The case for Identity Politics- Bangladesh vs the west.

Basing your political ideology on religion, race, class, sexuality, gender, wealth, national, linguistic or any other identity is called identity politics.

Historically identity politics have done a lot of good and a lot of bad. In a modern world identity politics seems to be the hot craze in all of politics. We want to infuse state/organisational policies with beliefs from our own identity of choice. Be it race, religion, culture etc. etc.

Exhibit A, in the USA Christian evangelists are pushing their godly views of America while in the UK a “White British” identity pushes for Brexit. Looking closer at home- countries such as India and Bangladesh, two countries both created out of national identities, we see a resurgence of the old religious identities (Hindu/Muslim) within its educated class.

So why is it that the same south asian educated moderate that despises Donald trump’s evangelical church rhetoric, supports mosque run sharia societies within his own motherland? The answer kids, is identity. His political beliefs echo with his chosen identity.

Now, the question comes. What good has identity politics done? And what bad has identity politics done?

The black panther party and “black lives matter” movement are examples of identity politics working as an equaliser for good. From their inceptions they’ve been pushing forward the African American agenda and advocating for equality.

Bangladesh’s very own language movement of 1952 is also an example of identity politics. Political action unified by a shared linguistic Identity which eventually sowed the seeds to liberation movements.

On the flip side, Bangladesh is also guilty of the evils of identity politics. The country’s blindness towards the murder of critics of monotheism, murder of advocates of LGBTQ community, the attacks on minorities and borderline colonial treatment of its indigenous nations are all fueled by various identity politics.

If we look for evils of identity politics in the west we find that the post 9/11 American global empire was fueled by the identity politics of Americana. The “they’ve attacked americans, so we’ll attack them” narrative. A narrative that is universally accepted as phony since we all know that the notion of “American freedom” is a bunch of hot garbage. Ask any political analyst and they’ll tell you that the recent American “freedom” imperialism was fueled solely by the energy crisis created by greedy oil monarchs and according to Eisenhower himself- “military industrial complex”.

So now the question comes, should identities such as muslims always get a “get out of jail free card”?

No.

I’ll try to explain why and honestly it has nothing to do with the religion itself. That’s a conversation for another day.

So what are the common factors in all examples above? When does identity politics become harmful to human lives? The answer is, when it is at the hand of the Privileged and the Majority.

As we can see, minority groups, underprivileged groups, oppressed groups need identity politics to have their voices heard. To rally around a common identity, and collectively push for equal treatment. On the other hand majority groups, groups that hold all the power and privileges. Groups that hold a larger voice. In their hands identity politics becomes a tool for murder and ethnic cleansing of millions.

Buddhist monk Wirathu, dubbed the “Buddhist Bin Laden”,speaks during a rally to show support to the Myanmar military in Yangon. (Sai Aung Main / AFP Photo)

And here’s the tricky thing about identity politics; the same identity can belong to both the oppressed and the oppressor, under different circumstances. Thus the “get out of jail free” status of any group’s identity politics should not be universally permitted (forget what-about-ism).

And again a good example of this is, The Muslim.

In the west, Muslims are a minority. A community under constant attack. They need identity politics to accumulate their voices and create an impact. Their identity politics would include feeding the hungry, facing vandalism towards mosques, organise small gatherings during eids, and lobbying against draconian laws such as banning of the burqa.

Ilhan Abdullahi Omar is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district since 2019.

In Bangladesh, where Bengali Muslims are the majority. The overwhelming majority. The terrifying majority! Identity politics should be advocated against by the intelligentsia. More so by the expatriate Bangladeshis. The reality you see in London, is not the reality in Brahmanbaria. In here Bengali Muslim identity politics means mandatory burqa, and a ban on atheism, marching on the capital city for one religious leader, victim blaming rape victims for not wearing a hijab, honor killings, vandalism on Buddhist sites and murder of gay rights activists. We can not forget that identity politics in the hands of a powerful group tries to mould everything in accordance to its identity’s preferred beliefs.

Identity politics of Bengali Muslims mean your favourite volunteer organisation should justify their name because it doesn’t adhere to your faith. It means your progressive “leftist” ideas would adhere to your faith! It means demanding that your state policies and laws and constitution should adhere to your faith, and honestly that’s just as bad as Donald trump’s evangelical rhetorics.

Kishore Kumar Das, Founder of Bidyanondo Foundation

And you can’t blame the usual scapegoats, class or education, for the rampant atrocities caused by identity politics of majority/privileged groups. Doesn’t matter what that identity is. It can be Race, Religion, Sexuality, Gender, Class or Ethno-nationalism. Every identity politics can be challenged by the intellectuals from that identity’s privileged/majority. It is the greatest hurdle any politics must face. When the intellectuals give any identity a free pass, it gets a license to run free and rampant. If Bangla Bhai and JMB returns to bangladesh, it will be possible only because the educated upper echelon of Bengali society legitimised them by not challenging their identity politics.

I’ll end this with the last example of identity politics- in south asia, a land broken up by ethnic, linguistic, class and religious political divisions, Nationalism played the role of a unifying force. Doesn’t mean nationalism didn’t face any opposition though. Looking back at the Rajakars of 1971, they were people who chose their religious identity over their national. And when National identity won, they were temporarily excommunicated. What do you think would happen if the religious identity won?

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