Comments on "Mahfuz Anam's":
Where are our leaders leading us to?
Part 3: Taliban in Bangladesh?

By Dr. Alamgir Hussain

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Mahfuz Anam's comments are quoted in blue and in parenthesis [].

[Hence the near universal condemnation of the FEER piece which, as an
editor I feel, is a slur on serious journalism. Our disappointment grew
further when the same piece was reproduced in the Asian Wall Street
Journal, which is done very rarely.]
_ I donít agree with notion. FEER, AWSJ have a high reputation of their own
and they donít take any interest to malign that.

[The FEER piece has triggered a widespread debate in Bangladesh as to the
nature and extent of fundamentalism in the country and whether or not there
is any link between our Islamic parties and global terrorism. We think the
subject needs to be brought into the open, and discussed thoroughly in a
free and objective manner.]
_This make sense. Wonder if it would ever happen.

[In making this recent debate partisan the Awami League has played a very
damaging role. In an effort to depict the BNP-Jamaat government as
fundamentalists to the West the AL started saying, from the outset, that
this government contained Taliban elements, pointing to the two Jamaat
ministers in the cabinet. To justify its stance it recalled some rallies
held in Dhaka more than a year ago where pro-Taliban slogans were chanted. 
It also cited the Jamaat's attempt to raise
funds for the victims of the US war against Afghanistan as evidence of the
party's fundamentalist character. A senior AL leader and a former minister
wrote in a signed article that there was Taliban network and Al-Qaeda pockets 
in Bangladesh without providing any
evidence to support such a damaging claim. We think such a position of the
leading opposition party was extremely damaging to our national interest.]

_I donít see much inaccuracy in AL campaign. The latest deliberation by
Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami speech at the
4th General Islamic Conference organized by the Muslim World League (MWL)
in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, say it all. Itís time to act, else are bound to be

[The Bangladeshis are a multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious
people, the majority of whom are Muslims.]

-Itís true, seems nobody knows that!

[We also have a deeply entrenched tradition of religious tolerance. Yes,
there have been occasional clashes because of religion but they were the
outbursts of the moment, or a reaction to something happening in some other
parts of the world.]

-Whatís there about tolerance! Itís a disgrace that most people, like the
DAILY STAR editor, take such too soft stand against such outbursts even
after at the scale it have had happened recently. And why these outbursts,
it should have some reasons behind! And we talk about tolerance! 

[To the question whether we are becoming a fundamentalist country, our
reply is a definite no. It is our firm view that our cultural and
intellectual heritage will never allow us to become so.]
_I donít quite agree! Come back to it later.

[Within the undivided India we took the side of partition with a view to
protecting our religious heritage.]

__Thatís what our true identity is!

[There are of course those among us who are more attached to religion and
would like to see our country be ruled by the Islamic shariah.]
_Itís purely true and their stature is growing steadily while secular
forces are losing grounds.

[As we have said in our last commentary, that one FEER or Wall Street
Journal article cannot damage Bangladesh unless we do it ourselves.
Herein lies our challenge.]

_Is there someone to take up the challenge? And if do, are we going to

[The world knows us and respects us for being a moderate, open, tolerant,
multicultural and multiethnic, Muslim-majority State. In the world of
extremes we have been able to carve a niche for ourselves as an oasis of

__I believe we used to command some respect along that line. But not sure
how much we do command at present and where are we going to?

[However, there is no denying the fact that there are streaks (some may say
streams, and still others flood) of intolerance - which is contrary to our
basic ethos - growing within us. We must also admit that there is a strong,
insensitive, unthinking and brute majoritarian thrust in our society that
leads us to ignore the plights and concerns of the minorities. Sometimes
this thrust comes in the name of culture and sometimes in the name of
religion. The example of the former is the way we treated the Chakmas, the
Garos, the Khasis and other ethnic groups. The example of the latter is our
treatment of the Hindus, the Christians and the Buddhists. To put it
bluntly both our religious and ethnic minority groups have been
marginalized from the mainstream society.]
_That's what has started showing to be our dominant instinct? And thereís no
campaign to stem that.

[Our unthinking majoritarianism prevents us from examining the minority
issues in an objective manner. In fact, it is difficult to hold a
scientific and factual discussion on these topics without temper flying and
irrelevant issues clouding the debate. This same thrust prevents us from
acknowledging that there are groups among us who are exploiting the deep
religiosity of our people for their narrow political ends and who want to
impose their obscurantism on us.]

