Recently Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami has resurfaced in the political arena. Last Friday, Jamaat men took to the streets, swooped on police and vandalized vehicles, demanding the restoration of the caretaker government system, echoing the demand of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). A number of media reports quoting the Jamaat top brass also suggest that now both parties have embarked on a mission to overthrow the government. This alliance holds a grisly record of unleashing street violence and targeted attacks on minorities, as well as law enforcers.
It seems that BNP was trying to distance itself from Jamaat over the last few years as they were trying to gain support from India and the western powers. However, they have not moved away from the anti-Liberation War and pro-terrorism politics of Jamaat – a party that not only opposed the birth of Bangladesh but was also involved in crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971. Some BNP leaders were also convicted of crimes against humanity in 1971. Motiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid along with some other Jamaat leaders and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a top BNP leader, who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War were brought to book by the International Crimes Tribunal.
BNP claims that their alliance with Jamaat is an “electoral alliance, not an ideological one.” But sustaining ties for such a long period is quite impossible without having close ideological alliance. Awami League and its allies have an electoral alliance based on the values emanating from the struggle for independence during Pakistani rule, i.e. democracy, socialism, secularism, and nationalism.
BNP could have been a party upholding liberal democracy. However, its reliance on Jamaat impedes the progressive political development in Bangladesh. On top of that, the so-called Bangladeshi nationalism, though superficially includes all ethnic minorities, disrespects the rights of the minorities by amending the constitution. Ziaur Rahman replaced secularism, as one of the founding principles of Bangladesh, that inspired our freedom fighters. His political move had nothing to do with Islam per se, but rather with the identity politics based on Islam.
Factually, Muslim freedom fighters believed in Allah and it gave them strength in fighting the unjust war imposed on a peace-loving people. But not all freedom fighters were Muslims. Most people believe that people of other faiths shall have their rights and recognition. This is called secularism. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stated in the Constituent Assembly in 1972 that secularism does not mean the absence of Islam or any other religion, but rights and recognition of all religions.
The BNP-Jamaat led government directly and indirectly patronized radical Islam. During the BNP-Jamaat led government’s tenure, Bangladesh drew global attention as a “transit route for terrorists”. Mufti Hannan and other Mujahideen who were trained by the CIA to combat Soviet forces in the 1980s became active in Bangladesh during the BNP-Jamaat regime which came to power in October 2001, a month after the 9/11 attack.
A series of terrorist attacks that include successful and unsuccessful assassination attempts on prominent political leaders, writers, artists, and secular intellectuals together with a spate of bomb explosions all across Bangladesh on a single day in 2005, brought Bangladesh to the Western bad book. A generally tolerant and peace-loving population grew intolerant to some extent and a small part of them also got involved in militant activities. The book entitled “Political Islam and Governance in Bangladesh”, edited by Ali Riaz and C. Christine Fair, refers to this as “a permissive government that indirectly and directly benefited from these developments.” And the “permissive government” was the government of the BNP-Jamaat alliance, a match made not in heaven.
The writer is former chairman, National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh. Views expressed in this article are his own.