During a recent conversation with a friend regarding the removal of the Lady of Justice statue (about which I have written before), he referred to the brilliance of removing the statue for a day, only to have it be reinstated the next.
Of course, it was in a slightly different place, he reiterated, but the fact that mosque-goers could see the statue, and that this is problematic for most Muslims, even moderates, was the reason the government had to.
That’s why, while it was removed, no statements were made about its reinstatement.
Quietly and suddenly, the statue sprung up from the ashes.
This was the government’s brilliant move, its Hefazat checkmate. It flipped the bird to the religious extremists and won over the tolerant, peace-loving moderates, who (we would like to believe) make up most of the population.
A dog with a bone
But, as the popular Bengali saying goes, you allow someone to sit, and suddenly, they want to lie down. Hefazat is no different.
Being able to convince the current government (which is the closest thing we have to secularism right now, sadly) was a power trip, which Hefazat had perhaps not experienced in recent years. And why wouldn’t they? They had, in essence, won.
When they asked for every single statue to be removed, it wasn’t surprising.
If you can turn a secular space, such as the courts, into a religious space, so can you the entire country, which is meant to be the same. It is meant to represent an entire people, especially when it comes to religion, and not the majority.
Sultana Kamal’s logical reasoning, which eventually led to her commenting that mosques shouldn’t take up secular space if statues (if they are indeed deemed to be religious symbols) aren’t either, led to Hefazat’s violent verbal retaliation: “If you come out to the streets, we will break every bone in your body.”
They also demanded that she be arrested. But who cares anymore when violence is the answer to everything?
If your empathy is triggered (or triggered most) when it involves your religion, the battle is already lost. You have already coloured people into categories
Bad to the bone
In Rangamati, Bengali settlers torched and looted the houses of indigenous peoples.
What leads a community to band together (yes, a great thing) against another (a truly terrible happenstance)?
What leads their faculties to consider retribution and vengeance first, and in the form of violent righteousness?
Let me say it outright: A group like Hefazat is no good for the country.
What does a group like Hefazat have to do with anyone? Well, when Israeli apartheid rages the lands of the Gaza strip and the West Bank, people claim solidarity with them. Not because a people are being systematically treated as sub-humans, but because they are Muslims.
If your empathy is triggered (or triggered most) when it involves your religion, the battle is already lost. You have already coloured people into categories. You have, by the fact of their birth, presumed a people to be more worthy of your care.
This is the kind of sentiment that Hefazat propagates. One could argue that Hefazat is a product of this sentiment (the chicken or the egg?), but that is an argument for historians.
What do we do now with the monster of fundamentalism in our midst? This isn’t specific to Hefazat either. If they think they can get away with ordering physical violence against a citizen, publicly, where will they draw the line?
A bone to pick
Sultana Kamal is right to say that “you cannot say anything in this country.” Least of all if it can be misconstrued as hurting religious sentiments.
Much of this has been allowed to happen because of the apathy the government, and powerful individuals within the community, and the community itself have shown towards religious intolerance.
Are we too emotional to entertain a thought foreign to our microcosm? Are certain thoughts so ingrained in us and in our society that we can’t rebel against them?
If these series of incidents have taught us anything, it is that we are terrible at being objective when the need arises.
We are unable to see the opposite side of things, we are unable to empathise with people unless they hold up mirrors so that we may see ourselves reflected back.
Question your religion? Argue against patriotism? Doubt the facts which led to your country’s independence? Unacceptable.
You can’t have one without the other. You can’t choose which subjects are OK to criticise, which are not.
Freedom must go both ways. How much longer must we tread this one-way street before every bone in our body is broken?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.