Bangladesh’s Identity Crisis


Bangladesh’s Identity Crisis

Mehdi Hasan KhanMehdi Hasan Khan

This past Sunday’s clash between Islamist groups and security forces has turned the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka into a ghost town. Does it blacken Bangladesh’s image as a moderate Muslim country?

On Sunday this week, approximately half a million supporters of a new movement-Hefazat-e Islam (protector of Islam) staged a sit-in at each entrance point to Dhaka in order to isolate Dhaka from the rest of the country. This later turned into a violent battle with police that cost at least fifteen lives with scores of injured. Hefazat, however, claims that the actual death toll is higher than that. As the live telecast has been suspended and some areas blacked out while the civil defence agencies go into action to disperse the staunch activists of Hefazat, it has become difficult to ascertain the number of people killed by police. The situation still looks dire in Dhaka.

The virtual battlefield of Dhaka streets may send an obscure message to the world. Is Bangladesh en route to becoming an Islamic state? In spite of denials, Hefazat is assumed to be a new actor in the Bangladeshi political arena who is aspiring to attain power. Some analysts recognize that Hefazat is disguised form of country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islam.

They fear Jamaat may have unleashed vengeance through Hefazat upon the Awami-led coalition government as they commenced the trial of war criminals from Bangladesh’s bloody liberation war in 1971. Most of those accused are notable leaders from the opposition parties, especially Jamaat. The shoddy trail system has already aroused denunciation both at home and abroad. The international crime tribunal (ICT) falls far below the minimum standard of an international tribunal which the government is unwilling to accept. The second verdict of this trial sparked a youth uprising which Bangladeshi media initially labeled as the “Bangladeshi Spring.” Albeit it gained huge popularity at the beginning, this uprising, too, loses its neutral credibility later. The government allegedly tried to manipulate the movement by putting its like-minded people at the leadership of this movement which in turn discouraged the public to put their faith on this seemingly movement by, of and for the people.

This movement was fuelled by a massive online endorsement. This brought many bloggers into lime light who claimed to have insulted Islam and the great Prophet on their blogs. The coalition government delayed to take any initiative to settle this issue quietly. This ultimately appeared as a trigger-point for the formation of Hefajat-e-Islam which demands capital punishment for what they say, the atheist bloggers as well as implementing a thirteen-point-charter to increase Bangladesh’s inclination for tightened Islamic rules.

While the political parties are busy discrediting each other, they eventually forget what the people of Bangladesh long for. Bangladeshi people support neither Hefazat’s prima-facie Islamic demands nor government sponsored brutality by police forces. If they would like to make Bangladesh an Islamic state, they should not have thrown the largest Islamist party into oblivion in the last election. Jamaat could be able to secure only two seats in the national assembly. Also, Bangladesh is perhaps the only Muslim majority state in the world where women’s contributions are the lifeblood of the country’s largest revenue earning industry. Rooted in nation’s long-held culture of hospitality, helpfulness and inter-communal solidarity, Bangladeshis today are becoming more interested in how to build a corruption-free, peaceful country than supporting violence, let alone religious extremism.

No matter how people see it- a secular or moderate Muslim state, Bangladeshis still continue to refrain from going beyond the line of secularity or Islamism. Unfortunately, the political parties of Bangladesh have failed to realize this fact. It is their sheer political naiveties that make the Bangladeshi society seem riven by religious and of course, political beliefs.

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