August 31, 2007

Ziaur Rahman Walked Away

Responses from military men after being humiliated by students and their teachers. Ziaur Rahman walked away. Charles de Gaulle intervened to ensure that Jean-Paul Sartre was not arrested for joining the students in 1968, saying "You don't arrest Voltaire." Professor Anwar is no Sartre. Neither were any members of the current CTG the mastermind behind a government-in-exile.

Chief Advisor Fakhruddin and General Moeen, we know you love Bangladesh deeply and have her best interests at heart. Which is why we say: this is not the right way.

Black Quotes for Black Times (where "black" refers to deteriorating civil-military relations)

"We expect that every army man will accept the apologies, and forget the grievances they had suffered." - Professor Anwar Hossain being forced into apologising to the army.

That includes - one hopes - the NCOs and chauffeurs as well. You know, the ones that are not allowed - under the army's own rules - to dine in the same room as the Professor if/when he attends weddings and other functions at the RAOWA club or Shenakunjo.

Events since the publishing of that fateful picture have reminded me of a particularly infamous utterance attributed to Genghis Khan: "The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters."

The need of the hour is for reconciliation, but all I see is the attempt to utterly humiliate one's enemies. The people doing the humiliation seem to recognise "enemies" only among their own countrymen, while Bangladesh's power in the world dwindles as our Bay remains undefended, our borders remain porous, our policemen remain severely ill-paid and under-trained and the best and brightest of her sons and daughters seek refuge elsewhere - anywhere! - to get away from this arbitrary use of power. But remember, its only those people who see enemies among themselves who are the TRUE patriots. The rest of us, well we just apologise for even thinking of contradicting them on any aspect of national policy whatsoever.

Remember, it all started on a day when the powers-that-be were talking about how to improve civil-military relations. Excellent aim, and as I've said, the need of the hour. True love is what we want between our countrymen (and maybe women, but let's not get the mullahs too worked up by including anything to do with the female race). And here I was thinking that "Love means never having to say you're sorry".

Guess not a lot of Erich Segal fans in the army eh?

August 27, 2007

Thank You Brigadier Hafiz!

Thank you! Divisive - "if you're not with us, you're against us" - people, take heed.

August 25, 2007

Pity the Nation

Having seen and heard some of the most pretentious, pompous asses I know read and quote Kahlil Gibran, I developed a distaste for his works, made worse by the fact that his writing was supremely outsized for reality.

But then we come across these moments when the situation in our motherland is similarly outsized. What Marquez said of Latin America is equally applicable for us: "our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable".

I give you a Gibran excerpt. At times like this, poetry is the best analysis.

"Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity the nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trupetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation."

Quote of the Day - Sliver of Light

"Sir, you are a patriot and so are we. We are not the Pakistani army. We are Bangladeshi." - an unknown JF officer quoted by Mrs. Ayesha Akhter, wife of arrested Professor Anwar Hossain. Source

August 24, 2007

Ami Haal Cherey Dilaam

It's too much work convincing people that narratives of power are wrong. Much easier to keep going with the flow. From hereonin, I believe the following:

1) Someone paid these "students", "street vendors", "slum dwellers" to protest. Inflation has nothing to do with it. Even suggesting "inflation" as a cause should be tantamount to treason. Policy prescription: get rid of Bangladesh Bank. Useless organization.

2) These Evil Forces want "us" to be destroyed so that they can do whatever they want to do afer our destruction. Probably enslave our women and ride our cars at 100 mph through the airport road. I'm glad that this government is taking steps so that doesn't happen.

3) Beating and harrassing journalists and DU students indiscriminately was not only the necessary move for national security, but a just one. Kudos to whoever thought that one up. Policy prescription: keep doing it.

4) The indiscriminate property destruction shows the absolute moral bankruptcy of DU students. There is no way this can be condoned. The indiscriminate response to that was the emotional over-reaction of a handful of government employees. This can be overlooked.

5) Don't argue against any government, be it BNP, AL, JIB or whatever this current one is. They're right and you're wrong.

I resign myself humbly to trusting my government without question. I urge all my fellow citizens to do the same. From now on, if things go wrong at least they won't blame it on the rest of us.

Or will they?

That Muffled Noise

As a Non-Resident Bangladeshi with the media gagged and almost everyone living in fear, it's difficult to know what's going on. It's like living below a chronically fighting couple, an illegal gambling racket and a drug lord all rolled into one, except they use another entrance into the premises and I've never been upstairs. The only way I know what's going on is by trying to decipher the muffled noises that make their way down to your place.

So it's with great dread and sadness that I read blog posts that are desperately warning Dhaka University students to stay out of sight for fears of indiscriminate punishment. With fear reigning supreme among everyone including journalists and bloggers, a select few are giving us glimpses into what might be going on, out of courage or more likely, desperation.

