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Understanding the Shahbag Upsurge

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  • Sukla Sen
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?284278 OPINION Kerbside History The world mustn’t misinterpret a country’s fight for its syncretic soul NAZES
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 14, 2013
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      http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?284278

      OPINION
      Kerbside History
      The world mustn’t misinterpret a country’s fight for its syncretic soul

      Several misconceptions are afloat around the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, as well as the Shahbag Square protests, that are putting pressure on the government to take concrete steps against the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh.

      Critics of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) have voiced reservations about the process of the trial, some have dubbed it ‘unfair’. Another allegation is that the trials are being used against political rivals and ‘opposition’ political figures. Such concerns have percolated through the western media, lobbied by a well-oiled PR machinery working on behalf of a few leading Jamaat figures.

      What these detractors fail to understand is that the country, after sending a powerful army back to the barracks through a popular uprising in 1989, is trying its best to get back to its founding principles—the syncretic secular values of the Bengali culture. It is also extremely important for them to have a closure to events surrounding the ’71 war of liberation—a massively emotive issue among a majority of Bangladeshis, both in the country and abroad. The ict is a major step towards these goals.

      The country and the state hasn’t created lynch mobs or death squads, or set up summary trials and simply kill opposition leaders, many of whom had admitted to have been involved in the atrocities committed in 1971. The ict is pursuing the rule of law—however flawed—based on established norms. Also, let us not forget that the establishment of such special tribunals have always been a matter of huge debate all over the world—hailed or abused depending on which side tends to be on trial.

      One sees mostly simplistic commentaries in the Indian and the international media. The huge gatherings at Shahbag Square are not about demanding death for a few Jamaat leaders. It is a lot more than that. It is going to decide which way Bangladesh will turn—towards its secular base founded on syncretism, or towards religious extremism, an alien concept imported by the Jamaat.

      Leading figures of the current movement that calls itself ‘Generation 70’ did not even witness the war of liberation in ’71 and the atrocities committed by the brutal Pakistani army and its collaborators—Jamaat-led groups like Razakars and al-Badar. Memories of those atrocities have been etched forever in the collective consciousness of the nation. But this younger generation is not just drawing inspiration from memories; one must keep in mind that many of them did lose near and dear ones, killed by the collaborators. Not surprisingly, their demand for justice for the 1971 atrocities resonated with Bangladeshis, and they spontaneously began converging on Shahbag Square.

      In a way, this younger generation has been able to rekindle the spirit of the 1952 language movement, which was  mounted against attempts by the ruling West Pakistani elite to impose Urdu as the national language on the Bengali-speaking East Pakistan. That year also laid the foundation for a dream of a secular nation, a dream fulfilled in 1971 after a mass uprising followed by a bloody, nine-month war. Similarly, a multitude poured on to the streets in December 1989, fought pitched battles with soldiers, and forced the military dictatorship to abdicate power.

      What these crucial events in the history of Bangladesh establish is that its people have a tremendous capacity to correct the path of its polity whenever it veered away from its core value of liberal syncretism.

      Jamaat, an extension of the Salafist doctrine, is a living refutation of these Bangladeshi ideals. Hence, throughout the ’80s and the ’90s, targets of Jamaat and its associated terror groups such as JMB (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh), JMJB (Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh) or HUJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami) were the progressive, secular elements of society and rural women empowered by NGOs.

      The Jamaat is also in a desperate struggle. They can sense the rising public sentiment against them; thus they have embarked on a path of violent confrontation with the state. By blaming India, Hindus in Bangladesh and orchestrating attacks on minorities, they are merely trying to divert attention from the real issues.

      The Shahbag Square uprising, fuelled by the elite, middle class and subalterns alike—in sharp contrast to the Anna Hazare-led movement in India—finds Bangladesh in another watershed moment in its history. The world is witnessing a course correction of momentous nature, but unfortunately fails to grasp its importance. Like 1952 and 1971, this uprising appears to be the beacon that will decide Bangladesh’s future.


      (The writer is former executive editor for South and West Asia of the BBC World Service)


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      Peace Is Doable
    • Ghulam Muhammed
      Regret Shukla Sen should leave out the main story, in the same issue of Outlook. I am taking the liberty of righting the wrong. People should know all sides of
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 14, 2013
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        Regret Shukla Sen should leave out the main story, in the same issue of Outlook. I am taking the liberty of righting the wrong. People should know all sides of the developing story and the resultant realities on the ground in very near future.

        Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai
        <ghulammuhammed3@...>

        -------------

        http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?284276

        AP
        Like a tiger A protester at Shahbag Square in Dhaka
        bangladesh: jamaat-e-islami

        The Monster Breathes Air
        The Jamaat-e-Islami isn’t all villainy. India needs to engage with this part of Bangladesh.

