Leaders and the led from a host of rightwing Indian Muslim organisations – Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JeI), All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, All India Milli Council, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamaat Committeeincluded – have not been sleeping well in the last several weeks. Their angst is on two counts. One, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) set up by the ruling Awami League in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators, Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. Two, the “atheist conspiracy” to banish Islam from Bangladesh that is supposedly behind the lakhs who have been thronging Shahbagh.
So far, nearly a dozen men including nine currently top-ranking leaders of the Jamaat, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, have been held guilty and served stiff sentences. According to the sleepy-heads, the ongoing trials are a sham, a mere cover for the ruling Awami League’s “vendetta politics” against the Jamaat and its youth wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir. That the Jamaat had any hand in the genocide is news to them.
“Islamists are the most principled, pious, god-fearing and kind people on the earth... It’s far beyond their high moral standards to rape or kill someone,” claims a JeI spokesperson in an email. This is news to me. Are the Jamaat-Shibir supporters in India ignorant, wilfully blind, or do we smell theological affinity here to a totalitarian ideology parading as Islamic?
Keep the genocide of 1971 aside for the moment and take a look at what the “most kind” have been up to in recent years.
April 26, 2011: “A judicial commission has concluded that over 200 Hindu women were raped following the 2001 parliamentary election, forcing many terrorised families to flee the country. The acts were allegedly committed by cadres of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami who won the 2001 polls, the report said, citing the involvement of many top leaders and lawmakers of the alliance that is now in the opposition… It lists 3,625 incidents of major crimes, including killing, rape, arson and looting”. (IANS report from Dhaka published by the Muslim news portal, Two Circles).
September 26, 2005: Syed Najibul Bashar Maizbhandari, international affairs secretary of the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) resigns from the party protesting “the government’s failure to act” against the Jamaat-e-Islami (part of the then ruling coalition) which he said had direct links to terrorist activities across the country. The Daily Star published from Dhaka, quoted police records that the over 100 militants who were arrested during 2005 in connection with the bombings (including the simultaneous bomb blasts at 459 spots in 63 districts across Bangladesh on a single day – August 17 – aimed at establishing Islamic rule in the country) either belonged to the Jamaat or its various wings, or had worked with them previously.
November 24, 2005: The BNP expels one of its MPs, Abu Hena, from the party for blaming a section of his own government and party for patronising militants. What’s more, he charged that two ministers "are doing everything for the militants". Hena further alleged that the Jamaat was directly involved in the emergence of the outlawed Jamaatul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh. His expulsion notwithstanding, BNP’s standing committee member and former minister Oli Ahmed and BNP whip Ashraf Hossain also spoke out, implicating the Jamaat-e-Islami in the rise of militancy in the country.
March 6, 2013: “Over the past week, individuals taking part in strikes called by Islamic parties have vandalised more than 40 Hindu temples across Bangladesh. Scores of shops and houses belonging to the Hindu community have also been burned down, leaving hundreds of people homeless… Survivors told Amnesty International that the attackers were taking part in rallies organised by the opposition Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JIB) and its student group ChhatraShibir. JIB has publicly denied any involvement in violence against the Hindu community”. (A press release by Amnesty International)
April 20, 2013: “Despite High Court directives to the government to protect religious minorities and their places of worships, criminals continue their attacks on minorities across the country. In the latest such crimes, a group of criminals torched a 200-year-old Hindu temple in Rajoirupazila of Madaripur (on April 19)… at least 94 attacks were carried out in March (2013) on minorities, mainly on the Hindus. In total, 187 houses, 162 businesses and 89 temples were attacked and looted and 133 idols were vandalised, according to the statement of a writ petition jointly filed by six rights organisations”. (Daily Star, Dhaka). As always, the JIB will no doubt deny any role in the recurrent targeting of Hindus.
As for “atheist conspiracy”, an entire galaxy of maulanas affiliated to the Imam Ulema Somonnoy Oikyo Parishad, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (Bangladesh) and other religious bodies in Bangladesh have publicly alleged that the Jamaat-Shibir is linked with terrorist Islamist organisations. “People who believe in Wahabism and Moududism (Maulana Abul Ala Maududi was the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami) are enemies of Islam as they misinterpret Quran and Sunnah”, thundered AhleSunnat (Bangladesh) secretary general Syed Muhammad Masiuddoula at a Sunni Ulema-Mashayekh Conference on March 17. (Daily Star).
On the one hand, there are the Jamaat, which has never polled more than four per cent of total votes, and extremist Islamist outfits dreaming of an Islamic state and shariah law. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Bangladeshi Muslims love “their Islam” but would like to stay far away from politics. It’s as simple as that. That’s what Shahbagh is all about.
Whose side are you on? The question is addressed in particular to Indian Muslim supporters of the violence-promoting Jamat-Shibir outfits in Bangladesh as much as to the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, both of whom seem to have granted to Muslim leaders with an intolerant world view the right to hold the state to ransom as often as they please.
(JavedAnand is co-editor, Communalism Combat, and General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy).