Bangladesh will have to undo the Maududian infiltration of its state and society if it wants to be a true secular democratic country. It means uprooting Jamaat and its affiliated organizations from our society forever. It means purging the state and its machinery of elements that are furthering the Jamaat’s hate-filled agenda. The time has come to take stock of the damage this body of conspiratorial and bigoted men has done repeatedly to the body politic of Bangladesh.
The Jamaat-e-Islami was founded in British India in 1941 by Abu-ala-Maududi who remained its Amir (chief) till 1972. He is considered to be the chief ideologue of the party and all Jamaat members are expected to study his writings. Maududi was of the view that the best way of transforming any society is to train a core group of highly disciplined dedicated and well-informed members to assume leadership in social and political matters. Over time, he hoped that the group would be able to Islamize the entire society after which the Jamaat would push for an Islamic state. The headquarters of the Jamaat-e-Islami is called “Mansoora”, which is located in Lahore, Pakistan. After partition, religious extremism in Pakistan reared its ugly head when Majlis-e-Ahrar, a vociferously anti-Pakistan Islamic party during pre-partition days, in 1953 started its campaign of terror against a sectarian minority with the help of another witchdoctor of dubious history, i.e. Maududi, who till then had become completely irrelevant after his opposition to Jinnah and the Muslim League. To the credit of Pakistan’s judiciary, it swiftly handed down a death sentence for the person who is singlehandedly responsible in providing the ideological foundations for not just the Islamization in Pakistan but the global Islamic jihad. Nevertheless the Maududi’s sentence was commuted and subsequent to commutation, his book, Islam and Communism, was picked up, reprinted and distributed allegedly by CIA over the Muslim world. The idea was to use Maududian extremism to stiffen resistance against Soviet expansionism. It is therefore ironic that the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maududi’s enduring creature, which in 1977 received funds from quarters in the US to overthrow the increasingly pro-Soviet Bhutto in Pakistan, is today the bastion of anti-west. Wonders never cease.
The Jamaat-e-Islami started its work, in what is now Bangladesh in the 1950s. It laid emphasis on Islam and remained committed to the unity of Pakistan. As a result Jamaat chose to ignore the grievances of people of East Pakistan and was also unsympathetic towards the ethnic and linguistic sentiments of the region. The blind commitment to the unity of Pakistan prompted Jamaat to support the central government under General Yahya Khan in 1971 who used brute force to suppress the Bengali nationalist movement. The Jamaat-e-Islami became notorious in Bangladesh for collaborating with the Pakistani army during the liberation war. It also indulged in mass rapes and killings for which its leaders are now facing trial. Jamaat was outlawed in independent Bangladesh for its role during the liberation war and also because the country was established as a secular republic. The Jamaat describes itself as a “moderate Islamic political party.” The party emerged in its traditional form in May 1979 after the withdrawal of the Political Parties Regulation. It has participated in almost all the national and local elections. Jamaat prefers to adopt ‘constitutional means’ to attain its objectives. The government of Bangladesh in 1973, by a notification disqualified Professor Ghulam Azam, a former Amir of Jamaat, from being a citizen of Bangladesh. The collaboration of the Jamaat with Pakistan army and the involvement of its leaders in war crimes created an image problem for the party. In the immediate aftermath of liberation it was a challenge for the party to convince the people that the Jamaat was not opposed to the independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh. The Jamaat has now undertaken an extensive propaganda campaign to refurbish its image. The Jamaat now says that it was not the only political party that supported the cause of united Pakistan. There were other parties namely, the Muslim League, Nezam-e-Islam Party, Jamiyat Ulema Islam, the pro-China Communist Party all of whom supported the cause of united Pakistan. It also claims that a large number of prominent personalities had taken similar stand. In subsequent years, the Jamaat slowly become a full participant in the political process, rehabilitated by generals Zia-ur-Rahman and Hussain Muhammad Ershad. The primary motivation however of the authoritarian rulers in Bangladesh was to bolster their own political legitimacy through their much-publicized support for Islam.
The Jamaat-e-Islami advocates not just religious extremism but open violence against minorities. Maududi has inspired a generation of Islamists globally. His exegesis of the Quran is widely read and followed by the Salafi Islamic order, predominantly found in the West and the main source of terrorism in the name of religion. Along with Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, Maududi remains the most widely read Islamist ideologue for relatively more affluent Muslims in the west. Within Bangladesh too, the target audience is the middle class. In the triumphalist Islamist narrative, Qutb and Maududi are prophets without parallel.
The Jamaat-e-Islami actively works on the campuses of large educational institutions to spread its doctrine of hate and bigotry not just against religious and sectarian minorities in Bangladesh but against all liberal people. Its student wing, the Islami Chatra Shibir (ICS) is a cadre-based organization modeled after Nazi Militia. The Jamaat-e-Islami seeks to infiltrate the army, the air force and the civil bureaucracy to weaken the country’s resolve against extremism. Key members of the Jamaat-e-Islami sit in educational institutions to introduce nothing but poison in the young minds of Bangladesh.
The Jamaat-e-Islami is the best organized outfit among all the political parties in Bangladesh. Its structure is similar to revolutionary cadre-based parties where members move up through concentric circles of cells. Its cadres are disciplined. The party has a highly selective membership process. A prospective party member begins as an associate and receives lessons in party ideology before being conferred full membership. Unlike other parties, Jamaat has developed a stable party fund and contributions come from members and sympathizers. The influence of Jamaat now is quite widespread. Its sympathizers are of all ages, some of whom are madrassa educated but others have also received a modern education. The common people of Bangladesh are still reluctant to accept the ideology of the Jamaat. Women, who have played an important role in Bangladeshi society, are especially skeptical of the Jamaat. Though the Jamaat has often tried to mislead women by trying to highlight their role as mothers in Muslim homes, the Bangladeshi women want much more than that. Hence even rural women who are more influenced by religion, they too are wary of Jamaat and consider it to be a hurdle in the way of their progress. But the Jamaat is continuing to make inroads because of its strong organizational machinery. It is luring people and bureaucrats and sometime even using force where they are in a position to do so. Most importantly, when Jamaat was in power it tried to create a system that would benefit its followers and put the others at a disadvantage. Minorities and others, of course do not have any place in their scheme of things. The Jamaat-e-Islami is consistently working in Bangladesh to achieve its avowed objective of Islamic state. In this effort it has been supported by both military dictators as well as the democratic governments. Though in the initial phases after liberation the growth of political Islam in Bangladesh was a top down phenomenon, Islamists of Bangladesh have now come to a stage where they can sustain themselves and grow at a rapid pace. It has also been suggested that Bangladesh’s indigenous culture and society are a natural defense against extremism but unfortunately both the culture and the progressive elements of society have been under attack. The importance of Islamic parties is often underestimated on the grounds that they do not win many elections. But the number of seats won by them does not reflect the kind of influence they have on the Bangladeshi society. One reason why Jamaat has not done so well politically is because the party is not so keen on winning seats, but prefers, at this juncture, to make society more orthodox in other ways.
It must be remembered, for those who still care about the reasons why we made this country in the first place, that Bangabandhu’s Bangladesh and Jamaat-e-Islami’s Bangladesh are mutually exclusive. Bangladesh must decide here and now: do we wish to make Bangladesh a prosperous, secular and democratic country? Or do we wish to make Bangladesh a violent dystopia run by maniacs and religious extremists?

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