Because of my sympathy with Awami League some of my journalist friends in London know me as a pro-Awami League journalist. Because of the poor quality of the publicity and public relations of London High Commission of Bangladesh or the local Awami League here they are on and off misled by the powerful propaganda of the publicity machinery of BNP and Jamaat. Some of them often ask me questions based on those misleading information. The misgivings about Awami League’s policy and politics are still prevalent in the outside world especially in the Middle-east. Since the birth of the independent Bangladesh there was wilful propaganda by the enemy of this independence that Islam was in danger in this new born country and Awami League was a subservient party to ‘Hindu India’ and the founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib was a protégé of India.
With the passing of time and change of world situation this propaganda has lost its potency but there is still confusion among a vast number of foreign journalists who ask me whether Bangladesh is a secular or Islamic state. After its independence Bangladesh was known as a secular state with Muslim majority. Since the military rulers changed its secular constitution arbitrarily and declared Islam as a state religion this confusion of whether the country is an Islamic Republic quickly spread outside the country. Present Awami League and its government could not clear this confusion from the mind of the people of the world at large.
There is a reason why the people of the outside world are confused about the real identity of Bangladesh. After the Mujib government was overthrown, the new president of the country Khandaker Mostaq Ahmed was installed by the killers and announced the country as an Islamic Republic. People did not accept it. Though it is a country of Muslim majority, there are a large number of people from other faiths and it is a country of mixed culture and religion. Moreover, the country achieved independence on the fundamentals of secularism and democracy. The puppet president had to retreat quickly and returned the title of the country as People’s Republic. His successors, two generals were more cunning and anti-people ruler and wanted to use religion to stabilize their rules. The first general changed the constitution of the country to a religious one and the second general declared Islam as the state religion. Thus very cleverly they returned to the original declaration of their predecessor, Khandaker Mostaq, that Bangladesh is virtually an Islamic Republic. This has created a fissure in the base of the fundamentals of the independence of Bangladesh.
After coming to power the present Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina is trying hard to bring back the secular character of the country’s constitution but for the reality of the present political situation and changed social mode they have kept its religious bias. This government has proved to the world its commitment to the non-communal and democratic ideals and is following a policy of equal treatment of all religion. Awami League’s role now a days is almost like Germany’s one of the biggest political organizations- the Christian Democratic party. They have still kept the word Christian with their name but it is not a party based on religion, but on modern democracy. In the case of Awami League, it has removed the word Muslim from the party name a long ago.
The propaganda of the anti-independence parties in Bangladesh that Awami League is a protégé of India and that they have surrendered their sovereignty to a ‘ hindu state’ has lost its potency because of the basic change in the world politics especially in the Middle-east. Israel was feared as a main enemy of the Muslim world, not India. Now those Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Emirates who were the deadly enemy of Israel- a Zionist state and supporters of the Palestinian liberation struggle have now turned out to be the great friend of Israel. These states especially Saudi Arabia, are now trying to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran, another Muslim state with the collaboration of Israel and America. These Muslim states are doing excellent business with India.
So, present Bangladesh government’s friendship and cooperation with India for their mutual benefits is no more treated as anti-Muslim stand and those who still followed anti-Indian policy in Bangladesh politics lost their ground. The appeal of BNP’s anti-Indian policy and propaganda are no more acceptable to people and they are losing their ground rapidly. BNP now knows the futility of their anti-Indian policy and before the general election is trying to woo India’s friendship. Still though Bangladesh’s friendship with India is no more controversial and its stand as a democratic state is recognized, a confusion persists among people from the outside world about the identity of the country – whether Bangladesh is secular or Islamic country. The present Awami League government’s one of the main weaknesses is that it could not remove this confusion and controversy because of the weakness of their publicity machine.
Recently in London I was interviewed by an Iraqi journalist who works for a Baghdad daily asking a similar question. I told him as Saddam Hussain and Egypt’s Nasser were secular political leaders but devout Muslims, similarly the founding father of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib was a secular politician but a practicing Muslim. He was a perfect leader of a secular country and opposed the dominance of religious culture in politics but allowed the social culture of religion of the majority people to exist. Same is true about Europe’s known secular states like England, France and Germany. They have separated politics from religion but allowed Christianity to exist in the society because it is the practicing culture of the majority people.
Hasina’s government is almost following the same policy and if it succeeds the country will go back to its secular constitution of 72 completely. Now her government is fighting against violent political Islam created by western capitalism and followed by the country’s extreme fundamentalist parties. Islam has a strong human face, which was polluted by the followers of political Islam and its terrorist groups. In Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina fought this enemy of humanity with remarkable success. I told the Iraqi journalist that as mentioned earlier Nasser, who was a secular leader and the promoter of secular Arab Nationalism, was in personal life a practicing Muslim and performed Hajj more than once. Like Nasser Sheikh Mujib also was a secular leader but a practicing Muslim, who promoted secular Bengali Nationalism. His daughter Sheikh Hasina is also a true follower of her father.
Against all odds she is struggling to establish secularism and democracy. Though personally she is a practicing Muslim, she believes that religion is for individuals and secularism is for all. To achieve this goal in Bangladesh in its present social and political condition will take time. My Iraqi journalist friend was satisfied but asked me, ‘Why don’t your government propagate this truth strongly in the world especially in the Middle-east? Then the enemy of Bangladesh will fail to malign the character of the government and the country’. I did not reply this question.
London, Thursday 19 July, 2018.