The Situation in Bangladesh Through a Swedish Bangladeshi’s Eyes

Considering the fact that more than 14 % of my all time views on this blog consists of views from Bangladesh (out of 70 countries), I’m sure that many of you are aware of what’s going on in Bangladesh right now. For those of you who don’t; it’s been a tumultuous time for the country as election time is here, and a couple of days ago a war criminal (from the liberation war) was hanged. This is something many people have been waiting for for a very long time (Bangladesh became independent in 1971). On February this year, a movement began in Dhaka called the Shahbag movement (Shahbag is a place in Dhaka, which is where they held their protests) demanding that the war criminal, named Abdul Quader Molla, be hanged.

Now many of you might be cringing, just like I did before I had any idea what all of this is about, when you read the word “hanged”. For us in the west, the concept is so alien – locking someone up for life should be enough, shouldn’t it? Well Bangladeshi politics is like an onion, layered with corruption, and as Abdul Quader Molla was the assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami (the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh) which is covering BNP’s (main opposition party) back, people are fearing that if BNP comes to power after the election, all those war criminals will be let loose. So in a country like Bangladesh, the only acceptable punishment according to a huge chunk of the population is execution.

This has set off the “religion versus culture” dilemma in Bangladesh where people have been divided into those who consider themselves Muslims first and Bangladeshis after or Bangladeshis first and Muslims after… which is just as ridiculous as it sounds. How could you possibly measure something like that? Growing up in Scandinavia yet with strong roots, religion and culture has always merged into one big ball of the-part-of-my-identity-I-got-from-my-mom for me. I’ve seen my mom pray regularly my entire life, I have pictures from when I was around three years old sitting down on the floor having iftar (breaking of fast) with the whole family, I’ve been to Bangladesh around twenty times, and speaking Swedish with my parents has never been an option for me. I’m well aware of which parts belong to religion and which parts belong to culture, but I haven’t had any reason to separate them. I know that some “Western Bangladeshis” (who are brought up in the West, that is) are against the culture part because they think it somehow goes against religion (I don’t know… ask them!), but I’m sorry I just can’t imagine having a crayfish party (typical Swedish summer tradition) for iftar! We have dangerously unhealthy Bengali fried food for iftar and rice for suhoor (meal before starting the fast) – and I wouldn’t want it to be any different!

Picture courtesy archive.thedailystar.net
Picture courtesy: archive.thedailystar.net

Anyway… returning to the current situation part… I don’t know where I stand. I only know that many innocent people are being killed and injured for life when buses are being set on fire and cocktail bombs are being thrown here and there. I know that an innocent kid got killed in the crossfire the other day, and I know that most of the people being subjected to these unnecessary crimes are the poor and unprotected in society. I know that both smaller and larger businesses are being affected by the countless hartals, and that it’s affecting the economy of the country. That’s what I know and that’s all that matters. These people are in dire need of our prayers right now.

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11 thoughts on “The Situation in Bangladesh Through a Swedish Bangladeshi’s Eyes

  1. Yes, it’s a very confusing time for anyone who feels they have a relationship to Bangladesh. I don’t pretend to fully understand it either but I do know that this Bengalee/Muslim dilemma as been around since before the inception of the country in 1971. I agree it’s crazy but its also deeply rooted.

    I think one of the main issues is also one of the strengths historically for the region. Bangladesh is, in many ways, Islam’s greatest success as it seems so many Hindus came willingly to believe in Islam through the work of the Sufi saints many centuries ago. But the country is also very far away from Arabia, the birth land of Islam and so the pull towards ‘everything Arabic’ became a strong one. The result – this tension between Arabic-background or Hindu-background Islam. There are some who see one as ‘pure’ and the other as ‘mud-blood’.

    This is simplistic, of course, but more would require thousands of words! But I can see how and why this tension runs deep and how it is unlikely to be brought to an end in the near future. Meanwhile, you’re right, many more will die in the crossfire.

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    1. Yeah I understand what you mean… as far as I know there’s nothing in Islam that is against other cultures (as long as you don’t participate in any sinful activities etc). But of course it’s impossible to explain this to certain people… most people in Bangladesh can’t imagine going one day without eating bhaat, and many of my relatives when they went to do hajj said that the food over there was inedible… food is also part of a culture. There’s a Bengali part in all those people who want to get rid of the culture; they just pretend they don’t have that part in them.

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      1. Yes you’re right and, of course, the Islamic faith really has nothing to do with it when it comes to declaring people ‘unworthy’. This has usually been about one Muslim turning on another because they don’t view them as ‘Islamic enough’ in a very similar way to how Catholics and Protestants used to do (and some still do) long ago. Really, it is about the fear of ‘other’ rather than about anything written in a Holy book.

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        1. Exactly… and this is something that’s never going to change. I just hope the Bangladeshi people find a way to adapt to this issue and settle at least somewhat… even if it’s never been completely peaceful there has been relatively stable times.

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              1. No different now believe me! In four years of AL rule almost everything has more than doubled in price. Some things have trebled or quadrupled! For my family it has meant money is tight – imagine what it means for all our village friends – most of whom can’t even afford milk or eggs on a regular basis! 😦

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              2. No different now believe me! In four years of AL rule almost everything has more than doubled in price. Some things have trebled or quadrupled! For my family it has meant money is tight – imagine what it means for all our village friends – most of whom can’t even afford milk or eggs or a regular basis! 😦

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