ALTHOUGH we cannot say Bangladesh has ever fully enjoyed a cosmopolitan environment, but she sure has cultured a national organism that has so long survived, along with exotic commodities, unplanned, and even unwanted, immigrations of foreign ideologies, customs, values and cultures. As a result we are, without doubt, a hybrid nation, utterly confused, always in need of corrections. For that we almost always have depended on those foreign paradigms that have irrecoverably upset our natural national growth. Hence our national crisis — a phenomenon resulting out of conflicts between religion (Islam in specific) and the mantras of progressive foreign cultures, the cultures which may have currency in the places they have emerged from as necessities — the cultures that announces, if obliquely, their superiority and the inability to accommodate anything that does not share affinity with them.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘naissance’— an original issue or growth. In this present situation, for the sake of our infantile nation aging rather very slowly despite rapid and radical changes, we cannot run the risk of re-membering what has already proven to be caught in an arrested development, engendering controversies and harsh criticisms. We need a new birth of a ‘seasoned’ system, with consciously engineered gene that will essentially be the same but more evolved, in terms of operation, influence, effectiveness and catalytic consistency. It will have practical time-relevant visions, aided by modern perspectives; and it will have a broader objective, always ready to transcend individual or group sentiments. Since the majority of the population of Bangladesh subscribe to Islam, Islam should be the major mode of culture (albeit not disrupting other cults and their practices), but in one condition. Without compromising originality and risking revisions, Muslims, and particularly Mullahs, will tolerate improvement of their own and will come forward, whenever required, to improve the lives of others as well.
It is therefore a Utopia I envision having a national discourse that thrives on mutual benefits and therefore understands imperfection in its relative forms. Unlike the one envisioned by Plato, this Utopia will ensure harmony through the supervision of an intricate social system that will appropriate the culturally inappropriate elements, not for the purpose of their eradication, but to provide them a service so that they can be tuned in and thus be ready to blend in the social mechanism that demands the juxtaposition of dissimilarities and a synchronisation of context-centric perceptions. This ‘intricate social system’ does sound like a totalitarian system when it intends to ‘tune’ things and that is why one might question its validity in the world as we know it, where ‘democracy’ claims to have triumphed over such backdated, often internally fallacious, modus operandi; indeed it may sound hegemonic since self-regulation (group or individual) has been hailed for its possibility to harness creativity. But it is true at the same time that ‘even the seemingly secular [has] a moral basis that [is] essentially religious in nature’ (Philip Smith). That is why Durkheim writes in his work titled, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912): ‘There can be no society which does not feel the need of upholding and reaffirming at regular intervals the collective sentiments and the collective ideas which make its unity and its personality. Now this moral remaking cannot be achieved except by the means of reunions, assemblies and meetings where the individuals . . . reaffirm in common their common sentiments’. Since Islam has registered so deeply in our collective consciousness, it is this religion that can occasion us these reunions, assemblies and meetings. It is Islam, along with its other integrated cultural practices ensuring a sustaining camaraderie, which can present us with a much needed unity and national personality.
In Bangladesh we need, more than ever, such a mode that does not bend/force ‘others’ to submission, rather offer better functionality in a reality where that particular mode is most prevalent. In Bangladesh Islam can be that mode. It will not shun ‘differences’, rather it will scrutinise them and (although the relationship between ‘power’ and ‘meaning’ is perilous) it will sync with the meaningful ones; will translate them into a language fit for our peculiar social structure, for the purpose of ensuring social integration and creating a common venue for exhibiting creativity that has direct or indirect social impact. We need a movement for the mullahs where they will demand not power, but prudence; where they will not corrupt or be forced to corrupt, but will fight the corruptions resulting out of our readymade faith for anything foreign and out of our inability to adapt something meaningfully.
SINCE the time of Syed Shah Nasir Al-Deen and then Shah Jalal, Islam has been the loudest reality here in this region of Bangladesh, and no matter how ‘problematic’ it may seem to media-mentored neo-liberals (who nevertheless and ironically are always conscious of the western hegemony/propaganda), this religion is not going to migrate somewhere else along with its subscribers, because it has settled here so deeply, and any idea of any otherwise situation is either a naïve wish based on cultural/intellectual preference or a fascist fantasy based on a different kind of ‘self-righteous intolerance’. We need an Islamic naissance in Bangladesh, one that will give the world the opportunity to witness what a religion, which originally came into being as a social demand, can do. Islam came into being more as a response to the culture found in the period of jahiliyyah (ignorance) than for the need of a new God. The Prophet of Islam maybe was more political and down-to-earth, in terms of his social skills and his ability to unite rival tribes (the settlement of the feud regarding the hajr e aswad, the black stone, may readily be an example) than any other figures in the history of religion. Instead of depending only on sermons he mostly preferred actions that had actual effects on the lives of people. Clearly two of his main tasks were social reform and coming up with a ‘perfect’ code for life. The Prophet saw the democratic system as only an arena for the competition of popularity where quantity of support matters more than anything. He rather relied on true quality, which might not appease all. His belief echoes what Plato once asked before him — who should be the captain of a ship, the one who is loved by all or the one who knows the art of navigation?
