In search of a cohesive society
The attacks on the idols of Hindu deities and the assault on the Hindu communities in Chowmuhani, Feni, Pirganj and other places of the country during Durga Puja, following the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in Cumilla, had dealt a blow to our existence. Netizens have broken out in aggressive protest in the social media. There has been a bumper crop of speeches and statement everywhere, in the newspapers, on the streets, at Shahbagh, right down to the village locales. We had seen a similar outpouring of speeches, statements, protest rallies and meetings after incidents in Ramu and Cumilla too. Despite all this, we remain enshrouded in darkness.
The reasons behind this predicament are: 1. In our crime-prone mishap-ridden society, fresh crimes serve to obfuscate out memory of past crimes; 2. These crimes and misdemeanours are not brought to justice, instead they are reduced to a blame game and whichever party is in power, uses these as tools to repress the opposition; 3. Our protests regarding these crimes and misdemeanours are divided and inconsistent. One section of us is elated if persons of other religions are persecuted and another section are thrilled if the alems are oppressed; 4. It is often seen that the perpetrators of these crimes and offences have political patronage and protection of the law enforcement.
In building a cohesive society, importance must first be placed on religious and cultural literacy
The way out
The way out of such a predicament is to build up a cohesive society. In an inclusive society, when such an occurrence takes place, it is easy to identify where things went wrong and then to resolve the problems. In 2019, an international seminar regarding cohesive societies was organised in Singapore by the Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the ministry of culture, community and youth of that country. The strategy to build up such an inclusive society and its good practices has been detailed here.
Conditions for a cohesive society
There are three conditions to a cohesive society: 1. Mutual trust and respect, a bond of harmony among the communities where they do not use each other as commodities, but count each other as humans; 2. Embracing the concept of diversity in unity within the society; 3. Independent but active presence that gives the ability to tackle any agitation to violence. These conditions are simple and pragmatic, but must be developed in a culturally sensitive manner. The question is, how to build up a cohesive society? The following issues are significant.
Religious and cultural literacy
In building a cohesive society, importance must first be placed on religious and cultural literacy. There are events that can happen in people's lives that push them towards extreme action, lead them to become extremists. The reasons behind this could be economic disparity, social and political processes, isolation from parents and so on. So people falling into such ruts must be rescued. Unless disparity is eliminated and justice established, it will be difficult to prevent social disintegration.
Excellence in narrative, emotion and logic
Thirdly, excellence must be introduced in narrative, emotion and logic. Extremists use hate speech to attract the young people who have fallen into such ruts, to motivate them and give them a fresh inspiration to live. That is why the narrative of harmony must be strengthened to counter this. Cold logic won't do the job, they can't just be told they are going down the wrong path. Their problems of social isolation must be resolved and they must be given an opportunity to live anew. The narrative of a cohesive society must be more attractive than that of an isolated and fragile society.
Around 84 per cent of the people in the world believe in religion and it is estimated that this number will increase further by the year 2050. That is why it is not possible to ignore religion in building a cohesive society. A few genuinely religious people I have seen in my life, have endeavoured to be tolerant and to forge close ties with those of other faith. Genuine religiosity has nothing to do with communalism. That is why the message of welfare and good of all religions must be spread. Alongside a multi-faith society, interfaith dialogue and joint social events must continue.
Good leadership must be developed from the grassroots to the national level. New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern is an excellent example of this. She managed to unite the nation after the attack on the mosque in Christchurch
Women and youth
The population comprises 50 per cent of women. It is not possible to build a cohesive society without including them. Also, women are more sensitive and youth are always eager for change, for dialogue and to listen. It has been seen worldwide that women's participation in building a cohesive society accelerates and strengthens the process. So the future leaders among women and youth must be involved in the mainstream of this process to build a cohesive society.
An ideal leadership is required to determine how to include the minority, to have dignified dialogue, and to keep people's aspirations in mind when building a cohesive society. In this regard, the persons who spread hate, disrespect and vengeance, must be socially boycotted. Good leadership must be developed from the grassroots to the national level. New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern is an excellent example of this. She managed to unite the nation after the attack on the mosque in Christchurch. It is easier to create a cohesive society if national and social leaders work in unison. It is not possible to build such an inclusive society with top-down leadership.
Though the conditions for building a cohesive society are relatively easy, it is the implementation that is difficult and riddled with problems. The obstacles must be overcome, the people who have fallen into a rut must be retrieved, a new narrative must be created and be presented in different ways to different sections of the society.
Building up a cohesive society in our country is even more difficult. The main impediments are our colonial hangover, social fragmentation in the subcontinent, backward-looking, politics that relies on money and muscle and a society given to excessive corruption. But that does not mean we will move away from building up a cohesive society. We must begin construction with the building blocks that have been mentioned and this must be done now. This is a question of our existence. If not, we will simply whimper in protest after the incident is over and such unfortunate incidents will be repeated time and again.
* Muhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan is former secretary and a professor.
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir