Ideas are rarely forgotten to the point of extinction
To talk about dead ideologies is to talk about ideas and policies that have either failed to gained traction despite the efforts of great politicians and intellectuals, or have failed in practice so gigantically and endlessly that reminiscence feels like a waste of time. Yet to not speak of them is a historical crime, for what is dead can still haunt, and even be reborn.
People, no matter their charisma and practical influence, end up in graves. Ideas, despite only being a construct of mind, are rarely forgotten to the point of extinction.
This might just be the case for Muslim nationalism in the sub-continent. We thought that 1971 would be the end of it … and we were almost right, which is to say, we were completely wrong. The pro-Bangladeshi intelligentsia from the 60s onward had considered Muslim nationalism as a sad excuse for the Pakistani military establishment to retain their influence on certain people. They were right, and they were wrong.
Muslim nationalism had its pro-establishment followers from the beginning of Pakistan. The right-wing of the Muslim League from the onset of Pakistan played along with whatever policies were spewed by the central Pakistan government. This slowly resulted in most of the genuine politicians of the Muslim League leaving the party.
One could argue that those who left were mostly communist sympathizers, yet outliers such as Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman clearly prove that there were a considerable number of people who wanted a liberal democracy and not an ideologically communist state.
Proponents of liberal democracies may not have been zealous Muslim nationalists, but they were deeply aware of their identity and origins in East Pakistan; they knew that being Muslim was indeed part of their politics, yet for the greater good, politics itself had to become so much more than just being a Muslim.
It is easy to refuse and reject communal politics in 2019 in Bangladesh, but the political reality in that time in East Pakistan was borne out of pre-1947 communal politics in British India. The Congress sang about secularism centrally, but its political wings in what is now Bangladesh was dedicated to preserving and enforcing the status quo of the Bengali Hindu Brahmin elite.
Perhaps the single most destructive thing the communist line of thinking has done in Bangladesh is to convince us that communalism was a product of the West Pakistani military establishment during the 1950s and 60s and that it is sustained only by certain right-wing reactionaries who have no real connection to the soil and blood of Bangladesh.
The sad reality is that the military establishment merely fed into communalism, which was back then a socio-political system in itself, and that the right-wing reactionaries who hold on to it do have connection to our soil and blood.
It is not Hindu-Muslim unity, rather Hindu-Muslim divisions that have shaped the politics, culture, and society of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. To claim that communalism is not a part of our present, is to deny the historical role it played in the past and the subtle yet strong hold it still has over us now.
At this point, I must admit my struggle to maintain clarity as I attempt to analyze and assess history and identity that has shaped us such that we are not even acutely aware of it, and I sympathize with whoever finds my words difficult to comprehend. It is a fear about the failure of democratic institutions, and fear about the possible return of Muslim nationalism. And no, I am not talking about Bangladeshi nationalism; I am indeed talking about Muslim nationalism.
The reality that looms in 2019 Bangladesh is that India is distrusted by the Bangladeshi public in general for certain reasons. With India’s relationship with Myanmar and its Balakot fiasco, a perception is growing that India, with Modi in helm, considers Muslims as threats, and that a nationalism-driven India will always take actions oriented against the civil rights of Muslims -- Indian or foreign.
With increasing rates of unemployment despite a record number of development projects happening all around us, a perception has formed, and will continue to grow, about the government’s allegiance to foreign governments who follow Islamophobic policies domestically and support them internationally, and the fact that most government projects are being gained by companies backed by such governments.
The rich must be getting richer at somebody’s expense, as hinted by the increasing disparity between the rich and poor. People look at businesses positively when they bring jobs; right now most of our businesses are actually nurturing a habit of paying people as little as they can in order to trump up profits.
We have seen more than a few protests in this regard, some multi-national companies have two or three empty floors right now due to the sheer number of people they have fired, and the companies that are indeed offering jobs, are offering salaries that are rather too low by Dhaka’s living standards.
The aftermath of such a discriminatory economic system will be that an anti-India and anti-China feeling will continue to grow amongst the population, combined with a phobia towards the traditional business establishment, and while the roots of these feelings may be genuine economic discrimination, in effect, these feelings will translate to a jingoistic Muslim nationalism based on a fear of non-Muslims taking over all the jobs and businesses of the country, and the mostly the Muslim ruling elite will be viewed as their accomplices. It is safe to say that this nationalism will not be friendly to domestic minorities.
Western liberalism may believe in the inherent goodness of the people, but what we know to be true is that people become primitive and tribal during times of economic urgency, either caused by war, or by wrong economic policies. Our inability to come up with a genuine political movement to achieve egalitarianism was bound to have dire consequences. About time we face the music.
Fardin Hasin is a freelance contributor.