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European virtual conference on Bangabandhu’s legacy

Speakers at an international virtual conference held on 27 March 2021 recalled the core values of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for tolerance, mutual understanding, friendship and social harmony in every sphere of society. They affirmed that because of the secular ideology of Bangabandhu, the newly independent country of Bangladesh stood up as a model of religious freedom and a friendly state for all faiths.

They were speaking at the international virtual conference organised by the European Bangladesh Forum (EBF), a Europe-based diaspora organisation of Bengali Europeans, to mark Mujib Year titled ‘The Legacy of Bangabandhu’s Secular Political Ideals: Challenges of Radicalisation in Bangladesh and the Region’. The virtual conference was organised in the backdrop of the Golden Jubilee of the independence of Bangladesh and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The virtual conference was addressed by Bangladesh Ambassador in Netherlands Mr. M Riaz Hamidullah, Professor Dr. John Eade, University of Roehampton London, Mr. Niels van den Berge, Dutch Member of Parliament from GroenLinks, Mr Muhammad Zulqar Nain, Deputy High Commissioner of Bangladesh to the UK, Ms. Mahjabeen Khaled, former Member of Parliament, Bangladesh and Mr. Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Co-President of EBF. Mr. Bikash Chowdhury Barua, co-President of EBF moderated the conference.

In his speech Bangladesh Ambassador Mr M Riaz Hamidullah drawing on the global scenario said, ‘The issue of identity is also very strong in many places across the world but ‘if you look at Bangladesh, you see the clear impact of Bangabandhu’s secular ideology. I mean, many of us at that time could not realise but if you fast forward today, four or five decades later. It is very clear today … the world, are … struggling to deal with ethnic identity, linguistic identity or religious identity. Bangladesh that way has actually stood apart based on its four basic values: nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism.’

Former Bangladeshi MP Ms Mahjabeen Khaled said, by 1955, under Sheikh Mujibur Mujib’s leadership the ‘East Pakistan Awami Muslim League’ was renamed the ‘Awami League’, dropping the word ‘Muslim’ to open the doors of the party to all, regardless of their religion. Focusing on Bangabandhu Ms. Khaled’s struggle affirmed that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the best among those who had led the struggle for freedom, for establishing a nation state with the unity of the different religious communities. This puts Sheikh Mujib Rahman to the top, credited for establishing a true secular state.

Professor Dr. John Eade, University of Roehampton London, UK said secularism in Bangladesh meant for tolerance of religious differences. And clearly this form of secularism is different from the Western form of secularism. Clearly both in India and also, I think, Bangabandhu’s vision was different from that secularism, which allows religious difference and religious tolerance.

Dutch MP Mr. Niels van den Berge in his speech said Sheikh Mujib was a big visionary and incomparable with other political leaders in the world. Still today his vision are inspiring people in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi Diaspora in Europe and other parts of the world. Presenting the analysis of the radicalization and extremism in the Dutch youngsters, Mr. Niels van den Berge opined that to stop radicalization and extremism in society it is inevitable to maintain and continue the dialogue among diverse groups, similar to the strategy and policy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Muhammad Zulqar Nain, Bangladesh’s Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, stressed Bangabandhu’s secularism and how Bangladesh is tackling radicalism driven by Bangabandhu’s vision.

EBF Co-President and Moderator of the conference Mr Bikash Chowdhury Barua in his opening remarks said, ‘Bangabandhu was not only a secular leader in the true sense; he was a champion of secularism. However, the million-dollar question is, where is that legacy of Bangabandhu today in his Sonar Bangla? With the assassination of Bangabandhu, the political scenario, the ideology and spirits that led Bengalis to the Liberation War were changed overnight. We saw the rise of radicalisation among the youth, rise of violent extremism across the country and in the region in the name of religion, which has become a big challenge.’

Mr. Ansar Ahmed Ullah, co-President of EBF, summarised the discussion and said the EBF would continue to work to ensure a secular Bangladesh and hold further events to mark Bangabandhu’s birth centenary.

It may be mentioned that the virtual meeting was organised in collaboration with the London-based British Bangla News. It was telecasted live from the British Bangla News.