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Photo courtesy: Arif Hafiz

We are a country inundated with political rallies. From my office window in Motijheel I’ve seen AL rallies, BNP rallies, Jamaat rallies, stock market investors’ protests, communist marches, and even a human chain attempted by the petrol pump owners association. The people of Dhaka are jaded. We accept hartals passively, staying home not as a sign of support of some spurious cause, but rather, to enjoy an extra holiday, or to avoid getting our car broken. When we watch thousands of people line up in front of our two ladies, we accept that these are political cadres bussed in from random places, or bodies hired to make up the head count.

Shahbagh, whatever it is, has smashed that apathy to bits. These people are not hired. This is not a staged event. Regardless of what detractors say, one only has to spend two minutes in Shahbagh Moar to understand that everything here is voluntary, raw, heartfelt. There are of course many other criticisms of this movement:
Even if they are not directly government stooges, they are being nurtured by the AL, cocooned by loving policemen, fed, watered and feted by ministers. What kind of protest is it, without tear gas and bullets?

What do you expect the government to do? Shoot at unarmed women and children? Slaughter college kids and shopkeepers? The demands of Shahbagh and the AL overlap to some extent. That is not surprising given the universal hatred for Razakars this country once felt in ‘71. The fact that politicians have since seen fit to worm these men back into power does not mean they were ever rehabilitated in the eyes of the common people. The fact that most people in the country hate Razakars, including the sitting government, should not really detract from the legitimacy of the cause.

A second criticism is that this cause is bloodthirsty, immoral, a mere baying for revenge. As others have pointed out, it doesn’t take 41 years to kill a handful of men. The chant in Shahbagh is fashi, a call for the hangman’s noose. Hanging is a specific kind of death. It spells out crime and punishment. It answers with explicit finality the question of Razakars, atrocities and guilt. These people want a result which cannot be retracted.

In any case, the significance of Shahbagh is that ordinary people have taken to the streets after a long, long time. This is not about legal arguments, or capital punishment morality, or political manoeuvring towards future elections. I believe deep inside, this is a visceral rejection of fundamentalism, and the end game which Jamaat brings to the table. On some level I think people realize that there is no room for us in the kind of world they want to build.

Our people are secular at heart. Our women work. We love music, and dancing. We care about literature, and language. Even with thousands in Shahbagh chanting for death, there is, inevitably, pockets of song and dance and plays, outbursts of the sentimentality which is our national character. We were never meant to be a fundamentalist state.

This Jamaat thing is alien, even when perpetrated on us by some of our own. Shahbagh is the silent majority rising up against the use of religion to bully, the issuing of bewildering fatwas, the adoption of Arab dress and Arab ways, the blatant distortion of the past, the peculiar assault on our culture.

Our politicians treat us like idiots. They say the most ridiculous, outrageous lies with the glib expectation that we are careless morons with no options. There are countless cases of corruption, hideous crime, and failed expectations which we have let slide. In a perfect world, the people would rise up against each injustice. That is clearly not so. But in this instant, in this one case, the long suffering majority have reacted, have for the first time said, no more: these crimes you committed must be paid for, history cannot be changed by force, and you, Jamaat-e-Islami, do not speak for us.

Saad Z Hossain is a businessman and an aspiring writer.

18 Responses to “Return of the silent majority”

  1. A Shams

    “The demands of Shahbagh and the AL overlap to some extent.”. A fallacious statement. Those who have minimum knowledge of current Awami League leadership would understand that.

    Secondly, Jammat may be a political minority but they are organised and lethal, both BNP and AL more or less need them and nurture them for their gain.

  2. Anwar A. Khan

    Dear All,

    During our liberation war of independence of 1971, I was a college student. During those hard times, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Al-Badrs’ concentration camp was not very far from our residence situated at Kishoreganj Town (Now Kishoreganj District). Duk-bunglow (now the District Council Building), the Pakistan army’s local head quarters was also the same distance from our house. Being an eye witness, I am now giving hereunder a brief account and at the end, I shall make a few comments:

    1.Professor Mahtabuddin was the Jamaat-e-Islami Chief of the then Kishoreganj Sub-Division (now District). I saw him many times in my own eyes that he had been encouraging the Al-Badrs to kill the innocent people. Everyday, he used to come to the Al-Badrs concentration camp situated at the Bunglow of the then Kishoreganj Railway Station Master ( after forcibly driven away the Station Master and his family from his allotted quarter) to boost them up to kill more and more people in the name of religion-Islam. The entire Al-Badr and Al-shams, the killing outfit Jamaat-e-Islami throughout the Kishoreganj District, was under his operational command.

