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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 23, 2013 - Special Supplement on Bangladesh

Political Economy of Fundamentalism in Bangladesh

Sunday 24 March 2013

by ABUL BARKAT

Abstract: The genesis of Islam reveals the liberal and humanistic origin of Islam in East Bengal. But this liberal-humanistic Islam has turned into “Political Islam” mainly due to three major regressive transformations associated with the emergence of the “religious doctrine-based Pakistan State” (in 1947), failure to punish the ‘war criminals’ (in the 1971 War of Independence), and legitimisation of commu-nalism by replacing ‘secularism’ with “Islam as state religion” in the Constitution (Eighth Amendment 1988). The failure of the State in satisfying the basic needs of the people, growing criminalisation of the economy and politics, growing inequality in society, increasing youth unem-ployment, communalisation of culture and education, lack of people’s confidence on main-stream political (democratic) leadership, external environment—all contributed to the growth of Islamist extremism in Bangladesh. Religious fundamentalism, in the process, has gained momentum to shape organised ‘Political Islam’, which intends to capture state power by force. The religious fundamentalist forces have successfully assimilated the mythos of religion with the logos of reality, and are pursuing their aim of capturing state power by using religion as a pretext through a well-organised economic power-based political process. In so doing, the fundamentalists have created “an economy within the economy”, and “a state within the state”. They have adequate economic strength (from micro to macro levels) to sustain their political organisations. The economics of fundamen-talism, in the narrow sense of the term, can be explained in terms of enterprises ranging from large financial institutions to household level micro credit, from mosques and madrasas to news media and IT, from nationwide trading enterprises to local level NGOs. The estimated amount of annual net profit generated by these enterprises would be US $ 250 million. All these economic enterprises are run by ideologically motivated and professionally competent persons. At least 10 per cent of their net profits are being used to finance the political organi-sation, which is sufficient to fund the salary of 500,000 full-timers in Islamic fundamentalist politics. Taking advantage of their economic as well as political power, they set their own representatives in key strategic positions in the government and autonomous bodies. The relative strength of the economics of fundamentalism in Bangladesh can be traced to the fact that its annual net profit is equivalent to six per cent of the government’s annual development budget, and the annual growth rate of the economy controlled by the fundamentalists is higher (7.5 per cent to nine per cent) than that of the national economy (five per cent to six per cent). Therefore, Islamist fundamentalism in Bangla-desh, as a beleaguered tradition and embattled faith, is a refusal of dialogue in a globalising world that asks for reasons and whose peace and continuity depend on it. The crisis, emanating from the economics of fundamentalism and politics of religious extremism, can be overcome only through enlightened political and civic movements guided by a courageous leadership coupled with substantive public actions. Such actions should aim at giving an institutional shape to democratic values, a secular mind-set, and equity in distribution of public resources and the benefits of development.

Economics of Fundamentalism — Essence and Linkages

THE term “fundamentalism”—as the religion’s reaction against scientific and secular culture— may not be a perfect one, but it is a useful label for movements that, despite substantial differences, bear a strong family resemblance. (Armstrong 2001) Fundamentalism is a contro-versial category, but an objective meaning can be given to it in line with the following: embattled faith; beleaguered tradition; withdrawal from mainstream; creation of counter-culture; transformation of mythology into ideology; cultivation of theologies of rage, resentment and revenge; refusal of dialogue necessary for peace and continuity; defending beleaguered tradition using ritual truth in a globalising world that asks for reasons. (See box)

The economics of fundamentalism is a relatively a new area of research not yet adequately addressed in the political economy literature.This paper is not aimed at defining the economics of fundamentalismper se as an independent economic system or an independent mode of production. The purpose here is to provide an analysis of the economic strengths of the religious fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh within a political economy framework. In accomplishing the analysis, the historical reasons for substantive regression from “Humanistic Islam” into “Political Islam” in Bangladesh have been traced, and the essence of economic and social foundations for the emergence and growth of religious extremism and the economics of fundamentalism have been identified. And finally, attempts have been made to understand the political limits to the growth of the economics of fundamentalism and associated religious-communal politics in Bangladesh.

The economics of fundamentalism can be viewed as a concentrated expression of religion-based communal politics aimed at capturing state power using religion as a pretext. It runs contrary to the secular approach to people, smothering and decimating the free, unfettered outlook. It has launched a vicious onslaught on the spirit of secularism that was embedded in the Consti-tution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1972 following the 1971 Liberation War. The act of satisfying the people’s hopes and aspirations turned out to be a fiasco. At the same time, there also occurred the erosion of a secular democratic mind-set. Both these two factors, besides encouraging the growth of fundamentalism and its economic agents and interests, have given birth to the institutions that turned favourable to their expanded reproduction. Consequently, came into being the economics of fundamentalism.

The rise of socialism in the first half of the last century and its disintegration during the end of the century; economic crisis in the developed capitalist world; the aggressive attitude of imperialism and polarisation of the world, and the rise of unjust globalisation—all contributed to the growth of religion-based fundamentalism in the world. Imperialism has played a major role in the speedy rise of fundamentalism in some parts of the world. This might be evident, among others, from the pertinent question: Who created Talibanism, Molla Omar, Bin Laden?

Objective Meaning of Fundamentalism

RELIGIOUS fundamentalism is a form of militant piety in religion. Fundamentalism is an embattled faith. It is beleaguered tradition defended in the traditional way — by reference to ritual truth — in a globalising world that asks for reasons. Fundamentalism is evident in both great monotheisms (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and in other religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, even in Confucianism etc.). The Muslim and Jewish fundamentalisms are not much concerned with doctrine, which is an essentially Christian preoccupation. ‘Fundamentalisms’ all follow a certain pattern—they are embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis. They are engaged in a conflict with enemies whose secularist policies and beliefs seem inimical to religion itself. Fundamentalists do not regard this battle as a conventional political struggle, but experience it as a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil. They fear annihilation, and try to fortify their beleaguered identity by means of a selective retrieval of certain doctrines and practices of the past. To avoid contamination, they often withdraw from mainstream society to create a counterculture, yet fundamentalists are not impractical dreamers. They have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of charismatic leaders, they refine these “fundamentals” so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action. Fundamentalists—by turning the mythos of their religion into logos and by transforming their complex mythology into a streamlined ideology —cultivate theologies of rage, resentment, and revenge. Fundamentalism is a refusal of dialogue in a world whose peace and continuity depend on it.

The global communities find a subtle touch of irony as they bestow their concentration upon the fact that those rich and powerful countries, which want control over others, have not delayed describing such destructive ele-ments as their enemy when their imperialistic interests are served. Here, the profit equation— both economic and political—has acted as the key determinant. Where and how imperialism will play its role will depend on their own political economic equation with their self- interest—where in the ultimate analysis, economic considerations play the vital role. Capital will not hesitate to risk its life if there is a chance of 300 per cent profit earning. Therefore, the rise of the economics of fundamentalism is obvious, and such religious extremism is compatible with the evolution of the free-market-mediated increasing alienation and crisis in identity. Likewise if a certain form of fundamentalism turns out to be an obstacle to the growth of imperialism, the same will be replaced by another form of communalism—this is also noticeable. In the present era, the political economy of oil and gas, geo-economics of water, economics of war, economics of command over space, the political economy of establishing command over the global market (in the name of the so-called free market and globalisation)— these are some of the broad areas of bondages between fundamentalism and imperialism.

Both external and internal elements of fundamentalism give rise to parochialism against religious liberalism. On the one hand, the crisis of dollar economics,1 the sharp growth of the petro-dollar in the world economy and its volatility, the attack of the Soviet Union on Afghanistan, the barbarian 9/11 and subsequent over-reaction in the name of “attack on terrorism”, doubts and mistrust in the people carrying the Muslim identity in the developed world, the war against Iraq2—the second largest reservoir of oil in the world and occupation of the country, the spread of alien culture through the electronic media in the name of globalisation, and on the other hand, large scale distress-destitution-deprivation of our people amidst politico-economic criminalisation and increasing helplessness of the common person in daily life—all these created a space for and played an immense role in the spread of intolerance and hatred using religion. These were the key opportunities which have created the increasing demand for the growth of religion-based communal politics. The consequent emergence of the economics of fundamentalism can be seen as a supply side response to that demand. And, supply creates its own demand.

Islam in East Bengal: Historically Liberal, Humanistic and Secular

MOST of the written histories pertaining to the evolution of Islam in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) are incomplete and euphemistic. They are not based on empirical evidences, and lack knowledge-based inferences. Objective analyses of the materials of historiography, such as geography, changes of river morphology, the emergence and evolution of agrarian civilisation, changing pattern of land revenue collection, historical chronology, politics of the Hindu Raja and that of the Muslim emperors—have not been made in understanding the essence of the evolution of Islam in East Bengal. The relevant historiography is rather weak in this respect.

The origin and evolution of Islam in East Bengal—in the writings of historians—are available in four lines of the historiography of Islamisation in East Bengal—Immigration, Sword, Patronage, and Social Liberation. None of these historiographic lines are complete in terms of empirical substantiation. The pertinent issues without satisfactory answers include: Who are the immigrants? When and how did the immigrants arrive? When and how was Islam transformed into a mass religion in this country with the power of the sword? History tells us that, even the most conservative Mogul emperor, Awrangazeb (1658-1707), did not encourage or exert pressure for religious purposes. Akbar (1556-1605) abolished the discriminatory land revenue system, banned activities offensive to the Hindus, for example, cow slaughter, admitted Hindu sages into his private audience and Rajput chieftains into his ruling class. He ordered that the holy book of the Hindus should be translated into Persian and celebrated Hindu festivals etc.

