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Humanism Is Much More Than Religious Solidarity Through Selective Outrage

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ወደ የመጀመሪያው ያልተነበበ መልዕክት ዝለል

1 ኦክቶ 1998 3:00:00 ጥዋት01/10/1998
In article <>, wrote:

Humanism is much more than
religious solidarity through
selective outrage.

By Jamal Hasan

Some articles in News from Bangladesh leave a long and lasting
impression on the readers. Riaz Osmani's article ("Why is the
Muslim World Silent?" in Readers' Opinion column on August 28,
1998) is one of them. The writer strived to draw the readers'
attention to the disturbing silence in most Muslim countries when
it comes to condemning terrorism perpetrated by criminal outfits in
the name of Islam. Mr. Osmani's voice was a lonely one as he
broached a tabooed topic and proceeded to call A SPADE A SPADE.

It is a matter of deep regret that the currently dominant political
philosophy in the Islamic world has its roots firmly implanted in
an "us versus them" point of view. Reactionary victimology has
emerged as the guiding political philosophy. Injustice, either
actual or perceived, to a Muslim community anywhere in the world
draws instant outrage in Muslim countries around the world
irrespective of the merit of the case in hand. Rational thinking,
far too often, takes back seat to emotional outbursts and even
senseless violence.

The world is replete with nations with citizens of diverse religious
background. Many of them in the third world had to fight an uphill
battle to earn their independence. It is indeed tragic that many a
liberation movement in third world countries have been hobbled by
sharp polarization along religious lines. The Kashmir movement is
a good example. Not too long ago, it was secular Kashmiriyat that
used to define the nationalistic aspirations of the people of this
beautiful land. Today, the uprising has degenerated into a sectarian
movement. It exudes an exclusivity in which to be a Kashmiri is to be
a Muslim. The non-Muslims have no place in the way Kashmiriyat has
been redefined. More than three hundred thousand Pandits from the
Kashmir Valley have been expelled from their ancestral land. The
secular and eclectic character of Kashmir seems damaged for good.

The Palestinian movement is an example of a national movement that
has both a secular and a religious undertone. It is the secular
strand of Palestinian nationalism that is best exemplified by a
Christian-Palestinian activist like Edward Said or Hannan Ashrawi.
The Islamic essence of the movement, on the other hand, makes
itself known by the support it draws from all Islamic countries
and their organizing body, the OIC. If Kashmiris or Palestinians
had not been perceived as predominantly Islamic people, OIC
would not have bothered to voice its support for their liberation
movement. In other words, OIC's humanistic agenda is highly
selective. Religion is its primary determinant. Mr. Osmani, in his
article, attempted to challenge this selectivity that dominates the
thinking in the Islamic world.

The concept of a common nationality under Muslim Ummah had won a
chance to prove itself in the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Unlike
Palestinian nationalism, Islamic nationalism in the subcontinent
was fundamentally centered around religion. By 1947, the elusive
concept of Islamic nationhood had mercilessly steamrollered the
aspirations of individual ethnic groups with common cultural and
linguistic bonds. A Gujarati or a Keralite Muslim settled in
Karachi was expected to wipe out every vestige of his ancestral
homeland. Palestinian Muslims, on the other hand, even after
decades in exile in places like Kuwait, Abu Dhabi or Libya have not
only retained their ethnic cultural mores but have passed them on
to the new generation.

It goes without saying that Arab nationalism or Palestinian
nationalism in the Arab world and Muslim nationalism in the Indian
subcontinent have evolved under differing historical settings.
Arabs are predominantly Muslims while the majority of Indians of
South Asia are Hindus. The Muslim minority in the subcontinent
became alarmed about their future as the Hindus first caught up and
then seemed to surpass them socially, educationally and
economically. The perceived loss of their competitive edge vis-a-
vis the Hindus may have egged on the Muslims to take the separatist
route in an attempt to level the playing field. Consequently,
religious identity, rather than ethnic and secular cultural identity,
took the lead role in defining the political dynamics of the
subcontinent. Religious zealotry was understandable under the
circumstances, but its fall out was inevitably tragic and
disastrous. Pakistan seems hopelessly stuck in a religious quagmire
with no relief in sight for its hapless citizens.

