How Bangladesh tries to heal a religious rupture

Violent attacks on Hindus have led many public figures to restore the nation’s basis for communal harmony.

A protester in Dhaka, Bangladesh, holds a placard during an Oct. 19 protest against violence committed on Hindu communities.

In a country with a history of interfaith tensions, Bangladesh just provided an example of how to counter religious bigotry. After days of violent attacks on Hindus over a social media post seen as blasphemous against Islam, many public figures quickly reminded Bangladeshis of the basis for communal harmony. It was a call for more than tolerance or a condemnation of hate.

Thousands of people rallied Wednesday – a day when Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in Bangladesh observed three of their holy days – in celebration of a common commitment to peace. “Teach Your Children to Love, Not to Kill,” read a placard at one rally. (At least six people have been killed in the violence since Friday, with dozens of Hindu temples and homes attacked.)

In an appeal to act only on accurate information, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, urged people to fact-check anything controversial on social media. The violence was started by a video that seemed to show a Quran, Islam’s holy book, near a Hindu statue.

“Bangladesh is a country of secular spirit,” she said. “The people of all religions will perform their religious rituals freely as our constitution has given that directive.” She also directed prosecution of those who committed the violence. Hundreds have so far been arrested.

In society at large, crowds of people formed human chains on campuses and at the national museum to show interfaith solidarity against religious hatred. A famed movie director suggested non-Hindus tell Hindu neighbors that they are not alone.

A well-known actress, Bidya Sinha Saha Mim, offered this idea on Facebook: “If the country belongs to all of us, then there should be no word for ‘minority.’”

Such reactions in Bangladesh provide lessons for other nations dealing with religious strife. When a society puts faith in equality of all, it can enjoy equality between faiths.

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