08/14/2013, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Bangladesh: the revival of fundamentalism, a threat to women and democracy

Nozrul Islam
Growing popularity of the Islamic party (Jamaat-e-Islami) with extremist groups, such as Hefajat-e-Islam, whose leader has issued statements against women during Ramadan. The group wants a constitution based on Sharia, the eradication of minorities and separation between the sexes.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - The rekindled "sympathy" for the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamic party, and especially for fundamentalist groups linked to it is of increasing concern in Bangladesh. Above all Hefajat-e-Islam (Defense of Islam), which in recent months has made radical and violent statements, especially against women, minorities and secularism in the country. This is according to reports from Catholic sources - anonymous for security reasons - sent to AsiaNews.

The first alarm bells to sound were the famous "13 points" presented in one of the more violent hartal (strikes) in recent months, which took place on May 5 last and cost the lives of dozens of people. Among the requests, a constitution based on Sharia law, the death penalty for anyone who defames Allah, Muhammad or Islam; the separation between the sexes at every level of society.

As if that were not enough, during Ramadan controversial and discriminatory statements were made which many analysts considered an insult and unsuited to the sacredness of the period, considered one of the most important moments in the Islamic religion. In particular, in July a video posted to Youtube and Facebook caused quite a stir. The movie shows Sheikh ul-Islam Allama Shah Ahmad Shafi, the 93 leader of Hefajat-e-Islam, discrediting women and explaining the need to deprive them of their freedom, an education and a job.

"You women - he says - should sit in the house of your husband, take care of his things and raise his children. This is your job. Why should you leave the house?". "Why send your daughters to work in textile factories? - He asks his audience - They leave home at 7 am and do not come back before midnight. You do not know what men they are with, you do not know how many zina [unlawful sexual activity, ed] are involved in".

He adds: "You spend thousands of thaka [national currency, ed] to send her to school, high school, college. Allow her to study until the fourth grade. This is all she needs to keep the household accounts after she gets married."


It is unclear when Ahmad Shah Shafi's statements were recorded. According to some even it was filmed last winter, if not sooner. But it is significant that it was put online - and, specifically, on platforms widely used by young people like Youtube and Facebook - in July, during Ramadan and in the midst of a period of political instability in Bangladesh, a few months before the general election.

Some commentators note that a victory of the Nationalist Party (Bangladesh Nationalist Party, now in opposition) is highly likely in these elections and - most importantly - its strongest ally: the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was excluded from the electoral race, because deemed "undemocratic."

 

 

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