, the women leaders placed a 10-point demand that includes taking legal action against those who want to curb women rights, implementation of all national and international charters for women development,a ban on use of religion in politics, restoration of the constitution of 1972, arrangements for compensation and rehabilitation to all victim garment workers and their families, including those of Rana Plaza collapse, and ensuring security to indigenous and religious minorities.

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Subhash Gatade is a New Socialist Initiative (NSI) activist. He is also the author of Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India, and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India.

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