Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dr Humayun Azad, West & efficacy of the Carnival

I am not concerned here with poetry
My subject is Life, and the protest
against the enemies of life
The Poetry is in the protest
A TO Z, AZAD (For Humayun Azad)

These are lines penned by poet Kaiser Haq as protest against the grotesque rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Dr Humayun Azad, a noted linguist, non-conformist author and essayist and a professor at Dhaka University fell a victim to unknown terrorists on a Friday night in late February 2004 after leaving the Ekushey Boi Mela premises. He was butchered with knives and machetes but survived gory wounds quite amazingly. He left Bangladesh for Germany for a post-doctoral research. He was found dead in his hotel room while the doctors confirmed he died out of injury related complications. He left his beloved motherland reeking with bigotry and extremism. The then BNP-Jamaat alliance knew very well who his murderers were but went silent. It saved them from the blushes of arresting top-notch religious leaders and the imam of the national mosque, a virulent critic of Dr.Azad and free-thinking. Previously the bigots issued fatwa upon this maverick intellectual and other scholars, poets and authors million times but the state remained unconcerned regarding the rise of Islamism.

“Fatwa” is hardly a word West knew till Salman Rushdie fell a victim to it in the 1990s’. Now they were terrorized with the fact that a “black skin/white mask” bred in their own backyard could be challenged by clerics from far beyond. Though liberals were shouting that Rushdie must not be tried (or hanged as Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed) and the values of expression of freedom should be upheld, there was a new truth emerging. The colonial tsunami has not only left colonizers “divided” as per class, race and religion, it also created a multi-faceted hiatus. That is, the new nations were subdivided, fragmented and their values scattered into hundreds of ideologies.

Perhaps the whole of western civilization (as they claim) reached an epoch at the end of the 20th century where they thought the only enemy to be the former enemy in the Crusades. Their media continually argued Muslims to be locked in their own prejudices, religious belief and demonstrated a high degree of exclusiveness. To make matters worse Francis Fukuyama included Muslims as part of the battle called “clash of civilizations”. The mullahs thought they were vitally important. Extremism, bigotry, fundamentalism then reached a new height, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan. Fundamentalist groups were funded by the CIA and wealthy Arabs to destroy the Communist block. Gradually they became a treat in their own countries. They avoid anything that is progressive (terming them western) and they only raise voices against those determined to change the stagnant Muslim societies whether it be in Bangladesh or in the Middle East. The vicious propaganda and a plethora of criticism against Dr. Azad justify the point.

The filthy waters of religious extremism in Bangladesh have been flowing since the days of partition in 1947. It has raised leaps and bounds with the change of global politics. The world sadly became unipolar at the end of Cold War and America as an imperial power renewed interest in the “Other” as part of its ‘universal’ hegemony. The former colonizers, Britain and France saw men & women of their former colonies into dehumanized ghettos in their own cities. Authorities of these countries often hypocritically chant clich├ęs regarding those fated people’s inability to “jell” with the mainstream. Ironically, most of these immigrants happened to be Muslims from North Africa(a former French colony) and the sub-continent (in Britain) who got a belligerent interpretation of their religion from clerics and desperate “ethical” men trying to upstage a Fanon-like revolution to upset imperial standards. The result inevitably was a rejection of Western values and a war of terror against Western interests.

But the home brewed mullahs are different from them. They serve particular interests of the ruling class and as the state and religion being loyal bedfellows they thrive. Such is the experience in Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, many regard the architect of the nation exonerated the war criminals of 1971. This was obviously a mistake. It was also an act of weakness on the part of the leader. These people with a Middle Age mind-set rapidly gained control of various state institutions and they conducted madrasas, schools, and hospitals. Now-a-days they even own a bank (Islami Bank).

These mullahs (clerics) continually utter their coveted words of jihad and fatwa. They think they are united under the buzzword Ummah & wreck havoc wherever they see a wall against their interest. The recent Lal Mashjid incident is a perfect illustration of their destructive capability. Unfortunately, Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan for almost twenty-four years & “fatwa” and “jihad” were drilled profusely in the hearts and minds of pro-Islamists in Bangladesh. The post-independent chaos in the era of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the helm paved the way for a new demon in the form of military dictatorship. The mullahs were well-paid and fed by successive military regimes. Their ideas and interests did spread like cancer & when Bangladesh finally did breathe the air of democracy the people discovered a world antagonistic towards Islam.

Now with the emergence of literary theory we can look at these group of men (Islamists are narcissistically patriarchal) with a new vision. Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque affirms carnival as a potent force against bigotry & religious Puritanism. Dr Azad novel Pak Saar Zameen Shad Bad evaluates such aspects of the Bakhtinian theory. The protagonist finally revels in an act of aesthetic desire absent till he was bounded by his religious ethics. As more and more women in towns and villages of Bangladesh are becoming burkha-clad Azad’s fear of Bangladesh turning into “Pakistan” cannot be ruled out.

But Bakhtin comes to our rescue. Our celebration of Pahela Boishakh can be seen as an act of the carnivalesque. To Bakhtin carnivals gave rise to the disobedience of authority, with the mass parodying official ideas of society, destiny, history, fate as unalterable. It was festive pleasure, the world turned topsy-turvy, destruction and creation with extravagant juxtapositions. Carnivalisation thus “makes it possible to extend the narrow sense of life”. Pahela Boishakh is such an occasion. The students of Fine Arts Institute cloth the streets with arts, parodies and masques are made jeering the state, institutions and religion. The last few years of Pahela Boishakh was more gay and fabulous than ever before. It seems the more extremism and intolerance is on the rise, the more protests people come up with. And it is fully manifested each year in the day of Pahela Boishakh. Each and every Friday Muslims go to mass Jumma prayers to seek blessings for the nation and the Muslim Ummah. Their prayers are hardly answered but the festivity of Pahela Boishakh reminds us we can make the impossible happen. We fail at times but we remind ourselves after the darkness come the light. Thus with carnival & color we satiate Dr Azad’s soul with a message that there is a possibility of building a secular, hunger free, modern democratic Bangladesh despite snarls from hierarchal quarters.

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