Sunday, November 13, 2005

Martha Nussbaum has written a series of posts on Islamic fundamentalism in southern asia, and its quite amazing how much she gets wrong. Most of it is criticism of the Hindu nationalists that anyone ought to agree with, but this bit is terribly misinformed:

Few know, for example, that Bangladesh is a thriving, if poor, Muslim-majority democracy (about 85% Muslim), with democratic self-government, two energetic women who lead the two major parties, a strongly pro-woman official policy, and a constitution that protects fundamental rights very strongly, similar to India’s constitution. Its national anthem, “Amar Sonar Bangla” (“My Golden Bengal”) is a song written by Hindu Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. As Amartya Sen says, “This must be very confusing to those who see the contemporary world as a ‘clash of civilizations’ – with ‘the Muslim civilization,’ ‘the Hindu civilization,’ and ‘the Western civilization,’ each forcefully confronting the others.” (Amartya Sen, “Tagore and His India,” The New York Review of Books June 26, 1997, 55-63.)

Few know that the Muslims of Bangladesh and the 12% or so of India’s citizens who are Muslims have virtually no ties to international Islamic radicalism or to terrorist organizations, relatively few political or organizational ties even to Pakistan. (The struggle over Kashmir is an exception, but it is not related to the events that are my focus.)
Nussbaum must not be in the habits of reading the "World" section of her newspaper, for she has missed articles over the last few years on Islamic radicalization in Bangladesh. Here is one such article from today's Times:

Indian officials and western diplomats have been alarmed by an increase in terrorist attacks by militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda and by the Dhaka government’s failure to crack down on them.

One group said to have links with the government claimed responsibility for 500 synchronised explosions in 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts in August...

The initiative follows attacks by two groups related to Al-Qaeda — Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and Harakat-ul- Jihad-ul-Islami (Bangladesh), which was among 15 organisations that were banned in Britain last month.

Grenade and bomb explosions across Bangladesh have killed 30 and injured hundreds in the past year. Two Awami League opposition leaders were among those killed and the British high commissioner was targeted in a grenade attack.

It was the August 17 blasts that caused the most alarm. Although only two people died, they showed a new level of sophistication. There were 28 bombs in Dhaka alone and the targets included the prime minister’s office, the police headquarters and the supreme court.

Leaflets found at the bomb sites declared: “It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh” and “Bush and Blair be warned and get out of Muslim countries”.

Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh is led by “Bangla Bhai”, a former vigilante who once fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Opposition leaders and diplomats believe the government has failed to act against Bangla Bhai and other terrorists because they have connections with the governing coalition.

There are two Islamic fundamentalist parties in the coalition, which is led by Begum Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist party: the Jamaat Islami (JI), which has 10% of the vote, and the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ).

The JI is increasingly respected by ordinary voters for its social welfare work, lack of corruption and the operations of its bank, the most profitable in Bangladesh. “You don’t have to pay a bribe to get a loan from them,” said a western observer.

Senior members of the IOJ have declared themselves to be “for the Taliban and for Osama (Bin Laden)”. “There’s a reluctance to acknowledge there’s a problem here,” said one diplomat, who described the IOJ as “real wackos”. He added: “These are the ones going after an anti-American armageddon. Some of the people charged with the bombings have had linkages with the main party.”

Sabir Hossain Chowdhury, an opposition leader who was detained for three months after complaining about Islamic militants linked to the government, said Bangladesh was being subjected to a campaign of intimidation and the government was guilty of complicity. “Bangladesh is probably the only government in the world that includes a group which is committed to jihad and sharia,” he said.
As for the bit about Muslims in India, it is incoherent from a logical point of view. India experiences a huge amount of terrorism every year - much more than the USA, any country in Europe, or even Israel - most of which is related in one way or another to Islamic radicalism due to the conflict of Kashmir.

For example, over the past five days: two civilians were killed by gunmen, a lawmaker was shot, two relatives of a lawmaker were killed. Last week, a car bomb killed 35 people, and a bombing in New Delhi killed 60.

But Nussbaum writes that Kashmir is "not her focus," so she will ignore all this and proceed with her thesis that India and Bangladesh are fine counterexamples to the clash-of-civilizations thesis. Its easy enough to make arguments when you can respond to counterexamples by replying that they are not "within your focus."

If Nussbaum's remark on terrorism in India is intellectually careless, her bit on Bangladesh demonstrates simple ignorance of recent events in the country. Most surprisingly, Nussbaum indicates in her posts that she is in the process of writing a book on the subject of radicalism and nationalism in southern asia. I thought people wrote books about things they knew? As opposed to things of which they had only passing knowledge? Apparently not.


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