Samia Huq: Who have we “defeated” and with what?

Of the Hefazat men killed yesterday, one was from the a factory in Dhaka. While not speaking with numbers, I think this highlights an important issue that many have been saying for some time. While we, with our elitist or middle class sensitivities, continue to look upon the Hefazatis as outlawed, faceless “fanatics” on the fringes (read: in the madrasas) in our society, they also live and work amongst us– our factory workers, our drivers and nightguards.

So, the Islamist problem is also a class issue, with solidarity that cuts across groups of different age and occupations. And you would be surprised, how many women believe in the rhetoric of segregation.

Please take note of this when you speak of them as the wretched of the earth.

If this is a reality that has roots in particular postcolonial and geo political histories also representing particular embodied practices and ways of being and living in the world, as uncomfortable or sick as it may make us, can we really reduce it to “lunacy to be anyhow stopped?”

After all, violence is not only an Islamist expression.

And I am wary of the long term effects of deploying thousands of armed forces to drive them out in the middle of the night. I don’t know that the solution is to throw them in jail. It is going to take much more time and energy than that.

If we keep the above in mind, what could long term strategies be? That should be an issue of the table.

For those of you who are reading this and saying I am exaggerating: that these fellows are insignificant in number, my question to you is:

Why bother to stall their march?

Why cheer victory then?

Who/what have we defeated and with what?

How does this play into our vision of a prosperous, progressive, democratic Bangladesh?

Samia Huq is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics and Social Science at BRAC University, Dhaka. She obtained her PhD from Brandeis University, USA, looking at women’s religious discussion groups in urban Bangladesh.

11 thoughts on “Samia Huq: Who have we “defeated” and with what?

  1. Dont quite understand why Hefazat keep being framed as Bangladesh’s subaltern. Safi travels around in helicopter- is this the champion of the working class as you seem to suggest? Khaleda Zia urged the protest to stay over the night to topple the government- is she the new mascot for a subaltern uprising? Do you think Hefazat would have got anywhere near as much traction as they have without her patronage? They may enjoy recruiting Madrassah students into violence with extorted claims about what is happening in Desh, but why manipulation of child soldiers by the powerful is somehow an grassroots practice I dont understand. More than this, the hartals and burning of working peoples’ shops ruins ordinary Deshis lives.


      Last minute call changes it all

      …In the afternoon, a Hefajat leader told this correspondent several times over the phone from Shapla Chattar that their chief would join the rally and give directives to the crowd. “We will follow what he says — leave or stay.” The Hefajat leader on condition of anonymity later said: “He was supposed to come and ask us to leave peacefully. But some opposition leaders communicated with several close leaders of our chief and gave a message that it was better for him not to come to the rally to end it.”

      A highly placed source said Shafi was on his way to Motijheel in the afternoon on a “red jeep with black window” but he made a U-turn from Palashi area after getting a phone call from a top opposition leader who threatened him that the ties between Hefajat and the opposition would permanently end if he moved further towards Motijheel and ask his followers to leave the place.

      Another Hefajat leader, however, said Shafi did not go to Motijheel as he was feeling “insecure”.
      In a late night development, Shafi in a press statement said a peaceful sit-in would continue at Motijheel until the government met their demands.

      1. Here is another story regarding last minute change. He was in police protection and there is no point of opposition leader or someone else here. Even today, police had given him options “jail” or “return to CTG” via plane. Why is the different treatment for this guy?
        স্টাফ রিপোর্টার: পলাশী মোড় থেকেই ফিরিয়ে দেয়া হলো হেফাজতে ইসলামের আমীর আল্লামা
        আহমদ শফীকে। গতকাল তাকে মতিঝিলের সমাবেশে যেতে দেয়া হয়নি। গতকাল দিনভর চেষ্টা করেও তিনি তার অস্থায়ী কার্যালয় থেকে বের হতে পারেননি। সন্ধ্যায় পুলিশ প্রটেকশনে তাকে সমাবেশে নিয়ে যাওয়ার চেষ্টা চালানো হলে তা ব্যর্থ হয়। আইনশৃঙ্খলা বাহিনীর একটি বিশেষ সংস্থার কারণে তিনি সমাবেশে যেতে পারেননি। লালবাগে গিয়ে দেখা যায়, হেফাজতে ইসলামের অস্থায়ী কার্যালয় থেকে সন্ধ্যা সাড়ে ৬টার দিকে তাকে পুলিশের গাড়িতে তোলা হয়। এ সময় পুলিশের উপ-কমিশনার হারুন-অর-রশিদসহ পোশাকি এবং সাদা পোশাকি অনেক পুলিশ সদস্য তার সঙ্গে ছিলেন। পরে গাড়িটি পলাশী মোড় থেকে ফিরিয়ে নেয়া হয়। একটি সূত্র জানায়, আল্লামা শফীর গাড়িবহরটি পলাশী মোড়ে পৌঁছলে আইন প্রয়োগকারী একটি সংস্থার কয়েকজন সদস্য নিরাপত্তার অজুহাত দেখিয়ে তাকে ফিরিয়ে দেন। পুলিশের লালবাগের ডিসি হারুন-অর-রশিদ জানান, মাঝপথ থেকে আল্লামা শফীকে সংগঠনের অস্থায়ী কার্যালয়ে ফিরিয়ে আনা হয়েছে। সম্ভবত অসুস্থতার কারণে তিনি সমাবেশে যাননি। তাছাড়া অন্য কোন কারণও থাকতে পারে। সেটি আমার জানা নেই।

