December 31, 2007

Creativity, Innovation and Law

A video that everyone with an opinion on VoIP should watch.

December 21, 2007

Markets as Solutions for Everything?

An old TIME magazine article that I came across the other day has this to say:

“The power of markets, it turns out, has something to say about practically everything. We see it at work on Wall Street, which absorbs the collected wisdom of millions of investors and expresses it as stock prices. Prediction markets now let people bet on everything from sports scores to election results to the expected capture of al-Qaeda bigwig Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi…

“…Consider the investigation just launched in Washington over an apparent leak at the Department of Homeland Security in which insiders seem to have tipped off relatives about an alleged threat to the New York City subway system. Outrageous behavior? Perhaps. But get those "insider traders" into a market, and everyone will have access to that information. Insiders have a motivation--money, at the basest level--to distribute their knowledge”

Read the rest here.

Certainly an interesting idea and one I do not subscribe to fully. I would be highly interested in the Islamic debates concerning such “prediction markets” given that they are akin to gambling if not gambling itself.

December 16, 2007

শুভ বিজয় দিবস

On the 37th anniversary of the birth of our Republic from the ashes of a badly-run Tyranny that had just committed Fratricide from which there is no return, we find it in pretty bad shape and as ever hope for the best.

From the blogs:

If you want to know the state of Bangladesh right now, read this.

If you want to know the history of Bangladesh's bloody birth, read this.

If you want to know our darkest fears, read this.

And if you dream of a better Bangladesh, this blogger invites you to spell out exactly what you would want to see in such a country.

Lastly, the least I can do, for all those who lost their lives in '71 so that today we the living can live with dignity and say with pride that we are Bangladeshis, is to remember their sacrifice. Below, with Mash's permission, I have copied from his blog the testimonies of those who saw their loved ones taken away, their lives shattered and their families broken. All for the "sin" of being the wrong colour and speaking the wrong language. Today we hear from some quarters - both criminals and their apologists - a lot of bluster about "Islam" and "Bangladesh". Those who defend the killers of innocents have no moral authority to talk about these two things while defending them. Those who killed innocents have no moral authority to talk about these two things under any circumstances whatsoever.


Credit goes to Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed for compiling these testimonies.

We salute those who spoke of such tremendous loss with so much courage.


Pakistan army killed my father

It was a dark day in the history of genocide, March 25th 1971. A deathly hush had fallen over the bustling capital city of Dhaka, as Pakistani soldiers, armed to the teeth began their systematic and brutal blood bath of the Bengali army, navy and air force personnel , followed by mass executions of civilians; professors, doctors, lawyers and other professionals and university students were targeted . The city was terrorized as squads of Pakistani soldiers forced their way into homes in the middle of the night, dragged their targets out, before their screaming families and shot them in cold blood, checking them off their death list.

The Pakistani terror squad quickly spread to the neighboring cities, burning villages to the ground on the way, shooting escaping civilians; men, women and children, as they ran out of their burning homes. By that time all news of the genocide operation was controlled by the Pakistan army and the propaganda machine was in full force, along with a complete curfew. Electricity and water was turned off along with all communications.

Major M.A. Hasib stationed in Comilla cantonment, a city approximately 60 miles from Dhaka, was making arrangements and looking forward to a civilian life, after devoting a 21 year career to the Pakistan army. He had opted for an early retirement, because he had been superseded for promotion to Colonel twice. He was disgusted with the treatment of Bengali officers by the Pakistani army, who routinely and deliberately, used the concept of the glass ceiling and kept the Bengali officers in their midst at lower ranks. Hearing of the atrocities committed by the Pakistani soldiers, from the news on BBC radio, his wife feared that he was imminent danger. But he comforted her. Believing that since his early retirement was approved and came into effect only ten days earlier and that he had been a loyal army officer all his life, they had nothing to fear from him, thus no harm would come to him and his family. But the Pakistani death squads were taking no chances.
They came for him on the morning of March 29th 2007, as he sat down to breakfast with his family and huddled together to listen to BBC news on the transistor radio. He was my father, Major M.A.Hasib. Four armed soldiers escorted into a jeep at gunpoint. That was the last time he was seen alive.

My mother and two small sisters were later thrown into prison camp, where they witnessed and suffered the atrocities committed by the Pakistani soldiers.
My father’s brutal end came to light after Bangladesh became independent. An eye witness, a barber whose life had been spared, because his services were needed by the Pakistani soldiers, told authorities a brutal tale of torture and murder and led authorities to seven mass graves, only a short distance from our house, with 500 bodies, all blind folded, their hands tied behind their backs, shot by firing squad.

He was my father, Major M.A. Hasib. He was forty two years old.

Rukhsana Hasib, Holland, Pennsylvania


They killed my two brothers

My brother Shahidullah Kaiser was a famous journalist, novelist and also an associate editor of a daily news paper.. He was very respected for his relentless work and activism for Bengali language movement and other cultural activities to inspire the nation. At the end the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, the Pakistan Army and its local collaborators initiated a plan for killing the leading Bengali intellectuals. As a part of it, Mr. Kaisar was rounded up on 14 December 1971 only 2 days prior to the liberation of Bangladesh.. He never returned, nor was his body found. It is assumed that he was executed along with other intellectuals. My other brother, Zahir Raihan, a notable film-maker, writer, novelist and cultural activist who was in India helping the liberation war and returned immediately after the liberation on 16th December. He was a man of enormous courage and integrity. When he heard the news about Mr. Kaiser, he unknowingly entered to an enclave of Pakistani army and its collaborator who had not surrendered their arms despite the official surrender of Pakistani army. Zahir Raihan could not come back and is body also was never found. He disappeared on December 30, 1971 trying to locate his beloved brother. The wives of my brothers went through so much hardship and pain in raising their mostly minor children. My family waited many years hoping that they might come back as prisoners of war, but our tears were dried up pain remain the same.

Shaheen Shah, New York, New York


They tortured and killed my father Mr. Serajuddin Hossain who was executive editor of a daily newspaper Ittefaq

It was almost at the end of the 9 months of war and struggle for independence on 10th December 1971. After midnight in during the blackout, curfew at 3:30 a.m. we heard knocking at the door! We woke up; my brothers at the living room lit the light and looked outside. They recognized our landlord, who asked to open the door. My brothers thought the landlord and his family was in danger, may be my father could help them, so my brother tried to open the door and in lighting speed a barrel of rifle got in, some one screamed "hands up". In thundering speed near about 10 armed men entered in the room. Most of them were in masks. Keeping living room people at gunpoint they were asking their name one by one in Urdu language. Then they took them to out side verandah, where the whole family of our landlord stood in gunpoint. By that time I rushed to my father’s door to let him know that the embodiment of death, Pakistan army and Razkars, Al Badrs were there. We had a great confidence that if my father came out and reveal his identity then they would not do any harm to us. Armed Razkars, Al Badrs and army personnel entered the bedroom of my parents and rushed to my father and asked his identity in gunpoint. My father only could say, "Serajuddin Hossain, Executive editor of daily Itte…." A harsh voice screamed "hands up, Auo hamara saath’ (Come along with us). My father could not wear his shirt (Panjabi), he was just wearing a t-shirt (Sando Genji), and Lunghi – the traditional Bengali casual dress, he was bare footed and holding a torch light in his hand. They brought him out and hurriedly told us to go to inside of the room and shut the door, they threatened us not to look through windows or even try to follow them; they would shoot if we did not follow the instruction! My father at that point only was asking to take his torch light from his hand. One of my brothers went and got the torchlight. One of armed persons asked for a piece of cloths at one point, I handed over him a gamchcha (towel). Then they walked away, under the severe December cold they took my father barefooted wearing only Lunghi and sleeveless Sando Genji. We did not see our beloved father any more!

What happened next? The scaffold fields of Rayer Bazar and Kata Shur revealed the aftermath of that kidnapping. Innocent unarmed Bengali people’s tragic fate exposed the brutality and tortures of the Pakistan army, which is unmatched in human history! Their crime against humanity is evident in all over Bangladesh. I can not wipe out that memory for a moment. I can not go further, I can not imagine what happened next, I wish my father could escape that inhuman torture and cruelty of Pakistan Army, Razakars and Al Badrs, which were evident in found dead bodies of those thousands scaffold fields scattered all over Bangladesh!

Fahim Reza Noor, New York, New York


Pakistani army killed my two brothers and friends

Malnichara Tea Garden is just in the outskirt of Sylhet town in Bangladesh. Its lush green plantation canopied by the giant rain trees is a sight to see from the roadside on the way to the Sylhet Airport. In 1971 April 6th it was no different, except the Pakistan army was moving into Sylhet town after taking control of the Airport. On their way they systematically killed people to occupy the land. The green tea plantation turned into a killing field with the blood of unarmed innocent Bengalese.

