Monday, April 15, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Continuing to hope for unrealistic expectations

Update : 28 Apr 2013, 08:37 AM

Mark Twain wrote “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.” It fits the situation we are facing in Bangladesh perfectly.

Rights and freedoms are under attack across the board, with impunity. While civil society and activists fight to regain ground lost, a far more insidious and difficult challenge faces Bangladesh.

We must ensure that no single group or individual can impose their personal beliefs and/or religious affiliations, at the expense of any one or any religion, on us as a nation. For too long we have struggled with this crucial subject, allowing politicians to appease ultra extremists, for fear of being labelled “Anti-Islamic” or worse, atheists. At the same time, religious leaders continue to dabble in politics, playing on people’s fears and insecurities to keep them in line, for their own benefit.

The original Constitution of Bangladesh enshrines four fundamental principles - translated from Bangla, they are nationalism, secularism, socialism and democracy. Today, growing religious radicalisation across the globe means we cannot deny that secular ideals are being challenged. Both Iran, and recently Egypt are instances of secularism’s defeat by radical Islam.

A secular state ensures separation of state, ie the public sphere from individual/communal beliefs and concerns, ie personal sphere. Public figures are expected to be guided by logic and compromise, and not allow personal beliefs to directly or indirectly influence decisions in the pubic domain. But it is up to the state to place checks and balances to ensure religion or belief systems do not become the primary influence in any decision making process related to the state.

The Bangladesh Supreme Court’s (SC) decision to revert to the original Constitution of Bangladesh signals a return to the original guiding principles. It upholds the High Court’s landmark verdict on 29 August 2005, declaring the infamous Fifth Amendment (1979) illegal, and essentially putting an end to religion based organizations’ involvement in politics.

The Shahbagh movement and subsequent calls to ban religious parties from politics, has reignited the debate, with a campaign of misinformation and fear mongering typical of religious extremist groups sweeping across the country.

Without oversimplifying the complex nature of an individual’s relationship with religion, the constitution does not “ban” religious parties from politics but sets precedence to curtail religious orthodoxy within civil society.

Concerns about religion based political parties wanting to change the legal and constitutional structure to incorporate doctrines they believe in are not unfounded given how easily they have infiltrated the political scene in the past.

Future “governments” can’t be allowed to fail to uphold secularism, despite political and personal loyalties.

The court’s decision guarantees the right and freedom to practice a religion or express lack of belief, without fear.

The constitution actually goes one step further than guaranteeing secularism: the Bangla word used is “dharmanirapekhata,” it implies neutrality and non-involvement, in matters of religious theory, doctrine and practice, and guarantees religious non-discrimination and protection for all faiths, including non-believers, and clearly states it is the responsibility of those in power ie the state to ensure these rights.

Naheed Kamal is a Senior Sub-editor, Dhaka Tribune.  



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