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Runway : Identity Crisis & Portrait of Fanaticism In Contemporary Bangladesh

Tanzil Tahmid

Nowadays film is a very important form of media through which we can understand many contemporary burning
issues of a particular state or society. In the last decade, there's been some significant development in the
alternate genre of Bangladeshi film industry. A director like Tareque Masud, Tanvir Mokammel tried to put some
light on some critical & sensitive issues of contemporary Bangladesh, as well talk about one here which includes
religious fanaticism & identity crisis in accordance with the interpretation in the movie Runway by Tareque
Masud. The runway is a story of a low-income family living near the runway of the airport, its a contemporary
story. Well see that it has become a picture of a socio-economic and political crisis of contemporary Bangladesh
rather than a family story. For the first time, Tareque Masud has made a film about Bangladesh's latest issue and
put some light not only on the religion-based militancy and fanaticism but also on the issues like wool-labor,
microfinance-based NGO activities and the deprivation of immigrant workers in abroad. The major contributing
sector in the growing GDP of Bangladesh is remittance of migrant workers and export-oriented garments-clothing
industry. The economic and social situation of the rural society of Bangladesh is controlled by many NGO's micro
credit programs today. In the last few years, one of the biggest political crisis in Bangladesh was the militancy.
Tareque Masud brought all these possible & probable catalysts into this one story. Young Ruhul and his family
members are the representatives of this story, and that seems like that Ruhuls family is a small representation of
contemporary Bangladesh.

In this film, we see that Ruhul was getting changed in the face of militancy. He wants to impose a ban on
his sister, nothing else will be seen on television. He instructed his Mother to withdraw from NGO's
interest business. No one was allowing him to go through these changes and struggles.
There are two advantages and disadvantages to turn and develop a big contemporary events into an art.
The advantage is that it is easy to gather fresh elements of the events and the research is rarely required.
Even if its fiction, it has its own value. And the difficulty is that due to the course of a story a neutral
assessment is hardly possible. The close proximity of time and space prevents a trustworthy narrative in
this regard. But the artists retain their time in their work with the thinking that their actions will make
an immediate contribution to the humanitarian-social progress. Or his work may be just the personal
expression of the reaction that is bogging the inside. The film wants to keep the universal and all-time
expectation of art and philosophy. But coming out of that conception it often wants to play a role in
society as a media. Runway has been introduced in that role by holding contemporary crisis.
However, the things that have been brought in the film are generally considered 'sensitive'. There is a
talk of labour exploitation and labour unrest in garments. For the two months period, Fatima's salary
was closed. The Bangladeshi workers have been tormented by the people in the Middle East's labour
market. Powerful NGOs are keeping the pressure of collecting high rates of micro-loan But the mother
repays the instalment from the wages of the girl rather than selling her dairy products. And there is also
Ruhuls involvement with the extremist people and militancy. This last thing is most sensitive because in
these recent years a large number of people in Bangladesh have been confused by the fact that, which
is the true way of Islam. The level of complexity has increased after the event of 9/11. In the name of
Global Muslim fraternity, anti-imperialism, 'harmful' Western cultural-opposition the Islamic militancy is
moving towards the ultimate destruction and isolation of its followers. Thus the militancy cannot be
controlled, and its root is spreading in different directions. In 2005-06, the rise of militancy in Bangladesh
has a clear indication of its involvement with international politics, and its local acceptance is also in line
with local politics. The clear boundaries between the various dimensions of Islam in Bengal have become
obscure in recent times.
Historically, we see three variations of Islam - Sufi Islam, classical Islam and political Islam. In the
thirteenth century, Turkish Sufi-saint-saints came to preach Islam in this country. True Islam believes in
monism and relation between God and servant with Lord and Slaves. But Sufis believe in dualism where
love works as a bondage between God and his creation. This Sufi Islam became popular in Bengal, and
along with the Muslim rulers, those saints were very influential in society. But in the nineteenth century,
the real Arab-Islam was established in Muslim society through some similar Islamic reform movements
like Wahhabi and Faraizi in Bengal. The Quran based classical Islam became popular among the masses.
Sufi Islam became the cornerstone in the face of the Arab Islam. Political Islam was born through the
Muslim League in the early part of the twentieth century due to the political-social conditions of British
India and various policies of the British government. Even now in modern Bangladesh Political Islam is
getting even more critical. But since political Islam is favouring jihad or force, so in the recent militant
activities, we have seen that they wanted to stop the activities of Sufi Islam. They attacked some shrines
with the bomb; they stopped the Bauls program and opera too.
Religious fanaticism works in the same way as it worked with the character Ruhul. Eventually, it makes
people isolated from his own life and drives him towards an unconditional destruction from the inside.
Muslims like Ruhul are getting more confused day by day with what is the true path of Islam. The basic
question that has been chasing away the Muslims of Bengal is that if he is a Bengali at first or a Muslim
and this creates one of the most controversial identity crisis in contemporary Bangladesh.