We do not know exactly what took place in those eventful hours but we came to know later that whoever was living in Malnichara Tea Garden that day was executed. My brother the acting manager Shawkat Nawaz was in charge of the tea plantation when the management of the company evacuated a non Bengali manager from Malnichara for his safety. During the non-cooperation movement which started after 1st of March 1971, when the President of Pakistan Yahia Khan postponed the commencement of the newly elected National Assembly, my other brother Shah Nawaz along with two of his friends arrived at the garden for a visit from Dacca. All of them including the household helpers living in the bungalow were killed. We did not know about their whereabouts until sometimes in October of 1971 when our father, Noorul Hossain personally made a trip to Sylhet and came to know their fate, that they were all killed by the Pakistan Army. Before that we were even told that they may have taken shelter in India.

After the liberation of Bangladesh, when I visited Malnichara Tea Garden along with our family. I saw remains of the bodies which I recognized by their worn-out garments, lying in a ditch inside the tea garden. The shirts they were wearing still had dark patches on them with bullet holes. These brutal killings and murders by the Pakistan army were never put on trial. They were never punished for killing innocent unarmed civilians.

My brother Shawkat Nawaz was the friendliest person ever lived on the face of this earth. He could make friends with anyone in no time. He was a natural talent. He could pickup any musical Instrument and play just by observing someone playing. He never took any art class but he could draw or paint without any effort. The most tragic part was that he was engaged to be married and his wedding date was yet to be announced.

Everything changed on the night of 25th March, 1971 when Pakistan Army came down upon the innocent people of Bangladesh and killed them to occupy and rule violating all human rights. In his last letter to his youngest sister, Shawkat Nawaz wrote- "This is the defining moment for us Bengalese to be truly independent once for all". He did not see the independent Bangladesh, but he and thousands of Bengalese laid down their lives to become martyrs for an independent Bangladesh for us to live in free country.

Hasan Nawaz, Wilmington, Delaware Ayesha Fazlullah, Paoli, Pennsylvania (sister)


Pakistani army killed my father

My father Mr. Tarikul Alam was the traffic officer of Pakistan International Airlines in the district of Jassore. He was picked up by Pakistani forces from his office on April 27 th, 1971, and then he was taken to a remote area and shot to death. They put my father’s body in hurriedly dug out hole and left. My mother was looking for him for three days. She then learned from local villagers of a dead body found in a hole. My mother identified my father’s body. He then received a proper Islamic burial on April 30th.

I was 9 years old and my younger brother was 7 years old at the time when our father was killed. We grew up without the love and care of our father and my mother took on the burden of raising her two children without her loving husband.

Sabina Ahmed, New Jersey


Pakistani army killed my father, we never found his body

My father Mr. Syeed Raisul Kadir was the District Adjutant of Ansar in the district of Jhinaidah. He was picked up by Pakistani forces from our residence in the first week of December, 1971. My mother and other family members looked for him everywhere. However, as of today, we did not find his dead body or his grave, and not know what happened to him.

I was 11 month old and my younger brother was 29 days old when our father was killed. We grew up without the love and care of our father and my mother took on the burden of raising her 4 daughters and one son without her loving husband.

Nawrin Kadir, New Jersey


Pakistani army killed my father and shot and left me to die

It was 15th April in 1971 in the city of Chittagong , Pakistani army came to our house and asked my father to go with them to treat some patients. My father Dr. Ashraf Ali Talukdar was a surgeon in the Police Hospital. He told them to bring the patients to the hospital where he can treat them properly. They did not listen and became very rude and dragged him out. I am the oldest son and was 18 years old first year medical student. They also dragged me out and drove us blind folded for some distance. When they opened our eyes, we found ourselves in a room filled with blood every where. In no time they started shooting at us. My father died instantly and I got hit in my shoulder and started bleeding profusely. They hit my abdomen with bayonet and I stopped moving and pretended dead. They loaded us in a truck which was filled with about 30 dead bodies and drove us to the river. They threw all the bodies to the river and me and my father fell on the bank. Next day the villagers came down and took me to their house. A doctor came and started intravenous fluid to resuscitate me from the shock. I was there for few days and then I was taken to a hospital inside India crossing the nearby border. My father was buried there by the villagers. My mother and my younger brothers lived a dreadful life during the 9 months of war. I recovered slowly but developed restlessness. All through my life this haunted memory drives me crazy. I am always restless and in swinging mood… Even for a moment cannot think back.

Dr. Masudul Hasan, New York, New York


They killed my father inside the hospital

My father Dr. Shamsuddin Ahmed was chief and Professor of Surgery at Sylhet Medical College in 1971. He was always involved in many humanitarian activities and organizing medical profession through out his life. When the Pakistani army started the Genocide on 25th march of 1971 the whole city was overwhelmed. The main medical college hospital was filled with people with bullet injuries. Panic stricken people including all the doctors of medical college started evacuating the town. My father decided to stay in the hospital with the wounded but sent his family including his old mother away to the village. My mother principal of the Women’s College decided to stay at home, so if needed can go to the hospital incase of any help needed for the hospitalized patients. One young physician, an ambulance driver and a male nurse also stayed with him in the hospital to take care of the causalities. The genocide and killing intensified in the city and more injured people started filling the hospital. My father and his team had to remain inside the hospital for continuous 3 days due to curfew. On April 9th the Pakistani army entered the hospital and shot my father point blank including the other members of the team and some patients inside the hospital. Next 3 days due to curfew no body knew what had happened. During few hours of curfew break, my father’s uncle went in search of him and found him and others dead inside the hospital compound. He with the help of some family members and friends hurriedly buried them inside the hospital compound. The life changed suddenly to my mother, my grand mother and five of my siblings. My father was the only son and my grief stricken grand mother died within a year. My mother became very sad and kept herself very busy with her college and raising us single handedly. She never talked about those days until very recently. My brother and sisters still find very painful to reminiscence any memory.

Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Pakistani army killed my dad

My father Mr. Golam Kibria Pathen was working in Bata Shoe factory at Tongi, adjacent to Dhaka City in 1971. We are from Brahmmon Baaria of greater Comilla area. From the beginning of our freedom fight my father actively involved himself in our march towards freedom. He helped the freedom fighters and allied force, sheltered them in our house and later he turned to freedom fighter and fought against Pakistani army. At the fag end of our freedom fight on 4th December around noon time a Pakistani Army Major came to the Bata Shoe factory and in front of the British Manager the Major shoot my father point blank and thus killed my beloved father. I was only 7 years old at that time and I was the eldest son of the family. Wink of an eye we turned orphan! Later, one of the freedom Fighters Mr. Masud, who was known to us, found my father’s dead body at the bank of the Bhirab River. Without having our father we had to struggle all through our life to survive. We could not recover from that loss.

Selim Reza Pathen, New York, New York


My brother was an innocent victim of genocide in 1971 in Bangladesh

Like any family in Bangladesh, when we grow up and take the charge of our life we always look forward to come to assistance to our parents. My brother Shahid Mansurur Rahman laid his life in the same way. Being a graduate in Agricultural Science he was planning to pursue further studies. But for the sake of the family he took a job in a Tea Garden-which was owned by West Pakistani group. During the Month of March/1971 he was having a family vacation with us away from his job. But when he learned that the Pakistani manager left the garden, he decided to go back to the garden to help the poor laborers. We could not stop his allegiance to the duties. Once the Pakistani Army took over the control of the Chittagong (the port city of Bangladesh)–they arrested him. Took him to their custody without our knowledge. They tortured him. For days and nights he was without food or water. They tried to get some information about the whereabouts of freedom fighters, which he had no idea. The Ruthless Pakistani Army finally shot him to death. My father tried in vain to rescue his body.

All we know like all other Shahids (Martyrs of our Independence Struggle) — his soul, his body and his blood is a part of this new nation–who wants to thrive on its own culture, history and dignity.

Aminur Rashid RPh, Lakewood, NJ


Pakistani army killed my brother

My brother was killed by Pakistani Army Thirty-Six years ago, on a morning of March 26, 1971; the first day of Genocide, some of the bravest and most enlightened sons of Bangladesh made their supreme sacrifice for the cause of dignity and freedom. Teachers, students, and professionals, were picked up from their residences, blindfolded and taken them in front of Iqbal Hall and British Council, within the area of Dhaka University, to be tortured and slaughtered. Selective killing went on side by side with mass killing. The history of Bangladesh has been made by the brave people who sacrificed their lives in 1971.The genocide at Dhaka University Teachers Quarter, apartment 12 F, is one of the thousands "My Lai Massacres" in Bangladesh.
My elder brother Shaheed Syed Shahidul Hasan, 28, along with another young University lecturer were brutally shot dead by Pakistani Military, in side the teachers apartment, when they were having breakfast. Later they took the martyrs’ bodies to Iqbal hall’s field where people including, Teachers, student dead bodies of teachers and students of Dhaka University were laid side by side ;the martyrs’ bodies were left there for two days till after the Curfew break for few hours on 27th March. The family and friends then secretly recovered some of the bodies. My brother Shahidul Hasan‘s body was quickly buried in near by graveyard; Afterwards, Pakistani Military started shots and fire with their artillery, demolish the remaining martyr’s bodies.
The genocide committed by its forces in Bangladesh on the night of March 25, 1971. And the morning of 26th march 1971, under a carefully thought-out scheme decided to eliminate hundreds of leading lights of different professions with the purpose of destroying the intellectual stuffing of an emerging free nation. The nine-month-long genocide began with the killing of Dhaka University teachers and culminated in the killing of intellectuals

Hundreds of thousands of people laid down their lives to secure independence for the country. Now, it is our turn to make sacrifices to get the country back on track and put it firmly on the ideals that they fought with their lives for. Their gallantry and sacrifices are soul-lifting and an undying fount of idealism and patriotic inspiration.