In fact, in the subcontinent as a whole, there is an inverse relationship between the degree of Muslim political penetration and the degree of Islamisation. Dhaka was the residence of the Nawab for about a hundred years but it contained a smaller proportion of Muslims than any of the surrounding districts, except Faridpur. Malda and Murshidabad contained the old capitals, which were the centre of Muslim rule for about 450 years, and yet the Muslims formed a smaller proportion of the population as compared to that in the adjacent districts of Dinajpur, Rajshahi, and Nadia. (Census of India 1901)

The main initiators of Islam in East Bengal —the Sufis-Devotees-Ulamaas—did not preach extreme religious rites during their time in the last many centuries. They even did not support any religious persecution. On the other hand, they kept the place of religious activity—Tomb, Mosque, Madrasa, etc—small in size. They cleared the forest and expanded the areas for agricultural activity in the once-forest hinter-land. They got this hinterland forest as grant. This implies that they involved people in economic activities, primarily in agriculture. Side by side, Sufis put more emphasis on activities related to rendering humane services. They never persuaded the people much to accept Islam. Their main motto was “service to the best of the creations”, that is, ‘service to human person (Ashraful Maklukath) is religion’. There is no evidence whatsoever indicating that the Sufis in Bengal actually indulged in the destruction of temples or places of worship of other religions.

The Sufis and their contemporary religious persons brought about an admixture of religious ideas with economic development and agri-cultural production (of course analysis of the city-based aristocracy “Ashraf” thesis is different). From the writings of the Sufis and Devotees, such evidence is there that “Allah sent Adam to Sandip Island. Gabriel at the instruction of Allah asked Adam to go to Mecca to build the original Kaba. After the Kaba was built Gabriel gave him a plough and a yoke, a pair of draft bullocks, and some grains, and communicated the instruction of Allah: ‘agriculture will be your destiny’. Adam sowed the grains, raised crops, harvested and prepared bread with the corns.”3

Therefore, in contradistinction with the main theses of most historiographers we see no significant role of the Sword, Immigration or Patronage in the propagation of Islam in East Bengal. Islam evolved in East Bengal as an adjunct of agriculture-based civilisation. Sufis and Devotees of Islam, along with preachers of other religions, participated in the struggle against feudalism and colonialism. They even gave leadership to such movement. The Sufis and Ulamaas took such steps using the usual logic of liberal humanism of religion.

Sources of Islamist Extremism—Outcome of Contemporary Regressive Transformation

FOR the first time in the history of Islam in East Bengal, a major regressive trend was evident in the last century which can be treated as a disaster in the socio-political life in Bengal. It was the time when at one stage, in the process of anti-colonial movements, a move came to establish a State based on religion, meaning thereby creation of Pakistan for the Muslims and Hindustan for the Hindus. This widely known “two-nation theory” can be denoted as the first formal basis for the formation of “Political Islam” in Bengal.

The Sufis and Ulamaas of the liberal humanism of Islam could not oppose the division of United India on the basis of religion. This regressive transformation against the main religious course did not take place all on a sudden. Specific aggressive courses of religion (such as Wahabi etc.) were in place. As a result, a negative transformation of the humanistic welfarism of the Sufi’s and Ulamaa’s Islam took place. What was liberal, humanistic and secular turned into parochial aggressiveness. The object was to capture state power through the use of “political Islam” in narrow selfish interest. With the establishment of the Pakistan State based on religion, a new trend was set. The trend of capturing state power through aggressive religious fundamentalism arose from a peaceful economic evolution-based agrarian development. Religious communalism became so powerful in Pakistan that in the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the feudal-army rulers of that time did not take even twentyfour hours time to level all the Hindus of East Pakistan into Hindustani. They proclaimed the ‘Enemy Property Act’, which implies that all the Hindus residing in Pakistan are enemies.4 Such religion-based communalism supported by the state was never ever in evidence in the history of East Bengal.

The religion-based division of the country took place without the informed consent of the people (irrespective of Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian). They were not involved in the process of division of the country (the so-called referendum was just a tokenism). The people’s opinion was not respected. That is why at that time there was a bluffing slogan: “Biri (or Bidi —a locally made cigarette) in hand, beetle nut in the mouth, we’ll establish Pakistan through fighting.”5 On the other hand, people with vision declared: “This independence is a blunt lie, because millions are hungry.”6 The country was divided on the basis of religion (no one felt the need to seek the opinion of the mass of people). Largely due to the preponderance of the people of one religion in conducting state affairs, feudalistic Pakistan took the aggressive religious form. In India, the situation was not that acute, because in a relatively large country like India, the confluence of various religions and from the very beginning the politico-economic evolution of equality and equity were given constitutional recognition. In addition, both democracy and the media have played a critical role.

During the whole period of Pakistan (1947 to 1971), religion-based communalism was utilised in conducting state affairs and socio-cultural activities. For overcoming any socio-political crisis religion was (mis)used. They would say, ‘Islam in danger’ wherever there was any problem. For maintaining military rule and autocracy “Islam in danger” was the only slogan. Finally, this same slogan was used against our liberation war in 1971. The slogan “Islam in danger” (Islam khatre mein hai) was used when the Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluch Army were brought from West Pakistan to East Pakistan to fight the Freedom Fighters. Of course, many of the Pak Army witnessed a different situation in East Pakistan. The same slogan “Islam in danger” was used in this country while forming the so- called “peace committee”. The Albadar,Alshams,Rajakar, etc. were formed with a handful of Bengali Muslim collaborators who were against the liberation of this country. These war criminals were certain that the Bengalis, imbued with the ideas of the liberation war, would be defeated by the joint effort of the powerful Pakistan military and these local collaborators —Rajakars, Albadar, Alshams. But the opposite happened. At the price of huge blood, we earned our independence. But we failed to punish the war criminals who were opposed to our liberation war. This has played a decisive role in bolstering their audacity. Those religion-traders (they were not as religious as the Sufis and Ulamaas) and a handful of their followers are the representatives of extreme religious commu-nalism and the economics of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. In this country, this was a great distortion of religion. This may be termed the second phase of regressive transformation of Islam in East Bengal. In this country, evolution of Islam in its historical perspective (Sufism) is distinctly different from the present-day fundamentalism and their political economy. Therefore, today’s religious extremism can be treated as a continuation of the religion-based act of terrorism of 1971 on a larger scale with a deeper base. This regressive transformation got impetus and crystallised with the legitimi-sation of communalism in the Constitution when ‘secularism’ was replaced by “Islam will be the State religion”. (Article 2A, Eighth Amendment)

Communalism in Pakistan not only worked as a basis for forming the State, this gained in strength in a big way afterwards. For freeing the people from discrimination of two economies, the independence of Bangladesh was declared in 1971. The people of this country dreamt of a welfare state, where freedom of choice would exist, where economic opportunities would be open to all, where social facilities would be evolved, where political freedom would be available, where there would be transparency and protective security, where there would be a non-communal environment and where secularism would evolve as a state principle. The Constitution of the independent Bangladesh State makes such promises publicly. Such a state also meets the demand for the fundamental rights of equality of men and women, irrespective of religion and caste. In the real sense, however, the difference between the promise and reality was so stark that the possibility existed for spread of the economics of fundamentalism and the related politics of religious extremism.

Economic and Social Basis of Economics of Fundamentalism

THE foundation of the economics of fundamentalism is not weak in Bangladesh. This is because although the feudal relationship of production has formally come to an end in the Bangladesh economy, the traditional feudal psychology has not been abolished on the one hand, and capitalist relationship of production has not yet evolved on the other. The worse form of capital of various types has evolved, which does not play a conducive role towards productive investment. This worse form of vulture capitalism is much more conducive to the production of “briefcase capitalism” (commission agency) than a strongly-based home-grown industrial capi-talism. This capitalism is more interested in “real estate and mall-centric economy” than in “productive industrial-agriculture-centric economy”. Therefore, from the structural point of view, the system is not conducive to accelerated generation of employment in a labour surplus economy, and thereby, not conducive to poverty and inequality reduction.7 Also, such free market economy is never poor-friendly. The so-called free market within the context of globalised monopoly capitalism has not been instrumental in developing national capitalism in Bangladesh. On the contrary, that has acted as a hindrance, and this has also fuelled the rise of communal politics and Islamic extremism in Bangladesh.

From the point of view of structural transformation, during the last 40 years (1971-2012) of independence there has not been any fundamental progressive “pro-poor” changes in the economy of Bangladesh. It cannot be said that the spirit of human welfare of independence has been realised. The basic objective of independence was to create healthy people— a healthy nation without divide, imbued with the spirit of liberation. The gap between the people’s aspiration and reality has been wide and is ever increasing. This widening of gap between the aspiration and reality has also helped to generate and nourish religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

It is true that independent Bangladesh has emerged as a result of struggle against discrimination in the two economies. But the trend of evolution of the last 40 years shows a clear division of the country of 150 million into two parts: in the first part are the powerful people of small groups, their number is no more than one million (including family members); in the second part are the large numbers of people who are powerless and whose number will be 149 million. Due to the machination of politics and economics, a situation has been created where 149 million powerless people exist against only one million powerful people. These 149 million people are basically helpless, deprived, destitute and distressed. In the real sense, there was no conscious socio-political effort from the side of the governance quarters to make these large numbers of powerless people into powerful ones or empower them by way of inclusion of the excluded. On the contrary, multi-faceted efforts are on to increase the power of the powerful people in the society. It appears that this trend will continue for long. The overall politico-economic equation in the society indicates a movement in this direction.

