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     Volume 4 Issue 12 | September 10, 2004 |

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The Fear Factor

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

It amazes me how religion can foster so much hatred. Instead of being a spiritual relationship between man and God, religion has become a "weapon of mass destruction" all over the world-- a fight to see which faith is stronger, whose God is more powerful, which religion is better, which can annihilate the other first. Throughout history we have seen the violence that is carried out in the name of religion. Starting from the crucifixion of Christ, to the Crusades, the Holocaust, the battles between Jews and Muslims in Palestine, the attacks on the twin towers on September 11th, the violence in India between Hindus and Muslims leading to bloody killings in Gujrat in 2002 and finally, more relevant to us, the brutality against Ahmadiyyas and the recent grenade attacks on an Awami League political rally on August 21st, all seem to stem from religious tensions and intolerance.

It is strange that religion has become such a loaded term. I used to believe that religion stood for spiritual guidance, discipline and hope. Being a child made me gullible, apparently. Now, I am more inclined to think that religion is a tool that is used by some to mobilise masses and emotionally blackmail people. For some leaders, religion is a political instrument that forces people to take sides and fight battles that don't necessarily need to be fought.

It is not religion, however, that has moved masses to kill and conquer. It is not religion itself that we should blame for these violent acts. It is not religion that we need to target to subjugate. It is fear. It is a fear that is ingrained in many people -- the fear of accepting differences in beliefs that may challenge our set mind-frames and lifestyles.

It is this fear of anything outside the comfortable mold that we have shaped for ourselves, which is dividing our country. Instead of fighting outside forces, we are killing our own people. What many people tend to forget, however, is that there are different ways of reaching the ultimate goal of spiritual one-ness with God and humanity. No matter what religion we are, we all share the same space and love for our country -- enough to reside in it and call it home. So basically, on a scale of one to ten, the Bangladeshi "umma" scores a zero on unity. We tend to forget the bigger picture -- that rather than fight about political and religious differences we should focus on tackling more important issues such as poverty, hunger and corruption.

The so-called bigger picture seems irrelevant when people are literally being blown to pieces -- and for what? For speaking their minds? For disagreeing with certain beliefs that other groups hold? For not being the same? For not thinking exactly like one another? I always thought Bangladesh was founded on the belief that religion alone cannot make a nation, which is why we separated from Pakistan in the first place. Why then, are we insisting on trying to homogenise our nation? Why are we violating our own civil rights? Why is power more important than innocent human lives? And why is this all being done in the name of Islam?

Nothing, absolutely nothing, condones these grave acts of violence against innocent people. The Muslim response is usually that these acts are a reaction to the threat Islam is facing from global paranoia, which further feeds our fear and insecurities. However, not even the racial profiling against Muslims is an acceptable and viable excuse for the August massacre in Bangladesh -- or any terrorist killing, for that matter. Because this is a never-ending circle, a Russian roulette game of who fires the first shot and who makes the first move. The question is how many people will be sacrificed for this unworthy and misguided cause before we actually find peace and harmony among our own?



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