Monday, 25 March 2013

Wisdom of Banning Jamaat

I have witnessed the diabolic acts of the 1971 Liberation War collaborators mostly hailing from the then Jamaat and am deeply opposed to their political philosophy of religion-based governance and violent tactics. But to me, the ultimate guiding and overarching principle in a secular democratic society must be the unfettered freedom of expression and tolerance for dissenting opinions including those that are extremist. It is the contest of ideas that the secular and progressive forces must win in a democratic manner. Fascist/repressive means to a noble end would make us no different from the very fascist/repressive forces that we aspire to defeat.

Mo Chaudhury

Wisdom of banning Jamaat-e-Islami

March 25, 2013


In pursuit of the Liberation War ideal of secular politics and governance, the 2/13 (February, 2013) movement demanded and the current regime is considering to impose a ban on the Jamaat (and Shibir). This commentary explores the wisdom of such a ban.

Do bans work? Human history is replete with examples that show that killing institutions, organisations and people never kills (gets rid of) the idea behind them. This applies to religious, political or ideas in other dimensions. In fact, the risks of the idea re-emerging stronger than before grows over time under maintained suppression.

Look no further than at our own history, the Pakistani rulers also thought they could get rid of the Bangalis in us through various bans and means of suppression, and what happened? Hosni Mubarak tried for 30 years to get rid of the Islamists of Muslim Brotherhood (Jamaat of Egypt), what happened? The Shah of Iran wanted to get rid of the Iranian Jamaatis, what happened? The European fascists tried to annihilate the Jewish people there, what happened? The Soviet socialists of Europe wanted to eradicate democracy and free enterprise, what happened? The Romans wanted to get rid of Jesus and his message, what happened? The Meccans drove Prophet Mohammed and his followers out, what happened? The list goes on and on to show that banning does not work. Banning your out is indeed a fatal fallacy, a dangerous course to travel.

How desirable is banning as a means? Secular authoritarian states (socialist/communist or dictatorship) have historically placed bans on religion-based political parties. It is rather uncommon to see mature or emerging democracies in today's world that overtly ban domestic religion-based political parties in an effort to advance secular tolerance and governance. Many religion-based organisations, national or international, have, however, been banned when their links to terrorist activities was evidenced to an independent judiciary.

Bangabandhu himself did not ban the parties that opposed the Liberation War either. Are we to say that Bangabandhu was any less wise or pro-liberation? Even in the midst of the coldest moments of the cold war, the USA never banned the ultra leftist, communist or anti-government parties. Canada, in fact, had the separatists of Quebec as Her Majesty's loyal opposition in the parliament. Has India banned the communist parties or the religion-leaning Bharatia Janata Party (that even came to power federally)? Even in the wake of the tragic 9/11 event, did the USA ban religion-based politics?

The principal reason democratic states do not find bans as a worthy means to silence or neutralise religion-based politics is that the bans constitute a gross violation of the greater ideal of freedom of expression and association. Surely, a state imposed ban on religion-based politics would enforce fascist secularism as in the communist, former soviet style, and Bathist dictatorial style states (like Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Ghaddafi's Libya or Assad's Syria). It is also the religion-based (like Sharia law based) states that would ban dissenting organisations.

Besides, once the precedence of banning is set, the majority may decide to use bans to prevent various practices that are not to their liking. It is an ominous path that may severely erode freedom of expression and human rights in general. For example, after banning the Jamaat as a political organisation, the current or a future government may decide to ban religious schools, sermons, garbs (like hijab, niqab) or even mosques (under ultra leftist government). Bans may also extend to non-religion spheres like the use of internet, clubs and eateries, etc. It is also possible that an ultra-right government may ban minority festivals and cultural practices in the name of social integration and ban communist parties because of their extremist views on political economy and due to the fear of reverting to an authoritarian single party system. Where does it stop once the floodgate is open?

What are the unintended consequences of banning the Jamaat? First, it is expected that initially a large number of organisers and activists of the Jamaat (and Shibir) would go underground in fear of retribution. It is worthwhile albeit painful to recall here that Bangabandhu and key political leaders of the Liberation War were assassinated when the Jamaat (and Shibir) went underground, not when they were active on the political scene.

