Tolerance and Secular Values Vital for Peace and Development

London, March 28 (OurVoice): Speakers at an international virtual conference on Saturday recalled the reflection and observance of the core values of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for tolerance, mutual understanding, friendship and social harmony in every sphere of the society. They affirmed that only because of secular ideology of Bangabandhu, the newly independent country Bangladesh stood up as model of religious freedom, social harmony and friendly state for all faiths and it is still a model in the world after five decades.  

They were speaking at the international virtual conference organized by European Bangladesh Forum (EBF), a Europe-based Diaspora organization of Bangladeshi Europeans on ‘The Legacy of Bangabandhu’s Secular Political Ideals: Challenges of Radicalization in Bangladesh and the Region’. The virtual conference was organized in the backdrop of the Golden Jubilee of the independence of Bangladesh and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The virtual conference was addressed by Bangladesh Ambassador in Netherlands M Riaz Hamidullah, Professor Dr. John Eade of Birkbeck University of London, Niels van den Berge, Dutch Member of Parliament from Groen Links, Muhammad Zulqar Nain, Deputy High Commissioner of Bangladesh to UK, Mahjabeen Khaled, former Member of Parliament, Bangladesh and Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Co-President of European Bangladesh Forum EBF. Bikash Chowdhury Barua, co-President of EBF moderated the conference. It was live broadcast by the London-based British Bangla News Channel.

In his speech Bangladesh Ambassador M Riaz Hamidullah said, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman very carefully tried to keep away Bangladeshis and Bangladesh from being a country with 80 percent Muslim majority from any religion-based state. He didn’t allow any kind of Shia Sunni difference or sense to come up or that anyone to be looked at on the street or in the marketplace or in the farm field or in the factories that what is your identity.

Drawing the global scenario, the Bangladeshi senior diplomat Hamidullah said, the issue of identity is also very strong in many places across the world but ‘if you look at Bangladesh, you see the clear impact of Bangabandhu’s secular ideology. I mean, many of us at that time could not realize but if you fast forward today, four or five decades later. It is very clear today when the world, every place around, are trying to sort of struggling to deal with ethnic identity, linguistic identity or religious identity, Bangladesh that way has actually stood apart based on its four basic values namely nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism’. He said, Bangabandhu in his entire life emphasized on ‘valuing the values’. In 1973 Non-Aligned Summit Bangabandhu was approached by Saudi King Faisal and Libyan leader Gaddafi and said to him, ‘why don’t you declare Bangladesh as an Islamic Republic, since it is a majority Muslim country, rather saying it as People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu, the ambassador said, categorically and instantly on record said, ‘I can’t do that, it is untenable for me, for my people and what we stood for.’

Former Bangladeshi MP Mahjabeen Khaled said, by 1955, under Mujib’s leadership the ‘East Pakistan Awami Muslim League’ was renamed the ‘Awami League’, dropping the word ‘Muslim’ to open the doors of the party to all, regardless of their religion. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was General Secretary of a secular ‘Awami League’ in the East Wing of Pakistan, successfully embarking on his political road map to realize a secular homeland for the Bengalis. Focusing on the gradual struggle of Bangabandhu for the free and secular nation, Khaled affirmed that Sheikh Mujib was the best among those who had led the struggle for freedom; firstly, to develop a linguistic nationalism which translated into Bengali Nationalism, secondly, for establishing a nation state with the unity of the different religious communities and this puts Sheikh Mujib on the top, as he is credited for establishing a true secular state.

Professor Dr. John Eade, Birkbeck University of London, UK said, secularism is therefore meant tolerance of religious differences. And clearly this form of secularism is different from the Western form of secularism, which many people might say that secularism is post religion. Clearly both in India and also, I think, Bangabandhu’s vision was different from that secularism, which allows religious difference and religious tolerance. 

Dutch MP Niels van den Berge in his speech said, Sheikh Mujib was a big visionary and incomparable with other political leaders in the world. Still today his heritage and vision are inspiring people in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi Diaspora in Europe and other parts of the world. Presenting the analysis of the radicalization and extremism in the Dutch youngsters, Mr. Niels van den Berge opined that to stop radicalization and extremism in the society it is inevitable to maintain and continue dialogues among the groups with the inclusive and secular values, what was also the strategy and policy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

EBF Co-President and Moderator of the conference Bikash Chowdhury Barua in his opening remarks said, Bangabandhu was not only a secular leader in the true sense; he was a champion of secularism. Bangabandhu’s position was clear in his famous speech, on the Parade Ground in Kolkata, at a gathering on his return to Bangladesh from jail in Pakistan. Bangabandhu on that occasion proudly announced that “first I am a human being, then a Bengali, and after that a Muslim.”

However, the million-dollar question, where is that legacy of Bangabandhu today in his Sonar Bangla? With the assassination of Bangabandhu, the political scenario of Bangladesh changed upside down. The ideology and spirits that led Bengalis to the Liberation War were changed overnight. We saw the rise of radicalization among the youths, rise of violent extremism across the country and in the region in the name of religion, which has become a big challenge, he added. Mr. Ansar Ahmed Ullah, co-President of EBF summarised the discussion and said that his organisation would continue work to ensure a secular Bangladesh.

It may be mentioned that the virtual meeting was organized in collaboration with the London-based British Bangla News. It was live telecast from the British Bangla News and remained available on the YouTube and the British Bangla News Facebook Page. The program can be watched on YouTube.

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