Which way, Is­lamic Rad­i­cal­ism?

In a shock­ing video, Al-Qaeda leader Ay­man al-Zawahiri urges the Mus­lims in Bangladesh to chal­lenge the tyranny of politi­cians who have col­luded with the West to weaken Is­lam.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taha Kehar

Some un­scrupu­lous el­e­ments have been try­ing to sow the seeds of re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism in Bangladesh.

In 1977, Pres­i­dent Zi­aur Rah­man sys­tem­at­i­cally re­moved sec­u­lar­ism from the con­sti­tu­tion of Bangladesh and de­clared Is­lam as the state re­li­gion. Since then, sec­u­lar­ism had an un­clear le­gal sta­tus in the coun­try. How­ever, in 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court re­stored sec­u­lar­ism as an im­por­tant foun­da­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion when it pro­hib­ited re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism in pol­i­tics. Sub­se­quently, this was el­e­vated to the sta­tus of a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of state pol­icy in Bangladesh’s con­sti­tu­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, Is­lam continues to be the state re­li­gion in Bangladesh. De­spite op­er­at­ing within an Is­lamic purview, the state has still man­aged to as­sert the po­lit­i­cal rights of nonMus­lims who con­sti­tute 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. As a re­sult, sec­u­lar­ism

is nei­ther in­con­gru­ous nor a weak ide­ol­ogy in Bangladesh.

Against the back­drop of tol­er­ance and di­ver­sity, there are un­scrupu­lous el­e­ments who have been try­ing to sow the seeds of re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism and re­sent­ment. An au­dio-vis­ual mes­sage re­leased in Jan­uary 2014 specif­i­cally ad­dressed to the ‘Mus­lims in Bangladesh’ is an ever-present tes­ti­mony of a new wave of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism. The video mes­sage is pur­port­edly from Al-Qaeda leader Ay­man al-Zawahiri and has been aptly ti­tled ‘Bangladesh: A Mas­sacre be­hind a Wall of Si­lence’.

Al­though it was posted in Jan­uary on the on­line por­tal, Ji­hadol­ogy, it only at­tracted me­dia at­ten­tion in Fe­bru­ary. Fur­ther­more, it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the au­then­tic­ity of the mes­sage. Through­out the video, an un­seen nar­ra­tor de­liv­ers a ser­mon which has been trans­lated into English through sub­ti­tles. The nar­ra­tor is sup­pos­edly Ay­man al-Zawahiri, al­though there is no video footage to ver­ify this. The cred­i­bil­ity of the video can only be ver­i­fied by the claim made on Ji­hadol­ogy that ex­plic­itly states the mes­sage is from Zawahiri and has been re­leased by As-Sa­hab, the me­dia wing of the Al-Qaeda.

In the video, Ay­man al-Zawahiri urges Mus­lims in Bangladesh to chal­lenge the tyranny of politi­cians who have col­luded with the West to weaken Is­lam. The Al-Qaeda leader prop­a­gates the be­lief that a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing and geno­cide pro­vide the best means of pro­tect­ing a re­li­gion that rep­re­sents peace. This ap­proach is likely to be dis­missed as su­per­flu­ous, ex­treme and short-sighted.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, the video mes­sage is marred with his­tor­i­cal im­pre­ci­sion and fun­da­men­tally dis­torts facts to pro­mote a bi­ased view­point. Ay­man al-Zawahiri nar­rowly in­ter­prets the 1971 Bangladesh Lib­er­a­tion War as a con­spir­acy to un­der­mine the Mus­lim Ummah in the sub­con­ti­nent. The video dis­cred­its the fact that Bangladesh’s in­de­pen­dence was not a means of pre­vent­ing hos­til­i­ties against the Ben­galis in the East wing. This is a mis­lead­ing as­ser­tion that lacks a con­sis­tent ex­pla­na­tion.