There is no doubt that the majority of the powerless people in Bangladesh—whatever is reflected in the “statistical economy” of the government relating to index of employment and standard of living—lead their life in extreme suffering and misery. The relative share of the poor people in the total national household income is on the decline; however, inequality is rising. At the same time, the relative share of the rich people is increasing—this is officially recognised. In parallel, a self-destructing culture of plundering and culture of secrecy (opposite of transparency) have struck deep and strong roots in sectors of the economy, politics, administration, education, and culture. Black money, violence, illegal arms, muscle power, illegal gratification, kickback, speed money, corruption, maladministration, oppression-repression etc. are the determinants of the culture of plundering. All these contribute to the rise of the economics of fundamentalism and to the consolidation of religion-based politics (“Political Islam”) in Bangladesh.

The basic tendency in the socio-economic evolution during the last 40 years depicts that one million criminals have trapped 149 million helpless people in the framework of institutionalised criminalisation. A powerful criminal minority, and a powerless majority (the victims of criminalisation)—these two trends are clearly in existence in Bangladesh. The rise and development of the political economy of fundamentalism during the last 40 years depict a scenario which makes it clear that whatever is against human welfare and human development is on the rise. (See balance-sheet in Table 1) Everything including human relationship has turned into a market commodity and that too of a distorted market. In the absence of a patriotic and farsighted leadership, the politico-economic base for production and people’s welfare has not expanded.

During the last 40 years economic criminalisation has acted as a powerful catalyst to criminalise all spheres of politics and society. We have attained a sort of perpetuating exclusion of the excluded situation; an environment aggravating the process of alienation of the excluded; a scenario which has created conditions for more active denial to address the issues pertaining to the broadening of human choices for full-life (to ensure five types of freedom the people shall enjoy). The developmental balance-sheet (Table 1) shows vividly that we are now caught in a trap of the culture of plundering wherein the overall environment favours everything which is against human development, which is fully in congruence with the interest of criminalisation. The last forty years’ balance-sheet shows a clear tendency: the status of all indicators conducive to human development is getting worse, and indicators associated with the criminalisation trap are getting stronger, and thereby, limiting the scope for broadening human choices to exercise their own free will. During the past four decades of our development we are again back to the discriminatory two-economy (with added strength): one economy is represented by only one million people who are most powerful (in the steering wheel, irrespective of who holds the formal power), and the other economy is represented by the unempowered majority, 149 million people—the excluded, deprived and distressed. (According to Article 7 of our Constitution, “All powers in the Republic belong to the People.”)

The analysis of the type of development that Bangladesh passed through in the last forty years (Table 1) makes it clear that whatever good and positive aspects that will benefit the people have not increased, rather these have declined and whatever negative aspects are bad for the country have in fact increased expedi-tiously. During the last 40 years some people became owners of unlimited wealth and a larger section of the people have become poorer (with the hapless, alienated people looking for shelter). Sources of unearned income increased at a high rate, pomp and show have gone up and the sufferings of various kinds of the larger section of the people have expanded. Multistoried buildings have been erected, but side by side the number of slums has gone up; the government’s real allocations for the welfare of the people have declined, and side by side unproductive expenditures have gone up; donor interferences have increased and simultaneously local initiatives have decreased and the government allocations have gone up in the unproductive sector. The distance between the public and public servants has increased. Election expenditure has gone up but good governance and the efficacy of elected institutions have gone down; the power of black money has gone up and the politicians’ respect for people has gone down, and discrimination between the rich and poor has increased. The government’s real allocation in basic education has gone down. Poverty-related diseases have increased and the real expenditure on people’s health has gone down, and efficacy of the government’s health sector has eroded. Trading on religion increased, the number of Pirs, Fakirs, astrologers, fortune-tellers, violence in the name of religion—has gone up, and love for the people of different religions has declined. The culture of rationality and science, secular behaviour and enlightened mind-set has been severely damaged. In other words, cultural communalism has deepened.

Side by side, communalism in education has increased the strength of the economic power of fundamentalism. During the last 40 years, the number of mainstream primary schools has doubled but the number of Dakhil Madrasas (religious schools) has increased eight times. Over the same time, enrolments in primary schools have doubled but those in Dakhil Madrasas increased thirteen times; per head public expenditure on students of the govern-ment middle class educational institutions is Tk 3000 as against Tk 5000 in the Madrasa sector. Therefore, the “intellectual” basis for the rise of religious extremism is in full-swing. At the same time, in any future reform of the religious educational system, it has to be specially borne in mind that a majority of the Madrasa students have come from poor or low-income families.

TABLE 1:

A 37-Years’ Balance-sheet of Bangladesh: Trend showing Expansion of Politico-economic Basis for Religious Extremism (1975-2012)

                            Indicators showing upward trend

Black economy/black money and associated plundering, crime, terrorism, illegal arms, muscle power, corruption, bribe, money laundering, bad governance, repression, oppression, torture, persecution, killing, physical assault

Billionaire and beggars/paupers; forcibly grabbing of land and water-bodies; new cars and flats, and new techniques of begging; number of people die to collect Zakat clothes (during Eid); number of people fall sick and die due to cold and heat waves

Rural-to-urban forced migration; number of people living in slums; informal sector; nuclear families; distress and deprivation of children-women-older people

Legal and illegal import and export; unearned income; imbalanced economic growth and development

Foreign grant-loan projects; NGO activities

Communication; information technology; number of students in computer and business education

Women’s employment and mobility; violence against women and children; women and child trafficking; acid throwing

Private sector commercial universities, colleges, coaching centres, English medium schools, kinder garden, madrasha (including English medium); rich-poor disparity in education

Use of religion with business motive; religious institutions; number of pir-fakirs; religion-based political parties; violence by the name of religion; expressed uneasiness to people belonging to other religion; fatalism; number of palmists

Expensive private clinics, diagnostic centres; anxiety and poverty-related diseases; health expen-diture; pauperisation due to health expenditure

Real expenditure on unproductive sectors: military (defense), administration, security related areas; distance between public and public servants; influencing the court

Investment in election; competition of black money holders in elections; distance between people and elected representative/institutions

Exogenous decadent culture; wastage of time in viewing and listening to decadent culture; mutual mistrust

Erosion of political values; criminalisation of politics; psychophanism; politics as business investment; autocracy, (latent) demand for welfare politics.

Indicators showing downward trend

Strengthening economic foundation; develop-ment of national capital; industrialization; economic capability to run normal family economy; employ-ment generation; efficacy of institutions dealing with black economy

Economic opportunities; employment generation (first condition of human development); poor people’s ownership and access to resources

Poor and marginal farmers control over land; rural employment; real income/wage; extended families

Efficient use of human potentials and resources; use of capital for industrialisation; development of small and cottage industries and entrepreneurship.

Local initiatives; incentives to promote best use of local resources; people’s participation in social and economic development

General science education; technological basis; students in science and philosophy; intellectual pursuits

Real wage/income of female workers; protective security of women and child; efficacy of institutions responsible to ensure protective securities for women and children

Public/private schools, colleges and universities for common people; quality of education in public schools and low-cost private sector; efficacy of education system; public sector real allocation for basic education

Equal respect to people of other religion; science institutions; scientific mind-set; enlightened worldview; discussion meetings about science and knowledge; healthy life style; secular feelings-behavior-mind-set

Primary health care; quality of public health service; actual per capita public health expenditure; efficacy of public health system

Good governance; justice; feeling of individual security; real public sector expenditure for human welfare and in productive sectors

Efficacy/utility of elected persons and institutions; people’s trust on the elected person and institution; enlightened politics

Practice of national culture; feelings of solidarity; mutual trust and respect; human(e) values - moral, ethical and aesthetic

Politicians love for people; politicians patriotism, knowledge-based and humanitarian ideology-based politics, democratic values.

Notes on methodology: There is no officially accepted (by the government’s statistics office) methodology to identify socio-economic classes in Bangladesh. In order to understand the dynamics of changes in the social structure in Bangladesh, the author has devised a methodology to quantify the population into different socio-economic classes. For classification of rural population household land ownership and for urban population amount of asset valuation has been used as criterion. The following classification formula has been used: Poor or less asset group are those having up to 100 decimals of land (in rural) and total valuation of asset less than Tk 0.5 million (in urban); lower middle class was denoted as those having 101-249 decimals of land ownership (in rural) and asset valuation of Tk 0.5-0.9 million (in urban); mid-middle class comprises those households having 250-499 decimals of own land (in rural) and asset valuation of Tk 1-2.9 million (in urban); upper middle class was denoted as those having 500-749 decimals of land ownership (in rural) and asset valuation of Tk 3-4.9 million (in urban), finally, the rich (upper class) was denoted as those households having 750 decimals or more of land ownership (in rural) and valuation of asset of Tk 5 million or more (in urban).

The pattern of development mediated through economic and political criminalisation and the anti-poor, anti-middle class political economy has transformed the socio-economic class structure in both rural and urban Bangladesh. This changing class structure is highly compatible with the rise of religious extremism and the economics of fundamentalism. The nature of such transformation of the socio-economic class structure in Bangladesh (an unexplored subject so far) indicates an overall deteriorating situation of the poor and middle class, and the concentration of assets and power in a few belonging to the rich and wealthy class. The following features reflecting the trends in socio-economic class structure, which explain the real reason(s) for the rise of religious extremism and the economics of fundamentalism, are in order (Barkat 2012):

1. Out of 150 million people in Bangladesh, 98.9 million (66 per cent) are poor, 47 million (31.3 per cent) represent the middle class, and the rest, 4.1 million (2.7 per cent) are rich. In 1984, the number of poor people was 60 million (60 per cent of the total population), that is, the number of poor people has increased by 39 million in the last 25 years. This rising number of poor and increasing inequality—an outcome of failure in national development—constitute a solid basis towards religiosity and religious extremism in Bangladesh.