Over 85 per cent of Bangladeshs population are followers of Islam. Although the 1972 constitution
emphasised secularism, this was changed in 1977and again in 1988 when General Ershad, who seized
power in a bloodless coup in 1982, inserted an article declaring Islam to be the state religion, but
permitting other religions to be practised in peace and harmony.This led to the emergence of many
religious parties that have been pressing the government to implement Islamic principles in governance.
Indications are that religious fanaticism is rising and affecting socioeconomic life in Bangladesh.There is
intense and sometimes violent political rivalry between the countrys main political parties, and the
presence of radical Islamist parties and groups has defined the countrys political course in recent years,
which is also presenting a crisis in governance. (Singh, 2016)

This crisis, however, has arisen from the circumstances in which the nation was born. Before
independence, Pakistans inability to come to terms with the electoral verdict to divide the country and
create the new state of Bangladesh from East Pakistan exposed flaws in the political system. Then the
governments own authoritarian tendencies led to unrest and dissatisfaction among the masses, and
military rule and elections that lacked legitimacy further exposed the weakness of constitutional
government.Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States by al-Quaeda, the situation in Bangladesh has
deteriorated faster than is generally understood. When Pakistan and Afghanistan came under pressure
from the United States and its allies following the attacks, many terroristsreportedly with the support
of Pakistans Intelligence servicesfound safe haven in Bangladesh. Playing the Islam card for political
gain, most local terrorist groups in Bangladesh are highly radicalised and operate under the franchise of
Pakistani and Afghan groups, including al-Qaeda. The collective strength of these groups in Bangladesh
is currently estimated to be in the several thousand. While India is their principal target, their anti-US
and anti-West outbursts are too shrill to be ignored. The proximity of arms bazaars in Pacific Rim
countries has also enabled them to procure sophisticated weapons and explosives. With the rapid
radicalisation of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the erosion of will and capability of
governments to deal with the conditions giving rise to extremist and terrorist groups, the overall security
situation in the region is highly vitiated.

The violence playing out today has its roots in that debate over whether Bangladesh was Muslim or
Bengali. The answer was, of course, both. The Islam in Bangladesh was different from the Islam generally
found in Pakistanits culture was more syncretic, more open to other traditions, with a more liberal
attitude towards the role of women, music and dance. Traditionally people in Bangladesh are Bengalis
first and moderate Muslims next, united with common bonds of language, culture and tradition. As the
pendulum swings between religious subjugation and ethnic Bengali hegemony, this Pahela Baishakh, we
are definitely debating the boundaries of Muslim, Bengali and Bangladeshi. With different interest
groups and state apparatuses refusing to accommodate inclusive grey areas, one question becomes
imperativeare we failing to define the nation? In other words, are we suffering from an identity crisis?
In comprehending these questions, one must reflect on Bangladesh's political history. Even though
secularism, socialism, democracy and nationalism were included as the state principles in the country's
first constitution in 1972, the role of religion became palpable in politics. Islamist political parties
emerged as kingmakers after the restoration of democracy in the 1990s. While the Islamisation of politics
was underway, the 'pro-secular' Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) and the centre-right Bangladesh
National Party (BNP) were engaged in political squabbles. (Tripathi, 2016)

