The Bhola incident is a reminder that despite talking of reason and propagating the importance of rational action, when it comes to the issue of religion, many tend to give in to blind rage plus illogical action.
Religion, whether it’s Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or Buddhism, plays a vital role in the lives of South Asian countries. In Bangladesh, faith is sacred and a critical stance against any religion is discouraged with respect to all faiths taught from an early age.
But since faith is integral to people’s lives and intertwined with almost all aspects of existence, it’s also easy to disrupt social harmony by making denigrating comments about faith.
In most cases, the defamatory comments are concocted and designed specifically to stir up tensions, violence and estrangement.
Don’t get me wrong here, when religion dominates people’s lives, society becomes more principled, just and honest but when bigotry sets in, the core fabric of a community becomes tainted.
The Bhola incident shows once more that when it comes to the sanctity of faith, most of us are often driven by a very blinkered approach.
The Facebook post which made a disparaging comment about the Prophet (PBUH) was reportedlya condemnable act, not by the person who owns the account, but by a hacker who spread the denigrating observations simply to trigger an upheaval.
Regrettably, that is exactly what that malicious person (s) got in the end. Their evil design fulfilled.
This is not the first time Islam and its Prophet (PBUH) have come under attack; in the West, there have been several occasions where observations considered blasphemous led to devastating consequences.
However, within Bangladesh, many such incidents were later proved to be the abominable deeds of depraved minds, who planned to destabilize society plus provoke people into acting irrationally.
The Facebook post should have been verified first:
In an age when images, voices plus humans can be doctored to fit into any image, social media is the first target of groups that want to ignite friction and hatred. In Bhola, the man whose account was hacked reportedly had no clue what was going on abusing his account. When the offensive messages were made public, the local people should have demanded the proper verification of the account, instead of going into a rage.
We can all remember the consequences of a false information spread through Facebook during the students’ agitation for safe roads. At that time, a well-known actress began giving live posts based on the information provided by another person that students were being killed in an area in Dhaka. Obviously, her statement was believed by millions which sparked a nationwide panic.
The actress did not know that the information given to her was conjecture and not a fact.
So, when such an event is still in our collective memory, reacting to a message without taking proper information about its source indicates that we have yet to develop basic common sense.
What the clerics and religious scholars should do in such cases:
Let’s be frank here: no matter how vigilant we are, vile elements will always try to come up with new tactics, using the emotive issue of religion to spark antagonism.
Today, it was a message in Facebook, tomorrow, someone may go even further and record video messages containing slander against faith, attach the recording to a known urban or rural background and then post it.
In such a scenario, how many people will pause to look at the video to see if its’fabricated or not? Chances are that most will flare up the moment they look at it and instead of trying to ascertain if it’s manufactured or not, will jump forward with a battle cry.
In such cases, the onus is upon the religious clerics plus the scholars to tell people to resort to restraint before expressing outrage.
As per reports, in Bhola, the procession to protest such objectionable language was peaceful at first but later turned bellicose with the entry of some highly charged young people.
The task of the police is to find and identify these elements that goaded the procession to suddenly become belligerent.
The other question may be: why should so many people suddenly become intemperate and ferocious at the incitement of a few?
Every community has religious leaders.Moulanas at mosques in most cases provide a moral and spiritual guideline to millions of rural communities and it’s the task of these people to instil upon the masses that without proper verification, no issue, with the potential to cause disruptions, should be taken seriously.
However, reacting with rage and fury is also not the proper thing if such offensive messages are found to be true because that is exactly why such vilifications are made public.
Keeping religion at the heart life is always a laudable thing though in the current context, where countless malicious elements will be looking to create anarchy, reactions need to be measured and calculated.
It’s prudent to keep in mind that a few mortals with a vicious agenda can never bring down any religion – all faiths are far above human criticism. Once people assimilate this, they will not be offended by someone else’s lamentable effort to trivialize religion.
By erupting in outrage over the said Facebook message, we have only sent an image of impetuosity to the outside world.
The deaths were totally unnecessary – a complete waste of valuable life!
What the police must do:
Since it’s proved that lampooning religion or making defamatory comments about faith has the potential to ignite uncontrolled emotions, the police needs to have a social media monitoring team to swiftly address such concerns. At the same time, law enforcers have to associate with social leaders to unitedly preach moderation in everything. Just because someone has insulted religion does not belittle a faith in anyway.
Everything said and done, dealing with religion based furore is never easy – the current flare up in Bhola was an internal episode but often external issues – mistreatment/repression of Muslims in another country can also foment anger. Therefore, the most significant role to be played is by religious leaders who should always preach logical approach to perceived denigration of a faith.
To end with a quote by late philosopher, thinker Humayun Azad: “both mosques and temples are vandalized by bigots, and such actions never perturb either Allah or Bhagaban!
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.