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News Analysis: Intolerance, statues and Islamists

  • Published at 12:52 pm December 8th, 2020
File photo of the vandalized sculpture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the intersection of five roads in Kushtia city on December 5, 2020 Dhaka Tribune

It should be clear that strongly secular principles without the trappings of political expediency is the only path to protect not just statues but social customs as well as religious diversity

This is not the first time that the Islamists have stood against a statue. Relenting to the first instance of a similar demand had opened up the doors to resistance against all statues, a possibility that this writer had mentioned in 2017.

That article three and half years ago had concluded, “Removal of the statue of Lady Justice now will threaten the idols and statues everywhere forever.”

Although on the previous instance, the Islamists were not dismissed entirely (which they should have been), this time it concerns the founding president of Bangladesh, father of the nation, as well as the sitting prime minister.

But that hardly makes a difference to the Islamists. They do not see the difference between Lady Justice, Aparajeyo Bangla or Sheikh Mujib. They are bent on establishing Bangladesh as a theocratic Muslim state. Repeated pandering to these forces for political expediency has only strengthened them and emboldened them.

Also Read - High Court: Take action on those creating anarchy over statues

The ruling government has repeatedly sat with fundamentalist forces and relented to their demands, weakening its own principle of secularism and forgetting its own pledge to ban religious political parties or to shun religion-based politics.

In fact, the ruling party has leveraged Islam as a political tool every opportunity it had.

It was to pander to the very communal demands that this the government imprisoned progressive bloggers for hurting religious, meaning Islamic, sentiments.

Last month a man was lynched and then his body was set on fire in Lalmonirhat for supposedly insulting the Quran. Ironically, however, before prosecuting his assailants, the authorities investigated whether the man was indeed guilty of what he had been accused of. As if that would justify his lynching.

This government has also relented to the Islamist demands of changing textbooks. The recent confrontation was inevitable, but it is also a stark reminder that the country is hurtling down a very dangerous path.

Also Read - Quader: Permission will be needed to construct Bangabandhu statues

Even now the suggestion that it was not a statue but “sculpture” points to the underlying assumption that somehow an idol or statue would justify opposition since it is “un-Islamic.” But that argument also smacks of the inherent value judgement that anything un-Islamic is bad and hence may be opposed.

Such a stance can only stem from a government that has forgotten its secular principles and is out to court the rather loud and visible religious conservatives. As a result, intolerance has only increased over the last decade and the sitting government has sat on it.

To repeat the spirit of the previous article, the sanctity of statues, idols or sculpture can only be defended if and when the government strongly engenders its much-touted principle of secularism.

The stance must be strong and the announcement unequivocal in its support of secular values. It cannot be a policy of a secular government to please all religions.

A secular government must not allow any religion to play a part in governing the state.

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