"Challenges" to the Qur'an: Banning our intolerance
The inherent strength of Islam in confronting such challenges lie in its tradition of debate, examination and rational enquiry which has made it all but possible for Muslims to reinforce the infallibility of their holy book as passed on in its unedited form for ions.
The Bangladesh Governments ban therefore on Monday of the 28th July 2003 issue of NEWSWEEK for carrying the article Challenging The Qur'an four days after Pakistan chose to do the same, raises alarming questions as to the level of tolerance prevailing in our society, specially in the closet mentality of power brokers managing the day to day running of the country - and who have effected the ban order in the first place.
It is noteworthy that no other Islamic nation has desired to replicate our vainglorious example and as of now we have no reports of religious sentiments of Muslims being badly bruised anywhere in the world - and who may or may not have read the objectionable article!
It is ironic that the frailty and fragility of so-called religious sentiments of our decision makers ruefully belies the aspirations of our Islamic population entrapped between hostile and depraved media onslaughts masterminded in India with labels of a fundamentalist-Taliban, communal terrorist State hurled its ways with routine and reckless abandon on the one hand, the so-called image crisis that perennially haunts successive Bangladesh Governments on the other as also the flirtatious and little understood moderate Islam in-betweenie stature it wishes to harp over at every conceivable opportunity to counter slanders.
The moderate Islamic status - an American coinage mouthed in magnanimity by awe inspiring likes of Bill Clinton, or George Bush or least of all the Dhaka based cheer leader of the US pack in the recently departed Ambassador, Mary Ann Peters apparently places Bangladesh in the very envious position of being a U.S ally in its fight against Islamic terrorism worldwide - also a roundabout acknowledgement that Bangladesh is the tolerable example that the US tolerates and wishes others Islamic nations to emulate!
The banning of NEWSWEEK is therefore a millstone, as in the bellicosity displayed - it sharply brings into focus as to what it is that ideally constitutes religious sentiments (blamed for the ban) and inevitable enquiries as to WHO it is in Bangladesh that has access to this quixotic nanometer to gauge such vague human sentiments of a majority?
It also does not portend well among the Pan Islamic pantheons of the Ummah (brotherhood) which Bangladesh claims to be a part of, as the very act of banning (solely because of a article by an obscure German linguist scholar who hides behind the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenburg while peddling hate, in his interpretation of the Qur'an) - sends undesirable supremacist signals about these two South Asian nations being among the purest of pure Islamist's - and leaves hollow any strategies that could have well emerged from within the Islamist intelligentsia of the two countries, as how to deflect future challenges.
To imagine Bangladesh citizens being barred from reading, and thus commenting or debating the issue in this millennium information era is a shock, especially as now is the time for the followers of Islam more then ever before to stand its ground and confront challenges to their religion or the Qur'an intellectually - overriding innate provocations from extremist on the lunatic fringe on both end of the spectrum.
Hurtful also is a realization that unlike Pakistan which is by composition a half baked quasi-military-theocracy-democracy run by a Dictator, Bangladesh is a fledging democracy and one its population regardless of social, gender, religious or political differences wishes to uphold in all seriousness.
The back to back banning order imitating Pakistan, which is no example of an ideal Islamic state in the first place, is indicative that the decision was flawed. hasty, arrogant and judgmental, and at once points to the internal pressure exerted on the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) by its uneasy and intolerant coalition partners, the Jammat-e-Islaami, a party which is no champion nor a credible example of Islam as practiced by the majority Muslim population in Bangladesh.
It also lays bare that politics in Bangladesh is captive to blackmails of half educated myopic mullahs who have expanded their political powerbase over the last 32 years exploiting the woeful cultural inadequacies of mainstream political parties in their failure to interpret, understand, acknowledge or practice cultural Islam of the Sufi tradition understood and practiced by the majority Muslim's of Bangladesh and elsewhere in South Asia.
For instance, it is more than likely that in their confusion of being willing and comfortable captives to political Islam non of the enforcers of the ban have ever had the privilege of witnessing all night 'Kobi Lorai' (minstrels duel) in Bangladesh villages - for if they did, they would have learnt to their horror that topics far more controversial and provocative than what appears in NEWSWEEK are routinely enacted to thousands upon thousand of tolerant rural denizens.
This has been a huge part of the cultural mosaic of the population of Bangladesh - whose faith in their faith regardless of their faith, is not as weak or susceptible to the kind of fragility that allows for it to be demolished to smithereens, merely because of some construed challenge in a western weekly - neither do we hear of any form of censorship, official or otherwise.
Deliberately denied respectability and demeaned a sub-ordinate culture, by the snobbish Dhaka based politico-cultural piranhas, jousting for space in the political hierarchy with very limited understanding of Bangladesh's culture in its philosophical context - the Islamic culture of engagement and debate we witness in rural Bangladesh is not only exemplary but one that can make any German scholar pale in comparison.
The inescapable tendency of rulers to capitulate and play to the gallery un- accommodative views of ignorant and spiteful mullahs who raise a huge ruse out of religious sentiments indicates the catastrophic cultural ill-health of our ruling echelon, regardless of the side of powers they are conveniently positioned today.
It is therefore not surprising that all the way from the Opposition Members of Parliament to the so-called progressive Left or the highly hypocritical weekend civil society club/s of know all-ers and do-gooders have made the slightest of noise following the ban and the news made any press if at all, in Bangladesh.
This notorious silence stems not from a desire as not to exercise the right to free speech or opinion - the truth is, in matters of religion any noise at all other than one that ensures political capital is hazardous is the underlying yet far reaching prognosis. Grave is our ignorance and unpardonable is our city bred naivety and gullible idiosyncrasies.
The ban order will undoubtedly provide credible ammunition to the propaganda of Pakistani and ISI links of the BNP Government and this time around, as we are already witnessing, will not be limited to South Asia alone or the lively yet inconsequential debates in Bengali e-forums on the Internet - the stature of NEWSWEEK will mean the controversy going International (more than a hundred world publication circulated the good news of Bangladesh banning NEWSWEEK) and one Bangladesh will have few backers even in the Islamic world and one that will come rebounding at the first available opportunity ......"Remember the NEWSWEEK incident?"
End of the day - Bangladesh will once again be consigned to the back bench of progress - once again the repudiation and scorn that it sees itself routinely pulverized in its half hearted placement of its IMAGE, subject to more challenges than it can handle - and it will have no one else but itself and its manipulators and defacto monitors of religious sentiments to blame for the quandary.
Leaves us wondering if we should not be banning the word IMAGE as MollaIslamically any image is sacrilegious - worse, when translated from the Bangla word Bhab Moorti it reads Image Idol ?
As for figuring out whether "houris with swelling breast" mean "white raisins and juicy fruits" (apologies for the impropriety - metaphorically it sounds the same - doesn't it?) - it is best that such challenges be dealt by folk philosophers who will have far more arousing and colorfully stimulating answers ready to shame Christoph Luxenburg - that ofcourse, if he is willing to travel to a Bangladesh village to check out things for REAL!
First Published 2nd August 2003