Asif Shibgat Bhuiyan

We are in a crisis. How can we get out of it? This is the first part of a three-part long form

  • Progressive religious education can stop kids from getting the wrong idea

The Dhaka terrorist attack has sufficiently confirmed with evidence that we are in a crisis. After some contemplation, I think I can come up with the following four steps that we should immediately, as immediately as possible that is, partake in order to restore parity of common sense. I personally recognise myself as a committed Muslim, and an ardent student of the faith, the effect of which can be obviously noticed in this writing.

But despite my bias, I will argue that the steps presented are still very practical and some are empirically observable. I have tried to be less rhetorical (much less than many famed intellectuals and journalists of the country) and less verbose and have come straight to the point. Some of the concepts presented may seem a bit elaborate and perhaps even repetitive. I think they only point out to the importance of the concepts in contention. So here they are:

Ensuring political equilibrium  

By political equilibrium I mean a true democratic politics, not a pseudo one. The essential element of a democratic politics is the presence of a strong opposition party. The effect of the absence of a strong opposition party will not only be felt in the immediate parliamentarian democracy, but also will trickle down to the deterioration of other less immediate but equally important, if not more, values such as freedom of press and freedom to associate and congregate (which is exactly what is happening in Bangladesh).

Whoever argues that Islamic militancy is a discrete affair not related to the local political dynamics is dangerously wrong, and such shallow assessment will only lead to a wrong diagnosis to the actual problem.

Lack of political equilibrium serves as the Goldilocks condition in the radicalisation of Islam. Let me pose two arguments in its support.

Firstly, a mere look at all the countries that have been proved to be the breeding grounds or shelter for militancy confirms that one of the common elements in them is this lack of political equilibrium. Hence, the claim that the ongoing political structure is required, even if not desirable in and of itself, to fight the so-called fight against terrorism, is not tenable. It is tantamount to saying that what helps infest the pests is in turn the insecticide to terminate them. This non-functional democracy will only help cement radical Islamism in a country where previously it was not getting a strong foothold.

Secondly, the manifestation of political dissent may no longer follow the previous unarmed demonstrative routes as we have seen in the 90s. In order to understand this, we need to summon a concept called “path dependence.” Path dependence, a concept more used in sociology and economics, refers to the phenomenon that the ultimate outcome of a sociological or historical event doesn’t always follow a predictable pattern, rather it is affected by all the accidental occurrences along the journey.

Hence the recent upsurge of IS in one area has its effect on how rebellious voices will manifest their dissent in some other seemingly separate place. Radical Islamism may seem to some, if not many, as the most feasible and lucrative way of a successful conveyance of grievance, especially when all other peaceful avenues seem not to exist anymore. Path dependence entails that, after the rise of al-Qaeda and IS, the whole language of dissent and rebellion, especially in a Muslim majority country, will find a new direction and momentum. If that is true — which to me it is — then the foremost remedy of the problem is to bring back a representative government and a strong opposition party in order to break the Goldilocks condition.

Introduction of a progressive and credible mass religious education  

It should not miss anyone the demographics of the miscreants of the recent terrorist attacks. Most of them seem to be coming from the higher rungs of the socio-economic hierarchical strata. A new tide which has flowed across globally in the Muslim communities has engulfed Bangladesh too.

A free flow of data and information has rejuvenated Islamic knowledge and how it is obtained through the internet and social media. Since the last decade, a good portion of the Bangladeshi youth has explored Islam from globally reputed scholars, lecturers, websites, books, pamphlets, and articles which are cognitively and ideologically more powerful than the materials and sermons provided by the traditional local imams and religious personalities.

But as with everything with the internet, this unrestricted flow of religious materials has also opened the floodgate for the radical version of religious hermeneutics.

Opposed to the more contextualised, pragmatic, and nuanced presentation of a moderate Islamic approach by the majority, this radical approach takes the overly rhetorical, literal, and self-empowering route, which can often prove fatally more straight forward, free of hypocrisy, and action-packed. The chance of the latter to put an indelible mark in the impressionable minds of the youth is unmistakable.

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