Feature Img
Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: Reuters

At a time when our eyes are riveted on the present, and that present itself obsessed with the past, at a time when cries are being made that will shape our tomorrow, I would like to plead for time to think about the future that is being demanded.

Shahbagh has called for the banning of the Jamaat-e-Islami. In the press and social media, in parliament and ministerial podiums, we hear echoes of the same call. Meanwhile Jamaat’s men create frenzy on the streets, adding fuel to the cries for a ban. If such a ban is imposed, what happens afterwards? Will the problem of Jamaat disappear with a law?

Once a minor current within East Pakistani politics, Jamaat and its student wing offered themselves as the shock troops of collaboration with the Pakistani army during 1971. The old politicians of the Muslim League offered their services too but they were mostly fat and lazy. Jamaat offered energy and with the Pakistanis looking for a militant cadre to help them confront the Mukti Bahini, they stepped into that role. Proudly, without hesitation. They were going to be the saviours of Islam in a land awash with apostates, Hindu lovers, agents of India.

With independence, Jamaat was pushed back, but in the chaos of the ‘70s and later, they found the conditions to regroup. With money from the oil-rich Islamic states of the Middle East, they began a long march, reaching into existing institutions and creating their own. Over time they set up banks, hospitals, businesses, and educational institutions. In the last decade they struck a strategic alliance with the BNP and were rewarded with cabinet positions, extending their reach into state institutions.

Meanwhile they stepped into a space that the state and NGOs neglected: providing services to people uncared for by others. They sponsored orphanages and madrassas for those who could not afford schooling. From the very poor to the conservative middle classes, they built a base to groom their own cadre. Their success was not peculiar to Bangladesh. Islamist parties like Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon have built extended networks by providing social services to sections of their populations.

All along, their eyes remained focused on the prize: Jamaat’s vision of Allah’s reign. Of course this will be administered by this world’s men who have appointed themselves the representatives of God. If they come to power, they will impose Islamic rule making the country a hostile place for people who do not share their faith – Muslims who do not think like them, Hindus a special target, Buddhists, Christians, non-believers. They would impose apartheid status on women. In a word, they would like to make the country into one giant madrassa. Were they to come to power, it would spell disaster for Bangladesh.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

It is tempting to believe that a ban on Jamaat will remove this scourge on our politics, this stain on our past, the viciousness we see in the present, this curtain dropper on our future. But will a ban solve the threat of political Islam? Is politics really that easy?

You can ban a party, but a party is composed of people, its leaders and followers, its voting constituency. Now Jamaat may never have been able to get beyond 10% of the vote, only 6% at the last elections, but that’s still a sizeable number in a country of 150 million. They have worked hard to develop support in the border areas.

What happens to this following if Jamaat is banned?

We don’t need to make this a purely imaginative exercise. Bans on Islamist parties have been imposed elsewhere. Essentially Jamaat will be forced to consider one of two options.

The Turkish option: reorganize under a different name

Bangladesh is familiar with this course. In the Pakistan period, the communists who were banned worked with sympathetic allies through the National Awami Party.

What happened in Turkey?

As religious and conservative support grew in Turkey, the Islamist Welfare Party won a majority in the 1995 parliamentary elections. They were banned. Some of their leaders joined other Islamists to launch the Virtue Party, but that too was banned in 2001. That same year Islamists from different factions launched the AKP, the Justice and Development Party. They moderated their image. They claimed to be a democratic and conservative movement not tied to religion. The AKP won an absolute majority in the 2002 elections, and despite some setbacks, the AKP has become the ruling party in Turkey. For reasons both internal and international, including Turkey’s desire to join the European Union, the Islamists have not tried to impose an authoritarian Islamic regime.

Photo: Reuters

Now Jamaat cannot necessarily be compared to the AKP. In fact Jamaat appears to be close to the Felicity Party in Turkey, a faction that refused to join the AKP. Some have advised Jamaat to take a road similar to the AKP, but Jamaat leaders find it difficult to shed the heritage drawn from their founder Maududi; they dream of themselves as a revolutionary party, their hands go nish-pish for a thorough Islamic cleansing of Bangladesh.