Since the very inception of Pakistan, Bengali Muslims were treated
like social outcasts. This is quite ironical in view of the fact
that Pakistan could never have seen the light of day without the
participation of Bengali Muslims in the Pakistan Movement.
Nevertheless, when Pakistan came into being, it was its western
wing that emerged as the power center of the nascent country. The
power brokers pointedly ignored the ethno-regional aspirations of
the eastern wing. The Pakistan that came into being in 1947 was a
disparate union of peoples who were, culturally and linguistically,
so far apart that the newly engineered country showed every symptom
of a dysfunctional family. Bengalis were used and abused
ruthlessly for the next 24 years by the ruling elite moored in the
western wing. Pakistan did its best to maintain a facade of unity
and religious brotherhood as it sought the limelight on the world
stage as the largest Islamic nation of the world.

Bengali Muslims had joined the Pakistan Movement in the hope of
ending the class exploitation of the zamindars who were
predominantly Hindus. They had hoped to break into the ranks of the
middle class that too had been largely Hindu. Bengali Muslims had
imagined Pakistan to be the Promised Land where they would attain
the fulfillments that had eluded them in a Hindu dominated society.
The aspirations of the Bengali Muslims, though seemingly communal,
were molded essentially by their class aspirations. That is why it
never occurred to the Bengali Muslims, as a community, that they
must cleanse their land of Hindus who had stayed back in East
Pakistan even after 1947. Bengali Muslims signalled their
willingness to cohabit the land with their Hindu neighbors as soon
as the Hindus loosened their stranglehold over the feudals and the
middle class. This was the very antithesis of what happened in the
western wing where the driving force in the aftermath of the
partition was communal rather than class aspirations. Not
surprisingly, West Pakistan was cleansed of Hindus and Sikhs in a
matter of months, nay, of weeks after the partition.

Bengali Muslims realized with the coming of Pakistan in 1947 that
they have been thrown from the frying pan into the fire. Bengalis
found themselves playing the second fiddle in a nation where they
were the majority. The west wing based ruling elite was using
religion as a pretext to force traditional Bengali culture to take
the back seat. The comparatively fair complexioned West Pakistanis
made no attempt to hide their racial prejudice and contempt for the
darker skinned Bengalis. The Bengalis felt no better than the Black
South Africans under apartheid. Pakistan's ruling oligarchy seemed
confidant that its shenanigans in the guise of Islam would prove
effective to exploit the Bengali Muslims for a long time to come.
But Bengali nationalism could not be held at bay for ever. The
liberation war of 1971 was the bloody culmination of a movement
that had sought equality and justice for the Bengalis from the very
first days of Jinnah's Pakistan.

The metamorphosis of the Pakistan movement into the Bangladesh
movement brought a breathtaking change in the Gangetic delta.
The Pakistan Movement in Bengal was a movement exclusively by the
Bengali Muslims. Bangladesh liberation struggle, in stark contrast,
attracted support of all Bengalis, irrespective of their religious
faith. Hindus, Christians and Buddhists joined hands with their
Muslim brothers to liberate their land of birth from the clutches
of the marauding army. The enormous sacrifice of the religious
minorities for the cause of Bangladesh has bound their future with
the destiny of this nation forever. The uniqueness of the genesis
of Bangladesh shows beyond doubt that Bangladesh is, by no means,
a logical follow up to the Pakistan Movement even though some
revisionist historians like to claim so.

