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In Bangladesh, religion becomes a weapon when cultural norms fail

Bangladesh has witnessed many instances of mass lynchings, which is a major cause for concern as it looks that respect for rule of law has vanished, writes Aashish Kiphayet for South Asia Monitor

Aashish Kiphayet Nov 12, 2020
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The Muslim world, including Bangladesh, has condemned French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks over Islam. They have called for the boycott of French products and denounced the French President for his support over Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Macron had said, "Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world.” His remarks led to protests across the Muslim world from Pakistan to Syria, Bangladesh to Gaza.

Tens of thousands marched on the streets of Bangladesh's capital on Nov 2, the country's largest protest against French president. The protest organized by the Hefazat-e-Islam group, a network of teachers and students at thousands of Islamic schools, burned effigies of Macron too.

Killings due to hurting religious sentiments

But before the wide condemnation, a day before Eid e-Milad-un Nabi (Oct 29), a massacre took place in the Lalmonirhat district in Bangladesh in which an angry mob burnt a man alive, after brutally beating him up. The killers justified the gruesome killing by spreading rumours that the deceased desecrated the Muslim holy book Quran kept inside a mosque.

Such heinous murders have taken place earlier too. But no one has been able to stop such killings. There are no Islamic scholars, who have condemned such acts; or society, state authorities, or any court trial, that has been held? No, there has not been any condemnation against such barbarous acts!

The suspected man has committed blasphemy so he must be killed on the spot. People have forgotten that Hazrat Muhammad came on earth to liberate man and to serve humanity, irrespective of religion, caste, and creed. He is recognized as the man of the greatest human qualities.

Blasphemy laws

Many countries have blasphemy laws. According to a 2017 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), 71 countries around the world have blasphemy laws, although, blasphemy law is stricter in Muslim countries. The greatest example of blasphemy in the Muslim world is the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman from Pakistan. Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death in 2010, but was acquitted by the country's Supreme Court in 2018, after serving eight years in prison.

Although Bangladesh has no blasphemy law, there is the Penal Code. The Penal Code, 1860, is the main criminal code of Bangladesh. It has a clear description of the blasphemy. Sections 295 to 298 of the Act deal with the interpretation and punishment of religious abuses.
 
In 2013, Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, an Islamist advocacy group of madrassa teachers and students, demanded that a law be enacted in Bangladesh in the form of the Blasphemy Act. The widely discussed Digital Security Act of 2018 provides for the punishment of using technology to hurt religious feelings or religious beliefs. There is also the Special Powers Act 1974, which also provides the punishment of religious abuses.
 
Bangladesh has witnessed many instances of mass lynchings, which is a major cause for concern as it looks that respect for rule of law in the country has vanished. In 2019, false rumours about child abductions led to vigilante groups lynching people they suspected of kidnappings children. The victims were targeted over rumours that human sacrifices were needed to build the Padma Bridge, south of the capital Dhaka. While 30 people were attacked, around eight were killed, including a single mother of two children.

Mob lynching in Bangladesh

According to human rights organization, the Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), non-government, civil rights and legal aid organization in Bangladesh, around 30 people have been the victim of mob lynching in different parts of the country till September this year. In 2019, 65 people were beaten to death by mobs. The number was 39 in 2018, 50 in 2017, 51 in 2016, 135 in 2015, 127 in 2014, and 128 in 2013. Even though the number of such incidents has come down in the last few years, it is still alarmingly high.
 
Another high profile case of mob lynching was of 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi, an alim examinee of Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa in Feni. The incident took place on April 6, 2019, when she refused to withdraw a sexual harassment case her family had filed against the madrasa principal Sirajuddaula. The principal and his associates set the girl on fire in broad daylight on the roof of the madrasa. She suffered 80 percent burns and died four days later.

Now the question is why so many people in this country have become so bloodthirsty? The thought that the man sitting next to you could be your killer is very scary? The biggest tool of these killers is religion. When a country's cultural fabric fails or breaks down, then religion becomes the most effective weapon. The state should take responsibility for this wide-spread anarchy. When there is no justice then everyone becomes a judge. In such a scenario, the mob thinks its right to deliver justice.

In the last decade, institutions of the state are being destroyed one by one. Hatred is being cultivated, leading to violence. When the ruler is oppressive, the people learn from him. Intolerance is spreading in the world. And the nationalist leaders of the world are benefiting by exploiting this intolerance. And the best tool is social media. Turkish President Recep Erdoğan responded to the French president’s comment on social media by slamming "rising Islamophobia in the West" and called for a boycott of French products. This, of course, would create another kind of hateful atmosphere.

The fanatics, the foolish and ignorant people of these countries are happy that their leaders are taking 'firm' action, thus helping these authoritarian governments to stay in power in the name of nationalism.

(The writer is a journalist and South Asian geopolitical analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at kepayet01mcj@gmail.com)

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