‘Militancy is rising in a political-cultural vacuum’

Ajoy Roy, a retired professor of physics in the University of Dhaka talking to Mustafizur Rahman and Arifur Rahman in an interview with New Age, stressed the need for reviving political culture by giving space to all parties, to fight religious extremism effectively and make people feel that Bangladesh is a secular country

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Ajoy Roy

New Age: Politics of religious extremism has apparently taken a violent form in Bangladesh. Why?
Ajoy Roy: Religious extremism has always been violent. But the cruelty in acts of violence is a new phenomenon in militancy here. This is terrorism in the name of Islam.
What we see in their publicity nowadays is that Islamic extremists want to take a familiar Bangladesh to somewhere else, pushing aside our socio-cultural political life.
The main objective of Islamic extremists is to establish the Islamic caliphate. They are more violent in the Middle East. They are now gaining ground in Saudi Arabia, where the Kings are ruling the nation through family inheritance, or in Iraq, which is also an Islamic republic.
These Islamist militants are misleading Muslims in Bangladesh as they consider our country a fertile land for spreading such ideology. They are daydreaming about establishing an Islamic state here.
What will happen to our traditional culture and literature? Should we set fire to all works of Rabindranath, Nazrul or our puthi literature?
They are not on track if these are their goals. Those who are behind such extremism are misguiding our youths. The youth, aged in the ranges of 18–22 years, are being brainwashed and motivated into militancy.
The young generation is supposed to join any struggle of a nation. Instead of serving the society, they are now getting involved with militancy.
Their families, meanwhile, are receiving huge amounts of money. Unemployment is a motivator here as well.
University students do nothing to look beyond their classes on campuses.
Even female students studying good subjects at the graduate level are joining militancy as they have nothing to do beyond their academic studies at universities and colleges.
We are shrinking the space for creative activities like publications, cultural events and sports in our society, as well as in the educational institutions.
And consequently, the youth are becoming easy targets of militant outfits like Harkatul Jihad or Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh — the followers of Mawdudibad. They feel like getting into something to do. This way, they are changing the landscape of our society.
The so-called extremist leaders, like Bangladesh origin Canadian citizen Tamim Chowdhury [prime suspect in the Gulshan café attack recently killed in a police raid in Narayanganj], are influenced either by Mawdudibad or by Wahabbism. Violence is at the core of their character. Their explanations of Islam do not match the essence of the Holy Quran.
They say — ‘You will have to take sword in one hand and the Quran in another hand.’ It means ‘you have to kill non-Muslims’ to establish Islam.
The ideologies of militant outfits like JMB, Ansar Al-Islam and Ansarullah Bangla Team are being influenced by Middle East-based Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
It is totally a wrong notion that they will establish an Islamic Caliphate in Bangladesh.

New Age: Contrary to hitherto middle-class intellectual conviction that madrassahs are the breeding grounds of ‘jihadis’, the violent operations by jihadis at the Gulshan restaurant in July points out the fact that non-madrassah youths have embraced politics of religious extremism. Why?
Ajoy Roy: I am against madrassah education, but not against the students of madrassahs. I blame those like Jamaat-Shibir and Harkatul Jihad-a-Islami who recruit madrassah students.
The so-called secular universities in the private sector do not teach political science, Bangla, mathematics. They focus more on business administration while offering degrees and are interested only in doing business. They do not have any course on Bangladesh history and culture. Even students of these institutions are not in touch with their families.
These youth are being told that Islam is at stake. They are getting involved in brutality as they are lead into the path of militancy in Islam.
They are not even taught about the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (SM) delivered during the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj.

New Age: Do you think certain particular kinds of socio-political and economic factors play any role behind the youths of society to get attracted to politics of extremism — religious or otherwise? If so, what are the factors?
Ajoy Roy: At present there is a politico-cultural vacuum in Bangladesh. Space for creative activities has gradually been shrinking. The students if necessary should wage a movement to bring back those activities on campuses.
That halls of residence will remain under control of a particular party cannot be acceptable. This creates a kind of frustration among the students. Each hall should have a student body with elected representatives.
Hall unions should be revived without delay to resume extra-curricular activities such as sports and debate so that there is no vacuum. Initially, the initiative may face some challenges as goons of Chhatra League or Chhatra Dal will want to steal the ballot boxes.
Teachers should also play a role in overcoming the situation. Beyond their routine work, they should teach students about the country’s history and heritage, literature and the spirit of the liberation war. The teachers should think about what they can contribute for the country.
They should highlight the contributions of Subhas Chandra Bose, Moulana Bhasani and AK Fazlul Haque, among others.
The teachers should make students understand that Bangladesh stands for democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism.
Lastly, political culture must be revived. There is no open space in the city for political activism, no place to hold rallies.
The tradition of political culture is lost.
For example, Muktangan, once an open space for political programmes in the capital, has now turned into a hub for the rent-a-car business.
Political parties could be given a place at Suhrawardy Udyan where they could hold rallies.
The government should take a move to ensure the facility. All political parties — Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalist Party and others — will organise their political programmes there. This would kindle a kind of spirit among the people where they feel Bangladesh is a secular country.
All political parties should publish pamphlets to make people aware of their agenda.

New Age: What is the way out?
Ajoy Roy: The media has a role to play here. They should publicise our historic traditions more and introduce our great personalities to the young generation. We have to highlight the contributions of the women in our history.
Initiatives should be taken to retain religious harmony among various communities.
Finally, we have to create a visionary political leadership.

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