WHILE Hefajat-e-Islam is doing its "duty to protect" Islam and the Sangskrit Jote and the likeminded groups are avidly trying to "protect" the values of our Liberation War and our cultural identity, we do not find anyone actually engaged in "Hefazat-e-Bangladesh."
When various groups throw ultimatums at the government, and threaten to paralyse the country, and when their stated positions bring them to a confrontational mode with each other, that puts the country's stability in jeopardy. My fear occurs from the recently held rally of Hefajat-e-Islam, and the various events and the government actions preceding and following that.
The relief on the home minister's face was palpable at the press conference after the end of the Shapla Chattar rally. Along with him the rest of the country had also heaved a sigh of relief that the day had passed off without any serious incident or breach of law and order. There could have been chaos, but there was not, in spite of the fact that there were all the makings of it. He was relieved, perhaps even more, for what he thought was the public's inability to see through the actions of the government, of running with the hare and hunting with the hound. His thanking the Islamists and assuring them of the government's consideration of the 13-point demand displayed his relief.
In spite of hartal called by the Shammilito Sangskrotik Jote and 25 other groups, the Islamists managed to gather a large number of their followers in Dhaka. What would have happened if the government had not ordered shutdown of all forms of transports is another matter, but that it chose the shoulders of the Jote and the Ganojagoran Mancha to fire its gun at the Islamists is clear.
No government that claims to govern the country from a high moral pedestal can afford to be opaque in dealing with national issues, particularly when those have to do with the safety of the nation. The AL, by the way it handled the "long march" issue may have ceded the moral ground that a transparent government can lay claim to.
At a time when different groups with different political and religious orientations are busy "protecting" issues that they think are truly close to their hearts, one would have hoped that the government would act with more transparency and judiciousness to prevent the country degenerating into chaos.
If the nation was spared the disorder it was because of the fact that both the groups realised the futility of confrontation, and chose discretion to valour. Despite being shoved in the line of fire, the Jote showed tremendous wisdom by dispensing with the idea of resisting the long-marchers, even though they had decided to do so at different points leading in to the capital. The only stain was the despicable assault on journalists, particularly on the women journalists, by some radicals.
It is ridiculous to see the number crunching exercise by some of the ministers on the actual size of the turn out. One may like or detest what one saw happen on April 6, but one has to take cognisance of it.
Regrettably, the two distinctly divided groups, because of their positions, stemming, to my mind, from their apprehensions that it is Islam in one case, and our ethnic identity, in another, that is at stake, are now dangerously poised face to face. In doing so, the two groups have wittingly or unwittingly made our two elemental identities appear to be mutually exclusive. Regrettably too, insensible utterances from various quarters have pinned Islam and the Liberation War against one another. We have also made the mistake of conflating Islam with Jamaat-e-Islam or anyone articulating his position on religion as being pro-Jamaat. It seems too that there is a conflict, if not a crisis, of identity, and an attempt to establish predominance of one over the other.
Our dual identity has never been conflictive; on the other hand it has been immensely complementary to our existence. I, for one, never believed that Islam had ever been under threat, now or ever before, though some might feel so, and though the slogan "Islam in danger" was used to perpetrate the worst genocide in recent history on us. Neither can anyone convince me that we as Bengalis are under threat now, although there was an attempt to stifle that identity which led to the War of Liberation, nor can any doctrinaire group put that identity in the shade.
At this point in time when our identities are firmly rooted in both our religious and ethnic moorings there is no need for anyone, who feels comfortable and equally at ease to exist in both identities, to choose one, or place any one, in priority over the other. And if, as Santayana says, it is a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography, it is equally undignified to have it circumscribed by any one of its many identities. However, over assertion of any one, as a manifestation of nationalism will, as it inevitably does, lead to racism. And that is what will put our safety at risk.
The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.