The US based Islamist organizations and expatriate Bangladeshis
By Sajjad Jahir
Bangladesh was born in blood and tears. Most of the population of this land experienced a horrendous brutal occupation perpetrated by alien invaders, who happened to be Muslims by religion. The Two Nation Theory once unified the country of Pakistan, but gradually Bengalis were disenchanted and disillusioned by the hollowness of the religious doctrine of Pakistan’s basis. The twenty fifth March’s crackdown of the Pakistani military force made it clear to ordinary citizens of Bangladesh one simple matter. The Pakistani oligarchy with their perception of racial superiority and religious purity were not serving the interest of the Bengali Muslims.
The liberation of Bangladesh opened the door for Bangladeshi people’s migration to outside of the country. Many of the semi literate ones went temporarily to find menial works in the Middle East. A good number of educated folks thought of embracing Western societies as their own.
After migrating to the Western world, Bangladeshi Muslims like people from quite a few other Muslim majority countries started to face identity crisis. Are they Americans first or Muslims first? Or, are they Bangladeshi-Americans or Muslim-Americans? All those questions remain unresolved. Although most of the Bangladeshi immigrants in America do not have any sympathy for Islamist parties back home, a god number of them begin to nurture positive view about the US based Islamist organizations. Because of their uncertain future in a Western society, Bangladeshi Muslims strive to cling to the religious aspect of their self identity. The Saudi influenced mosques, Sunday’s Arabic schools for children and weekly Halaqa session gradually pull them far from Rabindranath Thakur, Lalon Shah and Jibanananda’s paradigm. In reality, the new generation of the Bangladeshi-Americans gradually lose connection to their forefathers’ secular Aboho Bangla past. In this backdrop, the US based Islamist groups have big audience to grab. Gradually, more and more Bangladeshi Muslims living in America were starting to cultivate sympathetic view about groups like CAIR, ICNA, ISNA, MPAC or MSA. They perceived those organizations as their future guardians. The two logics can come into play. Primarily, CAIR as an assumed civil rights organization can rescue them when chips are down. Secondly, religious organizations like ISNA or ICNA can salvage their Muslim self. Many of the Bangladeshi parents of Muslim background were afraid their offsprings may become too much Westernized. They did not want their children drown in “alcoholism, sexual promiscuity” or other “decadence” of a Western society. In their eye, only Islam can save them. So why not take shelter in the platforms of ICNA or ISNA?
When a single message critical of any of those Islamic fundamentalist leaning petro-dollar soaked Wahhabi front organizations comes to the notice of a confused Bangladeshi-American of Muslim heritage, he or she has to defend them by thinking “it must be a neo-con or a Zionist propaganda”. CAIR’s controversial past, some of their leaders’ shady background is well documented. That does not give any impact on the psyche of the new devotees from the land of Bengal. When a high profile ICNA leader’s alleged war criminal role in the Pakistani army occupied Bangladesh came to be open, many Bangladeshi-Americans thought this could be an aberration. Consequently, Bangladeshi-Americans of Muslim origin show a serious dichotomous world view. On the one hand, they have high regard for secularism in their ancestral land; on the other they strengthen Islamist groups in a secular society like in USA. Many of them may abhor Jamat-i-Islami in their native Bangladesh. But they feel at ease attending Bangladesh Jamaat’s counterparts ICNA, ISNA’s conferences.
The month of March is a month of remembrance for Bangladeshis all around the world. This is the month Pakistan’s brutal army unleashed a reign of terror in their ancestral homeland. In this same month the country’s Independence Day is observed. This year, the government of Bangladesh has declared to start the war crime trial. Many of the alleged war criminals belong to the Islamist party Jamat-i-Islami and their auxiliary death squads, namely, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. The leaders of Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh are obviously alarmed. Their presumed conference calls to the overseas comrades made one issue clear. Thwart the upcoming trial by hook or by crook. They found one ready volunteer in the process. An alleged war criminal living not far from Washington DC played the first dice. He linked up with a fellow activist in the West coast. The ball was rolling.
On 22nd March of this year, an interesting event took place in the US capital. A renowned leader in the USA’s Islamic circle, Pakistani-American Dr. Agha Saeed initiated a press conference on Bangladesh. That took place at the Washington DC’s Press Club. The 22nd March press conference drew a handful of people; only over a dozen were in the audience. Agha Saeed initiated the press conference, which was called “American Muslim Taskforce News Conference on Human Rights Violations in Bangladesh”. The question is what constitutes the American Muslim Task Force? In their press release the Taskforce is introduced as an umbrella organization that includes American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), MAS-Freedom, Muslim Student Association-National (MSA-N), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), and United Muslims of America (UMA). Its observer organizations include American Muslims for Civic Engagement (AMCE), Islamic Educational Council of Orange County (IECOC), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). In short, this was a conglomeration of Who’s Who of the Islamist organizations in America (read Wahhabi influenced).
There is a good possibility that a sizable percentage of Bangladeshi-Americans who want to see the Jamaati war criminals tried in their homeland, had sympathetic view about one or more than one of the above organizations. By happenstance, the 22nd March Press Conference made it clear that all those so-called Islam loving organizations are simply playing in the hands of Bangladesh Jamaat. It also exposed the ulterior agenda of CAIR, ICNA, ISNA, MPAC etc. They are friends of Jamaati war criminals, the Islamist killer machines of 1971’s Bangladesh. And last but not the least; it is now very much obvious that these groups are out there to see Bangladesh as a fundamentalist utopia.
In short, the Jamaati plan to muddy the clear water ultimately backfired.