The 'Bengali' identity highlights the secularist traditions that were an integral part of the early history of
Bengal as well as the Language Movement that arose in the early 1950s which eventually led to the
creation of Bangladesh. On the other hand, 'Bangladeshi' emphasises Islam as the core element of its
identity and territorial nationalism, as an effort to differentiate the Bengalis of Bangladesh and Bengalis
of West Bengal of India. The two distinct identities, the 'Bengali' and the 'Bangladeshi', have indicated a
failure to resolve historical and political anxieties. Both the 'Bengali' and 'Bangladeshi' nationalism
adhere to selective histories that serve each political party's unique version of the 1971 and subsequent
history. They create linear meta-narratives of the religious and cultural history of the region to serve
their political interests. The identity struggle turned from a political issue to a social crisis in 2013 when
the Shahbagh movement and Hefazat shed light on the unresolved and politicised issue of national
identity. Since then, the perceived mutual exclusivity of people's religious and cultural identities has
reinforced political and social polarisation fuelled by the two main political parties. For example, the
Shahbagh movement was supported by mostly middle-class urban youth with access to mainstream
Bengali and English medium education, which provides better access to social, political, and economic
resources. Participants and supporters have regular access to the Internet, which played a major role in
bringing about the movement. Followers of the Shahbagh movement also included members of the civil
society, Bangladeshis living and studying in Western countries as well as the political elites.On the other
hand, Hefezat-e-Islam was represented by the youth who were predominantly from rural areas where
madrassas are the alternative education system for people who cannot afford mainstream education.
This education largely results in social, political, and economic exclusion from the mainstream society.
(Zaman, 2017)

This narrative of the Shahbagh movement excludes non-Bengalis such as the Chakma and other tribal
peoples found in the Hill Tracts and elsewhere, and non-Bengali 'Biharis' left over from Pakistan. On the
other hand, in Hefazat-e-Islam's imagination of the nation, there was no place for a non-Muslim
community in Bangladesh. It lacks historical perspective or context in the sense that it ignores the
thousand years of shared history and cultures. These conflicting binary groups legitimised intolerance
and created a greater division in the already polarised society and fragile democracy. Contemporary
Bangladesh has seen the rise of two violent phase of history, neither of which represents the syncretic
and tolerant nature of the region's history. They highlighted the continuous struggle between
Bangladeshi and Bengali identities, which has escalated into an identity crisis. They only legitimised
undemocratic practices by the ruling party as well as amplified extremism and intolerance towards
different opinions and ideas.But what is most unfortunate regarding these narratives and the identity
crisis is the perceived mutual exclusivity of the Bengali and Bangladeshi identity. The assumption
that the region's cultural and religious identities are at war with each is outrageous and ahistorical.
Bangladesh went through three partitions encompassing a struggle of various factors including religious,
social, and economic.

Nowadays religious fanaticism and identity crisis is one of the most sensitive and critical social issues in
contemporary Bangladesh which has already caused the people of this country a great deal of
dysfunction. Weve been struggling for a very long time just to make sure one thing that if we are Bengali
at first or a Muslim. Its the same old question which has been putting Bangladesh in so much distressful
time and so far it seems like it's not going to be resolved anytime soon.


Singh, R. (2016). Bangladesh Grapples With Rising Islamic Terrorism. Asian Studies Asociation of Australia, Asian

Tripathi, S. (2016). Bangladesh's Crisis of Identity. Prospect Magazine.

Zaman, F. (2017). Suffering From An Identity Crisis. The Daily Star, Star weekened/Perspective.