Dr. Syed Hasan Mamun, Boston, Massachusetts


They killed my father and our family was ruined

My father Dr. Shakhawat Hossain was the physician and working at Jessore Hospital at the time of our freedom fight. My father and his colleagues helped and secretly treated the injured freedom fighters and some how that news was leaked; due to that the brute Pakistan Army came and killed my father along with his 4 colleagues on 5th April 1971. We did not get my father’s dead body. Among 5 sisters and 2 brothers I am the youngest one and I was only 2 years old at the time of this tragic event. My mother could not absorb the shock and turned abnormal right after the killing of my father. My mother died in 1974. The tragic and premature death of my father was the devastating blow to our family. We not only turned orphan rather became refugee – could not stay in one place. Our family life was torn apart for the hardship due to loss of our father. It is not easy to look back.

Farhad Hossain, New York, New York


The Pakistani army killed an elderly physician

Saturday, May 29, 1971, Bogra Cantonment, Bangladesh. A day, a date, a place, connected to an event that will be remain forever seared in the memories of my wife and her relatives, for it was the event that robbed them of a patriarch of the familyher maternal grandfather, the well known Dr. Kosiruddin Talukdar, physician and humanitarian par excellence. On the morning of that fateful day, a Pakistani army jeep screeched to a halt in front of the residence where he had been temporarily staying with his wife for the last few weeks. His own large and spacious two-storey brick and concrete residence, White House, had been shelled by the invading Pakistan Army, ransacked, looted, and subsequently set on fire resulting in loss or destruction of all its contents as were his office and pharmacy, several weeks earlier.

He had returned to Bogra a few days short of three weeks from a village deep in the rural regions surrounding the town, set up a temporary clinic and began seeing and treating patients again. An extremely active person even at his age, 71, he loved the opportunity to practice medicine and enjoy the daily parade of patients into his office. Earlier like everyone else, he and his family members had fled the town in fear of the marauding and destructive Pakistani Army that advanced towards the town. However, once Bogra was occupied, the Army set about its pacification program trying to lure as many of the former inhabitants to return to their residences.

The two soldiers who had knocked on the door simply stated that he was being taken away for an inquiry into his alleged clinical treatment of suspected members of the Mukti Bahini. As the aged physician prepared to leave, he took off his watch and handed it to his wife. Several hours later, villagers who lived near the cantonment area brought the ghastly news of his brutal murder that they had the opportunity to witness, to his wife. Earlier in the day, they had noticed a jeep come to a halt along the roadside leading into the cantonment area. The soldiers had taken a single person out of the jeep, pushed him into the roadside ditch, and after bayoneting him and firing six shots into his fallen body, left. As soon as the soldiers disappeared from sight, the villagers rushed to the location of the brutal murder and someone instantly recognized the town’s most famous doctor. They gently removed his bloodied shirt and buried him according to Muslim funeral rites. Later in the day they located where his wife was residing in town and related the final moments of the doctor’s life. They returned the bloodstained shirt too.

It was early evening, May 29, 1971 when the telephone rang at my wife’s home in Dhaka and life would never be the same again.

Dr. Faruq Siddiqui, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

December 13, 2007

Humour: President's Pardon Inspires Some Others

December 12, 2007

Tacit Takes A (em)Bedded Reporter to Task, Tasneem Khalil Takes the Government to Task

At times like these when you don't have enough time to blog, it's really good to have other people do the job for you.

Tacit has written a(nother) fierce little piece on the state of the Daily Star today. Best quote for my money:

We don’t know what Mr. Manik is getting out of prostituting his journalistic ethos to our army generals, but we hope, for his sake, that he set his price high... he should also remember the ultimate fate of all those who have sided against democracy and freedom in Bangladesh. Remember, and maybe reconsider.

Also worthy of notice: Tasneem Khalil's cutting piece on the hypocrisy of this government.
Best quote:

In post-1/11 Bangladesh: a human rights advocate is a criminal, an university student is a criminal, a professor is a criminal, a politician is a criminal, a democrat is a criminal, a jute-mill worker is a criminal, a journalist is a criminal, a tea-stall-wallah is a criminal, a cartoonist is a criminal, a garments worker is a criminal, a hungry survivor of cyclone demanding relief is a criminal…

And one might add, war-criminals are sacred deities whose aura of serenity is protected by the government from the rude shocks of a sedition case.

December 11, 2007

চলেন আমরাও সরকারকে মাফ করে দেই

প্রিয় গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশের তত্বাবধায়ক সরকার এবং তাদের দেশপ্রেমীক সাহায্যকারী,

আমরা - বাংলাদেশের অসহায়, বুদ্ধিসম্পন্ন, দেশপ্রেমী জনগণ - আপনাদের মাফ করে দিলাম বছরের শুরুতে এতো ফালতু কথা বলে ও মিথ্যা অঙ্গীকার করে আমাদেরকে বৃথা আশা-আকাঙ্খা দেবার জন্যে। শধু মাফই নয়, যেন আপনাদের চাকুরি না চলে যায় এর জন্যেও বিশেষ করে ব্যবস্থা নিলাম।

একজন অতিউত্তেজিত, বাগ্বহুল উপদেষ্টা যদি ক্ষমা চায় আমাদের কাছে, তাহলে তাকেও হয়ত ক্ষমা করতে পারি।

আপনাদের মামাবাড়ীর নয়, নিজের স্বাধীন দেশের একজন স্বাধীন নাগরিক।

December 09, 2007

একজন শ্রমিকের স্মরণে

র‌্যাংগস্‌ ভবন নিয়ে অনেক কিছুই বলা হয়েছে। দুর্নীতির প্রতীক, ক্ষমতার অপব্যবহারের কালো স্তম্ভ, ইত্যাদি। ব্লগর ব্লগরও অনেক হয়েছে। আজকের খবরে দেখলাম যে সেই অখ্যাত ভবন ভাঙতে গিয়ে ২৫ জন আহত এবং একজন নিহত।

র‌্যাংগস ভবনকে নিয়ে সরকারের এই সিদ্ধান্ত অনেকে সমলচনা করেছিল, অনেকে নীতিগত ভাবে সমর্থন করেছিল, তবে বেশীর ভাগ মানুষই বিধ্বংসী উল্লাসে মেতে উঠেছিল। আজ একজন সাধারণ শ্রমিক মারা গেছেন সেই কাজ করতে গিয়ে। দুর্নীতি নয়, মাত্র দুর্নীতির এক প্রতীক ধ্বংস করতে গিয়ে।

তার পরিবারের কাছে জবাবদিহি করতে কে বা কারা এগিয়ে আসবে আজ? কারা আজ তার বাবা-মা বা ভাই-বোন বা ছেলে-মেয়েকে বোঝাবে কেন তাদের আপঞ্জনের মৃত্যু ঘটেছে? রাজুক? সুপ্রীম কোর্ট? ধ্বংস কাজের মূল ইঞ্জিনিয়ার? যারা তেজগাঁও বিমানবন্দর ব্যবহারের জন্যে অধৈর্য হয়ে যাচ্ছিল? না কি আমরা, যারা সেই বিধ্বংসী উল্লাসে মেতে উঠেছিলাম?

ইন্নালিল্লাহে ওয়াইন্নাইলাহে রাজিউন।

December 08, 2007

When Things Got Surreal

As we approach the end of the third month (on December 17th) of cartoonist Arifur's incarceration, we note that the media is still awfully silent about his predicament. What we put down to mere infighting within the coalition of diverse interests that is the CTG has resulted in an innocent man denied justice. All because of the rumblings of disenfranchised or alienated beings for whom practising their religion always boils down to making someone or the other miserable.

Against the backdrop of the media and the religious elites' complicity then, it would take something really bizarre - bordering on the unbelievable - to outdo them. Behold this story from the Daily Star which I reproduce fully below. Read it and weep mortals! Your puny little brains cannot comprehend an "emergency" so necessary and an "anti-corruption campaign" so complex that it requires the jailing of an award-winning cartoonist while simultaneously praising the corruption-eradicating efforts of cartoonists at a gathering organised by those honourable members of the servile civil society who are ostensibly a watchdog against corruption.

What happens when the watchdog gets too buddy-buddy with the very people its supposed to be watching?

Saturday, December 8, 2007 12:13 AM GMT+06:00

Front Page
'Allow cartoonists' freedom for exposing corruption'
Staff Correspondent

Speakers at a meeting yesterday said instead of limiting the freedom of speech the authorities concerned should rather ensure an atmosphere conducive to cartoonists uncovering diverse aspects of corruption.

“At present, the cartoonists do not seem to have the opportunity to work freely, whereas they can make a huge difference in exposing corruption and corruption suspects,” said Rafiqunnabi, a noted artist and cartoonist who is popularly known as Ranabi.

