Bangalee versus Muslim: Criticizing Rabindranath
Zakaria S Khondker
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In a typical village in Bangladesh, if you surpass your neighbors and relatives, you are in trouble. Neighbors and relatives will try to humiliate you, pull you down. As wealth, fame, recognition, honor all are in relative terms. The psychology is if you are down, they will be seen higher. So the competition is pulling others down, not driving yourself up. Some of the recent writings just to defile Rabindranath Tagore, covering his darker sides only, could just come from this psychology. Pull Rabindranath down, you will be seen high! This nagging notion is relatively harmless. The more dangerous notions could be individual�s identity crisis and Islamic extremism.

Nonetheless, there are other possible notions of humiliating Rabindranath. One is the failure to comply with own identity. At the beginning of 20th century, the conception of Bangalee identity was the driving force of independence movements. While Hindus wanted unified Bangla at the beginning and Muslims the opposite, since thirties Muslims wanted the unified Bangla and Hindus the opposite. We divided the Bangla under the illusion of �tow nation theory�. Instead of independent unified Bangla, we were divided between India and Pakistan. The desire of Bangali Muslim leaders was overshadowed by Islamic identity and we found ourselves in Pakistani colony. Besides being Hindu or Muslim we all are Bangalees.

Different people of Pakistanis were known as Panjabee, Sindi, Bangali, etc. In the wake of language movement in 1952 the illusion of �tow nation theory� faded away. The driving force for our independence was Bangali nationalism. Rabindranath�s works were images of Bangali culture, the inspiration for national identity at the graveyard of Muslim identity professed by Zinnah and others. An Egyptian Christian or an Iraqi Muslim can identify himself as an Arab. The �forged� Muslim identity perishes when an Arab Muslim gatekeeper takes away my visa documents to stay in my prepaid hotel in Dubai on the way to America and I have to sleep in the airport floor to pass 13 hours in the lounge. He does not know my language, I don�t know his; there is no conversation. A Bangalee Hindu can easily identify himself just as a Bangalee. He asks you if you are a Bangali or a Muslim. You proudly say �Bangali Muslim� to partly serve his purpose. An Arab never says �I am an Arab Muslim�. Arab Muslims are majority Arabs, Bangalee Muslims are majority Bangalees. It was Bangalee identity, not Muslim identity (of Pakistan), which led us to liberation movement. This identity is meant for our independence, not to threat our existence. If you can�t identify yourself as a Bangalee, Arabs also rejects you your identity is in crisis and you are in a delirium as well.

The third and the most dangerous notion of defiling Rabindranath can come from Islamic extremism. This extreme group always tries to deny all progressive works. They are the descendents of those who declared British education is Haram (forbidden) for Muslims; the descendents of those who declared Nazrul as Kafir (atheist). Their current business is to denigrate Rabindranath and erode his influence on Bangalees. Their business kick started with asking to write Rabindrasangeet (Tagore songs) in early fifties and is now on discovering lack of masculinity in Rabindranath�s songs. Rabindranath�s femininity (?) taught us to unite us as Bangalees and fight the Pakistani oppressors. If Rabindranath�s thoughts are too deep for you, you may well identify them as feminine.

Islam teaches masculinity! What about femininity? Females are half of the human kind! An Iranian woman wants to be the second wife of a married Bangladeshi man to leave Iran. Islamic masculinity? Girls in North Africa are forced to mutilation, on the first night husband shows his friends and acquaintances the blooded knife that opened the path of his pleasure. All the wife feels in her whole sexual life is pain. Islamic masculinity? Before American attack one fourth of Afghans became refugees, women�s education was banned, lashes continued for short beard or short veil. Islamic masculinity? Honor killing in Pakistan, Jordan and other Arab countries became traditions. Islamic masculinity? Saddam Hussain burnt thousands of Kurdish villages in Iraq. Islamic masculinity? Arab Muslims destroys buildings in New York, killing thousands of civilians; thousands of garments workers loose their jobs as an aftermath. Islamic masculinity? Pakistani Muslim army killed millions of civilians- women, children, elderly alike and raped hundreds of thousands of Muslim women in Bangladesh. The so called Islamic world remained silent. Jamat helped in killing and raping Bangalees in 1971; now in the business of cutting tendons and rooting up minorities. Islamic masculinity (�pourush�!)?

Rabindranath�s philosophy of peace and harmony can be a threat for you if you purport these kinds of Islamic masculinity. The world is moving forward, we don�t want to walk backwards. While we want peace and harmony, the extremists want chaos to fish in the muddy water. While the world is moving for freedom of expression, they want blackout; ban on �FEER�, �Matior Monia�, Cable TV, etc. While we need education for men and women alike, they would put females behind the bar. They don�t want to love women calling it �female worship�; want to use women just for reproduction. Do we want the same?

When a Chinese asks a Tamil Indian about Tagore, the Indian points at me saying- �ask him�. I feel proud of Rabindranath, I feel proud of myself, and I feel proud of being a Bangalee. You may try finding a replacement for Hindu Rabindranath in vain. Failure to separate a person�s works from his lifestyle or belief system can be classified as �confounding symptoms�. Do I care if Shakespeare was Christian or Rumi was a Muslim? I don�t care if Homer worshiped idles or if Tolstoy was an atheist? No, I don�t. I enjoy their literary works. Do we care if Edison was a Christian when using electric bulbs? They stand as milestones in our civilizations.


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