JBS Vol 21. Num 1. 2019 - The Changing Face of Political Islam in Bangladesh: From Compromise to Confrontation? (1991-2016)

Helal Mohammed Khan

Islamic political engagement in a quasi-democracy is often marked by ambivalence. Needing to play second fiddle to bigger and so-called democratic counterparts, Islamic parties waver between religious and democratic ideals and struggle to find a middle path. How do Islamic parties handle this challenge in Bangladesh? In a post-Cold War political environment, when emancipatory ideals appeal strongly to popular minds compared to the overtly religious, how do Islamic parties advocate a stronger role for the latter? How can Islamic politics sustain – or even manipulate– Bangladesh’s governance system that treats ideological struggles with caution, and lately, repression? On an urgent note, do Bangladesh’s latest spurts of violence stem from the governments’ retrograde stances against Islamic politics, from whose absence reactionary forces benefit? In addressing these points, this paper forwards the argument that the true power of Bangladesh’s Islamic politics calls for anticipation beyond electoral feats; and that, past a period of democratic transition, political Islam may have reached a status in the country whereby governments can choose to dispense with it only at the cost of political stability and social cohesion.