        S.N.M. Abdi

        Truth About Jamaat

        • Labelled fundamentalist, the Jamaat (right, Jamaat leader Sayedee, who was sentenced to death after being held guilty for crimes in ’71) isn’t guilty of sectarian violence against Hindus
        • Hindus, often oppressed economically, have their lives secure
        • The BJI has relinquished its goal of establishing the ‘rule of Allah’; also promised to reserve 33 per cent organisational posts for women

        ***

        The best thing about Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI) is that it doesn’t kill Hindus simply because of their faith. To be honest, the Jamaat pales into insignificance before monstrous Hindutva outfits that regularly target Muslims in India. This is the plain truth about the much-maligned Islamic party next door. Of course, Indian and western media don’t allow facts to get in the way of a good story. In their coverage of the escalating unrest—the ongoing war crimes trials, the Shahbag Square protests, and the flaring up of tension after Jamaat leader Delwar Hossein Sayedee was sentenced to death over atrocities committed in 1971—the Jamaat is relentlessly dem­onised. The latest political turmoil has claimed 84 lives, mainly Jamaat cadres gunned down by security forces.

        Outlook was on board the Boeing 747 President Pranab Mukherjee flew to Dhaka in even as Bangladesh literally bur­ned. Indian high commission offici­als sweating it out on the tarmac were relieved once ‘Big Brother’ had arrived in a Jumbo Jet. “The size of the  aircraft matters, yaar. It sends the right message to the host, it exudes power,” a first secretary remarked smugly. But the ground situation in the capital city was so scary that when artillery pieces boomed in a ceremonial welcome for the Indian president, some in the entourage mistook it for police firing and were visibly shaken.

        Anti-Jamaat demonstrations at Dhaka’s Shahbag Square by secular-liberal forces and spiralling countrywide violence has turned the spotlight on the BJI, which went on the offensive after February 28, when Sayedee was handed the death sentence. It’s an electoral ally of former PM Begum Khaleda Zia’s Ban­gladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), lab­elled anti-India, unlike Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League, widely perceived as pro-India. The two parties, backed by their coalition partners, are contenders for power in elections due next year, if they can agree upon the composition of a neutral interim administration—a con­stitutional requirement to ensure fair elections.

        Even as the Awami League government takes on the Jamaat, does it constitute a clear and present threat to India? Jamaatis are con­spicuous even in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, beca­use they sport a beard and a skull cap. But does wearing Islam on their sleeves turn them into sworn enemies of India, or Hindus, who comprise 10 per cent of Bangladesh’s population? Is the Jamaat anti-India, or anti-Hindu, or both?

        Neither Indian diplomats in Dhaka nor Hindu community leaders can recall a murder of a Hindu for purely religious reasons in years. Hindus have been kil­led by BNP-Jamaat followers, but were essentially victims of political vendetta. They were targeted not as Hindus, but because they were perceived as adversa­ries owing allegiance to the Awami Lea­gue. It can be compared with political violence in West Bengal, where CPI(M)-Trinamool clashes  reg­ularly claim lives of political workers—many of them Muslims, and from either party.

         

         

        Indian diplomats in Dhaka or Hindu community leaders can’t recall a Hindu being killed for religious reasons.
         

         
        A spokesman for the Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (HBCUC) told Outlook that an elderly priest of a Hindu temple in Banskhali near Chittagong was beaten to death hours after Sayedee was sentenced on February 28, but Ind­ian high commission officials insist that the death didn’t have religious overto­nes. Interestingly, in December 2012, a Hindu youth called Biswajit Das was killed in a union clash by members of the Awami League’s students’ wing, Chhatra League, in broad daylight. The 24-year-old victim was captured on camera scr­eaming that he was an apolitical Hindu. Biswajit’s gruesome, cold-bloo­ded mur­der has blotted the Awami League’s copybook.

        Bangladeshi Hindus may not live under the shadow of the sword, but life for them is not a bed of roses either. The vicious attacks they suffer are economic in nature, but wreak havoc nonetheless. Their homes, shops and cultivable land are targeted, forcing them to migrate to India so that their properties can be appropriated. Hindu temples and women are special targets. The temples are desecrated, the women abd­ucted and married after conversion at gunpoint. Even so, the HBCUC spok­esman said that pogroms like Gujarat or Kok­rajhar against the minority community are inconceivable.

        The Jamaat is a key constituent of the BNP-led alliance because its support is crucial in around 80 seats of the 345-strong Bangladesh parliament. And the Jamaat, despite its fundamentalist image, is hardly averse to change. At the election commission’s prodding, it amended its charter, bidding farewell to its goal of establishing the ‘rule of Allah’. And Hindutva poster girls like Sushma Swaraj, Shaina Chudasama, Nirmala Seetharaman, Smriti Irani and Meenakshi Lekhi would be delighted to know that the Jamaat has promised to reserve 33 per cent of organisational posts for women.

