Bangladesh at a crossroads

IN a recent telltale speech, Bangladesh army chief Lt-Gen Moinuddin Ahmed told his nation that it needs its “own brand of democracy” for which time is required to “rethink and reinvent”. Meanwhile, the interim government backed by the military and headed by former bureaucrat Fakhruddin Ahmed has gone on a rampage against politicians. Over 100 middle-level leaders have been imprisoned; Awami League (AL) leader Sheikh Hasina, out on a private trip to the US, has been exiled; and erstwhile Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is being forced into a corner where the ‘choice’ is a similar fate or the trial of her son on corruption charges. The general who is calling the shots has vowed to cleanse politics of corrupt leaders in order to restore the people’s faith in a ‘reinvented’ democratic system. A general election, it is said, will not be held until after two years or, at the earliest, in December 2008, when the election commission says it will be ready with new voters’ lists and photo identity cards for the purpose.

Reports emanating from Dhaka speak of the prevalence of an uneasy calm, preceded by weeks of fierce street battles between the supporters of the AL and the BNP, two rival parties led by women leaders whose mutual animosity is public knowledge. There are no outward signs of military repression except against politicians. Dhaka’s elite has reportedly welcomed the restoration of peace and public order but civil society remains wary of the military’s motives, fearing the derailment of democracy. In an initiative floated by the interim government, political parties are now required to register themselves for participation in the national election, hold internal elections and provide audit reports of their funding. They are also required to not offer tickets to businesspeople and, instead, organise and train their own workers for assuming political leadership. It is difficult to see how the AL and the BNP, two mainstream political parties, will respond to these directives in the absence of their top leadership from the country. Circles close to the interim government and military quarters say that both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia are likely to be barred for life from participation in politics.

The blow dealt to the democratic system — howsoever imperfect it may have been — since the restoration of representative rule in 1991 after long years of military dictatorship is a sad commentary on the political crisis facing Bangladesh today. Suspension of civil liberties by the interim government and the army’s desire to ‘reinvent’ democracy have no legal basis in Bangladesh’s basic law. Corrupt politicians should be brought to book but this must be done strictly within the ambit of the law, not under an extra-judicial mechanism, if the process of accountability is to have any credibility. The interim government must hold elections at the earliest possible time and ensure transfer of power in a transparent way to the people’s elected representatives. The longer the extra-constitutional period lasts, the more difficult it will become for the current dispensation to justify its stint in office, especially in the absence of a mechanism to hold the interim government accountable for its actions. If there is one lesson to be learnt from Bangladesh’s shared past with Pakistan, it is that the army must not get involved in politics and should restrict itself to performing its professional duties.

Round and round Doha

THE Cairns Group ministerial meeting concluded in Lahore on Wednesday with a vow for contributing constructively to the negotiating process that, the poor of this world are told, will lead to a more equitable order under the World Trade Organization (WTO). Twelve long years after the start of this negotiating process titled the Doha Development Round, this declaration of good faith on the part of the Cairns Group is evidence of how slow the journey to the common goal of WTO can be. In fact, the call to all WTO members to “engage fully and flexibly in the…ongoing process” also fails to raise any realistic hopes of a resolution by the fast approaching deadline. The Doha Round must reach an agreement by the end of 2007, but right now it is beset by conflicts of interest. It was for these rifts that the round was suspended in July 2006, before it was resumed in February this year.

The Cairns Group, which brings together a number of developing and developed countries and of which Pakistan is a member, has been lobbying for the liberalisation of agricultural trade. It is pitted against a powerful EU-US-Japan combine which is now willing to concede demands such as ending subsidies to its farmers and removing high trade tariffs that hinder imports into their markets, but only in return for free access to the world market for their industrial products. Another group led by countries such as India and Brazil completes the uneasy triangle by insisting on an entry to the developed world for their service providers — in other words, for their manpower. If reconciling all these positions was not difficult enough, the Doha Round has to contend with a US government deadline which gives the American negotiators only until July this year to conclude the multilateral trade talks. After July, the final authority that the American representatives enjoy to strike a compromise with other parties will be taken away from them and their decisions will be subject to approval by the US Congress. Against this backdrop, it appears highly unlikely that the Doha Round will be able to achieve its objective — unless something dramatic happens.

