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Bangladesh: Shamim Ahmed & Faruk Wasif - Debate "The Hindu Question" through Karl Marx’s "On The Jewish Question"

by alaldulal, 28 November 2013

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November 27, 2013

Debating “The Hindu Question” through Karl Marx’s “On The Jewish Question”

Ahmed Shamim debates Faruk Wasif, translated by Irfan Chowdhury for Alal O Dulal

Nipu Sheel wails sitting on the debris of her house that was set ablaze by Jamaat-Shibir men at Banshkhali in Chittagong. The religious fanatics looted and torched houses and temples of the Hindus in the district on Thursday, following the death sentence to Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee.

Nipu Sheel at Banshkhali. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

PART 1: Ahmed Shamim “On the Hindu Question” (after Karl Marx)
Islam is encircled in peace. Three of its core phonetics are: seen, laam, meem - which mean peace. Aslam means to surrender (oneself) to peace – who does that is a Muslim, which means resting in peace. This blend of sweet language and expressions of Islam, no doubt, should bring peacefulness in hearts. Yet, repeated attacks on non-Muslims in Bangladesh have turned these aphorisms in to hallow words.

The main reasons for this are, Islam as the state religion is against the peace promised by Islam, and peace cannot be established with a claim for superiority. Equality, empathy and democratic mindset are needed for peace. These are very much absent in Bangladesh. The nucleus of power in Bangladesh is pivoted around the recognition of ‘heterosexual Muslim Bengali males’, as this combines ‘ the greatest race, the greatest sexual orientation, the greatest religion, the greatest sex’. If power politics and the power of money are also added, who would be able to resist the rise of ‘the greatest sex’?

The state can. But none of AL-JP-Jamaat-BNP-Leftist alliance – who runs our state, has effective agendas to stop the communalism. The existence of AL-JP-Jamaat-BNP depends on that very rise. The non-communist leftist parties of the county and those opportunistic parties which call themselves ‘communist parties’, ally with AL and BNP alternately, supporting the rise of ‘that sex’. On the other hand, the revolutionary parties want to give democratic-revolution a chance. Amid this razzle-dazzle, the minority gets annihilated.

The ‘heterosexual Muslim Bengali males’ will be found responsible, regardless of their party affiliation or ideological bent, in all the recent carnage carried out – in Ramu, Sathia or Char Aicha. Even if, let say, this ‘males’ do not get the ‘shadow’ of the conventional political umbrella, it can create effective ‘national politics’ by developing an anxiety: ‘Islam is under the attack’; the ‘national politics’ is then forced to become ‘the umbrella’. Numerous evidences, supporting this, have been found already. The game involving an ‘Islam phobia-phyla’ is at its most dangerous now, in Bangladesh, compared to any other time.

Under this circumstance, what should the state do to protect the minorities from the attacks? Many say we cannot sit back, demanding it from the state; we, the citizen, will need to come out to save our friends. I congratulate this willingness to social protest, but how long can we protect our friends from ourselves, playing ‘hide-n-seek’? How long will this game go on?

Hindus are nearly wiped out in Bangladesh. In 1941, the percentage of the Hindu population was 28%, in 1951 it was 22%, in 1961 it was 18.5%, in 1974 it was 13.5%, in 1981 it was 12.1%, in 1991 it was 11.6% and in 2001 it came down to 9.6%. The percentage of Hindus is reducing by about 3.2%, in every 10 years. Accordingly, in 2011 there should be around 6-7 Hindus in every 100 people. Although, the national dailies estimate that the rate of reduction to be higher – if that estimate is accepted, by now the percentage of Hindu population would be about 5%.

So, the number of Hindu population has become a question. The answer to which would, perhaps, not be found fully amongst the increasing communal violence in Bangladesh. However, that is where may be we make a start. What the communal violence, in this context? The aggression and violence of Muslims and Bengalis on Hindus and Jummas. What is the correlation? (Bengali) Muslim community has systematically been killing the Hindu community. (Muslim) Bengali community has been killing the Jumma community.

This, indeed, is a poisonous tree. The question now is where is its root? In the Bengali-Muslim state arrangements, or does it lie in the claims of the rights – Hindus as Hindu and Jummas as the indigenous people? We could research the world history in search of an answer to this question. While the quality of the question may be excellent, but there is no harm in matching this with similar questions. Yet, we need to be careful, not to deem an old answer that is readily available to be a suitable answer for a new question. Specially, when a solution is sought comparing ‘the Jew’ question with ‘the Hindu’ question.