  2. I can’t understand why Hefajat is being tagged with helplessness and poverty? Its leader travels either by helicopter or by Red Pajero. Please try to look at things unbiased. Have you seen the massacre they made yesterday to the small shop-keeper [ please read poor vendors] in front of Mukti Bhaban? Before writing these fashionable colums, please come and see the massacre they made and then you decide for whom will you pen. Please!

  3. Why bother stall their march huh?
    May be because they are creating anarchy, destroying public and private properties and their demands are outright ridiculous…

  4. To me Samia’s article appears to be a combination of Farhad Mazhar and his long time girl-friend Farida Akhter’s views sandwiched in a palatable witty remark! Subaltern rise in the garb of Islamism it is, I suppose.

    Samia would do good if she took the trouble of walking through the historical developments of Hefazot in Chittagong, Bangladesh. This would help her the next time she attempts to characterize and understand a “class.” Not having a historical insight to this and instead letting her proclivity to find legitimacy in the current brand of Islamism, she has slipped into the fold of one of the darkest phases of Islamic history of this land, where the strings are being pulled by self-proclaimed atheists (ill-willed) like Mahmudur Rahman and Farhad Mazhar, along with the age-old religious thugs that are Jamaat and their little brother Shibir. Needless to mention, BNP, the reactionary “close to extinction” party that have now found a second life, is also there to murk up the waters (please check the news articles on the last-minute-call and others). AL – in all this, is trying to do their best to ensure that they have what they need to secure their position in the coming elections, which for obvious reasons, seems to be disappearing right in front of their eyes.

    I am tempted to talk about the 13-point demand as the Hefazot raised since Samia made a comment (i.e. “you would be surprised, how many women believe in the rhetoric of segregation”) that borders on an attempt to seek justification for them. However, I will not do that and let her have that confused sense of working for the religious women’s groups in the Urban centers of the country. I believe this article (or rather a remark) centers on class-classification, therefore I will stick to that only.

    Hefazot is and has been a Quami-madrasa-based organization. It has no political affiliation and has been decidedly against Jamaat-Shibir brand of political Islam prior to February 2013. Lateral entries made possible via the hue-and-cry raised over the verdict of Kader Mollah, gruesome killing of a blogger Rajib, motivated and ill-intended atheism v. Islam debate, and the necessary implication of the Gonojagoron Moncho in all this (this is KEY piece in the puzzle) were all completely missed in this remark or in the understanding of the writer regarding the current political situation of the country. Needless to say, the lateral entry mentioned earlier is of Jamaat-Shibir into the fold of Hefazot, which consequently took over its decision-making capacities. In order to find out who are the people populating Hefazot, one will have to have a clear understanding of the above, which I don’t see anywhere in the “remark.”

    We are a god-fearing people. We don’t have to be a part of a political faction in order to be so. This is true for the Muslims with or without the riches in their bank accounts. However, what this makes us do varies depending on our political affiliations. Consequently, despite being so religious, we do not flock under the banner of any particular political party. Hefazot, an hitherto non-political organization, got swindled into a BNP-Jamaati deal and got to be political. Clear evidence of this will soon surface in the political media, though there are sound bites of such dealings as to how this recent alliance surfaced. That aside, it seems clear to me that something like that must have happened for a non-political organization to become so political over-night!

    So – Samia – are you adding on to the “fringes” yet? is it becoming from big to bigger? 🙂 Thought so.

    If there is a rally of AL – I am sure, there will be a driver of someone’s car in there… if there is a rally of BNP, I am sure there will be a darwan of someone’s house in there… but, how far are we willing to take that data into classifying the people of these rallies into a certain class?

    Dear author – I don’t know if this was only a passing remark from you, but if it was’t, then let me tell you this much – you are contributing in fabricating a division in the population that never existed before in the history of this land. Despite being religious, we could dream of being secular, and have been so in broad strokes as far as regular living is concerned throughout the country (I travel extensively – so I am speaking from lived experiences and not from the point of view of a removed observer). When this secular living came into a clash last time, we kicked some butts! I don’t think the nation will think twice if it has to do that once again… and the examples of it are becoming clearer everyday. If you really are motivated by subaltern thought, then rid it off Islamism first, then delve into it… do not murky up the analysis with your individual inclination toward an unwarranted use of religion.

