Some Fundamentals (3):
New Productivity Theory? Not so fast!
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
Associate Professor of Economics and Finance
Upper Iowa University
Dear Shetubondhon Friends,
Salam and greetings.
Historically, secularism grew in the lap of the west in response to the oppressive excesses of the church. The context in which secularism emerged, the response to church was natural, inevitable and desirable. Thus, we often heer how secularism came about as a reaction to what religion was doing.
However, beyond that period of emergence as a reaction, secularism evolved as a proactive movement. I have to deal with it as a separate topic later. However, just like many religionists turn a blind eye to the fact that sometime what they do radicalizes others, the same is the case of the failure of the secularists to see that what they say or do can also contribute toward greater mutual radicalization.
To understand where Dr. Jaffor Ullah was coming from, people need to be familiar with his works and thought in general, beyond a single article.
The author of "A Monkey Machination" wrote in another place on "Islamization in Bangladesh":
"Bangladesh is on a slippery slope of Islamization since August 1975. Sirat-un-Nabi, Miladunnabi, Bishwa Iztema, Shabe-Barat, Shabe-Meraz, Muharram, Ramadhan ... the list goes on and on. Country's productivity is going down the hill and the country's people are hurting because of the impoverishness of both mind and soul of its people. Islam is at the forefront of every thing in Bangladesh. I guess the Arab Petro Dollars are at work and it's producing some perceptible results. Every year, in January or February, an estimated one million devotees converge on the bank of Turag River in Tongi to take part in Bishwa Ejtema which is equivalent to Kumbha Mela. The entire nation shuts down for the week. Mr. Ali, do you know what happens to the productivity of the nation then? Bangladesh needs to be DE-ISLAMIZED, if the country's productivity needs to be improved." [Link]
I don't know how many such short paragraphs I have read in my life that has problem in virtually every sentence. What does the author mean by slippery slope of Islamization SINCE 1975? Did the people in Bangladesh descended from a distant planet since 1975? Each of the items that has been mentioned were part of the religious culture before 1971, before 1947, and, yes, before 1757.
There is an element of truth that to further enhance their political interest various regimes (ab)used religion to appease the mass, but have not resorted to Islamic guidance to lead the country in a positive manner. Thus, many of these special days are now further institutionalized. A credible, popular government that is also respectful and in tune with the people's heritage and convictions should be able to persuade the people that many of these occasions are not necessarily sanctioned by Islam, recognized by the Prophet, and no separate holidays are necessary. However, one of the symptoms of extremism and prejudice is that when such people open their mouth about these sensitive issues, they don't realize that they are on a slippery slope too.
That's why the author did not bother to think how Ramadan should be included in a list that relates to the "slippery slope of Islamization SINCE 1975" and then tie the whole thing to the issue of productivity.
At one level, it might be simple ignorance on the part of author. I presume that the author probably never performed the fasting of Ramadan regularly to realize himself whether those who regularly fast every year have any productivity problem or not. At another level, it is outrageous and an insult.
I know from my own experience that the fasting of Ramadan had never been a drag on me or any of the people I know. Rather I know that while at office I did not have to take the hour-long lunch break and I was able to accomplish more than during the other months.
My teen-ager daughter performed fasting during the past Ramadan, her grades/performance/activities were not affected. When I shared with her this abovementioned quotation as well as the fact that the author is a research scientist, she rolled her eyes trying to suggest where is the science and where is the research behind such a statement. Here in the USA, celebrity basketball players are playing NBAs while fasting and NBA has been happy to accommodate all this because there has been no loss of performance. But more importantly, in Bangladesh so many hard-working people - coolies, rickshaw-pullers, laborers - who sweat through their days and still fast, such a comment is outrageous and insulting.
It is also quite possible that people CAN take advantage of Ramadan to claim that they can't perform at the same level or unduly lower their level of performance, but that does not have have anything to with Islam, but with abuse of Islam. Such people who merely try to take advantage probably are not conscientiously productive during regular days either.