I'd like to think that all this represents the sporadic fears of the few, and not representative of what is going on. But in the absence of a free media, how can I be sure? I'd like to think I'm misreading the muffled noises: that noise from upstairs isn't the casino owners chopping someone's fingers off for cheating, but a winner knocking over the chips in his excitement.... but until I'm allowed to actually go up and see, I'll always harbour suspicions that it's the former and not the latter.

Cry the Beloved Country

(Small update below)

Omi Rahmand Piyal on how journalists were treated. The conclusion is superb in its laying bare the absolute IDIOCY of media censorship, simply superb and I translate liberally:

"Nothing can be said. I don't know if this particular piece is "provocaive or not". When the journalists were taken to the station, they were asked, "Tell us, have we treated you badly (in custody)?"

"No! No! You've behaved impeccably with us!" we had answered.

I say the same in this piece. We are extremely well in Bangladesh. Everything is alright. There's nothing wrong. There are no riots. The people are spending their days in utter peace."

There is nothing more I need to say against media censorship. Nothing at all! Were journalists busy rioting? Did their reporting on the riots (as opposed to editorialising the rioters to be heroes, which I'm yet to see!) spread these riots? The answer to both questions is a big, fat "NO"! Yet journalists are being arrested, the media is being gagged.

Ei shob ki amader aantorjaatic bhaabmurti noshto korey na? Ei shob ki India, China, America'r haathey amader tuley dey na? Koi BBC to thiki report maartesey ektar por ekta, oder ke to keu censor kortesey na. Ora amader itihash bikrito kortey paartesey, amader shorkar ke ninda kortey paartesey.

Shudhu ki nijer desher maanushi shorkarer ninda korley sheita deshodrohi kaajkaarbar hoye jay?

Ajkey abar shuntey hoilo DPte je Eengreji te jara lekhey tara naki goto ponero bochorer durniti'r upobhogkari. Tara naki shadharon manusher koshto bujey na. Tai ei post ta shesh korlaam Banglay. Eengreji te lekhi maaney ei na je ami Bangladeshi na, Bangladeshi manushke chini na, taader koshto bujhi na! Amiyo raastar side e boisha cha khaisi, bonnar shomoy haathoo-panir modhdhey haathsi, police'r haathey naajehaal hoisi ebong onek, onek manushke deskhsi durniti'r taka poysha diye furti kortey. Ekta shima thaka uchit manush koto bhaabey amader bhaag bibhaag korar cheshta korey! Shala...

Oh yeah, just to retain some "balance" (because if you're not with "us", you're against "us"... thank YOU, Mr. President!), here are two videos of some of the mindless destruction by rioters, in the name of God knows what. Find me some journalists going and whispering in their ears.

Update: From the 3rd World View, Update 5:

"A Blogger requests frantically:
The students of Dhaka University, wherever you are, please go to a safe are being looked for. Please don't ask me anything."

Cry, the beloved country, cry.

August 22, 2007

Dateline Dhaka: Breaking News and Analysis Gut Reactions

List of blogs monitoring the situation in Dhaka with (more or less) regular updates:

The 3rd World View
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying
Shocholayoton (Bangla)
E-bangladesh (audio)

Last Update: (really tired and sleepy, so no hyperlinks) Apparently the government has declared today a holiday. Awaiting confirmation on that. BTTB submarine cable is down according to a DP commenter. Ties in with loss of internet access in some areas, and even more ironically with jokes cracked on Shadakalo's blog.

If one thing is clear, these last three days have highly polarised us. Commenters on UV are a good sample to glean that from. Talking in support of the students instantly make one anti-army and showing even the slightest sympathy for any military/police personnel can be treated as being anti-students. This no doubts suits someone's interest or the other, but hardly the national interest.

Does anyone realise that those students and the soldiers are the same age? The same colour? The same nationality? What divides them so much then?

Not to sound too gloom-and-doom, but I leave you all with one of my favourite Ginsberg quotes: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness".

Update 8: New Age has not updated its newspaper to the new edition. Anyone has any idea why? BDnews24 is still showing stale news. Is there really a news blackout out of Dhaka?

More importantly, has anyone in the CTG or the military taken a history course? I ask because news blackouts in Dhaka do NOT send the right message to Bangladeshis.

Update 7: BBC news on television shows footage of people going home with their hands raised up above their heads to show security forces that they were not involved. It's hard to believe one's eyes. Even harder to hear John Sudworth describing it, without telling us how widespread this phenomenon was. Is this really what we've been reduced to? (h/t Mash for the link to the video. The rest of it isn't a pretty picture either.)

