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Bangladesh: Hefazat-e-Islam’s violent ‘Godmen’ or pretentious clerics who we in our ignorance have permitted to proliferate

30 July 2013

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XTRA - supplement New Age - July 26, 2013

Hefazat and the high art of lying

by Maqsoodul Haque Mac

‘The only thing worse than a liar is a liar that’s also a hypocrite!’ Tennessee Williams

We have reached close to a point of no return in our political shadow boxing and hence the mainstream parties have decided to hire sidekicks to keep us entertained, as the going has gotten clearly rough. These sidekicks in the form of Hefazat on the other hand have conveniently taken on the subject of Islam, knowing fully well its implications; i.e. our general citizenry is averse to discuss or debate this in public.

It is not because citizens do not want to, but its selective anathema on the subject stems more from ignorance as to the history of political Islam, as well as the flimsiest knowledge about the strength of Sufi Islam, the dominant strains in our culture that has been in existence for over 400 years, with records of fighting bigotry and intolerance. It has therefore helped bigots to stamp the word ‘sensitive’ before the subject, and by default, has made them the ‘sole authority of Islam’ in the public perception.

We have therefore been thrust into a frustrating and predictably inconclusive debates on God and our respective iman (faith/belief) and who is or isn’t a ‘better Muslim’ forgetting quite placidly, that it is not Allah that will come in to run things for us, bring in order from anarchy, or sort the mess we are in; but us humans. Never ever, has our polity and propriety combined been dragged down to a level lower than what we are now witness to.

The recent disgusting video from the Hefazat supremo Ahmad Shafi of Hathazari has kept us thoroughly titillated, and what is obvious is more than our politics, secular values, women or even our culture, it is Islam in Bangladesh that has been maligned in more ways than we may imagine. If there has been any damage done thus far, it has been to Muslims who for centuries have lived in peace and amity in this country, despite fact that ultra-conservative strains among some religious groups have been omnipresent.

If we need to assign blames, first we have to point fingers at sections of our morally bankrupt politicians that have moved us out of the ambit of discussing ways and means as how the nation can prosper, as other than divisions they have nothing else to offer. That done, we also need to point many more fingers back at ourselves for permitting our common sense to take leave, and in the process create further fodder for disquiet in the desh.

For reasons ominous and best known to the powers that be, Hefazat an inconsequential group on the lunatic fringe is being primed to centre stage of our attention as one among ‘powerful factors’ that caused the debacle of the ruling Awami League (AL) in the recent City Corporation elections. However, is that the truth, or is Hefazat just another expendable ‘bogeyman’ that is being used not only by the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) but also by the AL in the run up to Polls 2013? Is this to create an aura of a force much ‘larger and powerful’ than both and one we have to perforce align ourselves with...or else?

In both cases, a reality check brings into forefront massive errors of our collective judgment. We have been conned into believing that Hefazat with all pretensions of being ‘defenders of Islam’ will make a change to our political landscape and in turn, the fate, ‘faith’ and fortune of Bangladesh. It is a lie of the highest order. Hefazat is surely not the last word for Islam in Bangladesh, nor is there any truth to the ruse of their ‘massive support’ all across the length and breadth of the country.

Evidently, there is a sinister pattern emerging this Ramadan in Afghanistan and Pakistan where unheard of clerics are handing out vitriolic fatwas (edicts or decrees) targeting women and ones their respective governments are shockingly acquiescing to. No different is the case of Bangladesh.

Taking a cue from an article ‘Spare the faith’ in New Age Xtra of July 19, 2013, the writer states ‘The point is that there are 65,000 quomi madrassahs in the country and their reach is all over the country. Their institutions are growing by the day and more and more children are getting into these madrassahs as they provide food, lodging and Islamic education all at the same time’ - yet the most important points were missed out as these are presumptions, and not ones based on facts or ground realities.

Firstly, is there any convincing evidence that Hefazat’s perverted zero-centricity and misogynist mindset ‘reach’, to each and every one of the above 65,000 madrassahs? NO they do not, for this is a case of fear psychosis driven stereotypical profiling by our city based elite about madrassahs. It is in our criminal ignorance in not knowing the workings of these institutions that in the end leads to the likes of Hefazat to multiply. Also, our failure to see through the web of lies and falsities these elements have traditionally woven around us, are ironically ones we do not take lessons from.

Secondly, what is the demography of quomi madrassahs? The figure ‘65,000’ is purely speculative and not based on any hard evidence or fieldwork whatsoever, neither are any data available as to the numbers of actual students in these institutions. Thus for argument sake, if we add in 200 people on average (i.e. direct beneficiaries/stakeholders of the quomi madrassah system) and multiply that by 65,000 madrassahs we reach numbers not exceeding 13 million. This in effect is too paltry a figure for any serious demographic judgment when we consider the total population of Bangladesh currently at 160 million!
The bottom line is , Hefazat despite all our fear psychosis has no clouts whatsoever as a political or even social movement and despite the ‘paramount importance’ showered on them by sections of the media, in the hungama everybody seems to have overlooked the financing methodology of this obscurantist entity, that has suddenly become the ‘talk of the nation’.
The pertinent question is; who pays for the upkeep of children in quomi madrassahs? The answer to that is the quomi madrassahs in themselves do not pay a damn thing. If anybody does, it is us, the communities i.e. the ‘Islam sensitised’ overwhelming part of the citizenry, who support them to the hilt, and are its ultimate patrons. Quite simply stated, quomi madrassahs unlike aliya madrassahs are not supported/financed by the Government.
Opportunities and danger both present itself in the scenario. The danger is in unsolicited funding by vested interest in connivance with political elements make them a potent yet ‘inexpensive force’ for rise in Islamist militancy and its twin, nihilism. The post-80’s influx of Saudi petro-dollars has actually seen the upsurge of the phenomenon, the rest is history.

