“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”: on Farida Akhter’s Hefazat article

‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’: On Farida Akhter’s Hefazat article
by Seuty Sabur for AlalODulal.org

I read Farida Akhter’s article (The 13 Point Demands of Hefazat-e-Islam and the Middle Ages Controversy) a few days back.  She chose to explain points 4 and 6, which addressed the question of women’s right. As always, her explanations were meticulous and solid. I don’t have any problems with solidity or liquidity of any argument, as long as it is good. I don’t mind engaging with Hefazati, Ahle Sunnah, or any other parties for that matter, however, I am not too sure whether that is the only intention of her article.

I completely agree with Akhter that we are often too impatient and do not necessarily provide adequate time required for any dialogue, and more often than not, we end up attacking each other. I also agree that most intellectuals from the secular camp out rightly rejected these demands just because they were raised by Islamists, hence, deemed illogical. I myself get troubled when secular progressivists homogenize Islamic groups as fundamentalists without understanding the nuances of theologists/activists/reactionaries. I am aware of the fact that religious groups (especially Islamic forces) can emerge as an anti-imperial force like it did in Iran, Egypt, and in the subcontinent. We saw how it fought against the colonial legacy/empire, gave birth to complicated nations states, and how Islam was used by autocrats to legitimize their power. I hope Akhter had these in mind when she was writing her piece.

She presented Hefazat-e-Islam as the representative/spokesperson of angry oppressed villagers, in a similar fashion as she once did for underground left political parties. She asserts that their call for trying atheist is legit. I find her dwindling position problematic. I am curious as to what she is trying to get at. Whose purpose do these discourses serve other than the creation of even more complicated divides? I am not interested in replicating Westphalia’s treaty of peace in Bangladesh in 21st century. Our time is different, and thus, so is our history. Sub-continental History has a rich example of how one can host differences and yet exist peacefully. One doesn’t need to dig into pre-colonial examples to understand that, or delve into atheist-believer discourse to resolve these differences. The problem with Akhter is that she wants to be myopic, just like our dogmatic seculars. The whole atheist-believer fiasco was single handedly manufactured by ‘Amar Desh’, endorsed by BNP, and appropriated firstly by Jamat-e-Islami, and later by Hefazat-e-Islam. First Jamat-e-Islami, and then Hefazat-e-Islam emerged as the antithesis of the Shahabag movement. This atheist card was well placed to defame/kill the Shahabag movement, as it was becoming a threat to the Government, opposition, and Islamists. And we also witness the futile, farcical efforts of Gono Jagoron Moncho to prove themselves as believers. The urbane secular movement was trumped by rural Islamic forces; at least as implied by Akter. And finally, Moncho is consumed by the ruling political party. As remedial, we see government arresting ‘atheist’ bloggers, as well as the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman. I wonder who is the puppet master/mistress behind managing the state?

Akhter’s position gets even more dubious pertaining to women’s issue. On one hand, she illuminates the oppressive nature of the religion and warns us about probable danger of positing women against it. She argues how it is often done in the free economy, serving women as commodities, alluring them in the name of freedom of choice.On the other hand, she finds Hefazat-e-Islam’s ‘call to end immodesty, lewdness, misconduct, and the culture of free mixing of the sexes’ credible. She goes on saying that: “It is my belief that if this demand had come from any political party or women rights organization instead of the Hefazat or any other Islamic party, we would perhaps have been united in our support for such a demand.” My question is where would she posit the question of ‘agency’ of women/citizens? I am not comfortable in my skin when someone tries to legitimize moral policing in the name of critiquing liberal economy/free market, be it old radicals like Farida Akhter, or our idealistic liberal feminists, Hefazat-e-Islam, or the State. Her arguments get better (read suffocating) when she defends Allama Shafi’s comment: “If there can be separate educational institutions such as schools for girls or colleges for women, then there should be no reason to oppose the demand for separate work places for women”. She argues further: “We even believe ourselves that women definitely require some separate facilities at any workplace. Most of the prevalent work places are not suitable for women. Presence of such separate facilities will greatly add to the ease of working women.” My reading may be wrong but it seems the height of victim blaming, where a woman is inviting danger to herself by working with men, hence, needing the protection by confining herself in a separate work space.