Update 6: Deshi bloggers have recently become something of an up and coming force in the distribution of the most politically volatile commodity in the world: information. Somewhereinblog and Shocholayoton are good examples. Keep your eyes on them for alternative news (whose anti-military bloggers I don't always agree with), and keep your eyes on any attempts to censor them and/or intimidate their workers during the curfew. More than expatriate bloggers on blogspot and elsewhere, these guys are taking some risks. (h/t RA)

I'm going to go tend to my bhaat and daal on the stove. That is how much I'm worried about home: I'm cooking daal. I think you need to be me to understand that.

Update 5: I don't have any independent confirmation of this, and would appreciate anyone corroborating this: E-bangladesh's latest audio update (linked below) says that GoB is thinking of internet censorship. Among the list of websites to be blocked include E-Bangladesh itself, Drishtipat (of course! We all know how this "human rightists" damage your international bhaabmurti... whether you are AL/BNP/CTG it really doesn't matter.) and all blogspot addresses. That last means this webpage as well.

Oh well, at least I'll have something to tell the grandkids....

Update 4: Have it from good sources that DS front page news people are staying overnight at the offices, too scared to go venture out. That would explain why they haven't been arrested yet. Although by tomorrow, I'm sure someone or other will insinuate as to how this means that DS/Mahfuz/Mahfuz-Debopriyo Chokro (I love chokros!) is in cahoots with the CTG.

Random thought continued from update 1: I don't know what's going on this night in Dhaka. I'm afraid that students who remained behind are being subjected to all sorts of things ranging from inconvenience to harrassment to violence. I'm afraid that people are being randomly arrested.

But what is the purpose? Is this the moment when the military steps in from behind the curtain? Frankly I don't think so, mainly because if the rumours are true, their main backers are the US and UK and we all know how allergic their media elites and certain groups within their states are to the words "military dictatorship". So again, what is the purpose of all this?

My hunch, and I might be completely wrong, is that this is the army's show of strength after what it and the students perceive as the "humiliation" of the DU eviction and "picture no.5". This is their way of showing their junior/mid-ranking officers and the populace alike who's in charge. That at least is the original intent with which this curfew and tonight's "raids" (or whatever they'll be come to be called) have been undertaken.

A good friend of mine worries that in doing so, they might over-reach. Once the army is deployed, there is a logic to itself and command and control might get difficult in the field. I'm with him. Isn't that what led to this situation in the first place?

Update 3: Shocholayoton reports that among the journalists arrested was a blogger called Biplob Rahman, who is also a journalist for and writes for Baadh Bhangar Awaaj. Towards the end, one of the commenters say that he has been freed. seems to have come under enormous strain, as have new media pioneers such as bloggers. Why is a good question, and one I hope to answer in more detail in another post. Part of it has to do with the fear of everything new, so prevalent among people who prefer hierarchical order over anarchic creative destruction.

Enough rambling! I present The 3rd World View with far better updates than I can possibly provide.

Update 2: So my fears are subsiding just a bit. Not a lot, just a small amount. The journos picked up have been freed according to front page:

The police have released up to 12 journalists, two hours after their arrest during the curfew Wednesday night, police and reporters said. Asif Ahmed Rommo, senior sub-editor of, who was arrested along with two colleagues, phoned the office from home after his release. "I walked home. We were kept at Mohammadpur Police Station for two hours," Rommo said. Mohammadpur police sub-inspector Muktar Hossain told that all the journalists were freed. Scores of journalists were arrested or beaten by the army during the first few hours of the curfew. Army officers arrested three journalists—Liton Haider, Biplob Rahman and Rommo—as they were heading home after work.

This sounds more like frustrated/humiliated army men blowing off steam at these civilian types than a concerted move planned from HQ. Of course, these journos could have been picked up to brief them about those lines in the sand I was talking about, but my gut feeling is that that talk would have taken more than 2 hours.

Reports of army moving through the city abound.

Update: E-Bangladesh is reporting that army patrols are back on campus, with certain student leaders and teachers being "sought after". A friend of a friend confirms that they had their apartment on DU campus searched by the army.

So the move is: withdraw the camp, call a curfew and then put the army back in? This should go down well..... yes, that's sarcasm, my only defense at times like this.

Journos are definitely getting arrested, in what I see as a move to intimidate the press. Mobile networks are off. TV channels are not allowed to do talk shows. People who talk about how the internet and global communications has revolutionised politics should take heed: the government is the government because it is the most powerful entity within the state. Which is why good politics is important and a focus on the quality of governance and human rights issues are more important than economic development (or what goes in its name anyways!).

I slept five hours last night. Probably dreamt of a riot-ridden city, dhawa-palta dhawa, don't remember. Woke up to find a curfew imposed, and people on UV crowing on about "how right they were all along" that these students were goons.

