Aspect of banning religion based parties
First of all, I wish to make it very clear that the purpose of this write-up is not to give a boost to the Jaamati-i-Islami party. This writer fully shares the contempt of countrymen towards Jammat for its anti-people and anti-Bangladesh role in the country’s war of independence in 1971. This article is meant to only suggest an appropriate or less risky course of dealing with the Jaamat and also to prevent its acquiring some public sympathy in the long run as an entity that has been unfairly bullied too hard by its opponents. The advocacy here is to contain and keep under a leash Jammat in a democratic but effective way. As it is, the more a political party succeeds in gaining an image as a persecuted one, rightly or wrongly, it rebuilds its popularity. A furore is noted in the country demanding that we should not allow the operation or existence of political parties in Bangladesh which say that they draw inspiration from religion. The ones who do not wish such parties to exist have the Islamist parties in their mind, specially the Jaamat-i-Islami. The contention is religion based parties of the Islamist variety tend to be communal in character and discriminate against religious minorities or that they fan religious extremism or bigotry. But in this context, it may be relevant to point out India claims to be the biggest democracy in the world. It boasts about its parliamentary tradition and secularism. Yet the hard reality in the world’s biggest democracy is that it allows the unrestricted functioning of the ultra Hindu chauvinist party , the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP also won supreme political power in India and governed that country. Some of the worst riots against Muslims occurred under BJP’s rule. The BJP did nothing when mobs destroyed the Babri mosque in India and engaged in subsequent anti-Muslim riots which were seen as the worst since the British departed in 1947 . There are other political groups in India such as the Shiv Sena whose professed mission is against Islam or Muslims. If they could, they would drive all Muslims out of India. Then, there are also examples of at least partly religion inspired parties in Europe. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) ruled Germany for many years. Parties identifying with religion and being conservative and religiously so, ruled over other European countries as well and they are very much active and could come to power in the future in these countries. Adolph Hitler was the symbol of evil in his country and in the world. The philosophies and actions of Hitler’s Nazi Party caused the greatest military conflict ever known to mankind in which the greatest number of deaths and the widest destruction of resources occurred. Thus, only a few cherishes the memory of the Nazis in Germany today.But this preponderant revulsion felt towards the Nazi philosophy in Germany today has not led to banning of this party or propagation of its ideas in today’s democratic Germany. Thus, the Neo-Nazis are allowed to operate freely as a surface party. Because Germans and other mature democracies round the world are truly committed to the concept of ‘freedom of expression’ as the cornerstone of a democratic way of life. They remain firmly wedded to the principle of ‘ I may not like what you say, but I shall defend to death your right of saying it.’One may also recall in this context that during the height of the Cold War between the erstwhile Soviet Union and the USA, it was the unstated rule or public sentiment at that time that anyone found saying anything in favour of communists and communism would be considered as a national traitor. The famous US Senator Joseph McCarthy in that period unfurled his famous un-American principle to vilify anybody who would dare show empathy towards communism or the Soviet Union. But even in that period, there was no clamour for the formal banishing of the US Communist PartyThis was because the real feature of a truly well functioning democracy is its ‘inclusiveness’. All kinds of political forces are allowed free play in such a democratic dispensation and the people are allowed to make the choice or decide freely about who should lead them and who they should vote for. If a party happens to be extreme and communal in its disposition, it may very likely be automatically rejected by the people or its influence and power may be limited from people’s lack of fascination for it. Thus, real democratic countries thesedays are found not afraid of religious parties. The banning and closing down of such parties by force happens to be the antithesis of democratic values. So, the question arises whether the advocates of banning religion based parties in our country think they have a superior prescription in these matters in contrast to the universal practice ?The highest number of parliamentary seats out of a total number 300 such seats won by Jammat-e-Islami in a parliamentary election in the entire period of Bangladesh, was 17. It is most unlikely that it would ever be able to expand its parliamentary strength substantially further or even come close to winning political power or control over the country by increasing the number of its followers dramatically. Bangladeshis are generally found to be good Muslims but they are not fanatical in their religious faith or conduct. They are remarkably moderate in respect of their religious belief and practices. If it were not so, then it would not be possible for two females to come to power four times in succession in Bangladesh when orthodox Islam advocates against women wielding supreme political power. From banningJammat and other religious parties, Bangladesh could invite international criticism in respect of its democratic credentials. But from tolerating such forces, Bangladesh would have nothing to lose in practical terms but gain in international esteem as a country that remains correctly set on the path of ‘inclusive’ democracy. Politics based on religion may not be a right approach to votaries of so called progressive politics. But it is also as much true that democracy requires unfettered expression of beliefs and opinion by all kinds of political players including the religious ones. It is preferable that citizens, from greater political consciousness and acumen, should learn to reject the persuasion of orthodox and obscurantist forces represented by religious political parties. But that is another matter. The requirement of a democratic polity is that all kinds of political forces or beliefs should be allowed free expression and it should be left to the people to decide whether to respond to them or not. And real inclusive democracy needs to be the focal and shared aspiration of all in Bangladesh. The people of this country have struggled long and hard and made great sacrifices for the establishment and flourishment of true democracy. Indeed, the establishment of genuine democracy is the panacea for all its ills. It should usher in good governance, reduce corruption, promote human rights, create political stability and help in the accelerated progress of the nation in all other respects. The advantage of allowing all sorts of political forces to operate freely involves getting them committed to observing some rules and regulations also in exchange for their freedom. But banning them only pushes them underground and creates the justification and temptation on their part for indulging in extremist activities which again goes against the vital public interests.