“The authorities concerned should take necessary measures for a cartoonist to be given a free rein,” he said adding that a cartoon can portray a situation from a refreshingly different point of view.

“Besides, we cannot deny the cartoonists' role in bringing the corruption suspects to trial,” observed the creator of Tokai, the character representing the street urchins of the capital.

He was speaking at a five-day exhibition titled “Cartoon against Corruption”. Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB) has arranged the show at Drik Gallery in the city's Dhanmondi area as part of their efforts to organise a social movement against corruption.

Inaugurated by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Chairman Lt Gen (retd) Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury, the function was addressed, among others, by Duncan Norman, deputy high commissioner of the British Embassy in Dhaka, and rights activist Sultana Kamal.

“Currently, freedom of speech is limited in many ways. But we believe it is a duty of the citizenry to put finger on places that require attention. And we will continue calling for an atmosphere where the people can contribute to rooting out corruption from the society,” said Sultana Kamal, also a former adviser of the caretaker government.

Duncan Norman said that people's participation in the exhibition shows that the message is getting across.

Speaking as the chief guest, Hasan Mashhud said, “If you fight corruption with the spirit you've done the cartoons against corruption, I have no doubt that we will win over corruption with ease.”

The inaugural session was moderated by TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman.

The works on view on the first day came from the contest titled “Corruption and General People.” A total of 747 cartoons were submitted for the competition arranged for the second time by TIB. Of those, 56 were selected for display.

The judges included cartoonists Shishir Bhattacharya, Shahrier Khan and Ahsan Habib.

The ACC will launch a year-long campaign against corruption on December 9, the international anti-corruption day. In association with TIB, it will work to organise a social movement against corruption.

December 06, 2007

Give Me Strength

A certain barrister-cum-magician-cum-conspiracy theorist has claimed that no private citizen can file a sedition case against another in the wake of sedition cases being filed against WAR CRIMINALS. Apparently this "belittles Bangladesh". Source: BDNEWS24, too sleepy to link right now.

In the annals of our history, only one other barrister has been as slimy, evasive, partisan and so firmly in the pockets of pure evil as this man. His name was Moudud and the current barrister's name is only three letters away from that.

The outrage will hit tomorrow. On the papers, on the blogs, on the mouths of ordinary citizens. Only the utterly deluded cannot decide what "belittles Bangladesh" more: that its freedom fighters' motives were openly questioned or that a case has been filed against the questioner. I humbly mention once again: without those freedom fighters, Bangladeshi jamaatis would be licking the boots of their Pakistani brethren and the Ittefaq would have been printing in Urdu by now with a Pakistani in charge.

Before I go to sleep, I will pray to the Almighty to give me strength to bear this sort of "black is white" logic. I will pray long and hard.

December 04, 2007

Miscellaneous Notes on UV Fertilizer Post

On my Unheard Voices post on the fertilizer issue, I focussed only on the fallacy of abandoning a "card system" in favour of a "slip system" and expecting this to have any real effect on the ease with which farmers can access fertilizer. In other words, the transaction costs associated with getting fertilizer have increased, even if the monetary price has remained the same (tk. 4800/MT).

There are many other points of interest in this issue. This is a hasty blog post, so corrections welcome. Briefly and in no particular order:

  • Scheduled banks asked by BB to provide "all out support" for .... wait for it.... FERTILIZER DEALERS! Source: New Age, fourth story down. While in principle this is a wonderful initiative to increase the SUPPLY of fertilizer, the empirical evidence suggests that it does not translate into higher DEMAND for fertilizer since the farmers also need credit in order to consume the fertilizer BEFORE the harvest that brings them money. Source: Amader Shomoy.
    Question: Why is the government so bad at loaning out small amounts to poorer constituencies and NGOs so good? Donor backing, stronger collection policy, better screening methods, political pressure to forgive loans, what?

  • Importers' woes and readers' confusions: While the AMM Shawkat Ali op-ed talks about how the present absence of subsidies - that were granted to private importers in 2005 and then withdrawn by the current government - has led to a decrease in imports (indeed, he alleges that importers have refused to import any more unless their "unpaid" subsidies were paid to them); the New Age Xtra article tells us that the decrease in import is due to the amount of red-tape involved in handling such imports. But here's the excerpt:

    Red tape is also a problem as it hinders the swift import of fertiliser into the country. According to officials of BCIC, the paperwork often necessary for import of fertiliser is unduly long. ‘The requests for fertiliser import are submitted via the Prime Minister’s Office. After the requests are filed and processed, the Prime Minister’s Office starts looking for funds to finance the imports. The entire process takes about three months,’ says a BCIC official.

    Clearly, either the New Age is reporting old news or the PA editorial is wrong and subsidies for importers are very much alive. So have subsidies for importers been withdrawn or not? Who knows? Not two leading national dailies within days of each other.

  • This segment caught my eye too from the New Age Xtra report:
    The farmers in turn blame the dealers for creating an artificial crisis to raise the prices, suggesting that there is hoarding and price tampering going on in the market. Field visits revealed that dealers and traders made the situation complicated in some areas. ‘If you ask a dealer for fertiliser, he will readily tell you that there is no supply. But if you offer additional prices, say Tk 300 to Tk 500 for each sack, the same dealer will manage it for you ,’ said a farmer in Natore town as he was rushing from one shop to another for urea

    As a firm believer in the laws of the market, this says one of two things to me: 1) there is no competition in the marketplace, which might be a result of institutional/geographical/seasonal factors and/or 2) the dealers are not making enough. Given that the entire operation is a government-run deal where the dealers' profit margins might have been estimated as constant despite inflation, both might just be true. Additionally, if readers leave other suggestions as to what is going on in this particular segment, I'll be oblidged.

  • 600 suspected. 25,000 suspended. 14,400 appointed? Last year when a similar crisis was taking place, a lot of blame was put on the BNP and its alleged appointment of party men to dealerships.

    When the CTG came to power this year, they identified 600 dealers in the Northern areas for "creating artificial crisis".

    Apparently their response was to suspend 25,000 small traders (same as "dealers"?). To replace them, the government "is determined to create 14,400 sales centres across the country" (New Age Xtra piece).

    And who shall get the responsibility of maintaining these sales centres and how shall they be chosen? The Independent back page report (July 18th) which was the only source I could find where the initial decisions were reported says this:

    The committee will prepare work plan through examining various options like recruiting dealers who fulfil some criteria, like age being over 18 years and capability to run the business having fertiliser-stocking arrangement.

    No scope for "political" influence there, right? I mean, "politics" begins and ends with Awami League and BNP.

  • Random reports of smuggling as a bad indicator of crises. Purely speculative. As Leela mentions in her latest post on the fertilizer issue, she has recently seen reports of smuggling into Burma and India. And as Saif pointed out, as long as there is a price differential between Bangladesh and its neighbours thanks to subsidies, there is always an incentive to smuggle. However, the report I saw in Naya Diganta indicated that there was at least ONE instance of smuggling INTO the country. Which means that - in some areas - there is a higher price to be had by SMUGGLING more expensive fertilizer from India than by selling subsidised fertilizer within Bangladesh. Which basically means that the shortage is real, and not as some people would have you believe a media creation or the fault of farmers failing to queue up.

Thanks to Saif and Leela for posting on this issue and forcing me to think. Saif's clarity on these matters of simple economics is something I envy. And I'd like to echo Leela's caveat that we are all basing our concerns and analysis on the newspaper reports that are woefully inadequate. I will however try and read through the CPD report when I have time and do a blog post if its interesting.

December 02, 2007

Fertiliser, Media Coverage and an Advisor Completely At Sea

Correction: The first segment translated from the Amader Shomoy report had a vital error in it. It read that farmers were not used to buying fertiliser on credit. It should have read that they are not used to buying fertiliser with cash. The correction has been made, and the segment makes more sense now. We regret this error and blame it entirely on lack of sleep and the pressures of infrequent buses in remote areas.

Update: Saif has responded to my hints/goading with a superb post on subsidies to farmers, the best way to enforce them and why they might be fuelling smuggling to and from India. (All this while completing an academic paper due tomorrow: a true blogging hero! Good luck with the paper Saif.)
Also worth checking out is Leela's post on fertilizer subsidies in Malawi also at Addafication.
I have very little idea as to the difference between the old distribution system and the new one. If/when I receive such information, I might do a blog post on it. I leave such things to the experts. This is a blog post about the media coverage of and government response to the shortage of fertiliser in some areas.

Media coverage

On 30th November, Naya Diganta was reporting about unrest near UNO, dealer and other government offices with the headline "Riots over Fertiliser" and the sub-headline "Crisis(?) in world markets because of India and America; government will directly import urea; strikes in many areas". Ok, so the sub-headline is expected given their ideological slant vis a vis India and America, but true to a certain degree from the little I know about the demand for urea. Blame the increased demand for corn for ethanol production. I have no issue with the rest of the report, which is accurate to its headline. There is a tangential point of interest which I'll highlight later.