Second, over time, the post-liberation generation of the Jamaat (and Shibir) leaders and activists would camouflage themselves by joining the right of centre leading parties such as the BNP or any other such variant/amalgam that may emerge in time. Ironically, although the right of centre alliance may weaken immediately following the ban, a party like the BNP will be the long-term beneficiary of banning the Jamaat. The BNP then need not accommodate the Jamaat base as much as under no ban to garner their electoral support and hence may be in a position to move more toward the centre, claiming the swing centrist base in the process. Further, the BNP will be freed from the stigma of allying with a party that opposed the Liberation War.

Third, the mighty external patrons of the religious right may become less generous to Bangladesh in banking, development finance, energy supply/finance, etc. Bangladeshis may conceivably face greater restrictions on work abroad, tourism, business and religious travel. While these direct and indirect costs may be worthwhile in the long-term in order to weaken dependence on religion-based regimes and organisations, the nation nonetheless should be aware of the potential steep price of a ban on religion-based politics, banking, medical and other NGO efforts.

In conclusion, bans rarely worked elsewhere other than in authoritarian states, they can open the ominous floodgate of opportunistic and repressive future bans, and their unintended consequences can extract a steep external price. Above all, in direct and gross violation of the Liberation War ideals, the banning of religion-based parties unequivocally usurps the freedom of expression and association for the segment of the post-liberation prajanma that is sympathetic to the cause of religion-based governance. The nation thus has to ponder seriously whether the unclean (undemocratic, fascist) means of banning to the noble end (of a more tolerant society) is justified. A country of believers (of various faiths, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim) cannot be made more secular than admirably it already is by political bans and policing of sermons; such zealous efforts may ultimately backfire by widening and reinforcing fears of losing religious freedom.

This author strongly supports the 2/13 movement's demand of due justice for the victims of 1971, but does not find banning religion-based politics as an acceptable, effective or beneficial means of protecting and promoting secular governance.

Mo Chaudhury is a Professor of Practice in Finance at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Rationale for banning the Jamaat

Mo Chaudhury

Rationale for banning Jamaat-e-Islami

March 20, 2013

Jamaat-e-Islami_BangladeshPressured by the weight of the 2/13 (February, 2013) movement, the current regime is contemplating on imposing a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami (and in the process, Shibir). To be sure, banning the anti-liberation organizations cannot be accepted to make up for a failure to deliver due justice for the war crimes. The goal of the ban would then be to exorcise religion-based politics out of Bangladesh to ensure secular governance, a key component of the Liberation War ideals.

But was the Liberation War based on religion-based politics? No. The Pakistani regime did not invade Bangladesh in 1971 to impose religion-based governance; it was rather to sabotage the parliamentary majority of the Bangalis. Neither Bhutto's People's Party nor the military leaders in power had any affinity for the religion-based parties of Pakistan including the Jamaat. As India came forward to support the Liberation War, the Pakistani invaders stoked the pre-1947 communal tension and played the religion card to recruit local collaborators from the religion-based parties like the Jamaat.

What about the anti-liberation political stand of the Jamaat? This is the most popularly cited rationale for banning the party, but it is also the weakest one. Political environment changes over time and reasonable people do change their political beliefs. For example, many of the Awami League leaders of 1971, including Bangabandhu, were pioneers of the pre-1947 and post-1947 Muslim League and the creation of the then Pakistan along communal line; should that record of communal politics be held against them forever? While these leaders ultimately made the transition to creating a secular Bangladesh, numerous Bangladeshis of their generation (mindful of minority life in undivided India) were apprehensive of breaking up Pakistan in 1971 although they did not collaborate with the Pakistani invaders, and over time they turned out to be proud Bangladeshis. Now, should these senior generation Bangladeshis be condemned and ex-communicated in today's Bangladesh, 40 plus years later, for their 1971 anti-liberation political view? The answer is negative.

