Rethinking the Ahmediya issue
The prime ministers opinion, as expressed at a meeting of four-party alliance leaders on Wednesday, that it would not be wise to declare the Ahmediya community as non-Muslim is surely to be appreciated. It will, however, now be observed as to what extent or to what degree the prime minister and her government are able to keep the Islamic fanatic fringes, some of whom are part of her coalition, at bay. Perhaps the prime minister, more than anyone else, understands the difficult situation that has been created for the government as well as the country through the unwise move of imposing a ban on all publications of the Ahmediya community in Bangladesh. Those who have been instrumental in clamping the ban on the publications have done not only great disservice to the country but have also raised, all over the country, very legitimate concerns about their level of understanding of theological matters and at the same time have brought into question the matter of religious moderation in this society.
One need hardly mention here that the anti-Ahmediya move has sent shock waves not only among the people of Bangladesh but has also badly tarnished the national image abroad. The impression is now nearly complete that the government, rather than reining in the fanatical elements clearly given to a violation of moral principles and the law, has succumbed to their pressure through the ban on Ahmediya periodicals. In effect, what has just happened in Bangladesh is that a particular community, with its own distinctive belief in religion, has been pushed into a situation where it does not expect any guarantees about its security or about its fundamental rights from the State. That is certainly a telling comment on prevailing socio-political conditions in the country at this point in time. It is an issue the authorities should have carefully thought over before clamping down on the Ahmediya publications. That they did not is a pity and we are all paying a price for it today, if the comments of a visiting US Congressman are anything to go by. The move against the community has been a manifest violation of the provisions of the constitution relating to fundamental rights and religious freedom in Bangladesh. When it is the government which throws such constitutional principles out the window, the signs begin to look ominous for the future.
There is then the moral aspect to the situation. When the State decrees a ban on literature, of any kind, when indeed it arrogates to itself the right to define the principles of faith for any community of people, a sure but perceptible decline begins to come into politics. It is these concerns which should now lead to a rethink among government circles. There are two steps the authorities should take. The first is to rescind the ban on Ahmediya publications; and the second is to go for tough action against anyone who has been creating disorder through the anti-Ahmediya movement.