Mubashar Hasan

Ramu assault: It is politics not religion

October 9, 2012

PM_11With a great interest and a heavy heart, I’ve been following the media analysis of Ramu attack. The reason for my interest is based on my present research work where I am examining the scholarly debate of religion and politics and its relevance to South Asia. On the other hand, being a proud young Bangladeshi who always dreamt of raising his kid in Bangladesh, the news of Ramu attack was heart wrenching, even though not surprising, considering our political context.

However, what is more worrying for me is the limited view taken by most of the analysts on Ramu Attack. It is not an exaggeration, if I argue that one of the dominant narratives coined in by the media analysts as well as influential civil society members including Dr. Mizanur Rahman of National Human rights Commission, is based on the identification of the secular-religio philosophical foundation of Bangladesh as an instrumental discourse behind the Ramu attack. A brief summary of this narrative underpins the need for a religion free political context where religion based political parties should not be allowed to operate.

From an idealistic point of view, this recommendation looks fine. Nonetheless, if one looks closely, the danger of this narrative is that, it does not even go close to addressing the real problem. Overall, it has three major limitations: a) it fails to take notice the identity dynamics of people and local-central dynamics of political parties; b) it ignores the nature of our political context where people are used as a mean to achieving power and c) it fails to understand that philosophical foundation of Bangladeshi state is not real the problem, the problem is the political culture of Bangladesh.

Firstly, a number of news reports finding underpins involvement of all party members (Jamaat, BNP, Awami League) in this heinous and shameful assault. In my opinion, it’s an important finding in widening our perspective in understanding Ramu attack. A major point that requires attention from this finding is to noticing the identity dynamics of people and local-national paradigm of contemporary politics. What I mean by this is that, for example, it would be too naïve to consider that all Awami members believe in communal-harmony and all Jamaat-BNP denounce communal harmony. In reality, a person can be a Muslim, a father, a neighbour, a son, a husband, an Awami League or BNP activist who could believe or not believe in communal harmony. Now it is hard to define which identity determines their specific actions every day. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen deals with this identity dynamic in his book ‘Identity and Violence’ in greater detail. Therefore, wholesale blame game on specific political party activists not only will jeopardize the hope of receiving somewhat objective findings regarding the situation but also such mentality only legitimizes illegitimate actions taken by people who publicly belong to the parties which theoretically believes in communal harmony.

Ramu attack further underpins the local-national dynamic featuring our politics today. There is no doubt that the major decisions regarding party policy and actions are taken at the capacity of major leaders, if not few influential ones. However, what constitutes actions of party wings or activists in everyday life in local areas, situating miles away from the capital city, is the dynamics of local context where political identities become less significant. The coordinated attack on the Buddhists’ temple participated by all party members, as claimed by the news reports, underpins the local-national dynamics of politics today. This brings me back to my original point which says accusing Islamists, fundamentalists only will ignore the reality of the situation on the ground, because it seems, secularists-nationalists-Islamists all were involved in this case. Ignoring such important factor only underpins the paucity of insightful analysis on the attack.

Secondly, reactions based on blaming rivals from major political figures in our country expose, yet again, the true nature of our politics. Peoples’ development and protection seems not the end goal of politics here. Rather people are only used as the mean to achieve power at the time of election. The result of such hypocrisy includes, increasing corruption, nepotism as well as events such as arson at Buddhists temple, MC College and the list could go on. It is noteworthy to remember that this is a country where political contest between elites resulted in number of killings of the elites in home and in streets where masses are caught between false paradigm of ideological distinctions and promises of real independence. The politics here is dirty and there should be little disagreement about that. However, that does not necessarily mean all politicians are dirty and in my opinion the real hope beams on the team of young politicians.

Finally, would anyone believe that against the backdrop of no change in current political culture, secularization of Bangladesh will not see any more assault on minorities? What is secularism anyway? Most people underpin the state neutrality in terms of religion and separation of religion from politics. In fact it does not exist in most of the world, including the western democracies. However, that does not necessarily mean that people are engaged in assaulting minorities in those places. On the other hand, inclusion of religion in state politics does not necessarily mean that secular institutions of a state will somehow influence religious discrimination.

