A View from Bangladesh: A Moderate Message

From Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to Bangladesh and Indonesia in the east, a network of Arab charities is funding militancy and mayhem to coerce Muslims of diverse traditions to conform to the Salafi and Wahabi traditions. Bangladesh needs to be steered away from becoming a Pakistan or an Afghanistan, says one Bangladeshi analyst.

Posted on 12/29/14
By Hafeejul Alam | Via Dhaka Tribune
(Photo by Shumona Sharna, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by Shumona Sharna, Creative Commons License)

While Bangladesh was celebrating the Victory Day on December 16, Pakistan suffered a dastardly terrorist attack in which about 140 people, mostly school-children, were killed. I have no words to express my shock at the carnage perpetrated by jihadist militants against school-children at a military-run public school in Pakistan. Being a former cadet of Pakistan military academy, Kakul, I feel the pangs even more.


It appears that Pakistan is being wiped out by its own politicians and opinionated generals with conflicting mindsets about terrorism. What a sharp contrast from what the founding father of Pakistan, MA Jinnah, envisaged and articulated on August 11, 1947, when he said: “In the course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims; not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.” Today’s Pakistan is thousands of miles away from what Mr Jinnah wanted it to be.


Terrorism in Pakistan thrives in vicious political, economic, religious, and psychological environments. It has been observed that the elites validated violence by both state and non-state actors. Obviously, before these powerful groups, the majority peace-loving people of Pakistan just become helpless.


Driven by Cold War goals, the Western countries, along with Pakistan, supported and glorified non-state violent groups fighting in Afghanistan against the former USSR. They called their fight a “jihad,” in stark contrast to the real meaning of the word. Thus, the perverse political strategies of these countries, rather than religion, have contributed to making terrorism so common over there. Dumped subsequently by their state supporters, many of these rebels and their followers still scout the subcontinent and beyond, searching for new causes.


Then again, the nexus between Arab charities promoting Wahabi and Salafi traditions and the extremist Islamic movements has emerged as one of the major threats to people and governments across the globe. It is reported that from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to Bangladesh and Indonesia in the east, a network of charities is funding militancy and mayhem to coerce Muslims of diverse traditions to conform to the Salafi and Wahabi traditions.


It may be worth noting that Pakistan’s military is alleged to still use many of the terrorist groups for furthering its “regional goals.” Having let the genie out, the generals are battling to simultaneously put it back into the bottle in some places, while continuing to utilise it for other battles. The countries of South Asia, and Bangladesh in particular, must be cautious about these “regional goals.”


Appeasing or arranging political talks with the militants rarely succeed, because of their flawed ideologies, and core demands about applying their ideology countrywide to undermine democracy and modern governance. The only way to contain them is to go for mass awareness against religious bigotry and terrorism, and of course, a massive spread of modern education in schools and madrasas.


Bangladesh is still recognised in the world community as a moderate Muslim country, and rightly so, for the Muslims, the Hindus, and other communities have lived in this part of the subcontinent for centuries in peace and harmony. The extremist religious elements never got more than 5% votes in the previous national elections, and that too at the behest of the BNP. The tag “moderate Muslim country” has since started to wane fast, owing to the increasing muscle-flexing by the Islamist radicals all over the country.


It is said that there are groups among both the opposition and ruling political parties who are hell bent to appease the radical Islamists just to gain political and material advantage. This signifies that secular pro-liberation Bengali nationalist forces are on the verge of losing ground to those who are intent on turning the country into a haven for terrorist outfits, as in Pakistan.


In this respect, the present government must do everything to reverse the situation by teaching the young generation the true spirit of our Liberation War. The sacrifice of millions of lives for this country must not be jeopardized by a bunch of brutes who are out to destroy our country by exploiting religious sentiments.


In the backdrop of such developments, Bangladesh must rise to the occasion, maintain peace and harmony among the populace irrespective of religious and social orientation. Bangladesh needs to conserve what it has achieved so far. According to international observers, Bangladesh has been one of the star performers of the global economy in the past decade.


Its GDP growth averaged 6.2% during 2003-2012. The economy has surpassed $100bn in real exchange rate terms. It is now a $320bn economy in terms of purchasing power parity. With this rate of growth, an economy could double its GDP size every 11.6 years.


Bangladesh’s strides in the social sector is equally impressive. The life expectancy of its population has surpassed both India and Pakistan. The gender gap in Bangladesh is also fast closing. Despite all these, it is a fact that the bulk of our population is reeling under abject poverty.


Therefore, Bangladesh needs an economic agenda, not disruptive political ones. The people now desperately hope that both the government and the opposition political parties (both within the parliament and outside of it) shall refrain from committing any deeds that may plunge the country into darkness.


Let’s steer Bangladesh away from becoming a Pakistan or an Afghanistan. Let Bangladesh continue to remain a moderate Muslim country, thanks to the great Sufi saints who preached Islam in this part of the world, and taught our ancestors the true tenets of Islam: Peace, tolerance, love, and universal brotherhood.


The writer is a former civil servant of Bangladesh.

This article first appeared in Dhaka Tribune, a leading newspaper of Bangladesh. Click here to go to the original. 

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