Deconstructing the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh

Feb 2013

Among other things, the Shahbagh movement demands a ban on Jamaat and religious politics.

Earlier this month, one of the accused collaborators in 1971, Abdul Quader Mollah, also known as the “Butcher of Mirpur,” was convicted of atrocities. Surprising most observers, however, Mollah escaped the death penalty. This set off the Shahbagh movement — the largest of its kind seen in Bangladesh since 1990. The movement’s demand to ban Jamaat and religious politics in Bangladesh is a response to a long history of complicity between such politics and anti-state actions. The Jamaat, founded by Maulana Abul Ala Maududi in pre-partition India, has historically played a leading role in these politics.

Jamaat in Bangladesh

Wali Nasr’s Vanguards of the Islamic Revolution is perhaps the best known book on the party available in English. That book, as well as Jamaat’s own literature—in both Bangladesh and Pakistan—makes it clear that it does not believe in western-style electoral, representative democracy. Nor can it be characterized as a mass political party. At the risk of oversimplification, Jamaat’s internal organization may be described as following some form of “democratic centralism”: the top leadership collectively takes a decision, and through a hierarchy and network of members, cadres, or activists, the party’s decision is carried out. The top leadership is, in turn, chosen from the rank and file through elections and other representative mechanisms.

As in Pakistan, the party’s aim in Bangladesh is to create an Islamic state, where the party is the sole arbiter of what counts as Islamic. The essential question for the party leadership is how it will achieve power.

After the Pakistan Army launched its murderous crackdown in East Pakistan on 25 March 1971, Jamaat threw in its lot behind the generals. Whereas a number of Islam-pasand politicians—including many from various factions of the Muslim League—supported the junta’s quest to maintain a united Pakistan, Jamaat went a step further.

Activists of its student wing, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) / Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS), volunteered for the pro-Pakistan militias set up by the army. Matiur Rahman Nizami, head of the East Pakistan IJT/ICS, led a particularly fierce group called the Al Badr whose death squads are alleged to have killed several prominent progressive intellectuals and activists during the war. A reading of contemporary newspapers suggests that Jamaat expected that the army would militarily defeat the Mukti Bahini resistance, but would find it hard to fill the political vacuum created by the elimination of the Awami League. Jamaat aspired to fill that vacuum.

Much like the Pakistani generals, Jamaat leaders blame the Indians for the defeat of 1971. They believe that the main reason behind India’s intervention was a fear of a Jamaat-dominated East Pakistan. The lesson they took away from 1971 is that for Jamaat to achieve power in Bangladesh, it must contend with India. Read on >>

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3 Responses to Deconstructing the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh

  1. সাতকাহন | Mukti on Feb 2013 at 1:58 PM

    […] – Jamaat-e-Islami: primer, history and analysis.  […]

  2. fugstar on Aug 2014 at 7:26 PM

    More than a year on from this, and the Shahbag mood produced a massacre of innocents protesting against it, an egyptian reflection through rabaa, AQ Mollah has been judicially murdered and the Jan 5 elections this year were rigged.

    Heres to paying attention!

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