Yes, whenever things go wrong, a certain section will always blame the masses, whoever the masses happen to be. Things are going wrong for the masses, but its the masses themselves at fault. If only they had a Mahatir (sorry we don't use that name anymore) a LEADER to lead them into the light which they themselves have forsaken.

It's as if we have not had strong leaders in the past. It's like the masses are allowed to determine their own destiny under emergency law, so they are to blame for inflation, for jute mill closures, for harrassment of businessmen, for harrassment of a teacher, that most noble profession which we have thoroughly degraded from all sides - AL, BNP, Jamaat, military, all of them.

Leaders do not outlive their people. Lesson number one of history. Sadly, no one seems to learn it and calls for these "leaders" to teach the masses a lesson.

Enough with the emotional blubbering, onto the news. If you like me just woke up a few hours back and are flabbergasted at the speed of developments, check out this post on DP, shadakalo's take here, The 3rd World View here and bdfact here to bring yourself up to speed.

Latest from Dhaka is that the army has arrested and beat up journalists during curfew hours. The journalists belong to bdnews24, CSB, Boishakhi and Samokal. Only the last I believe is a newspaper, so basically they're concentrating on new media thus far. Setting up new lines in the sand that should not be crossed. The old print media is well aware of those lines. Bdnews is reporting on the arrest during curfew on their front page (I don't have access), while commenter bdfact on UV tells us who the reporters used to work for.

When all else fails, blame the media. Chopping off the messengers' head for bringing the message is a time old move. I don't recall it having improved any situation.

One last honourable mention in all this must go to the Honourable Advisor, Barrister Mainul Hosein. I once labelled the guy Dhakar Dhokabaaj (DD). Today he has once again lived up to his title by giving out this quote that you can find on the BBC's website:

We request channels to stop televising footage of violence until further notice because this might instigate further violence

Ahhh yes! It's these TV channels that are the cause of all this trouble, that is the cause of the contagion through which the protest spread! If these TV channels weren't there, then people frustrated by food inflation, by floods, by unemployment, by government harrassment and eviction, by government demolishing of their homes and by ARBITRARY USES OF POWER would have remained safely on their couches (sold to buy food)... their khaat palongs (sold to buy food)... their paatis and not rioted.

At this point, I honestly don't know if Mainul Hosein is a dhokabaaj or a dhokafied scapegoat in the making.

Visit the blogs linked for regular updates. I will update this space as regularly as I can. Like most NRBs, I was worried about my family before talking to them. I hope and pray that all your loved ones in Bangladesh are alright too.

On the Brink?

Update: Two of my friends in Dhaka are telling me that the TV news mentioned explicitly that small shop owners/ footpath peddlers/ hawkers joined in the riots. For me, that’s a direct response to CTG policies. Once again, not condoning violence, just trying to understand the line of cause and effect here.

If the rumours filtering through the thick cloud of smoke from Dhaka to the blogosphere are any indication, big changes might be in the offing. Martial Law?

1975 redux? Or do we truly live in unique times?

Lesson of the story: students are the scariest interest group in the country!

August 21, 2007

Everyone Is a Citizen First on Campus!

Update 2: Shadakalo has some chilling interesting news from Dhaka. Feeling as let down as I was in June.

Update: DS is reporting that violence continues on campus, and has spread to Jagannath University as well. Also reporting that students have vandalised 100 vehicles near Shah Bagh. Fast losing my sympathy there. More importantly, reports that students have set fire to an army Jeep and beat up the personnel inside. The polarisation continues.

It was inevitable. Friction happens. As anyone any man who has had the good fortune to sit in the Western Gallery of Bangabandhu National Stadium knows, sporting events with their rush of adrenaline are fertile grounds for friction.

As any reader stumbling on my blog at this late hour knows, there have been protests against the army camp set up at the Dhaka University gym. If this last piece of news comes as a surprise to those of you who have been relying solely on the mainstream media for your news, that is completely understandable. I haven't seen this reported on at any great length. Thankfully most of us have some contact with the City of Rumours where this was universal knowledge.

Blog round up as a service to my readers who should not rely on the media to get their news about such matters: Drishtipat group blog which broke the news to me, Shadakalo, 3rd World View, In the Middle of Nowhere and straight from Dhaka, Raha.

But back to inevitable friction. The Daily Star has this to say:

The initial cause of the demonstrations was an incident around 3.30pm yesterday when army personnel mercilessly beat three DU students and humiliated a teacher over a petty dispute concerning comments passed by spectators watching a soccer match on the university gymnasium ground where an army camp is situated.

The soccer match was between the departments of public administration and journalism. During a penalty shoot Mehedi Mohammad, a student of the public administration department stood up in front of a group of army personnel, obscuring their view.

