Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Jihad against Bengali

By Janet Levy

Every February 21, a little-known observance occurs: International Mother Language Day.  Created in 2000 to promote and encourage the diversity of language, this benign and idealistic-sounding commemoration actually marks a bloody day in 1952 when an Islamic minority shot and killed university students protesting the imposition of an Islamic language, Urdu, on a Bengali-speaking majority in Pakistan.

The students who died that day understood that forced reconfiguration of a language can have cataclysmic and devastating effects on a society.  Community identification can be shifted, populations and their practices repressed, and the established rhythm of daily life disrupted.

In the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, Muslims have for centuries used Arabic languages as part of their jihad against Christians and Hindus.  A blatant example of this phenomenon occurred in 8th century Coptic-speaking Egypt when Muslims conquered the Christian nation and designated Arabic as the sole administrative language.  Coptic, which had flourished as a literary and liturgical language, was purposely denigrated by the Muslim conquerors and eventually prohibited in favor of Arabic, the language of Mohammed.  Today, Copts continue to be besieged by the Muslim majority in Egypt, and only a few hundred people speak the Coptic language.

A similar struggle occurs with the Bengali language.  Although the student deaths of 1952 sparked a successful movement to create an independent Bangladesh, the majority Muslim population in that country persecutes Hindus and is Islamizing the Bengali language itself as a sort of linguistic Muslim jihad which has been going on for centuries.

History - Urdu vs. Bengali

Beginning almost 900 years ago, Urdu, a language associated with Muslims in India and Pakistan, was appropriated from Sanskrit-based Hindi over centuries of conquests by Persian, Arabic, and Turkic Muslims.  To create Urdu, the Muslim conquerors took Hindi and Islamicized it by injecting new words, changing existing words, and writing the language in Arabic script.  By de-Sanskritizing Hindi to develop Urdu, Muslim rulers de-Hinduized the language as a way of diminishing the infidel faith.  As Latin is to Christianity, Sanskrit defines Hinduism and is the language of Hindu clerics and scriptures.

In 1948, shortly after Pakistan gained independence from the British government, the newly installed Islamic government declared Urdu the official language of West and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.  At the time, Sanskrit-based Bengali was the language of the vast majority of Bengalis, the inhabitants of East Pakistan, both Hindus and Muslims.

The Urdu language edict created great hardship for Hindus and Bengali-speaking Muslims who were not particularly proficient in Urdu.  Although Bengalis were a majority linguistic group, under the Urdu language requirement they faced discrimination and experienced alienation from mainstream Pakistani society.  Both Bengali Hindus and Muslims had difficulty finding employment and were discouraged from joining the Army, an important affiliation conferring social standing in Pakistan.

Bengali Language Movement

At the time when the Urdu language mandate was introduced, Muslims in Bangladesh were being pressured to become more Muslim in practice, to Islamicize the region, and to join Urdu Islamic political parties in Pakistan.  Bengali Muslims resisted, as they had a cultural affinity to Bengali and felt they were not getting their fair share of power in Pakistani politics relative to their numbers.  Out of the six major linguistic groups -- Bengali, Urdu, Sindi, Punjabi, Pastho, and Baloch -- Bengali was the largest in Pakistan.  Bengali Muslims came from a distinctly different cultural background from the Muslims in West Pakistan and had little in common with the other groups except Islam.  To thwart Bengali domination, the other linguistic groups banded together to reduce the influence of the Muslims of East Pakistan, thus isolating the Bengali Muslims. 

After the declaration of Urdu as the official language, extensive protests erupted amongst the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan, both Hindu and Muslim.  Due to the rising tensions and demonstrations against the new law, the government outlawed all public meetings and rallies. 

On February 21, 1952, students protested the language edict and called for a general strike.  Amidst peaceful protests, the police fired on protesters and killed several students.  In 1956 following numerous protests over the years, the government relented and granted official status to the Bengali language.

The Bengali Language Movement strengthened the national identity of Bengalis living in Pakistan and eventually led to Bangladesh's war for independence from Pakistan in 1971.  Suffering greatly from Muslim persecution, at least 20 million Hindus fled to India from East Pakistan from 1947-1971.  About one million Hindus were killed.  In the fight for independence in 1971, Muslims killed an additional 2.5 million Hindus.  Also during the conflict, the Pakistan Army bulldozed one of the most famous Hindu temples in the Indian subcontinent, believed to be over 1,000 years old.

