Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
The Past is Many Countries: Socialist Bangladesh, Rumors of Revolution, and the Return of Islam

The British Indian empire ended in 1947 with the partition along religious lines of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. In 1971, Pakistan was itself divided into two, this time in a rejection of religion as the foundation of the nation. The "Muslim nation" ideology of Pakistan was discarded by its Eastern half, which became independent Bangladesh. Following the socialist ideals of its liberation leader Sheikh Mujib, Bangladesh was briefly celebrated as a model for decolonization via socialism, to the dismay of an Arab bloc that was promoting Islamism as an alternate unifying system. Global Islamist groups argued that the creation of Bangladesh was a mistake, as it interrupted their dreams of a globe-spanning "Muslim world." They therefore celebrated a 1975 counterrevolution, in which Mujib was murdered and his socialist government replaced with Islamism, as the "return of religion." The 1979 Iranian revolution is usually thought of as the dawn of resurgent global Islamism, but I posit Bangladesh's 1975 Islamic revival to be the earlier decisive moment. This project will investigate the rise of Islamist politics in the 1970s, in the context of mass uprisings across the third world, which overturned state-socialist governments to embrace Islamist politics. To understand this process, my project will focus on the role of rumor in the demise of the socialist regime in 1975, and the memory industries that fiercely debate that event today. I want to locate Bangladesh's current memory wars within an ongoing transnational project pulling nations into a "Muslim world" conceptual orbit. I locate this within the vacuum of ideology left by two sequential collapses in socialist ideas– the end of socialist governments like Bangladesh in the 1970s, and the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989. By placing Bangladesh at the locus of competing movements of Islamism and socialism, I expand scholarship about these two forces beyond an Arab and European focus.