    2. One afternoon, some time in August, 1971 an innocent boy was caught by the Al-Badr gangsters. He was inhumanely tortured on the main road at broad day light near the Kishoreganj Railway station; he was bayonetted, blood was coming out from his lower part of the belly, he was groaning, he was tied with strong ropes behind a Rickshaw putting his two legs upward. All these atrocities they committed pronouncing “Naraye Takbir, Allah Huakbar.” He was forced to say “ Pakistan Zindabad” but he did never say so. Rather, he repeatedly said “Joy Bangla.” Then a microphone was fitted with that Rickshaw and then these creatures of hell made campaigns throughout the town showing that poor dying boy that the same dire consequences would happen with those who would be Mukti Bahini (liberation fighters) or their supporters. And thus announcements were made all over Kishoreganj Town showing this dying poor boy. It created a tremendous panic in the Town. Prof. Mahatab came, saw him and with a great smile applauded his accomplices (Al-Badrs), asked them to make all-out efforts to catch similar such people and encouraged them to eliminate the so-called enemies of their beloved Pakistan in such a brutal or the other ways. The boy then died a martyred death for the cause of this motherland. His body was refused for burial and allowed the decomposed body to eat by the vultures, jackals and dogs.

    3. I shall now narrate another ghastly incident. One afternoon in 1971 (possibly in September), I was passing through the main road from Kishoreganj Railway Station to Newtown area, when I reached in front of the house of Advocate Emdad Mia (situated just beside the main road), I found that some members of Al-Badr were pronouncing “Naraye Takbir, Allah Hu-akbar” and simultaneously after inhumanely beating forcibly made a boy to lie down on the grass beside the main road and slaughtered that boy with a big knife like as we usually sacrifice the cows on the Eid-ul-Azha day. The two pieces of the dead body were then thrown into the marshy land beside the road and allowed for eating by the vultures, jackals and dogs

    4.The river Narasunda is nearby to our house at Kishoreganj. During the months of August-up to early December, 1971, I saw many young people were inhumanely tortured and being taken blind-folded near to the bank of that river, brutally shot them to death pronouncing “Naraye Takbir, Allah Huakbar” and then kicked them off to the Narasunda River. No dead was permitted for burial by them.

    5.They were directly involved in rape, arson and looting and burning of houses of innumerable people. I saw how they helped supplying women-folk to the local army head-quarters at kishoreganj.

    6.On the morning of 17.12. 1971 (Kishoreganj Town was liberated on that morning), I entered into that Concentration Camp of Al-Badrs along with some of my friends and found its floor with ankle deep thick human blood. One can easily imagine how and what was the extent of torture done on those un-armed and innocent human beings in this concentration camp by the Jamaat’s killing squad-Al-Badrs. Those helpless people could never go back to their parents.

    Comments :

    1.I have cited here only a few incidents only.

    2.Jamaat-e-Islami, Al-Badr and Al-Shams played the major role in bringing about the human tragedy of the highest magnitude in 1971.

    3.Leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, it’s the then student wing-Islami Chhatra Sangha (now Islami Chhatra Shibir) and their killing outfits- Al-Badr and Al-shams are all congenital liars-pathological liars.

    4. One has to become a human being before he wants to be a Musssalman/Muslim but they are just beasts, worst creatures of the hell. Same thing has been repeating by the same ugly force now.

    5. They are all enemies against humanity. They and their accomplices can do anything ugly for their own interests.

    6. They are just ugly religion traders because whenever they murdered our innocent people, they used religion- :Allah Hu Akbar”; “Naraye Takbir” and so on.

    7.No one should have any sympathy for them. But I reiterate that they are just religion traders and congenital liars; they are mass murderers, looters, miscreants and what not.

    8. They all deserve capital punishment because of the magnitude of crimes and sins they committed during our people’s war of independence for Bangladesh in 1971.

    9. Jamaat-e-Islami, as a political party, as an organization and above all, its leaders are all war crimes criminal.

    10. No compromise; no negotiation is possible with those who brought untold sufferings to our people, those who looted our valuables, those who burnt our houses, those who raped our millions of sisters and mothers, those who killed millions of our people.

    11. I want capital punishment of them all. Jamaat-e-Islami, as a political party be brought to book and banned.

    12. I am now close to 60. I never did politics and shall not do politics in future also. In my 5 times prayer, I pray to Allah so that He gives capital punishment to these worst creatures of the hell.

  3. Armeen Musa

    Our people are secular at heart. Our women work. We love music, and dancing. We care about literature, and language. Even with thousands in Shahbagh chanting for death, there is, inevitably, pockets of song and dance and plays, outbursts of the sentimentality which is our national character. We were never meant to be a fundamentalist state.

    This Jamaat thing is alien, even when perpetrated on us by some of our own. Shahbagh is the silent majority rising up against the use of religion to bully, the issuing of bewildering fatwas, the adoption of Arab dress and Arab ways, the blatant distortion of the past, the peculiar assault on our culture.