Pakistan, although very much dysfunctional from its very birth,
managed to maintain a facade of normality for the Islamic world.
United Pakistan was the largest Islamic country on earth and many
a Muslim country had envied its apparent prosperity and military
might. This allowed the ruling oligarchy to misrepresent the nature
of the 1971 crisis to the Islamic world as a Hindu conspiracy
against Islam. Not surprisingly, practically no Muslim nation was
willing to speak up for the Bengalis through much of 1971. The
genocide of the Bengalis, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, simply
failed to register on the collective conscience of the Islamic
world. To add insult to the injury, some Arab countries like Saudi
Arabia were adamantly in favor of Pakistan's "territorial

Arab nationalism, Iranian nationalism or Palestinian nationalism,
has no quarrel with Islam. Neither has Bengali nationalism. But
Pakistan's subterfuge effectively reduced the issue of self
determination of the Bengalis into a issue of preserving "Islamic"
Pakistan's territorial integrity in the face of incessant hostility
of predatory Hindu India. No Muslim country seemed perturbed by the
wanton murder of innocent people and the rape of Bengali women
by the Pakistani soldiers. All news on the horrendous crimes
against humanity were quickly dismissed in the Arab world as
"hegemonistic Hindu India's grand design of dismembering brotherly
Islamic Republic of Pakistan".

It is a sad reality that there are some Bengali Muslims, who, even
today, share such a world view with their Pakistani "brothers." To
these men, it wouldn't have mattered in the least if the nine month
armed struggle had prolonged into a nine years war with casualties
exceeding thirty million Bengali civilians. These black sheep among
the Bengalis would have continued to rationalize the crimes of the
fascist Pakistani junta. They could never have allowed their hearts
and heads to prevail over a mindset that is outraged very
selectively. Tell them that it is a "Hindu plot" and they would
gladly condone the genocide of their compatriots in the cause of
"Islamic" solidarity.

To religionists, Bangladesh liberation movement is an affront to
the Muslim Ummah. It is viewed as a setback for the Muslims of the
subcontinent. Their political philosophy is based on an unshakable
faith in a premise - Pakistan and Islam are synonymous and
inseparable. In their eyes, Pakistan is the beginning and end of
Islam. Anything that earns the disapproval of Pakistan's ruling
oligarchy is quickly dismissed as un-Islamic.

Unfortunately, after the emergence of Bangladesh, there was no
effort to acquaint the traditional religionists of the country with
its nationalistic and cultural ethos. Even after 1972, mosques and
madrashas continued to be in the hands of religious leaders
or administrators whose thought process had not evolved beyond the
days of pre-1947 philosophy inspite of the epoch making events
since then. Alarmingly and regrettably, the Islam based politics
in Bangladesh, more often then not, finds expression in a shameless
tilt toward Pakistan which, to this day, refuses to apologize for
the crimes of 1971.

The Gulf War brought to the open many a hypocrisy that religionists
had chosen to ignore or hide for so long. It showed up the ruling
elite in Saudi Arabia for what it is. It took a Saudi Grand Mufti
to legitimize the presence of Jewish and Christian American
soldiers on the Saudi soil. Saudi rulers were aware all too well
that interests of the kingdom and the ruling dynasty must take
precedence in every situation, especially when they are threatened
by the ambitions of a "brotherly" Muslim Arab country. During the
Gulf war, it was the mosques in Saudi Arabia that became centers
for anti-Saddam propaganda. Mosques in Iraq, not surprisingly,
became platforms of anti-Saudi and anti-US rhetorics.

All through history, Bengali Muslims had consistently shown
solidarity with the politically oppressed Muslims of the world.
They have been firm supporters of the Khilafat Andolon, the
Palestinian quest for nationhood, the Afghanistan resistance and
the Kashmiri freedom movement. Bengali volunteers for Palestinian
cause have languished in Israeli jails. During Friday Jumma
prayers, Bengali Muslims in Dhaka, Jessore, Kaliganj and
Kishoreganj never tire of speaking up for Kashmiris, Bosnians,
Chechnyans and Palestinians. And, yet, there wasn't a Muslim nation
who had stood by the Bengalis in their hour of need in 1971.

Humanity is much more than religious solidarity through selective
outrage. I think, for the sake of humanity, the Muslim world owes
the Bengalis a BIG ONE.

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