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Islam and Politics ( 27 Dec 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Dateline Dhaka: Contours of Radical Transformation


By Muhammad Nurul Huda

December 28, 2013

Violence-ridden political scenario in Bangladesh as of now gives rise to multiple premonitions. Discerning and concerned citizens are worried. One such worry, willy-nilly, relates to our collective mindset being projected as one that is predisposed to becoming a wellspring of violence, unless it is somehow suitably moulded and rounded up to accommodate and live with modernity. Are the so-called religiously motivated extremist groups trying to redefine the concept of “nation-state''?

In specific terms, do we see a supposedly political body which calls itself the “Defender of Faith'' but acts almost always to consolidate its own strategic and corporate interests? Are not there credible fears to believe that violent groups have been created, extremist leaders promoted and young minds trained and instigated to stem dissent and persecute the minorities at the opportune time?

Are we witnessing the formative stage of the growth of a pernicious sub-culture of extremism wherein violence against other fellow beings is justified as religious cause? Are there subtle efforts to infect key organs of the state with radicalism? Is it not time to effectively counter the influence of extremist schools of thought in our parlance where Islam as a religion had a more benign and accommodative character in practice?

To the curious observer, it might be interesting to note that over the years, in Bangladesh, particularly since 1975, a quarter has quietly usurped considerable space from the state by creating an extensive network of schools, madrasas, medical facilities, ambulance fleets and social welfare organisations. This has reportedly created enormous political and social capital for the said quarter which can, if desired, manipulate political gains.

The question is, has such a quarter created a parallel narrative of hope and strength in times of crisis, and thereby expand its political capital? Does such a narrative stand to gain in a climate of despondency resulting from political stalemate as evidenced in Bangladesh now?

As against the above apprehensions and well-grounded fears, is there a lack of political consensus and less than adequate institutional capacity, particularly of the regulatory outfits in combating the extremist threats? It is not uncommon now for extremist groups in one country to train and coordinate activities and assist groups in another country.

The reasonable fear in our situation, as elsewhere, is whether religion has not only been utilised as an ideology but also as an insurrectionary strategy that can draw people of varying political convictions.

The so-called Islamist terrorist groups have been found to organise themselves around the rhetoric of a radical interpretation of Islam and seek to impose religion in the politics of Bangladesh. Such terrorism, in terms of growth, benefits from the unhealthy competition to retain or gain power at any cost.

Though unfortunate, the reality is that in garnering political support some political parties have been perilously oblivious of the cost and repercussions of encouraging extremist ideas and actions. The fact of the matter is that religiously motivated extremists have from time to time attacked government officials and institutions to further their objectives.

The militant's focus is on the use of power in pursuit of policy. Some sections of the public have been converted to this approach. Incidentally, the liberal current of opinion was significantly de-legitimised. The goal, therefore, should be denial of space for the radicalized and the militant. The extremists shall not be allowed to develop vital stakes in the political system for starting a radical movement in the long run.

While eradicating or controlling militancy it should occur to us that in Bangladesh the advocates of extreme path are more determined than liberals. Liberal forces hardly work with intense dedication, much less with a sense of mission. One has to remember that in Bangladesh secularism as state ideology finds it difficult to compete with a language of belonging saturated with religion.

One has to recognise the socio-economic reality of Bangladesh where gross poverty co-exists with democracy, a liberal constitution and disorder with functioning polity; the religious and traditional beliefs are far more tenacious than the liberals imagine. The state has, at times, been involved in the business of defining religion. Significantly, the compulsions of the traditional obligations of the ruler to protect state religion have to be kept in view.

The militant's strategy consists of efforts to win the trust and confidence of the majority population based on the role of extremists serving as arbitrators of individual and community disputes and financiers of education and livelihoods. Therefore, specific economic issues should be addressed on an urgent basis.

There is a need to reassert the innate pluralism of our politics which has not favoured strong ideological parties. This is significant because the liberal front faces an uphill task in recapturing the political as well as the psychological ground already lost to the so-called extremist quarter. The liberals must be ready to face preparations of extremists for further rounds of aggressive social mobilisation with plans to embark upon politics of confrontation with a view to deriving political capital.

The area of action to counter militancy is a battle of ideas, challenging the ideological motivations that extremists believe justify the use of violence. Successful prosecution in the courts, based on gathering of necessary evidence and apprehending those involved in planning acts of terrorism before committing of mischief should be one of the principal approaches of countering militant activity.

Last but not the least; we must avoid stereotyping all religious leaders and institutions as militant fundamentalists. Of prime importance is an inclusive policy agenda where the stake of the deprived classes is institutionalised and thus does not wait for the whims of policy makers. The risks of militancy will reduce in large measure when restoration of rule of law and distributive justice will be effectively manifest.

Muhammad Nurul Huda is a columnist of The Daily Star.