There are plenty of fasting people on this forum, they can share their experience about this. There are also non-fasting people, including some Muslims, who can share their experience if they saw any of their colleagues showing lower performance during the month of fasting, especially relative to the regular days.
It is also quite possible that such a large gathering of Bishwa Ijtema that draws nearly a million devotees can be a drag on the society and the economy. But unless the author wants to have a double standard, there is hardly anything can be done about this event because this is not a government-sponsored event. It is a privately organized event. Unless, of course, he is thinking or suggesting something similar to the line of Turkish secular fundamentalism.
But the most ridiculous and unbalanced aspect of the author's statement is linking such Islamic events with the productivity issue. I don't know when we open our mouth, take up our pen, or hit the keyboard, whether we ever say to ourselves that I will try to be fair, balanced and free of prejudice in regard to my thought and approach.
Reading the abovequoted paragraph, one might get the impression that religion and these ceremonial occasions are either the primary or only impediments to productivity problem of Bangladesh.
The country was shut down more than half of the year through strike by the Awami League, when it was going through its agitation to unseat the BNP government. Was that to be attributed to religion or religious groups or people, or should it be attributed to the Awami League that is avowedly a "secular" party? When BNP-led opposition is using the same tactics against the current regime, is this to be attributed to religion or religious groups? When bus drivers or truck drivers go on strike on most trivial and unfair issues and shut down the country's transportation, should that be attributed to religion or religious groups/people? If we add up the days that the people might consider religious and allegedly hurt the productivity, do those days even come close to what is regularly happening in our society and economy that are daily drags on productivity or production? How much more jaundiced a view or approach can be?
These people say that they are not anti-religion or in the context of Bangladesh, not anti-Islam, but many of them don't even hide their real intention. "Bangladesh needs to be DE-ISLAMIZED" and we will be on our way to Eldorado! The fact is that Bangladesh does not have Islam to be de-Islamized.
However, especially, in regard to the productivity theory that just de-Islamize Bangladesh - bring an end to Siratunnabi, Miladunnabi, Shabe-Barat, Muharram, Ramadan and so on - and Bangladesh's productivity problems would be solved is something worth looking into. As an economist I do take an interest in the issue of productivity. From the works on Bangladesh economy that I am familiar with I have not quite seen any respectable economist (actually, any economist) making such a Ramadan or Bishwa-Ijtema connection as far as the productivity issue is concerned. I admit my limitations of my studies. But there are are plenty of fasting and non-fasting economists, and also there Bishwa-Ijtema-going economists and the not-going ones. Let us know if any of you have come across such diagnosis and solution. Moreover, we the economists should not have any prejudice against exploring such diagnosis and solutions, just because these are coming from "research scientists".
In light of these added information, may I ask Dr. Sen if he really thinks that the problem and solution of productivity of Bangladesh can be dealt with in such simplistic and reductionist terms?
The reality is that if this is the kind of preachers and advocates of secularism we are going to have, then secularism does not need any adversary. Such approach and articulations would ensure that those who read or know about these would very likely take a more radical stand.
I have mentioned this before and I repeat here that those who want to see the extremisms of any society moderated, often they themselves contribute toward extremism due to their approach. Instead of focusing on fanaticism, they seem to follow the slippery slope to their focus on religion, and their message comes through not as anti-fanaticism, but as anti-religion.
The reason I have gone this extra length to articulate on these issues because some of us are trying to have a moderating influence on our own fellow Muslims. It is a task that is difficult enough. It is especially painful that those who seem to be concerned about extremism often make the role of those, who want or try to do something about such extremism, more difficult.
This is what I mean when I say that often Zionists are the ones who induce breeding of more radicalized Palestinians, dogmatic Muslims often radicalizing the stance of non-Muslims against Islam, or secularists radicalizing the stance of religionists, including Muslims, against secularism. What an irony!
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