Selectivity of “Freedom” Chokes People’s Free Voice (2004)
A friend of mine, a British man working in EU-Bangladesh Govt.’s joint program, Adorsho Gram, recently went to Modhupur on a tour. He was taken to the forest area, which was a joke, since the hillsides are denuded of trees. On top of one of the scraggly hills he noticed some unusual sheds that did not look like local people’s dwellings. He asked his guide about them, and the guide told him, “They are the Al-Qaeda training camps. The local madrassah boys are sent there for extra-curricular activities.” The casualness of the answer reveals that today’s Bangladesh must be the only country after Taliban-run Afghanistan where Al-Qaeda training camps can run freely and openly, and apparently, with the approval of the authorities concerned.
After the gruesome attack on Dr. Humayun Azad, when the whole horrified nation, and the Bangalees in the diaspora, knew exactly who would want to choke the voice of this writer, the news reports flashed about “unknown assailant”. At press briefings the Home Minister hinted at possible “personal enmity” as if Humayun Azad was a drug dealer or a Mafia godfather, not a popular professor of Bangla at Dhaka University who also happens to be a prolific scholar and a creative writer, and the author of over 70 books. It is quite clear that there is protection by the government for the freedom of “unknown assailants” attempting to shut up the freedom of speech of a writer who dared write a fictional account of their criminal campaigns of terror in the name of religion.
Starting from Sheikh Mujib, there has not been a single Muslim Bangladeshi politician who did not pander to or court religion in order to appeal to the “religious sentiments” of the majority of the population. The Military Dictatorship of Ziaur Rahman illegally doctored the 1972 Constitution, scrapped the clauses that prohibited political parties based on religion, and legitimized the Jamaati party without so much a thought that Moududibadi ideology of the Jamaati Islami party does not represent the tenets, principles and practices of the Muslim majority of Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina would court Golam Azam, and would go on several Haj and Umrah to please the Jamaati leaders thinking she is pleasing the voters or as the slogan goes: the “religious sentiment” of the majority. Not a single politician in Bangladesh today has either the guts or the necessary religious knowledge that neither Jamaat, nor the other Islamist parties represent the “religious sentiment” of the Muslim majority of the country.
I had no idea of Humayun’s new novel, Pak Shar Jamin Shaad Baad, not having read it while it was being serialized in the literary section of the Ittefaq last year. I saw Humayun at the Boi Mela in early February in Dhaka, signing books at the stall of Agami Prokashoni. He was genuinely happy to see me since he was not aware that I was in Dhaka. As soon as I heard of the title of his novel, I said, “Forget Pakistan. That was more than fifty years ago. Those days are over. Today’s fundamentalists are more vicious, violent and dangerous than ever before.”
Humayun flashed a smile, the rows of his teeth glowing bright in the dim lit stall of the Boi Mela. “Read all about it, It is all there!” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes, handing me a copy, signed “Priyo Farida bondhu.”
Yes, indeed, it is all there. Humayun has vividly described this venal group, who call themselves Jihadists in his novel, and who combine Islam with the vilest of profanities imaginable. He has also described their affinity with the ruling parties in the administration that is perfectly credible, if not proven. No doubt, even after the outpourings of people’s protest against the dastardly attack on Humayun, the Bangladshi politicians will go on supporting the Islamist extremists by way of catering to the “religious sentiment” of the people. Will they never know that protesting against criminal activities in the name of religion is the most profound “religious sentiment” any community can possibly express?
In one sense, Humayun’s novel has done all good Muslims of Bangladesh a favor. Unlike the politicians of Bangladesh, and unlike Taslima Nasrin, it shows a difference between ordinary, law-abiding, believing and practicing Muslims, and the growing foreign-ideology-based Islamist menace fattened by the ignorant religious politics of the ruling party (whichever of the two major parties it may be). It is not very likely that Humayun’s assailants would be arrested, arraigned, tried and given due punishment any time soon. THEY have the freedom, the freedom of impunity. Al-Qaeda can freely recruit students from local Madrssas as expressions of “religious sentiments.” Ahmadiya’s publications can be seized by the Govt., and banned, because it believes in respecting a small group’s false claim of “religious sentiments” on behalf of an entire population. Hindu women are raped, and Muslim women are coerced into wearing a foreign-looking hijab in the name of religion. But, when people’s voice, express anger against injustice – carrying their true religious sentiments – it is completely ignored.