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Waltzing out of step

Publication Date : 05-10-2012


We are scratching the surface of the problem, not getting to its heart. It is about Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Patia in southeastern Bangladesh where the Buddhists came under attack Saturday night. What remains unsaid is more tell-tale than what has been said.

Yes, there was police inaction; yes, there was intelligence failure; yes, the local administration proved incompetent; and yes, indeed there was demonstrative lack of political will on the part of elected public representatives. But the big question is, why? That leads us to some fundamentals.

The day we lost the cardinal principle of separation of state from religion, or for that matter, debunked the disconnect between politics and religion, we unwisely unfurled a culture of indulgence and impunity to religious fanaticism, particularly of the reactive kind. Basically, we extended a hand to religious intolerance and high passions. There lay the seeds of the whirlwind we are now reaping.

The unvarnished truth is, it began with former president Ziaur Rahman diluting secularism in the Constitution. Down the road, the theme was picked on and developed by military dictator H.M. Ershad declaring Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh. In the meanwhile, Zia had opened the avenue for religion-based political parties to operate. As military men seeking legitimisation they relied on the populist appeal of religion. They had their own reasons but were not farsighted enough to have a vision of what their policies could eventually run into.

They calculated, quite astutely at that, such changes once brought into the constitution would be immutable. No future leader of Muslim-majority Bangladesh would dare tamper with such insertions in the constitution for fear of being impolitic and unpopular.

The calculations of military-turned-civilianised leaders have proven right; for even secularist Awami League [which is now ruling the country] retained those provisions in the constitution formalising non-separation of religion from the state.

It is somewhat like building a mosque or setting up an organisation in an illegally occupied land after the name of high ruling party dignitary or renaming national airport as Shahjalal International Airport secure in the belief of immunity to change. This is a trapdoor of legitimisation, so to speak.

Leave aside the lighter side of the story, recall the how, why and what of the incidents of violence, vandalism and pillage that swept through Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Patia in varying degrees. Imagine that Bangladesh was not caught up in the waves of the violent reactions triggered by a US video clip "Innocence of Muslim" sweeping through a large number of Muslim countries where lives were lost. Bangladesh by and large went sober with its protests which practically died down as quickly as they raged. It was a sign of maturity of our people who thought it was against the true spirit of Islam to be retaliatory to freaky products of paranoid minds. Better ignore such stuffs.

But surely there were quarters who were grudgingly looking at the passage of an opportunity to demonstrate their ugly face of vengeful, bigoted, reprisal. They were waiting in the wings to contrive a pretext to desecrate religious temples including holy texts and archives going back to centuries-old religious-cultural heritage in these parts of the world. So, you see a planted heretical reference in a Facebook, picked up on the mobile and circulated among youngsters. Incitement could get a free play because the ground could be instantly fertilised by the trouble-mongers and thus the rapid-fire spread of the message and the consequent destruction wreaked on prized possessions of a peace-loving community.

The evil machinations of a few bought silence or tacit support of many or maybe participation of some as the dark hands of inhumanity went about their perverse business. Even what the Babri mosque desecration couldn't do, a technology trick has done so venomously. This was almost like copycatting a Pakistani Christian girl's attempted tainting by a cleric who shoving in heretical material into her bag with what consequences one only knows too well not to see replayed on a different target.

If the evildoers played politics with religion so are the politicians fishing in the mucky waters trying to make political capital out of a communal aberration. The politicisation of the environ can impede any serious effort to bring to light the masterminds and frontline actors of the destructive swipe.

As an afterthought, vigil has been mounted on vulnerable places in the country's southeast and all sorts of peace-making conferences and marches have been set afoot. These are like putting balm on a sore not having acted in time to prevent the catastrophe in the first place.

What happened in Ramu where Buddhists and Muslims have lived together for centuries in perfect harmony is as bad as pulling down of the 53 metre long Lord Buddha's statue dating back to 8th-9th century in the Bamiyan Valley by the Taliban. What a badge of perversity we have put on in a country generally reputed for peaceful coexistence between faiths and religious denominations!

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.


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