We need to come under one social/cultural mode, so that, if involuntarily, everyone can be equal or at least have a collective consciousness that will drive all, like élan vital, to work together towards a common greater goal and gradual social evolution. We need a clearly identifiable ‘civilization’ which is impossible to achieve if we keep plastering only fancy foreign bricks to our native foundation, and depend, for the most part, on the west-made version of ‘civilization’ to craft our own. To achieve ‘Bangladeshi civilization’ is possible if we can provide better living condition to the very people we look at with suspicion and often with disgust, when most of them, interestingly enough, practice in dimply lit dorms, rather in its original candour and colour, the ‘belief’ we hold in high esteem inside our private walls. We need them now, united with us, not for the benefit of a particular political party, nor for any spiritual improvement, but for Bangladesh, for our country that requires immediate attention in this age of cultural-imperialism that works subtly, destroying the fabric of a national culture. It is time we learn to value tradition, a thing that some of the western countries still observe with reverence and pride despite the fact that the west is the epicenter of all the waves of modern subversion. Tradition thus valued and mullahs thus given a platform to speak will have greater impact on the general population of our country if we can just manage to channel a prescribed culture through them, since a huge number of people here do not (and need not) simply care to read what is there in the articles and dissertations and books that tap on serious issues like culture, society, reformation or even religion. With the mullahs working alongside the government and other intellectuals, it will be easier to convince the people of our country (most of whom are Muslims) to unite and work for a shared interest, of ensuring the emergence of Bangladesh as the founding president of the country, Sheikh Mujibar Rahman wanted it. Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, the other three major religious groups of Bangladesh will obviously continue to enjoy the positions (even higher or highest) they hold now under the Islam-sponsored cultural mode and this mode will see to their prosperity, whenever they deserve it.
In our country, the madrassash are still in no better condition than the Venetian ghettos that accommodated some betrayed Shylocks, who has become, thanks to Shakespeare, a popular synonym for ‘revenge’. If we agree for a while to look at this matter from the point of view of psychoanalysis, which is somehow difficult and considered a taboo by most of the intellectuals trained in western liberalism, then we might say that when some of the extremists in the name of Islam strike, there are these possibilities that either they do it to avenge the indifference committed upon them by ‘civilians’, or they retaliate, often in abnormal and uncontrolled proportion, a racial slur that threatens their survival, or a common disdain which often does not have any real foundation but draws confidence from gross generalisations (I believe the zeal of postcolonial ‘resistance theory’ arises out of a similar condition). It is indeed tasteless to be an academic and find fault with intellectuals, but for the very ‘reason’ on which stands the testament of intellectuality, it is I believe a shortsightedness to compromise a perspective in the excitement of becoming one with the mainstream, which, cultural and media theorists/analysts will attest, goes through the process of ‘encoding’. It is possible to trace the reason behind a terrorist attack in our own attitude towards mullahs (if in fact the mullahs are the terrorists), because it does not require reinstatement what ‘alienation’ can do to people. Durkheim identified this alienation as ‘anomie’ and ‘in his study of Suicide, [he] looked at suicide data in order to document the social conditions under which an individual will experience anomie. He suggested that lack of social integration and rapid social change could be key factors in the process’ (Smith). Attacking at the cost of becoming a criminal is in fact similar to committing suicide. It is time we deal with the problem instead of pretending to have a normal socio-political environment. It is time we check imported cultures that invade our lives with promises of development. With the mullahs having better education facilities in the most prestigious schools, colleges and universities, jobs in general sectors, rationed medical facilities, and a life free from the confinements of madrasas, and maybe accommodations in government funded well-furnished quarters, we can hope of solving a tremendous problem and of achieving a social bond with them which will enable us to see them as vital parts of our seminars and see ourselves needing their insights and assistance as well. With most of us frequenting the madrasas and mosques to hold symposiums on matters of faith, spirituality, ethics and morality, and them filling the seats of our seminars with eager minds, it is impossible for terrorism to bloom in the blocks or incite a soul into committing the sin of killing, for to inflict terror one requires contradiction in the first place, but with such an arrangement, antagonism will be gone. This unique union will empower both sides, uprooting the very dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Now the reason why I advocate the upgradation of the status of mullahs is very simple. We do not have science in the sense that with what scientific resources we have, we cannot develop our material infrastructure only in a span of 5 or 10 years. Nor do we have philosophy, or theory, or anything so significantly ours that can be the tool we can use to usher a prosperous era for Bangladesh. What we have is religion, the perfect and perhaps the most powerful of all cultural elements, which can bring everyone under the umbrella of one common sentiment towards Bangladesh. Achieving ‘Bangladeshi civilization’ is impossible without prioritising the significant portion of our national discourse that religion is. And whether we want it or not, madrassah going Mullahs will always be the major exponents of Islam in our country. Under the supervision of Islam, science, arts and other fields too will thrive because they will no longer be the impediments in the path of religious prosperity and because they will share a common intellectual space with Islam, thus never posing unsolvable contradiction.
After maybe three decades of improvement schemes for the mullahs, with some of them (who deserve the title ‘enlightened fundamentalists’) holding some of the major positions in the country, not as mere ‘special’ agent/minister but as vital parts of the government, we are sure to embark on a journey that at the end will ensure us a pure ‘Bangladeshi’ identity, and eliminate, with our own achievements, all possible politics of misrepresentation. We are boundlessly indebted to the martyrs who brought us Bangladesh with their blood. But after everything, we no longer deserve to witness blood and gore, nor do we only desire to decorate the tombs of our martyrs. The 1971 was a moment of glory for us, and this glory gave us a purpose, bigger than us individuals, bigger than any political party, more important than monetary gain. I am confident enough that if united we can stand with those we now consider our threats, by the year 2071, Bangladesh will be a model country, maybe not in term of jaw-dropping material prosperity, but in terms of harmony, peace and a unity that will inspire the whole world.
Hisham M Nazer is a lecturer of department of English at Varendra University.