Farhad Mazhar is an interesting figure in Bangladesh today, one of the few bridges between the Left and the pro Islamic sections of the society. He has founded some practical and non-donorised organisations, which focus on practical networks of creation and ecological agriculture.
His Marxist and Leninists pasts and current strong defense of Islam and Muslims from political attack confuses people who think statically and sectarianly (if they have any impression of him at all).
This post is to introduce him and a recent speech he made in East London. Readers in Bangladesh may not have heard from him in a while due to his black listing.
So who is Farhad Mazhar?
This 1998 Himal article by Naeem Mohaimen is a good introduction to the journey of his political and poetical practices. In 2008, I wrote a reflection on his Language Movement busting article on Language, Ecology and Knowledge Practice.
And why is he important?
Over 2013, his public outspokeness against the brutal government and the subservient media allied to it earned him vilification and state intimidation in Bangladesh, where the racist and Islamophobic ideology of Bengali Nationalism haunts and taunts the society, and is also accepting the new demands of neoliberalism without question, like genetically modified Aubergines, and goodness knows what else in the name of climate adaptation, war on terror and poverty reduction.
What is he saying?
One of the important moves in Mazhar’s speech is the reading of Bangladesh’s Declaration of Independence, which frames the Liberation War as being for equality, human dignity and social justice, which are non-exclusivist aims, and underplayed by the Awami League. His Citizen’s Movement article, on Human rights and the decay of ethical values of state and society expands on the point.
In his recent speech, a video (in Bangla for now) of which is embedded below, he communicates with a section of generally Islamically moved Bangladeshi people in East London, and provokes them over whether they are seriously interested in removing oppression from the society.
He is of a philosophical and dialogical bent of mind, which is evident from his insistence that the audience be active to learn, not chant, and provocative. He advocates the need for an alliance between the pro Islam, nationalist and those whose politics is for the oppressed. Noting a sharp absence of ‘The Left’ in the hall, he says they are essential, and calls on them not to be dismissed as nasthiks and gave the example of Maulana Bhashani, who was affectionately known as ‘Father of the Oppressed’.
Many in the current generation of deshis, in the UK or otherwise, might not have much idea of Bhashani, or the pro Islam politics of the oppressed in Bangladesh. However he is a vital figure in history, and recently the Brethren of Black Lotus explored his significance to the political and spiritual imaginary of Bangladesh..
Communing with the left is more easily said than done, but not without recent precedent, think Ali Shariati, Moulana Bhashani, not to mention the story of the Stop the War Coalition. It is a necessity, not just to remove Sheikh Hasina from power, but to address deep seated problems, continuities form colonial times, that remain undressed and devastating.
It is high time that there was open dialogue, reassurance and confidence building on such vital issues. Hopefully there is some learning within the system, in particularly amongst the younger people in the audience.