In 1971, Hindus were declared enemies of the state of Pakistan and the government instituted the Enemy Property Act.  False allegations were made by the Muslim government that Hindus were spies for India, and their property was confiscated.  Following the independence of Bangladesh, the newly installed Muslim government retained the Pakistani law, merely changing its name to the Vested Property Act.  Approximately 75% of Hindu land in the area has been confiscated over time.

The Jihad against Bengali

Today, Hindus in Bangladesh and throughout the Indian subcontinent are reluctant to make demands in a majority Muslim country.  They typically remain silent about grievances, as they have little hope of equitable resolutions under Muslim control.  Their activities are limited, and they regularly face discrimination.  They are accountable to their Muslim masters, have fewer rights, and their movements are restricted.  It is not uncommon for a Muslim to stop and question a Hindu in transit, inquire of his travel plans, and demand to see his documents as well as the money he is carrying, which can be extorted with impunity.

Yet, ironically, the Bengali Language Movement is commemorated each year in Bangladesh on February 21 primarily by Bengali Muslims, who hold rallies across the country.   This same Muslim majority which allows the oppression of Hindus in Bangladesh is also Islamizing the Bengali language.  They have de-Hinduized certain words in their ongoing attempt to eradicate infidel Hindu culture.  For example, the Bengali word for "deity" has been replaced by a word that means "Allah" in Farsi, and the word for "water" has been substituted with an Urdu word.  An indigenous flowering tree named "Krishnachura," referring to a flower worn in the headdress of the Hindu deity, has been renamed by Muslims to "Mohammed Chura."

For Bengali Hindus, the battle to preserve their language and culture appears to have been a pyrrhic victory, and a temporary one at that.  With constant attacks on their businesses, homes, and temples sanctioned by the Vested Property Act, their numbers have diminished from one-third of the population at the time of partition to fewer than 10% today.  Ultimately, their language has become less representative of their culture and religious beliefs, they cower to the demands of the Muslim majority, and they continue to face grave threats to their survival.  The Bengali jihad may ultimately reduce the Hindus to the fate of the Copts, and the celebration of Mother Language Day may actually finally honor a language far removed from its Hindu and Sanskrit roots and now, instead, symbolic of Muslim expansionism.

Friday, February 3, 2012

India’s dubious Secularists

by S. Gurumurthy

Maqbool Fida Husain and Salman Rushdie are a telling comparison and contrast to capture the true character of secular India. Both are Muslims by birth. Both were born in colonial India’s Bombay Presidency. Husain, some 32 years when Rushdie was a child, died last year. Husain was an artist. Rushdie is a writer. Both had become famous, globally — Husain through his paintings and Rushdie through his writings. Husain lived all his life in India before he exiled and became a Qatari in 2006. But Rushdie lives in the UK as a British citizen. While Rushdie excited the highly sensitive Muslims to turn against him, Husain managed to irritate the not-so-sensitive Hindus. Take Husain first.

This is how Husain annoyed the soft Hindus. He used his fertile imagination and painting skills to undress all well-dressed Hindu gods, goddesses, depict them naked and used his popularity to market them. He drew a naked Goddess Lakshmi sitting on Lord Ganesha’s head. He painted Durga in sexual union with a tiger. He portrayed a naked Goddess Saraswati holding a veena. He painted a naked Parvati with her son Ganesha. He depicted a naked Hanuman, seeing a naked Sita sitting on the thigh of naked Ravana. He painted a naked Bharatmata twice — once in the shape of India with names of the states of India on her naked body, alongside a naked sadhu in the Bay of Bengal. But his art on Muslims was a telling contrast. He drew a fully clad Muslim king alongside a naked Brahmin. He completely covered, even with purdah, the Muslim women he drew, which of course included his mother and daughter. He fully attired the Muslim poets he painted.

Some Hindus, who saw his perverted art demeaning the Hindu divinities, began protesting at his exhibitions and filing criminal cases. Seeing mounting protests and cases, Husain moved out of India. The government of India, judiciary, political parties and, of course, the media, all rushed to defend Husain’s right to freedom — his right to offend Hindus and demean their gods. There were protests against Husain. But no one issued an order to kill him. No one was injured, no one was hurt and none was killed. Yet, the protests were labelled by ‘seculars’ as ‘saffron terror’.

