Isn’t it ever-so-difficult to find the right kind of god? You have the Abrahamic God, worshipped by the Muslims, Christians, and Jews, then all the thousands of Hindu gods, followed by Buddha (who isn’t really a god; dare we still call it a religion?), and of course, the possibility of there not being one at all (but I shan’t go too much into that one; machetes are glistening in the moonlight).
Subsequently, there are myriads of sects, countless denominations within each of these religions, subsets of an already confusing deity within increasingly convoluted philosophies, and each of them with their own interpretations of, sometimes, the same text, or a variety of texts. Then there are thoughts lost in translations, translations lost in thoughts, tonal ambiguity, questions of who said what and what was really meant.
So, is anyone really to blame when they make a presumably “incorrect” choice, a choice that is more often than not dictated, firstly, by the household they grow up in, and, secondly, by the society that surrounds them? From any religious perspective, especially with overt claims to peace and goodwill, this is not only understandable, but expected, and the “correct” response would be dialogue instead of violence.
We are all well-aware that a variety of nations, most of them Islamic, have taken the opposite stance when it has come to believers of different faiths, and mostly, for non-believers. Bangladesh, a country that prides (or prided?) itself on its citizens’ identity being defined by their mother tongue, seems to be joining the group of countries which lets religious denominations and differences rule the way it does business.
There were the blogger killings, which, one after another, took hold of the national narrative, starting, most recently, with the murder of secularist blogger Avijit Roy and the hacking of Niladri Chatterjee. But, in the last week, two incidents have shaken this identity, perhaps, to an irreconcilable state.
First was, of course, the incident involving cricketer Liton Das. He had, in conjunction with Mushifqur Rahim, posted Durga Puja greetings last Thursday on their respective social media pages. In response, some of the Bangladeshi public responded distastefully, with comments ranging from the purely insulting to the wretchedly vile. Some responded with violence and threats, while others made derogatory comments about the faith and its gods. There were those who defended the post, but their contributions will remain overshadowed by ignorant bigotry.
And then, on Ashura, a day on which most Sunnis celebrate the saving of the Israelites from the Pharaoh, and Shi’as mourn the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the prophet’s grandson, a bomb blast near the Hussaini Dalan in Old Dhaka has, so far, killed a teenager and injured close to 60 people. ISIS has claimed responsibility, though this has not yet been confirmed by the authorities, with four people in custody in connection with the attack. Even being a Muslim isn’t enough anymore.
These are just some of many, many incidents that have plagued our collective consciousness for the last few years. Some time, somehow, things like the difference between saying Allah Hafez and Khuda Hafez, Bangla being associated with Hinduism, dawas and talims and hijabs, and other such things started to become increasingly important.
The frequency at which incidents such as these occur, so much so that they have become the norm, reeks of how extremist ideologies have, without doubt, started to impinge on Bangladesh’s far more harmonious past, which involved being more accepting of other faiths and practices.
On the contrary, we seem to have become more accepting of killers, blaming the victims for daring to be different in a culture that used to fly a flag under one national identity.
The hypocrisy that stems from it is palpable, its razor-sharp edge cutting through our national character as Bengalis. The same hand that gives money to the most mosque takes the bribe, and wields the sword. Criticising my god is fair do’s; yours obviously not. Now divisions between divisions between divisions are more important; the rokte rangano brothers whose descendants now inhabit our neighbouring spaces are brothers no more. These are our brothers and sisters, whether they be godless or not, whether they embrace one single unjustifiable version of truth among multitudinous multitudes or not, whether they can read a language they understand or not, whether they be like you or not.
We cannot let a bunch of fascist fanatics who still live in the past take the reins on this steed that is headed towards self-destruction. And if we allow ourselves to give in to the flow of violence, a violence which is an inevitable reaction of a force which does not have truth on its side, then the battle is already lost.