Move over to the Amader Shomoy report on the same issue, from the same day. Headline: "Who will provide the 2000 crore taka needed to buy fertilizer?", sub-headline: "Farmers are getting trapped into debt after borrowing at high interest rates from banks, NGOs, credit unions and money lenders". The rest of the report is filled with anecdotal reports - which have their value, I admit - but which hardly makes for good economics analysis of debt. And the sub-headline makes you think that the debt trap is the problem.

But once you keep reading, you come across interesting tid-bits that one feels should have made their way into the headline. Things like the second paragraph:

We have come to know that no one is used to buying fertilizer with hard cash, even though they are associated with the agricultural sector. So even this year, no one was prepared. But the government's slip system and the directive to distribute fertliser through dealers has made cash necessary for the farmers

Or take the last line of the second-last para:

Kofil Uddin Ahmed, the chairman of Bangladesh Fertilizer Association, said that 28 lakh MT urea are sold for 1680 crore Taka and 10 lakh MT TSP, MOP and DAP fertilisers for 2000 crore Taka. Of this amount, farmers usually have a credit of 2000 crore taka with fertiliser dealers and businesses. They repay this amount after harvesting and selling their crops. But under the government's new system of distribution, farmers are not getting the opportunity for this sort of credit.

Now this is a sorry piece of journalism right here. When the meat of the report says that the government's new system "has made cash necessary" and no one is used to this, the sub-headline leads any casual reader in a completely different direction, implying that the blame lies with the providers of credit (ie. banks, NGOs, credit unions and of course the infamous "moneylender"). That the new system itself is new and completely surprising to the users (ie. the farmers) is something that only readers who have read through this confusing jumble at least twice will understand. Or those readers who have gone through the Naya Diganta ...

It is part and parcel of a strategy of trying to shift the focus of whatever is going wrong thanks to the current CTG onto convenient scapegoats. In this case, the less powerful bureaucracies such as the Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank and of course, the "NGOs". Throw in a completely irrelevant quote about farmers affected by the cyclone and how that is affecting crop yield, and you get a picture of big, bad urban institutions and rich rural moneylenders all trying to screw over the poor little farmer.

Yet, the meat of the report - indeed, the part with the most clarity - puts the blame firmly on the government's new system for the farmers' woes. And the Naya Diganta report on unrest simply confirms it. So the question to ask: why such a horribly misleading sub-headline after an eye-catching but mystifying headline?

The Naya Diganta report ends by listing a bunch of people held for smuggling fertilizer - FROM India, INTO Bangladesh (Am I reading this right?). No doubts interesting things can be said here about arbitrage and the ethics of arresting people for bringing fertilizer illegally into the country at a time of shortage. *looking pointedly at Saif from Addafication*

Afterthought: The Daily Star meanwhile ran this story today. There was no mention of any disturbance or riots yesterday. If this were the BNP-Jamaat government, the DS would probably have had the name and individual bios of each and every protesting farmer (obvious exaggeration for unsuccessful comic effect). Now that itself is not a problem by me. What is a problem is this complete lack of consistency in journalism and accountability.

Waking Up and Smelling the গবর

Meanwhile, as regular readers may remember, a few days ago Mrs. Geeteara Chowdhury had me yearning for the good old days when every report of unrest from the .... uhhh "peripheries" of Dhakastan was dismissed as "media creation". For those (few) who appreciated the sarcasm then (I really didn't miss it because she actually said that reports of a fertiliser crisis were "media creations"), here is Mrs. Chowdhury yesterday from Dinajpur singing a slightly different tune:

‘Excessive control of the government has created problem in making easy availability of fertiliser,’ she said referring to the agitation and road blockade by the farmers in different parts of the country.
‘We are seriously mulling over measures to ensure smooth supply of fertiliser. The problem will soon be resolved, the adviser said.

She also gave Dinajpur some tips on how to increase tourism.

But I am completely sure that this government is taking measures to ensure smooth supply of fertiliser. If the figurative bullshit they have given us so far could somehow be metamorphosized into its literal form then Bangladesh could even afford to export some fertilizer to India and America.

December 01, 2007

পুকুর চুরি

Shahidul Alam on the Guimet Exhibition farce:

Ten crates containing rare archaeological treasures of Bangladesh have been bundled out of the national museum and are said to be bound for Guimet Museum in Paris, via flight AF 6731 (dep: 1205 Saturday 1st Dec 2007). Preparations had been made to secretly remove the items through a shipment order by the French Embassy made to Homebound Packers and Shippers. Trucks and forklift arrive secretly in museum in early hours of morning... was Mark’s comment “I do not think that professionally-run museums would lend an object if it had no accession number” that got me going. The appendix listing the items, obtained by court order, was a farce. The number of items varied in different reports. We managed to obtain the French internal listing which had 20 more items than the Bangladeshi list. These had been obtained in a joint excavation (France and Bangladesh) in Mahasthangar, and were all marked ‘reserved’. Items had been clumped together without individual listing (e.g. ‘93 punch-marked coins’). Insurance value was sometimes missing. The basic documentation of a normal museum inventory, like period, condition and markings were missing. A large number of items had no accession numbers. And this was a listing of the most precious items belonging to Bangladesh, many of which Bangladeshis themselves had never had the opportunity of seeing! Not even the nation’s leading scholars, researchers historians or archaeologists. Certainly, it was the Bangladeshi side that should have provided these details, but with UNESCO stressing ‘due diligence’ on the part of the borrower, to accept such a precious consignment on the basis of such flimsy documentation, was fishy. More importantly, there was no way in which even the most diligent officials could verify that the objects lent, were indeed what had been returned.

November 30, 2007


Dear reader,

It is now December, so the newer posts will show up as part of the December archive. Click here for newer posts.

November 28, 2007

Between "Islam"ists and "Secular Human"ists - Caught in Between (and Needing Badly to Get Out): the World's Muslims! - Part 2

Please read Part 1 before this.

Ms. Nasrin and the "Secular Human"ists

So continuing on with my evening: after pondering the sheer hypocrisy of Islamists when it comes to turning a blind eye to the un-Islamic behaviour of their ideological allies, and re-affirming once again their inability to better the conditions of the world's Muslims, I decided to cool off by distracting myself.

A visit to The 3rd World View produced this real gem of a resource on the latest controversy surrounding Taslima Nasrin.

For those who do not know, Taslima Nasrin is a self-confessed secular humanist. This means that she is in support of the separation of church/temple/mosque/synagogue/whathaveyou and state.

Now while I do not subscribe to secular humanism (or Islamism), what I expect from the adherents of these ideologies is consistency. Plain and simple. Yesterday I highlighted how the controversies created by Islamists were hollow and self-serving, simply the opposite of Islam which values consistency and deliberation in judgement. Today, I will highlight how secular humanists of the Nasrin variety create controversies that are equally self-serving and without any consistency, but which have the unfortunate effects of demonising the world's Muslims to an increasingly suspicious non-Muslim audience.

Taslima Nasrin's writings against Islam what she experienced in the name of Islam at the hands of some Muslims are well-known. She has been living in exile since then, ironically in a country with more Muslims than in her home-country of Bangladesh - and yet her plight is constantly used as an instance of "Muslim intolerance" by vested quarters. The Indian government - normally so harsh on Bangladeshis immigrating to its territory - has continuously given her visa extensions. (I leave readers to draw their own conclusions. Frankly, Bangladesh's response should have been to offer asylum to M.F. Husain, but then our "national security" warriors worriers don't like paintings of Hindu goddesses either, do they? Damn, we BADLY need a good debate about national security that is free of communal dynamics!)

What really screamed out at me from the 3rd World View post linked above however was this particular newspiece:

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, in hiding in India after death threats from Islamic groups, has found an ally in a hardline Hindu leader accused of collusion in the killing of Muslims during religious riots in 2002.

Gujarat chief minister Narender Modi has invited the author to stay in his western state after she fled Marxist-ruled West Bengal last week, the Economic Times newspaper reported Tuesday.

"She is welcome to come and stay in Gujarat. She can carry on her work in the field of literature and serve mankind," Modi was quoted as saying in an interview to the paper.

"Even if she criticises me in her book, I will welcome it."

"Never underestimate the impudence of an impudent man", to paraphrase an unmarried Christian woman on a small island off the coast of Europe (and I can't wait to find out how the Jamaatis spin that one tomorrow!). It went through my head as I imagined Modi being so magnanimous to a critic of Islam.

For those who don't know, Narendra Modi was the godfather behind the genocide (the ONLY word) of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. What started off as commmunal rioting was transformed into ethnic cleansing thanks to the government of Gujarat's then chief minister, Narendra Modi. RSS "volunteers" roamed free with voters' list furnished by the government showing where Muslims lived. The state and the police were complicit in this massacre of a people based on their religion. And the victims were Muslim. The latest from the investigation into Gujarat comes from Tehelka (h/t Tacit).

I think it is pretty clear that Narendra Modi's dislike for "Muslims" stems from a very different source than Taslima Nasrin's. Yet, their dislike brings them together - (just as, in our country, a hatred for the centre-left makes far-left eccentrics like Farhad Mazhar write for far-right newspapers like Naya Diganta).

