No time to shilly shally
Five bloggers have been killed in the last five years. And except for the alleged killers of Ahmed Rajiv Haider, no others have been brought to justice yet. There is an uncanny feeling also among the people that the state is helpless to do anything against the extremists and the bloggers' killers. The fearful aspect of it is that, the killings are now being carried out in broad daylight without fear or apprehension.
The killings have exposed the wide contrast in the society between liberal thoughts and extremist reaction, between freedom of expression and how far that freedom extends without offending the sentiments of others and between one's right to feel offended and how that right should be expressed.
The government for its part is at a loss as to how to address the matter. And statements from people close to the PM like the "issues are too sensitive for the PM to speak up in public" and "we in the Awami League don't want to be identified as atheist or non-believers" do not speak much about the party's conviction or commitment to secularism. Even atheists have the right to life and protection. They live by their beliefs and should be allowed to go their way. And the government must not only seek out the killers it should come down heavily on these extremist groups by formulating policies that can combat them both ideologically and physically. Pussyfooting on the issue only encourages the extremists, as is evident from all that has happened in this regard, particularly in the last ten years.
Almost ten years ago, in October 2005, I ventured an opinion in this very column entitled, "It is time to declare Jihad." I cannot resist quoting some parts of the piece just to show that have we not yet been able to grapple with the demon of extremism. I wrote:
"It is time to declare Jihad. And this must be declared immediately, against those that go about endangering the lives of the innocents in the name of establishing Islam in the country, calling their activities Jihad. It is against these people, a tiny minority. . .that we must declare Jihad against. I see no reason why these people should be allowed to go about both misinterpreting the teachings of Islam and making the rest of us suffer by their acts that are neither sanctioned by Islam nor compelled by any political or religious compulsions in Bangladesh."
"Are what these so-called Jihadists saying in conformity with the teachings of Islam? How does one justify their threat: 'You will be executed if you do not stop arresting our men and celebration of puja. You are our Muslim brothers, so do not arrest our men to protect the non-Muslims,' contained in a letter sent to journalist by post by these groups? This is bigotry in the vilest form, which has no place in Islam. And those who countenance it are as guilty as those who preach it."
The demon has acquired a more dangerous form. It is an apparition lacking, apparently, a form, which is why the law has not succeeded as yet to catch any of the perpetrators who have carried out the killings of the bloggers.
It is regrettable that threats are now being carried out in the name of Islam against those the extremists accused of desecrating the religion. But the so called protectors of Islam, who claim to be defending the faith, are choosing the path of violence which Islam calls upon us to abjure. Surely, violence cannot be the arbiter between divergent views.
The fundamental question is, given the nature of the threat, should it be the business of the state/the government alone to combat a menace that has assumed the dimensions of a phenomenon which needs a multi-pronged approach? I repeat what I said ten years ago, that this is the time and these are the people that we as a nation must stand up to and thwart. And it is disheartening to see the abject inaction of the majority of Muslims and the silence of our religious scholars and Ulamas in this respect. I feel that the society at large, particularly our religious leaders, must openly castigate the killings and violence as heretical.
And I repeat what I said ten years ago – there is no alternative but to go on a war footing.
The writer is Editor, Oped & Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.