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Volume 6 | Issue 10 | October 2012 |


Original Forum

Truth, a Casualty of War
-- Irfan Chowdhury
On the Notion of Tolerance
-- Shakil Ahmed
Violence -- Reversing the culture of impunity
-- Manzoor Ahmed
Lessons from the Troika of Non-Violence:
Gandhi, King and Mandela

-- Ziauddin Choudhury

Institution-Building or Rebuilding Institution?
Focus on Bangladesh
-- Dr. Mizanur Rahman Shelley

Rethinking 'The Fear'
--- Tapas Kanti Baul and Sultan Mahmud Ripon

Photo Feature

The Gift of Old Age

No Respite for Rohingyas
-- Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Politics Not for the People

-- Syed Ashfaqul Haque

Marriages: Made in Heaven,
Living Hell for Many

-- Aruna Kashyap

Fighting a Lone Battle
-- Naimul Karim
The Story of the Rise of Modern China
-- Ashfaqur Rahman
Che: The legacy endures
-- Syed Badrul Ahsan
Graduating Out of Exclusion
-- Shayan S. Khan
The Dream Team



Forum Home

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On the Notion of Tolerance

SHAKIL AHMED notes the increasing culture of intolerance leading to violence in Bangladesh and around the world.

Back in the 19th century, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote a story about two girls, Malasha and Akulya, playing in the street water left after a bout of rain. Since it was festival time, they were wearing new frocks. In a moment of playfulness, Malasha stamped on the muddy water, which fell on the new frock of Akulya. Akulya's mother, after scolding Akulya and finding out what happened, went on to slap Malasha on her back a few times. Malasha's mother found her daughter weeping and after finding out what happened, went on to start a heated argument with Akulya's mother. Soon enough, more women and eventually, men joined the argument, started taking sides and fought. The fighting groups became larger and larger.

Meanwhile, as the never-ending fight continued to blaze, the two girls having already forgotten about the quarrel started playing again with paper boats on the water. It took some time for the fighting crowd to realise their folly by looking at how quickly the children forgot the quarrel and became friends again. At the same time, they also forgot the spirit of festival time. The men and women went back to their houses quietly in shame.

The first aspect, which Tolstoy's story manages to highlight, is the one of intolerance, the failure to appreciate and respect the practices, opinions and beliefs of another group (Peterson, 2003). In this case, the mother was not able to tolerate the ruining of the new frock. The second aspect is the group of actions taken as a result of intolerance, which essentially involved scolding, arguing and fighting. The third aspect is how the misunderstanding scaled rapidly from two individuals to two large, angry groups, who were ignorant of the children for whom the fight originally started. These three aspects are reminiscent of how certain members of humanity have acted in a number of recent events in Bangladesh and the world.

A series of unfortunate events
A wave of intolerance has been felt in recent times as the film Innocence of Muslims and the cartoons published by the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, have sparked protests around the world, some of them resorting to the use of extreme violence, as depicted in recent headlines.

Certain party activists in Bangladesh brought out a protest against the film at around 11:15 am, Saturday, September 22, 2012 near the Jatiya Press Club. The processions resulted in a clash with the police, where one of the stated reasons for the police confronting the protestors were that the party activists were violating a ban of holding demonstrations in the area. The clash left around 100 people injured and a hartal was called by 12 “like-minded Islamist”, as quoted by The Daily Star, parties the next day to protest the arrests of activists during the clash.

In addition, Associated Press reported that on September 17, 2012, the government of Bangladesh blocked YouTube to prevent people from watching the video. Censoring the whole of YouTube also prevents people in Bangladesh from getting access to any of the other videos on YouTube. The government has requested Google, which owns YouTube, to take off the film.

Bangladeshi university lecturer Ruhul Khandakar was sentenced to six months in jail after he made comments on Facebook about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, where details of the comments can be found in several articles over the Internet.

On September 23, 2012, as bdnews24.com reported, an argument between an indigenous and a Bengali student at Rangamati Government College triggered further clashes between indigenous and Bengali students in different parts of the town. Similarly, the bus accidents on August 29 and September 24 also sparked apparently agitated Dhaka University and Stamford University students to vandalise surrounding cars -- vehicles which apparently did not have anything to do at all with the accident.

Rashed Shumon

All these events, while different in nature and cause have a similar tone of intolerance, where an individual or a group of individuals were not able to tolerate the actions of another, whether it was publishing a video, a Facebook post or a bus accident. As the definition of intolerance suggests, the actions of one entity were not aligned with the opinions, practices, beliefs and values of another entity and intolerance arose either on one side or both sides. As in Tolstoy's story and the events above, the difference of opinion was initially between two individuals on a small scale, but eventually, the wave of intolerance spread to bring more individuals on board. Let us have a brief look into the various actions that individuals or organisations, which are in essence composed of individuals, take when dealing with intolerance.