My discomfort increases when our progressive secular feminists envision being pushed back to the Middle Ages if the demands are met. Farida Akhter was right at pointing out that Hefazat-e’s cannot go back to the Middle Ages even if they want to reign in a new world order. For me it is more important to understand how they negotiate with the State and occupy political space. I would request the secular forces/feminists to think carefully on how to counter these discourses. I thought of going for the mass gathering of women on the 27th of April, women who were planning to voice their discontent regarding 13 points, which was however postponed for the Rana Plaza collapse, which left hundreds of garments workers wounded or dead. I would like to request you to think before organizing any mass gathering. We all need to look at ourselves and inspect on whether we have sold our souls before fighting with Jamat yesterday, Hefazat today, and Ahle Sunnah tomorrow. If our ‘muktab’ (destiny) is not clear now, it won’t be clear even in the next decade. Just think, once Jamat and Hefazat belonged to ideologically opposite camps, but their desires and demands are now gradually merging. They are either playing for team A (BAL) or for team B (BNP): players are exchanging their jerseys and playing for other teams. My question is, after witnessing all these games, are we still willing to play with them? Or are we going to prepare ourselves for a long arduous battle against the State itself, with bigger players. Our sugar coated secularism won’t save us this time. Islamic politics is our geopolitical reality, the State will fan the fire for its own existence, and external forces will be cheering us. Our standard lines regarding women’s legislation must be shelved for now. We need to find the souls for uprising. NGO patronization can’t sustain any resistance for long, nor can the Government contain us on our fight against the ‘State’.

With love,

Dr. Seuty Sabur is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics & Social Sciences, BRAC University, Dhaka.

Bengali Excerpt: ফরিদা আখতারের লেখাটার ১৩ দফার ৪ ও ৬ এর ব্যখ্যা ভীষণ মজবুত। আমার আই মজবুতি নিয়া কোন সমস্যা হয়না। আমার হেফাজতের সঙ্গে, আহ্লে সুন্নাহ্র সঙ্গে, বা যে কোন দলের সঙ্গে আলাপে সামিল হইতে সমস্যা নাই। সমস্যা তখনি হয় যখন এক দিকে মুক্ত বাজারের দোহাই দিয়া মরাল পলিসিং কে জায়েয করবার চেষ্টা করেন কেউ – সেইটা সাবেক র‍্যডিকাল ফরিদা ম্যাডাম করুন, বা আমদের নীতিবাগিশ নারীবাদিরা করুন, বা হেফাজতিরা করুন। আমার অস্বাস্তি বাড়তে থাকে যখন আমার স্যেকুলার নারীবাদিরা হই হই করে মধ্যযুগে যাইবার বিভীষিকা দেখেন। ফরিদা আখতার অন্তত একটা কথা ঠিক বলছেন যে মধ্যযুগে ফিরে যাবার বাস্তবতা হেফাজতিদেরও নাই, নয়া বৈশ্বিক প্রেক্ষাপটে। ২৭ তারিখে জমায়েতে আমি সামিল হব। কিন্তু আমার বইনদের-ভাইদের জমায়েতে যাবার আগে ভাববার অনুরোধ করছি মাত্র। গতকাল জামাত, আজ হেফাজত, কাল আহ্লে সুন্নাহর সঙ্গে মোকাবেলা করবার আগে নিজের আত্মা কোথায় বান্ধা রাখসেন হিসাব কইরেন। মক্সুদ মনযিল এই দফা পরিষ্কার না হইলে আগামি দশকেও হবে না। ভাইবা দেখেন হেফাজতি/জামাত/আহ্লে সুন্নাহ এক কালে মতাদর্শিক ভাবে ভিন্ন ভিন্ন অবস্থানে থাকলেও, ক্রমে তাদের চাওয়া পাওয়া এক হইয়া যাইতেসে। তারা টিম A (BAL) বা B(BNP)র ট্যাগ হইয়া খেলতেসে। একি খেলোয়াড় জার্সি বদলায় আবার অন্য টিমের হইয়া খেলতেসে। এখন আমার প্রশ্ন এই খেলা দেইখা আপনি তাগ লগেই খেলবেন নাকি লম্বা আন্দোলনের প্রস্তুতি নিবেন খোদ রাস্ট্রের বিরুদ্ধে, আর বড় খেলাড়ির সঙ্গে। আপনার আমার স্যেকুলার/লিবেরাল মিষ্টি কথায় চিড়া ভিজবেনা এই দফা। ইস্লামি নিয়া রাজনীতি আপনার আঞ্চলিক বাস্তবতা, এর পেছনে রাস্ট্র নিজ স্বার্থে বাতাস দিবে, বাতাস দিবে বাইরের খেলোয়াড়্রাও…নারীনীতি নিয়া গদবাধা ভালো ভালো কথা শিকায় তোলেন, আন্দলোনর ফান্ড (আত্মিক) খোজেন (NGO তেলে দম বেশীদিন ধইরা রাখা যাবেনা বইন সকল, নাহি সরকারি প্রনোদনায় কাজ হবে)। ভালোবাসা সমেত, সিউতি