2. The poor are disproportionately highly concentrated in the rural areas compared to the urban: 82 per cent poor live in the rural and 18 per cent in the urban areas. Among the rural households 60 per cent are landless, 65 per cent do not have access to electricity in the house-holds (one should realise that electricity is not just light it is also enlightenment),8 and 65 per cent do not have access to the public health system; and urbanisation in Bangladesh is basically “slumisation” or ruralisation of urban life without concomitant industrialisation and with growing informal sectors.9 This nature of poverty in both rural and urban areas forms a fertile ground for the growth of religious extremism and associated activities.

3. During the last 25 years (1984-2010), while the total population has increased by 50 per cent the population in the ‘poor’ category has increased by about 65 per cent. Therefore, it is most likely that the growth in poverty-led fundamentalism has been high in the last 25 years.

4. Among the current 47 million middle class population, 25.4 million (54 per cent of middle class) are in the lower middle class, 14.6 million (31 per cent) are in the mid-middle class, and the rest seven million (15 per cent) are in the upper middle class. This middle class—especially the unstable lower and mid-middle classes—is the intellectual driver of fundamentalism and the key to the ‘success’ of religion-based militant activities. In this connection, the following elements in the class dynamics displaying rising inequality are worth analysing:

a. About 78 per cent of the total incremental population during the last 25 years can be attributed to the incremental population in the ‘poor’ category, and 15 per cent mostly due to the downward shift of the past-lower-middle class.

b. Middle class people are relatively more concentrated in the urban areas (45 per cent of the urban population) compared to rural (27 per cent of the rural population). But, about 66 per cent of all middle class population lives in the rural areas (of whom about 59 per cent represent the lower middle class).

c. The population size in the middle class, during the last 25 years, has increased by 10.5 million (from 36.5 million in 1984 to 47 million in 2010). Sixty per cent of this increment in the middle class has been due to the increase in the size of the lower middle class implying that the lower middle class (in most cases) could not go up as well since there has been a downward shift from the mid-middle class to the lower middle class.

d. During the last 25 years, while the size of population in the middle class has increased by 29 per cent, the lower middle class has increased by 34 per cent at a time when a large number of lower middle class has gone down to join the poor.

e. The population size in the rich (upper class) category is 4.1 million (in 2010). That is, during the last 25 years, there has been an addition of 0.8 million population in the rich category—an increase of 24 per cent between 1984 and 2010 (with a low base of 3.3 million in 1984). More importantly, the relative share of the rich category in the total population has decreased from 3.3 per cent in 1984 to 2.7 per cent in 2010. And, based on studies on economic criminalisation and black economy, it can be argued that within the rich a minority group has been created who are super rich or, in other words, there may be 10 per cent among the rich who commands 90 per cent of the wealth of the total rich category.

Therefore the balance of dynamics of the socio-economic class structure in Bangladesh clearly depicts that, during the last twentyfive years, the overall poverty and inequality situation has worsened: the middle class has shown a downward tendency with extended reproduction of the poor from the lower middle class, and reproduction of the lower middle class from the mid-middle class; and wealth has been accumulated in the hands of a few rich (2.7 per cent of the total population, but perhaps 90 per cent of their wealth being in the hands of 10 per cent of them). This worsening mass poverty and widening of inequality coupled with a declining non-stable middle class and ‘naked’ super-richness of a few provide the solid ground in Bangladesh for the development of the most fertile soil for both production and extended reproduction of religious communalism, militarism and fundamentalism in all spheres of life.

The above analysis permits us to conclude that although historical development of over the last few centuries did not indicate communa-lisation of the economy, the anti-human develop-ment and anti-human welfare efforts of the recent past have strengthened the politico-economic basis of religious extremism and nourished all the conditions for strengthening the base for economic fundamentalism. And all the elements of the so-called development within economic and political criminalisation including globalisation have accelerated the process.

Economics of fundamentalism — Magnitude, Mechanisms, Strength, and Sources

IN post-liberation Bangladesh, political power favouring people’s welfare has not evolved. Autocracy or a parliament with the vested interest of black money has repeatedly returned to state power. The economy has been criminalised and that has enhanced effective demand for criminalisation of politics. The extent of criminalisation of our economy can be gauged from the following: during the last over 35 years (between 1975 and 2012), a total of about US $ 33 billion (Bd.Tk 2000 billion; 1 US $=Bd.Tk 60) of foreign loans and grants have come to Bangladesh officially. An estimated 75 per cent of these has been misappropriated by national-international vested interest groups10 (nationally, the number of such criminals would be about 200,000 families with one million people). These people now produce black money equivalent to approximately US $ 12 billion (Tk 700 billion) annually. Estimates show that the total amount of black money produced in the country during the last 37 years would be equivalent to about US $ 117 billion (Bd. Tk 7000 billion).11 These same agents of criminalised economy are involved in money laundering equivalent to about US $ 5-7 billion (Bd. Tk 300-400 billion) annually. These are the members of organised syndicates who are responsible for artificial price hike of essential commodities (food and non-food).12 They are the bank loan defaulters of about US $ 7 billion (Bd. Tk 400 billion). These are the people many of whom are involved in illegal trading of drugs and arms of high value. For any government procurement (under the Annual Development Programme), or in any big tender, they have to be paid at least 20 per cent commission as rent for doing business in “their territory of influence”. These people have unlawfully occupied khas (government owned) land and water-bodies—they are grabbers of around 10 million acres of khas land and water-bodies. Some of these people are the owners of commercial shrimp firms (gher) and have command over private armed brigades in the coastal belts. It is to be noted that, geographi-cally, these coastal belts are a good breeding ground for religious extremists.

This economic criminalisation has increased the effective demand for political criminalisation. And political criminalisation has many faces: the economic criminals, for their self-interest, grab political processes and influence decision- making institutions in such a way that it becomes impossible to conduct state affairs as per the constitutional norms. They finance concerned organisations and persons of main-stream power politics. They patronise grafts and corruption. They play a critical role in determining state budget allocations and enjoy the same. They grab everything—land, water, and even the judgment (verdict) of the court. They utilise the coverage of the religion, wherever needed, and of late, they do anything and everything in the name of religion. They ‘purchase’ seats in the parliament—they know that, depending on circumstances, by investing US $ 167 thousand to US $ 4.7 million (the permissible limit for expenses by a candidate in the national election is US $ 8333) they can “purchase” a seat in the parliament. And they go on practising the same—in the 1954 parlia-ment “business” people constituted four per cent and now they constitute 84 per cent in the parliament. Even the Election Commission does not know for certain what the “business” is. People have got no confidence in their heart in such criminals of politics and economics. Now as there is no ‘role model’ in politics before the people, such tendencies have created frus-trations and hopelessness among the masses. These factors have highly facilitated the creation of a ‘space’ for the spread of religious extremism and ultra-communal fundamentalism.13

Primarily because of economic and political criminalisation people have either already lost or are increasingly losing confidence in the so-called democratic politicians and, at the same time, the progressive tendencies have either not evolved or are not evolving. When people become steadily endangered, they lose confidence in state institutions, and when lack of confidence becomes the rule then the greater part of the people increasingly and gradually become dependent on fate. And this dependence on fate is increasing in an agrarian economy, where 60 per cent of the farmers are effectively landless, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that Islam here in East Bengal has evolved based on agriculture. The politics of Islamic fundamentalism is exploiting this vacuum. People have seen with their own eyes how the communal forces even in a country like India, where democracy has prevailed for long, initially captured two-to-three seats in the parliament, and finally became successful in capturing state power in 10-15 years. In addition to other instances, these are some of the examples based on which the communal forces think that their dream of climbing to power in Bangladesh will come into reality. They also know that to make their political power self-reliant, they need stable economic power of their own (“Egyptian experience”). It is based on this necessity of the “economic power-based political process” that they practise different politico-economic organisational models in different places with the objective of capturing state power through the formation of a cadre-based militant party (they call it the “Jihadi Party”). And based on the ‘Khomeini experience’ in Iran, they argue for both the possibility and necessity of capturing state power. Therefore, in the whole process of transformation of the once humanistic Islam into political Islam, they have successfully assimilated the mythos of religion with the logos of reality, and under the overall umbrella of an Islamist Political Party (with its many branches including militant activists) pursue economic power-based political processes aimed at capturing state power. Ideologically, they argue that this process is a transformation from ‘Western modernity’ to ‘Islamic modernity’, and they are confident about the success of this process in a country like Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, fundamentalism is experi-menting the effectiveness of various politico-economic models with the help of cadre-based politics. This politico-economic organisational model of fundamentalism intends to create “an economy within the mainstream economy”, “a government within the government” and “a state within the state” aimed ultimately at capturing state power. The following twelve, as shown in diagram 1, constitute the key sectoral elements of the model: financial institutions, educational institutions, pharmaceutical-diag-nostic and health-related institutions, religious organisations, trade and commercial establish-ments, transport related organisations, real estate, news media and IT, local government, NGOs, Bangla Bhai or JMB, Jama’aetul Muzahideen Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami14 (Bangladesh, HUJI-B) (and such programme-based organi-sations), and occupational/ professional activity-based organisations including of farmers and industrial workers. Among these institutions not all are profit-earning (for example, local government and professional groups). In such cases, cross-subsidies are given, and they earn high profit even in so-called non-profit organisations; for example, the Bangla Bhai project, where land revenue and extortion have been instituted.