It is indeed time to redefine pro-liberation and anti-liberation in today's Bangladesh and going forward. The sovereignty of Bangladesh is not at stake and neither is the Bangali way of life. It stands to reason that pro-liberation today should simply mean current allegiance to the state of Bangladesh. An extended definition could include allegiance to the key founding ideals, namely democracy, unfettered freedom of expression, secular governance and equitable economic opportunities for all. [Notice that one (socialism) of the founding ideals had to evolve along with the world around Bangladesh]. Interestingly, using the extended definition, the Jamaat is anti-liberation because of its opposition to secular governance, the socialist/communist parties are anti-liberation due to their extremist economic and ultimate single party stand, and the AL and BNP are anti-liberation since they are the most notable and frequent violators of freedom of expression and human rights. Thus, the extended definition cannot be binding and is practically non-operational.

Is secular governance at heightened risk in Bangladesh due to the legally valid status of the Jamaat and other religion-based organizations? First, the religious right never garnered more than 12% of the popular support in the national elections. This is a rather remarkable secular feat for a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim, with most Muslims fiercely proud of their belief, often demonstrating high sensitivity to global events concerning Islam and strong solidarity with Muslims in peril elsewhere.

Second, if there was ever any doubt that the nation has become oblivious to the memory and the ideals of the Liberation War that includes secular governance, it has been convincingly put to rest by the countrywide massive support across all demographics for the 2/13 movement. In an illustrious rendezvous, the nation is back to the future of 1971, the Red-green-Yellow spirit of 1971 just remained deceptively dormant all these years.

Third, the country did witness undesirable influence of the religious right in some instances such as the recognition of the majority religion in the constitution. Even the party that led the Liberation War retained this anti-secular amendment through their previous and current mandates. Strangely, the 2/13 movement also chose not to pursue the withdrawal of this amendment with any intensity. But, so far the amendment has not been used detrimentally by any party.

In terms of politics on the ground, the current ruling party did ally with the Jamaat previously and the current opposition party is in electoral alliance with the Jamaat, thus lending legitimacy to the existence and continuation of religion-based politics. Both the ruling party and the opposition party also maintain very strong and cordial relationships with dictatorial religion-based regimes elsewhere that are known financiers and promoters of extremist religious views, activities and governance. Both parties have also shown unacceptable level of inaction in arresting and punishing violence against the minority by members of the majority religion.

Despite the spate of explicit and/or tacit accommodations of the religious right by the two major parties, there is no evidence that the religion-based political organizations had any palpable impact on the governance of the country or on citizens at large. While the ruling alliance keeps blaming the Jamaat (and Shibir) for street level violence, in reality violent activism by the two major parties since 1971 has been manifold more frequent, intense and fatal.

In conclusion, the demand for banning religion-based organizations seems at best an emotional one, out of fear (of a 1971 type repetition) that is unfounded, a desire for avengement of the 1971 wrongs that is not warranted, and disappointment with the war crime proceedings. At the worst, it is a political opportunism that the nation is already plagued with.

For full disclosure, this author declares firm solidarity with the 2/13 movement's demand of due justice for the victims of 1971 and deep disapproval of the philosophy of religion-based governance.

Mo Chaudhury is a Professor at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Ideological Compromises/Sacrifices by AL and BNP to Win Governance Power

March 7, 2013

Price of electoral win

Mo Chaudhury


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pcp012 Price of electoral win
Photo: Jashim Salam/ Drik News
In the highly charged emotional environment of the 2/13 (February, 2013) Projonmo Movement, making a dispassionate analysis of the undercurrent of political dynamics is rather challenging without being labeled as a partisan of some sort. But that in itself makes it even more imperative that the analysis is done.  The purpose of this commentary is to explore how the two major parties, AL and BNP, are paying dearly, in terms of concessions to the extremists, for their electoral wins.