6 thoughts on ““The enemy of my enemy is my friend”: on Farida Akhter’s Hefazat article

  1. This article actually is too obscure and ridiculous when the situation of the country is in a stat of decadence on many key issues…. if the intention is to bring progress in the education, poverty reduction, gender equality, corruption curbing etc then there must be a negotiation to stop [those] who are creating nonsense and disaster in the name of war crimes tribunal. In the higher circles, it must be unity towards developing Bangladesh, and not prolonging the “Sophist” rhetoric. I am sick of [those] who believe they can control the outcomes with their whimsical ideas.

    [Moderator: Comment edited.]

  2. I think people ^ have trouble understanding rational arguments.You can’t be rational you ‘must’ subscribe to his values and beliefs in order for your article to not be obscure and ridiculous. Some men like the above commenter thinks its ridiculous that you pointed out victim blaming. He wants to blame the victims. He wants to deport bideshis for being too handsome. He also wants to inherit more money than his sister. Also there should be no room for noncreationists in the consitution. They do not have this ‘right’.

  3. The atheist-believer fiasco was manufactured by the online atheists themselves if it was manufactured by anyone. They have been active in that area for years without any pushback. No one forced the Shahbhag movement to go out of its way in embracing the online atheists. Their attitude invited a counter reaction. Years of Islam bashing in their own echo chambers like Mukto Mona probably blinded them to how unpopular their views actually are in Bangladesh. Of course accurately pointing out what some people actually say online counts as “manufacturing” an issue in some people’s eyes. Some even went so far as claiming that all the Anti-Islam web pages set up the online atheist warriors were actually fabrications set up by Jamaat! Even a passing familiarity with the word and deeds of our online atheists shows how laughable that scenario is.

  4. hmm… I am not to decide the outcomes of legal decisions right for a country, I am actually not qualified, nor I am capable of doing so but I can protest the verbal war between the parties which seems like a propaganda war. My rational mind believes in ALLAH and I follow the footsteps of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) and that is my freedom of expression. I actually gave my sisters all the properties when I realized my sisters are more dear to me than myself. I regularly take care of animals near my vicinity but I do get scared by the AL and BNP hoodlums who are grabbing every opportunity in the country that I love.

  5. Starts off in agreement , but about half way loses the plot completely.

    Demonstrates the incapacity to understand whats moving Hefazat, that its not a political party and that its possible to engage with any or all of their 13 demands in non binary way.

    my favourite part is at the end where, without irony, BRACademia writes,

    ” NGO patronization can’t sustain any resistance for long, nor can the Government contain us on our fight against the ‘State’. “

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