Diagram 1: The Politico-economic Organisational Model of Religious Fundamentalism

Link between Mainstream Islamist Party and Religious Extremists: Source of Funding

The most recent countrywide horrible serial bomb blasts by Jama’atul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, JMB (on August 17, 2005, around 500 bombs were blasted within 30 minutes time between 9:00-9:30 AM targeting the offices of the Deputy Commissioners and Collectorate and Court buildings) prompted some experts to delink the connection between the bombers-organisations (for example, officially banned JMB or JMJB) and the mainstream “Islamic” political party in Bangladesh. This disconnect is neither established, nor can it be established. On the contrary, connections and links are more probable. This is because of the following: not only the armed Jihadis but also the mainstream open “Islamic” party have declared their common vision to “Capture State Power”; the party chief openly declared that “Islamic rule will be established soon” and “Wait and see.... Get ready for directive”; the mainstream open “Islami” party has not yet denounced the bombing activities and bombing organisations by name; almost all the militant activists and leaders of JMB arrested were the members of Jamaat-e-Islami or their student front, and financial transactions related to organising the bomb attack have been made through their Bank accounts; and in almost all the cases, the mainstream Islamist party has lobbied for the release of arrested militants using their adminis-trative support and government machinery, and in most cases they achieved the lobby-target, but where they failed, they announced that the arrested militant had been expelled from the party earlier. Such news is frequently published in all the prominent daily newspapers in Bangladesh; the most recent being published in Prothom Alo, September 21, 2005, titled “Five JMB leaders arrested in Chittagong were involved with Jamaat politics; Tk 160,000 was transacted through the Islami Bank”; the Daily Star, August 31, 2005 “34 Islamic NGOs get over Tk 200 cr. (US $ 33 million) from donors a year”; the Daily Star, September 22, 2005 “Jamaat link to militants becomes evident”; the Daily Ittefaq, September 26, 2005 “Over 1000 militants have been released, and 40 per cent of them belong to Jamaat-e-Islami”; the Daily Star, December 5, 2005 “Just days before the November 29 carnage on two court premises, the government gave consent to release a fund of about US $ 333,333 (Bd.Tk 20 million) to the Bangladeshi branch of a Kuwaiti NGO, Revival Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), which is at the top of the list of suspected donors to Islamic militants in the country”.

Even in some areas high profit is earned in Madrasas, meaning at the end of the year the income is higher than the expenditure. Another good example is the registration of “Chashi Kalayan Samity” (Farmers Welfare Association) —the official peasant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami—by the NGO Affairs Bureau; this is contradictory to the law of the land, which says that a “Political Party or their affiliates cannot be registered with the NGO Affairs Bureau which permits obtaining foreign fund for political activities”. Earning profit from non-profit organisations is a major strength of religious politics, which is possible because such politics perfectly exploit people’s psychology of “depen-dence on fate or destiny”. It can be concluded from one fact (among others) that most Jihadis (armed) caught by the police in the last few months (in Bangladesh) have categorically said to the press: “To do armed jihad—is my right, and to participate in armed jihad—is my respon-sibility as a Muslim. No one has the right to stop one from doing Jihad.”

The above-mentioned organisational models of economic fundamentalism differ significantly from the usual business norms and strategies. The key characteristics of conducting the economic model-strategies of fundamentalism are: 1) each model is run by ideologically motivated experts aiming to attain their supreme political goal: “capture state power”; 2) in each model, multi-faceted management procedures are applied, where policy matters are being controlled by the political leadership; 3) although there is coordination among various models, mutual identification of the high level coordinators is kept sufficiently secret (may be regarded as a sort of a strategy of guerilla warfare); 4) each model is well-coordinated and well-disciplined (pursuing the policy of military discipline) following the profit spirit of private sector organisations; 5) whenever a model is found successful in realising its politico-economic objectives, it is quickly replicated at different strategic places.

Therefore, it can be argued that, in pursuing their economic models, the religious funda-mentalists are politically fully conscious about their key aim of capturing state power, and they constantly try to use scientific means and methods for realisation of the goal in their own way. This also implies that although the theologies and ideologies of fundamentalism are rooted in fear and get impetus due to increasing inequality, these movements are not just an archaic throwback into the past—they are innovative and modernising.15

In terms of the source of funding, some experts argue that the Islamist religious extremists procure the whole (or most of the) money from abroad for conducting their activities. This may be untrue to a great extent although they have joint collaboration in trade and commerce with foreign co-ideology investors. It is most likely that the major portion of the donations come from foreign sources to and through the NGOs controlled by them. The above-mentioned hypothesis may not be correct in a large measure because religious fundamentalists have already been successful in building a strong economic base of their own. This has happened or is happening as follows: they were directly involved in looting the properties of the common people in 1971; the ultra-communal forces, divided into many parties and activist groups, have got substantial financial support from abroad (to conduct their activities) since the mid-1970s; they invested such resources to build relevant socio-politico-economic models (shown in Diagram 1). In most of the cases, their invested money earns high profit. They utilise a part of the profit to promote organisational activities.16 A part of the profit is used for extension of the institution and a part spent for the creation of new institutions.

The estimated annual net profit of economic fundamentalism in Bangladesh would be about US $ 250 million (Bd. Taka 20 billion). The highest share of such profit, 27 per cent (of the total net profit), comes from financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, leasing companies, etc.).17

The second highest, 18.8 per cent of the total net profit, comes from NGOs, trusts and foundations,18 10.8 per cent comes from trading concerns, 10.4 per cent profit comes from the pharmaceutical industry and health institutions including diagnostic centres, 9.2 per cent comes from educational institutions, 8.5 per cent comes from real estate business, 7.8 per cent comes from the media and IT business, and 7.5 per cent comes from the transport sector. (See Table 3) Although the above net profit earning is largely based on heuristic estimates, the pattern is (at least) indicative of the direction. At the same time, this pattern of net profit earning by various sectors and sub-sectors of the fundamentalist economics is in congruence with the mainstream economic trends.

*About the methodology of estimation:

In estimating the profit of economic sectors-institutions a heuristic method has been followed. Although the process is based on assumptions, the basis of estimation is scientific to a large extent. In this regard, expert opinion of various sectors has been taken. In some cases, the estimates may be more or less than the actual figure (the real truth is not known to anyone; that is not published). Although in case of a few sectors-institutions, formal data about investment is available (which is again not close to the reality), in most of the cases such data are absent/unpublished. Although in some cases the published audit reports and/or annual reports are available, in most cases they are incomplete and highly inaccurate and, therefore, totally misleading.

If the economy of fundamentalism earns a net profit of US $ 250 million a year, in that case the degree of communalisation of the Bangladesh economy—indicating the strength-extent of economic fundamentalism—will be equivalent to:

1) 1.02 per cent of the annual national investment (at current prices), or

2) 1.31 per cent of the private sector investment in the country, or

3) 2.1 per cent of the government’s annual revenue collections, or

4) 1.54 per cent of the export earning of the country, or

5) 5.58 per cent of the government’s annual development budget, or

6) 8.62 per cent of the annual development budget of the government.

At the same time, in terms of understanding the future possibility of expansion of the economy of fundamentalism, it is important to point out that the annual rate of growth of the economy of fundamentalism is higher (annual growth rate of 7.5 per cent to nine per cent) than the annual growth rate of the mainstream economy (annual growth of five per cent to six per cent), and, therefore, as such there is no doubt that, other things remaining the same, the communalisation of the Bangladesh economy will further mount.

In the analysis of the economics of fundamentalism, a few more points can be added with a high degree of certainty: 1) they have invested both for short-term and long-term benefits in the sectors in which it is possible to earn the highest possible profit; this means that whatever interest they apparently display about the life hereafter, they are more conscious than anyone else about the material life in this world, 2) they are more interested in strategic investment, 3) they have chosen such sectors for investment which allow them to reach more people with higher speed, 4) their sector-wise investment framework is quite balanced, 5) it is possible for them to appoint 500,000 full-time cadres in organisational work by spending only 10 per cent of the net profit (they do so and provide cross-subsidy to other sectors from the net profit), and 6) they (mis)use their political and economic power (using Jihad as the pretext) for placing their ultra-communal cadres in a planned way in key strategic positions of the government, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, and in private sector institutions.

