Bangladesh �ber Alles

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah


Ms. Peters had attended one ceremony this year sporting a head cover so that no Mullahs are offended by her presence to congratulate the first batch of Mullahs who had received the training. The news of this function was widely publicized in Bangladesh media. If Americans would have thought that no danger could emanate from Bangladesh�s Islamists, then why are they spending dollars to retrain the Mullahs in Bangladesh?

In an open society, the popular view may not always be right. Therefore, the competing ideas should be discussed in an open forum. Bangladesh�s myriad newspapers must play their roles in this regard. Arming with a heavy dose of patriotism anyone could become a hyper-patriot and then, they may suffer from �Bangladesh �ber Alles� syndrome. Examples of becoming overzealous patriot are aplenty these days.

THE caption of this article may look funny to unfamiliar eyes. There is no such human malady by the name �Bangladesh �ber Alles.� Therefore, without much ado let me tell you what this phrase really means. After much deliberations I thought I should patterned the title of this article after the German national anthem "Deutschland �ber Alles," which means �Germany Above All.� Much to my consternation I also found out quickly that in 1979 a little known Californian punk group by the name the Dead Kennedys (what a disgusting name!) debuted a single EP (extended play) disk in which the title cut was "California �ber Alles." That goes to say how original I am. Nevertheless, for today�s purpose this semi-plagiarized title would do mighty fine because I am going to write about this pervasive mentality among our people who think that the good name of Bangladesh be defended rain or shine. These folks have a tendency to show their overt patriotism whenever western writers such as Bertil Lintner or Alex Perry would pen articles to tell the world what an island of paradise Bangladesh has become lately vis-�-vis Islamic fundamentalism.

To these patriots, it is either �Bangladesh �ber Alles� or nothing. The same bunch is not sympathetic at all to an ultra-secularist writer, Ms. Taslima Nasrin, because she exposed the repressive dictums of many Hadith by painstakingly removing the veneers that protects the codified Sha�ria laws. These nouveaux (new) hyper-patriots of Bangladesh have unwittingly joined the forces of Islamists in Bangladesh. Even though they say outwardly that they are for progress and modernism, and they will be amongst the first to say that they abhor the obscurantist Mullahs, the same bunch may however tend to give moral support to political parties that are long on religion but short on secularism.

Islam is a dominant phenomenon in Bangladesh. There is no question about it. This has become more so in the last 25 years. When Sheikh Mijubur Rahman -- the founding father of the nation -- was alive, there was a cultural renaissance going on all over Bangladesh. Joi Bangla was the catch phrase. The newly born nation was not doing great vis-�-vis economic growth. Then again, the seventies were rough time indeed.

In the U.S., a leadership crisis was going on centering the impeachment of President Nixon from the office. The Cold War rhetoric was not ebbing because the East-West relationship was still hinging on the Brezhnev Doctrine. And then, there was this slump in the Wall Street. The global economic malaise did not help the newly born nation of Bangladesh to stand on its two feet. Under this backdrop, a huge number of Pakistani trained soldiers (including many commissioned officers) had repatriated to the new nation of Bangladesh sometime in 1973. As a last ditch effort to save the nation, Sheikh Mujib floated a united front calling it BAKSAL. This was modeled after USSR, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and many other countries of the East European bloc. The Bangalees were not ready for this kind of political institution. Some saw a danger in it because this one-party rule may turn Bangladesh into a hard-core socialist nation. An evil plan was thus hatched in the cantonment. And we know what did happen next.

Bye, bye, Joi Bangla. The new catch phrase "Bangladesh Zindabad" was popularized. To many people it was d�j� vu all over again. Welcome to Banglistan of Gen. Ziaur Rahman. The despotic ruler was doing his house cleaning inside the military so much that he became the marked men. He was assassinated in May 1981. For a while things look very murky, politically speaking of course. The flimflam man of Bangladesh, another army General was waiting in the wings. He was very serious about turning the nation into an Islamic paradise for his personal gain. The Saudis and other Middle Eastern nations were watching the events in Bangladesh with watchful eyes. From 1976 through 1990, many Islamic institutions were founded all over Bangladesh. Thanks to Petro-dollars. The spigot was fully opened and one could practically hear the sound of mighty petro-dollars and all the fizz. Bangalees were quenching their thirst at an amazing speed. The nation was getting their Islamic University, Islamic Technical College, and the whole shebang of Islamic institutes. The country changed its secular demeanor going from 1975 to 2000. The number of religious schools, madrassahs, skyrocketed. These religious schools were producing unskilled jihadis many of them ended up in Kashmir and other far-flung places such as Afghanistan.

