Of the limited amount of time I can be privileged to call myself alive, I have garnered enough memory to remember a time when the threat of religious extremism was non-existent.
I do not mean this in the sense that religious extremism did not exist. Nor that it wasn’t brewing.
Within the myopic vision of my world, I remember a time when religion, in Bangladesh, was not the haven of extremism. Derived from an existence of ignorance, perhaps, I saw religion in this country as a nationalistic trait, of course, but also as an apolitical and abstract characteristic of my family’s grander purpose.
That is, after all, where religion flourishes. From the mouths of guardians, in the loud voices of family gatherings and traditions.
Born in a Hindu family, it is invariably the case you are born a Hindu. The country around you might be surrounded by the staunchest of Muslims, but your family, they have held on to the tradition of their religious faith for long enough to warrant stubborn adherence to its teachings, its gods and commandments.
And so it goes -- for all religions.
A nationalistic identity that is so intertwined with a singular religion was always doomed to be fraught with extremist ideology. It was inevitable that, one day, there will come a time when we, too, amongst our midst, would battle our own citizens in the fight for our country’s identity.
Of false messiahs and falser promises
It was written in the cards that our history would crumble under the pressure of that religion to cater to the demands of its false messiahs.
They will point to a constitution that has been altered, at every step, to cater to the whims and fancies of those in power and say: Look, this is our law. This is our country. This country must beckon at the will of this very particular god, for his demands grace the words of this nation’s laws. Bend to his will.
You may think that moving the statue elsewhere on the premises is a good political move, appeasing both sides. You would be wrong. Your religion stays as it is
They will say, like the chief of Hefazat: “Do not play with our religious beliefs, national spirit and heritage. Do not push the country towards the curse of Allah through such anti-Islamic activities.”
And those in power, they will balk, for they find no way out. Throughout history, they have done as they wished, they have killed and pillaged a nation’s conscience till it was bone-dry and devoid of direction, and now, with a populace that is divided, one that they have nurtured with corruption, fed and made strong with false promises, disillusioned and de-educated with lies, they will find their hands tied.
They will give in
There is something truly frightening about the prospect of two evils, one that we have, tragically, accepted as our status quo. We are a broken-hearted people, let down and brow beaten, barren of hope.
We loved hopelessly and, in turn, we have been rejected hopelessly. And now, at this juncture when what we need, more than anything, is to refuse to give in to an unseen future, we have settled.
We have settled for a power whose hands go so far as to block the traffic and make us bleed sweat, but not to keep the spreading of harmful and bigoted religious rhetoric from spreading.
We have settled for a power which is now powerless to control the forces of extremist ideology.
Questions without answers
How can they? You may look across continents and oceans and land yourself in the Middle East, see their war-ravaged nations, and blame the imperialistic encroachment of the West’s thirst for power and money, but what will that do?
Will that make the power you bow down to any less corruptible? When they remove a beacon of justice from your courts, will that make it any less true?
When you wished for justice to be blind, will that blame prevent you from becoming the one who cannot truly see?
But we have had this argument, we have conducted this fight. In a country ruled by a majority religion, it begs the question: Why must not the will of the majority rule?
Because a society is only as strong as its weakest. When they came for the blind lady, you considered it a necessary compromise.
And when they asked for every statue in the country to be removed? What did you think then? A necessary evil?
Or did you agree with the sentiment? Did you honestly think that a statue makes your particular god weaker, a God capable of all things?
Are you, like them, so conceited as to think that that the creator of the universe needs you to do his or her bidding?
No evil is necessitated by giving in to the words of intolerance.
You may think this is not intolerance. You may think that the removal of the statue is self-protective, that it seeks to the sanctity of your religion.
You may believe that the purity of your religion is being destroyed by the external influence of a mere statue.
You may think that moving the statue elsewhere on the premises is a good political move, appeasing both sides.
You would be wrong. Your religion stays as it is. You have, by agreeing to give in to their demands, done the worst thing imaginable. You have validated their misinterpretation of intolerance, you have lost your footing on secular soil.
When they came for your statues because they were of women, you said nothing. When they come for your women because they see them as nothing more than idolatrous statues, maybe then you’ll have something to say.
But, like a statue, you may be immovable, and unable to say anything at all.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.