Hifazat demands fundamentalism: German Ambassador

German Ambassador Albrecht Conze sees ‘fundamentalism’ in Hifazat-e Islam’s 13-point charter of demand that the little-known group made in a rally on Saturday.

Senior Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 8 April 2013, 08:04 AM
Updated : 8 April 2013, 09:14 AM

He says ‘this is not the tradition of secular Bangladesh’.

“This is a people’s republic. This is not a religious republic like Iran,” he said on Monday speaking at a Bangladesh-German Chamber of Commerce of Industries’ (BGCCI) ‘business launch’.
The luncheon meeting was organised to announce its partnership with the Messe Dusseldorf GmbH, one of the largest trade fair orgainsers in the world.
The Chittagong-based Hifazat has threatened to lay siege to Dhaka on May 5 if the government did not meet the demands that include banning women appearing in public with men, a halt to setting up of statues in educational institutions and roundabouts countrywide, and punishing what they said atheist bloggers.
Referring to their points, Ambassador Conze said: “We are seeing disturbing things these days. We are seeing things that belong to the Middle East, but not to the area east of Calcutta.”
He appealed to the business community to do ‘utmost’ to help defuse the current crisis. “Keep your republic constitutional, keep it secular.’
He said Bangladesh’s western friends were ‘worried’, but will ‘continue to stand by (it) in the current crisis’.
The Ambassador said Bangladesh was born as ‘a secular country and one of the reasons to leave the unity with then West Pakistan was that West Pakistan did not have secular tradition but East Bengal had’.
“Is your secular tradition now at risk?” he asked the business leaders of the largest bilateral chamber that has 400 members with annual two-way trade volume worth more than $4 billion.
He said they found “fundamentalism that takes God to the street instead of leaving God in the mosque, church, pagoda, or temple is not in the tradition of this country”.
Conze, however, said he was ‘confident’ that business people would find ‘one way or the other to be able to overcome it.’
In his speech, the ambassador spoke about Bangladesh’s current economic and political situation at a time when the country is witnessing constant shutdowns and the IMF predicts the usual 6 percent growth might not be achieved this year.
The Ambassador said Bangladesh ‘cannot afford to lose the steady growth’. To preserve the growth, he suggested going back to the constitution of the country, and ‘to the secret of success’ that is ‘secular Bangladesh’.
“If your growth goes down, the still existing and prevailing poverty will be like dynamites,” he said, “because people will not have the feeling that they can go out of it (poverty).”
He said the six percent growth was the reason for Bangladesh’s ‘internal stability and without growth you will not have stability’.
Germany is the second largest export market of Bangladesh with annual exports worth $3.5 billion.
The Ambassador said the interest about Bangladesh among German business community was ‘between unchanged and growing’.
“It is certainly not decreasing.”
He talked about fire safety standards in the readymade garment industries as he said Bangladesh’s garment industry was on the way of becoming ‘the biggest garment exporter in the world’.
“So becoming the biggest puts you to the spotlight and you must also become the best. Otherwise, you will run into far too many problems in the future.”
He credited ‘skills, diligence, and enormous perseverance’ of the people and their ‘readiness to work hard and even harder than some other continents’ to the ‘sustained success’ of the South Asian countries.
The success of South Asia’s economy, according to him, was hampered by a number of factors –absence of infrastructure and insufficient energy.
“But these are identified and defined which can be reduced by intelligent planning and best practices that have been developed elsewhere in the world.
“But the political and cultural factors were the most challenging in this region,” he continued.
“One party state like in East and South-East Asia is sometimes more efficient and more effective in planning, implementing and getting to results. It is more efficient than a democracy of the South Asian type.”
“It’s not a democracy (South Asian type) in pure sense of the word,” he said.
He said in the democracy of South Asian kind “you need consensus building and this consensus building is not just within political sphere, but it’s between the political and economic sphere”.
President of Bangladesh-German Chamber Shakhawat Abu Khair said the Hifajat people are ‘very minor’. “We have just given them a chance to come to the street.”
The Chief Advisor of the Chamber Md Saiful Islam said Bangladesh was still a secular country. “They (Hifajat) are 0.1 percent of Bangladesh’s people. It’s a fundamentalist group.”
“We have to give a prescription and roadmap to both government and the opposition abour what we should do and how.”
Ambassador Conze referred to the nine days of shutdown in March that he said brought ‘probably $2 billion economic loss to the country’. In the nine months towards the election, he said the figure will be $18 billion which is almost the figure the country’s main economic driver readymade garments earn a year.
He said Bangladesh should look at more than six percent economic growth and even a double digit frowth. For that, he said it would need “more transparency, it would need to say goodbye to well established practices of very close ties between the government of whatever party and business”.
The German envoy said Bangladesh-German Chamber in coming weeks and months had “enormous role to play in trying to ease the way to the future that does not seem easy right now”.
He, however, said he remained ‘optimistic’ because there were ‘too much brain and good intentions in this country for not letting it go the wrong way’.
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