But were Jamaat to take the Turkish option, Bangladesh would simply see Jamaat reorganizing under a different name. Not much else may change. Such a course would be open to them only if the ban is a ‘soft’ ban, i.e. a ban on the party as it is named and formed today.

The Algerian option: insurgency

If the state does not allow Jamaat’s politicians to find a different platform inside the creaky, murir-tin vehicle that passes for democracy, then Jamaat could choose to go underground.

Here it’s worth paying heed to what happened in Algeria, another society born of a violent anti-colonial revolution, the war against the French in the 1950s. In 1991, the Islamist party, the FIS, was about to win the elections when the state stepped in, cancelled the elections, and banned the FIS.

The result: an Islamist armed rebellion that led to a civil war with unspeakable brutality on both sides. 100,000 people may have died. The war ended in about ten years but a terrorist campaign persisted. The economy tumbled, villages were torn apart, and the country’s cultural life took a staggering blow. Writers, musicians, filmmakers, singers, theatre people, journalists were threatened and murdered. Many fled into exile.

Who knows how long Algerian society will take to recover from those scars?

Civil war?

image_3704The words ‘civil war’ are now casually tossed around. Some Jamaat-Shibir activists shout slogans for ‘civil war’, dreaming of a cleansing bloodshed that will free the country of nastiks, Hindus, and nastik and Hindu-influenced false Muslims. But on the other side too, there are voices who, perhaps in impatience, perhaps carried away, say they are ready for the challenge.

Take a few steps to imagine such a future. Having lived through the 1971 war, I shudder at the thought. Think hard about what a civil war could look like in Bangladesh.

This will be nothing like 1971 where we fought a war against an occupation force. This would be a war where the state, through the army, police, and border guards, will be forced to fight against a terrorist insurgency.

Remember those recent times when bombs went off at Pahela Baishakh in Ramna, at the Udichi festival in Jessore, or in cinema halls in Mymensingh. Imagine that as a regular feature of life. We don’t even have to imagine much: we can simply read news reports from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

Today people are frustrated with the corrupt political system that has allowed space for Jamaat to grow. Yet if war comes, this is the same state that people will have to rely upon. Do the people really want the soldiers and police thrust into a situation where they have to wage this kind of war? Can they? Will they? Do we want the kind of militarized police state that would come with war?

Are we ready to live with daily insecurity, when you don’t know if you step out in the morning whether you will return at night? When you take your life in your hands if you attend the cinema, book fairs, music festivals? Are we ready for our culture to confront this kind of threat?

A civil war will be a catastrophe for Bangladesh. We have still to recover from many of the wounds of our war of 40 years ago. Let no one take such a threat lightly.

Imagine a different future

Bans can only go so far, and handled the wrong way, can turn disastrous. Simple solutions can be seductive, but when all is said and done, ban or no ban, with Jamaat or with Islamists bearing other names, there is no shortcut to the long-haul struggle against political Islam.

Islamist politics has a minority following in Bangladesh. At most all the Islamist parties could gather 16% of the vote. But there is no reason for complacency. What is small today could grow larger tomorrow.

Islamist politics could be better resisted if Bangladesh’s democracy was more civil and did not have confrontation, distrust, and corruption enshrined in its very heart. But even with all its weaknesses, the state is what people rely upon when Islamists harass and assault citizens. When they commit terrorist acts, the state must hold them in check.

If the secular state is to prove stronger than the Islamists, it must deliver in real life, in this world, what the Islamists peddle through their myths. It must deliver conditions for peace and economic well-being, the conditions for people to be fed, to have dignity and improved chances in life. And both within the state and outside, all in society who want to resist the facile utopias of political Islam must expand the secular spaces and ensure Bangladesh as a country with respect for all its citizens, for women and minorities.