But this is not my real disappointment with Ms. Nasrin. I am not as thin-skinned as some people who call themselves Muslim. I do not really give a **** what cartoons are being published or who wrote what in which third-rate novel. If someone's written against Islam: fine, whatever. I have many more productive ways to follow Islam in everyday life (prayer, good deeds, fundraising for some cyclone victims, alms, a few polemics against Islamists) than to take up some placard and waste half my day.

No my real disappointment with Ms. Nasrin lies in the fact that in all her years in India, very rarely have I heard her speak against the religious fundamentalism of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates. I have not found any utterance by her against the Gujarat Genocide, the censoring and "voluntary" exile of M.F. Husain, the censoring of and RSS-backed protetsts against the film Final Solution on the Gujarat Massacres by Rakesh Sharma. I emphasise, I have not found and if you know of any, I will put in the correction. Indeed, the only criticism she has ventured against any of the RSS's pet projects have been her support for Deepa Mehta's film "Water" (one of my favourite movies), whose filming was stopped by threats from religious fundamentalists. The movie is about the lives of Hindu widows in the backdrop of Indian's independence, and has nothing to do with Muslims.

So basically, secular-humanists of the Nasrin, Rushdie or the Hitchens variety really say a lot by their selective silence on and selective speeches against some religions more than others. Wrongs are done in the name of all religions, yet Islam what they think is "Islam" always comes in for more than it's share of flak for a lot of reasons.

And this flak by secular humanists can then be used by bigots like Modi to de-humanise Muslims, disenfranchise them and in extreme cases like Gujarat, wipe them off completely. One can then invite a secular-humanist with a beef against Muslims to "criticise away" with no problem whatsoever!

If Taslima Nasrin actually takes up that offer, I'll be more than happy to retract this blog post and put up "I was wrong" in big, bold letters. But she won't. Firstly, because as an author she is terribly narrow: she can only write about her personal experience and her personal tragedy and those were inflicted on her by Muslims. Secondly because her world-view is such that "religious fundamentalism" is always worse than fundamentalism in the name of the nation. The RSS never simply presents themselves as a religious outfit, but as a nationalist one as well, all about restoring Bharat to an imagined pristine state before the Muslims and Christians "sullied" it. She'll buy it as an instance of "secular" nationalism, just as V.S. Naipaul did. Thirdly, who exactly is going to bite the hand that's sheltering them? (Hint: people with integrity)

And that, dear readers, is how I came to the conclusion that Muslims worldwide are being screwed over - by "Islam"ists who really care about certain policies rather than Islam or Muslims; and by "secular human"ists whose humanism is not magnanimous enough to care about Muslims, 1/6 of the world's human population. Attendant caveats as always: not all Islamists are like this and neither are all secular humanists. And thankfully most of the world's populaton, let alone most of the world's Muslims do not fall into these two blindingly rigid categories. That is what gave me some hope as I tended to my throat. But I admit, not a lot.

Concluding remarks: such "secular human"ists and "Islam"ists have certain traits in common. As I've said before: neo-cons/"secular human"ists and Islamists have a monolithic view of Islam. Their view of Islam is that of an intolerant, illiberal, stupefying dogma (a view that serves both their interests) rather than the tolerant, merciful, moderate and sympathetic religion that was once the driving engine of several cosmopolitan empires.

Lastly, they both need each other. Both need each other to get rid of the ideological adversaries within their own communities, namely "domestic" liberals. "Secular human"ists need to point to Islamists in order to convince REAL liberals that "Muslims" are simply different, they neither understand nor deserve any response but the brute force and torture that liberals frown upon. (And if they get those from non-secular communalists like Modi, well "All's well that ends well".) When REAL liberals refuse to agree, well then it's easy to paint them as "terrorist sympathisers", "appeasers" and "liberal wimps who empathise too much with other cultures" etc etc. Although the word "over-smartness" is yet to be used, the connotations are there among neo-cons and their apologists.

On the other hand, Islamists take liberals within Muslim communities to task using these "secular human"ists as examples of "liberals". Thus the Daily Star becomes an "Islamophobic" paper to them and Zafar Sobhan's adherence to Islam is questioned by them, even though a few weeks back, Zafar Sobhan had this to say about a particularly sordid neo-con venture. In other words, all domestic liberals are "neo-cons/Islamophobes" to Islamists. Even when they are Muslims!

In between, a large swath of the world's population is left to rot in ignorance and poverty and insecurity. Maybe for generations to come.

This post would not have been possible without two posts by The 3rd World View and Bonbibi, both of whose writing prove them to be much better humanists and humans than the ones I've criticised here.

Between "Islam"ists and "Secular Human"ists - Caught in Between (and Needing Badly to Get Out): the World's Muslims! - Part 1

Part 1 - Mr. X and the Islamists

Let me guide you through my evening today.

I come home, coughing once every three seconds, pissed at my lungs, pissed at the world. I go online and see that Zafar Sobhan's newest piece posted on UV is causing quite a storm (admittedly in a tea-cup). At the very top is a commenter - lets call him/her/it Mr. X - who has a habit of giving us rare gems and does not disappoint in this case either.

Unfortunately Zafar Sobhan has started off this piece with a quote that he attributed to the Talmud, which Wikipedia informs us is "a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history".

Mr. X says:

Zafar Sobhan citation from the Talmud in the very first line of the thread, “He who saves one life, saves the world entire. –Talmud” is the manifestation of his inferiority complex [Hinaumonnatar shamil]. Because the very same quotation is present in Al-Quran saying more eloquently as,” Je Keho Ekjon Niraporad Manushke Hautta Korlo She Je Shamogra Manab Jaalti ke Hautta Korlo. Aar Je Keho Ekjon Mansusher Jibon Bachalo, She jen Shamogra Manab Jaatike Bachalo.”

I wonder why Mr. Zafar cited from the Holy Book of the Jews overlooking his own Holy Book. Doesn’t it point to bankruptcy of wisdom of the author?

Many people respond to Mr. X including yours truly. I will, with full admission of my own vanity and pride, reproduce my response because it has a bearing on what we are discussing. I responded to him thus:

"______ is right as far as the quotation from the Quran is concerned. And Farhad bhai, thank you for saying what I was about to say.

Now with full apologies to the moderators, I would like to take this occasion to rant a little bit about those who quote the Quran to suit their own ideological ends. ESPECIALLY when the full quote is absent. If you feel this comment too detracts from the point of the post, feel free to moderate it out.

The quote comes from the 32nd ayat of the 5th Surah in the Quran “Al Mai’da” or “The Table/The Table Spread” (Yusuf Ali). The full ayat is this courtesy of Yusuf Ali:

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.

Now the questions posed by me for _______ and the theologians are three-fold:

(1) when the man is trying to do a good thing through his writing, does it matter what book he quotes and does the Holy Quran itself prescribe bringing up UNNECESSARY arguments instead of pursuing the right course of action during catastrophes like this?

(2) When the Holy Quran itself says that such a message came to the “Children of Israel”, is Zafar Sobhan’s quoting of it from that source a sin/crime? (Think very carefully before you answer)

(3)Why wasn’t the ayat from the Holy Quran quoted in full in #1? Feel free not to answer this."

Now here's where it gets really interesting. Mr. X comes back with this gem of a response, which I cannot reproduce in its entirety thanks to its length. But I will quote the parts I found most relevant:

Thank you folks for your comments on my comment about the quote from Talmud. I believe in religion, ain’t an atheist. I have respect for Thalmud and other heavenly books. I believe, the three religions, their books and their followers are just like sibling to each other. I have profound respect to all of them. But I want to emphysize here the teaching ” Know thyselves.” Many a times we try to show up our over-smartness and expanse of knowledge by following, citing and using non-indeginous exotic stuff.

...... But contention is that we have some elites who being muslim doesn’t have good study on Islam and quite uncomfortable with own religion but feel comfortable to affiliate with others and start reading, Geeta, bible, talmud etc and start criticizing his own one.

Once again I emphasize that this has little to do with this particular commenter. I do not like to pick on denizens of the Bangladeshi blogs, even ones for whom I have very little sympathy.

No rather, I'd like to present this commenter as the model poster child of a particular Deshi mindset and dissect his comments to see what insights we can glean into this mindset.

Firstly, let me zero-in on the most problematic part of this little blog-drama I witnessed this evening. Zafar Sobhan quoting the Talmud is an example of "show up our over-smartness and expanse of knowledge by following, citing and using non-indeginous (sic) exotic stuff". The commenter in the immediately preceding sentence also says: "But I want to emphysize (sic) here the teaching ” Know thyselves (sic).”"

Does anyone know where the aphorism "Know thyself" comes from? Yes, the "classical" Greeks themselves. Now unless the Greeks were indigenous to Bangladesh and/or secretly Muslim since 610 -12 a.h., I am afraid that this is more "citing and using non indeginous (sic) exotic stuff". It really doesn't get more exotic than Greek philosophers....

