The late Humayun Azad, a noted litterateur plus social philosopher with a trenchant tongue, once said: “God is not bothered when a place of worship is demolished -- these issues matter to bigots because they are the ones who indulge in such destruction.”
This quote came back to me after the recent incident in Rangpur where, reportedly, a protest rally condemning a social media post that is said to have disrespected religion, flared into violence resulting in a savage attack on local Hindu homes and places of worship.
For several days, we saw disconcerting images of human suffering. I do believe “humans” is the best word to use because, irrespective of faith, what stands above all is the fact that the ones whose homes were vandalised and torched are just like all of us, social beings living in a community.
However, what is easy for us to define under one umbrella becomes a little complex because the undeniable fact is that the affected are of a different faith who represent the largest minority in Bangladesh.
Obviously, when minority communities become victims of violence resulting from what later appeared to be a social media post with sketchy links, there is need for serious concern since such dubious tricks can be used in the future to trigger more social unrest.
Verify first, react later
After the latest incident in Rangpur, a police investigation ensued, which swiftly discovered several anomalies in the usage of the Facebook account. All evidence seems to indicate that someone had hacked into this person’s account and had uploaded a disparaging post aimed at hurting Muslims.
This is not the first time such an event has taken place. There was a similar incident in Chittagong a few years ago, when outrage over another post resulted in attacks on the Buddhist community.
These incidents always follow a particular pattern: Someone alerts people in the locality about a post or a written statement, tries to agitate sentiment by using sermons, and then, hits at the heart of people’s faith.
In the Rangpur incident, we are told that the rage was fomented by a religious cleric. I was not there at the time when the mayhem erupted, but it’s not difficult to imagine that the lines used to stir up rage emanated from the fervent appeal to safeguard Islam against blasphemous insult.
It is, of course, the duty of the faithful to protect his/her faith, but if we look back in history, faith based on warfare/discord only resulted in animosity, killing millions of lives without reason.
Guarding religion rationally
From what we see, if someone or some quarter wants to create serious social disharmony then hacking a Facebook account and then posting something damaging is enough. While the outrage will take to the streets in no time, the attempt to find out the real fact will only come later, when a lot of harm has already been done.
When minority communities become victims of violence resulting from a social media post with sketchy links, there is need for serious concern since such dubious tricks can be used to trigger more social unrest
In an age where we all know that social media is often being exploited to serve selfish political plus sectarian interests, reacting without allowing more information to appear and substantiate an event or incident, is foolhardy.
However, in the recent episode in Rangpur, we also found that Muslim neighbours came to the aid of the Hindu families -- a clear sign that in Bangladesh most people would rather stay in a harmonious and mutually respectful setting.
Perhaps, in other parts of the world, lampooning a faith or making fun of it is deemed a sign of a secular society, but in South Asia, since religion is inextricably intertwined to the lives of most, there is a demarcating line beyond which religion is not referred to in a casual tone.
This is exactly why most of our children are taught not to make demeaning comments about someone else’s faith. This teaching has been passed on from generation to generation and forms the basis of an inclusive society where festivals of all other faiths become one big celebration for the whole society.
Hence the saying: “Religion belongs to the individual but the celebration is for us all.”
Rationally speaking, secularism, which, in the name of free speech, tries to propagate the culture of crude jokes about faith, won’t have many followers here.
What violence does to glorify a faith
Well, can anyone show if belligerent behaviour has ever solved a problem?
And it’s wise to remember that no faith can ever be undermined by social media posts or through any other means for that matter, because faith is a deeply personal thing.
Religions, and I mean all of them, have been with us for thousands of years.
They will continue to live on while all of us are gone, so, it’s always judicious to think before we let ourselves believe that some post out there is threatening the sanctity of our faith.
I say it’s a matter of belief and nothing can dilute it. However, let’s also ensure that the brazen few, with their toxic rhetoric, do not instigate others to perform acts that create a chasm between the faiths.
My best wishes and solidarity for the affected community in Rangpur.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.