The opportunities are; we as communities, the contributors and patrons, can demand greater change in the madrassah curriculum, as well as embed awareness building mechanisms that can lead on to negating and marginalising the likes of Ahmad Shafi. We can also demand public accountability and transparency as to how the money we donate to madrassahs are spent. If Hefazat claims, it is a force that respects ‘democracy’, they should have absolutely no problems in accepting the above proposal!

The irony nonetheless is despite the communities overwhelming support in cash or kind to the quomi madrassahs for as long as we can remember, what at all has been their ‘productive’ output? Ahmad Shafi demonises women working in garments factories, considers them ‘lecherous adulteresses’ simply because they have to work anywhere between 12 to 14 hours to feed their children and families, and has clearly spelt out women as the ‘nastiest things’ that Allah has created. Yet have any of us enquired about Shafi or his cohort’s actual ‘contribution’ to the national economy, the exchequer, to our prosperity and wellbeing? Nothing whatsoever - in fact they have lived all along on freebees, turned slothful and his ‘idle mind’ and those of his cohorts have no doubt become the ‘devils workshop’ and advocate.

Put plainly, the first breach of trust on part of Hefazat to Allah and the nation is by being so supremely ungrateful to their patrons, and in the same token the sin in demonising women, our mothers and sisters who the Qur’an commands us deserve our unqualified respect and honour. By mobilising vulnerable children who we pay for support and upkeep in these madrassahs for ‘march of Iman’ and bringing them to Dhaka NOT for a show of force against an ‘atheist Government’ voted in by a ‘brute majority’, but threatening us with insane violence, based on their scurrilous misinterpretation of Islam, has proved beyond reasonable doubts that their intentions were anything but peaceful.

Clearly, Hefazat wants to reduce Bangladesh to economic and moral bankruptcy. All that they wanted to project themselves was a ‘menacing threat’ which may have earned them accolades from an unenlightened few, but overall condemned by the vast majority as unworthy of either respect or hospitality, regardless of their Alem status.

In addition, what about their lies? Here is a list worth considering:

Lie # 1: The hundreds upon thousands who ‘marched’ into Dhaka during the siege programme on April 4, did so ‘spontaneously’: the truth – millions of takas were pumped in for the mobilisation by vested interest, Free Masonic enterprises fermented with black money and usury, thus disparaging the ideals of Islam and the words of the Qur’an.

Lie # 2: Hefazat is a non-political spiritual ‘movement of the people’ with Ahmad Shafi as the head: the truth is Hefazat’s real politico-spiritual-philosophical ‘ideologue’ has since been identified as a former atheist and leftist intellectual, with strong leanings to JeI/BNP who in recent days has veered sharply to the far right ‘core of believers’. As early as 2011-12 he had predicted in TV talk shows about the ‘rise of a force unseen and one worthy of our fear’ and mixing it with Marxist jargons of ‘class war’ to make his point. Yet it was not a prophecy nor a forecast, but one he had been conniving for long supported by intelligence operatives, some well known as double even triple ‘agents’, close to several corridors of power.

Lie # 3: The AL Government in its crackdown on Shapla Square on May 5, killed 2500 Hefazat supporters and transported the corpses by truck to India for disposal: the truth is the claims were so bizarre and unsubstantiated, that international human rights bodies who in the early days bought the story and chastised the Government, at a later stage (while not exonerating the AL) acknowledged its mistake and censured Hefazat for ‘manipulating figures with gross exaggeration’.

Lie # 4: Hefazat’s 13 point charter of demand is not ‘anti-women’ nor against garments workers: the truth has been corroborated convincingly in the video of Ahmad Shafi that sent shock waves and went viral three weeks ago. This despite the fact that scores of JeI/BNP ‘intellectuals’ including the extreme-left-turn-extreme right turncoat as well as his wife, had penned reams of pro-Hefazat article and its supposed ‘pro-women’ policies. Their silence since the video has been deafening!

Lie # 5: The Government to ‘humiliate’ Shafi doctored the video in an apparent ‘media coup’: the truth became evident in the force of public scrutiny on the one hand, as well as the hostile reactions of a BNP women MP in parliament. It however speaks volumes about Hefazat’s fragility and cultural inadequacy that it was left with no option but solicit a ‘women’ in a failed attempt to protect its own sullied reputation. When public demands for Hefazat to produce the ‘un-doctored video’ peaked following the furore...the set was staged for the last, if not the least of their lies...

As more dangers loom in the horizon for the nation, it is entirely left to us as who to believe. Is it going to be the AL Government, BNP, Jamaat or Hefazat? The truth is nowhere in between, neither will it ever be black or white, but then if it is going to be Allah who we believe will decide for us, it is best that we leave everything to His judgment instead of entrusting our resolve behind farcical and violent ‘Godmen’ or pretentious clerics who we in our ignorance have permitted to proliferate. [. . .].



The above article from New Age Xtra is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use