Now here is the really interesting part: while the "secular celebrity intellectual" quoting the Talmud allegedly betrays a discomfort with his own religion, it is absolutely fine for this commenter to "emphysize here the teaching "Know Thyselves"". Even though, may I point out, that if you were to approach this from a strictly Islamic perspective: either both are guilty or both are innocent. From a deshi SECULAR legal perspective: either both are guilty or both are innocent. The same law applies to both.

Why is this important? Let me spell it out for those who don't know my little obsession nowadays: while a "secular" cartoonist like Arifur drawing that cartoon is an insult against religion and the Prophet (SAW), and betrays some sort of "conspiracy against Islam"; the Shibir-backed newspapers' publishing of the same cartoon is an example of .... nothing! It goes unremarked. It goes scot-free. No HuT members protesting there. No idiot commenters busy questioning their "motives" there (the worst I heard was that this was Arif's ticket out of Bangladesh - which revealed more of the commenter than the cartoonist).

Yet, it is the same whether we like it or not. But not condemned in the same way by those who always seem to speak for "Islamic" interests.

And here's the really interesting part. The "average" deshi middle-class dude(ette?) who's not really into religion or politics will - given the evidence of both - probably agree that Zafar Sobhan/Arifur's "digressions" are somehow greater than that of a Mr. X/Shibir-backed publication. Note, not Islamists who are exploiting the situation, but the average Mintoo who smokes his cigarette at the corner tea-shop while ogling the women and then goes to pray Jummah. He doesn't really like these mullahs (they'll get rid of the women from the streets), but he's not really a fan of these high-flying "intellectual" types either.

And here's why: because he has been convinced that there is this secret "cabal" composed solely of liberals who are out to "get Islam". AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, he has been convinced that "Islam" is only those set of practices and only those opinions that belong to a specific set of people, namely those who have beards and are quoting the Quran in parts to justify illiberal policies or whatever those in power want them to justify or - as was the case here - to villify someone they don't like. Helping the poor, the weak and the defenseless - those are not Islamic until and unless blessed by an appropriate man (always a man) with a beard wearing an alkhalla.

And if the bearded man tomorrow pronounces Zafar Sobhan to be a "heretic" while simultaneously preaching friendship with the "people of the Book"... well that isn't something for Mintoo to think about is it? If the bearded man says that Prothom Alo is a secular paper and so its printing of the cartoon is "haraam" and Kishore Kontho is a religious paper and its printing of the same cartoon is "halal", then that becomes "Islam" for Mintoo. After all, bearded men know "Islam". "Intellectuals" know only what the West has taught them.

Mr. X also very revealingly calls Mr. Sobhan "some elites who being muslim doesn’t have good study on Islam and quite uncomfortable with own religion but feel comfortable to affiliate with others and start reading, Geeta, bible, talmud etc and start criticizing his own one". The key-word here is "elite". I have also seen similar comments on tacit's blog (let's call this one Mr. Y). So perhaps it is an elite-resentment thing? Zafar Sobhan is seen to be part of some sort of elite and so his crimes mean so much more than others? Is that the logic at work? (Alas, if we only treated our power elites this way, we would have some accountability! But that is another matter.)

But then I had to ask, how does this apply to Arifur? Is he part of some secret elite that I am not aware of? As far as I knew, he was a simple Muslim boy from a simple pious family that named him after the Prophet (SAW). His only "sin" is to work for a newspaper that the Islamists deem to be "secular" and draw cartoons for them. Thus he is locked up. A Muslim man locked up. Without trial, without justice, without a fair hearing. For nothing but politics, but it is your vocal Muslims who are busy defending this in the name of Islam and it is your silent Muslims (the Mintoos) who are busy acquiescing to it.

At that point in the evening, I recalled a lot of people.

I recalled the Muslim Kurds - Sunni like 90%+ of this blog's Muslim readers - who were being oppressed by the Turks and the Iraqi and Syrian Arabs without many Islamists making noise about it (Amreeka and Nastik Communists were their preffered targets then). Indeed, one remembers how during the First Gulf War, Saddam was a hero to many, prayed for in the mosques.

I recalled Muslim Balochis killed by the Pakistani government without question while the Islamists made noise about other things (Yahya's drinking? Bhutto's womanising? The APWA? Who knows, who can tell? Why talk about human suffering when appealing to men threatened by women's emancipation from their homes is so much easier?).

I recalled black Muslim Sudanese being killed (and years before that, traded as slaves) by other Muslims and Islamists never holding a protest rally in Dhaka about that (cartoons, American invasion of Iraq and Aghanistan were more important then)

And of course I recalled how when this green land's Muslims were being killed along with their countrymen of other religions, what Islamists had done or not done.

And I came to one conclusion that was just beyond the tip of my nose: Islamists cannot take care of the world's Muslims, the majority of whom are coming to define the "third world" today (Asian Tigers and BRIC countries are ahead; oil-rich countries hold a tiny fraction of the world's Muslims). They cannot take care of those Muslims because THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE WORLD'S MUSLIMS. They simply care for what they call their "religious duty" but what the rest of us can easily see as nakedly self-serving politics that benefits only one group: them. And if you don't see this, that's probably because you are an Islamist yourself. The rest of us can pretty clearly see that the emperor has no clothes.

Lastly, to end on a less than serious note, let me pin down one word that occurs in both Mr. X and Mr. Y's comments: "smartness". Typically a word used in Bangla to denote those who know too much about other cultures or to chastise children/teenagers, typically those who do not set store by society's limits on their behaviour. In English, it is actually quite complimentary. It smacks of having once been what James C. Scott would have labelled "a weapon of the weak".

Apparently, quoting the Talmud is an indication of "smartness". So are Yiddish proverbs and Vedic scripture according to Mr. Y (good for Mr. Sobhan that the Talmud is originally in Hebrew). So be it. I suppose the average Deshi hates it the same way the average American hates those Hollywood liberals getting into kaballah or the average Victorian hated the Buddhism fad of the 1890s. Or the way I hate those big thick glasses on hipsters.

The difference is: I don't advocate jail for everything I dislike. If that were true, I'd be calling for banning Jamaat right now.

Part 2: Ms. Nasrin and the "Secular Human"ists

What Really Hurts Bangladesh's Image

Really haven't had time to blog recently. But I always have time to read blogs like In the Middle of Nowhere and Rumi bhai does not disappoint. I've brought up the idiocy of political appointments from outside the BCS foreign cadres before.

But for sheer passion and energy, it is always hard to match Rumi bhai. Here are his two posts on recent ambassadorships awarded by the CTG:

Yasmeen Morshed's appointment as High Commissioner to Islamabad. Link.

Debapriya B, Fahim Munaem and Z. Alam's postings to Geneva, Ottawa and Canberra respectively. Link.

A salute to Rumi bhai for posting on this issue. A salute to our long-suffering men and women in the Foreign Service who are again and again superseded to make way for someone's chacha or chamcha.

And no salutes to a "non-political" government (coming up next from Bangladesh: no-noise radios that fix the problem of static by giving you no music !) that is filling up ambassadorships with political appointees and censoring the media/hesitating to call out for international aid for SIDR because of its image.

November 24, 2007

State of the Revolution - November Perspectives

Two months ago, in the backdrop of the Prothom Alo cat cartoon controversy, I speculated about the different coalitions that were holding up the current CTG, trying to address them each in historical perspective. I predicted that following the pattern of other revolutions, the coalition members might turn upon each other.

Of particular interest to me was coalition numbers 5 and 6: the shushils and the right-wing intellectuals. Amongst the latter I counted Mr. Mahmudur Rahman, the ex-BOI chief, something that even I myself found surprising.

My reasons for counting him as one of the CTG-coalition was for the simple fact that he had remained untouched by the current regime. Which was surprising given that - though a bureaucrat - he had been a party faithful for BNP, as well as ideological enemies of the shushils.* And if there is one article of faith regarding 1/11, it is that the shushils backed 1/11.

Soon after the cartoon incident that left Motiur Rahman neutered and after Debapriya B was exiled given an ambassadorship to Geneva, a case was filed against Mr. Mahmudur Rahman. That was about two months ago.

He is thankfully still not in prison. He was also keeping a very low profile till recently, until he did two things: first, he went to a roundtable organised by University Teachers Forum of Bangladesh and echoed Barrister Mainul Hosein's statement that the CTG's mandate is too narrow for trying war criminals. Which is consistent with Mr. Mahmudur Rahman's stance since 1/11 (and needless to repeat: not with Mr. Hosein's stance since 1/11), and that's all I ask for.

Secondly - and more amazingly in the current circumstances - a few days ago, he became(to my limited knowledge) the first person in the more well-circulated newspapers to question General MUA's explanation following "Bankgate" (h/t Rumi bhai for bringing this op-ed to my attention). For which he gets justified applause from this blog. And he is as yet untouched, which speaks volumes as far as I'm concerned.

Now the following is simply my take on the matter. From the vantage point of November, after Jamaat's big coming-out of the war-criminals closet ceremony, the cleavages within the regime are coming out. I highly doubt that a man as astute as Mahmudur Rahman would have even uttered a word about the bank loans without having guarantees of sorts from key people in the current regime. His continued freedom assures me that he does. Therefore, these key people want General MUA out (of their way). Given the assumption that Mr. Mahumudur Rahman is not doing this out of love for freedom of information and accountability (an assumption no one is being forced to make; I don't know the guy personally, just know his service record under BNP), then I hope the reader agrees with me thus far.