Is there sufficient refutation of the clamour for Islamic law or their Khilafat state? Novelists like Anisul Hoque, Humayun Azad, and Masuda Bhatti have written dystopian novels about what a future under Islamist rule might look like. Once in a while there have been articles in the newspapers deconstructing Islamist rule. More could be done. There is plenty of evidence about what Islamic states mean in reality, not in the fantasies spun by the self-appointed men of God: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Many migrant labourers who have spent time in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have known the sting of Islamic rule, the kind Jamaat would bring here.

Beyond slogans for secularism, there has never been enough work to explain why the country should be secular and non-communal, why this is necessary for both religious minorities and the majority. Even those who stand for secularism often do not see anything wrong with describing Bangladesh as a Muslim or even Islamic country. Our leaders have enshrined Islam as the state religion. These notions have made non-Muslim Bangladeshis into second class citizens. In Bangladesh, all people – Muslims of different persuasions, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, non-believers – should feel at home, should feel they have an equal place.

Much more than Jamaat’s network, with deeper roots among the people, there are secular spaces and institutions. Secular Bangladeshi culture offers something powerful that the people want, which the Islamists abhor: the right to joy, the right to beauty. Every person who enjoys music, who makes music or loves to hear music; every person who enjoys dance and jatra and theatre; every person who reads for pleasure, putting themselves in the minds of people from all corners of the earth – every such person enjoys something that the Islamists detest and cannot deliver. A pedestrian who picks up a 40-taka paperback from Sheba Publishers from a footpath vendor, seeking to enjoy a story, has already taken a step away from those who do not believe in reading for pleasure. Publishers, theatre makers, music makers, book fairs, libraries, book sellers: they are all in the front lines of a culture that offers the alternative to the dreary, lifeless dystopia of Jamaat and others like them.

This culture has strength and substance. It would have even stronger roots if all our people had access. One of the biggest failings of post-independence Bangladesh is that the energy released through the liberation movement could not be harnessed into a mass literacy campaign. Forty years later, too many of our people still cannot read.

Above all, it will be a literate and cultured population that will best resist the dour vision of political Islam.

Mahmud Rahman is a writer and translator.

24 Responses to “Is it a good idea to ban Jamaat-e-Islami?”

  1. M.Mozammel Haque

    Banning any party with a particular faith will not end up the crisis evolved during a past few days.
    Because in general any faith makes a man discipline and he develops an attitude to help others-like live and let others live.
    What does make issues- is economy.And poverty is the factor for any crisis and it is now claimed there is another poverty called poverty of luxury.So the poverty before and now are different.
    Now any faith makes a man better discipline when he is discipline he abides by the law. This poverty of luxury is minimum in his character.And in the other words the law is established.
    And it is the manifesto of every political party to establish this law and discipline.
    But what happen in Bangladesh is-to win in the election and this is a sort of business and the person who does this business is doing forgery with self and public because he invested money to buy public vote so that he can make more money.And this is simply the economics.If discipline is established it becomes hard for him to make money(black).
    It is the demand of several Obaidul Kader’s- like the minister of communication(Road and High ways).He suspended an officer of BRTA for the forgery with his signature.
    Are other offices clean? Who are there to do it?
    Does it require any particular faith or party in power?
    So it is only the individual quality-who make a group-who contest with other to come to power.
    To me banning a particular party will never end the crisis.Because the man is the most adapting creation and who does it earliest won the whole game.And the people of this party will do it.

    • Abul Hashem Khan

      I fully endorse the views of the comments that banning a Party will not solve the problem . The Government should start practicing Democracy and rule of Law and Justice and remove corruptions at all levels of Government Machinery and take steps for well-beings of people in all walks of life .Jamaat e Islami is spreading the thought that by establishing the Leadership of Honest Persons all corruptions can be removed and rule of Law and justice could be established which will ensure peace and development in the society and country. If the Government only want to remain in Power by Force without ensuring Good Governance then the ultimate result will be catastrophic .
      Let Free Democracy Work without restrictions on political activities , and let people decide who they want to see in Power.