IJT’s moral policing

ISLAMI Jamiat Talaba students are at it again except that this time they may just have gone too far in their moral policing at Punjab University. During what would have been a fun-filled event on Saturday, nearly 70 IJT students came to the campus and wreaked havoc. They used abusive language against the faculty, and in the fracas even injured a faculty member. Their full wrath was then unleashed as they went about breaking windows and then the equipment that was brought in especially for the event (lights, crockery, decorations) before moving on to the main hall where they smashed a TV, computers and the sound system. They also unplugged high-voltage electricity wires causing a short circuit. According to a university official, the estimated damage comes to a million rupees. This is all because IJT students did not want a music concert to be held, ostensibly because it would be a ‘vulgar’ event where boys and girls would have mingled. Meanwhile, the IJT nazim has denied his students beat anyone up, adding that they only smashed windows and tore down a banner. That he condoned some violence is not surprising given that IJT students think it is within their right to beat up boys and girls sitting together — as happened over a week ago on PU’s campus. This kind of behaviour simply cannot be condoned.

The university’s registrar has said that some of the hooligans had been identified and action would be taken against them. This must be done quickly so that no one dares think of going on such a rampage again. Everyone has the right to protest provided it is done in a peaceful manner. If not, they must face drastic action, so as to ensure peace and sanity on campus.

Catching up with the change

By Zafarullah Khan

The life of the Universe springs from movement,

To halt on this path is


There is death hidden in the static state,

Those on the move have gone ahead,

And those who halted a bit have been trampled.

—Allama Iqbal in

‘Moon and Stars’

THIS simple message is found in every book of philosophy and logic. The very first sentence in Issa Ghougi’s book on philosophy, that is taught in the madressah, is like this: ‘Universe is ever changing’. Throughout my life until today, I have been striving to understand this concept of movement and change. When I am beginning to catch on, something is already changed.

No doubt, change is the essence of the universe. This is what the Quran says: ‘Intent on His purpose all the time’. (Al29) The world is never in one particular state. Every moment its state is changing and its Creator moulds it in a new form, every now and then, which is different from all its previous forms. The Quran says: It is God who alternates night and day; there is indeed a lesson in this for those who possess insight. (Al44)

These verses clearly point out the selftruth that in the universe there is no inertia but only motion. There is a perpetual movement and a constant flow. There is no halt or stop. Time is always moving ahead, every moment is new, and every moment brings in a new world. It is moving and moving, it has no obstacle in its way, and it has no division. Modern science bears testimony to the fact that the matter is not constant but is always in a flux. Even the Creator of the change has told us that there is always a change but only men of insight can understand it. So only the unwise remain static and are happy with the present. They do not catch up with time.

It is the eternal law of nature that elements of permanence and change must coTo live in stability only is to be static and to adopt change thoughtlessly is unhinging. If man remains chained to stability and does not catch up with the change, he would become a relic of the past. If he only sides with change, he would be severing his ties with the past. So we deduce from this proposition that stability and change are the absolute facts of the Universe. Their perpetual mutual action maintains beauty and equilibrium in human life.

This change, in human and ethical context, has a specific purpose and special meaning. It is to filter. Through this mechanism nature separates the ‘useful’ from the ‘useless’. And the mankind is put to trial. The Quran says: We alternate these days of varying fortunes among mankind so that Allah may know the true believers and take witnesses “to the truth” from among you. For Allah does not love the unjust people. (3:140)

This verse makes it amply clear that only those who keep up with the change would survive. And those who do not do so are unjust to themselves and Allah does not like those who are unjust. For this change that is occurring from moment to moment, we have to struggle every moment.

Ibn Miskawaih, a great philosopher and scientist, rightly said that the struggle for existence continues in the universe both at personal and collective levels. In this struggle only the fittest survive. These are the same principles, which Charles Darwin describes as the ‘struggle for existence’ and ‘the survival of the fittest’. We, as Muslims, do not subscribe to the biological interpretations of these principles. However, we observe every day the practical applications of these principles at ethical and human levels. The peoples who do not develop materially are wiped out from the face of the earth. The communities that are devoid of high morals and manners perish.

The history of mankind and the prophets, as described by the Quran, is reliable witness to the fact that the survival of the humankind lies in constantly holding high values. The Quran emphatically declares: This is how Allah determines truth and falsehood. The scum disappears like foam on the bank and that which is useful for the man remains on the earth.

