“My simple appeal is that do not allow blind nationalism and mistaken perceptions to lead you to deny even the most fundamental rights of your fellow citizens.”
This was the last advice of Mohammad Afzal, a Kashimiri Muslim, while on death row. He was accused of being involved in India’s parliament blasts and recently hanged to death.
Afzal’s is a classic case of blind nationalism leading a people to give up all standards of fairness just to quench its thirst for revenge, ironically though, all the while waving the banner of “justice”.
Unjustly framed for a crime he claims he has not committed, a victim of terrible media propaganda, tortured and abused by security forces, held in solitary confinement in prison, denied a proper legal defence, and then finally sentenced to death, Afzal was just reminding the world how their blind nationalism allows them to justify the very crimes that they themselves seek justice against. Wasn’t it the lives lost in the parliament blast that the entire nation was seeking justice for? Yet, in their quest for justice, they have made an innocent life pay for it merely to satisfy their collective lust for vengeance. This may have given them some satisfaction. But has justice really been done? Far from it!
Bangladesh today is witnessing a very similar scene – nationalistic fervour has gripped a group of people who are calling for death sentences to be given to certain political leaders they accuse of being “Rajakars” (those who collaborated with the Pakistani army to commit atrocities during the 1971 war).
Have such crimes been committed during the war whose perpetrators deserve harsh penalties? Yes, indeed.
But have the people who have been accused of war crimes received a fair trial, free of political manipulation? Surely not.
The trial has drawn criticism locally and internationally for its lack of proper judicial standards and for scandals about the ruling party, Awami League (AL), meddling in the judicial process to manipulate the outcome of the trial.
Moreover, by raising a hue and cry about “war criminals” the ruling party has used it as a means to crush any form of political dissent, especially that of Jamat-e-Islami activists. For example, there has been some disturbing media reports recently about Jamat activists being chopped to death by AL thugs and some being brutally shot dead during protests by the police force. Prior to that we have even seen arrest and harassment of practising, hijab-clad Muslim women by the police because of their political affiliations. They faced terrible mistreatment while in custody to the extent that they were made to remove their scarves in front of men!
The protests taking place at Shahbag calling for death penalty of the accused Jamat leaders is another tool being used by AL to promote secularism and remove Islam from politics. Some of the organisers of these protests are prominent atheists who are notorious for making disgusting comments in their blogs about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his wife Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her), and about the Qur’an, the Book of Allah. Drinking and doping during the protests, they call to banish Islam from politics!
These are the signs of a people so drunk in their nationalistic zeal that seeking justice is no longer their aim. It is rather to crush the backbone of those they hate for advocating an opposing ideology.
But let’s now turn to the positive side of things. Bangladesh is a Muslim land. The overwhelming majority of its people bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger (peace be upon him). The Muslims of Bangladesh, just like their brothers and sisters around the world, recite and reflect upon the verses of the Qur’an that teach them to deal justly even with those who have wronged them:
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” [5:8]
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” [4:135]
“Do not let your hatred for the people who barred you from the Sacred Mosque induce you to break the law: help one another to do what is right and good; do not help one another towards sin and hostility. Be mindful of God, for His punishment is severe.” [5:2]
The Muslims of Bangladesh, just like their brothers and sisters around the world, recite and ponder upon the verses of the Qur’an in which their Creator commands them to rule according to His laws and reject following the whims and desires of people:
“And so judge between them by what Allah has revealed and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they turn you far away from some of that which Allah has sent down to you.”
When the Muslims of Bangladesh recite these noble verses, how can nationalism stir in their hearts and lead them to a path of injustice and away from the religion of Allah? Surely, the call of the protesters at Shahbag is not the call of the Muslims in Bangladesh. Surely the call of those who reject Allah, is not the call of those who worship and submit to Him. Surely, the call of those who insult the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is not the call of those who follow him (peace be upon him). Surely, the call of those who ridicule the Book of Allah is not the call of those who strive to live by it.
Yes, the Muslims of Bangladesh seek justice, but the true justice that will free them from foreign subjugation. The justice that will bring the murderers of Felani and other Bangladeshis to trial. The justice that will put an end to the havoc wreaked by the Farakka dam. The justice that will rescue them from the endless cycle of violence caused by the secular and corrupt political parties. Truly, the Muslims of Bangladesh want justice – the justice of Islam.