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Our community, chauvinism and state -The Asian Age


My brain fails as I try to think about our friends' community-chauvinism. We lost, we say, the 'Founder of our State' in August, 1975, but we would not prove the keenness or honesty to truly identify the killersof Bangabandhu. Who were the killers of 15th August, we say? 

Were they merely some "hoodwinked members of the armed forces," as even the AL leaders say? Others finish by lionizing, and go to call them even "suryasantan" (sons of the sun).But, if we go by theage-old adage, "A tree is known by the fruit it bears", what follows? 

Wasn't Islamisation the biggest fruit of the tree called 15th August? Islamisation of the Constitution, state, society? So, shouldn't those killers be called militants in the present-day sense of the word? And, in clear and very easy connections, aren't the present-day militants clear descendants of the August, '75 killers?  

But, proving our community-chauvinism so clearly and lamentably, all of us would compete with one another in calling the killers of '75 this or that, but would never expose them in their crucially true color. That's the measure of our community-chauvinism.That's the measure of our love for Bangabandhu also, whose killers we haven't identified correctly. We may be termed false and traitors in this. 

Let me share, at this stage of writing this commentary, my coincidental relief at watching a BTV program aired at may be 9-30 pm on 8th August, 2016. The program was being anchored by Dr. Nujhat Choudhury and one of the persons reminiscing about Begum Mujib was Sheikh Farida, cousin to Sheikh Hasina. 

What relieved me is how Sheikh Farida came to find militants in the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and how she placed this bold observation as she was concluding her part of the talk. 

For, though this has been my understanding for a long time, I could not share or air it so long, given the intellectual milieu of our country and the particular kind of orthodoxy there. 

We have remained endlessly torn between our Faith and our material interests embodied in the state of Bangladesh founded by Bangabandhu. And thus it became difficult for even Awami Leaguers to identify the killers of Bangabandhu as Islamic militants. 

So much is our sensitivity in this regard that we failed to differentiate between respectable common Muslims and violent traders in Islam, and place the truth of the involvement of Islamic militants in the August-killing before the people as something that does not tarnish the image of Islam as a major faith system!So much is our community-chauvinism!! So much is our slyness of jackals!!

Our typical chauvinism in this regard has led us to crude self-contradiction in the case of the latest Constitutional reforms also. For, this latest, 15th, Amendment of the Constitution has at the same time brought back secularism as one of the four state principles of the State and incorporated the 8th Amendment in this. That means Bangladesh is now, at the same time,both secular and Islamic or theocratic. 

We know how, after 1975, General Zia and his henchmen threw away secularism, and how compared to that phase, the present situation is a definitive improvement. But, still, the present phase of our state's history will surely be an object of humorous and derisive discussion among the political scientists of coming times.The self-contradiction or mixture of the odds is more glaring now. 

But, Bangabandhu himself had a very different and clear mindset or viewpoint. Not only did he, in one of the only a few cases of Muslim-majority countries doing this, pick up secularism and declare it to be one state principle of Bangladesh. 

He undertook the daunting task of explaining to people his decision and reason for doing this. In scores of public meetings, we remember, he claimed that secularism is not at all dharmoheenota or atheism. Let me quote from one of his relevant speeches-the speech that he delivered on 7th June of 1972 at SuhrawardyUdyan: 

Fourthly, Bangladesh will be a secular state. Secularism does not mean atheism. The Muslims will be observing the religion of the Muslims. The Hindus will observe their religion. The Christians will observe their religion. The Buddhists also will observe their religion. 

We do not have atheism, but secularism on this soil. This has a meaning. Trading in the name of religion will not be permitted here. None will be allowed to exploit humans in the name of religion. Indulging in politics in the name of religion and giving rise to Razakar, Al-badr in Bangladesh will not be permitted. Communal politics will not be permitted.

But, as the adage goes again, "The devil will not listen to the scriptures," Bangabandhu's words were not paid heed to. Those very sane and realistic words quoted above proved unacceptable to the people habituated to Islamic or theocratic rule and communal politics. 

Later on, it was General Zia who accused Mujib's Bangladesh to be one "country without identity." As if, only an Islamic stamp can give a state the identity it requires. We should frankly admit that these are our major traditions and heritages against which Bangabandhu had to wage his kind and volume of struggle and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also has to. 

Their successes and failures also we more or less know. So, any rule other than strictly or puritanically Islamic will not function here, it is claimed. We are not to go to know about political systems across borders, and shall go on insisting on strict Islamic rule in Bangladesh. But, all-slyly and -opportunistically, we shall demand secular rule for Muslim-minority states and insist on their being states proper. 

But, in cases of Muslim-majority states those will have to be much more religion- or Islam-in-practice-onlythan any state proper.We shall not go by our religion-neutral knowledge of political science in running them. Community-chauvinism and related blindness, we think, must guide us totally and exclusively. We have been mostly unabashed in all these. Shall we be so for a long time more? 


The writer teaches at the Department of English of Dhaka University. He got arrested and persecuted  after 15th August 1975