La­bel­ing the events and tragedies of the 1971 war as a con­spir­acy serves to ab­solve West Pak­istan of all re­spon­si­bil­ity in the skir­mish. Pak­istan was cre­ated for the ben­e­fit of the Mus­lim Ummah. How­ever, the Mus­lim Ummah was di­vided on eth­nic and cul­tural lines. Be­fore the 1971 war, the Ben­galis were se­verely short-changed in the po­lit­i­cal arena. The Bangladesh Lib­er­a­tion War was a mech­a­nism of avoid­ing fur­ther con­flict and de­picts the ex­tent to which the de­sire for change can de­ter­mine the fate of a coun­try. It continues to be an ugly stain on the his­tory of Pak­istan. Seen in this con­text, Ay­man al-Zawahiri’s nar­row de­pic­tion of his­tory and in­dif­fer­ence to­wards the po­lit­i­cal strug­gle of the Bangladeshi na­tion for the cre­ation of Bangladesh is un­likely to trig­ger a move­ment that can strengthen Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism.

De­spite the mis­con­cep­tions in Ay­man al-Zawahiri’s video mes­sage, there are some jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for de­vel­op­ing greater aware­ness about find­ing an Is­lamic so­lu­tion. Over the last few decades, count­less cam­paigns against Is­lam have been or­ches­trated in Bangladesh. These have largely fa­vored the West and re­sulted in the ban of Is­lamic move­ments and fre­quent acts of vi­o­lence against renowned Mus­lim aca­demics and pro­fes­sion­als.

The video mes­sage also makes ref­er­ence to the sta­tus quo. It be­gins with the pho­to­graphs of the He­fa­jat-eIs­lam rally held in Dhaka in 2013. The im­ages of the po­lice crack­down on the par­tic­i­pants of the rally are heartwrench­ing. How­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to sym­pa­thize with the view that the plight of the Mus­lims in Bangladesh is an out­come of an elu­sive con­spir­acy. Ay­man al-Zawahiri has not of­fered suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to show how the ma­jor stake­hold­ers – In­dian agents, the Pak­istan Army, the western me­dia and politi­cians from Bangladesh and Pak­istan – have been in­volved in this con­spir­acy. In the ab­sence of such in­for­ma­tion, the video mes­sage re­flects a false phi­los­o­phy that will in­doc­tri­nate those who un­crit­i­cally ac­cept its va­lid­ity.

Some of the views ex­pressed in the video could di­rect the law-en­force­ment agencies and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to­wards find­ing a so­lu­tion. For in­stance, Ay­man al-Zawahiri has crit­i­cized the dou­ble stan­dards shown by the West to­wards Is­lam. He ex­plains that when Mus­lim coun­tries wish to im­ple­ment Shariah, they are billed as in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal. How­ever, if in­di­vid­u­als make deroga­tory re­marks about Is­lam, they are treated with ut­most re­spect. These con­tra­dic­tions could serve as the ral­ly­ing point for Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism in Bangladesh. It is im­por­tant to note that such tac­tics can be used to pro­mote ter­ror­ism. Any de­lay or fail­ure to deal with them can shake the foun­da­tions of democ­racy, sec­u­lar­ism and progress.

The law-en­force­ment agencies in Bangladesh have been work­ing to­wards com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism. They have de­vel­oped the ca­pac­ity to han­dle com­plex sit­u­a­tions and have been praised for their good work on in­ter­na­tional plat­forms. But the chal­lenges of pre­vent­ing a false phi­los­o­phy from be­com­ing a main­stream dis­course are enor­mously dif­fi­cult.

The govern­ment’s re­sponse has been fairly bal­anced so far. It has not blown the mat­ter out of pro­por­tion by giv­ing it too much im­por­tance. How­ever, the govern­ment must be pre­pared to tackle any quandary it may find it­self in. Af­ter all, ter­ror­ism is driven by a dan­ger­ous mind­set. Only time can curb its in­flu­ence on so­ci­ety.

The writer is a poet and au­thor. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing a de­gree in Law at the SOAS.

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