In support of this point, I like to highlight a research findings published in the Comparative Politics, one of the influential academic journals on political science in the world (Synopsis available here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20072892). In 2005, two political scientists, Jonathan Fox and Shumel Sandler examined ‘five aspects’ of the separation of the religion and politics in the western European countries, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Muslims majority countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Turkey, Israel and Iran. Those aspects are: a) the structural relationship between religion and the state (the existence of an official religion or the legal position of religion within the state) and the status of minority religions, b) restriction or banning of or provision of benefits to some religions but not others); c) discrimination against minority religion and d) regulation of the majority religion; and e) legislation of religion. In the findings, they find Muslim countries are lagging behind the western liberal democracies. However what is striking for Fox and Sandler is that ‘there is clearly a significant amount of government involvement in religion in western democracies’ as according to their findings 80.8% of western democracies support some religion over others either officially or practically; half restrict at least one minority religion or benefits to some religions and not others; 61.5% engage in some form of religious discrimination and every western democracy …legislates some aspect of religion. The only type of religious practice eschewed by most western democracies seems to be the regulation of the majority religion.

This finding only strengthens my argument that says problem is not the philosophical foundation of the state; problem is not the religion, the major problem here is lack of political will, good governance and the dirty politics. Therefore, analysis and recommendations of the Ramu attack must keep an open mind and consider the identity formation of people and local-national dynamics in our politics. Once the behaviour of political context will change, debating about religion-politics-secularism would bring more conclusive result unlike now which seems gullible by all means.

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Mubashar Hasan is a doctoral candidate at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Australia.

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14 Responses to “ Ramu assault: It is politics not religion ”

  1. Toshia Benbenek on November 13, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I was reading this post (very well written btw), and it made me think of a new book I recently had the opportunity to read. As I enjoyed the subject matter of the book and of this post, thought I would take the opportunity to share it.

  2. shefarul sheikh on October 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    I think this is not only political but also religion. I heard a Nagorik Committee member saying that this attack was for religion, not political.

  3. Bond Boy bd on October 11, 2012 at 11:08 am

    “A brief summary of this narrative underpins the need for a religion free political context where religion based political parties should not be allowed to operate.”

    Quoting the above from the article, I would like to draw the attention of the writer that if religion based politics is allowed in other parts of the world in many countries including India, then what is wrong if it is introduced in Bangladesh! Or is it only Islamic parties that you were talking about?

    • Mubashar Hasan on October 12, 2012 at 6:20 am

      That is a different debate and requires different context.

      • Mubashar Hasan on October 12, 2012 at 6:50 am

        I said here that attackers belongs to all party. So turning a blind eye to own party members who participated in assault would be as devastating as hurting the feelings of victims. I’ve to say that your comment as a whole only exposes your lack of intellectual capacity to understand what is being said here.

        • Mubashar Hasan on October 12, 2012 at 6:51 am

          sorry this comment is meant for Momota not for you bondy boy

  4. Momota on October 11, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Mr. Mubashar,
    I completely disagree with your convoluted and distorted views regarding Ramu attack. You are not the first and won’t be the last person to present us such a spin-doctored view.

    Let me explain categorically what happened there.

    1.The perpetrators of all those attacks were all Bengali Muslims and some Rohingyas, irrespective of their political affiliation. I can tell you for sure that no Bengali Hindus or Christians took part in the attack. So, Bengali and Rohingya Muslim mob attacked the minority Buddhist communities and burned their temples and seminaries. Still, as per your view, it’s not a communal attack. If such a clear cut case doesn’t make a communal attack, I am not sure what actually your definition of communal attack would be.

    2. It’s a well known fact in Bangladesh that the minorities never get justice or any sort of state support even when their life and existence are in jeopardy. They are so weak that even after the attack they were afraid to tell the police the name of the goons. As usual, cops didn’t even try to stop the attack, and I didn’t see any reinforcement with paramilitary forces either.

    3. Let’s think of a hypothetical scenario. Suppose, the minority Buddhists were going to attack a mosque (it’s a hypothetical scenario as practically BD minorities are too weak as well as not too much religiously indoctrinated), what would the cops do then? I am pretty sure that cops would try their best to protect the mosque. This proves that BD cops are not neutral state machineries as they are supposed to be.

    4. You and I, both live in the West. In city of NY, after September 11/2001 attack, a lot of Christian neighbours went to their Muslim neighbour’s house to assuage their concern. It’s simply unthinkable in Bangladesh.

    If you can’t help the affected Buddhists on the case, fine. But, don’t rub salt to their wound. Have the courage to call spade a spade.

