Looking beyond a veto
By Shahid Alam
Oct 10, 2004, 12:19
But this piece is not about the US veto. It is about Islamic fundamentalism and its extremist manifestation that makes it easy for many Western nations, indeed other religions, to target Islam as a religion that purportedly encourages terrorism, and the vast majority of Muslims across the globe, emphatically tempered in their views about their own and other religions, as at least having a soft corner for terrorist activities. Consequently, the overwhelming number of Muslims has to live with a stigma that they do not even remotely deserve, and be subjected to both subtle and overt negative predisposition in foreign lands. That is harsh. An empirical study to support this view has just come out in the United States, where the population sample surveyed has yielded the result that 25 percent of Americans have a negative image of Muslims, 26 percent believes that Muslims teach violence and hatred, and 27 percent perceives Muslims as valuing human life less than other people. That is a telling number (approximately 70 million Americans) with a dim view of the adherents of the Islamic faith. Significantly, Genesis Research conducted the survey for the Council on American Islam Relation (CAIR), an organization run by Muslims, and a similar result may emerge in several other Western nations. The chairman of CAIR may fume that “an outrageous number” has “these thoughts or stereotypes or misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims“, but to attribute such imaging solely to a Western (or American) mindset would be erroneous. In fact, the blame probably lies, as much as anyone, with the preaching and activities of fundamentalist-extremist Muslims all across the globe.
… … Unfortunately, the extremist acts of a few fundamentalists make for a total distortion about the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims (even this shameful designation is an offshoot of the preaching and actions of the radical fundamentalists) and their religion itself. This is a crime against humanity, and a big portion of that humanity happens to be Muslims.
Closer to home, fundamentalism is conceivably creating serious image problems for the country and its vast majority of moderate Muslim citizenry. Their worrying pronouncements, threatened and actual activities, if allowed to spread, will only provide powerful ammunition to those who would be happy to label Bangladesh as a fundamentalist country in sympathy with terrorist acts. In fact, it could easily lead to an image of the BNP-Jamaat-IOJ-JP alliance government as being dominated by the distinct minority fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islam party.
And the Jamaat leaders have publicly declared their intent to turn this country into one run according to strict Islamic tenets, in the process obviating its proud tradition of innate secularism in the general population. A few other fundamentalist parties, including the IOJ component of the alliance, have repeatedly been publicly advocating for immediate implementation of a religion-based polity in place of a man-made (i.e., secular) system of government. The fundamentalists, apparently not caring about the danger that so many Muslims are facing as a reaction to their angry extremist acts, would have no qualms in taking this country back to medieval times.
The anti-Ahmadiyya fundamentalist onslaught, verbal, demanding and active, is a case of a tiny minority out to disgrace Bangladesh by senseless fanaticism. The image that comes out is that of a country dominated by Islamic extremists against whom the government is helpless to act. Or, more ominously, that it is unwilling to act. In which case that troubling perception of the small minority partner calling the shots gains credence. The image of a religion intolerant of other faiths also makes an appearance. The religious fanatics have also vowed to put a stop to women playing football and engaging in competitive swimming. The Bangladesh Football Federation has admirably declared its intention not to give in, but it behooves the government to step in and firmly and decisively deal with the opprobrious actions of a few fanatics who are giving Islam and Muslims a bad name, especially from a country where secular moderation is a way of life. The poison being introduced into the body politic of the country has to be neutralized if Bangladesh is to escape being labeled a suspect state.
There are enough people around the world who are waiting for every opportunity to take target practice at Islam and Muslims. The US thrives in isolating an enemy to focus its foreign (and domestic) policies on. Without explicitly saying so, Islamic extremists (as well as fundamentalists), as distinct from other religious extremists, are its new enemy. And not just the United States; many other nations implicitly frown on Islam and Muslims precisely because Islamic extremism has become a terrible manifestation to them. There are persistent allegations of fundamentalists being placed in sensitive government and autonomous positions in Bangladesh, often with the blessings and knowledge of the alliance government. In this context, it will not be difficult to fathom the rise of persistent calls for a theocracy, attack on Ahmadiyyas, ban on women sports and other troubling matters.
If government officials are in sensitive positions to influence policy towards a fundamentalist bent, and if the government at the very least turns a blind eye to open fundamentalist acts that make a mockery of liberal pluralist democracy and human rights, then it will not escape the opprobrium, real or perceived, of promoting religious fundamentalism over liberal secularism, of running an administration and formulating policies primarily according to the dictates of a distinct faction within it, of being, in fact, out of tune with the real world. That would be a heavy burden to bear. The clock is ticking with an urgent intensity.
© Copyright 2003 by The New Nation