September 28, 2007

Burmese Days

First off, "Burma" or "Myanmar"? As we know, this goes beyond mere semantics, into ethical dilemmas.

Agree with a criminally stupid American President - I mean, part of me suspects that all this is simply because he can't pronounce "Myanmar" or doesn't know whether it's "Myamarian" or "Myanmarese"?

Laugh at the Orwellian situation of the current British Prime Minister declaring "the age of impunity" is over about a few months after his war criminal of a predecessor left the scene with the impunity that only the powerful enjoy?

What is the appropriate balance between helping the powerless out and ensuring that we ourselves do not align with the hegemonic project that weakens them further in the long run?

Secondly, as a firm secularist who believes in the separation of religion and politics, I would like to applaud the Burmese regime for going into the monasteries and mercilessly beating up these impertinent RELIGIOUS monks full of medieval ancient ideas who are telling these honourable, expert, MODERN men how to run their country.

Anyone who's a regular at this blog knows exactly how much sarcasm went into the above. I'd laugh if the situation were a bit less dire. But our own "secularists" better come up with an explanation if they want to support the Burmese democracy movement.

But I suppose this explains one perplexing question at least: why India has remained silent. Obviously, the world's biggest democracy does not want to sacrifice its "real practice of secularism". I'm kidding of course: Indian realpolitik would embarrass Machiavelli. Or Chanakya for that matter!

Thirdly, (and this relates thematically with my first point), BBC reports:

"In a sign that the military junta is afraid of foreign radio and satellite TV coverage of the protests and the crackdown, the state-run media has begun to blame foreign media for inciting the trouble.

The Light of Myanmar newspaper said: "Saboteurs from inside and outside the nation and some foreign radio stations, who are jealous of national peace and development, have been making instigative acts through lies to cause internal instability and civil commotion."

Any parallels with Bangladesh and the rhetoric emanating from a certain Barrister gifted with Extra-Conspiracy-Perception (ECP) is of course unintentional. Last thing I want is to have this blog blocked by people with heightened ECP.

Fourthly, and with all seriousness, let us acknowledge one simple truth: a "government" that fires on its own people loses its right to rule. Maybe not all at once, but certainly incrementally. Power might derive from the barrel of a gun, but legitimacy derives over ensuring that obedience to power is not completely against the interests of those supposed to be obeying. And legitimacy, not power, is what ensures longevity and leads to prosperity.

Just something to think about.....

September 22, 2007

The State of the Revolution - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

If those 5-points (see part 2) sounds too much like Mr. Motiur Rahman of Prothom Alo, then that is of course no coincidence. He is the poster-child (La Moudud a la Moudud if you will) of this faction, having come full circle since his early Leninist days. And it was his latest digbaaji that inspired this piece. While I liked his paper from the outset, I did not like Mr. Rahman's editorial stance over the last 2 years nor the personal animosity that showed through at times. I'm no fan of BNP or Falu (there's something really creepy about that smile!), but neither am I a fan of trial by media. Let's get one thing clear: the media is there to expose suspicious acts and bring them to the public eye. It is NOT there to determine the criminality of supposed acts. That is why we have judges and courts.

This is an important point that is sometimes lost in the argument over democracy. Democracy means that individuals are judged for their crimes by experts not the public, while national issues affecting everyone are discussed by the public not JUST experts. That is where a free media comes in. Under this CTG, what we have seen is the exact opposite, and that is where Mr. Motiur Rahman came in. We have seen the CTG stifle public debate over issues through censorship of its critics and appointing its own "experts" into the debate, all the while ensuring that the trial of allegedly corrupt public figures become a matter to be decided by the Prothom Alo-roused public rather than the experts in courts of law. (Tragedy if you ask me. Last thing I want to see is SaQa Chowdhury and his cousin from the AL side running for public office and funding parties again. But such is the tragedy of a tragic nation.)

It is therefore with some small measure of irony that we note that this trend that Mr. Rahman has helped fuel - one of trial by media and an ill-informed public - has now come back to bite him in his nether regions. Like all good comprador liberals who underestimate the power of religion, he forgot that he alone does not play the pipe that enchants the flock.

