Sep­a­rat­ing state and Is­lam

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Kunwar Khul­dune Shahid

years af­ter the Con­sti­tu­tion was Is­lamised by mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Hus­sain Muham­mad Ir­shad, Bangladesh is mulling a ver­dict over unadul­ter­ated sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion by re­mov­ing Is­lam as the state re­li­gion. The Dhaka High Court will hear the case for the of­fi­cial state re­li­gion's re­moval later this month. Even though in 2010 the Sheikh Hasina Wazed led Awami League (AL) govern­ment had re­in­stated sec­u­lar­ism, one of the found­ing prin­ci­ples of the Bangladeshi Con­sti­tu­tion, Is­lam was para­dox­i­cally re­tained as the state re­li­gion. The Con­sti­tu­tion's Fifth Amend­ment from 1988 had been de­clared il­le­gal by the High Court in 2005. The de­ci­sion was up­held by the Supreme Court six years ago.

Th­ese six years have wit­nessed a fur­ther hike in Is­lamist vi­o­lence, which be­gan sur­fac­ing in the af­ter­math of 9/11. New Year's cel­e­bra­tions were jolted by blasts in both 2001 and 2002, with a com­mu­nist party gath­er­ing - dubbed as a get­to­gether of 'non-be­liev­ers' - and movie the­atres be­ing tar­geted as well.

In 2004, ji­hadists tried to kill Sheikh Hasina through grenade at­tacks in a rally. The next year a Ja­maat-ul-Mu­jahideen Bangladesh (JMB) or­ches­trated syn­chro­nised blasts in 63 dif­fer­ent dis­tricts of the coun­try. JMB was banned fol­low­ing a dou­ble sui­cide bomb­ing three months later, but its move­ment for an Is­lamist rev­o­lu­tion sim­mered on, be­fore ex­plod­ing eight years later. Dur­ing th­ese eight years Al-Qaeda in the In­dian Sub­con­ti­nent (AQIS) and re­cently ISIS, has cashed in on the rise in Bangladeshi ji­hadism.

Fur­ther­more, the In­ter­na­tional Crimes Tri­bunal's (ICT) trial against 1971's war crim­i­nals has ag­gra­vated the di­vides in the Bangladeshi so­ci­ety. The Fe­bru­ary 2013 ver­dict against Ja­maat-eIs­lami (JI) leader Ab­dul Qader Mol­lah alien­ated both sec­u­lar­ists and Is­lamists, with the for­mer want­ing the life im­pris­on­ment to be con­verted to cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, while the lat­ter saw it as the au­to­cratic AL's clam­p­down against JI - the tra­di­tional political ally of Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party (BNP).

Fol­low­ing the Shah­bag protests - and the counter-protests - the JI leader was hanged to death in De­cem­ber 2013, amidst con­dem­na­tions from Is­lamists in Bangladesh and Pak­istan.

The far­ci­cal 2014 elec­tions, which the AL govern­ment or­gan­ised with­out any op­po­si­tion par­tic­i­pa­tion - the voter turnout was 20% and half of the seats were un­con­tested - fur­ther carved the Bangladeshi so­ci­ety into sec­u­lar and Is­lamist camps, with the 'war against Is­lam' idea be­ing sold at a soar­ing fre­quency.

Mean­while, the war crimes tri­bunal has kept send­ing rad­i­cal Is­lamists to the gal­lows. The lat­est be­ing Obaidul Haque Ta­her and Ataur Rah­man Noni, the ver­dict against whom trig­gered a diplo­matic feud be­tween Dhaka and Is­lam­abad, with both states in­ter­ro­gat­ing each other's di­plo­mats last month. And while the war crimes tri­bunal is sen­tenc­ing mil­i­tant Is­lamists to death, their sup­port­ers have formed a par­al­lel jus­tice sys­tem ded­i­cated to ex­e­cut­ing sec­u­lar­ists. In Fe­bru­ary 2013, amidst the Shah­bag protests, Ahmed Ra­jib Haider was killed out­side his home by a ma­chete-wield­ing ji­hadist. The same modus operandi was adapted for the ex­e­cu­tion of eight other sec­u­lar bloggers, in­clud­ing Avi­jit Roy, Oyasiqur Rah­man and Ananta Bi­joy Das, in the next three years. Fol­low­ing the Shah­bag protests a group go­ing by the name of He­fazat-e-Is­lam or 'De­fend­ers of Is­lam' pub­lished a hit list of 84 sec­u­lar Bangladeshi writ­ers/bloggers, many of whom self-iden­ti­fied as athe­ists. Nine of them have been killed.

Amidst this sec­u­lar-Is­lamist di­vide other religious com­mu­ni­ties, which form nearly 10% of Bangladeshi pop­u­la­tion, have been tar­geted by the ji­hadists as well. The ex­pul­sion, con­ver­sion or ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the lo­cal Hin­dus, Chris­tians and Bud­dhists is high on the rad­i­cal Is­lamists' agenda as they vie to es­tab­lish a caliphate in Bangladesh. And just like in Pak­istan, Bangladeshi ji­hadist groups are grav­i­tat­ing to­wards ISIS by pledg­ing al­le­giance to the ter­ror group, which has taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Ashura at­tack in Oc­to­ber, and the killing of an Ital­ian and a Ja­panese worker last year.

It is in th­ese con­di­tions that Bangladesh is de­lib­er­at­ing over re­mov­ing Is­lam as the state re­li­gion. With a shared past, and glar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two states' present, there are lessons for Pak­istan as it treads the path lead­ing to­wards religious tol­er­ance as well.

In a 2011 Bangladesh En­ter­prise In­sti­tute sur­vey on the rea­sons a Bangladeshi might join a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion, around 40 per­cent par­tic­i­pants iden­ti­fied ' the use of Is­lam to gain political ends' as the big­gest cause, while 20 per­cent cited 'lack of democ­racy'. Both of th­ese is­sues self-man­i­fest in a prodi­giously more per­ilous form in Pak­istan.

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