Table 4: Chronology of Major Terrorist Acts of Religious Extremists in Bangladesh: 1999-2005

Date of occurrence Target act: nature and place Visible loss

March 6, 1999 Bomb explosion at cultural program of Udichi, Jessore 10 killed, 105 injured

October 8, 1999 Bomb explosion on Ahmedia Mosque, Khulna 8 killed, 32 injured

January 20, 2001 Time bomb explosion in CPB meeting, Dhaka 7 killed, 52 injured

April 14, 2001 Bomb explosion on Poila Baisakh (Bengali new year)

celebration, Dhaka 11 killed, 120 injured

June 3, 2001 Time bomb explosion in Church, Gopalgonj 10 killed, 25 injured

June 16, 2001 Bomb explosion on Awami League Office, Narayangonj 22 killed, 50 injured

November 16, 2001 Killing of Hindu educationist, Principal Gopal Krishna

Muhuri Killed

April 21, 2002 Killing of Buddhist monk, Gainjoti Mohathero Killed

December 7, 2002 Bombing in 4 cinema halls, Mymensingh 27 killed, 298 injured

January 17, 2003 Bombing in Sufi Shrine, Sakhipur, Tangil 7 killed, 26 injured

January 12, 2004 Bombing in Shahjalal Sufi Shrine, Sylhet 5 killed, 52 injured

February 27, 2004 Deadly attack on secular writer, Professor Humayun

Azad (of Dhaka University) Died after injury

April 2, 2004 Deadly cargo, Chittagong: 2000 automatic/semi

automatic weapons, 40 rocket-propelled grenades

(RPG), 25,000 hand grenades, 1.8 million rounds of

small arms ammunition. -

May 21, 2004 Bombing in Shahjalal Sufi Shrine, Sylhet 3 killed, 65 injured

including British High

Commissioner

August 21, 2004 Grenade attack on leader of the opposition (Sheikh

Hasina) in a public meeting: Biggest awakening. 24 killed, 503 injured

January 27, 2005 Grenade attack in a public meeting of the opposition 5 killed including

former Finance Minister S.A.M.S. Kibria (a member of Parliament, and former UN Under-Secretary-General)

February 17, 2005 Bombing on NGO offices (BRAC), Raipur, Naogaon -

August 17, 2005 Great awakening: 500 serial bombing across country (A highly coordinated in 30 minutes terrorist activity)

2003-2005 Murder by Bangla Bhai group (JMJB), North Bengal 35 killed, 123 injured

October 3, 2005 Bombing in 3 Court buildings (Chandpur, Laxmipur,
Chittagong) 2 killed, 39 injured.

November 14, 2005 Bombing in Government residence, Jhalokhathi 2 killed, 4 injured

November 29, 2005 Bombing in Lawyers Association Building, Gazipur 10 killed, 220 injured

November 29, 2005 Bombing in a Police Box, Chittagong 3 killed, 25 injured

December 1, 2005 Bombing on Deputy Commissioner’s Office, Gazipur 1killed, 50 injured

December 8, 2005 Bomb explosing on Udichi Cultural Office, Netrokona 8 killed, 100 injured

Source:

Compiled by the author based on media reporting. For details, see the following national daily newspapers: Sangbad, March 7 and 8, 1999; Ittefaq, October 9, 1999; Sangbad, January 21, 2001 and Janakantha, January 22, 2001; Prothom Alo, April 15 and Jugantar, April 16 2001; Ittefaq, June 4 and Sangbad, June 5, 2001; Ajker Kagoj and Bhorer Kagoj, June 17, 2001; Janakantha, November 17, 2001; Janakantha, April 22, 2002; Daily Star and Bangladesh Observer, December 8, 2002; Daily Star, January 18, 2003; Daily Star, January 13, 2004; Ittefaq, February 28, 2004; Prothom Alo and Jugantar, May 22, 2004; Ittefaq, Prothom Alo, Jugantar, Janakantha, August 22, 2004; Ajker Kagoj,Ittefaq,Janakhantha, January 28, 2005; Sangbad,Bhorer Kagoj, February 18, 2005; Daily Star,Bangladesh Observer,Independent and all major Bangla dailies, August 18-19, 2005; Janakantha, October 4-5, 2005; Sangbad, November 15, 2005; Daily Star, Prothom Alo,Bhorer Kagoj, November 30, 2005; Janakantha,Prothom Alo,Jugantar, December 2, 2005; Sangbad,Janakantha, Jugantar, December 9-10 2005.

The best ‘proxy measure’ to show the strength of the economics of fundamentalism would be through the analysis of the pattern and intensity of the political actions of religious extremism. An analysis of such actions of the religious extremists in Bangladesh during the last ten years shows the rising tendency of relevant terrorist activities with some qualitative changes. Such changes include, among others, from covert to overt actions, from use of single-edged to double-edged weapons, etc. An analysis of terrorist acts of the religious extremists permits one to conclude, at least, the following: 1) Since they want to capture the state and change the Bengali culture, the prime targets of their attack include institutions and persons representing key government administration (for example, the District Commissioner), secular culture (theatres, cinema halls, folk gatherings, social gatherings, community centres, libraries, shrines of Sufis), and judiciary (courts), 2) the intensity of action is relatively less when a secular democratic government is in power, 3) the intensity increases with the fundamentalists’ presence in power, and 4) the intensity will increase more in the near future if they are not stopped, and that might increase even if they are not in a power-sharing situation because they follow the strategy: “consolidate strength while the government buys time”.

It would be appropriate to mention a few more points associated with the expansion and prospect of economics and related politics of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. The fact is that we were self-complacent—to a large extent—with our independence following the 1971 Liberation War. The reason for this is self-explanatory. As a nation, we saw for the first time that the whole nation-building effort was to follow the principles of democracy, nationalism, socialism and secularism. If the religious feelings of the mainstream people are liberal and humanistic and if those have been ingrained in our mental frame for generations, in that case there will be all the good reasons that those four principles are consistent with our dormant ambitions and aspirations, which can be termed as the “DNA factor”.

The reason for our self-complacence could probably be: we were the first in the Third World and particularly first in the Muslim majority countries to include secularism in the Constitution (of 1972, of course discarded later on with inclusion of “Islam will be the state religion”). We were satisfied with the reflection of our dormant aspirations in our Constitution. But the religious ultra-communal forces—the ‘war criminals’ and collaborators of the Pak Army whom we pardoned (and thus became the bearer of mainstream Islam)—clearly understood that the way the state was being run it would make no fundamental change in the life of the people. They could foresee that our people would be de-motivated about the present leadership within a few years. And if they make good use of the opportunity, their (the forces defeated in the Liberation War) victory would be certain.

In contemporary period, the pace of progress was relatively slow, but the religious forces were marching forward with relatively high speed and exploited all the opportunities and made preparations in secret. The result of such preparations was: capturing the village by using the deep tubewell-centric society, peasant society, Mosque and Madrasa—whatever be the medium, establishing undisputed strongholds in religious institutions, capturing the state institutions, capturing the economic activity-based institu-tions, and in the name of private institutions taking positions among the low income group people of the villages and towns—and thus they were able to strengthen their presence.

To execute this strategy, the economic institu-tions of fundamentalists played a targeted role. Likewise by adopting this strategy those institu-tions were also strengthened. And these generated synergistic effects. In this respect, religious fundamentalists were not idealistic in the least in giving political leadership; in fact, they were realistic in manifold ways.

Following this process for half-a-century, they have now reached a position where they can get on an average the votes of 15,000 people in each of the seats in the parliament (an average of 75,000 votes is needed to win a seat). At the same time, they have now acquired the capacity to spend millions of black money and use muscle power in the national parliamentary elections. On the other hand, as displayed on August 17, 2005, they are well capable of organising nation-wide serial bomb blasts, and that with 100 per cent military accuracy. By no means is this a weak opponent. On the contrary, this is a strong force representing a triangle-of-power (as shown in Figure 1).

Therefore, the situation has reached a stage, which can be portrayed as follows: “The religious communal forces know for certain what they want. As against these we do not know what we want. They are well organised to achieve their goal, we are unorganised. They don’t have any hesitation about their aim and object, as against this, we have confusions. They believe deeply in whatever they do. But it seems, we have lost confidence in ourselves. They are perfectly able to use the frustrations of the ever-growing unemployment among the youth to lead them to parochial interest. On the other hand, we are avoiding movement and struggle against poverty and frustrations due to unemployment among the youth. Our lack of clarity of thoughts, inactions, and disunity became blessings for the defeated forces.” (Barkat 2004b)

Economics and Politics of Islamist Extremism: Limits to Growth, and the Way Out

HISTORICALLY speaking, the role of war in some places, peaceful way in some other areas, and the mixture of the two in other places in the propagation of various reli-gions including Islam is well known. It is notable that wherever the sword-war was used for the propagation of a religion, the outcomes were either the establish-ment of monarchy or a repressive state. But wherever a religion was propagated in a relatively peaceful way—for example, in our country where the Ulemaas, Sufis and Devotees propagated Islam—in such places religion based on ultra-communal politics could not strike strong roots. On the contrary, wherever the religious leaders tried to conduct statecraft with the help of religion, they faced opposition. This is most likely due to the fact that as a result of peaceful propagation of religion and following religious rites, people became religious-minded (pious) over generations but they never turned into dogmatic religionists. This means that the perception of religion, that is, religiosity, is the vehicle for communal harmony to a large extent as against communalism. This deep sense of harmony based on the humanitarian essence of religion is evident in the origin of Islam in East Bengal. And the evolution of such a process has deeply ingrained that harmony in the minds of Bengali-Muslims (which I term as the “positive DNA factor”). And that is why whatever strength economic fundamentalism may have acquired in Bangladesh, it would not be possible for the fundamentalists to capture state power by using that economic strength.

In this regard three examples may be relevant: 1) in this country, due to the Enemy Property Act or Vested Property Act, a total of about 2.6 million acres of landed property of six million Hindus have been grabbed by only 0.4 per cent Muslims (if the snatchers are all Muslims at all); this means that 99.6 per cent Muslims are not involved in grabbing the landed property of people belonging to other religions (some people try to show it as a Hindu versus Muslim affair); 2) whatever help the state might have given to the communal fundamentalists of Baghmara-Bangla Bhai (JMJB), people of the locality unitedly faced them; this is the outcome of the dormant feelings of non-communalism among the majority Muslims of Bangladesh; 3) in 1985 when the roof of a huge dormitory of Dhaka University’s Jagannath Hall collapsed, people irrespective of their religious identity came forward to donate their blood to save the wounded students all of whom were Hindus by religion; that probably indicates the unlimited power of secular feelings among the majority Muslims in Bangladesh.