Army members allegedly abused him verbally and asked him to move before beginning to beat Mehedi and his friends.

Mehedi along with Shafiq and Lucas all MSS students of public administration, and Dipu, a third year student of the same department, were taken to DMCH for treatment.

As Mubashsher Munayem, a teacher of public administration tried to stop the incident, the army personnel humiliated him too

New Age adds this telling detail (links tomorrow once they are archived):

Witnesses said army personnel in plain clothes beat up a number of students in the gallery of the DU playground during a football match between the departments of Public Administration and Mass Communication and Journalism sparking the protests.

The students alleged that the soldiers from the camp in plain clothes watching the football match hurled abuse at a master's student who returned the insults

Plain clothes. When army personnel are in plain clothes they have the same rights and responsibilities as citizens. That means that you do not use violence or coercion in dealing with your fellow citizens. Clearly, these people failed at being responsible citizens.

Next, the students managed to identify them as army personnel despite the plain clothes, which most likely means that they identified themselves as such. This places this incident smack in the middle of the (as yet unarticulated) greater political debate in the country: exactly how much special privileges do armed personnel enjoy at civilian institutions such as the DU campus, the market place and cabinet meetings. In my humble opinion, they have as many privileges as civilians are willing to give them, not more nor less. This does not include over-riding the right to dignity that every citizen of Bangladesh - civil or military - enjoys. Clearly these students and the teacher did not cede this right to anyone, civilian or military.

Lastly, even had they been in uniform, that would simply increase the degree of their offence. We respect (and fund, but lets not get into that!) our military precisely because it takes upon itself hardships and sacrifices that we do not. If that includes not being able to see clearly at a soccer match, then so be it! The uniform should be a sign of greater restraint and responsibility than those of an ordinary citizen. Instead, and all too frequently, the uniform is seen to give impunity to the wearer.

What followed was the usual pandemonium. The students have called for the army camp inside their campus to be removed. Though by no means agreeing with the methods through which they expressed themselves, I have to say that their demands have shown a lot more far-sightedness than those who placed our military personnel there in the first place. It's easy to interpret this move as a self-interested one, but ask yourself: how does this make ANY difference to DU students? Is the presence of the army camp making any difference in their lives, in their ability to protest? The answer is one big "NO"!

Rather that camp is harming the goal of social harmony more than anything else. It is causing friction between Bangladeshi citizens - same age, same colour, different background. Today's incident was simply the tip of the iceberg of the polarisation of our society, a polarisation that is tangible when travelling down that long stretch of road from Shohid Jahangir Gate to TSC Chottor. I'm too tired and emotionally involved in this at the moment to look into the historical perspective of that polarisation, but Mujib and Zia feature prominently in it, as does the cleavage between Mukti Bahini people and the repatriated Bangladeshis in 1971.

In conclusion, one simple request: try these goons now. Do not show them any special favour at all. They were in civilian dress, and let them be tried as civilians, in a civil court and get their just desserts as everyone else.

Of course that will not happen. The brass will kick in. Some sort of false dichotomy between civilians and military will be drawn in their minds, any sign of punishment for one of their own will be seen as a sign of weakness, a concession rather than justice. And the impunity will continue. Already New Age concludes ominously:

When asked about the incident, the director of Inter-Service Public Relations said they would come up with their version today.

As a commenter on DP says, "This time round it will be managed".

I once heard someone say, "You cannot demand respect, you have to earn it". Our armed forces annoy us by constantly demanding respect, which makes their (frequent? infrequent? really besides the point) failures at earning it all that much more galling. Yesterday, hours before the incident was reported, I wrote: "let us treat our soldiers as citizens first, soldiers second. And may they live up to such treatment". Today they did not.

August 20, 2007

Awami Forces vs. the Army League ... Completely Pointless

An army must need be hierarchical. In a high-tension situation, you have to shove independent thinking behind and follow orders. Just make sure that you don't do the same in low-tension situations.

And most importantly, let us treat our soldiers as citizens first, soldiers second. And may they live up to such treatment. Yes, I mean "up"!

Why do political parties or political cultures need to be hierarchical? Political parties are civilian institutes that should foster independence of mind, not similarity of thought.

Why then can't partisan writers, in the mainstream media or in the blogosphere, simply ditch their party's grand narrative and start thinking afresh? Why do they keep repeating the same cliched lies that serve no one's interest, except some political big wigs?

Take this gem I came across today. An obviously emotional and ill-informed blogger ranting about the armed forces' recent homage to Sheikh Mujib:

"Yes, this is the Bangladesh Army who killed the father of Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. After 32 years, have they realized that it's their unruly officers who killed the Father of Nation? Haven't the Army destroyed democracy over and over by putting military dictatorships of General Zia and Ershad? Now, they are paying tribute to the Father of Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Are they really paying respect to Bangabandhu from their heart? Or, they're simply trying to exploit common people's love for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman? How will this army pay this nation back what it took from all of us?"

