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Nip intolerance in the bud

Publication Date : 03-10-2012


There should be no doubt in anybody's mind as to the enormity and gravity of the meaning of what has happened at Ramu and in the adjoining areas. Never before in Bangladesh's history have places of worship of a religious minority been ravaged on such a large scale and in so deliberate a manner. Twelve Buddhist temples and more than 50 houses were burnt down and vandalised in a pre-planned manner. And these people are among the most peaceful, docile and non-violent that we have.

Just imagine the feelings of the Buddhist community and of the monks seeing their religious books and Holy Texts torn to bits and burnt, evidence of which was lying all around the destroyed temples for all to see. The best way to understand the agony of our Buddhist compatriots is to imagine how we would have felt if our Holy Book had been desecrated in any manner.

As The Daily Star and other print and electronic media reports make it clear, the whole tragic event was premeditated and carefully planned.

The natural question is: Who did it and for what purpose? Is it just to create unrest and tension in a disturbed region of our country? Is it to embarrass the government? Is it just to spoil the image of Bangladesh? Is it only to create misunderstanding between the majority Muslims and the Buddhists? The purpose, in our view, is far more sinister.

It is to weaken us as a people, as a country and as a culture. It is to hit at the very ethos of Bangladesh. It has been an attack on the very foundations of our state, our values and the principles of our Liberation War. And it has been done through using the religious sentiments of the majority Muslims.

It started with a posting on the social media Facebook. In the account of Uttam Kumar Burua, 25, an unknown Buddhist man, someone "tagged" a picture that was insulting to the Muslim Holy Book. Facebook works on developing and enlarging the circle of online "friends" who share messages, pictures, etc., between themselves. This "circle" of friends grows exponentially as "friends" of "friends" and their "friends" all become part of an ever widening group that grows all the time. In this scenario, anyone within a "circle of friends" can "tag" a picture on another's account. In fact, that is how this social media links people.

That is how someone "tagged" a picture that was insulting to us, the Muslims.

As it is evident that the whole attack on the Buddhists was premeditated, pre-planned and quite meticulously organised, it is reasonable to conclude that even the "tagging" of the picture in the account of a Buddhist youth was part of the plan. Otherwise how so many people could come to know about it in such a short time? We have reports that the offensive picture was sent from one mobile phone to another using Bluetooth technology and through the internet.

The situation raises serious questions about the role, mindset and capabilities of the law enforcement agencies. The police inaction in the early hours of the tragedy, when prompt action could have prevented the burning down of 12 temples, raises doubts about their efficiency, and even their intentions. Can we really brush aside the possibility of local police being complicit? What about our intelligence agencies? We spend hundreds of crores (1 crore=10 million) of taka on them, and often see how they harass ordinary citizens over their slightest of "mistakes"; and yet when it comes to such serious incidents of national security they fail us totally.

What about the ruling party's front organisations, some of whose leaders and activists were seen in the early processions that were inciting people to attack the Buddhists and their temples? The opposition MP was conspicuous by his absence from the scene. Given our propensity to try to cash in on any religious issue they could have well nigh participated in these activities.

What makes the situation highly complex and worrisome is the presence of a large number of Rohingyas in the area. Given the background of the movement for a Rakhaine state on the Myanmar side of the border and their possible and potential links with international and regional extremist groups, this might well emerge as a national security issue for Bangladesh.

What is of utmost importance at this stage is national unity. We must all work together to prevent our state from being weakened, our national purpose for a democratic polity being distracted, our core values of religious tolerance being subverted, our culture of celebrating diversity being destroyed and the principles of our Liberation War of establishing a multi-religious, multi-ethnic democratic state being defeated.

But at this very crucial stage we are, regrettably, witnessing a politicisation of this national threat. No sooner did the Buddhists have had their temples burnt and their houses gutted our political leaders went on a quick march to blame their opponents. The first salvo was fired by our newly appointed home minister alleging, without the slightest shred of evidence, the possible involvement of the local MP who, surprise, surprise, belonged to the BNP. The BNP secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul, soon accused the ruling party of being involved, followed by the BNP chairperson parroting the same. Then both parties' propaganda machinery went into overdrive and the blame game began to be played in full swing. All this while the extremists were safely nestled somewhere and were having a good laugh at our expense.

It will be suicidal to politicise this very serious threat to the religious harmony that characterizes Bangladesh before the world. We repeat, never in our history has such a massive attack been carried out on the minorities. Only a few days ago we saw massive unrest in Rangamati area that flared up because of an incident involving some boy talking to some girl of a different ethnic group.

When the situation is so fragile that minor inter-personal incidents have the potential of becoming inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, politicising these issues is a sure formula for disaster and a sure chance for the culprits to escape and repeat their heinous crimes.

Will our political leaders listen? Or will they be so overtaken by mutual hatred and so consumed by their thirst for power that they will ignore such a grave threat to what Bangladesh should, must and does, mostly, stand for?

The writer is Editor, The Daily Star.


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