Anjali Khan: BGMEA’s “Act of God” citation is an Act of Blasphemy

An army personnel prays at the site of Rana Plaza as the rescue work comes to an end.  Photo by Abir Abdullah/EPA.
An army personnel prays at the site of Rana Plaza as the rescue work comes to an end. Photo by Abir Abdullah/EPA. Source: Financial Times.

BGMEA’s “Act of God” citation is an Act of Blasphemy

by Anjali Khan for

It’s Lailatul Qadr and I’m trying to pray. But I can’t. According to the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association (BGMEA), God allegedly caused the collapse of Rana Plaza (Daily Star, August 5, 2013). Because God, rather than the owner, was responsible for the collapse, workers will only get one month’s pay, rather than three months’ compensation.

I thought the Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir’s speculation about the BNP-norachora was audacious but the BGMEA’s gall puts MOKA to shame. Atiqul Islam, the president of BGMEA, said the collapse was an Act of God. An Act of God. God must be facepalming right now (between the lala-ing dils and this, it’s been a bad summer). The BGMEA wants us to forget the owners, builders, engineers, authorities, and politicians who colluded together to construct and operate that death-trap and pin the blame on God.  If that’s not blasphemy, what is?

I’m offended. In the month of Ramadan, BGMEA has sought to sully God’s name, albeit under the guise of legalese. I’m no fan of anti-blasphemy initiatives, but since so many people instrumentalize religion when convenient, why shouldn’t I? Where are the literalist protectors of God and religion now? Have they suddenly become advocates of figurative speech?

What about the ruling party? The Awami League seems to be getting a lot of bad advice about how to improve its image. Taking over billboards doesn’t seem to have impressed people and has instead raised questions about responsible use of funds.

Here’s some alternate advice. Go after BGMEA. As our favorite neighborhood mullahs like to say: “Swab hobe.” Stop being an armchair hero and be a real Bollywood-marka hero. Or heroine. Hold these shameless people who promised workers justice in the wake of the collapse accountable.

Going after the BGMEA for blasphemy and/or injustice would also help the Awami League “out-Islam” Islamists and Salafists once and for all. The BGMEA’s web site has a long list of iftar parties its members have organized – partying is not obligatory in Islam, giving people their due is. Plus, even the BNP would have to commend the AL for holding the BGMEA accountable and clearing God’s name. How idyllic would that be.

Of course, in a country where the business sector and legislature are so lovingly intertwined to the point of being indistinguishable, it’s tough for politicians to go after the BGMEA. Masochistic even.

But the Awami League has repeatedly pledged to protect and uphold Islam. So to the Holy Quran we should turn. In the Quran, God says: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be they rich or poor, God is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, God is ever well-acquainted with what you do“ (4:135). God knows it’s hard to seek justice when politicians are garment-manufacturers are politicians, but He would still like you to try. For God’s sake.

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