Now the following is pure speculation. I cannot stress that enough: PURE SPECULATION. It brings me once again to the Amader Shomoy article that J@Shadakalo analysed a few weeks back, which openly spoke of the different factions within the CTG, and then threw in India for good measure. Now, as we've noted repeatedly (please search through archives), the India card is highly potent in Bangladeshi domestic politics, and COMPLETELY counter-productive to any really meaningful debate about Bangladesh's security vis a vis India. However, the rest of it somehow seems more credible than before. J speculated back then that Jamaat had been coerced into its current "Viagra moment" (h/t Mash). What if that is not the case? What if Jamaat has received assurances from the other faction, seeking to replace a discredited General MUA, the same people who have given assurances to Mr. Mahmudur Rahman to go ahead and publish his story? These are worries that sometime go through my head.

Lastly, to fellow Kremlin-watchers who think that General MUA is already deposed, I have a simple indicator. Nayeemul Islam Khan, the editor of Amader Shomoy is rumoured to be closer to his faction than any other in the CTG. So until and unless he's pulling a Shafiq Rehman, I doubt any significant changes are due within the regime. Till then, I'm sitting back with some daal, bhaat and murgi bhoona and watching the subtle battles between Amader Shomoy and Naya Diganta.**

*His running battle with sushils Motiur-Anam-Debapriya B trio saw some pretty low moments from both sides: his suing of CPD over remarks that a 10-year old could not misinterpret and PA's and DS's publishing innuendo-filled news reports of his private party and photographs of his guests, which was allegedly a meeting to rig the election. Upon hindsight, I'm taking that assertion with a pinch of salt.

**Afterthought: In a way, the current battle between the two involves the war criminals issue to some degree or other, with ND op-eds that I've seen saying that war criminals should not be tried and AS pushing for their trials/printing volatile articles. NIK himself was at a press conference with former sector commanders calling for the trial.

AS Report: "NGOs Still Collecting Interest From Cyclone-Hit Areas"

Link to original story.

First and foremost of my concerns are directed towards the Federation of NGOs of Bangladesh: STOP YOUR MEMBERS FROM COLLECTING OR ADDING INTEREST NOW!

At the end of the story, the director of FNB is quoted denying these charges and saying that interest would not accumulate until after rehabilitation. So obviously there is a contradiction between his words and the (reports of) actions of his members on the ground. Let the investigations begin and if anything is amiss, let heads roll!

Secondly, let's talk about the wonderful vagueness of the report itself. "NGO" is a term liberally used throughout the report to refer to microcredit organizations or credit unions. That Oxfam, ICCDDR,B, CARE, BRAC and thousands of small local initiatives (some no doubt undertaken by religious men and women for religious reasons) are NGOs that are/have/will be doing good emergency relief and reconstruction work is something that does not come across. "NGO" thus comes to refer to a small set of non-denominational organizations that sprung up in the late 70s and you can picture ASA, BRAC and Grameen and forget about the rest. Amader Shomoy is a victim of this sort of narrow thinking.

So much for nuance!

Thirdly let's take this wonderful quote ALLEGEDLY by local government and army representatives. They have ordered informed Amader Shomoy that "in the relief efforts, no NGOs have offered assistance so far"(direct translation; original: "ত্রান তৎপরতায় এখনও কোনও এনজিওর সহায়তা আসেনি।"). They go on to say that rather they have shown more energy in collecting their dues from their debtors.

Now I'm not even going to go into the fallacy exposed in my second point: NGOs have done emergency relief and rescue work in the past and are no doubt going to do it again. Additionally, international partners of local NGOs as well as international NGOs that have a presence in Bangladesh have been raising funds for relief ever since SIDR hit, in itself no mean feat.

What I'd like to remind readers is this: how friendly are "local government and army representatives" to citizen/volunteer initiatives that are completely independent of government influence, I.E. a NON-GOVERNMENTAL initiative? Remember the Khalishpur gruel kitchen fiasco? Let me quote just one prescient line from that article by Hameeda Hossain that has stuck with me even now:

With floods staring us in the face, will not the government want citizens' involvement in managing the disaster, as they have done in previous years? So, what's so different about Khalishpur?

Basically, the government has on some occasions in the past frowned upon citizen (ie. NON-GOVERNMENT) initiatives, thus sending signals to citizens that the bureaucratic hassles involved are way too high for any meaningful intiatives. They cannot now come back to complain that "NGOs" are not doing enough. There is no legal difference for citizens between helping fellow citizens in Khalishpur or Dubla Chor.

Lastly, a salute to people doing relief work for whatever reasons. I respect the armed forces and other government organizations for doing their duty and appreciate their efforts greatly, stories of which we see in the deshi media everyday. To that let me add my own small salute to the hundreds (if not thousands) of Red Crescent volunteers who were among the first ones on the scenes and continue to hand out relief. Indeed without their efforts, the early warning system would not have been such a big success.

They are our silent, under-appreciated heroes. They are neither "NGOs", nor "local and army representatives". BRCS is a government auxiliary manned by dedicated civilians, and without their work for the last 36 years, Bangladesh would have been a much worse place to live in for a lot of people. I salute these heroes and hope Amader Shomoy does a feature on them soon.

November 18, 2007

In Memoriam: Sonjib Chowdhury

ঢাকা থেকে খারাপ খবর এসেই যাচ্ছে। সাইক্লোনের মতো মানবিক বিপর্যয় না এবার, এটা একান্তই ব্যাক্তিগত। দলছুটের সঞ্জীব চৌধুরী মৃত্যুর দুয়ারে

এই ক্লিপটা দিলাম ভক্তদের জন্যে। এই রকম ভাবেই তাকে মনে রাখতে চাই।

বায়োস্কোপের নেশা যেন কখনই আমায় ছাড়ে না।

November 17, 2007

A Time to Weep

November 15, 2007

Elephants Alone Can't Do the Job - You Have to Help.

Photo Credit: Pavel Rahman

Donate to help cyclone survivors

Emergency relief organizations: (click on the links below to go to their websites and donate)

The International Federation of the Red Cross (You can select Cyclone SIDR)



Islamic Relief

Bangladesh Cyclone Appeal - World Vision UK (You can select Cyclone SIDR) Tel: 0800 088 088

Save the Children

Christian Aid

British Red Cross [ tax efficient donation for people living in uk]

Those who wish to help, may remit cash directly to the following account :

Chief Adviser's Relief and Welfare Fund,
Current Account No. 33004093,
Sonali Bank, Prime Minister's Office Branch,
Tejgaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Ref: Chief Advisor’s Office Website and Bangladesh High Commission to Canada Website

Bangladesh High Commission ,Canberra
Account Name: Relief Fund
Account Number: 032729 199161
Bank: Westpac Banking Corporation
Branch: Manuka, ACT

ref: Press release on flood relief

Those living in Canada and wish to help, may please send bank/postal draft, cheque to be drawn on any of the following bank account:

Prime Minister's Relief Fund,
Account No. 00236-5077441,
Royal Bank of Canada,
99 Bank Street, Ottawa, Canada,
C/O - Bangladesh High Commission, Ottawa.

If you are sending bank/postal draft, cheque , etc., you may also send it to Bangladesh High Commission in Ottawa (275 Bank street, Suite-302, Ottawa, ON K2P 2L6) for deposit with the accounts.

Please also note that at the special request of the High Commission, some money exchanges/remitting agencies owned by Bangladeshi expatriates in Toronto and Montreal have agreed to remit money to any of the above relief funds free of charges or commissions.

ref: Bangladeshi HC in Canada

Individuals or organizations desiring to make donations may send their contributions directly to the Chief Adviser's Relief Fund in the following address:

Chief Adviser's Relief and Welfare Fund
Current Account No. 33004093
Sonali Bank, Prime Minister's Office Branch
Tejgaon, Dhaka

Individuals or organisation may also send the donation to the relief fund by money transfer agencies. If the donations are sent through the Sonali Exchange Co., USA, no additional fees for transfer will be required. In that case, the amount should be directly paid in cash or through cheque (payable) to Sonali Exchange Co. Inc. USA. (Please mention 'For Chief Adviser's Relief and Welfare Fund' in the space for 'Memo') The Sonali Exchange will send the money to the Chief Adviser's Relief and Welfare Fund within the next business day and will issue a confirmation receipt in favor of the donor. 'Placid Express' has also announced that donation to the 'Chief Adviser's Relief and Welfare Fund' can be remitted without any transfer fee.

As for sending relief materials, the Government of Bangladesh would prefer receiving food grains, water purification tablets, water purification units for the rehabilitation works. However, the cost of shipment will have to be borne by the sender (s) of such relief materials.

For any clarification on the procedure, please contact Bangladesh Consulate General in New York directly or speak to Mr. Salahuddin Noman Chowdhury, Consul at 1-212-599-6767 ext 15/10/21 or 212-687-5368.

ref: Bangladesh New York Consulate for further information