Saturday, July 07, 2007

Interview with Sharon Chadha - Part 5


Well, all that you'd imagine a rock star doing....Ok, maybe not ALL you'd imagine - I know there are plenty of overactive imaginations out there - and this is one rocker who stayed married to his childhood sweetheart until her untimely death in 2004....So on that incredibly sad but also so entirely romantic note, meet Mac Haque, lead singer of the Bangladeshi band Maqsood O'dHAKA. I introduce you to him in order to bring you alternative voices from the world of Islam. This is part 5 of my 10-part email interview with Bangladesh's "Poet of Impropriety," rocker, rasta, activist Mac Haque, otherwise better known as the lead singer of one of Bangladesh's leading bands, Maqsood O'dHAKA. (Here is the
introduction to this series, along with Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.) But before you start reading, why not download some of his music for background?
Today's question for Mac was "What is Bangladesh doing to counter extremism?"
Here is his response:

On the surface there is zero tolerance for Islamic extremism. Anybody found in possession of a Jihadist leaflet is subject to arrest and imprisonment. The laws are harsh. And as is the case in most nations fighting the War on Terror, there have been many violations of basic human rights. The state does what it has to in order to receive applause from the West.
But the real war is being fought culturally. The Sufi and Vaishnavite influences in our culture that have roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Islam, are the real ‘weapons of choice.’After the series of 2005 bomb attacks and assassinations of judges, the Government activated an elite anti-terrorist police commando called the Rapid Action Battalion. Hundreds of mullahs linked to the Jama’atul Mujahideen, an Islamist party, were arrested. The key figures were executed after a quick trial in March this year.
But what I think had a greater effect was the reaction of the mainstream clergy. They went out in force, to explain Jihad to all the mosque goers in much the same way my father did to me when I was a child. At Friday prayers they issued stern warnings saying there is no place for extremism in Islam – and that a Jihad cannot be declared in a nation such as ours, one with a pre-dominantly Muslim population, when there is no clear indication that war or war-like situation has been unleashed on it.
Cultural activists such as myself - and there are thousands others – have been active against the extremist movement for years now. In Bangladesh we have an abundance of progressive theatre, literature, song and poetry written by people who are committed socio-cultural activists against extremism.Our ‘battle’ started much earlier than the Governments did, incidentally.In my 1997 socio-political activism album Prapto Boyeshker Nishiddho (Banned for Adults), for example, I have a song called Parwardigar or The Creator, an adaptation, if you will, of the American singer Jim Croce’s song about the dangers of Christian extremism. As he wrote: “Which way are you going, which side are you on, one hand on the Bible one hand on the gun.”
Incidentally, I received a series of death threats after this, none of which made me afraid enough to want to back down. I think we cultural activists in Bangladesh deserve some of the credit for the fact that our agenda for a peaceful, extremism-free Bangladesh seems to have taken root and crowded out the extremist forces.Our War on Terror began long before it became fashionable, and we didn’t need the West or the US to tell us what to do!

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