But other than the irony, what does it mean in terms of the broad based coalition?

Revolutionaries once assured of their own power against their former enemies tend to turn against one another, some quickly, some not so much. Stalin versus Trotsky, Nasser versus Naguib and perhaps most relevant, the different factions who brought about the Iranian Revolution. It might come as a surprise to many readers nowadays, but Iranian women, leftists, Bahai's and Jews celebrated in the streets of Tehran the day Khomenei returned. Secular leftists, left-Islamists (there is such a thing in Iran), right-Islamists were all active parts of that revolution. The first one to bite the dust were the secular left, then the Islamist Right. That went on until the Contra-Iran crisis discredited the leader of the Islamist Left and they further subdivided amongst themselves on the issues of the day and eliminated each other. So on and so forth. I hope the readers see what I'm getting at.

After the twin arrests of our squabbling twins, the "revolution" has been consolidated. Time for the internal conflict folks. Motiur Rahman has been neutered. Debapriya Bhattacharya has been exiled given an ambassadorship to Geneva.* Yunus has been silenced deservedly for his betrayal of the Bangladeshi masses. Mahfuz Anam alone is not going to do anything. People are baying for his blood too.

Factions 4 and 6 seem to be revelling. Naya Diganta is running stories that reminds one of Hind after the Battle of Uhud (ahem... we democracy advocates freedom-loving reprobates sometimes know our Islamic history). Now I'm not going to warn the likes of FM and MR that Islamists make very unreliable allies with little political capital in the long run. If wise ones such as themselves do not know that, that's their problem. I would like to remind them that after eliminating the Shushils, they might just start fighting amongst themselves. "Counter-revolutionaries" and "betraying the spirit of January 11th" and all that, translated into the latest parlance: don't be shocked if a certain ex-chairman of BOI actually has some extra cash hidden somewhere in Swiss accounts, or Amader Shomoy suddenly decides to run stories critical of a khatib who spends time giving khutbas about important issues like "who said what" rather than the more unimportant ones such as inflation, arbitrary arrests, the misuse of "Islam" in his own country and the world.

Once you start down the slippery slope of "revolution" and "takfiring" others out of a voice, it's a hard fight folks. You might just be next or the one after that. Naya Diganta editors, Jamaat-e-Islami and like-minded parties, the ulema, high-flying bureaucrats and armed forces members: I wish you all the best of luck.

* The 3rd World View has some news on interesting developments in the use of ambassadorships as tools for exile.

Free Arifur Rahman NOW!

The Front Page will highlight cartoonist Arifur Rahman's incarceration until justice is done

Click here for the latest posts.


(This is the front page of the blog and will remain so as long as the cartoonist is denied justice and media coverage. For the latest content, please click on the link at the very top. Watch this post for updates.)

Early February: I am sad to report that the earlier reports of Arif being freed quietly by the regime is false. I am informed that he seems to be in good spirits, and is in a cell with one other
person. I understand that a petition has been moved to discharge him from the case for hurting religious sentiment (now pending before Dhaka Magistrate's Court) on the gruond that:

- there was no basis to the case,

- he had no such intention,

- he was not responsible for publication of the cartoon,

- the cartoon was not offensive,

- Islam preaches tolerance and fprgiveness, and

- he has in any event apologised for any inadvertent offence caused to anyone.

I also understand that his legal team pleaded procedural points of error.

I am informed that a decision is expected on 25th Feb.

Early January 2008: I am informed that Arif has been freed quietly by the regime, and his well wishers want the issue to be not highlighted. Shada Kalo is also reporting similarly.

October 22nd: I am happy to report that unlike a few weeks back, the blogs are now reporting that Arifur Rahman is not in some "undisclosed location", but rather at Dhaka Central Jail. Unheard Voices has begun a letter writing campaign for the jailed cartoonist. Please write to him to show your support and solidarity at this trying time in his young life. The letters can be addressed to:

Mohammad Arifur Rahman,
Son of Mohammad Matiur Rahman,
re CR Case No. 2298/07,
Dhaka Central Jail,
Nazimuddin Road,

I would like to request my fellow bloggers to highlight this letter-writing campaign as well, especially in Bangla blogs. I'm almost ashamed to ask more from them given superb job they've done since our local media lost all its spine in dealing with this issue!

