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Fragments of Reality

When democracy becomes a failure by design

Published : Friday, 8 December, 2017 at 12:00 AM Count : 111

Religious hatred is not a new thing in Bangladesh, even though constitutionally the country has been established and remained as a secular state since independence. Recent examples of such hatred include Thakurpara, Ramu and Nasirnagar attack on the minority groups. One media report suggests that this happened because of the allegation of demeaning Islam through a Facebook post, which may be instigated by local influential because of some sort of political gain.
Another media report suggests that local police blamed the activists of Jamaat-Shibir for the Thakurpara attack and stated that the attackers had some sort of motive of creating unrest ahead of the next general elections. However, police's negligence was also blamed for the organised mayhem carried out leaving one dead, 39 injured and 30 homes were destroyed in Thakurpara.
The positive sign is that the police arrested people who had started this campaign of hatred. Also the ruling party representative stated that "the breakers of communal harmony would not be shown mercy in any way." Many organisations protested against the incident. Newspaper editorial captioned as "Influentials behind Thakurpara violence. They must be held accountable". These are all useful actions. But question is - how long this sort of religious hatred will continue?
Religious hatred is a transition related issue. Any transition is a process rather than event. This implies a process over time and not a sudden event. The difficulty lies, as Philosopher John Maynard Keynes put it, "not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones." Though Keynes's comment is from different context, but a mind in transition from one democratic belief to another would already be in a group in their thinking and their behaviour would already mirror many of their desired outcomes for a state.
There is a compound affect from despair of independence and despair from the trial of war criminals. Our binary thoughts inherited from 1947 which has gradually emerged as a royal path to religious hatred. In my opinion, in addition to national political element, there are other elements play a part. This includes but not necessarily limited to, land grabbing, monetary benefit, individual revenge and belief and exercise of local level power.
Seeds of religious hatred in a society can evaporate as violence. We observe the denial of multiculturalism and instead of anger we see amusement during violence against minority. Philosopher A C Grayling, in his book, "The Meaning of Things" argued that "�.hatred which is dislike and antipathy inflamed to a high degree and inspired by beliefs which stimulate a set of other emotions in the hater, chief among them fear, ignorance, jealousy, anger and disgust."  
In fact first three mentioned above are about hater. Grayling concluded that hating says more about haters than what they hate. So, crude emotion turns fears and anxieties outward to fix them on something else. German writer Herman Hesse remarked, "If you hate a person you hate something in him that is part of yourself." Does a hater know this?
Those who are victim of such act in a secular state, they do not understand it. A Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said, "If you know the enemy and know yourself you should not fear the results of a hundred battles." Religious minorities do not know their enemy, even though they know themselves. This leads to social fear and creates a new opposition, which the current government should not deserve and not good for them as well.
Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins observed that culture developed according to the same principle as the individual organism. Philosopher Roger Scruton supported this observation by saying that "just as the human organism is ' a survival machine' developed by self-replicating genes, so is a culture a machine developed by self-replicating 'memes'-mental entities that use the energies of human brains to multiply, in the way that viruses use the energies of cells. Scruton argued that "the human species has adapted to its environment; but we also know that it has adapted its environment to itself. It has passed adaptations to its offspring not only genetically but also culturally."
In my essay published in the Daily Observer (5 August 2015) titled "Empathy erosion is the outcome of the epigenetic process" I maintained that our empathy, which is 'our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion' has eroded and environmental factors play a part.
Acceptance of different religious believes is not a mindless act and hence it requires thought and process. If government machine thinks of a balancing act of increasing power of a group, which I believe not, then this might augment opposition.
The process of decentring and re-centring the affinity towards an ideology, which is in conformity with the constitution upon which the state is based require some social engineering. Christopher Hadnagy, in his book "Social Engineering" argued that governments are not looked at as social engineers, but governments utilize social engineering to control the messages they release as well as the people they govern.
But only government is unable to do this, civil society should play a part.  As a part of social engineering one strategy could be to cultivate religious education in a slightly different way. Instead of giving a binary choice, all students should study a subject titled "Religious studies" in their school curriculum, where they should learn all religions instead of one religion. This is happening in European education system now a day.
Our democracy sometimes appeared to be a failure by design. By this, I mean that it was designed to be based on a secular pillar, but religious hatred is always knocking this design. This leads to a deformation of one of our important constitutional pillars, whose shape and size are unknown to us at present. This should be resisted strongly with full force of law and civil society's power. Some of the elements of religious hatred can be tackled using a balanced education system.
About the future, we have two choices. We can be pessimistic, give up and keep ensure that the worst will happen or we can be optimistic and utilise the opportunity that exist in our society and help make Bangladesh a better place in terms of religious harmony. Here we have a binary choice. Failure to protect citizen from a violent act is the responsibility of a government, but failure to civilized people of all creed and caste is the responsibility of a civil society. So, all should play a part.
Spanish philosopher Ortega Y Gasset wrote, "Hatred is a sentiment that leads to the extinction of values". Bangladesh's secular value should not be eroded through the mechanism of religious hatred.

Dr Kanan Purkayastha is an Environmental Advisor, University Teacher and Writer based in UK. The views are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the organisation he works.

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