Dealing with actions based on intolerance
When intolerance occurs, violence does seem to be one of the characteristic actions that individuals undertake. It is understandable that one may feel disappointment, which may lead to anger, when one's values are made a mockery of. However, it is always a good practice to understand the situation before reacting to it and as Gandhi quotes, “Anger and intolerance are enemies of correct understanding.”

Is the violence that I am undertaking actually helping my situation? Or is the violence creating even more anger and resentment? Again, as Gandhi mentions, “Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary,” and in the same spirit, he also states, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

Sceptics advocating violence due to the video may choose to alienate themselves from the culture, background and thoughts of Gandhi and feel that such words were uttered by one who is not aligned with the same values and belief system. If such sceptics do believe in Islam, then an advocator of non-violence could point out the following lines from Islamic texts:

1. “Keep to forgiveness [O Muhammad (pbuh)], and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Quran 7:199)

2. “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I [Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)] will complain against the person on the Day of Judgement.” (as recorded by Abu Dawud)

3.“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nation tribes, that you may know each other (and not hate one another). (Quran 49:13)

Of course, these are just some of the lines mentioned in the Quran and more could have been shared. However, those who are promoting violence may claim to have their own “sharing of lines” and interpretation, which to some, would seem to justify their violent acts. While a discussion of interpreting various lines and their claims is an endless endeavour, those who do advocate violence may tend to ignore some of these lines mentioned above and others for the sake of their own agenda, whatever their agenda is.

For example, the Innocence of Muslims video was uploaded in July 2012, but due to the promotion of the video by certain individuals, the violence only occurred in September 2012, violence, which eventually led to the death of the US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens on September 11, 2012. If possible, the video could have been ignored, but there were individuals, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who chose to spread and promote this video. Some may have spread the video out of their disappointment and they may have wanted others to see why they were disappointed. Some may have spread the video to ridicule the content. However, one may theorise that some acted as agent-provocateurs, entities who intentionally seek to harm others by provoking them to commit socially unacceptable acts, which in this case, was violence. What agenda would anyone have in provoking such violence?

Conspiracy theorists may suggest that due to recent events, certain factions within the global Islamic society may be perceived by non-Muslim societies as being unstable and local governance may not be sufficient in handling the violence created by these factions. Further acts of violence from these societies may give more justification for defence lobbies promoting policing and military intervention by parties external to these Muslim communities. The post-9/11 War on Terror is just one example.

Given that such violence may occur due to the will of individuals, which may or may not be provoked by agent-provocateurs, what can one do to prevent such violence? Censorship of content may seem as one preventive measure, where the idea is to prevent people from getting access to the video and thus, not being provoked by it. At the same time, the ban of YouTube may seem to allay the concerns of a faction, which does not want the video to be seen by anyone at all.

Realistically, the YouTube ban may not prevent the video from being spread at all or prevent people from watching it. Firstly, the video may appear on more than one YouTube page, so even if one page is blocked, other pages may exist. Secondly, the video is not just on YouTube, but may have been uploaded on other websites. The more their sites are blocked, the more they may continue to upload.

YouTube is a source of information and knowledge for many people. It is a medium of marketing for many of our local companies and organisations. Of course, the Internet could be banned to prevent from watching, but that would be totally against our vision of a Digital Bangladesh and that would affect so many of our communication processes. At the same time, a simpler solution, where each and everyone can actively participate in if they want to is just to refrain from watching the video! In a country that constitutionally aims to practise democracy, instead of imposing a ban, not watching the video should be a choice made by the citizen, irrespective of where the video is on the Internet.

Videos, cartoons and Facebook posts that tend to insult or provoke another may always appear, and more so, if the other is provoked. While ignoring such content could be one way of dealing with the issue, trying to understand where the other is coming from, practising tolerance, forming an educational curriculum, which includes lessons and activities that promote tolerance whenever a difference of opinion arises and engaging in peaceful dialogue with others are avenues to seriously consider as well. Of course, being sensitive to other's beliefs and values should be the responsibility of those who create such videos and cartoons. However, by reacting angrily and through violence, sensitivity in others may be difficult to achieve. After all, as Gandhi mentioned, "The only devils in this world are those running around inside your own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought."

Shakil Ahmed is a staff researcher at the Institute of Educational Development, Brac University.

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