June 19, 2007

Contribution, Extortion, Corruption

Dr. Mozammel H. Khan wrote a very confused and confusing article about what distinguishes "extortion" from "contribution", dealing exclusively with the charges brought against Mrs. Sheikh Hasina Wazed. He points out four things that make it difficult to distinguish between extortion and donation in Bangladesh:

1. Lack of legislation regulating funds of the parties.

2. Lack of independent auditing process by the parties themselves.

3. Lack of funding from the state.

4. The fact that the chief executive and the chief of party are the same.

Unfortunately, all these points could be used to partially exonerate Tareq himself (#4 especially) should he simply play the semantic trick of calling everything a "contribution" from now on. Nobody wants that to happen. Of course, in his case there's a LOT to be re-labelled.

Two questions: why doesn't the Awami League audit independently already? This isn't rhetorical, I'm sure there is a good answer and I want to know. Secondly, why didn't it push forward such legislative measures when it was in power (surely their need wasn't that much harder to see in 1999/2000)? This one's rhetorical. When legislation curtails one's own majoritarian powers, it is effectively not pursued.

This is simply another instance of how much damage Awami League supporters can do to their cause with such logic. Earlier, when the party chief spoke to the Daily Star, she came across for the most part as an honest politician who genuinely believes in her innocence in these cases. Reading this article totally ruined that image.

But the article did serve to remind me of King Henry's "Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?" in Shakespeare's Richard II. The "living fear" is Henry's rival Richard II, and a nobleman interprets Henry's words as an indirect command and assassinates Richard. Henry ends up denying issuing any such order and exiles the nobleman.

Just goes to show that the serious student of politics must always start with Shakespeare as her/his guide. After all, Henry argues, it was merely a wish, not a command. The nobleman committed the crime of his own free will. Yet, academics have pointed out ever since, what would have happened to the nobleman had he not committed the crime? And the answer to that defines Henry's guilt or innocence as king.

Instead of blaming the system for not being helping us distinguish between what is legally considered a contribution and what is considered an extortion, let me propose a simpler benchmark: "aapon ichcha" or "one's own will" or "lack of coercion". When Mujib gave out his clarion call on that fateful day at Suhrawardy Uddyan in 1971, he noted: "Aapon ichchay manush raastay beriye porlo". The most powerful leader in the country noted the importance of adding "aapon ichchay" or in other words "of our own free will" and "without coercion".

The difference between a contribution and an extortion is simply that: contributions are made out of one's own free will while extortion implies force or coercion.

Since the 90s, what have we the people done "aapon ichchay", without coercion?

If we have ventured out on the streets or opened our businesses during general strikes, we have been COERCED into our homes and FORCED to shut down our businesses.

If we have ventured out in support of strikes, of our right to protest, we have been COERCED into staying silent and into retreating back home, black and blue from the baton.

If we have expressed opinions that did not fall into the party line at what should have been the most tolerant place in all of Dhaka - the University Campus - we have been FORCED to face the consequences, at times in terms of violence.

If we expressed criticism of our leaders in print or on air, we were FORCED into silence, exile or worse.

And this has been true of all political parties. So when they suddenly start talking about VOLUNTARY contributions as opposed to extortion, one has to ask:

Why not VOLUNTARY strikes as opposed to the bus/car-smashing, "picketing" and businesses-closing that took place during hartals for 15 years?

Why not respect our right to VOLTUNARILY protest on the streets instead of treating us like criminals when we do?

Why not foster a culture where students VOLUNTARILY come to embrace your party's views instead of threatening opposing students with the loss of residence and perhaps even of their lives?

Why not allow the press to write what it wants, the television channels to say what they want, so that they VOLUNTARILY praise you when you deserve it?

None of this sort of voluntary activity was present for the last 15 years. So, needless to say, I find it somewhat hard to digest that businessmen voluntarily gave money to these parties. If they're not giving of their own free will, by definition those funds are being extorted.

Of course, those funds could always have been contributed in order to get some political favour in return. There's a word for that last one however, and it's really popular back home at the moment: corruption.

Note to CTG: stop coming up with semi-bogus cases and investigate the frigate purchase already. Foreigners "contributing" funds to political parties is a shady enough fact by itself.

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