What is this?

No seriously, what the **** is this?

This is from a group blog that advertises with pride that it is pro-71! Three cheers, bloggers, so am I. Exactly what does it mean to be pro-71 when we're busy putting down the very institution founded by freedom fighters such as MAG Osmany, Ziaur Rahman, Khaled Mosharraf, Colonel Taher and others? What does it mean to be pro-71 when we're busy equating our current professionalised army with the bunch of hot-headed butchers who gunned down an entire family? Since when is being pro-71 more about being stupid and blind like Tikka Khan, instead of being analytical like Tajuddin and magnanimous like Mujib?

When did that happen?

And pardon my probing/amateurish questions, but who exactly is the "they" in "their unruly officers"? The current generals? The army chief of back in the day? Under BAKSAL, didn't final say rest with the President, who would also then be CinC? So if anyone ELSE is ultimately responsible for those "unruly officers" other than they themselves, - and trust me, I feel really bad pointing out something so tragically absurd as this - your logic requires that we assign the dead leader the blame for his family's and his own death!

What empty logic propaganda rests on.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it: exactly how much collective responsibility do you wish to assign any institution in the land when neither Mrs. Hasina nor Mrs. Zia nor the BNP nor the AL have ever compensated anyone for property damage caused by "their unruly officers" during hartals?

And not for one minute do I blame solely Awami Leaguers for the current sorry state of our national debate. For behold, the other side in this meaningless debate can be gleaned here. Go look at the comments section, for seriously the article says nothing new. The comments make clear that some think that saying anything against the army equals saying something against Bangladesh.

And when did that happen?

For the benefit of the Awami Forces, here's the LOC country study page for Bangladesh. Go look up Chapter 5 and read it thoroughly to know the complicated birth of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. After that, please come back and explain to me what exactly you find in common with the Army of today and the Army of 1975, other than the word "Army".

For the benefit of the Army League online chapter (whose members I doubt serve in the Armed Forces) forever questioning other Bangladeshis' loyalty, I have nothing to offer other than your own brains and common sense. And maybe my post from DP last week to show you what REALLY hurts national security more than mere words. Enjoy, and don't get so paranoid about Bangladeshi citizens. We love our country as much as you do.

August 19, 2007

Missing Women and Missing Arguments

"Western" pundits regularly castigate something they understand to be Islam for "its" attitude towards women (and Hitchens is by no means the best example, I'm feeling particularly lazy).

Today, I revisited something that Amartya Sen (the fourth or fifth greatest Bangali after Mujib, Zia, Sher-e-Bangla and arguably Dr. Yunus) brought to light 17 long years ago: missing women. Revisited in the form of a BBC story on a family from the Other partitioned province.

Two partitioned provinces. Two "nations". Two religions. Same attitude towards women. Yet, "culture", poverty, education are never singled out by anyone as potential factors for discrimination against women, except of course geniuses like Dr. Sen.

Religion is. Islam to a greater extent because of its unique position at the intersection of the Western political zeitgeist and Hindutva propaganda. Hinduism also, but to a lesser extent due to the absence of a global media consensus on it, and India's own "secular" self-image.

A secularism that has done NOTHING for women.

Lesson of the piece: Say "Islam is detrimental to women" and feel all sexy inside as the applause trickles in. Real scholars challenge orthodoxies.

August 17, 2007

Third World Engineering

Warning: this video contains support for micro-credit, micro-enterprise and non-Western engineering attempts designed to benefit poor people in the Majority World. As such you are free to regard this as yet another attempt to keep that World "underdeveloped", and suspect an Indo-American alliance behind it.

August 15, 2007

Ekti Mujiburer Thekey....

I don't like simple stories, but I'll make an exception for the one that follows because even this is an improvement from the over-simplified bullshit we are asked to believe by political parties and their embedded intellectuals. If you disagree on the details, remember these are simplified stories.

August 15th marks the end of two over-arching symbols and the birth of two legacies. It marks the end of British rule in the subcontinent. Some scholars talk about the two divergent, almost contradictory, strands of the British Imperial legacy: the monarchic viceroyalty and parliamentary democracy. Like everything else, those North-Indians divided - excuse me, Partitioned (note the capital) - the legacy between them, with the authoritarianism going to the Land of All-Muslims-except-those-not-from-Punjab and the parliamentary democracy going to "Oh-My-Don't-We-Look-Secular-As-Our-Army-Takes-Over-Goa-Hyderabad-Kashmir-and-Manipur"-istan. Thus, their divergent political fates. That is how one story goes.