  5. hmm… Ohingsa comment is somewhat crude and misconstrued in a manner while comparisons with Forhad Mazhar and Farida Akhter jeopardize neutral ground. Why would be Shahbag Gono jagoron monch continued for 3 months and no actions taken, while Shapla Chottor is invaded in the mid night after only few hours of protests by these Hefajote Islami activists? Noble laureate Professor Younus rightly said, “Savar incident is a precursor to the bigger collapse of state institutions”, and how right he is. The blame is on both AL and BNP, who are responsible for adopting soft stance to irregularities committed by the various groups and cliques to manipulate or coerce every opportunity. People are suffering here and it must be the first priority of a HERO, to save the tormenters and reconcile the divisions.

    1. Not sure what your specific point refers to, but I will say I agree (ignoring words like “crude” and “misconstrued”). I also believe, AL’s or the government’s position goes to show that the vested interests make up a lot of the scene that we are watching… which somehow strengthens my original point. Siding with GM and not with HI – isn’t that simple?

      And thanks for adding on to the banter 🙂 (hope you got the drift of my comment :))

  6. This isn’t discourse. This is annoying banter. Starting from the article to the comments, including the last. I guess the ‘obvious’ isn’t obvious to all. We Bangladeshis have not learnt how to take a dispassionate look at things. We have not learnt how to have exchanges in civilized ways. ANd we have not learnt how to not be stupid.

  7. I do not think that all people with a so called ‘elitist or middle class sensitivities’ in Bangladesh ‘continue to look upon the Hefazatis as outlawed, faceless “fanatics” on the fringes’. Some off course do and it seems to me that those who do are mostly from a Bengali nationalist / secularist background. I know many people from the upper echelons of Bangladeshi society, in terms of class and possessing so called refined habits and lifestyles, see Hefazatis as an important part of our society, playing a vital role. Some of them also welcomed their entry into political debates and activism during earlier in 2013 and felt sad and outraged when the Hefazatis were so brutality attacked and killed in the dead of night on 6 May 2013 by the AL government.

    On the question of ‘Who have we “defeated” and with what?’ I think again this question is only applicable to the Bengali nationalists / secularist section of our country’s so called elites and middle classes. Except the Bengali nationalists and secularists others from the upper echelons of Bangladeshi society will not want to be included in the ‘we’ on the question of ‘who have we defeated’. This means that this elite group, Bengali nationalists / secularist, should refine their thoughts and understand that they cannot speak for all in that class group. The ‘our elitist or middle class sensitivities’ in this case is only applicable to a certain section of the various elite groups in Bangladesh, namely the Bengali nationalists / secularists.

    However, on the issue being discussed it is true that people who are linked to Hefazat one way or other are parts of our society at different levels. They should be as they live in our country and have equal rights as human beings and as citizens of Bangladesh. For a long time certain sections of Bangladeshi elite groups, who considers themselves to be interpreters and direction givers to our society and representatives of progress and modernity have failed, because of their unwillingness or unconscious logic behind their drives, to understand and sympathise and empathise with religious sections of our society. I believe this has created many problems, such as alienation, gulf and misunderstanding between different sections of our society. We are paying a heavy price as a result.

    By applying derogatory terms against religious people as ‘kath mullahs’ they have contributed to the creation of a schizophrenic society where the elites hate and look down on religious people but at the same time invite them to teach Islam to their children, conduct marriages, milads and other religious ceremonies. Generations have grown up with this experience of being taught and entertained by ‘kath mullahs’ who are considered to be low, fanatic and outside the realm of modernity. This has contributed to the development of a situation where civilised and positive dialogues between different groups, especially between secular and religious sections, have become an impossible goal. Further, from my personal observation, many in the secular / Bengali nationalists camp, who consider themselves to be rational and liberal are in fact rather fascists and irrational. Take for example the Shaghbagh movement where thousands of people came to the square in Dhaka demanding death and hanging (not for justice), shouted immoral demands and proclamations and sang songs pleading for hanging of people who have not been found guilty through an impartial judicial process. What kind of elites are they and what kind of middle class sensitivities do they have?

    In my judgment the Hefazatis have not been defeated and they will wreck their revenge in ways they know best. They are not violent people so I don’t believe violence will be a tool that they will use in this regard. I believe in the future all the derogatory name callings will have diminishing results as the Bengali secularist / nationalist elite’s interpretative relative dominance will become weaker and weaker. More players will enter the interpreting games in Bangladesh and as a result our perceptions of reality will change, our imaginative / creative capacity for making improvements will expand, which will help us construct a better and more pluralistic society in the future.

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