In a special war tribunal initiated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010, opposition Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee among others, was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 involving mass killings and rape for which many people are baying that he be hanged and others opposing based on the model of the tribunal.
When a fragmented former colonial country is thrown back to its people to rebuild, one could go as far as saying the people and their leadership need to be cleansed via a psychological and physical scorched earth policy that removes painful remnants of the past. The Prophetic (pbuh) example in dealing with the treachery of the Banu Quraizah after the Battle of the Trenches serves well an example in this regard. Among the things we learnt from Nabi (pbuh): clear charging treason; the acknowledgement of guilt without duress or torture; pardoning the innocent, and punishing the guilty. Critics commenting on the inefficacy of our own TRC in 1998 mention that South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission merely allowed the easy transition from white exclusive capitalism to multiracial capitalism, and failed to cause the actual trial of criminals, something that impedes progress in our currant political climate.
Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of famous autocrat and wartime political leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who declared Bangladesh a secular state. She has been strongly criticized for using the tribunal to divert attention from Bangladesh’s economic grievances, corruption and nepotism. Bangladesh claims that the 1971 Independence war against Pakistan left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to flee to neighbouring India. Jamaat-e-Islami opposed independence from Pakistan and is accused of collaborating with the Pakistani army in the ‘genocide’ of Bengali people during the military operation.
The Awami League (AL) headed by Hasina is blamed by its opponents, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of transforming Bangladesh into a fascist state by using excessive force against opponents, manipulating the events of 1971 for political consumption and transforming the country’s Islamic identity into a secular one. The next elections are due to take place in December 2013.
There are lessons we could glean from the Bangladesh issue:
i) Secularism may lead to Fascism.
While secularism may assert the rights of individuals to be free from religious rule and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people, the opposite is true in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Shariah, often deemed undemocratic, has not only a place, but also a safe space for those who do not wish to embrace the Islamic religion.
While many compare the demonstrations in Shahbagh Bangladesh, to the Arab Spring and the ridding of corrupt governance (as in Cairo) the tribunal here is merely seeking the execution of the leaders of an opposing Islamic political party, and ultimately the abolition of a democracy.
ii) War tribunals are to be independent just and fair.
Our Nabi (pbuh) and his companions laid out an exemplary path of action during times of war banning impulsive retribution, barbarism, brutality, and enforcing kindness toward prisoners of war. If Jamaat-e-Islami party members are to be found guilty of war crimes they must found guilty and punished by an experienced and independent tribunal.
Several irregularities have plagued these trials including leaked documents, the disappearance and abductions of witnesses, and an unashamed bias against those who’s political and Islamic ideologies conflict with that of the current ruling party. It becomes easy to blame ‘Islamists’ for civil conflict when the role of the government in flaring such conflict is blatant.
Hasina’s father, though assassinated, was not unfamiliar with ruthless methods of dealing with those who opposed him. He banned the party and stripped many of its leaders of citizenship after Independence, yet it is obvious Jamaat remains a popular alternative to those opposed to Awami League corruption.
Hasina’s stance toward the persecuted Rohingya also deserves mention. She has been clear in that they have no home in Bangladesh.
iii) Famine and floods accelerate with corrupt governance.
Bangladesh, with a population of 150 million people is one of the world’s poorest countries. Forty nine percent of the population are said to live below the poverty line and the child malnutrition rate is 48 percent. Bangladesh is geographically low lying and prone to flooding and natural disasters. This makes life a constant struggle in the rebuilding of homes, incomes, crops, and the fight against waterborne disease.
While geographic location is what causes flooding naturally, one cannot ignore the call via these disasters to turn to Allah and affirm just rule even more resolutely.