Now come to Rushdie, a contrast. His life is living hell since he wrote his controversial book The Satanic Verses. Though living, he has, by now, died a million times since February 4, 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fiat (fatwa) to Muslims to kill him. But, why should Khomeini order the killing of a fellow Muslim? With almost a generation gone since 1988 when Rushdie wrote the infamous book, it is time to recall some history. Rushdie’s book was about a disputed tradition in Islam. According to it, Mohammed (depicted in Rushdie’s book as Mahound) had first added three verses (Sura) in the Quran, accepting three goddesses that used to be worshipped in Mecca as divine beings, but later revoked the verses saying that Devil (Satan) had tempted him to utter the verses to appease the Meccans — so the title ‘Satanic Verses’ for the disputed verses. The Rushdie book set off violent reaction from Muslims.

Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh blew himself up in a central London hotel while making a bomb intended to kill Rushdie in 1989. Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of Rushdie’s book was stabbed to death in July 1991. Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was stabbed and seriously injured in the same month. And Aziz Nesin, the Turkish language translator, was the target in the events that led to massacre of 37 people in July 1993. William Nygaard, a Norway publisher, was almost killed in Oslo in October 1993. In Belgium, two Muslim leaders who had opposed Khomeini’s ‘Kill Rushdie’ fiat, were killed. Two bookstores in California, and five in England, were fire-bombed. Twelve people died during rioting in Mumbai. This list does not exhaust the violence.

Starting from then and till now, Rushdie has been hitting headlines for the wrong reasons. Now again Rushdie is in the news. Rushdie had been invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012, Asia’s largest, a week back. Muslims threatened agitations and Rushdie’s presence would have meant violence. So the Indian Intelligence Bureau invented an input saying that four hired assassins were roaming around to kill Rushdie. This was proved fake, calculated to prevent Rushdie from coming to India. The four participants who had read out from The Satanic Verses at the meet ran away from India to escape arrest. William Dalrymple, the festival director, got death threats. Finally, Rushdie’s video address to the Jaipur festival was dropped as, according to organisers, it risked the lives of the participants from the Muslim protesters outside.

The contrast is self-evident. Rushdie, who just wrote about a disputed tradition in Islam, was hounded for decades and is on a death threat even now, and people who had nothing to do with either the book or Rushdie have been butchered. Even today the fear of slaughter in his name haunts the world, as the Jaipur meet shows. But, all that Husain, who, in the name of freedom hurt the Hindus — “considered as the gentlest and most civilised on the earth” according to Mahatma Gandhi — faced were normal protests. The protests by Hindus against Husain were ant-bite compared to the scale of violence against Rushdie’s book, even though the hurt to the Hindu sentiments by the perverted paintings of Husain were explicit and undeniably monumental. But what is distressingly shameful is the politics of contrast. See how the secular media, parties, leaders and state glorified Husain’s right to abuse Hindu gods and goddesses to wound Hindus and how the same secular actors repeatedly decried Rushdie’s similar right to hurt Muslims. Now something even more shameful. The ‘seculars’, including the media, had ceaselessly condemned the normal protests against shows displaying Husain’s painting and pontificated to Hindus about the need for tolerance. But they wouldn’t utter a word against the violence by Muslims nor ask them to be tolerant. The reason is obvious. They are dishonest.

Muslims rightly felt offended by Rushdie’s reckless literary work. And Hindus were justly hurt by Husain’s perverted art. Muslims, highly excitable, however reacted violently. Instead of holding both Rushdie and Husain wrong, the seculars faulted Rushdie and praised Husain. Why? Because, being insensitive to Hindus and pretending to be sensitive to Muslims is enough to make one secular. QED: Such secularism is perversion — and a dangerous one.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Foiled Bangladesh Coup: Many Targets To A Single Goal – Analysis

Bhaskar Roy

Neither the investigations of nor the debates on the December, 2011 foiled coup by a group of religiously misdirected middle level army officers are over. Nor should they be. Reverting to complacency in either case can result in unmitigated disaster for the country in not too distant a future.

