For the past couple of weeks, I have been observing very closely the actions of the Hefazat-e-Islam and the reactions they have invoked, both among the masses and the government. I have observed the formation of a polarized situation that has been growing day by day. The organization has enjoyed wide support from the masses as evidenced by the successfully concluded long march to Dhaka program on the 6th of April, despite the obstructions set by the government through various civil and administrative fronts. The wide support and popularity of the party has been directly proportional to the antipathy of the government. Quite many news agencies and media outlets have aligned their view of the Hefazat in line with the views of the government- either due to complicity with government policies or due to the owners being strong proponents of progressive secularism, viewing proponents of religious values in personal and national life as fundamentalists and radicals.
Bdnews24 has clearly identified itself against conservative sections propagating Islamic values at the personal and national levels. It has identified such quarters as radical Islamists, most recently the Hefazat-e-Islam.
Unable to belittle the support of more than 5 million people (according to unofficial estimates) for the rally, it has repeatedly tried to demonize the Hefazat-e-Islam, by three ways.
One way has been to debate the apolitical nature of the Hefazat-e-Islam in addition to labelling it as radical and fundamentalist, citing the 13 point charter of demands to justify fact that Hefazat ideology is so close to the Jamaat ideology that they must be one. The opinion piece talks a lot of ifs and buts, negating the reason for the wide support of Hefazat on the ground and debating for the sole goal to 'bust' the myth of the apolitical nature of Hefazat.
Second way has been to demonize the leadership of Hefazat-e-Islam. This article by bdnews24 headlined "Allama Shafi was a collaborator" is more than self explanatory in this regard. Pathetic is the fact that the agency has taken the pain to build the case and its allegations citing political and religious opponents of Allama Shafi.
The third way has been to use the time tried weapon of the secular liberals against the conservatives, the accusation of stifling women and limiting their liberties. One has been to accuse the Hefazat of assaulting a woman reporter, an incident of which the Hefazat has denied knowledge and responsibility but asked for apology all the same through the following statement, "If our activists carried out the attack, we apologise for that but we believe that ruling party terrorists in the guise of Hefazat activists have carried out the attack on ETV journalist to create our negative image." Building up on this incident and the resultant negative image, the bdnews24 agency has spawned complete reports with the single aim to ridicule, demonize, misinterpret and create a permanent negative image of the Hefazat in the country. Some of these are shown below:
1. German Ambassador Albrecht Conze sees ‘fundamentalism’ in Hifazat-e Islam’s 13-point charter of demand that the little-known group made in a rally on Saturday.
2. The Hifazat-e Islam not only barred women from entering its rally in the capital on Saturday, but also harassed physically and mentally several female journalists performing their professional duties there.
3. A stronger democracy will play an important role against attempts to confine women at home as demanded by the radical group Hefazat-e-Islam, Acting Speaker Shawkat Ali has said.“Institutionalisation of democracy will resist recent attempts to curb women’s rights,” he said during a discussion on Wednesday.
4. Huzurs won't feed us, says garments workers.
The gist of the last two reports according to bdnews24 is, "Radical group Hifazat-e Islam in its 13-point charter of demands has demanded that women be confined at home and also the removal of what they termed as the ‘anti-Islamic’, National Women’s Development Policy 2011. The Chittagong-based group also went as far as to demand immediate prohibition of public mixing of men and women, which attracted a lot of flak from political groups, organisations and gender activists."
My view: The Hefazat demand on women most surely did not contain "women be confined at home" You can see the original demands here. According to the translation, the demand is to call for a stop to 'free mixing of the sexes', and not mixing of men and women, and certainly not total confinement. The shortcomings of the Hefazat in officially explaining these demands and the aggressive spread of Islamophobia by news portals such as bdnews24 by making a mountain out of a molehill through intentional misinterpretation and misinformation has only aggravated the situation.
Bangladesh is a country where more than 90% of the population is Muslim. It is only natural that Muslims demand the implementation of Islamic law and reject laws which go against Islam. However, there is no alternative to consensus in this regard since it is natural that people will be divide in their understanding of Islamic law. There is no alternative to dialogue in avoiding misinterpretation and misinformation. There is no alternative to unity. That should have been the direction. Not the spread of misinformation and hate for personal gain or to satisfy the whims of a hate-mongering minority.