Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq, a supernumerary professor in the University of Dhaka, who lost his son, publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, in an attack by religious extremists, tells Mohiuddin Alamgir in an interview with New Age how Anglo-American imperialism, and the decline of democratic and socialist ideals inside political parties have created a vacuum in which fundamentalism grew
New Age: Politics of religious extremism has apparently taken a violent form in Bangladesh. Why?
Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq: There are few aspects to the phenomenon. Islamic fundamentalism and armed Islamic fundamentalism are both imperialist constructs. At the beginning of 1980, BBC radio and the Voice of America rigorously propagated the idea of Islamic fundamentalism.
Really speaking, at the time, Islamic fundamentalism did not exist anywhere in the world then and it was an idea planted jointly by Reagan [Ronald Wilson Reagan an American president served from 1981 to 1989] and Thatcher, [Margaret Hilda Thatcher, a prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990], government with some imperialist designs.
The Bangladeshi media blindly followed the line of BBC and VOA, and the leftists who usually raise slogans against imperialism stepped into the trap of this imperialist design, as they also started propaganda against ‘Islamic fundamentalism.’ As a reaction to this, Tabligh Jamaat and the sufi congregations grew rapidly in Bangladesh.
BBC radio and VOA instigated the leftists and the Awami League to stand against ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and in between, the movement for democracy, became confined only to slogans. The ability to hold parliamentary elections disappeared.
During that period, NGOs and civil society organisations developed in Bangladesh, and there was a depoliticisation movement from some invisible quarters. Around the same time people lost faith in the democrats and Marxists in Bangladesh, and was drawn to religion gradually.
The numbers of mosques and madrassahs, both recognised [Aliya] and non recognized [qoumi], darga [shrines built over the grave of a revered religious figure] and khankas [building designed specifically for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood] grew vary rapidly.
The culture and political outlook of the people of Bangladesh changed almost totally in the 1980s and behind this change Anglo-American imperialist design worked quite well.
At the beginning of 20th century USA and Britain started the war against the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq, Mullah Omar [Mullah Mohammed Omar] government in Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi government in Libya.
As a reaction to these military attacks and mass killings, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State and some other armed Islamic fundamentalism groups emerged.
NATO military forces were brought to Middle East countries by the USA and UK, lakhs of people were murdered, and people in those countries have been suffering tremendously. They had nationalist feelings; they went for independence of their states.
Under these circumstances, armed Islamic fundamentalism grew and spread in many countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Bangladesh became a victim of this Anglo-American design.
Moreover, Bangladesh has its own political weaknesses; political parties lost touch with ideologies such as democracy and socialism. In this vacuum, Islamic fundamentalists and armed Islamic fundamentalists raised their heads.
The debate about secularism and the rise of state religion Islam is not a healthy one. It creates unrest in society. Both the terms should be abolished from the constitution.
New Age: Contrary to hitherto middle-class intellectula conviction that madrassahs are the breeding grounds of ‘jihadis’, the violent operations by jihadis at the Gulshan restaurant in July points out the fact that non-madrassah youths have embraced politics of religious extremism. Why?
Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq: The BBC and civil society members of Bangladesh propagated the idea that madrassahs, especaily quomi madrassahs, are the breeding ground of jihadis. But people who read newspapers are now hearing that about 15 to 20 private universities are a hatchery of secret fundamentalist ideas, among which Hizb ut-Tahrir is prominent.
But the Awami League and leftists, the government, intelligence and journalists did not take the matter seriously and ignored it all this time and as a result, organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir, Huji [Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami] and JMB [Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh] spread quickly.
Ten to 15 years before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, US and UK leaders understood that the Soviet Union will fall apart, and at the time, Reagan and Thatcher understood that democracy as an ideology, in the absence of socialism, will be very dangerous for imperialists.
Both the leaders consulted with economists and philosophers and constructed the idea of liberalism, which critics call neo-liberalism. In between all this, they put forward the idea of anti-fundamentalism. They brought free market economy, pluralism, liberalism and such others concepts.
Everything did not work in line with the plan of Anglo-American imperialism and armed Islamic fundamentalism rose in reaction to the imperialists. Islamic fundamentalists consider imperialism as their biggest enemy.
Armed fundamentalists lost all their all human qualities, they do not have rationality, reasoning, and they are extremely impatient. This kind of movement was present in Russia before socialist revolution, among the Irish against Britain, but these movements have never succeeded.
New Age: Do you think certain particular kinds of socio-political and economic factors play a role behind the youth in society getting attracted to politics of extremism — religious or otherwise? If so, what are the factors?
Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq: There are many reasons for youths in society to get attracted to the politics of extremism. They do not have an ideology in front of them; democracy and socialism are lost and in this vacuum, they took interest in religious extremism.
Ideological crisis creates crisis in the economic and political system. With the advent of new technology economic production grew manifold during last 40-50 years, wealth increased unexpectedly, but in the absence of ideology, injustice and inequality increased many times over.
Men and women have food and clothing better than in anytime else in history. If justice improves a bit, all men and women in the world can live with plenty of food, clothing and necessary things, but for want of justice and lack of ideology, men and women suffer immensely. This also creates foundation for extremist idea and its activities. This to me is the root cause.
Anglo-American power particularly hitting the Islamic world also has relations to the frustration among the youth.
The curriculum at schools and universities are not enough in creating a good citizen, family ties are on the decline in society, consumerist tendencies - these are all serious issues. Children of families where relations between husband and wife are strained face a lot of impediments to normal upbringing.
New Age: What is the way out?
Abul Quasem Fazlul Huq: The intensity and causes of the problems are different so its solutions should be different. The common ground is that all the countries should continue to protest strongly against the foreign military forces in Middle East. People should demand withdrawal of all military forces from the Middle East.
If the US-UK-NATO forces continue their presence in the Middle East and continue mass killings, the situation will not improve.
In Bangladesh, the government exhausted all its methods against the armed Islamic groups and people should help the government, police and intelligence agencies in this process.
But only suppression will not serve the purpose.
Suppressive measures bring temporary results but for lasting effects, the education policy and education system must be reformed drastically as early as possible. The main attention should be given to mainstream education in the primary and secondary level.
Madrassahs should run according to the rules of the constitution. They should not be disturbed by the government. If the mainstream improves remarkably, the madrassah stream will be willing to change for its own good.
If a madrassah goes against the constitution, and is found engaged in religious extremist activities, they should be controlled.
In the mainstream education system, the present examination system, syllabus, textbooks should all be changed. Having an English version is a wrong decision, it should be changed.
Bangladesh must not blindly follow the decisions of World Bank, IMF, UNICEF and UNESCO. It should have its own ideas about the examinations system.
The conscience of intellectuals has not been woken, they do not protest against injustice, they do not think of a better world. With the fall of Soviet Union and the spread of new technology, all ideologies such as democracy, socialism, nationalism and internationalism require serious reconsideration.
History should be studied afresh according to human experience, all ideologies should be reexamined with a synthetic outlook and a new ideology for mankind needs to be constructed.
Those who will work in this direction will have to stand outside of the thought process of imperialists. The world is now being led by World Bank, IMF, NATO, WTO and G7 countries. The idea of these bodies will not help develop a better world.
They are a hindrance and will hinder any new, progressive thought process but to overcome the crisis a new thought form and justice-loving intellectuals and people will have to be awakened.
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