Equally, if not more, importantly, August 15th marks the barbaric death of one man and his family.

I say "more" deliberately.

I say "more" because this man was the leader in creating the closest approximation to a nation-state in the subcontinent, no mean feat.

I say "more" because he was not a "derivative" of any Imperialism, brown or white: not for him foreign languages and degrees, affairs with foreign women and the adulation of foreign culture and choice phrases, or speeches in English and only English, that most Islamic of languages.

I say "more" out of protest that intellectual elites of every hue in South Asia are so overcome by the narrative of power and guilt emanating from Delhi, Islamabad and their own consciences that they do not look at this man, his words and his actions as supreme instances of anti-Imperialism or Islamic humanism - but are ready to wax lyrical about their Netaji, their Punditji, their Allama or their Quaid for pages on end.

I say "more" out of sheer desperation that even the very people he freed are ready to talk about either Jinnah or Nehru in glowing terms, but remain sure that he was somehow lesser. I hope the "more" makes them think.

Yet his legacy might have proved in the end to be more potent than anyone else's, for it had the potential for creating the most inclusive, egalitarian, and single-mindedly nationalistic polity in South Asia. It was after all his dream, and he had two words for it that you could understand from Teknaf to Tetulia: Shonar Bangla. These last 36 years have been largely lost, and that perhaps is the magic of the story and the bitterness I taste in my mouth.

For within that legacy there were two strands, pre-'71 and post-'72. Pre-'71 is the lost legacy: the uncompromising championing of the most marginalised people on Earth, his own. Do I exaggerate both our marginality and his role? Ask yourself in what cosmopolitan, pan-national scheme do Bangalis from the East come up - except at the margins. Not Western pan-humanism, nor Islamic Ummahtocism, nor South Asian Desi-ism (but never "Deshi-ism"! Tsk tsk, these Bungaaalis with their barbaric pronunciations, yaarrr!) and lastly, certainly not Kolkata-centric pan-Bengalism. Of course, intellectuals from both sides mix up that last statement with communal sentiments. This is not to say that Hindus and Muslims are two nations. That "theory" was as fake as Jinnah himself. This is to say that Hindus and Muslims of Purbo Bangla got a raw deal from "West Bengal" at most times.

Forever at the margins, one man took us by the scruff of the neck and shoved us into the centre of it, battling off all hegemonies. This was a man proud to be Bangali, proud to use our language unapologetically in the forum of the world, proud of his roots and convinced that his people deserved better.

So what happened?

The reality of a war-ravaged country hit, with a heavy dose of power to match. He became dictatorial, suspicious, overwhelmed, not really quite sure of what he had unleashed: the power of millions. He said things that went against the very grain of his inclusion, of his feelings for the marginalised. He did things that went against the very pluralism he had once worn as a proud embelm. And the people that we are - accustomed to the margins, losing out forever, suspicious of each other, and unaccustoned to being masters of our own destiny amidst the tides of empires and rivers - we took all these little lessons to heart and forgot the rest. We even tried to erase him, because no matter what he did in those three short years, he could not dull the gloss of what he had once been.

So he was killed along with his family and we went our merry way, forgetting. We shut down newspapers, beat up reporters, killed people in crossfires and forgot about the marginalised, of whom the dead were the first. We helped people only when our leaders told us to, gave flood relief only when photographers were present, talked about "national security" while selling, starving and exiling our people. And we constantly - constantly! - denigrated and killed our fellow Bangladeshis - ironically at times in the name of their Father. His shining legacy lived on - in name, stashed away behind glass cases, to be admired but not practised. Too impractical you see. These hujugey Bangalis, there's no pleasing them...

In the meantime, 36 years went on by and maybe another 36 will go before people wake up and realise that the other half of his legacy, the pre-'71 one, has either been denigrated or never been tried, even by his own admirers.

Welcome to the country of sell-outs. They only fight over whom to sell-out to. And that is the sad story. Simple, not pretty, but a thousand times more honest than what Awami intellectuals or BNP apologists or Jamaati pan-"Islam"ists or CTG bhodrolokes will tell you.

August 15th marks the day that we lost the one person who refused to sell us out in word or deed. May we remember him like that.

August 13, 2007

Random Thoughts from a Hectic Week

1) Floods. Government helpless.

We keep hearing about how omnipotent our military forces and bureaucracy are. We fund them enough that's for sure.

So, where were they?

From the sounds of it, AL and BNP organizations are apparently the only ones with enough grassroots experience to make the relief effort effective. That's straight from the CAS's mouth. What does that say about our government structure? That it's less effective than the party structures?

