By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Dec 30, 2015
While an uneasy calm may have descended on Bangladesh lately, it is not certain that such a scenario will be everlasting. The country swings between supporters of the two principal figures in Bangladesh politics: the strong willed Sheikh Hasina and the equally stubborn Begum Khaleda Zia. Their political differences have polarized the country along party lines.
To some observers, the Sheikh Hasina government is trying to pursue a course of secular democracy. In the process, it has also demanded and enforced strict punishment including the death penalty for those nationals deemed traitors during the Bangladeshi war of liberation. Several suspected collaborators have so far been convicted and sentenced to death. In protests over the trials between the government and opposition forces, there have been hundreds of deaths.
Khaleda Zia’s supporters on the other hand object to the need to bring individuals to trial, charging that such steps are a witch-hunt against any opposition figure brave enough to criticize the government’s policies, and demanding that the government cease its unrelenting crackdown on religious figures and parties as well. Her party is also seen as lending moral support to opposition figures who have mustered enough forces on the street to form a formidable opposition.
Khaleda Zia’s party has been accused of discreetly fostering the Hefajat-e-Islam party. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of their supporters blocked highways and fought in violent battles with the police, bringing the capital city of Dhaka to a standstill as they demanded an anti-blasphemy law that would carry the death penalty for the guilty. In the process of the bloody confrontation, many died and hundreds were injured in the Bangladeshi capital.
The Hefajat-e-Islam party also mobilized an estimated 200,000 supporters onto the streets of the capital protesting their demands. Rioting erupted after police tried to block protesters from gathering in front of the country’s largest mosque. The protesters were streaming into Dhaka from remote villages, and when news of the confrontation broke out, trouble then spread to other districts of Dhaka.
The Hefajat-e-Islam party, whose battle cry during this confrontation was “One point, One demand: Atheists must be hanged,” trudged along six major highways, blocking all transport between Dhaka and other cities. One leader of a group of protesters chanted: “This government does not have faith in Allah. This is an atheist government; we will not allow them to live in Bangladesh. Muslims are brothers, we must protect Islam.”
Another demanded the strict implementation of Shariah laws in a country were the government is seen as sliding away from religious boundaries. This is not the first time that this group has demonstrated forcibly on the capital’s streets. Similar demands included a call for an anti-blasphemy law, which the government rebuffed by stating that such a law was already on the books and needed no further revision.
The Hefajat-e-Islam party has introduced 13 demands, which also include a ban on the free mingling of men and women and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution. Those who oppose their calls fear that such demands would mean the Talibanization of their country. Those most vocal were female workers in the garment industry, a key source of foreign exchange in the country, who fear that such laws may mean the loss of jobs.
It is a difficult call for Bangladeshis today, divided as they remain. However, if there is any consolation, one must look at other countries for examples of the road ahead. In most countries where Islamic Shariah was brutally implemented, the populace suffered under the manipulations of political radicalization covertly disguised under the banner of Islam.
It has happened before in Afghanistan, Nigeria and in Pakistan. Shariah laws were usually a cover for unfettered government corruption and control. Those who dared speak out were often imprisoned on religious grounds and had their rights denied. Corruption and disregard for human rights flourished; the exact opposite of what Shariah laws intended! Such is not the way of Islam. Muslim dominated countries facing internal maladies often spring such laws on their people in the hope of diverting their attention from real problems. In the process, the rights of citizens are crushed and strewn on the roadway, all in the name of Islam. Immoral as it is, it has happened before and will continue.
The politicization of our religion has become an everyday trend. And it is not restricted to governments. Terror groups such as Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) or Al-Qaeda all chant verses from the Holy Qur’an while they go about their murderous missions. The powers behind such mobs usually have the virtues of Islam as the last thing on their minds.