Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jamaat = LDP?

Does a homogeneous society ensure democracy?

Not quite. India is the most populous democracy on the planet and it has hundreds of languages, every major religion (and many smaller ones), and a variety of ethnic groups from a variety of families, yet it has been a democracy since 1948. What about Indonesia? Its recent successes in the Parliamentary and Presidential elections this year brought it one-step closer to a establishing a firm democratic tradition, despite its highly regional, and sometimes communal, politics.

Now look at Japan, barring a short period of time, the Liberal Democratic Party has been in power since World War II. Yes, Japan has elections but does the total absence of any meaningful opposition equal true "democracy?" Maybe this is what Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh considers "democracy."

A democracy where one can vote but everyone already knows the outcome. A democracy where a single political group sets policy for 5 decades. Though to be clear, the LDP does have its share of factions, and I'm willing to bet the JIB does too. A democracy representing a society that is truly "homogeneous" (though such an aspiration is impossible).

In JIB's case it is a homogenously "Muslim" society. Yes Non-Muslims can stay, supposedly having their rights and freedoms guaranteed by the JIB charter, but they will be suspect. Perhaps they will require all Hindus, Ahmadiyyas, Christians, Buddhists, and adhivasis (even the Muslims ones) to take an oath of loyalty (Zee News)?

Late this weekend Daily Star discussed the discrepancies between Jamaat's charter and the Constitution. Briefly (as reported in the Star): Jamaat's charter stipulates that people must not accept anyone except God as the law-making authority,change the state to ensure complete observance of Islam, and safeguard the country's independence and sovereignty through revival of Islamic values and national unity.

However, in a 1989 verdict: 'By amending the constitution the republic cannot be replaced by monarchy, democracy by oligarchy, or the judiciary cannot be abolished.'

While Jamaat disputes these discrepancies, in their website they state:

"Islam is the only code of life revealed by Allah, The Lord of the Universe. This code of life encompasses the whole gamut of human life. It does not only prescribe beliefs but also the norms of behaviour. Its guidance covers all spheres of human activities, both spiritual and material. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami upholds Islam in its entirety. It aims at bringing about changes in all phases and spheres of human activities on the basis of the guidance revealed by Allah and exemplified by His Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him" (Jamaat's website).

The Election Commission must review and summarily hold Jamaat to its charter. If the charter is found to be in contention with the Constitution then the party must be banned. If the party wishes to compete in a multi-party democracy, it must agree to adhere by the rules of the game. Unless Jamaat intends on starting a revolution, whatever victories it enjoys in an election will not give it a mandate to replace the Constitution and the rule of law.

It is worth stating there is absolutely nothing wrong with a political party grounded in religion. One may look to the Christian Democratic Union of Germany or the Justice and Development Party in Turkey for inspiration. The problem arises when the organization seeks to abolish the state and political system outside the bounds of law.

Finally, Jamaat must come to terms with Bangladesh's polity. The concept of a "Muslim" state was abandoned in 1971. While the "Islamization" of the political arena has continued somewhat since then, Bangladesh remains a multi-ideology, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, society.

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