    • Mubashar Hasan on October 12, 2012 at 6:18 am

      I think, by no mean I am saying here that it is not communal attack. So before completely disagreeing with me and accusing me of spin doctoring, you could’ve read closely what is the actual point of this writing. The point is the political context is violent where communal attack takes place. The context is violent because political culture is dirty. In short Budhist Mandirs are on fire because many other buildings in this country caught in fire in this violent context. So if you want to turn a blind eye from overall context, it’s your choice.

    • Shafi on October 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Ms. Momota

      Well, point 1 is irrelevant to Mr. Hassan’s piece. The author never called this heinous attack a non-communal attack on the Buddhist community in Ramu – his point was that dirty communal politics was prevalent across the board. The major parties pander to extremist elements to gain legitimacy – to appear to defend Islam “whenever it is required.”

      Point 2 refers to the last paragraph where Mr. Hassan discusses the importance of rule of law and a civilized political culture.

      3 is hypothetical but given the history in Bangladesh very likely. However, this doesn’t address the issue as to why the Buddhist community was attacked in the first place. This is what Mr. Hassan tried to explain – the culture of politics where identity (nurtured and promoted by the political groups themselves) trumps policy every time. The out-groups change from time to time to suit the political motives and are blamed by the political parties for anything and everything.

      4 is just incomplete comparison – There have been numerous post 9-11 atrocities perpetrated towards Sikhs and Muslims in US which continues to this day. In addition, Mr. Hassan and yours truly are currently in the West to undertake Doctoral studies. We have been here for a short time and are not residents of the West.

      In conclusion, you completely missed the point. I would suggest the reader to read the entire article carefully before making such wide and sweeping remarks. This kind of knee-jerk reactions are one of the reasons why these people could be duped into doing what they did.

    • Kazi Saifuddin Hossain on October 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm

      Would like to differ on some points that you have made.

      1. You have categorized Bangladeshi people in general as hate-campaigners or at least biased Muslims. But the fact is that a handful of rowdy fanatics attacked the holy sites. It now transpires that the desecration was politically motivated (I will not point fingers, though). And,

      2. Some brave Muslims did stand up against the perpetrators and protected their neighbors in distress and the holy sites. I must say that no one in the US played such a role when Muslims were under retaliatory attacks following 9/11.

      • Momota on October 13, 2012 at 1:23 am

        Would like to differ on your points.

        1.As per media, thousands of people attacked the Buddhist monasteries, not a handful of rowdy people. As per one YouTube video, a mob of about 25,000 attacked the temples.

        2.I was in NY in 2001. It is not Bangladesh where even cops are biased.

        3. There are always movies made in West that portrays Jesus Christ in bad light. But, I have never seen people loss all their senses and attack/kill people from difference religion for that. West is way too liberal for that. Something, that some of the religiously indoctrinated people would never understand.

        • Kazi Saifuddin Hossain on October 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm

          I am not in favor of violent protests. Response should be intellectual to these profane movies. No, the West is not liberal, hypocritical, rather. You can get orders from courts to enforce upon the media to hand over naked photos of the Duchess, yet you cannot enforce any law to stop this demeaning movie that hurts the sensitivities of Muslims all around the globe!

          This shameful attack on the holy sites is the only one since time immemorial. I have pointed out in my earlier response that it was politically motivated. You haven’t touched upon that point of mine.

          You live in the West, so it would be all praises from you for the land that you live in. But the fact is that the West is behind all the chaos and confusion that goes on in the Third World countries nowadays. The US is the war-monger and is fighting a losing battle in Afghanistan. They didn’t learn from Vietnam at all.

          Finally, do you agree with the insults in the media that are being directed to the icons of religion like Jesus, Moses, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Buddha and Sree Krishna? Is this the behavior of a civilized people? The UN Charter on religious rights is constantly being violated in the West. A world of hypocrites I would say! Furthermore, what about Assange and his Wikileaks? Where is the freedom of expression now, when he revealed all the hypocrisies and irregularities in the US state party?

        • robaet ferdous, dhaka university on October 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

          thanks momota for the analysis…

  5. farook uz zaman on October 10, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Dear Mubashar,
    Although Western governments claim to be secular, every day proceedings of the House of Parliament begins the day’s proceedings with a prayer meeting behind closed doors. How hypocritical!

    If the West did not give any weight to religion, they would have left religion to go its own way down under. It is not the case since they try every stratagem to belittle religion due to sheer ignorance and their arrogance. They consider themselves self-sufficient. Such was the end of arrogant generations before. They see the signs of creation, yet turn their face away from the Master Creator.

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