Different individuals have tried to explain ‘the Jew’ question differently in Europe. The difference in the proposed solutions offered to the question is due to differences in individual understandings for what was ‘the root cause’. According to Marx, Bruno Bauer said that

no one is free in Germany; if we aren’t free then, how would we free our (Jewish friends)? If they claim a special freedom as Jew then they become egoists. As Germans, they will have to work for the political freedom of Germany; as human being they will have to work for freedom of humans; the particular torcher and harassment meted out to them should be realised as part of reassurance of the prevailing law, not as exception to it. … Why would Germans fight to free the Jews, if Jews do not fight for Germans’ freedom? …the Jewish claim to be free in a Christian state means that Christians get rid of their religious culture. But do Jews leave their religious culture? If Jews do not leave their religious culture, how do they then expect Christians to do the same? … A Christian state can only show Christian paths to Jews; meaning, by providing special rights, it can segregate Jews from the others (non-Jew) where Jews will face social pressure from the others and in doing so the torchers on Jews will become harsher, as they with their religion stand opposite to the religion of the power…

If this is the situation how would the Jews be free? Marx provided a brief summary of Bauer’s solution to the issues as follows:

We will have to be free fist, and then others can be freed. … The toughest problem between Christians and Jews is the issue of religion. How do eliminate religious issues? By leaving the religion. Bauer’s solution states all including Jews will get civic freedom by leaving religion.

Marx was not satisfied with Bauer’s framing of the question and the proposed solution. His first criticism is – the question does not end in who will set whom free or who will be freed; a third factor is important here – what type of freedom is being discussed here?

Marx’s objection is Bauer had always interpreted leaving the ‘politics involving religions’ as people leaving the religions themselves. Instead of investigating people’s political freedom and human freedom, Bauer created a one-sided ‘Jew ‘question. Marx considered if Bauer had asked Jews what rights they have, from their standpoint, to seek political freedom. Then, in response, it can be asked that did the political freedom’s standpoint give such a right with which Jews can be asked to leave their religion, people can be asked to leave their religion?

This question of Marx, has always been asked to minorities, demanding an answer by the ‘Susheels’(a term commonly but curmudgeonly used for intellectuals) of Bangladesh. Due to this demand, we could consider it.

The demand from a part of the ‘Susheels’ is similar to Bauer. As Bauer, they also say, Hindus will have to first join in the fight to free the citizens of the country; if Bangladesh is not freed politically, Hindus or Jummas won’t be free; while the ‘majority’ is not free, how would the ‘minority’ be free? By claiming themselves as the ‘minority’, they have detached themselves from the civil society. When they do not participate in Muslim’s freedom, why would the Muslim fight for their freedom?

This part of the ‘Susheels’ has the same verdict on women’s liberty. If women do not join the fight for freedom of men, why would men fight for women? In this connection, if Hindus are bashed for being Hindu, we will have to leave it aside accepting it’s within the law; Jummas and women will have to do the same. Special protection or conditions cannot be demanded, if demanded they would be deem as suspicious – conspiracies to form Hindu, Jumma and Women states. Although, Marx had strongly criticised Bauer for this opinion, sadly the leftist ‘‘Susheels’ are oping like Bauer.

The other part of the ‘Susheels’ opinion is a bit different. I find myself in this part. We consider Bangladesh (by borrowing a Marxist term) is a hypocritical state. It’s in ‘religion’ and in ‘Ziraf’ at the same time. With a religious statehood it is satisfied with these – ‘intends to be secular’, ‘good Muslim’, ‘moderate Muslim’ –models. From the standpoint of political freedom for this state, no one has the right to ask the minorities to leave the politics of religion, race or gender. There is no legitimacy in such solicitations. Rather, the state should be forced to take special care of the victims and to protect them from any future attacks or ‘ills’; to arrange ‘Affirmative Actions’ for the minority. The state should try to become ‘secular’ by taking these actions. The ‘attackers’ or the ‘victims’ won’t be waiting for the state to turn ‘secular’ by achieving ‘political freedom’.

Posing questions such as ‘why the Hindus are not participating in the fight for civil liberties’, ‘Why Jummas or feminists are absent’ is self-contradictory. Hindus, Jummas and feminists participate as common people in the fight to establish civil liberties, so you do not see them, and when they fight for – ‘minority’, ‘Jumma’ or ‘Women’– rights, you get angry stating that why would you join in those fights.

Bauer also had made the same mistake. When Marx pointed this out to Bauer, he responded that Marx had misunderstood him.

Truly, it is very difficult to read the minds of ‘discriminatory Bengali males’. They want equality, but do not want to give up their claims on ‘the greatness’. As ‘Bengali’ they are better than ‘Jummas’; as ‘Muslims’ they are better than ‘Hindus’; and as ‘Men’ they are better than ‘Women’.

To change this situation we need law, a law that would safeguard ‘Hindus’, ‘Jummas’, ‘Women’ and all other ‘Inferiors’ from the superiority of the ‘Superiors’. When Bangladesh gains social-political freedom and becomes a secular state, perhaps, this law can be repealed.


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