Although the founding father of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah had the vision of a liberal, democratic, secular and Islamic Pakistan, it never happened. Mr. Jinnah’s vision had inherent contradictions as seen from the view point of the growing Wahabi Islam promoted by an oil rich Saudi Arabia. Gradually, religion was used in Pakistan as an instrument of politics.

 In East Pakistan (Bangladesh since 1971), Islam as practiced was more liberal than that in the western wing. It had historical roots. In several sections of life, Islam and Hinduism, in their basic philosophy had many commonalities. For example, in the Mafrati (Muslim) and Baul (Hindu) devotional songs, the worship of Satya Pir and Satya Narayan or in Lalan fakir’s soul rending songs which transcended religious barriers. But over the decades since 1947, many of these societal values receded in Bangladesh.

Jinnah wanted cordial relations with India. It was a very conscious decision. India was a much larger country. He had full knowledge of India, having been a leading independence leader. And he possessed no religious bigotry. But things changed rapidly.

East Pakistan and West Pakistan started with cultural and linguistic incompatibility. Punjabi arrogance and domination did not sit well with the Bengalis of East Pakistan. And when West Pakistan did away with the fiery Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s claim to Prime Ministership of Pakistan, it pioneered the Bengalis’ fight for freedom. Bangladesh won its independence in 1971 with some assistance from India. But it was basically a movement started, owned and delivered by the people of Bangladesh.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh introduced a secular constitution in 1973. He created a special relationship with India. But little did he know that people close to him were plotting against him. They resented his pro-India tilt and his secular philosophy. These were time servers with Sk. Mujib, and they turned Bangladesh step by step into a country that the Sheikh did not believe in.

There have been comments in the Bangladesh media in connection with the recent coup attempt that this was an act by a few middle level officers driven by their faith, and that top level officers were not involved. Hence, it is not a matter of great concern.

This view may be simplistic and dangerous, glossing over a threat that is yet to be investigated fully. It was a group of young army officers, no one senior that a Lt. Colonel that assassinated Prime Minister Sk. Mujibur Rahman and his extended family in the early hours of August 15, 1975. Most senior army officers were not involved. In fact, the army Chief, Lt. Gen. Khaled Musharraf was also killed subsequently.

As the developments continued, it was evident that senior political leaders were involved. Top Awami League leader Khondokar Mustaq, became President in a hastily formed government. A series of killings continued, both judicial and extra-judicial. Zia-ur-Rehman, who as a major fought in the liberation war, swiftly moved up the ranks through these machinations, became army chief and the President of Bangladesh. He rehabilitated the Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party. The JEI was banned by Sk. Mujibur Rahman because of their collaboration with the Pakistani army in 1971, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The clock was turned back 360 degrees. Pakistan became the No.1 friend – India the No.1 enemy. And the religious extremists owing full allegiance to Pakistan, returned to the political centre stage. During the BNP-JEI rule (2001-2006), it was evident to everyone that the government went out of the way to execute an acrimonious relationship with India. It was the worst period in India-Bangladesh relations. Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh took a very sagacious position. This policy was – be good to Bangladesh and hope they will reciprocate. India’s positivity went to the extent of not retaliating to the abduction and brutal killing of BSF officers by the BDR personnel. India refused to bite the bait.

Two trends of discussions noticed among BNP and JEI leaders and officials were important in the 2001–2006 period. One was to establish a federal relationship with Pakistan. Under this premise, the BNP-JEI government opened up its territory for the ISI to launch terrorist operations in India. The ISI reared and sponsored Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and its ally the HUJI (BD), were the main instruments for this strategy.

At that time, the JEI had claimed that by 2011-12, they hoped to win majority in the parliament and establish Sharia law. To succeed, they not only spread their indoctrination work far and wide, but also began to penetrate the armed forces. JEI Amir Matiur Rahman Nizami is on record having said that 30 percent of the forces were JEI member or supporters.

The second trend was that both the JEI and the BNP concentrated on making the armed forces political. This was basically concentrated on new entrants from soldiers to officers level. Assessment of influence of political parties in the armed forces was JEI 30%, BNP 30%, Awami League 15-20%, others non-political. The only saving grace was the presence of middle to senior levels who were mainly apolitical, but maintained a low profile.

