Bangladesh is possibly the most stable country in South Asia, both politically and economically. It is also definitely has the most religious tolerant population in the region. Bengali Muslims in this part of Bengal have, through ages, accepted the culture and traditions of other religious and ethnic groups, who co-habited with them in this country. This was not very easy as other religious and ethnic groups did not accept the culture and traditions of the Bengali Muslims although the Muslims have been in this country for over a thousand years.
There was a brief interlude during the Pakistan era when non-Bengali refugees who migrated to this country played up the emotions of the Bengalis to create sectarian unrests. The overwhelming majority of the Bengalis did not support this, the non-Bengali-dominated Pakistan government could not do much either and remained largely silent bystanders. The main purpose of these sectarian unrests was to drive a wedge between the Muslims and Hindus of this country.
The Pakistanis were however not very successful as the Bangladeshis, through the War of Liberation, chose to remain united across the religious barriers and forge ahead to create the nation of Bangladesh. It definitely goes to the credit of the people that Bangladesh today is the most stable country in the region with complete religious and ethnic harmony. Apart from the Ershad era military rule there has been no major religious unrest in this country’s post Liberation period. The few incidents of political backlash following elections, though regrettable, were exceptions rather than the rules.
Recent developments in Myanmar, where the Rohingyas are facing ethnic cleansing, may put serious pressure on the will and determination of a majority of the people of Bangladesh to remain a liberal Muslim majority nation. The incident in Myanmar is totally counter to the stream of events taking place there. The military regime in that country had isolated the Rohingyas and made them stateless. With the winds of democracy blowing in that country, it was expected that the Rohingyas would be assimilated in the Myanmar society. Not only this is not happening, the exact opposite is taking place there, the majority Rakhine are resorting to wanton destruction of the Rohingya life and property; the Rohingyas being Muslims of Bengali descent.
These are testing times for countries with Muslim majority populations. Countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, etc., where there were popular perceptions that their governments, though secular, were in office to serve the interests of the West rather than their own people, faced popular political upheavals and were overthrown and replaced by Islamic oriented parties. Such changes may not be in the interest of these countries as parties based on theocracy tend to inhibit social and economic progress.
The Rohingya issue is seriously testing the will of the Bangladeshis.
While on the one hand it is a humanitarian issue, Bangladesh should not be the only country to suffer. Ethnic cleansing pursued by Myanmar is totally despicable and the entire world should come forward to force them to allow their own people to settle down honourable in their own country. This was done in Bosnia and more recently in Kosovo. Myanmar, like Serbia, will only listen to words of wisdom when they are strongly uttered, like the NATO bombings in the former Yugoslavia or the occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkey when the ethnic Turkish Cypriots were being massacred by Greek Cypriots. Bangladesh can not and should not try this option but should urge the world community, particularly ASEAN, to bear upon Myanmar not to murder its own citizens.
On the other hand, in our country where the Prime Minister has herself issued a warning that the ruling party is facing a serious slide in popularity, any inaction in the case of the Rohingyas will be deemed to be a weakness. This may blow wind in the sail of the Islamists in their campaign to show that the government puts the interests of other countries ahead of its own. Transit and Tipaimukh being the cases in point.
Bangladesh has come a long way since the days of being a basket case. We are one of the fastest growing countries in the region where, excepting the human rights concerns, we are the leaders in all social and economic indices. A prosperous Bangladesh may not be welcome to those countries whose dreams of economic progress have been dashed by the global economic slowdown. It is in the interest of these forces to keep the Rohingya issue alive. The Rohingya issue must be handled carefully as allowing it to continue will put our society as a modern liberal progressive Muslim majority country at risk.
BY : M.I. Ali.