        In September 2011, Manmohan Singh famously said that “25 per cent of Ban­gladeshis swear by the Jamaat, are very anti-Indian and are in the clutches of the isi”. However, a pertinent question: what has South Block done to win them over since? New Delhi refuses to have any truck with the Jamaat, and calls it a terrorist outfit in cahoots with Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Indian diplomats have established formal contacts with all political parties in Bangladesh except the BJI. It’s doubtful if they even speak informally. The Jamaat remains a dark mystery for India which has no idea of what’s going on inside it.

        It’s high time India plays ball with the Jamaat. America’s concern for the Jam­aat is pretty evident: it has even shrugged off gratuitous Indian advice to engage only with democratic and secular forces in New Delhi’s backyard. Wash­ington has questioned irregularities in the war crimes trials and told Dhaka that human rights violations won’t be tolerated. The US obviously sees the BJI as a key player in its plans to coronate Kha­leda Zia, even as India finalises its stra­tegy to ensure another term for Sheikh Hasina.


        By S.N.M. Abdi in Dhaka


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        On Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 12:35 PM, Sukla Sen <sukla.sen@...> wrote:
        http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?284278

        OPINION
        Kerbside History
        The world mustn’t misinterpret a country’s fight for its syncretic soul

        Several misconceptions are afloat around the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, as well as the Shahbag Square protests, that are putting pressure on the government to take concrete steps against the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh.

        Critics of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) have voiced reservations about the process of the trial, some have dubbed it ‘unfair’. Another allegation is that the trials are being used against political rivals and ‘opposition’ political figures. Such concerns have percolated through the western media, lobbied by a well-oiled PR machinery working on behalf of a few leading Jamaat figures.

        What these detractors fail to understand is that the country, after sending a powerful army back to the barracks through a popular uprising in 1989, is trying its best to get back to its founding principles—the syncretic secular values of the Bengali culture. It is also extremely important for them to have a closure to events surrounding the ’71 war of liberation—a massively emotive issue among a majority of Bangladeshis, both in the country and abroad. The ict is a major step towards these goals.

        The country and the state hasn’t created lynch mobs or death squads, or set up summary trials and simply kill opposition leaders, many of whom had admitted to have been involved in the atrocities committed in 1971. The ict is pursuing the rule of law—however flawed—based on established norms. Also, let us not forget that the establishment of such special tribunals have always been a matter of huge debate all over the world—hailed or abused depending on which side tends to be on trial.

        One sees mostly simplistic commentaries in the Indian and the international media. The huge gatherings at Shahbag Square are not about demanding death for a few Jamaat leaders. It is a lot more than that. It is going to decide which way Bangladesh will turn—towards its secular base founded on syncretism, or towards religious extremism, an alien concept imported by the Jamaat.

        Leading figures of the current movement that calls itself ‘Generation 70’ did not even witness the war of liberation in ’71 and the atrocities committed by the brutal Pakistani army and its collaborators—Jamaat-led groups like Razakars and al-Badar. Memories of those atrocities have been etched forever in the collective consciousness of the nation. But this younger generation is not just drawing inspiration from memories; one must keep in mind that many of them did lose near and dear ones, killed by the collaborators. Not surprisingly, their demand for justice for the 1971 atrocities resonated with Bangladeshis, and they spontaneously began converging on Shahbag Square.

        In a way, this younger generation has been able to rekindle the spirit of the 1952 language movement, which was  mounted against attempts by the ruling West Pakistani elite to impose Urdu as the national language on the Bengali-speaking East Pakistan. That year also laid the foundation for a dream of a secular nation, a dream fulfilled in 1971 after a mass uprising followed by a bloody, nine-month war. Similarly, a multitude poured on to the streets in December 1989, fought pitched battles with soldiers, and forced the military dictatorship to abdicate power.

        What these crucial events in the history of Bangladesh establish is that its people have a tremendous capacity to correct the path of its polity whenever it veered away from its core value of liberal syncretism.

        Jamaat, an extension of the Salafist doctrine, is a living refutation of these Bangladeshi ideals. Hence, throughout the ’80s and the ’90s, targets of Jamaat and its associated terror groups such as JMB (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh), JMJB (Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh) or HUJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami) were the progressive, secular elements of society and rural women empowered by NGOs.

        The Jamaat is also in a desperate struggle. They can sense the rising public sentiment against them; thus they have embarked on a path of violent confrontation with the state. By blaming India, Hindus in Bangladesh and orchestrating attacks on minorities, they are merely trying to divert attention from the real issues.

        The Shahbag Square uprising, fuelled by the elite, middle class and subalterns alike—in sharp contrast to the Anna Hazare-led movement in India—finds Bangladesh in another watershed moment in its history. The world is witnessing a course correction of momentous nature, but unfortunately fails to grasp its importance. Like 1952 and 1971, this uprising appears to be the beacon that will decide Bangladesh’s future.


        (The writer is former executive editor for South and West Asia of the BBC World Service)


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        Peace Is Doable

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