"An interview of Dr. Humayun Azad"

“America is like a beauty queen, used by all and loved by none,” said leading Bengali feminist in an exclusive interview

Bangla Patrika, 3 May 2002. Translated from Bangla by Moinuddin Naser.

Humayun Azad, controversial author, famous feminist, and professor of Bengali at Dakha University, came to New York to open the 11th Bangladeshi Book Fair on April 21.

“This book fair will help bring Bangladeshi culture to American society,” Azad said.

In the Bangla Patrika office, Azad made many off-the-record comments, but most things he stated freely and frankly without any hesitation. This was his first visit to the United States, and he was disappointed. “I already miss the America of my imagination,” he said. “I miss the America of free thinking and unfettered independence, something I did not see in the behavior of people on the street.”

“Born in a Muslim family, I have the right to criticize Islam and Bangladesh,” he said. And criticize he did, as well as inform American Bangladeshis of what is happening back home.

“Bangladeshi workers who once lived in Saudi Arabia or Qatar and now live in the United States say that they were shackled in the Middle East. Coming to America, they are now free. It’s a sort of like getting to heaven, in comparison to the Middle East,” Azad said.

“People who came from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to this country say that they had no rights in the Middle East. They were not able to go anywhere. They used to spend their lives in confinement, as if they were modern slaves. Coming to this country, they find that here the vehicles stop once you step off the corner to cross the street. People respect each other.”

“It is the style of Islamic practice in Saudi Arabia that creates discrimination among the people. Every man is being becoming devoid of humanity,” he added.

He expressed resentment that many of us cannot accept the society of open thinking in America. But pointing to a link between capitalism and democracy, he said that there was no democracy in any of the Muslim countries. He remarked that the Muslim societies have lost their national identities and cultures amidst poverty and illiteracy. He said the Muslim countries do not practice democracy themselves.

“We think that the America has a responsibility to establish democracy from country to country. But America has got its own interests. When we don't behave justly in our own country, America has no responsibility to bring democracy by intervening in our countries,” he added.

He said that in the Muslim world, Bangladesh is the most modern and democratic country, though expansion of fundamentalism persists.

“There was extremism in the politics of Bangladesh, there was corruption too. American politics is also corrupt. But in Bangladesh, even the beggars are corruption-ridden. And in Bangladesh, people are working against people in many ways. And they use religion, as their tool.

“In Bangladesh corruption has been blended with religious blindness. The people of Bangladesh are busy with domestic religious blindness, political blindness, those returning from the United States are religiously blind; bearded or veiled doctorates in physics return from America, use prayer mats, give money to relatives to perform hajj and build mosques in and around the country,” he said. Their experiences here are making them appear more religious, and it’s bad for Bangladeshi society, he said.

“Many scholars obtain PhD degrees in this country, and return home with whole-face beards or scarves on their heads. They are influencing the society in Bangladesh very deeply, by returning to Bangladesh showing such outward displays of Islamic devotion even after spending many years in a country as developed as America. This is creating a negative impact in Bangladesh society,” he said.

“Common people in Bangladesh are heard saying, “They return from the America after obtaining PhDs, but the men maintain beards and the women wear veils. They practice religion. So there cannot be anything bad about religion.”

Moreover, Hindu priests, Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish rabbis, under the guise of religion, are working “with the objectives of creating divisions among themselves. They should have unity among them,” he said, “but that does not exist.”

Azad called both Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina “frauds.”

He pointed out that President George W. Bush uses religion, too, citing the prominence of religion in Bush’s inauguration. “It is not an act of any open-minded person to be inaugurated through religious function. It is harmful that President Bush indulges the religious leaders.”

He had always been in favor of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. He said that the Talibans in Afghanistan had been destroyed, and this destruction has helped quell the insurgence of Talibans in Bangladesh. “Fundamentalist terrorism has been subdued to a great extent. That is good for us,” he said. “Once, the fundamentalists in Bangladesh used to chant slogans in favor of Afghanistan. But ultimately the slogans have been calmed down. In Bangladesh the practice of fundamentalism has gone too far and even all the reading materials in the class contains the name of Allah and Prophet,” he said.

Humayun Azad said that poor women in Bangladesh are being tortured and raped. They are almost like prisoners. But the middle-class and upper-class women are gradually moving towards freedom.

Humayun Azad, 55, lives in Dhaka with his wife Latifa Kohinoor, daughters Mouli and Smriti and son Anannya.

 Published at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/8291

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