‘Capitalists are encouraging extremist religious politics’

In states where religious extremism is active, there is an absence of human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association and basic democratic rights, Serajul Islam Choudhury, a professor emeritus in the University of Dhaka, tells Mohiuddin Alamgir in an interview with New Age

Serajul Islam Choudhury

Serajul Islam Choudhury

New Age: Politics of religious extremism has apparently taken a violent form in Bangladesh.
Why?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: There are many reasons why the politics of religious extremism has taken a violent form in Bangladesh.
Apparently our society appears calm and quiet, but extremism in many forms is common in our society. Violence, extreme intolerance and poverty are also present in society, beside violence, which exists in bourgeois politics. In this form of politics, power suppresses opposition and proper elections do not take place. Even the state has turned into a violent organ, it does not tolerate different views and the opposition; there is no freedom of expression, and people die in election-related violence.
There are mainly two groups of people organising and following religion-based politics. One is the Hefazat style — there is scope for this group to become violent but it does not happen because they lack the economic strength, they are local and do not have international links.
The other group are the jihadis; they are new, have international connection and economic strength, they think they are educated and sophisticated, and yearn for Khelafat in the world, claiming it is an international movement, so they become international and they get financing and so-called ideological support from outside. Instead of fighting against the powerful responsible for inequalities and injustice, jihadis are killing the innocent people.
On the other side, capitalism is encouraging religious extremist politics. Capitalism is in a bad state now as its institutions are falling apart. For example, look at Brexit [is an abbreviation for Britain’s exit, which refers to the June 23, 2016, whereby British citizens voted to exit the European Union], or the US presidential election campaign which has reached a vulgar level.
In the dying phase of capitalism, one of the strategies capitalists have taken is to create a division based on religion between Christians and non-Christians, The Shias and the Sunnis within Muslims, for their own benefit. They are doing this to shift the crisis of capitalism into religious politics.
Capitalism now has taken a very aggressive imperialist character — they are trying to occupy the world, take control over all the resources, so they are using religion. Capitalists are trying to spread religious bigotry and division in our country as well.
Capitalists want people to still remain backward and capitalists are encouraging religious politics to counter socialism. Both capitalists and religionists have similarities as socialist are their common enemy, as both believe in private property and they are busy defending private property in their own ways.
As there is no World War now, it is essential for them to wage small scale wars at different places across the world to feed their weapons trade and war machinery industry.
Capitalists are trying to keep people away from worldly problems to keep them away from socialism. Worldly problems create agitation among people, they will raise their voice for secular demands and that can lead them to become socialists who take the path of progressive and secular politics.
Each and every country has their own political and economic issues but capitalists want to obscure these issues by pushing forward religious politics.
Capitalists do not even want to allow anti-capitalist forces to take power even when they participate in mainstream politics.

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?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: There are similarities between madrassah and English medium streams of education in that both create alienation from local culture and society, are artificial, do not create patriotism, and a sense belonging to history, among students.
States where religious extremism is active, there is an absence of human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of association and basic democratic rights. In these states, there are tendencies to become a fascist and they are suppressing anti-capitalism activities as well as anti-fascist activities.
As people’s discontent with the system cannot be protested through secular means any longer, the religious groups are now taking advantage of this by working with people’s discontents. Religious groups are working on people’s alienation from the state, economy and society; they are trying to create religious togetherness.
We have a problem of identity crisis, where religious identity has become more important now than secular national identity. Religious identity has become a matter of pride — the identity of Muslim has become important than the identity of Bengali in our country.
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?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: Youth is always adventurous and creative, they want to challenge, they want creative work and we are failing to provide them with it. Our universities are failing to provide them with work, there are no students unions, no cultural activities, social activities, interesting reading and learning material and their urge for adventure and creativity is not fulfilled.
An absence of secular idealism is also one reason some of the youth are moving to so-called idealism based on religion.
The young people living in a capitalist order are more or less self-centred and believe in consumerism, accumulation of money as a measure of their success and they are blindly running after this success. Humane qualities are not cultivated at the universities and other educational institutes. Most private universities do not offer humanities degrees so a majority of the students from these universities do not have enough knowledge of literature, philosophy and history, hindering the growth of humane qualities.
The position of the public universities is not much better, the importance of humanities education has decreased in these universities; there is an absences of students’ union activities, cultural and social activities, proper library and other facilities. School education also falls short on cultural and co-curricular activities.
New Age: What is the way out?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: Religious extremist and imperialist forces are both the same and are followers of capitalism, so a strong anti-capitalist political movement is necessary as a way out of the problem. Yes there are anti-capitalism protests from the have-nots — movements with slogans ‘We Are 99%’ against wealth discrimination, the movement against the World Trade Organisation, but these are local movements, these movements should be regional as well as international.
If the anti-capitalists come to the fore secular and real economic issues will be addressed and extremists will not just become irrelevant in society, they will not get any scope to exist as extremists do not talk about the needs and demands of ordinary people.
Cultural activities, patriotic activities are necessary across society.
Our education system should be humanised as it is only providing some professional skills and does not contain elements for cultivating humane qualities.

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