2) Why was the response from the parties so sluggish this year? Granted a lot of their workers are in jail or in hiding, is this something that would need a clearance from the top leadership? If it did, how sad is that? What happened to simply helping people for the heck of it? Were they afraid of becoming "shushil shomaj" with all the horrors involved?

3) Conversation with an Indian friend this week focussed on bureaucrats in Bangladesh and India, and Japanese corporate workers. Essentially, all 3 groups are given the same deal: lifetime employment, job security, steady paycheck. Result: GoB and GoI bureaucrats are lazy, inefficient and corrupt. Japanese workers are among the most efficient in the world and Japanese firms are running General ("we might fire your ass tomorrow") Motors out of business.

My friend suggested culture as a possible explanation. I went with greater scrutiny at recruitment and greater pay in terms of PPP and position in society. Any thoughts?

4) Is it just me, or has the debate since 1/11 been between those who advocate for a corruption-laced, dynastic, electoral democracy and those who want an "efficient", meritocratic (and perhaps, military) oligarchy? Now which side do I deplore more?

5) India today has better child mortality rates than the U.S. in the fifties. That one just blew my mind.

6) One of the most personally appealing endeavours I have come across in recent times. Kudos to the authors, despite my disagreements with them on some points. Rickshawalas (not a spelling mistake) are the life-blood of Dhaka and this blog would not function without emulating - on an enormously smaller scale - their daily resilience.

7) If you liked the video below, you might want to visit Gapminder and play around with the statistics yourself. Among my favourites:

a) Iran's contraceptive use among adult women, which spikes right after Khomenei's death

b) Iran's child mortality which falls dramatically after the Revolution,

c) Bangladesh's fertility rate during the 80s (obvious)

d) Bangladesh's women labour force as a %age of total, which despite popular perception, has shrunk over the 90s.

e) Any oil-rich MENA country's urbanization over time. My personal favourite, Libya.

August 12, 2007

Video of the Day: Debunking myths of the "Third World"

Via: Open Learning

August 05, 2007

Millionaires, Amartya Sen and NRBs

The New York Times has a different twist on the American Dream: millionaires who do not feel rich. Read about it here.

Reminded me of Amartya Sen's thoughts on poverty and inequality. That these things were determined in part by the ability of the individual to "take part in the life of the community" and to "appear in public without shame".

Poverty and inequality thus become subjective, dependent on time and place and the individual. A million dollars might not be a lot in Silicon Valley. But it sure is a lot in Oregon. Or for that matter Dhaka. But it might mean a lot more to an independent woman in America than to a woman who has no control over her own income in Dhaka. And so on and so forth.

I wonder how such considerations factors into NRB decisions to move back or not.

August 03, 2007

Said vs. Neo-Cons/Global Jihadist

Treat this as a continuation of the last post. The "/" slash up there is meant to be literal as well as visual. Neo-cons and jihadists are after all two sides of the same coin, building up the great, giant monoliths of "Islam" and "the West". Here to provide some corrective surgery to these ugly distortions is the late Edward Said.

Three excerpts:

"Even the normally sober British weekly The Economist, in its issue of 22-28 September, can't resist reaching for the vast generalisation and praises Huntington extravagantly for his "cruel and sweeping, but nonetheless acute" observations about Islam. "Today," the journal says with unseemly solemnity, Huntington writes that "the world's billion or so Muslims are 'convinced of the superiority of their culture, and obsessed with the inferiority of their power'." Did he canvas 100 Indonesians, 200 Moroccans, 500 Egyptians, 50 Bosnians? Even if he did, what sort of sample is that?" ...

"This is the problem with unedifying labels like Islam and the West: they mislead and confuse the mind which is trying to make sense of a disorderly reality that won't be pigeonholed or strapped down as easily as all that. I remember interrupting a man who had risen from the audience after a lecture I had given at a West Bank University in 1994 and had started to attack my ideas as "Western," as opposed to the strict Islamic ones he espoused. "Why are you wearing a suit and tie?" was the first simpleminded retort that came to mind; "they're Western too." He sat down with an embarrassed smile on his face, but I recalled the incident when information on the 11 September terrorists started to come in, how they had mastered all the technical details required to do their homicidal evil on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the aircraft they had commandeered. Where does one draw the line between "Western" technology and, as Berlusconi declared, "Islam's" inability to be a part of "modernity." ...

"But we are all swimming in those waters, Westerners and Muslims and others alike. And since the waters are part of the ocean of history, trying to plough or divide them with barriers is futile. These are tense times, but it is better to think in terms of powerful and powerless communities, the secular politics of reason and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and injustice, than to wander off in search of vast abstractions that may give momentary satisfaction but little self-knowledge or informed analysis. The "clash of civilizations" thesis is a gimmick, like "The War of the Worlds," better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time."

Read the entire piece here. Trust me you won't be disappointed.