  2. Altaf Hossain

    Any religion-based political parties and politics should be banned in Bangladesh since we are touched by modernism’s fruit such as ‘democracy’; ‘enlightenment’, ‘human rights’; ‘scientific knowledge’; ‘rationality’; and ‘modernity’. Religion is religion. It is based on faith and belief. Why mix it with the man made ‘politics’? Just oil and water: cannot be mixed in the end.

    • KMAK

      Given that secularism has not produced a viable democracy in Bangladesh, much less scientific knowledge, human rights and other “fruits” of modernism (apparently, you don’t know that democracy is an ancient Greek concept), why shouldn’t religious politics serve as an alternative? There doesn’t seem to be a conflict between religion and progress in places like Malaysia, Brunei and Maldives where Islam is officially the state religion-so the claim that religious governance is impractical is false.

      Religion cannot mix with politics because oil cannot mix with water? Even though it is a hilariously absurd analogy, for the sake of the argument I will agree with your statement. Let’s assume that religion is basically about doing good. Going by your logic, since religion and politics cannot mix, there is nothing about religion which politics can embrace. As such, the moral values of religion cannot be assimilated into politics.

      Now, if you say politics can’t accommodate moral values, then politics is an immoral practice, and a politician would have to be an immoral person. Should we leave the governance of our country in the hands of immoral people? If you insist that politics is capable of accommodating morality, then it is capable of embracing moral values of religion and so, the claim that politics and religion don’t mix is false.

      Another argument. If you are an atheist who believes that all religions are man-made, then you simply can’t prevent it from entering politics. Since you have claimed that politics is man-made, and you believe that religions are man-made as well, then the two are not different at all, and so the water-oil analogy fails.

    • Probashi

      Writing from India: It was long evident that the reformation and renaissance and modernization in Islamic societies had started with the formation of Bangladesh. After 1979, the whole reformist agenda was subsumed by the changes in Iran, which then went on to Afghanistan, thenon to OBL, so on and so forth. Now with great respect and adulation, we can say that the agenda has been restarted at Shahbag, Dhaka. The trouble-mongers will continue again to destroy this new movement. Please do not despair. The arrow of time is not going to change, the clock cannot be turned back. Bangladesh will again show not just itself, but the world, that in a modern society, the dark forces of the dark ages cannot come back and claim political space, no matter how many terrorist acts they commit. To end, I would like to sing out, one more time: “Shono ekti Mujiborer Konthe Lokkho Mujiborer Kantho Swarer Dhawni PratiDwani – Akashe Batashe othe Roni ….. Bangladesh, Aamar Bangladesh”. Bangladesh shudu ekta notun desh i na – shara Jagat er jonno ek notun path er dishari. Ai ashar pradip ta ke kokhno nibhte diyen na. Aaj ashi. Joi Bangla.

      • KMAK

        Probashi: It was long evident that the reformation and renaissance and modernization in Islamic societies had started with the formation of Bangladesh.

        This is pure wishful thinking. There is absolutely no academic study whatsoever to back up the claim that modernization of Islamic societies began with the birth of Bangladesh.

    • Rafiq

      Pradip is my boyhood friend and he lives in Bangladesh. He was my best friend when I used to live in Bangladesh during my childhood. I participated in every occasion in his family (program). His mom loved me as her own son and religion was never a factor. I enjoyed their company and will never forget them in my life. I love them as my own family members and stay in their home every time I go to Bangladesh (Every year). Unfortunately, Jamat Shbir and the so called Muslim extremists attacked their home and family members. The house where I stayed regularly is destroyed and burnt down. The so called Muslim brothers have beaten my friend and his mother and other family members. These so called ‘Muslim brothers’ insulted my friend’s mother during the attack. I was so upset thinking is it Bangladesh ? Is it a democratic country or what ? Democratic country never tortures their minority people. Because they are already weak and less in number. They don’t have much resistance to protect themselves. I have no language to console him and help him. I told him my uncle will visit them and will stay with them until the situation gets back to normal. He told me he has no home to stay there. I offered him to come in our home until they re-build their home. They decided not to re-build the home because those monsters might attack them again and they are threatening them even now.