The greatest danger from the rise of the politics and economics of fundamentalism in Bangladesh lies in the institutionalisation of fundamentalism implying organised penetration of the Islamist fundamentalist forces (with the ideology of assimilating the mythos of religion with the logos of reality) in all key spheres of life and state operation, namely, in economic sectors, in political institutions, in key positions in the administration and judiciary, in govern-ment, autonomous, semi-autonomous bodies and private sectors, in educational institutions with predominance of the Madrasa system, in health, in NGOs, in women’s organisations and in many professional bodies. Because of their command over five-to-seven per cent votes (more importantly, their rate of casting votes is almost 100 per cent), within an equi-strength bi-partisan political system (the two major political parties in Bangladesh are the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party) the major mainstream Islamist party is strategically well-positioned in forming the government after the national parliamentary election. And they use this strength to their advantage in the further institutionalisation of Islamist fundamentalism. The degree of this institutionalised strength of religion-based fundamentalism is evident, among others, in their following recent statements:

“1971 and 2006 are not the same”; 

“We are not a drop of water on betel leaf that a nimble touch would just make us fall”; 

“You will misjudge our strength if you try to understand us by the number of our seats in the parliament”; 

“Wait and see, Islamic shariah rule will be established soon”; 

“Suicide is a great sin in Islam, but it is permissible in ‘Jihad’”;

“Man-made Constitution should be replaced by the Shariah Laws”;

“Be ready to face a civil war”. 

In addition to the points stated in the fore-going, the relative strength of institutionalised fundamentalism is also evident in the formation and operation of the Islamic Shariah Council against the usual norm of the Central Bank (the Bangladesh Bank). This Islamic Shariah Council— the central policy-making body of all Islamic financial institutions—is a body fully controlled by the mainstream Islamist party and headed by the Pesh Imam (the head) of the National Mosque, who is a government servant, who preaches in favour of implementation of Shariah rule through the mosque-based administration and judiciary. This Islamic Shariah Council is an illegal entity, according to the Company Act and Banking Act operating in Bangladesh. The Central Bank’s attempts to ban this Islamic Shariah Council and even the move to institute a “guideline for Islamic banking” in Bangladesh could not be materialised in the past. And finally, an attempt to pass a law in the parliament “against religious extremism” ended up in gross failure.

The danger of fundamentalism lies—in addition to its institutionalisation—in the ‘logos’ part of its political ideology reflected in the fundamentalists’ pragmatic (‘beyond-dogma’) actions. This is evident, among others, in the following ‘realistic’ strategic political statement of the mainstream Islamist party:

“Women leadership (as head of the state and/or government) is not recognised in Islam; however, women leadership is acceptable if we are in alliance with the party-in-power”;

“Profiteering (bank interest) is a sin in Islam; however, it is allowed if our financial institutions practise profiteering with a different name”;

“The United States of America is an enemy of Islam, but US intervention in Iraq is not a problem if we are in power (in Bangladesh)”;

“India is an enemy State, but there is no problem in signing an unjust contract/agreement if we are in power (in Bangladesh)”.

The secular and humanistic origin of Islam in East Bengal provides adequate rationale to be complacent about the future secular develop-ment of Bangladesh. However, in reality, there is no logical room for complacency. This is because, on one hand, the politics of Islamist extremism is based solely on dogma and devoid of any reasoning and, on the other, the economic power-based political process has already been institutionalised to a large extent. Both the economy of fundamentalism and politics of religious-militant extremism have gone too far; and the damage can be irreversible if it is not addressed timely and intelligently. For many countries in the world, including for us in Bangladesh, this is ultimately an issue of building a progressive society for our future generations. Thus, the fight is more political than just intellectual. The way the basis of the economics of Islamist extremism has extended and is expanding, the fight has to be total, all-encompassing, multi-dimensional and multi-faceted. This fight is against the regressive mind-set by the progressive forces, and for the Sufis, Devotees and enlightened learned religious persons, this is a fight against anti-humanist communalism for re-establishing the humanistic trend of Islam in East Bengal.

Therefore, in this fight, on the one side, to face the ultra-communal parochial trends of Islam, the humanistic proponents of Islam—repre-sented by the Sufis and Ulemaas as they are historically the proponent of mainstream Islam —should unite together, and, on the other, secular non-communal feelings and free thinking, which form the basis of liberty and freedom, should pave the way for expanding the humanistic state system. This can be the only way to weaken the undesirable economic basis of fundamentalism and associated religious extremism. The economics of fundamentalism and related ultra-communal politics—both are backward. Hence, to remove such religion-mediated backwardness and to ensure progress, there is no alternative but to devote all our efforts towards uniting the people on the basis of the true process of enlightenment.

Conclusions

THE expanded religious fanaticism, armed communalism and associated fundamen-talisation of the economy is not a simple social problem per se (among many other problems), it is rather indicative of a deep-rooted crisis of embattled faith based on increasing inequality and fear. This crisis, emanating from the politics of communalism and economics of fundamentalism, can be overcome only through an enlightened political movement, guided by a courageous patriotic leadership and backed by substantive public actions. I see the seeds of success both in the essence of the evolution of Islam in East Bengal which is secular, humanistic, and democratic, and in the history of the Bangladesh people’s already displayed strength in fighting the odds against liberty and freedom.

One should not forget and discount the fact that the Bangladesh people fought successfully for their right to language (1952), right to say no to neo-colonial governance (1954), right to upsurge (1969), right to liberate and enjoy independence (1971), and right to throw out military autocracy (1990), and are fighting for the punishment of the 1971 War criminals and against religious fundamentalism (Shahbag 2013). The ground for hope is historically fertile in Bangladesh. What is only needed is to timely and properly cultivate the soil with the spirit of democracy, secularism, nationalism, and socialism—the foundation of the 1971 Liberation War and the basis of the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh. In the long run, fighting religious extremism by keeping the mass of people unem-powered and poor is an improbable proposition. It is high time to devise the most appropriate strategy to simultaneously negotiate and combat rising religiosity as well as mounting inequality —a difficult practical issue to resolve because one breeds the other.

REFERENCES

Armstrong, Karen (2001), The Battle for GOD: A History of Fundamentalism, The Random House Publishing Group, New York.

Barkat, Abul, S. Zaman, A. Rahman, A. Poddar, M. Ullah, K.A. Hussain, and S.K.S. Gupta (2000), An Inquiry into the Causes and Consequences of Deprivation of Hindu Minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act: Framework for a Realistic Solution, Dhaka: PRIP Trust.

Barkat, Abul (2001), “How Much Foreign Aid Does Bangladesh Really Need: Political Economy of Last Three Decades”,keynote speech at a National Seminar organised by the Bangladesh Economic Association, Dhaka: February 20, 2001.

Barkat, Abul and S. Akhter (2001), “Mushrooming Population: The Threat of Slumisation Instead of Urbanisation in Bangladesh”, The Harvard Asia Pacific Review, Winter Issue 2001, Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA.

Barkat, Abul (2003), “Politico-economic scenario of Bangladesh: where to go, where are we going”, keynote presentation at a National Seminar organised by the Bangladesh Economic Association, Dhaka: January 3, 2003.

Barkat, Abul (2004a), Poverty and Access to Land in South Asia: Case of Bangladesh, The Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Kent, UK

Barkat, Abul (2004b), “The country is proceeding towards deep stark darkness following the path of deep conspiracy”, Daily Jana Kantha, August 20, 2004.

Barkat, Abul (2005a), “Bangladesh Rural Electrification Programme: A Success Story of Poverty Reduction through Electricity” in Ragani R. (ed.), International Seminar on Nuclear War and Planetary Emergencies 32nd Session; World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd.

Barkat, Abul (2005b), “Economics of Fundamentalism in Bangladesh: Roots, Strengths, and Limits to Growth”, presented at the South Asia Conference on Social and Religious Fragmentation and Economic Development, Cornell University: October 15-17, 2005.

Barkat, Abul (2005c), “Dharma Jar Jar Rastro Sobar: Mohabiporjoy Rodhe Sekular Oiker Kono Bikolpo Nei”, Keynote presentation, Secular Unity Bangladesh.

Barkat, Abul (2005d), “Criminalisation of Politics in Bangladesh”, SASNET Lecture, Sweden, Lund University: March 15, 2005.

Barkat, Abul (2005e), “On Price Hike of Essential Commodities and Human Development Within the Context of Political Economy of Criminalisation”, keynote paper presented at National Seminar organised by the Bangladesh Consumers’ Society, Dhaka: August 2, 2005.

Barkat, Abul (2005f), “Right to Development and Human Development: The Case of Bangladesh”,publiclecture organised by SIDA and Foreningen for SUS, SIDA, Stockholm, Sweden: March 18, 2005.

Barkat, Abul (2006a), “Bangladeshe Moulobader Arthonity (Economics of Fundamentalism in Bangladesh)”, 3rd edition, Society, Economy and State Journal, Dhaka.

Barkat, Abul (2006b), “A Non-poor’s Thinking about Poverty: Political Economy of Poverty in Bangladesh”, Inaugural speech at a Regional Seminar on “Poverty Alleviation, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and Regional Cooperation”, jointly organised by the Bangladesh Economic Association and Rajshahi University, Rajshahi University Senate House: July 15, 2006.

Barkat, Abul, S. Zaman, M. S. Khan, A. Poddar, S. Hoque, and M. Taher Uddin (2008), Deprivation of Hindu Minority in Bangladesh: Living with Vested Property, Dhaka: Pathak Shamabesh.