Things which are useful for humanity exist and those useless for humanity vanish. If a person becomes scum, he is annihilated and if a person carries profit for mankind, he becomes eternal. Similarly, if any race, nation or religion becomes useless for humanity, it is wiped out. If any nation or religion is useful for humanity, it lasts. Iqbal says: ‘One, whose heart is filled with passionate love, becomes eternal. Since we are smitten by love of humanity, we shall live forever on the map of the world.’

The capability to live, the capacity to survive, the energy and the greatness

are created in man by deeds whose detail is given by Allah i.e., knowledge, worship, truthfulness, honesty, love, service to humankind, justice, disdain for sin etc. The truth is power and falsehood is weakness. Justice is strength and injustice is frailty. Only those people survive who could develop in them the strength and capability for life by virtue of good deeds. Allah says in the Quran: ‘We had prescribed in the Book of Psalms, after the reminder and admonition that those of our creatures, who are good, will in the end rule the earth.’

As Nietzsche would say, whatever furthers life, whatever enhances life, is useful, the rest is rightly condemned to the dustbin of history. This becomes amply clear from the abovetwo principles that in this world only those peoples (and religions) survive who are beneficial to humanity, have capability to live, and have an urge to serve mankind and dispense justice. The question arises: how can we ensure that we are catching up with the change; that we are heading towards good and that we are beneficial to humanity. To achieve these purposes, we have to undergo a process of selfand self-reckoning.

Selfcan be carried out in two ways: either we do it ourselves or we may allow somebody else to do this. Islam has taught us selfAllah likes the act of self-examination. Rather Allah has sworn by it. This is an essential ingredient of the teachings of the Sufis that every night, before we go to bed, we should assess and evaluate our activities of the day.

The Sufis have two doctrines: (i) watching the steps and (ii) Ever care. It means that we have to be very careful and watchful in respect of our every thought and action. This constant selfis essential for our survival as an individual or a nation. Iqbal has rightly said: ‘The people, who evaluate their activities in every age, are like swords in the hands of Destiny’.

Islam has accepted the dual principles of change and stability. In Islam, there are certain doctrines that are ‘muhkam’ and eternal and are not subject to change with the passage of time. For example, belief in the oneness of God, belief in the Prophets, belief that Muhammad (SAAW) is the last of the Prophets, belief in life after death, belief in the Quran, belief in reward and punishment, belief in the basic lawful and unlawful things of life, etc. These are the eternal, immutable principles. There is no change in them. These fundamental articles of faith fulfil the demands of stability and provide solid foundation for healthy human psychology and collective existence.

In order to catch up with change, Islam has given us the concept of Ijtihad – reinterpretation of Islamic law in changed circumstances. It has given the concept of belief in common prevalent good (Maroof). Abiding by its basic principles, it has commanded us to respond to every new challenge by means of Ijtihad. The Quran and Hadith are to be explained and reinterpreted in every age. If we do not find guidance in the Quran and Hadith, then we are instructed to use our intellect. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked Hazrat Ma’az Ibn Jabal while he was sending him as a governor to Yemen, how he would decide matters? Ma’az said that he would take guidance from the Quran and Sunnah. The Prophet further asked if he did not find any explicit guidance in them, then what he would do? Ma’az answered that he would use his intellect. The Prophet (SAAW) appreciated his answer.

Another Hadith is worth mentioning in this context. When the Prophet went to Madinah, he did not like the process of pollination of date trees. People stopped doing so. This resulted in a decrease in the date crop. People complained to the Prophet. He said: “You understand worldly matters better than I do. Do what is better for you. You should continue with it if this practice is profitable for you. It was just my conjecture. You have to accept and follow what I convey to you from Allah.”

We deduce from this that it is obligatory on us to acquire contemporary knowledge and accept the common good practices. The principles of Ijtihad and ‘Maruf’ (what is common good and acceptable) are tools to catch up with the change. The Muslims of earlier period found out solutions to every problem by following these lofty principles, rather created new disciplines and led the world. We have closed the doors of Ijtihad and have stopped believing in Maruf also. So we have become relics of the past. They gave appropriate response to every challenge of the day and developed their knowledge which enhanced their activities.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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