A Tale of Two Secularisms

From the Boston Review, Nicholas Schmidle on the “Islamist challenge to secular Bangladesh”:

Islamist parties have multiplied over the past decade and public support for them has grown. Yet Bangladeshi society remains overwhelmingly secular, even militantly secular. And while the Islamists have grabbed headlines, the secularists are holding their own in an intense power struggle. Bangladesh has a long history of civil activism, and people are passionate and eager to voice their opinions in the streets. The secularists may not have the finances and weapons that the Islamist groups have access to. But the same leaders who fought against the imposition of Islamic politics in the Liberation War of 1971 are not about to hand the country over to men like Mufti Shahidul Islam. And he knows it.

Full Article.

Is this is another American alarmist tale of impending Islamist takeover of a third world Muslim country and a client state of the USA or a robust and sincere defence of secularism?

Perhaps Mr Schmidle should be looking at the state of secularism in his own country (USA) before lamenting the plight of secularists in Bangladesh. This is John Gray from Black Mass [2007] on secularism USA-style:

Like some other European countries Britain has an established Church; but organised religion has far less political influence than in the supposedly secular United States. The contrast is not only with the post-Christian countries of Europe but also with some Muslim countries. Judged by almost any standard the US is a less secular country than Turkey. In no other highly industrialized country is there widespread popular belief in Satan or a powerful movement contesting Darwinian theory. Nowhere else does a large segment of the population believe that the events of 9/11 were predicted in the Bible, as did a quarter of Americans polled in 2002. There is no other advanced country of which it could be observed that a theological dispute between pre-millenial and post-millenial Christians has ‘had profound implications for [American] politics’

There is another fundamentalism Schmidle discovers in Bangladesh:

Bhuiyan, a gentle-seeming middle-aged man with dark skin and a grey beard, represents a growing class of militant secularists. Many of them are former socialists or communists who have refashioned their ideology to oppose everything that the Islamists stand for. Bhuiyan told me, “I know you shouldn’t kill other humans, but these Islamic fundamentalists are like wild dogs. The Islamists have been destroying our values since 1971. They killed our golden sons in the last days before liberation.” I had met Bhuiyan about a year earlier in Karachi at the World Social Forum. On one of my first nights in Dhaka he brought me to the office of his organization, the Revolutionary Unity Front. The electricity was out and a single candle splashed light on a poster of Chairman Mao hanging on one wall and a framed photograph of Lenin on another.

I asked Bhuiyan how he viewed the contest of ideologies in modern Bangladesh. “There is only one -ism,” he replied. “That’s Marxism. When it joins with Bengalism—and it will—there will be a great revolution in Bangladesh.” His neck jerked and he ran his hands through his long, silver hair. “But first, if I had the money, I would train a brigade of people in India and return to kill all the Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh.”

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