__Thatís true and thatís where we are we moving to, a destination

[The challenge of the moment is to prove the FEER prognosis to be totally

__True itís the biggest challenge and itís a challenge unredeemable.

[This we must do through action and not propaganda, public relations
exercise or banning. A point of great satisfaction for us and one that
gives us a legitimate sense of pride and confidence in ourselves is the
fact that we were able to pass the Gujarat carnage without any incident
here. It is to the credit of the government (for its timely and effective
action) but greater credit to the common men who really came together as a
people irrespective of ethnicity or religion. It is our duty to build on
this. We have to strengthen those aspects of our society and culture for
which the world respects us - that is multi-culturalism, multi-ethnicity
and multi-religiousness, openness, tolerance and democracy - all within a
Muslim-majority population. This is the real challenge before our two
biggest political parties. With variance in degrees both the BNP and the AL
represent the aforementioned fundamental ethos. Their narrow party rivalry
has prevented them for realizing this fundamental fact. Electoral alliances
notwithstanding, these parties must work together to strengthen the real
Bangladesh, as outlined above. Will the two leaders take the nation in this
direction? We know the FEER article is wrong.]
__This is what truly needed. The surprising calm in Bangladesh in the backdrop
of carnage in Gujrat and around India is indeed an encouraging instance. I
believe itís the widespread criticism of the Govt regarding post-election
oppression of minority/opposition must have had put them on guard. But the
truth is that with sincere effort of the Govt, itís possible to resist
the ĎEDIDEMIC intolerance symptomí we have grown over recent times. What is
necessary is that itís wise to take lead from the FEER article which is a
timely wake-up call for our Govt. With fundamentalist tendency growing in
strength amongst our people which has been clearly demonstrated through
increasing attacks/hatred against minorities and with the Jamatiís growing
in strength and gaining wider acceptance AND recognition. Under the
circumstances, I would say the FEER article is an eye-opener for us. We may
not be where itís being depicted to be in the article right now but we are
for sure moving to that direction at a steady pace. If not in 10, in twenty
years we are right up there, a point of no return. What we need is not the
rejection of the article; itís the counter-revolution being rightly
suggested in the article. A counter-revolution doesnít need to be a wide-
scale armed one but itís the educational one. We need a directed
educational propaganda campaign for tolerance, equality, human value and
justice to all irrespective of religion or ethnic origin. And it has to
start at the school as well as mass level. Itís a pity that we have hardly
been taught to be tolerant to all, regardless of religion, ethnic groups or
social classes during our schooling days (mid-seventies thru eighties).
There are hardly any curriculum in our school books that preaches such
teachings but we definitely start learning the religious lessons which only
teaches us that non-Muslims are inferior. I donít know if the Hindu student
taking religious teachings (Hindu Dharma Shiksha) also teaches the same
regarding non-Hindus. Itís not only religious/ethnic issues our education
system teaches us so little respect for human values is that itís so easy
for us to slap that little boy serving you tea in a restaurant for minor or
no faults. Our respect for human values are so base which is easily
reflected through our way of behaving with the maids/servants, rickshawalas

But I think these are all a mammoth ask from our Govts. In a country where
political thuggery from lowest to the highest levels rules the roost, who has
time to look into these apparently-meaningless (to our political guardians)
issues. Where religious issues (which is very useful indeed) are being
increasingly exploited by politicians and especially when our most popular
party BNP taking fool advantage of it along with the resurgent Jamatis. I
believe these thought are just futile imaginations of our minds.

And we talk about our leaders working together; I think thatís the most
unlikely thing that might ever happen on our soil. Well, I believe we had a
chance when AL offered a joint Govt (BNP participation) in itís tenure.
Itís a lost opportunity that is never to be redeemed since both parties
have committed boundless atrocities on each other over the subsequent 5-6
years and as it continues. I donít see they can bury the hatchet and put
trust in each ever. But what we are going to see is that with the AL-BNP
fighting each other with little contribution to the cause of the people,
Jamatis are coming to be stronger alternative force. I truly liked this one
Indian friend last time opining: with AL-BNP at loggerheads, Jamatis become
the winner, just the way BJP has grown stronger in India with Congress-
Lefts-Secularists fighting without showing any performances.

[Let's prove it to the world.]

__Hope we can prove it. Iím afraid we may have to wait endless time.

Many Bangladeshi friends on this forum have expressed outright rejections and
condemnation of the article. However, this is just my opinion; no hard
feeling folks.



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