When the trial is over…

Posted in politics by jrahman on May 17, 2010

This post is not a prediction.  Nor is it a normative analysis.  What I describe over the fold may never actually happen.  And even if it does, I won’t necessarily think it’s a good idea.  In fact, on many fronts, I will fight against such a future.  But on many other fronts, I do think the future is likely to head in this direction, and I don’t know whether it’s necessarily a bad thing.

However, I do know that very few people are even thinking about what will happen to Islamist politics when the trial for 1971 atrocities are over.  I do know that our progressives like to paint all Islamists as ‘Jamaati-razakar’.  I do know that our progressives like to believe that the current trial against ‘crimes against humanity’ will deal a death blow to Islamist politics.  

And I fear they are wrong.  I fear, when the trial is over, Islamist politics will come out stronger.

While this is absolutely no reason to oppose the trial process, we should at least contemplate what a post-trial Islamist politics might look like.

It’s a secular republic in a predominantly Muslim land.  However, the elites — who gueard the ideology fiercely — have repeatedly failed to deliver.  Despite potentials, the country has never ‘taken off’.  Enter an Islamist movement that promises to clean up the mess.  Before long, it emerges as a dominant force in electoral politics.  The old elite, however, isn’t ready to accept changing times.  They conspire with the army — which has a historuy of dabbling in politics — to thwart the Islamist ascendancy.

I am, of course, talking about Turkey.  But I could also be talking about Bangladesh a decade from tomorrow.  When the current trial process has run its course, and Golam Azam, Matiur Rahman Nizami, Delwar Hossein Sayeedi are out of our political stage, who’s to say that this won’t be our future?

Jamaat’s brand has always been আল্লাহর আইন ও সৎ লোকের শাসন (Allah’s Law and honest administration).  Jamaat’s role in 1971 is the single biggest obstacle against its legitimacy to most Bangladeshis.  When 1971 is no longer an issue, what will stop Jamaat, or any other Islamist movement, to gain ground on the promise of an honest administration, especially when the non-Islamist elite — the current secular-progressives and their nationalist opponents alike — have self-evidently failed in providing anything resembling an honest administration.

In the 20th century, Bangladeshis were told that their misfortune was at least partly someone else’s fault.  British Raj, Hindu aristocracy, Pakistani military-business nexus — villains changed over the years.  But we have had at least two generations now that have been free of these villains.  When today’s have not Bangladeshis look at the luxury and affluence of the haves, they cannot be told the difference is because of some foreign villain.  Not when today’s haves and have nots are cousins who had very similar beginnings a generation or two ago. 

For today’s have nots, only two kinds of stories will do.  The first is that they too can make it one day.  As long as sufficiently large number of have nots believe this dream, status quo may well endure. 

But if they stop believing it, the alternative story is that it is the system — the state of things run by the secular-progressives and nationalists — that is unfair.  And the post-trial Islamist movement will be there with a ready-made alternative. 

What will this Islamist alternative look like? 

Here is an idea.

This is Drishtipat’s Asif Saleh’s take on the video:

Lot to make note of and its important to figure out how to effectively counter this without labelling everyone in one broad label of Jamatis.  I believe Muhib Khan has a big audience and this audience is no less a Bangladeshi than you or me.   The interesting element to his song is that  all of this is cleverly hidden behind a populist message of injustice and deprivation which gets an easy audience.  Add the growing dysfunction and distance of the rich and upper middle class and the somewhat out of touch message of secular elites and you have got a perfect recipe to get a big crowd.  Note his audience in the video as well.   They are much likely to connect with Muhib Khan then an English speaking elite who talks about CHT and those ‘Dadas who send their money to India’.  This is not our art college crowd who does procession with bhashkorjos.   

We need to get out of our comfort zone and realize that just because this group is never heard in the mainstream media does not mean they are small in numbers.  In the fight over winning the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised young ones, who do you think is winning?  What’s the game plan other than shoving down ‘ekattoorer chetona’ that has little/no relevance to the target audience?

I agree with him completely.  And when the trial is over, we will still have to confront this message. 

And it gets potentially more difficult.  In Turkey, not only has the Islamist party delivered better outcomes for the people, it has also improved relations with Europe.  In fact, the desire to integrate with Europe has made the Islamist party a better guardian of Turkish democracy than its secular opponents.  Could an unambiguously Islamist party in Bangladesh be the ones to completely get over our hang ups about India? 

Again, this is not a prediction.  And it’s not something to celebrate.  But is it something worth very much thinking about.

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  1. […] I’ve talked about a reformed Jamaat (and Islamist politics more broadly) too: see here and here.  So I see the merit in this […]

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