One particular line from the UV post is worth quoting: "We also urge those offended by the cartoon to write to him, for compassion towards one’s adversaries is a fast-vanishing Islamic value in today’s world."

Very few will disagree with that.

October 17th: It is exactly one month since Arifur Rahman's arrest. 30 days. Arif has spent the better part of Ramadan in prison and has spent Eid away from his family. Even his exact whereabouts are open to question.

Let me take a moment here to note the absolute silence about him in the mainstream media. A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E.

Ask yourself: is this what the Prophet (SW) would have prescribed? Given the stories of his sense of generosity, forgiveness and JUSTICE we all grow up with, the answer would have to be a resounding "no"! But of course, this will fall on the deaf ears of the people who use the Prophet's (SW) name explicitly (and that means YOU Hizb-ut-Tahrir!).

I have complained previously about how "secularists" drive an unnatural wedge between the religious sphere and every other sphere of life. Let me say here that I've always regarded this is a two-way process: ek haathey shottiyi taali baajey na! Religious people - and Islamists in particular - drive just such a wedge by barring a cartoonist from speaking about religion (or in this case, what passes for religious practice in Bangladesh).

When you bar your creative people from talking about religion, you cannot then come back and complain that they have become "so secular and worldly"!

Free Arifur Rahman and let him live with security and dignity.

October 1st update: Keep Me Honest has a must-read piece on the cartoonist. Turns out that he recently won a contest for the best cartoon against corruption, this current government's raison d'etre.

The list of bloggers in the September 28th update will be regularly updated. So please keep posting about this issue until justice is assured.

28th September update To my knowledge, the following bloggers have issued calls for the release of the cartoonist Arifur Rahman:

Shourav of Somewherein - The creator of the sticker you see above and on the sidebar, and his personal blog.

Addafication which highlighted the injustice of it all.


Third World View

Voice of Bangladeshi Bloggers

In the Middle of Nowhere, who rightfully asks us not to forget the BRAC worker kidnapped in Afghanistan either!

Serious Golmal

Unheard Voices


Keep Me Honest.


Shada Kalo


I'd like to thank Sid and Rezwan bhai for most of the bloggers on this list.

If you are a blogger who has written about Arifur Rahman's predicament, called for his release or even simply put that sticker up, I would highly appreciate you leaving a comment here with the link to your blog/post. Same goes if you know someone who has. I'd like to highlight the bloggers who are doing all this. Thanks.

26th September

I'm too middle-class to go out into the streets and protest for anyone's release, I confess. There are many notables languishing in jail right now for whom the clarion cry of "Nishortey Mukti Chai" will be raised no doubt, once the CTG relaxes the ban on politics. I have not joined them on this blog till now and I will not join them in the future.

But when I see a 23-year old BANGLADESHI civilian being picked up and thrown into jail for no reason but that he offended some old men with decrepit ideas, I see injustice of the vilest sort. And protesting injustice, ESPECIALLY when it affects the weak, is a fundamental part of my religion.

It's been late in coming, but the realisation has finally hit those of us who still think independently. Last week Addafication wrote clearly as to why this was less about censorship and more about injustice. Today I found this post on Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying, highlighting the growing web campaign to free this artist.

Very few times in your life will you come across an act whose darkness can completely drown out the bright light of justice. This is one of those times. Raise your voices.

