New Age Islam Special Correspondent
4 December 2020
Over the last couple of years, Bangladesh has seen a rise in religious extremism and communal hatred. Attacks on cultural activists and secularists have also seen a rise. This is mainly because of Sheikh Hasina government's policy of 'Strategic Compromise' with the conservative and extremist organisation Hefazat-e-Islam for political purposes. The Hefazat is an umbrella organisation of madrasa teachers based in Chittagong with links to Jama't-e-Islami and other dozens of Islamist organisations that aim to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state. Sheikh Hasina's position earlier was that the Hefazat had links to Jama't-e-Islami. The organisation had organised a massive rally in Dhaka in April 2013 against Shahbagh Movement staged to demand capital punishment for war criminals associated with the Jamat-e-Islami and the BNP.
However, strangely the Hasina government wooed the Hefazat before the general elections that were held on December 30, 2018 in order to garner the vote bank held by the Islamist parties and the influential clerics. Since, the Election Commission had deregistered the Jamat-e-Islami that had a considerable hold over the religious or madrasa section, the Sheikh Hasina government allied with Hefazat to counter Jamat-e-Islami’s influence over the madrasa section and general Muslims.
Though Hefazat and its affiliates always allied with the BNP, they allied with Sheikh Hasina's Awami League as part of a 'Strategic Compromise'. Before the elections, the Hefazat organised a huge rally in support of Awami League which was addressed by Sheikh Hasina.
Hefazat-e-Islam formed an Islamic Democratic Alliance with 15 Islamist parties to support Awami League in the elections. This helped Awami League with a resounding victory in the polls.
But the going has not been easy for the Hasina government since then. The Hefazat has been blackmailing the Hasina government into accepting its demands and its leader Junaid Babunagri has been issuing Taliban like diktats to the government.
In 2021, Father of Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's centenary year falls and the nation is gearing up for the celebrations. The Hasina government has planned to install a grand statue of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka but the leader of Hefazat Maulana Junaid Babunagari has threatened to stop any installation of the statue of Sheikh Mujib on the grounds that it is un-Islamic.
Earlier in 2017, Sheikh Hasina government had removed the statue of the Greek Goddess of Justice Themis from the precincts of the Supreme Court after the Hefazat had staged demonstrations against the statue.
Junaid Babunagri had last Friday held a rally in Hathazari in Chittagong in which he issued four demands to the government. 1) Closure of all activities of International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in Bangladesh. 2) Banning religious activities of the Ahmadiyya community and declaring them un-Islamic 3) Expulsion of French Ambassador 4) Closure of French Embassy in Dhaka.
On 2 November Junaid Babunagari had staged a huge demonstration against the French government in Dhaka and had planned a march from Bait ul Mokarram Mosque in Dhaka to the French Embassy. But due to police barricading he had to cancel the march. However, he had threatened to launch another movement if the French embassy was not closed and the ambassador not expelled. He even threatened to destroy the embassy if his demand was not met.
Because of his strong arm tactics, the government has already accepted the demands of the Hefazat that affect the secular fabric of the country and violate the spirit of the Constitution.
The government omitted educational content of schools that the Hefazat considered un-Islamic. The government also removed content related to non-Muslim authors from the primary and secondary school textbooks under Hefazat's pressure. The Hasina government recognised the below standard Qaumi Madrasa degrees and in return the Hefazat honoured Sheikh Hasina with the title of Mother of the Qaum.
The biggest challenge before the Hasina government is the installation of the statue of her father Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman next year. Shahryar Kabir, the man instrumental behind the War Crimes Tribunal and documenting extensively the atrocities perpetrated by the pro-Pakistani forces in 1971 said, "We are confronted with a Taliban leader. The Deputy Minister of Education Mahibul Hasan Choudhury has said that action would be taken against those who opposed the installation of Bangabandhu sculpture if they did not apologise.
The opposition to the statue may turn into a serious confrontation as Junaid Babunagari has threatened to launch a violent protest against the statue.
By espousing the issues of blasphemy, statues, madrasas and Rohingyas, Junaid Babunagari is actually trying to project himself as the leader of the Muslim masses. Sheikh Hasina's 'Strategic Comprise' with Hefazat is going to turn Bangladesh into a hotbed of religious extremism as the link of a former Hefazat leader with Al Qaida and Hizbul Mujahideen is commonly known. The support of Pakistan to Hefazat cannot be ruled out.
Sheikh Hasina had come to power with the support of the masses and her party manifesto is based on secularism, democracy and equality but now Sheikh Hasina government's policy seems to be drifting away from its basic principles and taking the country towards chaos, extremism and anarchy under pressure from Hefazat and other Islamist forces. The Digital Security Act was passed under their pressure which is being used for blasphemy cases against secularists and cultural activists.
If Sheikh Hasina does not cut her ties with Hefazat and continues to pander to their extremist ideology, Bangladesh will again become a hotbed of religious extremism.
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