Prof. Abul Barkat, who is known as “people's economist,” has published a book on fundamentalism in Bangladesh from Muktobuddhi Prokasana. Titled Fundamentalism in Bangladesh: External and Internal Dimensions of the Political Economy of Militancy, it explores the roots, strengths, and limits of religion based fundamentalism and militarism, evolution of Islam in east Bengal, linkage among economics, politics, and possible areas of militancy though the hand of neo-liberalism.
Professor Barkat dedicates this book to those that dream of a society without discrimination. The author mentions that 'fundamentalism' is a term coined by western mass-media. It means an aggressive religious fear that prepares everyone for war. The context implies – of course, there is a nexus between fundamentalism (external and internal facts) and imperialism as American hegemony is prevailing everywhere. The writer elucidates how there are numerous religions in this world and how they existed in the ancient times when people identified natural phenomena and calamities as powers of gods.
Abul Barkat differentiates between religion as faith and religion as ideology, politicization of religion and religionization of politics. He discusses the true ideology of market economy and neo-liberalism. He explains how corporatocracy took place in different countries like Myanmar, Syria, South America, Congo, Rwanda, Western Sahara, Libya, Cambodia, Indonesia, Australia, and Uganda in the name of land development, oil extraction, mining and commercial cultivation. Through the ISIS-Islamic states, Al-Qaeda, Taliban mechanism, drug lords and arm-lords make alliance and promote their agenda – the existing contexts of Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, India (Kashmir), Myanmar (Buddhist fundamentalism), China, Thailand, Yemen, Turkey and Indonesia would reflect that.
Mentioning the 'Rotten Apple Theory,' the author informs us how agents of neo-liberalism want to infringe and incarcerate the primary strategic resources through a conceptual framework. This alliance wants not just access but absolute ownership, command and control over resources like land, water, energy and minerals. He talks about how mass people can be alienated and exterminated through various investigation alliances, world trade organizations, and international monetary funds.
Professor Barkat analyses the evolution of Islam in Bengal under the theory of 'Sufism.' But for him, the liberal Islam has been converted into political Islam through militarism, inequality and discrimination. He points out that the criminalization of politics and economics has formed a capacity to control market, election, muscle power, fundamentalist groups, terrorist bodies, law/justice and mostly, the media.
Giving a balance sheet of 40 years, the author provides a disturbing picture of Bangladesh where black money, corruption, illegal export-import, rising number of slums, NGOs, killing groups, speed money, land encroachment, unemployment rate, private education, injustice with mass people altogether bring out a muddled scenario. On the other hand, he shows how the national employment rate, economic opportunities, religious tolerance, mutual respect, philosophical studies, and democratic practices are lessening day by day.
He also critically analyses the economic basis of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. He believes there are huge organizations created by fundamentalist groups and their annual profit covers around 3,162 crore taka.
Finally, he recommends that the total economic strengths of fundamentalist and militarist groups should be confiscated and the economic profits should be redistributed among freedom fighters and people fighting for collective development.
Shishir Reza is Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association, and Matiur Rahman is Research Consultant, Human Development Research Centre (HDRC).