Friday, August 7, 2009

Nationalism - Across The Border

One evening, in a conversation with my father, he related how a close family friend had lampooned the Koran the previous day.

He had made fun of the Prophet (SA) and the Koran: he had ridiculed the fact that the Prophet (S) had several wives, that he had revelations….In short, Islam was nothing but puerile idiocy.

Some time ago, this gentleman's wife had tried to ridicule the Koran to my face by saying that the Koran mentioned slavery. I said, "So what? It discouraged slavery."

"But why should a holy book mention slavery?"

At this point I ceased to discuss the subject, for I was talking to one of the supporters of the Awami League and Sheikh Hasina, people impervious to reason and united by a virulent hatred of Islam.

This family was a special case: the gentleman was the brother of a certain army general who had been brought out of retirement to be army chief. The entire family (the children included) shared this hostility to Islam. Oddly enough, when the daughter studied in India, she did so at the Aligarh Muslim College, and lived on its premises. Take advantage of Islam whenever it suits you, I guess.

I have learnt that hardcore supporters of the Awami League share a hatred of Islam. It is necessary to join the club. It is like the hatred of capitalism that was required of card-carrying communists.

And, of course, there's the corresponding love of Hinduism and India.

One of my cousins became a bank manager and one of her first democratic actions was to order that all women employees must wear the saree, and no woman could wear shalwar-kameez: the latter is a Pakistani (so Muslim) dress, while the former is an Indian (so Hindu) costume. She and her husband are forever traveling to Kolkata and hobnobbing with the intellectuals there and inviting them over to stay at their house in Dhaka. When my family and I go over to their house, we frequently come in contact with a Kolkata intellectual. It is a nauseating encounter.

An artist confided in me that unless you were anti-Islam (not just atheist), you couldn't succeed in the fine arts in Bangladesh. It seems that the entirety of our practitioners of higher education has gone over to the Awami League.

Why this hatred of Islam? The fault lies with our nationalism. Nationalism usually glorifies folk culture and the ways of the masses: but the ways of the masses is inextricably connected with Islam.

So our nationalism is an ersatz nationalism, as all South Asian nationalisms are. It is merely a cover to loot the people.

My wife and I, out of a perverse curiosity, went to see a nationalist film at a local theatre: I think it was the Balaka. It was based on a story by Humayun Ahmed. What impressed me was the fact that not a single rickshaw puller or garments factory girl was present: the audience consisted entirely of 'ladies' and 'gentlemen'.

This is our 'nationalism': for the elite, of the elite and by the elite – and across the border!

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