The set-back for the BNP and JEI came with the exposure of their links with and support to terrorist organizations. The country was shaken when the Jamatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) detonated synchronized explosions in August 2005 in 63 out of 64 districts in the country. From there on, the BNP-JEI’s down hill journey started. This government was close to being declared a sponsor of terrorism. The BNP was proved to be the most corrupt government ever in Bangladesh. There was no way that the BNP-JEI combine could win the December 2008 elections. The backlash from the people was too strong.

Returning to the recent coup attempt, the Hizbut Tehrir (HUT) propaganda literature emphasizes the following (i) Khilafat rule in Bangladesh (ii) anti-India propaganda calling for restoration of Islamic rule in the India (iii) to protect Muslims, urging army personnel to topple sheikh Hasina’s government which they perceive to be backed by India and the US, (iv) overseas connections. India comes out as the most prominent target. The targets are almost exactly that of the ISI in Bangladesh and India.

Most intriguing and important is the disclosure by Bangladeshi investigators that like minded terrorist organizations are co-operating with HUT to carry forward terrorist activities, and HUJI was named as one of as the partners. Has HUT, which was banned in Bangladesh only in 2009, made some readjustment in their operations doctrine in Bangladesh?

Compared to other terrorist organizations fighting for Islamic rule and cleansing western and Zionist influence and ideas in Muslim countries, HUT can be considered quite unique. Founded in 1953 in a Palestinian village in Jerusalem by Islamic scholar Taquiddin al-Nabahani, it has spread legally to many countries in the west especially the UK, US and Germany among others. It is also active in several Arab and Central Asian countries and came to Bangladesh in 2000.

HUT’s open stance avows non-violence. But at the same time it does not rule out violence in the long run as central to its goal of Caliphate (Khilafat). It sees the Hamas movement against Israel as basically misconceived, because a poorly armed movement cannot match the might of Israel. HUT would rather wait for a strong Caliphate to defeat Israel.

HUT’s philosophy may sound somewhat simple, but it is realistic. Their political advancement is based on creating a mass opinion among Muslims as a first step. The next or even concurrent step is to penetrate officers in the armed forces, political and social leaders, educated youth and professionals. The final step is to move to establish the Caliphate. With indoctrination of these sections of society who hold power and have influence over the people, success is inevitable. This strategy can be best described as a “creeping coup”.

What intrigues this observer is that while the HUT generally maintains a distance from Islamic terrorist tanzims who immediately attract the wrath of the powers that be, why are they associating with terrorist group like the HUJI, and others in Bangladesh?

The HUT strategy in Bangladesh, as reported in the local media and from briefing given to the media by the security organizations, does not reflect its established principles.

So what is it? Do the HUT’s main leaders find that Bangladesh is ripe to transit to a Caliphate? Or, are there powers inside and outside the country who have convinced them in this direction?

It may be remembered that the HUT leaders in Bangladesh are not Arabs of the Middle East, but Bangladeshis with their native characteristics and idiosyncrasies. The issue is India, Indian influence in Bangladesh, and those in Bangladesh who favour good relations with India, and secularism. It boils down to the premise laid down earlier in this article.

It is reasonable to ask how seriously is this threat being taken in Bangladesh? At a seminar addressed by army Chief, Lt. Gen. Mainul Islam in Dhaka on January 23 on the issue, it was regrettable that there was no representation from the Navy and the Air Force. Are they certain that these two arms of the Bangladeshi armed forces have not been infiltrated? Or, is no importance being given to the development?

The aim is to create chaos in the country in one way or another. Prime Minister Sk. Hasina and her government stand in the way primarily. Next, India is a sensitive issue, and can be used to provoke some people. Putting the two together can divert the people’s focus from main issues and in course, derail the war crimes trial. Importantly, after the coup attempt, internet postings have come up to foil the 1971 war crimes trials. Because, if the trials were to conclude, the top level of JEI and some from the BNP would be eliminated. Pakistan, especially the ISI, would lose their Trojan Horses in Bangladesh. It would be a major defeat for them after 1971.

Certainly, Bangladesh has suffered a series of coups and attempted coups, and still survived to pursue its original goals. The new threat is very different. It aims primarily at a genetic change among the people of Bangladesh. This is neither stated lightly, nor should it be taken lightly. The future of Bangladesh is at stake.

Courtesy: SAAG (South Asia Analysis Group)