September 21, 2007

The State of the Revolution - Part 2

Part 1

Part 3

6) Right-wing intellectuals - The mirror-image of the Shushils, I refer of course to the Naya Diganta types, specifically Farhad Mazhar and Mahbubur Rahman (of ex-BOI and CPD-suing fame). Now a lot of people might point out that this is by no means new. Well, yes nothing is completely new under the sun true. But my rationale is that they represent a new strand in right-wing support for unelected governments: previous right-wing intellectuals were usually BCS people (e.g. AMA Muhith) or no-brainers. An interesting case is that of Enayetullah Khan, the late editor of Holiday whose family now owns the New Age. Left-wing intellectual, so far to the left that he has extended his support to every right-wing government in power to get even with the Awami League for the early 70s. Farhad Mazhar might just be doing the same with his latest shenanigans. (I'm indebted to the numerous discussions I've had with people on Rumi bhai's blog for this section. They really got me thinking seriously about the Naya Diganta clique.)

Now that we've got 1-6 somewhat differentiated from one another, let's look at their aims.

1 and 2 have the same aims: greater bureaucratic control over politicians in the long run and a clean exit. I do not doubt their patriotism: they genuinely want good things for the country. I doubt their ability to listen to the very people they are supposed to lead. Top-down modes of governance do not work in the long-run without extreme coercion. Get a book on Soviet history and see if I'm wrong. Unelected government officials become ready to seek out "conspiracies" if ELECTED political masters are not present: elected people are conscious of the people below them even in a flawed democratic state like Bangladesh. Bureaucrats and military people are more apt to find conspiracies or somehow or the other blame the public for policy failures. Don't believe me? Look at the fixed price market fiasco. (Free economics 101 lesson for any BDR personnel who wants it. Just leave a comment on this blog!)

3 is not really much of a mystery. These are people who have decided that they want power no matter who they have to serve, no matter how much of their previous statements they will have to disavow. Mr. Moudud is the epitome of this class, but in the context of the current CTG, the poster-boy of this faction is none other than a newspaper magnate cum barrister cum advisor cum conspiracy theorist. I refer of course to someone who once resigned from BAKSAL (h/t shadakalo), not because it was undemocratic (how "naive and idealistic" that would have been) but because his illustrious father's newspapers had been confiscated. Like father, like son? Hah!

4 is not a mystery either. By hook or by crook, they want Shahriah law in Bangladesh. That Shahriah itself outlaws the hook against other Muslims (which most of us are) is not something that bothers them. That there are different interpretations of the Shahriah and the Quran (and have been since time immemorial) is also not something that bothers them. More than anything that a cartoonist could draw, these living beings are an insult to the Islam I know and practise. Let's ban them from politics using their own logic. That some of them acted against us in 1971 simply lends more credence to the call. Seriously, this is the only time I'm going to echo Kader Siddiky. (Btw, Mr. Siddiky, I second your opinion as given to the EC that all rajakars should be banned. What's your take on pro-Mujib guerrillas who fought OUR army with Indian help? Somehow less treacherous? Jackass!)

That faction 6 is allied with Islamists is a tragedy, which we've been trying to fathom on several threads on this blog and Rumi bhai's. Neither Farhad Mazhar nor Mahbubur Rahman nor most of the other right-wing ideologues are Islamists or even particularly religious. The consensus among the bloggers is that it reflects the failure of a centre-right BNP to find any meaningful outlet to their voices: after all, the BNP has valued loyalty over dissent in its 2nd term. And dissent is the one thing you cannot take away from people who think for themselves.

5 was of course the big surprise this coup round. Their participations spoke of a society in which power had been devolving to hostile civilians slightly, with the liberalization of the economy and the media. What was their interest in supporting an undemocratic procedure? Surely these were "liberals" who believe in democracy right? Get ready for a rant.

We had two political parties families personalities... let me start again. We have had two powerful political ideologies differentiating themselves on paper only through this: "socialism and secularism" and "capitalism and the state's supreme faith in Allah". Both ideologies are willing to sacrifice "democracy" to get to these supposed utopian goals from what I've seen and read (BAKSAL and Jamaat's Roadmap are two sides of the same coin). Democracy therefore clearly has no advocate in Bangladesh, the first Bangladeshi politician on the blogosphere notwithstanding.

