- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Debate is ‘over’

A top member of the major Islamic political party in Bangladesh on Tuesday declared that the debate over whether Islam is compatible with democracy has concluded.

Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami, said Islamic parties “from Indonesia to Morocco are coming up.”

“That is a good sign. They are adopting democratic principles,” he said, adding, “The debate over whether Islam and democracy can function together is over.”

The theological and scholarly debate concerned the presumed conflict between a religion based on submission to God’s laws in the Islamic holy book, the Koran, and a political system based on laws made by elected officials. Mr. Kamaruzzaman said the question central to the debate - whether man-made laws can trump God’s laws - missed the point.

“People will implement God’s laws on behalf of God. The people have a role to play,” Mr. Kamaruzzaman told Embassy Row on a visit to The Washington Times. “We can work successfully in an inclusive society.”

He insisted that his party, dominated by Sunni Muslims, is committed to a pluralistic democracy, as explained on its Web site (www.jamaat-e-islami.org).

“What we are saying is what we stand for,” Mr. Kamaruzzaman said.

However, much of his mission in Washington this week is to explain that his party is not an extremist movement.

“We are still trying to dispel this idea,” he added. “We are misunderstood.”

Critics who have studied the party’s platform disagree and also point to the Web site as evidence that Jamaat-e-Islami intends to establish an Islamic fundamentalist society through a democratic process.

“[Its] declaration of intent to ‘uphold Islam in its entirety’ is the cornerstone of the [party’s] strategy to lay the foundation for an authoritarian hierarchical structure with its own leadership at the helm,” said Maneeza Hossain, an analyst with the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

“The party blends its integration of Muslim values and Islamic politics into a broader … platform to appeal to a wide swath of voters,” she added.

The party supports greater welfare programs for Bangla-desh’s poor and campaigns against graft in a nation that Transparency International ranked as the “most corrupt country in the world,” she said.

In Bangladesh, popular blogger Shahzaman Mozumder was harsher in his criticism.

“I oppose Jamaat because of its ideology,” he said. “It wants to take us back through time to a world when people believed the earth was flat.”

On the political situation in Bangladesh, Mr. Kamaruzzaman said the caretaker government installed two years ago and backed by the military is risking pushing “the country toward uncertainty and darkness.”

Jamaat party leader Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami was arrested last month on corruption charges, joining the leaders of the two major parties, Sheikh Hasina Wazed of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who were jailed last year.

“This is an attempt to eliminate the party leaders so they cannot compete in the elections,” Mr. Kamaruzzaman said. “We are demanding they be released.”

The interim government was supposed to have ruled for no more than 90 days. It promises elections by the end of December.

Dutch visit

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands is due in Washington on Thursday to meet with President Bush to discuss developments in Afghanistan and economic relations with the United States, the Dutch Embassy said Tuesday.

The prime minister will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, who will meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

*Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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