The Islamists in Bangladesh were daydreaming of conquering land from neighboring Myanmar, Assam, etc., and forming a bigger Islamic Banglistan in South Asia. With this myopic worldview, the Islamists in Bangladesh tried to form a permanent base near Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Ukhiya to goade the Muslim minorities from Myanmar, the Rohingyas. Both Bertil Lintner and Alex Perry have written much about this in recent days in their investigative reports where they have independently mentioned that as of late, Bangladesh has been treading a very dangerous path to Islamism. For their dour conclusion in respect to Bangladesh becoming a paradise for Jihadis, both Lintner and Perry had received odious comments from many newspaper editors, politicians, and prominent citizens of Bangladesh. They inveighed against both Lintner and Perry with their fallacious testimony. Again, the driving force for such overt patriotism is "Bangladesh �ber Alles" syndrome.

To preserve the good image of Bangladesh�as a moderate Muslim majority nation�the government of Bangladesh has taken an unprecedented step. In the annals of modern history, we have never heard a nation imploring the ambassador of a foreign nation to give testimonials to refute the views of not one but two western reporters. Yes indeed! That has happened. The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh Ms. Mary Ann Peters spoke highly of Bangladesh vis-�-vis the nation not becoming a safe haven for Jihadi Mullahs in this impoverished nation. She reiterated her previous claim that Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim nation, which does not have any connection to bin Laden�s organization, al-Qaeda. The Bangladesh press and government are using Ms. Peters� comment as a shield to ward off negative criticism from other writers and commentators. The encomium form Ms. Peters come in the heels of training tens of thousands of Mullahs in Dhaka in an institute funded by the U.S. government. Ms. Peters had attended one ceremony this year sporting a head cover so that no Mullahs are offended by her presence to congratulate the first batch of Mullahs who had received the training. The news of this function was widely publicized in Bangladesh media. If Americans would have thought that no danger could emanate from Bangladesh�s Islamists, then why are they spending dollars to retrain the Mullahs in Bangladesh? The American ambassador cannot have it both ways. In one way, she is giving plaudits to Bangladesh because the nation is not treading the dangerous path to Islamism. On the other hand, to thwart the growing menace of Jihadi Islam in Bangladesh, her government is funding the re-training facility to brainwash the Mullahs. The reason for this American initiative is very simple. In the last Eid prayer in December 2001, the Khatib (head Mullah) of Bangladesh�s national mosque Bait-ul Muqqaram lambasted both America and President Bush in presence of several ministers of Mrs. Khaleda Zia government. No one had reprimanded the Khatib. Some newspaper editors had denounced the anti-American speech of the Khatib in milder language. The American government learned a valuable lesson out of this fiasco. In a hurry, a plan was made to re-train the Mullahs of Bangladesh.

The overt patriotism of many Bangladesh-born expatriates was seen in early 2002 in many cyber sites in the Internet. A controversy just brewed over the role of a human rights group in America that calls itself Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities or HRCBM. This is essentially a watchdog group to monitor human rights violation of minorities in Bangladesh. There are an estimated 15 to 16 million non-Muslims in Bangladesh and about 90% of them are Hindus.

It was publicized all over Bangladesh news media that in the aftermath of October 1, 2001, parliamentary election in which the BNP and its alliance of Islamic Parties have own the majority of seats in the national assembly, the minorities were targeted for inhumane torture and repression. Particularly in southern districts of Bangladesh, many Hindus were physically tortured, their houses were set ablaze, their women raped, their ornaments forcibly snatched from their body parts. When these reports were pouring in the news media, the newly appointed government shrugged their shoulder discounting all the news of minority repression. Nonetheless, the communal violence continued. The members of HRCBM then started their campaign to alert many human rights group in the west and also they started lobbying some members of the House of Representatives in the U.S. And their campaign was quite effective. While all of this was going on, a section of Bangladesh�s expatriate communities started their smearing campaign against the HRCBM in the Internet. We were told in no uncertain term that this human rights group was essentially a part of the BJP operatives in the West. A false linkage was thus created only to preserve the good name of Bangladesh. This false and vapid campaign was initiated inspired by the mantra of "Bangladesh �ber Alles." The Islamic goons belonging to BNP and her four-party alliance did some ethnic cleansing undoubtedly in October through December of 2001 to create terror among the minorities of Bangladesh. Isn�t it odd that in the pre-partition days in East Bengal, which is essentially Bangladesh now, the Hindus used to comprise about 30-32% of the total population? Sadly, this number had dwindled to about 10-12% now. Every time the communal repression is shoved down the throat of the Hindus in Bangladesh, some Hindus leave their ancestral home and head for West Bengal. The rich and powerful Muslims of the village who also have political connection then annexed the homesteads of the fleeing Hindus. This has been the usual pattern over the last half a century. But then, the likes of Badruddin Omar and Enayetullah Khan would chant "Bangladesh �ber Alles." Their chant would then reverberate in the newspapers inside Bangladesh and in myriad Bangladeshi forums in the cyber space.

