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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Asia / Africa / Americas - Carribean / The Pacific / International > AL Shoots Itself In The Foot

Bangladesh: Secular nationalists sign a deal with the fundamentalists

AL Shoots Itself In The Foot

by Mahfuz Anam (in: The Daily Star, December 27, 2006)

Monday 14 May 2007

What a tribute the Awami League has paid to the martyrs of the Liberation War in the very month of our victory. There was perhaps no better way to ’honour’ the intellectuals who were brutally killed on 13th of December, 1971 for a modern, scientific and secular Bangladesh than by signing a deal with Islamic extremists and pledging to permit fatwa, introduce shariah laws, and basically to lay the foundation for a religious state in the future.

We have known for a while that our politics had become unprincipled, opportunistic and devoid of all ethical considerations. BNP and its allies shocked and surprised us during the last five years. Now AL has shown that it is equally capable of a betrayal of values and ethics in politics. We knew that ’anything to gain power’ was the most favourite game of our leaders. We saw with our heads bowed in shame the tussle between Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina to get the man, who was singularly responsible for taking us down the unbridled corruption route, on their side. Earlier, in 2001 we had seen how the party formed by our war hero Ziaur Rahman, who had fought side by side with freedom fighters to liberate Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistani occupiers and collaborators of Jamaat, embraces those very collaborators and take as partners in government. (Imagine if the war had gone the other way, wouldn’t this very Jamaat have rejoiced to see Ziaur Rahman swing from the gallows on charge of “treason” against Pakistan?)

As if from a sense of having fallen behind in the game of deceit, chicanery and opportunism the party that led us during the Liberation War buried the central values of our independence struggle and signed a dangerous deal with the most conservative and extremist fringe of the so-called Islamic parties, which, in effect, lays the foundation for a future religious state. It is as if the Awami League has sold its soul for a few votes.

How could the AL agree, if elected to power, to “enact laws allowing certified Hakkani Alems to issue fatwas”? Why do we need a law declaring Prophet

Mohammad (pbh) as the ultimate and the greatest of prophets? To every Muslim he has been and will be the Greatest Prophet, no law can glorify him more, and no lack of law reduces an iota of the glory that Allah has bestowed upon him. Now that there is no such law, are we honouring our Prophet any less?

The real purpose here is not to respect the Prophet but to get a cover of legality to oppress people who are termed as different. The undeclared message here is that such a law will make it possible to declare the Ahmedias (a distinct group within the Muslims) as non-Muslims. Then there is a pledge to enact a law that will ban criticisms of the Prophet and his disciples. Good Muslims never criticise the Prophet. But why should we ban any discussion about the activities of his disciples? This is nothing but a camouflaged attempt to enact a blasphemy law.

Then there is the pledge to implement the BNP-alliance government’s decision to recognise the degrees awarded by the Qwami madrasas. To her credit Khaleda Zia resisted this pressure for the better part of her tenure and conceded to it at the very end much to the dismay of academics, educationists and modernists in general. The decision was neither well thought out, nor was it the product of any research as to its impact on education in general. The AL could have easily agreed to examine the proposal without pledging to implement something that nobody knows the impact of. This is a good example of how policy pledges are made without either any knowledge of their substance or assessment of their impact.

On Monday, on behalf of the 14-party alliance its coordinator and AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil issued a statement reiterating the alliance’s commitment to secularism, uprooting anti-liberation forces, and upholding democracy. Interestingly, no mention was made in it about the deal signed earlier with the Khelafet-e-Majlish. Only the day before Mr. Jalil defended his deal, which he called a ’MOU’ and not an agreement, on national TV saying that he had no objection to fatwas from qualified Alems. He even justified that position bysaying that it will stop fatwas coming from unqualified and uneducated village mullahs.

Who are these ’qualified’ Alems? What makes them ’qualified’ to rise above the law of the land? Will this not bring into effect a parallel legal system alongside the existing one? Does our constitution permit a dual legal system? Power to enact fatwas gives these Alems power over our life, our family relations and our property. Signing the deal as it stands (we published the full text in yesterday’s paper) has basically laid the foundation of destruction of our constitution, our legal system and our way of life. In fact, it is a blue print for a different Bangladesh, not the one we have now and not the one for which millions died. It really amounts to destruction of modern Bangladesh created in 1971. (Has Mr Jalil considered the possibility that legalising fatwa will empower Mr. Amini to declare that no woman can be the prime minister of Bangladesh? What will happen to his “Nettri” then?)

If Awami League is serious about implementing the “MOU” after coming to power then it will have to effectively bury its ideological foundation and whatever little was left of its principles. If, on the other hand, the “MOU” is a ploy to hoodwink the so-called “Islamic vote bank”, then the AL has sunk to the lowest ebb of political morality where it can say anything to anybody just to gain support prior to elections. This means that the party cannot be trusted. Whatever pledge it makes to the people will be like the “MOU” with the Khelafat, a time serving device to be discarded once in power. Is this Mr. Jalil’s message in taking so much pain to distinguish between an ’agreement’ and an ’MOU’?

The AL must really believe that we, the people, are a bunch of fools to be taken for a ride and hoodwinked at will. Well, people may have a surprise for such clever people. The deal shows that the party is so desperate and hungry to go to power that it can discard its founding principles, make pledges against what it proclaimed to stand for since its birth and embrace anybody as an ally, even people who really would prefer to see them destroyed.

The truth of the matter is that both the BNP and AL have, over the years, removed all moral underpinnings of their actions. There is no ethical anchor to their politics, and as such, everything is a ’game’ in their bid for power. This degeneration has not happened overnight and it has deteriorated over the last several decades starting from Ershad era. The tragedy is that the democratic governments did not stem the tide, they in fact added impetus to the process of decline of morality in politics.

There is a direct link with the rise of corruption in the country and the decline of ethics and moral values in our politics. The last regime of Khaleda Zia set newer records of corruption that put to shame what we saw during the Ershad era. The creation of “Hawa Bhaban” as the alternative source of power opened up the floodgate of corruption led by family members of the former prime minister.

We deliberately waited a couple of days before writing this commentary, hoping that the AL would realise the blunder of its action and retract. It has not yet done so, meaning that it was a well thought out action. Instead, it has issued an eyewash statement insisting on standing for a secular Bangladesh built, we suppose, on the fatwas of the ’certified’ Alems. This deal proves how desperate the AL leadership is for going to power. If such be the level of morality then we, the voters, have very little to expect from them.

Are we condemned to vote only to replace one corrupt, intellectually bankrupt and morally depraved group by another? The Awami League probably thinks that its vote bank is guaranteed. The secularists among them will grumble and protest but will vote for them at the end, the logic being they have nowhere else to go. So there is nothing to worry about. Well, if the view of a very small group of AL die-hards is any indication, they may not have the heart to vote for the BNP but they will not vote for the AL. All of them said that they would cancel their votes in protest.

This is a reaction that the AL will be well-advised to take note of.

(Source: The Daily Star, December 27, 2006)