The dependency school of political economy in its typically post-Marxist way tells us that economic "exploitation" (read: relations) did not end with colonialism. What happened was that the "white masters" were replaced with brown/black ones. These new masters were comprador elites, serving the needs of the old colonial power at the expense of the development of their own newly independent countries. Their consciousness were therefore elsewhere, in the lands of those who held the purse-strings. (Full disclosure: Dependency theory has been partially discredited, so Islamist readers, please don't go on a rant about how "secular liberals" serve the "Empire". I don't subscribe to such facile theories myself.)

Like economic elites, our liberals too are comprador, not in an economic sense but in an ideological sense. We all remember the old saying, "These people hold up umbrellas when its raining in Moscow" (which btw can be modified slightly to fit the Islamist condition, "These people take shelter when a sandstorm bursts forth in Riyadh, Jeddah, Gaza City, Damascus, Ankara etc etc"... anywhere except my beloved Dhaka of course!). Our liberals are painfully short of original ideas. Yunus was of course the exception to this in that microlending really is original in breaking free of Cold War shackles of thought. His tragedy lies elsewhere.

The lack of original ideas is reflected:

1. in their avowal of "secularism", borne out of the experience of the Inquisition in Europe and superimposed on Bangladesh's '71 experience;

2. in their avowal of "Communism", borne out of the experience of Industrialisation which Bangladesh did not go through;

3. in their 180 degrees digbaaji following Berlin '89 and their avowal of "the Market and Industrialization", without letting go of their hostility towards entrepreneurs or calling for a strong legal basis without which the Market cannot function;

4. in their avowal of "civil society" narrowly defined to include themselves and only themselves at the expense of other ideologies;

5. and finally in their full-fledged support for the CTG's policies (especially their censorship and self-censorship) as a "national government" following the Communist models they once aspired to.

Democracy remained something elusive (usually dismissed as a buzzword by the ignorant), something for the naive to shout about, people like me who thought that "over"-populated, "under"-educated Bangladesh could cope with the democracy it had fought for in 1971.

The State of the Revolution - Part 1

(Things are too fluid for meaningful analysis at the moment. A combination of a rant and impressions, this piece is too long for one quick read so I'm breaking it into two. Part 1 is a basic introduction that won't come as a surprise to anyone except REALLY partisan readers, all of whom have quit my blog anyway. Part 2 will follow shortly and consider the direction this so-called revolution is taking. Sneak preview: parallels with other revolutions are made! *gasp*)

Back in July, it was noted that the "The Bhodroloke Revolution" was a revolution but it's "bhodroloke" aspect was simply an ideological marketing ploy. The article linked above criticises the choice of ideological packaging to sell the product for a variety of reasons. It does not however say that it is an accurate description of the nature of this so-called revolution: "What happened on January 11 is a lot more complicated than the simplified picture put forward by the foreign advisor. But that simple picture by itself is highly important."

With events unfolding fast, let us look beyond the packaging and look at the coalition between those who took the Great Step on January 11th and those who have hopped on board since. Firstly, let me be clear as to why the ideological packaging is not as important in the current scenario. This incredibly media-savvy government obviously feels that the international community has bought it's product already. Remember, as has been pointed out in this space before, they can take the short-cut of censorship with the local media but not with the foreign. So far they've dealt politely and well with the foreign media with its two-second attention span and harshly with the local media. Which is the Great Tragedy (capital G? capital T? Deservedly yes!) of this current year.

So let us look beyond the packaging and at the product, the CTG. Now any regular denizen of the Bangladeshi blogosphere knows that die-hard Awami or "Nationalist" bloggers have been reviling this CTG as a "Rajakar/Jamaat/Shushil" and a "Indian/American/Shushil-led" government, respectively. Treating this government as a monolithic whole is enough for me to discount their opinions from the outset, before I even begin thinking about the ridiculous and the predictable epithets they usually apply.

The truth is that the CTG probably represents a much broader coalition of interests than the last government, and arguably broader than the last 2 before that as well.

So what can we gauge so far about who makes up this coalition? Well, first let's round up the usual suspects first:

1. the armed forces - the most "organized" segment of society

2. the BCS - "friends, not masters" who have an organizational memory of doing the daily grind for undemocratic governments that stretches back over a hundred years.