The situation for BNP is truly dire. What years of complacency with the non-secular agenda of the country’s religious right organisations could not do has now been done by a few days of the 2/13 movement. People across the land have made it abundantly known that they disapprove of the political ideology of religion-based governance, especially when it is promoted by parties that had opposed the very creation of the country and are still being led by war criminals.
BNP was established by a freedom fighter and catered to the post-75 need and desire of the nation for a strong and viable right of centre political alternative as the left of centre AL could not rebuild the nation’s war-ravaged and famine-stricken economy fast enough along the pro-socialist route.
AL also showed at that time an unpalatable socialist/communist tendency of limiting freedom of expression, and an increased appetite for single party dominance, which were a gross violation of the driving ideal of the bloody Liberation War, which was freedom in all senses of the term. Once the excitement of victory abated and people had a chance to re-assess the internal and external circumstances, it became apparent that AL had led the country too far along the then Russia-India axis of socialist and ultra-secular influence.
Capitalising on this shift toward greater religious, economic and political sovereignty of the young nation, BNP (and later Jatiyo Party) was successful in bringing down the mighty AL and its extreme left allies. Instrumental in this process was the rehabilitation and re-emergence of the once detested religious right organisations as a legitimate political force in post-75 Bangladesh.
Based on the adage that the foe of my foe is my ally, BNP (and even AL, for a brief period) found alliance with the religious right necessary and politically rewarding in the late 1980s.
Following the 1991 election, BNP became increasingly entrenched in their marriage of convenience with the religious right as AL won the 1996 contest and started to re-engage with the extreme left parties, the latter also on the hunt for achieving long-term political goals following the fall of the Soviet socialist block and the liberalisation campaign of China. Over the next two election cycles, the parallel alliances would become formal and make the political landscape more polarised, antagonistic and outright lethal (at the street level), and render both BNP and AL hostages to their respective extremist partners.
AL won a landslide in 2009, mainly due to the election promise of bringing the war criminals of 1971 to justice. With the miraculous pace of economic growth since BNP’s re-navigation in 1975 toward private enterprise and development partnership with the West and the rich Muslim-dominated nations, the nation was more affluent than ever since liberation.
Meantime, the post-liberation generations of Bangladeshis had reached voting age without experiencing economic hardship, substantive threat to individual liberty, or misery of Soviet/China style “democracy” and state-controlled enterprises. The electorate of the new millennium was ready and eager to dial back to a time it had never known, the time of the 1971 Liberation War. The born-again extreme left understood this undercurrent more than and well ahead of anyone else. By long-term strategic and short-term convenient alignment with AL, they have reaped and are continuing to harness political and governance dividends way beyond their negligible electorate base simply by leveraging upon AL’s priority of governance power over its historic centrist ideology.
From disrupting the extremely rewarding and vital economic partnerships with the international development, trade and financial partners to the signing of arms and nuclear plant deals with Russia, and from using the judiciary and law enforcement more extensively as an extended arm of the government to efforts to gain greater state control of business enterprises, the writing has been on the wall for a while now.
And therein lies the dilemma for AL. But graver is the stake for the nation as the risk is greater than ever of effective control of governance being lost by the centrist AL forces with the right of centre BNP already marginalised by the 2/13 Projonmo Movement. The only time AL had usurped the freedom of political expression by legislation was the unfortunate Baksal attempt at the height of Soviet socialist influence.
Raising rightful demand for due justice for the war crimes of 1971 is how the 2/13 Projonmo Movement garnered the solidarity and imagination of the entire nation. But how the demands of the movement have evolved and literally forced AL to seek legislative ban on religion-based political parties is eerily reminiscent of that long-ago post-liberation dynamics that resulted in tragic and tumultuous events.
Here are some excerpts from the official website ( of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. “CPB has put forward a programme and strategy .. with the ultimate goal of socialism-communism.” “A Grand Alliance led by Awami league is now ruling Bangladesh. .. But like other governments of the past 30 years, is continuing to broadly pursue the same imperialism-dependent neo-liberal policies.” “Simultaneous and parallel actions with broadest possible forces, including AL, maintaining independent positions of all participating forces of struggle, is the only logical form of political polarisation by which the task of fighting communalism and fundamentalism on the one hand and advancing the task of building up a \’left-democratic alternative\’ on the other can be combined.”
Unless AL wishes to lead the nation away from the ideals of Bangabandhu and the Liberation War, and into single-party “democracy” and state-controlled enterprises, it is indeed time to re-assess its partnership with the extreme left. If it is okay to ban religion-based politics to protect secular governance, shouldn’t it also be okay to ban politics based on state control to protect multi-party democracy and private enterprise? Or perhaps, instead of banning, AL and the nation should look beyond the euphoria of the moment, and look back to the democratic ideal of unfettered liberty that led to the creation of the country and the policies and partnerships that led to the emergence of Bangladesh as a thriving secular democracy and an enviable economic engine.
The writer is a Professor of Practice in Finance at McGill University,
Montreal, Canada. Email: