Sunday, July 14, 2013

Debunking the Propaganda: Allama Shafi 'viral' video

I was inspired to write this article in response to a campaign that has surfaced recently in social media that has sought to target Hefazat chief Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi. The centre of all this furor is a video clip which various media describe as being “a recent YouTube video clip of Hefazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmed Shafi” which they say has created “much outrage in social networking sites.

Before I continue, let me give you my opinion on this video.

That could be summed up into one word, “ PROPAGANDA”.

Let me explain why.

Sneak peek: Shahbag versus Allama Shafi,
Let us start by looking at this video that was shot on the 14th of February 2013.

The contents of the video are clear to anyone who will care to listen. The crowds are chanting, “Ekta ekta Shibir dhor, dhoira dhoira jobai kor”. Translated into English, that means, “Catch (Bangladesh Islami Chatro) Shibir (activists) one by one; catch them and slaughter them”.

So what do you understand by this?   

At the first look, one will decry the slogans and term them as barbaric and out of sync with the ideals of any modern nation. What barbaric people would call for the slaughter of their fellow human beings? Typical.

Let us then add that this video was shot at Shahbag on the 14th of February 2013 when the crowds were calling for the hanging of the war criminals of 1971. On the mention of such information, many readers will jump up and proclaim that these slogans are just part of the wide movement and will vociferously proclaim the glorious nature of these protests and rant on about the democratic, nationalistic and secular nature of such public demonstrations.

In short, it will eventually be labeled as a ‘misrepresentation’ of the original context

Now let us look at the ‘miracle’ video that our ‘progressive’ friends have unearthed!

This is the video that Dhaka Tribune has kindly consented to host on its website for everyone to see:

The explanation provided is as follows, “In the video, he told to his followers not to educate girls after the primary level, to keep them at home and not to let women become financially independent.” Further explaining the scenario, the Tribune continues, “It has not yet been identified when and where the Hefazat leader delivered the sermon. One Akash Malik uploaded the video on July 6. According to the scroll information, it was distributed by Al-Arab Enterprise of 46 Madrasa Market, Hathazari in Chittagong.”

Debunking the fallacy:
It seems that the furor about the video began after July the 6th, 2013. One of the earliest articles to be written on the topic was on on the 8th of July. The content was based on the clip exclusively, but neither the origin nor the date was mentioned while quoting from the clip. By then the 25 minute 30 second (so carefully cut!) video had supposedly gone viral on various social networks. Aiding in its propagation was an English translation that ‘progressives’ used to further the spreading of the video. Then it spread onto the media outlets and it finally made it big on a talk show at Ekattor TV when a talk show host used the clips to quiz a member of the Hefazat inner circle.

However, a bit of investigation revealed a world of information. The writer discovered the complete, unabridged and uncut version of the sermon of Allama Shafi which had acted as the source of the ‘viral’ video.

Features of the video include,
a) The length of the actual video is 1 hour, 13 minutes and 38 seconds. 
b)The video was uploaded on the 13th of July 2011, i.e. exactly two years ago. This debunks the myth of                                                  a ‘recent’ event by Allama Shafi.
c)The ‘viral’ video is a cut and edited version from about 30 minutes into the original source video which did not contain any location or timeframe.

Explaining the video,
To do justice on his speech, the whole video needs to be viewed and not quote out of context. The theme of his speech was mainly to do with Quranic and Shariah injunctions relating to Purdah/niqab or veiling of women. Those giving statements about Allama Shafi in the media are mainly associated with secular or liberal movements which in turn are associated in some way or the other to the ruling Awami League and its allies in the left. Either they have not viewed the whole video or are intentionally on a mission to smear him. Barring that they are ignorant of the context in which he advised women to stay indoors and compared them with tamarinds.

The Quran clearly has commanded us to lower our gaze. Mufti Shafi quoted the Quranic verse which underscores the need for women to dress modestly and not appear in public without adhering to the Islamic dress code. He pointed out some of the human desires and nature of the human weakness. And it is true that men are attracted to the opposite sex; especially if the women wear revealing clothing, display their beauty, and freely mix with the opposite sex. This characteristic is universal to every human being, whether a saint or a sinner. So the desire of human beings for the opposite sex is universal and natural. Allah (SWT), knowing this weakness, instructed men to lower their gazes and women to dress modestly in order to avoid being tempted or fall in to the trap of the Shaytan (Devil).

Mufti Shafi, while explaining the above concept, simply gave the example of a tamarind so as to make people better understand him. This association should be used comparatively, not as an instrument for personal attack.

As for his advice to women working in garments factories, this also needs to be viewed in context. Anybody viewing the former part of the full sermon will notice the definition of adultery (zinaa) by Allama Shafi as being one explained in the light of the Quran and Hadith. This includes the adultery by eyesight and does not necessarily absolutely allude to adultery as in a physical act; for in the eyes of Islam both are grave sins. I shall not back down from repeating that the key to understanding the sermon of Allama Shafi is to view it in the light of Islam.

Another attempt to divert thy attention?
Now that we have gained insight into the backdrop of the sermon, let us look at the backdrop of the furor that is being created in context of much discussed propaganda spewing ‘viral’ video. As of late, Allama Shafi was branded as a misguided soul by various media outlets. Shomoy TV on the 13th of July, 2013, ran a handful of news items and has included a number of ‘testimonies’ that indicate that probable legal action is on the way.

In other news, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday came down heavily on Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi for his ‘derogatory and indecent remarks’ about women. This seems to have come out of nowhere in light of,
a.       A rising tide of public opinion which manifest itself in the loss of the ruling Awami League in all the 5 city corporation elections held in the last couple of months.
b.      The spread of the anti-government anti-quota protests in all notable educational institutions in the country. A looming student movement ahead.  
c.       A highly negative image of the Awami League and its rogue student arm, the Chhatra League in light of its unpopular stand against established Islamic organizations and movements, namely the Hefazat-e-Islam.
d.      Widespread state sponsored oppression of the opposition in Bangladesh.
e.       Highly prevalent rampant corruption and a severe shortage of civic amenities such as gas and drinkable water.

The people of Bangladesh voted the Awami League into power in the parliamentary elections of 2008 after the party promised sweeping changes. An example of the rhetoric the incumbent PM had used at that time included promises such as making rice available as cheap as 10 taka, something she has terrible failed in.

Those days have long gone, and promises such as these seem something of a bygone era. People in Bangladesh have become more focused on simple survival than ever as family fortunes dry up, sources of income trickle down, price of essential commodities shoot up, civic amenities become less accessible and the gaps between the various strata of society widen.

However, drama is something that the people of Bangladesh always tend to fall for and the dramatic turn of events surrounding Allama Shafi is sure to interest even the most nonchalant of observers. Perhaps that is why a full-fledged Prime Minister is more interested in playing along with the turn of events than get to the task of doing the thing that matters most- running the country.

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