      They asked me to buy their property because nobody wants to buy their property. I requested them not to leave the country and everything will be back to normal very soon. He asked me what is the difference between Sk. Hasina and Khaleda Zia. Both are are doing what the Pakistanis did during the liberation time. I was crying all day trying to hate myself as I did not help them and they don’t trust me anymore as my ‘Muslim brothers’ attacked them and are forcing them to leave the country. Bangladesh is their right by birth. I feel like a bad Muslim and today I am so angry. He lost his father during the liberation time. As his father was a freedom fighter and he was killed by Pakistani army in the battle field.

      I request all Muslim brothers please help them not kill them. Allah will help you otherwise you will go to hell instead of heaven. Please read the holy Quran and learn from the book what is explained there and how to treat people of other religion. For you people I lost my boyhood friend and how can I go see him in india? Answer me what I should do? Please be kind with people of other religion and their tradition. Because during the liberation war lots of minority people dedicated their lives for this hapless country that it is today — Bangladesh.

      We are Bangladeshi and we should be proud of our country. We should not turn into a new Pakistan. please Do not forget that your national anthem was written by a Hindu Rabindroenath Tagore. So we all should work together and not to force people to leave the country. We all Muslims should promise from now on that we will respect each religion and we all live together without killing each other. We should promise we will love our motherland forever.

  3. Coy

    Jamaat has already organized itself as a big political party. So ostracizing of this party is not a matter of time. It needs to go through a national poll for people to reject this party politically and in a relevant manner.

  4. Shathil

    A political party can’t ban another political party. So it will start a new war. In the coming future, other parties will try to do same. Everyone has the right to hold protest. Police should protect all protesters as they are protecting at Shahbag. Police has no right of firing at protesters. Muktijaddhas didnt fight for a country where police will kill people if someone talk against govt. its a shame.

  5. bazlurrahman

    Mr Rahman may have his standpoint as may his critics too. But the latter’s approach of criticism justifies the fear that the so-called political Islam that Mr Rahman apprehends of.

  6. Noore Alam Siddiqui

    The recent unlawful destructive activities of Jamaat-Shibir prove that they have no right to continue their politics. There shouldn’t be any delay in Jamaat ban.

  7. Noble

    Banning Jamat will be a righteous just decision, as they are already working in UNDERGROUND WAY.
    Recent arsons are just the proof of speculations of many security organisations.
    Now being a legitimate political party, they are getting advantage of both sides.
    below is an examples of many security speculations.

    “”” South Asian Terrorist Portal (SATP), The
    Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism and
    Defenddemocracy.org state that Jamaat-ul-
    Mujahideen Bangladesh “appears” to be
    connected with putatively non-violent, legal
    Islamist group or groups in Bangladesh, [24]
    Defenddemocracy speculating that Jamaat-ul-
    Mujahideen Bangladesh is a “proxy” established
    by the legal Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh party to
    “push the center of gravity of the political debate
    toward radical Islamism” and make Jamaat-e-
    Islami appear more centrist. [3] According to
    SATP, “many members of the JMB and JMJB
    have invariably been found to be cadres of the
    Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), student wing of the
    Jamaat-e-Islami. “”””

  8. Mohammed

    Typical Communists secularists scumbags of Bangladesh!!!

    “Many migrant labourers who have spent time in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have known the sting of Islamic rule”, Don’t go there in the first place if you don’t like it. The mexicans in the US aren’t treated that well but its fine as its a secular Christian country.

    Islamic State like the one the prophet Muhammad created would be ideal for the world as that gives full rights for non muslims in the state, unfortunately people like you don’t recognise this and racists against the religion of Allah.

    As a British Muslim from a Bangladeshi ancestry, I am disgusted to call myself a Bengali, if only that word didn’t exists.

    Never been to Bangladesh for over 15 years and now never planning to go there to that shit hole of a country, which will not exist in 60 years time due to the rising sea level.

    • Riaz Osmani

      Ah, another self hating Bengali in the UK. Get a life.

