The trouble with Naik

Posted in politics, society by jrahman on December 2, 2010

While the chattering classes in Bangladesh are busy debating the confrontational turn in politics, the visit by the Indian preacher Zakir Naik is being ignored.  And yet, Naik’s visit may be portent of things to come in a more significant way than the return of the hartal politics.

Indeed, there a debate was beginning in UV when politics of the house consumed all else.  Of the three reasons to worry about Naik presented in UV, I find one to be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous, and another to be theoretically possible if not very probable in today’s Bangladesh.  It’s the third problem that I think is very relevant, and I build on that.

First, Tiktiki posted link to a Sachalyatan piece whose thesis is, as best as I can tell, that Naik’s visit is problematic because it could hurt the war crimes trial.  Right.  Naik has as much to do with the war criminals of 1971 as Saddam Hussein had to do with Osama Bin Laden.  The connections are laughable, except for their dangerous implications.  In the case of war crimes trial, when progressive bloggers link Naik to the trial, they only support the war criminals’ claims that the entire trial process is an attempt to denigrate Islam.  Progressives conflate the trial with other issues at their own peril.  Nothing good can come of that kind of silliness.

Then, Khujeci_tomai connected Naik’s preaching with violence in the name of Islam in a couple of posts (here and here).  Perhaps she was trying to be provocative, I don’t know.  But my understanding of her thesis is, there is an arc connecting Naik’s preaching with the fire and brimstone preached by the proponents of violent jihad.  Theoretically, I accept the connection.  But in practice, how seriously should we take this?  I mean, the kind of stuff Naik says are also heard in thousands of mosques around the country on any given Friday.  And the annual gathering in Tungi draws a far, far bigger crowd than anything Naik will get.  If we were to take Khujeci_tomai’s fear seriously, would we not be wary of Tabligh Jamaat and the local mosques?  Needless to say, if one were to worry thus, one would have a hard time in a 90% Muslim country.

It’s the third piece, by Chitpotang, that I think covers the real worries about Naik.  It’s a very well articulated piece — do read the whole thing.  Here’s the money quote:

Why so much agitation over Naik when we have home-grown fanatics and propagandists? Because we don’t yet have one who has the shikkhito facade. Most of “ours” are overlooked or critiqued on grounds of being oshikkhito mollahs or rajakars. Also, we tend to take “bideshi maal” more seriously.

Let me build on this.  The recent UV debate (and its counterpart in closed forums) about Iffat Nawaz’s article about the middle class make one thing clear: how rapidly the Bangladeshi society (or at least its urban educated part) is changing.  It’s impossible to miss the nostalgia, the sense that something valuable is being missed even as people’s lives have improved materially.  One doesn’t have to believe in Marx’s theory of alienation to recognise that capitalist-materialist social changes are going to cause massive social disruptions.

Faced with the disconcerting pace of change, UV bloggers may seek solace in middle class nostalgia.  But others will find refuse in Naik’s teaching.  When worrying about how to raise children in the digital world, seeing the changing gender dynamics at home and abroad, facing difficult decisions about parent’s health, many will choose religion.  Many are choosing religion.  And some will go one step further and seek politics based on religion.  Not necessarily violent politics.  Perhaps perfectly legitimate, democratic, peaceful politics.  But Islamist politics all the same.

And when the war criminals will be dead, when 1971 will not be in the living memory of the 90% of the country, we will still have to contend with that politics.  Yelling tui razakar will not help then.

In fact, it won’t help with Naik today.  And that’s the trouble with Naik.

We have to get out of our mental laziness of branding everyone who preaches something we don’t like as war crimes sympathiser.  We have to tackle Naik head on as Chitpotang does.  And we have to wrestle with the issues that drive people to religion.  Hyperventilating about Naik won’t help with any of it.

(Cross-posted in UV).


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