I hate giving people a chance to say, "I told you so." So imagine the chorus after reports of an AL 5-point "understanding" (soon to be denied as "misunderstanding") with the Khelafat Andolan gang emerged. In one swift move, the party rolled over and handed on a platter every major Islamist demand of the last five years. Whether BNP or AL wins in the next election, the patient, cunning Islamists are the big winners in symbolic and real terms.
A friend wrote: "Don't worry, our politicians do beimani (dishonesty). They will do beimani with Khelafat Andolon as well." But for those of us who have lost interest in the why, how, or where AL (or BNP) does anything, the motive for these electoral chomoks (displays) is irrelevant. What really matters is the manner in which every Islamist party, demand, and agenda is slowly but surely penetrating into every artery of the national body politic and infrastructure.
For the last five years, the BNP-Jamaat coalition's ferocious attacks on secularism, and aggressive push for an Islamist agenda has had an unexpected side effect. As BNP's enemy, AL has automatically received the mantle of defender-of-secularism, without doing a single thing to protect it.
During the last three years' attacks on the Ahmadiya community, I spent a significant time with the Ahmadiya mosques for my film Muslims or Heretics. I was struck by the quiet faith many Ahmadiya supporters had that AL would never allow these things to happen. In all the time that Ahmadiya property was burnt, books were seized, mosques attacked, and imams killed, the AL never raised a voice, or joined a rally. But because the BNP was actively tolerating Khatme Nabuwat, all of us presumed that AL would not do the same!
But just read a few items in the MOU with Khelafot Andolon.
* To not accept Prophet Mohammed as the last Prophet is forbidden.
*Blasphemy will be a punishable offense.
If these items sound familiar, it is because these have been demand number one and two on every single flyer given out at Khatme Nabuwat rallies. Having spent time at many KN rallies documenting their speeches, I am struck (but not surprised) by the manner in which the AL has now reproduced in toto the entire text and sentiments of anti-Ahmadiya forces.
After the 2001 elections, BNP-affiliated thugs went on a revenge spree in Hindu villages, attacking, raping, and looting, all to target presumed AL supporters. The tragedy for Hindu Bengalis is that they are getting the long pole from both ends. Beaten to a pulp for voting AL, and abandoned by AL when they are in power. But AL never has to do any work to prove their credentials. Whether minority or majority, anyone who wants a secular state is afraid to vote BNP because of its clear stance against secularism.
Khaleda Zia once said: "If Hasina gets elected, there will be ulu dhoni (ululation) in the mosques of Bangladesh." That is all it took to get AL branded secular, even while the party took a half dozen steps in the opposite direction. From lok-dekhano (just to show) umra and mathae kapor (covering head) to Bismillah in election posters, the AL has been playing the Islam card for a while -- confident that the secular vote is always theirs.
It was Hasina's infamous meeting with Golam Azam that led Farhad Mazhar to write an essay titled: "Sheikh Hasina has insulted Jahanara Imam's memory by touching her coffin." But faced with the larger embrace of Jamaat by BNP, we who are so desperate for even a minute sign of secularism have forgiven AL those past sins. Yes, Hasina sat with Jamaat, but she did not bring them into a cabinet. But at the rate things are going, can we trust that will never happen?
I wonder what Suranjit Sengupta and other minority members of AL are thinking right now. I wonder how they can keep a straight face when Sheikh Hasina talks about "secularism" to Bangali Christians on the same day that Jalil announces an MOU with Shaikhul Hadis. Like Marie Antoinette, AL thinks "let them eat cake," cutting a Christmas cake with our beleaguered Christian citizens. That is the dessert to choke on, a monument to opportunism.
When Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury was defeated in the OIC election, he blamed a global campaign alleging that he was a 1971 war criminal. Chief focus of his ire was the AL. In a furious press conference, he threatened to "Islamicize" Suranjit Sengupta's nether regions.
I remember being horrified, but now I feel that it is better to face SaQa Chowdhury -- at least he lays his cards on the table and you know exactly where you are. The problem with the so-called defenders of secularism is that they will smile to your face while running the knife very deep into your poor, unprotected back. Surely we can do better than this?
Some ask why AL gets so much hate for allying with Islamists, but the same does not happen for BNP. It's because BNP is being consistent -- they have never said they are interested in secularism. Since their founding years, BNP has been committed to a project of Bangladeshi not Bengali, Allah Hafez not Khoda Hafez, India as permanent enemy, and the gun not the carrot for CHT Paharis. If BNP sits with Jamaat, it is consistent with that vision -- they have always been the "Islam bachao" (save Islam) vote (as if our religion is so weak it needs Bangalis to "save" it). It is only the AL who has ever profited from the secularism vote (and by the way, not just minorities, but also thinking Muslims -- and we are legion -- want religion separate from state).
Most young people are bored by the 15-year serialized soap opera of BNP vs AL. A retired official says: "Shob chor" (All are thieves) and it's hard to argue with his nihilistic mind-set. But what does matter is the permanent damage being done to the secularism project (which is never anti-religion, but simply asks for separation of religion from politics). From Zia to Ershad to Khaleda to Hasina, the players change but the Islamist project grows mightier as every party makes concessions to religious politics -- whether by an inch or a mile.Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Ten years from now, there may be no Hasina, Khaleda, Tarique, Joy, Jalil, Bhuiyan. There may be a whole new set of players -- who may be vibrant new jacks, or the same liquid in a new bottle. But the one sure thing is that the Islamists will be much stronger. Today they are kingmakers, tomorrow they will be kings.