Extremism: Only Confront & Control or More?

Is there any doubt that both the UK and Bangladesh are facing the same threat of extremism? Certainly, they are. Recently, the British government has formed a taskforce ‘aimed at confronting Islamic extremism and controlling preachers of hate’ (The Times, 3 June 2013, p.4). The choice of words may shed some light on the work of this taskforce and my mentor Professor Gary Rawnsley of University of Leeds has rightly quipped that the ‘framing echoes both the disastrously-named War on Terror and Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.’ [http://wwwpdic.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/british-taskforce-to-confront-extremism.html]


Moreover, Prof Gary has narrated how the issue of ‘engagement’ has been left out and here I come with my experience on its importance. And I have a feeling that both the UK and Bangladesh are in the same position where societies of both the countries pushed a segment of the society into a corner. 


When I was a student in the UK during 2008-09 academic year, I had the opportunity to see local Bangladeshi channels which broadcast from London. Every night, there were people who used to preach Islam on television screen and most of their contents were really thought provoking! ‘Am I watching this tv channel in the UK? Oh My GOD!’ I am lucky that Phil Taylor was my teacher. One fine morning while chatting on Bin Laden’s propaganda and propaganda by Islamist groups (moderate or not), I raised the issue and Phil told me that there were people in the Home Office who were taking care of these. Were they really?


At that time, the British were promoting multiculturalism and I have seen how boxes were created and groups were pushed into those boxes. I had the opportunity to travel different places of UK and I have seen how people in the name of different organisations and faith groups received government’s fund. What they have really done will be a matter of monitoring and evaluation of those programmes. But now the pressing issue is whether it is too late to be engaged and create a more inclusive society where people from different background can live and prosper together as one.


The area where I used to live in Leeds was dominated by Pakistani origin people. Their lifestyles were not too different from those of some Bangladeshi immigrants. They live within themselves. In a nightclub in the city centre, a bouncer once asked me: ‘you are a Bangladeshi? What are you doing here? I have never seen any Bangladeshi guy here before!’ It’s not a shame. They have different place to go. You don’t need to go to night club to become a good British! So many of them go to places where gym and mosques are housed together! And some of them also become vigilante (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1YMGg1QVvI)! 



Here in Bangladesh, many of those who are labelled as ‘Mollah’ by many used to live aloof. Their dress is different than others. They are in their hundreds of thousands in different Madrassahs. Engagement by the government in those madarsah, which has brought global attention towards Bangladesh recently, is near to zero. They are called or brought in to residences of gentlemen whenever anyone dies. They are brought in for offering ‘doa’ and ‘milad’. After the milad, they are offered some ‘cash’ and that’s all. Bye, bye. Next time, you need them during the Eid ul Azha when you feel that you need to donate the skin of the cattle that you sacrificed. The skin goes to the madrasah where orphans are raised.  They are citizens of Bangladesh but left as a prey to those who know what they want and how they want. 


Hefazat-e Islam: Islamist coalition

Profile of a Quomi-madrasa based Islamist group.

The Hefazat-e Islam is a tightly-knit coalition of a dozen or so Islamist organisations which have come together under one umbrella only in recent years.

It has traditionally not sought power through elections, but looks to use its street muscle to change Bangladesh’s traditional secular culture and politics through the imposition of what it believes are proper Islamic ways.

The organisations in the Hefazat coalition are based at more than 25,000 madrassas, or religious schools, across Bangladesh.

Teachers at these madrassas belong to these organisations and all students are brought out en masse to participate in street rallies and marches.

Hefazat burst onto the scene in February following the killing of young blogger Rajib Haider.

The murdered blogger and his associates had launched the Shahbag campaign to demand the death penalty for a political leader convicted of war crimes committed in 1971.

Haider and other bloggers were subsequently accused by Islamists of being atheists who had written comments derogatory of Islam and its Prophet.

They served notice on the governing Awami League by gathering half a million supporters in Dhaka on 6 April, where the main slogan was “hang the atheist bloggers”.

Since then Hefazat has launched a 13-point charter of demands. These include:

  • enactment of an anti-blasphemy law with provision for the death penalty
  • exemplary punishment to all bloggers and others who “insult Islam”
  • cancellation of the country’s women development policy
  • a ban on erecting sculptures in public places
  • a ban on mixing of men and women in public
  • a ban on candlelit vigils
  • ending what they call “shameless behaviour and dresses”
  • declaring the reformist Ahmadiyas as “non-Muslims”.

The government of Sheikh Hasina has sought to treat Hefazat softly, and preferred to engage in negotiation.

It sees Hefazat as less militant than the Jamaat-e-Islami, many of whose leaders are currently facing charges related to crimes against humanity committed in 1971.

Hefazat also has theological disputes with Jamaat, although the latter has given all-out support to Hefazat in its current campaign.

Hefazat’s detractors see its activities as little more than a cover of support for Jamaat’s often-violent campaign to derail the war crimes trials.

Islamists say Hefazat is campaigning to “save Islam” in Bangladesh, but its opponents fear it will throw the country back into the dark ages.

Some of the groups under the Hefazat banner played a key role in the mass demonstrations in 1994 which forced the feminist write Taslima Nasreen to seek asylum in Sweden.

They have also been relentless in their campaign – so far unsuccessful – to have the Ahmadiyas (Islamic reformists) declared as “non-Muslims”, as has been the case in Pakistan.

Source: Sabir Mustafa, BBC Bengali Service


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