In the last quarter century or so, Bangladesh has engendered many overzealous loyalists. The denominators of this group of sizzling patriots are the following: 1. They are arch anti-Indian; 2. They are soft on Islam; the streak of Pan Islamism runs through their vein; 3. They mostly come from the families that used to vote for the Muslim League candidate in the election during the East Pakistani days; 4. They or their parents showed a lukewarm support for an independent Bangladesh during our struggle in 1971 and they think that the Awami League conspired with India to dismantle Jinnah�s united Pakistan ; 5. They abhorred the leadership of Sheikh Mujib; 6. They are reticent about all the new developments in Bangladesh vis-�-vis establishments of tens and thousands of new madrassahs, and the activities of other fundamentalist mullah brigades.

Some of the overzealous vocal patriots of Bangladesh used to be supporters of Uncle Mao or Great Grand Pa Lenin. But then those were the halcyon days in the 1950s and 1960s. The sizzling patriots of the yesteryears are now reformed sexagenarians. Some of the elite members those who used to hang around in Dacca club with the bottles of booze in the olden days are now reformed Muslim-minded Bangalees. A couple of them would easily beat the records of many Hollywood stars as far as their visit to Kazi�s place for tying knots. You see the vicissitudes of time have made them quite mellow now. These aged folks are the spiritual gurus of this �Bangladesh �ber Alles� movement. Thus, when Bertil Lintner or Alex Perry pen some honest articles, this sizzling patriotic brigade members shouts "Bangladesh is the land of Moderate Muslims," "Bangladesh has no Taliban or al-Qaeda network," etc.". "Lintner and Perry are all wrong."

On October 25, 2002, one of the leading newspapers of Dhaka carried a piece of news in their front page that is worth mentioning here because this news has also showed a tinge of �Bangladesh �ber Alles� syndrome. It said that the Foreign Secretary (FS) of Bangladesh thinks that certain quarter is doing an anti-Bangladesh campaign in the Internet. The FS did not name names but he was quick to assert that this campaign will be thwarted in no times. He appealed to his countrymen to confront such campaign. But, how could the citizens of Bangladesh deny that nearly 60,000 madrassahs are producing tons of new recruits for Harkut-ul Jihad, al-Qaeda, and many more fringes that exist in Bangladesh? How could our people ignore the fact that a prominent Islamist who goes by the name Shaikh-ul Hadis, the spiritual guru of Islamic Oikkyo Jot � one of the alliance parties that holds power in Bangladesh at this very time � is also a member of the board of directors of Harkut? These damaging revelations are coming out only to roil the good name of Bangladesh in the international forum. This wayward bound journey of Bangladesh seems to be unidirectional. Thus, the trammels of this collective propaganda by the overzealous loyalists is causing a lot of discomfiture among intelligent expatriates who indeed think that their motherland is headed in the wrong direction away from modernity and progress. The FS of Bangladesh may think that his recent pep talk in the media would enthuse many expatriates to take action against those who write sound articles in newspapers or posts two-liners in a myriad e-forums to give vents to one�s frustration vis-�-vis Islamization of Bangladesh. All his cavorting in the media would amount to nothing much. The expatriates are an intelligent bunch anyway.

More eye-catching examples of �Bangladesh �ber Alles� syndrome could be culled from various Bangalee cyber forums in the Internet. However, that will be overkill. The gentle readers have gotten the idea what this over-patriotism could lead us to. Now that democracy is in secure place in Bangladesh, what the citizens should do is allow all the institutions of democracy to flourish in the land. The ability to take criticism against our society, culture, polity, etc., no matter how severe it might be, should be promoted by all means. Criticism does not mean that the nation is going to pots. Often criticism may lead to a healthy debate. And Bangladesh�s citizens may get to see the proverbial two sides of the coin. If however, dissident voice is not allowed to speak, then, it is a sure sign of trouble. We have observed with trepidation that both the leaders of Awami League and BNP do not allow criticism of their policy vis-�-vis the governance of the nation. Both the leaders have failed miserably to understand the essence of democracy. Maybe, when hundreds of newspaper articles will be published to demonize the ills of not allowing people to speak their minds, the politicians will get the message in a hurry.

The political leaders should get this idea into their head that many a time a dissenting view is probably a saner view. In an open society, the popular view may not always be right. Therefore, the competing ideas should be discussed in an open forum. Bangladesh�s myriad newspapers must play their roles in this regard. Arming with a heavy dose of patriotism anyone could become a hyper-patriot and then, they may suffer from �Bangladesh �ber Alles� syndrome. Examples of becoming overzealous patriot are aplenty these days. This article is a small effort to remind our folks everywhere that competing ideas often shape the future of a society. Therefore, rather than criticizing a dissenter in scathing language a healthy debate should be ensued in public forums such as in daily newspapers. The government or the civil society won�t lose anything by allowing such debate to take place. Three cheers for an open society! And that is my ardent hope.

Published in Mukto-Mona forum on Nov 2, 2002. Also published in The Bangladesh Observer Editorial section.


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a regular contributor for this column, writes from New Orleans, USA