Women have to fight back religious extremism as they are the worst sufferers of it as unless they do son, their progress in empowerment, participation in education, socio-economic activity and trade will be hindered, Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kari and global coordinator of One Billion Rising, tells Mohiuddin Alamgir in an interview with New Age
New Age: Politics of religious extremism has apparently taken a violent form in Bangladesh. Why?
Khushi Kabir: Religious extremism is a global phenomenon and the concern is not limited to just one religion. The world is now suffering from politically-created Islamophobia.
Like all other religions, Islam has different sects; even each other sect has different sub-sects on the basis of difference of explanation and ways of practice.
Yes, there were some armed incidents that took place in spreading Islam. But in most cases, those were peaceful, especially in South Asia, where a religious harmony has always existed. Bangladesh used to be an example where people of different faiths can live together in harmony.
Religion and politics have an interconnected role over centuries. Even in our region, archaeological excavations have shown the interconnection between religions and politics or rulers.
Archaeological and historical monuments built during the rulers of followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam depict the character of their respective religions. During the Second World War, the Nazi party in Germany came out with a purist form of Aryan Christian philosophy.
I think that in the era of globalisation, the interconnection between religions and politics has increased. Now what we are seeing is a very rigid form of Islam, which is contrary to the way of traditional Islam.
On the other hand, previously, the world was bipolar — the socialist world led by the Soviet Union and the capitalist world led by the United States of America. With the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the world became unipolar.
The new unipolar world for its capitalist nature does not believe in equality and depends on consumerism, production for profits and does not have any feelings for others outside the mainstream belief. In the capitalist order arms, drug and sex trade are where lot of money is invested. They need to build markets to run the business.
New enemy is being created — the so-called Islamic religious extremism. Now the space is shrinking everywhere and it has created Islamphobia. We hear news that people are being offloaded from planes and restrictions are being imposed on wearing certain dresses and in others activities related to Islamphobia.
Bangladesh is not detached from the rest of the world. Nowadays, youths have more access to the outside world through the internet, social media and overseas travel for work and study. So they are exposed to many different ideologies.
The Nazi philosophy become popular with the Germans as it provided a feeling of pride of being who the Germans were, which they lost earlier. In the case of Muslims, the same is happening as they are trying to restore the pride as Muslims after being treated as suspected terrorists in many parts of the world.
This group has a big, wide circle that is questioning the imperialist empire.
In Bangladesh, we created a feeling of pride of being Benaglis that was what all about the independence war, in which people, irrespective of their religion, race, ethnicity and education, participated. That time, none asked the question of religion, race or ethnicity.
Now the question of identity arises because of the failure of political parties in give space to people for discussions and history has been distorted.
People who have international links are bringing these people together for terrorism and religious extremist attacks on citizens to frighten them.
A group of people who belong to ideology that there should be one form of Islam is working for one Islamic state across the globe.
Another reason could be that the politics of religious extremism has taken a violent form in Bangladesh. There are two ways to establish your position through motivation and force.
Motivating about 160 million people would take long time. So, they do not want to wait for so long while the other is a violent form forcing people by frightening them.
New Age: Contrary to hitherto middle-class intellection conviction that madrassahs are the breeding ground 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?
Khushi Kabir: There are two types of madrassahs — the aliya madrassahs recognised by government and the qoumi madrassahs no recognised by the government. The aliya madrassahs follow rules and regulations of the country and uses textbooks produced by the national textbook board. The qoumi madrassahs are outside the purview.
Some of the qoumi madras are very sophisticated, they teach mathematics, information and communications technology and languages and nobody knows what is going on there. So, students of these institutions are very sophisticated and have very good analytical power and are very good speakers by way of which they cannot attract many people.
Since the mid-1990s, recruiters had targeted the Institute of Business Administration in Dhaka University and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, two major institutions that have bright students, and later they spread their net to private universities.
They are bringing in women who follow the same logic and philosophy into the religious extremism activities.
I can find another link — women joining taleem classes (teaching sessions). From these classes, they pick up their targets. It is rampant everywhere that women are forced to join taleem classes. The language and attitude of taleem classes change with class and locations such as Gulshan and Banani in Dhaka and Roumari in Kurigram.
They pick up their targets through an efficient process that they had developed because they have money along with arms.
In many cases, students are receive instructions for wearing veils, burka and hijab in line with religion.
Hijab is a personal choice to wear, but when wearing it becomes mandatory, and forced, as a symbol of identity, there is something wrong with it.
If you look at 13-point demands raised by the Hefazat-e-Islam, almost 10 of them were related to women. Somehow, this religious group is afraid of women.
Women are dehumanised right from their birth. I will give you an example: women of Iraq’s Kurdish Yazidi people are raped by Islamic State members en masse. IS considers Yazidis as descendants of the Satan and in using rape as a weapon of war, there could be no more Yazidis in the world.
The empowerment of women and their participation in education, socio-economic activity and trade made some strides, but it would be hindered if the religious extremism continues.
New Age: Do you think certain particular kinds of socio-political and economic factors play any role behind the youths of the society to get attracted to politics of extremism — religious or otherwise? If so, what are the factors?
Khushi Kabir: Youths are feeling that they do not have any role and purpose in life and they are frustrated. They have their own dreams but family pressure forces them to take certain roles. They do not get the job they want. They always see consumerism projected through all media and have them pushed to earn more to become part of the life that gives them pleasure.
There are many youths who are following this ideology, there are others who are going to countries where religious indoctrination is taking place, especially in Malaysia and the Middle East. When these youth come back to the country, they force their families to follow their version of Islam. They say what their family and friends are following and teaching is not true Islam.
There is another group who go aboard for studies and who feel oppressed and marginalised for being a Muslim in non-Muslim countries.
Our education system and cultural atmosphere do not allow youths to raise question about anything.
New Age: What is the way out?
Khushi Kabir: The government should admit that there is a big problem and seek everybody’s cooperation instead of thinking they can on their own solve everything. Extrajudicial murder of the so-called masterminds and religious extremists would not solve the problem.
Once the government said that there is no JMB, now it says that there is no IS or al-Qaeda. The government had executed Bangla Bhai [Siddique ul-Islam, a top leader of religious extremist outfit, who was executed in 2007] and others but they had regrouped and formed neo-JMB what is now in operation. The new form will be much more sophisticated.
Public involvement in solving this problem is very important. An effective political opposition of government is absent now as the government efficiently defused the political opposition; but it does not mean that the government has to ignore people.
Women have to fight back religious extremism as they are the worst sufferers of it. Madrassahs are needed to be regulated and educational institutions should be strongly monitored.
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