Ruzan Sarwar Headshot

The Inhumanity of Fundamentalism

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In the latest bout of senseless attacks and religion-based violence stemming from posts on social media outlets, a number of Buddhist monks and the monasteries in which they live were targeted by Muslim fundamentalists in Cox's Bazar, in the southeastern part of Bangladesh. Other members of Bangladesh's Buddhist community were also targeted. The reason given was a Facebook post that disparaged the Quran. The photo was supposedly posted by a Buddhist man.

Over 25,000 rioters then took to the streets to protest the photo. Unsurprisingly, the protests turned violent. Numerous accounts have surfaced of hundred-year old temples being attacked and looted, their artifacts steeped in history destroyed. The rioters burned homes, as well, leaving heartless destruction in their wake.

Bangladesh's Daily Star ran a story detailing how Buddhist community's second highest priest, 83-year-old Shreemad Satyapriya Mohathero, was forced to hide in rice paddies while escaping from the fundamentalists' attacks. What makes the situation worse is that many of the monks in these monasteries provided shelter and asylum to countless Muslims during Bangladesh's War of Independence from Pakistan in 1971. They shielded war-weary, desperate Bangladeshi Muslims from the hands of the merciless Pakistani army. If this is how the monks are being repaid for their compassion, Bangladesh should be ashamed of its conduct.

Religious conflicts are not new. They have been around as long as the world has had organized religion. Organized religion, in practice, creates the notion of the 'other,' providing a mechanism to pinpoint a scapegoat for problems and anger. This trend should tell us something. When issues over religion arise, they are, more often than not, dealt with through violence. We are seeing this pattern emerge once again, right in front of us.

In a previous article about the sweeping protests over the anti-Muslim film, Innocence of Muslims, I mentioned how disproportionate the reactions to these social media posts really are. It is now becoming increasingly apparent that questioning what is truly at the root of such violence is essential. A single offensive Facebook picture cannot realistically spark so much retaliation without external factors fueling the fire. It is here that we come to the radical beliefs of fundamentalist Muslims who do not represent the majority but are the most vocal and visible segments of the population. Why are moderates allowing them to get the upper hand?

Bangladesh is a poor, poverty-stricken nation. It has its fair share of governance problems that are only being exacerbated by religious strife. But, Bangladesh does not need to be a cruel nation. Those who perpetrate the violence must stop, must regain an ounce of humanity. The rest of us have to speak out against fundamentalist violence. We have to ensure that they are aware of how wrong their behavior is. It is our duty as moderates and as sane individuals to be vocal and refute the practice of religious zealotry. Otherwise, they win.