Barkat, Abul (2013), “Political Economy of Fundamentalism in Bangladesh (Bangladeshe Moulabader Rajnoitik Arthoniti)”, Jahanara Imam Memorial Lecture 2012, Dhaka.

Chomsky, Noam (2003), Imperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World, Interviews with David Barsamian, Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books.

Eaton, Richard M. (1996), The Rise of Islam and Bengal Frontier—1204 to 1760, University of California Press.

Giddens, Anthony (2003), Runaway World: How Globali-sation is Reshaping Our Lives, Routledge N.Y.

Stigliz, Joseph E. (2002), Globalisation and Its Discontents, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press.

FOOTNOTES

1. Crisis of dollar economics has many dimensions. Dollarisation of the economy has led Latin America, South-East Asia, and many developing countries of South Asia to crisis situations. (Stigliz 2002) In this regard special mention may be made that the United States is the most powerful but highly indebted country of the world. Imports of the United States are a few times larger than its exports. To make up the gap, the US economy has to depend to a large extent on foreign lenders. The current account deficit of the United States is on average US $ 500 billion a year. In this process, indebtedness of the USA stands at        $ 2 trillion at present, which is equivalent to 20 per cent of their GDP. At present US economy has to repay on average $ 200 billion with a rate of interest of three per cent per annum. If the indebtedness continues at the present rate, the indebtedness of the USA in the year 2015 will stand at 67 per cent of its GDP. Without new taxes imposed on US citizens and/or without capturing other’s wealth, the budget deficit of the USA will go on increasing.

2. War, in most cases, is a profitable business. It is to note that, the USA spends more on military expenditure ($ 375 billion per year) than the rest of the world combined together. Economist Nordhause may make a rigorous exercise and say that the USA may suffer a loss of $ 200 billion to $ 3000 billion in the Iraq war. In fact, this loss is not a real loss. Milton Friedman has put up a long list and stated that the war will benefit the world and the world economy will boom. Lots of armaments are being sold. The business for recons-truction of post-war Iraq has received a momentum. Generally after a major war, business on arms and ammunition goes on in a robust way in the Third World. This is also taking place and if nowhere else this is taking place in countries with kingship in “good autocratic country”. It may be kept in mind, that most of the imperialist countries are energy dependent and the energy security of those countries constitutes a key determinant of long-run development. The best routes of oil geography are the oil of Central Asia, oil route of Afghanistan, oil of Iraq etc. “War for Oil” is central to the US strategy in Iraq. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, and Iraqi oil is very easily accessible and cheap. “If you control Iraq, you are in a very strong position to determine the price and production levels (not too high, not too low) to undermine OPEC, and to throw your weight around throughout the world. This has nothing in particular to do with access to the oil for import into the United States. It’s about control of the oil... In the Middle East, the United States wants control.” (Chomsky 2005 : 5-7)

3. The Rise of Islam and Bengal Frontier—1206 to 1760 by Richard Eton quoted from Saiyid Sultan’s epic poem “Nabi Bangsa”.

4. Because of enactment of this inhuman communal Act in 1965 and its continuation till today (as “Vested Property Act”) about six million people belonging to the Hindu community have lost 2.6 million acres of land property. (For details, see Barkat, A. et al., 2008)

5. “Hath me biri, mu me pan—Larke lenge Pakistan”—the causes behind the popularity of this slogan can be traced to the interplay of two factors, namely, about 200 years of colonialism and exploitation of the feudal lords in East Bengal, most of whom were Hindus.

6. “Yeh Azadi Jhooti Hai, Lakho Insan Bhukha Hai”.

7. The economistic idea about poverty is mostly a narrowly defined one indicating income poverty or food poverty (measured in terms of direct calorie intake or cost of basic needs). Poverty, which creates space for fundamentalism, should be viewed in a broader sense as a complex interrelated domain of the following: income poverty, poverty due to hunger, poverty due to low wage, poverty due to unemploy-ment, poverty due to lack of shelter, poverty due to lack of access to public resources including rights to khas land, poverty due to lack of education, poverty due to ill-health, poverty mediated through environmental hazards, political poverty (due to lack of political freedom), poverty due to lack of trans-parency guarantee, poverty due to lack of protective security, poverty mediated through various forms of marginalisation (for example, among religious minorities, indigenous peoples, poor women, slum dwellers, char people, rickshaw-van pullers etc.), and poverty of mind-set. (For details, see Barkat 2006b)

8. For details about impact of electricity on rural poverty, see Abul Barkat (2005a), “Bangladesh Rural Electrification Programme: A Success Story of Poverty Reduction through Electricity”.

9. For details about “not urbanisation per se but slumisation”, see Abul Barkat and S. Akhter (2001), “Mushrooming Population: The Threat of Slumisation Instead of Urbanisation in Bangladesh”.

10. For details, see Abul Barkat (2001), “How Much Foreign Aid Does Bangladesh Really Need: Political Economy of Last Three Decades”.

11. For details, see Abul Barkat (2005e), “On Price Hike of Essential Commodities and Human Development Within the Context of Political Economy of Crimina-lisation”.

12. For details, see Abul Barkat (2006b), “A Non-poor’s Thinking about Poverty: Political Economy of Poverty in Bangladesh”.

13. See for details, Abul Barkat (2005d), “Criminalisation of Politics in Bangladesh” and (2005f), “Right to Development and Human Development: The Case of Bangladesh”.

14. These programme-based Islamic fundamentalist organisations are primarily the militant fronts of the mainstream Islamist Party. There are 125 such Islamist militant-extremist groups in Bangladesh, the most prominent ones are as follows: Al-Harat Al-Islamia, Allar Dal Brigade, Al-Markajul Al-Islami, Al-Jihad Bangladesh, Ahle-Hadis, Al-Kurat, Al-Islami Martyars Brigade, Al-Khidmat, Amirate-Din.Al-Sayeed Mujaheed Bahini, Al-Tanjeeb, Arakan Mujaheed Party (and other groups carrying ‘Arakan’ names), Harkat-ul Jihad, Harkat-ul-Islam Al-Jihad, Hijbut Tawheed,Hijbut Tahrir, Islami Bipplobi Parishad, Iktadul-Talah Al-Muslemin, Jama’aetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jaggrata Muslim Janata (JMJ), Joyshe Mohammad, Joyishe Mostafa, Jangi Hakikat, Jamaeet-ul Falayia, Jamaat-e-Yahiya Jummatul Al-Sadaat, Sahadat-e-Al-Hikma, Shahadat-e-Nobuyot, Hizabullah Islami Samaj, Hizbul Mahadi, Ibtedatul Al-Muslemia, Jamiayeete Islami Solidarity Front, Rohingya Independence Force (and other groups carrying ‘Rohingya’ name), Tahfize Harmayin, Khedmate Islam, Islahul Muslemin, Islami Liberation Tiger, Ta-Amir Ud-Din, Tauheedi Janata (see Barkat 2013). All of these militant groups receive funding and other support from both external sources and domestic economy of fundamentalism. 

15. Fundamentalism is a child of globalisation, which it both responds to and utilises. Fundamentalist groups everywhere have made extensive use of new commu-nications technologies. Before he came to power in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini circulated videos and cassettes of his teachings. Hindutva militants have made extensive use of the Internet and electronic mail to create a ‘feeling of Hindu identity.’ (Giddens 2003: 50-51)

16. This includes expenditure on account of salary to the political workers, expenditure in connection with conduct of day-to-day political activity, and running arms training centres (the Foreign Ministry of India has accused that there are 148 arms training centres for the fundamentalists in Bangladesh). This accusation has not been denied formally. Similar accusations have been made by the United States and European Union. The government’s position on the existence of such arms training centres in Bangladesh was unclear until August 17, 2005 (that is, until the day of countrywide serial bomb blasts). The government until that period used to say that “JMB and JMJB do not exist, these are creations of the media and political Opposition”. However, after the August 17, 2005 incident the government was forced to change its position: from non-recognition to tacit recognition of the existence of militant activities. The print and electronic media have been openly disseminating information about such arms, explosives, relevant leaflets and booklets, training centres with photos of trainers etc.

17. The link between the Islamic Bank (the local bank with highest amount of market capitalisation among all local banks) and the religious militant groups has been clearly evident in the fact that because of this link this Bank got the highest punishment under the Money Laundering Act by the State Bank (Bangladesh Bank) in 2006.

18. In Bangladesh there are about 231 NGOs under the control of Islamist fundamentalists. The ten most prominent Islamic NGOs having links with extremist activities include Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, Society of Social Reforms, Qatar Charitable Society, Al-Muntada Al-Islami, Islamic Relief Agency, Al-Forkan Foundation, International Relief Organisation, Kuwait Joint Relief Committee, Muslim Aid Bangladesh. Their external financial support mostly comes from the Middle East. Many receive financial support even from the developed countries. It has been found that in many cases they receive money direct, the accounts of which are absent in government documents. The primary object of the NGOs under the control of fundamentalists is to reach the grassroots people using the platform of the institutions and subsequently establish and consolidate linkages between their political agenda and economic interest. When the mainstream NGOs are making efforts to empower women, the fundamentalist NGOs are not lagging behind. But they say, “Women’s empowerment has to be achieved under the veil.” In addition to the NGOs, the economics of fundamentalism is overactive in instituting trusts and foundations which are fully tax rebated.

Professor Abul Barkat, Ph.D, is a Professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, and President, Bangladesh Economic Association. He can be contacted at email: hdrc.bd@gmail.com; info@hdrc-bd.com

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