Monday, December 05, 2005

Shades of Green

Okay who’s out buying the fiddle for our leaders? For the nation is burning and we are blissfully unaware of the consequences that are facing us. It is not a purely Bangladeshi problem, these suicide bombers, but I think we are unique in our reactions to it. Predictably the first reaction of our political masters (or mistresses should I say) was to point to each other. It is easy to blame and be an ostrich. But isn’t leadership about taking responsibility? Is it not giving the flock some guidance?

Bangladeshis, we know, are god-loving people. We keep our religion close to our hearts. But time and time again we have proven that we don’t let it control our minds. The rise of so-called Fundamentalism has actually never been reflected in the popular vote in our democratic elections. The right wing Islamist parities (Jamaat et. al) constitute a very small but vocal slice of the electoral cake. However with the alliance in power, it has taken a bigger perceived role in the mind of the intelligentsia. A fault of our thought process is that we lump all parties with Islamist leanings or roots as Fundamentalist. We equate Jamaat, IOJ and JMB under the same heading. So anyone with a beard and a long alkhalla is deemed a radical Islamist.

Before I go on I must make clear that I am not a “Jamaati” nor can I reconcile their sins of the past. However one needs to recognise the shades of green that there exists. To give Jamaat-e-Islami credit, they have organised themselves as a very efficient political party united under a central ideology and they are not driven by the egocentric leadership which dominates our other “democratic” parties. They have come into the mainstream through the proper electoral process. Some might not subscribe to their teachings, but having them in the Jatiya Sangsad, my dear countrymen, is the price of freedom. Jamaat, though having not repented for their sins, I think, has accepted their previous mistakes and has distanced itself from the past. They are now as an Israeli would say – kosher!

So is the popular belief that Jamaat is behind the rise of Islamic extremism true? I think not. (There of course may be individuals within the party who might have other points of view) It is clear they have nothing to gain and all to lose. First and foremost they are in power now and hope to increase their share of the alliance seats. From most reports the two ministers that they have are more efficient than their colleagues and have been above the suspicion of corruption that has plagued the other ministers. Their view of coming to power is long-term and it is through the democratic process. Don’t forget that the Jan Sangh (the forerunner to BJP in India) started with two cabinet berths in 1979 and in a decade and half came to power! Why would Jamaat rock the boat?

The recent series of incidents in Bangladesh obviously brings us to the world’s notice. Well if not the rest of the world, at least to the men in Langley, Virginia. This would mean that their activities, plans and funding are (hopefully) under the eyes of Uncle Sam This implies that no longer can they fly below the radar in their path to power. And more importantly the fence sitting Bangladeshi voter will become more inclined to forgive the Awami League for their mistakes and swing the balance of power in the 2006 elections!

However most importantly for them, with the growth of right of right JMB, the support base of Jamaat becomes eroded. They are now competing for the mindset of the alkhalla wearers! Should we not try to find out who would be desperate enough to strap bombs to themselves and head over to a courthouse? Do they follow a pattern? Are they of a certain age and from a certain background? I would bet close to anything that if we do look closely we would see a young poor Bangladeshi picture coming out. It would be the same person we’d see if we were to target Jamaat’s (and Shibbir’s) target base. In order to grow support for a democratic but yet Islamic Bangladesh, Jamaat must appeal to the youth. The vast majority of our population is below the age of 30. If Jamaat is to look at the 2016 elections this is the crucial vote bank to which they must appeal. Unfortunately for them JMB is not only taking these souls away, they are also drawing them out of the democratic process altogether.

It is, as I mentioned earlier, easy to blame Jamaat. It’s easy to say that all fundamentalists are the same. That, I reckon, will be the worst crime that any secular Bangladeshi can commit. By doing so we give credence to the general belief that the current strain of right wing Islamist thinking of the JMB is a movement, rather than the evil designs of some madmen. If the “popularity” of this idea gathers currency it will in turn force Jamaat futher right to cater to their base. And as Jamaat moves more to the right, the actual feet of the street support that’s not currently there will be. In one sentence, if we believe that Jamaat is extremist then they will be forced to take that very position.

There needs to be a serious examination to ascertain where the leadership of the JMB is based, what its organisational capabilities are and to come up with a plan on how to disarm them. Despite what the State Minister of Home is saying, this has not happened. By shouting at each other from political podiums and by refusing to talk to each other we are not helping. Let us get Jamaat, the BNP, the AL, the Left, the Army, the Police, the intelligence units, and civil society in a room and throw away the keys! It is of course very simplistic of me to think that this will happen, but at least a debate needs to take place. Abu Hena might be right and he might not be, but one thing that his dismissal highlights is that to be democratic an election every five-year is not all. We need to take our heads out of the sand and discuss the realities of today. Zahid Ahsan Russell the young AL MP from Gazipur was quite visible on TV the last few days with both the BNP and AL leadership touring the site and calling for justice. We need to follow his lead in saying that this is more than just partisan politicking, and that, for the future of our country, we need to stop this mindless blame game and concentrate on finding out where the exact sparks of the fire lie. The Awami League needs to figure out fast that though this might be their “trump card” in this election it is they who will suffer the most. The BNP needs to realise that by letting an alternative power base grow in the JMB they will become redundant in a political future where it will be AL vs. JMB.

Before I end do let me show off my knowledge of history. In 64 A.D a great fire burnt down two thirds of Rome. Emperor Nero used this excuse to blame the then fledgling sect of Christians and used it as an excuse to prosecute them. This led them underground and they regrouped. Eventually they grew stronger and today the centre of Christianity, the Vatican, is not far from Circus Maximus where the fire first started.

Oh great leaders of ours, it is time to put down your golden fiddles and face the music. Our small nation looks at you for leadership and not petty squabbles. Hope we have something to look forward to before I mix any more metaphors!


Sumit Roy said...

Farhan :

From across the border I can but wonder at the direction that the politics of the "land of my origin" is taking.

I guess on this side of the border, we've been through a lot too. And just as Indira would often try an divert attention to her own misdeeds by pointing to a "foreign hand", I sometimes wonder whether Bangladesh's leaders have not sometimes resorted to the same tactics.

The point you make about pushing the Jamaat further right is a good one.

Glad to see secular voices like yours making yourelves heard.

In the last few years, I've sensed a distinctly anti-India feeling in Bangladesh.

I often wonder why we ever parted. Whenever I am in Bangladesh my heart says that I belong to that nation as strongly as my mind says that I belong to India.

I guess I have to identify with my passport.

Perhaps that's why I like the internet so much.

A world without borders.

By the way since you like blogging, look up You might want to contribute there.


Sumit Roy, Univbrands, Kolkata

Afshin said...

Ok, I get the point but still some questions remains unanswered. Firstly all the activists of JMB apprehanded including the leaders have one thing in common. They all started their career in politics as member of Jaamat. Scecondly since 1979 Jaamat had an hidden agenda of Iran style Islamic Revolution in Bangladesh. Pehaps they are sounding the waters in proxy? Thirdly before things got out of hand this year all the Jangees apprehanded were released through Jaamat intervention. Why?
Lastly who ever created the Sheikh has created another Bhrindanwale. Of Sheikh I think he has dot strong hypnotic power to control his flock like the Old Man of the Mountains of 10th century A.D. of the famed ASSASINS or HASSHISHUNS or Hitler. Or else I see no reason for timid Bengali becoming a human bomb.