  4. Armeen Musa

    Other than the term “Arab Dress” (wearing a hijab is not Arab dress its a personal choice) I do agree with you. That the essence of Bangladesh is our culture. The food, music, dancing, acting, is a part of every level of society. And we have been opressed by corrupt, extremist people. And I blame ourselves, we havent done anything be it for fear, lack of interest etc…

    But yes we can’t deny there is a good number of people who actually do want the death penalty. In our country it is still a legal method of punishment, thus the people have the right to ask for it. But it is the trigger of the issue. Shahbag represents people who want justice for 71 to 2013, some who want capital punishment enforced as they know no other punishment will do justice, and most who want that and/or more. They want ALL the parties to know that extremism will not work on us, nor will we tolerate the support from those who ally with the extremists.

  5. Yunuslives

    The article I find makes an amateurish mistake of picturising our society from an extremely biased perspective (most likely the author’s). I do not see the adoption of Arab dress or Arab ways in our national or for that matter our social life. I also believe jamaat is not a big enough religious force to bully us into submission. Bangladesh is a democracy and I do not envision the people of Bangladesh ever giving majority to jamaat. Saying that, I believe jamaat as a political party has the right to exist and any attempt to ban them will make them act in desperation.

    • saad z hossain

      I am merely worried that Jamaat, with so few parliamentary seats, is still able to call country wide hartals, to fight police and rab openly on the streets, to threaten us with civil war. I do not know which other fringe party would be able to do that.

  6. Thinkvase

    Dear Saad,
    This article has no merit in directly addressing the criticisms of the rallies… I want justice for the victims of 71 as well as justice for the victims of 72,73,74,90, etc… And how can one be optimistic about a rally which is absolute in its demands and desired outcome (fashi) be any different from the absolute demands of a fundamentalist party like jamaat? How can one support a rally which wishes to pass judgement on behalf of the judges? Should we promote a rally where children are wearing headbands asking for deaths sentences and as I saw in one instance the text written on a five year old’s body ‘rajakar f@ck you’ !! Is this morality is this the revolution? Yes our women work, we like our song and dance but we, at the same time, don’t drink, don’t eat pork, don’t dress in skirts and sleeveless tops or is that more ‘us’ than what jamaat is preaching? Is american or western cool but arab isnt? (On a side note let me make a wild guess : you studied in english medium schooling). Basically to each his own and the moment you chose to define me or society in broad general terms and try to exclude people from that image of scoeiety or from politics just because their views and yours don’t match, you are a fundamentalist as well. As Voltaire said ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’ That my friend, is true democracy – not banning parties because they are religious, Islamist, atheist, arab inspired or whatever value they have…

    • saad z hossain

      I am sensitive to the morality issue and I agree that there are countless issues in this country requiring justice. I tried to address that in the article’s last paragraph. People should be indignant about many many things. But this is a specific uprising against a specific problem. And in a movement involving lacs of people, there will be things you like or dislike.

      Regarding the fashi, I personally believe that is a desire for definitive, irrevocable justice: not something that will be undone if another government comes to power. Were there war crimes committed by Jamaat in 1971? Were these men involved? Are they guilty? If all of this true, then should they be really punished, or should they be given an out? Are they admitting guilt, or are they weathering the storm and waiting for the day they can claim it was mere political persecution?

      Your views on tolerance are admirable, and I agree with Voltaire. Your dismissal of me as ‘english medium’ is a bit unfair. Each piece of writing is bound to be colored by the prism of the writer’s experience and background: my op-ed, as well as your response. In your view the only choices appear to be Western or Arab. I believe Bengalis have a distinct culture: why shouldn’t we, we’ve been civilized for thousands of years.

  7. queza

    Our protest will continue. The silent majority will protest all the heinous attempts by Jamaat-Shibir.

  8. ehsan

    The silent majority will indeed contain all the dirty and bloody attempts of Jamaat-Shibir.

  9. Kaiser Habib

    And now they kill blogger Rajib! Do they really think they will be able to contain the movement this way?

    • Joy Ahmed

      So, you were there when Rajib was murdered? You perhaps know the killers then. Shall I inform it to the police?

  10. SH_uk

    Totally agree. And I do support the demand to ban Jaamat-Shibir in Bangladesh. Not because they are an ‘Islamic’ or ‘fundamentalist’ party, but solely because they directly opposed the liberation of Bangladesh and actively collaborated with the Pakistani army and committed the sickening crimes in 1971.

    In a democratic society everyone should be allowed a say. Be it secularists, atheists, parties with religious inclination, and yes even fundamentalists. The people can decide who they want. But a party that still functions in a country whose creation it was opposed to in the first place, has not legitimacy to exist.

  11. Umme Naziba

    Shahbagh has taught us so many things, among those, the main is -People is Power.

  12. Nihar

    Shahbagh is the movement of general mass. Please don’t turn it into an Awami protest. Friday’s situation in Shahbagh gave all of us a fright. Why did so many Chattra League leaders have to make speeches? It’s no AL rally nor a BNP meeting.

  13. Bithi Azam

    Yes it’s the movement of the silent majority. And please keep it that way. Don’t politicize it. Don’t carry on this movement under the banner of any political party.

  14. yeasea tonu


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