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In the Name of God and Religion
Tuesday October 09 2012 22:59:45 PM BDT
By Ziauddin Choudhury
The south eastern part of Bangladesh is aflame again with outrageous attacks on the local minorities for some alleged insult by a member of that community on the majority community’s religious faith. Only recently, the world witnessed a massive venting of anger and rage by Muslims in many countries to protest a wanton and inflammatory film on our prophet.
Although the alleged film maker acted on his own, much like a few people before him who had tried to deride a person deeply revered by people of all religion, the anger and outburst of the Muslims were unfortunately targeted at the country where the film was made. Such was the anger that it took the lives of an ambassador and three of his colleagues in one country, set buildings on fire, and destroyed property worth millions in other countries. So blind was the anger that seized the mobs in these countries that it never occurred to them that in their fury what they were destroying belonged to their own countries, and their own people. Fire that they lit not only burnt a foreign flag but also everything that came within the reach of that fire.
Insults to a particular faith and its practitioners are not new. This has happened many times in the past because there are bigoted people in this world with perverted ideologies and demented minds. Unfortunately, however, they succeed in their missions when people react hysterically and go out on a war path to demonstrate their dissent. These bigoted people succeed in their attempts to deride another religion when the practitioners react in the violent manner that we witnessed in the most recent cases. Instead of words and other means of protest available through the media the people in these countries took to the streets and destroyed whatever came their way. Since the perpetrator of the insult was not at hand, the anger was directed at the country of the perpetrator’s residence. It did not matter that the individual was never sponsored by the country or its government.
One needs to pause and ponder why our people react the way that they did time and again. It is easy to explain it away as venting of frustrations and indignation built over grievances against Western powers that people in some countries have been nurturing for some time. Incidents like the most recent ones only trigger these frustrations. But it does not explain why people in some countries take to violence against their own people citing insults to their faith at the slightest provocation.
A couple of months ago in Pakistan a whole village rose up in arms to protest an alleged incident of burning pages of the Holy Koran by a minor girl of another faith. The girl was arrested and put in jail, but later released as the allegation was unfounded. But the alleged incident inflamed the majority community of the area to such an extent that the entire community of the minor girl felt unsafe and was prepared to leave the area.
Now we have in Bangladesh the terrible happenings in Chittagong Hill Tracts where the majority community has gone on a rampage against the Buddhist minority for its alleged insult to Islam. A reign of terror was let loose on a helpless community, their property pillaged, and their religious places desecrated all because of an allegation that someone from that community had insulted the majority community’s religion. In the frenzy the people who led and participated in this persecution and vendetta in the name of religion against their fellow countrymen never pondered to think how they were violating the edicts of their own religion on excesses and oppressions against other members of the humanity.
It is a copout to attribute these mindless acts of violence and religious intolerance to only righteous indignation of a community to such insults. A much deeper cause of such behavior and intolerance lies in the mindset of a majority of our populations that have been submerged in illiteracy, poverty, ignorance, and low esteem for self and community around them. Poverty and ignorance have led our people to put blames on others for our failures, distrust of neighbors, and viewing any individual attempt to denigrate our faith as an international conspiracy to subjugate us. Poverty and ignorance also makes them prey to manipulation by religious zealots, and political opportunists.
In countries with low level of education, wealth, and a high degree of unemployment, the potential for easy outbursts on any pretext among the population always exists. Usually the pretexts are provided by domestic political situations in these countries. The pretext provided by religious affronts, however, creates a diversion from domestic politics, and our political leaders get a respite from political oppositions from such diversion. They either ignore these or encourage these protests for short term popularity often at greater peril for the nation as a whole.
Insulting beliefs or faith of any community is a reprehensible act and it needs to be stopped. Constitutions of most democratic countries provide safeguards for all religions and forbid such egregious acts. Yet from time to time we have incidents where individuals or groups who either wittingly or unwittingly take to acts that hurt the religious feelings of another community. Unfortunately the reactions in our parts of the world to such gratuitous acts of individuals are often violent, deadly, and self-defeating. Instead of addressing a wanton act of provocation by an individual in a clever and more productive and helpful way we project an image of greater intolerance and bigotry with our counter violence.
No religion teaches violence; no religion teaches how to insult or denigrate other human beings. People who wear religion in their sleeves need to remind themselves that freedom of religion is the cornerstone of religious tolerance; and it is clearly established in the Qur’an (“There is no compulsion in religion”- Sura 2:256).
The image of a country or that of a community is not simply derived from what it believes in, but also from what it practices. A democratic country is not democratic simply because it has a constitution that advocates democracy; it is democratic when others see that democracy is practiced in that country. Religious tolerance and respect for all human beings cannot be ensured only by inserting these in the constitution of a country, it can be ensured when all people of all faith are protected equally by the state. Violent reactions to insults by individuals to any faith are not the way our religion teaches us, least of all by unleashing these reactions on people who cannot retaliate. Our political leaders need to guide the people in such occasions with stern actions when frenzy replaces sanity.
In our country’s present state I hope that all efforts will be directed to preserve the lives, property, and rights of people of all faith. This is what the country’s founder promised to his people, and this what we would like to see to be delivered.
Ziauddin Choudhury is a retired member of World Bank Staff.
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