OP-ED: Where the focus should be
How can we guard against the hideous force of community violence?
The recent Comilla incident and its repercussions elsewhere in the country have caused so much shock, insecurity and frustration among the victims. Our media – print, electronic and social – have become over-saturated with news and perspectives.
By analyzing unfortunate events, politicians, social workers, educators, cultural activists, human rights activists, journalists and ordinary people have all expressed their opinions, exploring the causes and factors leading people to to launch such heinous attacks against their fellow citizens under fallacious pretexts and through no fault of the victims.
Some have gone digging into history to find the theory of the two nations, the genius of Jinnah and the division of the subcontinent in 1947 and its impacts that still remain like a dormant volcano, erupting at unpredictable times. Some blame our departure from the founding cornerstones of the nation, while secularism has been compromised by the distortion of the constitution. Our constitution was twisted with elements imported later, such as the inclusion of Islam as the state religion. The fact that our path to democracy has been disrupted by military rule is also mentioned as a major factor impacting people’s psyche, leading to such horrific practices of wreaking havoc on our fellow citizens.
The speed and ferocity with which violence and acts of hatred and revenge have been unleashed is unprecedented, even under the rule of the autocrats. If we take Comilla as the epicenter, it has spread in all directions, and even to a habitat far from Rangpur, and caught us off guard.
Some accuse the government’s leniency towards the Islamists represented by Hefazat-e-Islam, for example, as an additional compromise to its secular position. One even wonders why the government is building model mosques in each upazila with elaborate facilities, when there is no shortage of mosques in the country.
Beyond all these analyzes, it is clear that a major role is played by the media held in our hands. We talk so much about digital Bangladesh. We may be far enough away to reap the real and intended benefits from it, but its ailments are widespread, already turning it into a weapon to spread poisonous rumors in a split second. If we carefully examine any gathering in our towns and villages, we will find people in droves lurking around without work. With this device close to their hearts, they indulge in unnecessary activities such as aimless browsing, cheap entertainment, and using Facebook to spread rumors.
Setting fire to the homes of innocent inhabitants, plundering their property, vandalizing their gods and goddesses gave them a perverse pleasure in accomplishment. We shouldn’t care whether these are holy-looking, bearded madrassas, or elegantly dressed young men in their jeans and t-shirts. Do they have any idea what the constitution is? If the status of a particular religion is removed from the constitution, what impact will it have on the people on the streets? Well, we were no less Muslim when we didn’t have a promulgated state religion. Has it helped us eliminate corruption, bribery, food adulteration, and reduced crime rates from the predominantly Muslim society? Has it improved poverty reduction through the payment of zakat in the country? Some argue that with the lack of opportunities for people to indulge in good hobbies like theater, drama, music and other amenities in the cultural arena, the void is filled by bigotry and l ‘intolerance.
Some even draw attention to historical examples showing how India annexed Hyderabad, Sikkim and Goa, for example. They point out that similar community riots were started and that India finally intervened forcefully to complete the annexation. It’s quite far-fetched though, with some people trying to point out similarities to recent incidents in Bangladesh, given the backlash these are eliciting in some neighborhoods across the border.
Isn’t it mind-boggling to read and listen to everything that spreads? I’m sure people will be interested in accessing all the resources available and exploiting them according to their choice and temperament. It goes without saying that most people are peace-loving, who would like to live in harmony with whoever their neighbors are. While good and evil are two sides of the same coin, entangling every human being, we cannot let evil go unchecked and unchallenged.
It is the human instinct to indulge in evil, and even more so when impunity is guaranteed. Whatever the reasons, the evildoers have outsmarted and outwitted our intelligence services, law enforcement, administration and politicians who are so complacent about their capabilities and reach.
Instead of doing so much academic research on the history and the kind of predictions that are being made, what we just need to do is stay alert for such an incident anywhere in the country. This will require vigilance on the part of the police and citizens. There must be continuous communication between local socio-political organizations at the local level and law enforcement. Our intelligence agencies must prepare all assets to read all available signs, whether they are on the ground or floating in the cloud, that predict, predict and prompt preventative action.
Punitive measures must be swift and exemplary against identified culprits, they must be well publicized to gain people’s trust and end the existing culture of impunity and delay in obtaining justice.
We need to reach out to the writers and puppeteers behind the scapegoats, which may not be easy. Meanwhile, whether it is the task of our competent intellectuals to find out if and how state religion, or the insertion of a particular line in textbooks, has had an impact on popular behavior towards incitement to such violence.
Brigadier General QazI Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (retd) is an independent contributor. E-mail: [email protected]