Clashing Values in Bangladesh: NGOs, Secularism and the Ummah

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NGOs in Bangladesh are now caught up in a broader global discourse about the relationship between political systems, political culture and development. In earlier decades after liberation, NGOs operated within a normative assumption of secular democracy and a separation between civil society and state. This position was challenged by the realities of military governments between 1975 and 1990, and by problematic governance and corruption since 1991. However, within the context of global faith based movements, the centre of gravity political culture is now shifting to confront these secular and liberal assumptions. Bangladesh is now a vital site of contestation between the competing traditions of secularity and the ‘ummah’, and thus between western (donor led) conceptions of a civil society and a more faith-based fundamentalist basis of political inclusion and incorporation. The Islamicisation of political culture is also generating a split within the NGO community. Some NGOs, with a previous secular perspective, have opted to avoid engagement by re-positioning their profile solely in terms of service delivery. Other, often more recent, NGOs promote ‘Islamic values’ and are comfortable with their incorporation into a concept of ‘ummah’. However, there remains a significant third group of NGOs, with secular origins, which are trying to steer a complex course, pursuing secular democracy via a rights based agenda especially around women, yet differentiating themselves from the donor, western agenda. Thus they are embarked on a basic contestation over the meaning of nationalism in Bangladesh.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBath
PublisherESRC Research Group on Wellbeing in Developing Countries
Publication statusUnpublished - Apr 2007

Publication series

NameWellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) Working Papers
No.WeD Working Paper 31


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