The carnage orchestrated in Ramu on the 29th and 30th day of September will always be remembered as a dark episode in the history of Bangladesh and Bangladeshi nationalism. We all acknowledge this fact and stand united in expressing solidarity towards our fellow citizens of the Buddhist community who helplessly saw their temples and homes burn that day. However, there are lessons to be learnt from this horrid sequence of events and as each day passes it seems we are failing miserably to learn the relevant lessons. Unfortunately, the actions of our politicians and most importantly the state are a reflection of the things to come and things to expect. While we have managed to politicise every single institution and event in our beloved country, the lesson that an attack on minorities should be viewed and assessed beyond politics has not been learnt.
The honourable home minister’s initial remarks following his visit of the sites where the atrocities took place had two undesired effects. Firstly, the minister’s outright blaming of the opposition for the events that took place meant that any public confidence of a neutral probe was nipped in the bud instantly. Secondly, the whole issue now has been undesirably brought to the political sphere where we are just a mere spectator to a tireless sequence of blaming and counter-blaming. There has not been a single explanation provided by the government on the absence of the administration and law enforcing agencies while the Buddhist community was under attack in Ramu and other parts of Cox’s Bazaar but we have seen plenty of statements made by various members of the government hinting towards conspiracy to tilt the government by creating such a situation. If the administration was in fact neutralized in this particular occasion then it can only be deemed as the government’s failure to protect its citizens due to its inability to mobilize its resources. As public faith is gradually waning regarding the government’s ability to bring the perpetrators to justice, a judicial probe has become imperative to regain the confidence of the affected community and the general masses. However, in the attempt to continuously politicize the matter, the process to initiate such a probe is only being delayed and largely jeopardized.
If the attacks were sparked off by a Facebook post demeaning the Holy Quran by an individual then religious fundamentalism cannot be discounted as the root cause behind such aggression. It is evident yet again that the political blame game has largely blurred the core issue and there has been no attempt by the government or its local administration to build trust within these communities and localities. The issue in its core clearly reveals that religious zealots were the perpetrators of such heinous acts. Thus, involving the local religious leaders and community leaders to engage one another on a frequent basis is absolutely imperative to ensure peace and religious harmony in the area. There has been no visible attempt by the government to accommodate such a dialogue and seems to be yet another lesson that has not been learnt. Given that religion plays a crucial role in these areas, where there is a concentration of religious minorities and a notable presence of Muslims, religious leaders of different communities by visibly engaging each other can only lead by example.
Nothing justifies an attack on a community and when the very administration meant to protect them does not respond to their call of despair there is bound to be resentment. A judicial probe should be undertaken to look into the administration’s delayed response to the calamity. Such attacks are in essence attacks on our nationhood and the state’s failure to protect a community against such aggression is inexcusable. It should be noted that in his initial reaction on 30th September, the home minister quite confidently said that these attacks were premeditated and the miscreants will be brought to justice within 15 days. It seems our honourable minister has grossly undermined the sensitivity of the situation because he has already exceeded his deadline and now risks losing public faith. While our politicians are known to make erratic statements and irrational promises, in this particular case there is no room for such error. This is an issue that literally shakes up the very principles that led to the creation of Bangladesh. However, the government seems to be treating this like a generic political issue and we can only hope for sanity to return in an otherwise insane thinking process. It should be clear that there is no call for a hurried justice for these atrocities but a fair one, which in turn means that the Home Minister’s declared deadline was uncalled for.
Merely having sympathy towards the Buddhist community and condemning the actions is simply not enough anymore. Things have to be done to placate their justified resentment and feeling of insecurity. While the state has the tools and machinery to ensure justice, continuous politicization of the issue is likely to lead to a dead end. However, we should not underestimate the power of the citizen and keep advocating for a fair and neutral probe into the matter. The government essentially needs to understand the gravity and implications of such attacks and develop an objective approach. A nation cannot just allow or afford one of its communities to lose even an ounce of faith in its intention to protect and to serve. The monasteries and homes will be rebuilt but we have to ensure that the scars of these attacks don’t linger on. We can only do it if we decide take the right lessons and execute the necessary steps to build sustained trust and fight fundamentalism. If fundamentalism is given a political identity then it will always be used as a tool to marginalize a political opposition. We always say fundamentalists do not belong to any party and it is about time we believed in it. Our battle should be against fundamentalist ideologies and concepts that promote extremism in any shape or form.
I strongly believe healing must begin with building trust and believing in the power of a community to forgive and adopting a nationalistic approach. Our government can make a difference by starting here rather than conducting a political witch hunt. When the nation and the state provide communities the confidence to believe in it blindly, the anti-nationalist forces will always stay at bay.
Israfil Khosru is a businessman and runs a youth led think tank ‘The Bangladeshi’.