May 18, 2007

Two Good Moves by the CTG

(Updates below)

This blog has been highly critical of the Caretaker Government in the recent past. In the spirit of fairness and to show my support for good moves regardless of who initiates them, I applaud two moves by members of the current government.

1) The first relates to another post on this blog from a few days back, and ties in with a more general debate being had over on Drishtipat on the pros and cons of "foreign interference" in our domestic affairs. Once again let me re-iterate. I don't like foreigners pressuring us, whether using soft power or hard power. Call it the post-colonial mind-set. Yet in the case of Tasneem, I felt that there was a very real and urgent threat to his well-being, and a great miscarriage of justice about to take place. If he had done wrong, investigate and charge him. Intimidating him is neither here nor there. Nor did there seem to be any domestic recourse available. Thus I supported writing to foreign senators, congressman and what have you.

When I expressed more or less this sentiment on the Drishtipat thread, another commentator said, not addressing me in particular:

"If you are kind of annoyed about “foreign intervention,” sorry, but that is nothing compared to the frustration and powerlessness of the family of someone who’s been jailed for no real reason, or who almost died in custody (like Mayor Mohiuddin Ahmed of Chittagong), or worse, who’s been tortured to death (like Choles). Look them in the eye and tell them that a letter of concern and support, from whoever it is, is not appropriate."

True words. What right do nationalists and chauvinists such as myself have to tell people deprived of due process not to resort to extra-national means? None actually, but that wasn't my point and I clarified it thus:

"As I’ve said, if all other avenues are exhausted and there seems to be a deadline, then appeal by all means. I personally would not be “annoyed” at that. I would even support you.

I have outlined above the type of international pressure that really annoys me personally: when politicians refuse to sit in our parliament, funded by our taxes, and then go abroad to talk about human rights abuses to foreign power houses. Why not use the parliament? Ok, maybe it’s a lame duck of an institution. But even standing in parliament and denouncing some abuses would be a beginning. And before you think I’m being partisan, this annoys me too: instead of putting in efforts to clarify the situation to local constituents, the chief advisor gives frank interviews to BBC and sends special envoys to the US instead of sending them to every town and village in the country. I hope that you will agree with me that as a Bangladeshi citizen, it’s not very reassuring to know where our political parties and governments think the real power lies! Compared to that, the power of bloggers, expatriate NGOs and INGOs to bring about meaningful pressure is almost miniscule."

Mr. Jalal agreed with me wholeheartedly on this point, yet another example of how Bangladeshis respectfully debate on the blogosphere! Now if only we could replicate this in the Jatiyo Shongshod....

Today we hear of this story where a U.S. Congressman, Joseph Crowley of New York's 7th Congressional District and founder of the Bangladeshi Congressional Caucus, writes to the ACC about its pursuit of a businessman, Mr. Ahmed Akbar Sobhan of Bashundhara Group (Why can't these people spell phonetically? If it's pronounced "BOSHUNDHORA", why spell it like an Anglo-philic jackass? Anyway, all that for another rant!). Let me quote on sentence from the Congressman's letter, as reported in the Daily Star:

"any disruption of this large employer has the potential to create economic instability within a nation"

Is that a threat Congressman?:)

More importantly, is that why your government never does anything against Walmart, despite its horrible business practices? Give me a break!

The DS report says that the chief of the ACC, Lt. General (Retd.) Hasan Mashud Chowdhury has written back:

"Your protégé, Mr Ahmed Akbar Sobhan, was required to submit a statement of his assets and satisfy the authorities as regards the means through which he has accumulated wealth worth millions of dollars," Hasan Mashhud wrote to the congressman. "Till now he has failed to do so which reinforces the allegation against him. As such further legal actions are being contemplated to proceed with the case."

He disagreed that 'concern for potential disruption in business should override the moral obligation of the government to deal ruthlessly with any corrupt practices indulged in by the nouveau riche in a country like Bangladesh'.

As Crowley insisted that 'intimidation of anyone whether they are head of a company or a rickshaw driver does not benefit anyone during this time of difficulty for Bangladesh', Mashhud said Sobhan or his associates will be provided with the opportunity to clear themselves of any wrongdoing and the 'due process' will be adhered to at all times.

"I would expect you to measure things up in their correct perspective and base your judgment on facts. I can assure you there will be no farce, no charade and no kangaroo courts," the ACC boss asserted."

Now I'm not going to say this often, so savour it: a round of GENUINE applause for Mr. Hasan Mashud Chowdhury. Mr. Chowdhury, I'm usually a sick, cynical, sarcastic bastard, but even I am moved to commend you for your words and your poise. "I can assure you there will be no farce, no charade and no kangaroo courts": may you live up to these sentiments, Sir!

This case falls squarely into the mould I described to Mr. Jalal: where a few corrupt, law-evading, institution-wrecking individuals go and lobby foreigners to bring pressure to bear on our government. This has almost no semblance to the action of bloggers and NGOs, big and small, who do this as a last resort. So please do not confuse the two.

And Congressman Crowley. May I respectfully suggest that if you come down on the side of the just and legal all the time instead of trying to help friends now and then, perhaps your country would not need to spend so much on its military budget and instead could use that extra money to provide better healthcare coverage or service your national debt. Unsolicited advice from a non-citizen. Doesn't feel all that good does it Sir?

2) The second news item that warmed my heart was this. I don't know how many people remember this, but I recall that it made a small stir when it happened. The report does not make it clear that Saleem Samad is a Bangladeshi journalist, who eventually left the country citing harrassment.

I found his blog when looking for news on the May 1st bomb blasts. I encourage everyone to read it, especially this post. The entire post might resonate with most expatriates. One line especially touched me:

"I always disapproved the idea with many regarding the political dissidents to flee the country and claim political asylum in the west. I mean settling in Europe or North America. This, I believe will certainly legitimize the wrong-doings of the developed nations discrimination of the poor, imposed war and economic exploitation. I ridiculed the writers, journalists, theatre activists and freethinkers in Bangladesh who have claimed refugee in the west in “fear of persecution.”"

With the dropping of the sedition charges - alas, years too late - one hopes that Mr. Samad will find it in his heart to return to our motherland whose government once saw it fit to treat him poorly. One can understand perfectly if he does not. In which case, the greater loss will most definitely be Bangladesh's as yet another dissenting voice is forced off our shores.

And before the AL-sympathizers jump onto this bandwagon, spare a thought for Tipu Sultan. Almost every government we have had is guilty of trying to silence dissenting and critical voices. If we do not make space for dissent within our national polity, we might just have to play the politics of exile, immigration, foreign lobbying and "interference" indefinitely.

Update: I e-mailed Mr. Samad with the news of the dropped charges against him to get his reaction. He replied back saying that I was the first one to let him know. Tragic that we do not see it fit to clear a man with the same force with which we charge him. He also says that he does "not believe it is safe" for him to return. As I've said above, a small loss for Mr. Samad, a greater loss to Bangladesh for the message it sends out to everyone. Our best wishes go to him and his family as they begin their new life on foreign shores.

Among the things Mr. Samad mentioned, one particular remark stuck a memory chord. He named one Kohinoor Miah as his torturer, who was now OSD. A quick google search refreshed my memory. This was the same Kohinoor Miah who had publicly beaten up a three-month pregnant lady as well as torturing Mr. Samad in custody. I can only shake my head.

Note to CTG people trying to control the media message: if the shit stinks, it makes no difference if you tell everyone that it's smelling like a rose. Why, just look at Kohinoor Miah of the glittering name! So make sure the substance is pure, and the message will follow. Not vice versa.

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