  9. KMAK

    This has got to be one of the most fear-mongering, loathsome opinion pieces I have come across at bdnews24. The author would have us believe if political Islam were to ever rule Bangladesh, the country would lose all its color-no music, no joy, nothing. It is an ironic claim considering that he appeals to Iran as one of the examples of how bad the “reality of political Islam” is when in fact music is not banned in Iran, and the country has a thriving movie industry! Same goes for Pakistan. That is besides the point, however. The crucial issue, as far as I am concerned, is the way Mr. Rahman presents political Islam as a monolith. If Islam itself is not a monolith, how can political Islam be? Consider that both Saudi and Iran claim to be Islamic states. Yet, you don’t see women displaying their faces in public in the Kingdom whereas women are not barred from showing their countenances in Iran, although the latter require that their heads be covered. Far more women in Iran are literate compared to their counterparts in Saudi (as well as Bangladesh). As for Pakistan, the fact that women are not legally required to even wear the Hijab, much less the Niqab, is enough to disprove the assertion that an Islamic state is inherently anti-women.

    Pointing to the failures of some nations that claim to be Islamic states isn’t enough to show that Islam should not play a role in Bangladeshi politics. Bangladesh is one of the poorest, most corrupted nations in the world. If we were to go by Mr. Rahman’s skewed logic, we would have to blame secularism as the cause of the country’s failures. More, given that Iran and Saudi are economically superior to Bangladesh, one can conclude that political Islam might actually be good for our country, going by Mr.Rahman’s reasoning.

    I must say that Mr.Rahman has not been very successful at hiding his true motives-he would have the readers believe that he is only against political Islam, not Islam as such. Clearly this is not the case; for what other reason would he recommend the works of Humayun Azad, a noted atheist and an Islamophobe? Humayun Azad was not an authority on Islam, much less its political aspects.

    There is no shortage of academic studies on political Islam and its potential and actual impacts on society; stalwarts in the field include Andrew F. March, Juan Cole, Noah Feldman, Wael Hallaq and more. What is interesting is that these scholars do not present political Islam as some sort of an evil behemoth the way Mr.Rahman and his (un)intellectual heroes Anisul Haque, Humayun Azad, etc. do.

    I conclude by saying that the world is not as black and white as the author of this article would have his readers believe.

    • B N Mohapatra

      Very superficial opinion from a biased person. Firstly, why should one bring religion to political system? Make a person perfect through his/her religion and let him/her come to society to shoulder any responsibility whether it is politics or any other field of human activity. If he is an atheist but socially beneficial and productive, he can do the job without any problem. We have seen from the experiences around the World that no religion is perfect. So why not benefit from taking the best of all religions and make a successful man, who in turn makes a successful society.

      • KMAK

        You have made a number of claims which go against your own position. I’ll start with your assertion that no religion is perfect. Even if we assume that religions are imperfect, that is not enough to exclude it from the realm of politics. If secularism with all its imperfections can play a political role, then religions have as much rights as well.

        I agree that productive atheists should not be barred from politics. Nevertheless, given that the history of Islam in Bangladesh is much older than all of independent Bangladesh’s achievements, and the vast majority of Bangladeshis identify with this religion passionately, an atheist would not be representative of the heritage and morality of Bangladeshis in general.

    • Syed

      You have more thumbs down than thumbs up Mr. KMAK. This proves one thing:’we (this nation of Bangladesh) are waiting for the final nail in the coffin to be driven in’.

      Interestingly, they have removed my comment!!

  10. Monir Ahammad

    My opinion is yes, their previous and recent activities have taken them to a position where they should be banned completely.

  11. afsan

    A calm, reasoned and courageous piece. Can we survive any of the scenario mentioned here. Are we capable of sustaining endless violence?

  12. hasan

    Ban or not it’s a political decision. Yes i would fully agree if the initiative was taken soon after 1971. So many years have passed and now you attempt a ban when a biased trial is taking place!

    • Mayisha

      Actually Jamaat wasn’t allowed into politics before 1978 prior to that it was mostly banned.

Comments are closed.