3. Political opportunists - following the footsteps of the original Bhodrolokes, the Jomidars of yore, Bhutto (deal-making Benazir's daddy), Moudud, Huda and other illustrious names who will make it into the history books (but as what?).

4. Islamists - In the history of Islamist political parties in Bengal (which I date from 1930s onwards, so don't bring Titumir in), no popular Islamist political party has come out in defense of democracy unless under the leadership of the mainstream non-religious party. On the other hand, they have sided with unelected governments over and over again and have even legitimised them using the all-powerful religion over whose "true interpretation" they claim to have a monopoly. It is therefore no wonder that Islamists in Bengal and Bangladesh have been and are about the least popular of the mainstream parties, inverting cases like Turkey and Egypt. If you do not respect the people (not Muslims, but all people), the people (including Muslims) do not respect you. Simple as that. (Consider this that post on my pet peeve with Islamism that I promised way back in May. It's really not worth doing a separate post on Jamaat and their apologists, willing to tolerate every vile anti-Islamic deed done by men with beards but ready to explode at the most innocent borderline deed committed by anyone clean-shaven and wearing a shirt and trousers.)

And now for the first-time offenders:

5) "Shushils" - Those former lefties turned liberals (aka centre-left) turned academics with foreign degrees who came back home to establish a few viable organizations and popularised the terms "civil society" and "corruption". They were indeed so "shushil" that they forgot that to be truly civil you had to include all sorts of non-government people: poor, uneducated, and (gasp) religious, instead of acting better-than-thou. Step up gentlemen, don't be shy. Newspaper editors, premier economists, and of course, our old "intellectual" pals. You know who you are. Please note, this does not include #4 through mutual loathing. Although asking each group to justify the other's exclusion is enough to give me a headache. (Full disclosure: I hate 'em both!)

Part 2
Part 3

September 19, 2007

This Is Not Islam

Do these hypocrites know that it's Ramzan?

Down with censorship.

Down with stupidity.

Down with using "Islam" to justify their own pitiful existence.

Down with using "Islam" to silence anyone who points out their ignorance.

The "offending" cartoon criticises the SUPERSTITION that goes on in the name of Islam, not the Prophet nor Islam (as we "uneducated Bangalis" understand it anyhow). If these gentlemen above have a problem against that, then they have a problem against Islam.

Small pointer to the Western media: this is NOTHING like the Danish cartoons incident. Those cartoons were REALLY racist.

Over and out. Oh one more thing:


September 15, 2007

A Spot of Idealism

Blogger Shadakalo brings to our attention idealist teachers who have made a difference in their students' lives. Please read here. Truer words have rarely been said.

I was taught a story in primary scool in the Bangla text book Amar Boi. It goes like this: the Prophet once showed a beggar how to become a woodcutter and thus ensured that the man could sustain his life. Sustainibility is everything. When you help in someone's education, you help them become sustainable.

So listen to Shadakalo. Idealism might be dead, but its long shadow provides relief to a lot of people.

Romjan Mobarok.

September 13, 2007

Tigers Roar!

And how I find out.

Reactions from the street that I completely made up sitting on my couch (and do feel free to make up your own as long as you stick to public figures or yourself!):

"For 36 years, we have not won anything on the world stage because of corruption. Now the CTG has come and we've beaten the powerhouse of world cricket, the West Indies!" - random CTG supporter bearing a suspicious resemblance to a famous newspaper magnate cum barrister cum advisor cum MAGICIAN.

"If our Mahatir had not shut down the entire city for cricket, we would not have learnt how important this game was! This is why we need a strong leader. Long live Mahatir!" - random BNP supporter taking the time out from arguing with the police in front of closed offices.

"Yet another victory for democracy, human rights and secula - Ki? West Indies?? Dhur miya, raakhen eishob. I thought you were talking about us beating these Jamaatis!" - random AL supporter taking time off from beating up "reform" leaders.

"Cricket is the epitome of the bourgeoisie's exploitation of the proletariat. Banglar Krishokera ei khela kokhonoi kheltey raaji hobey na. Viva La Revolucion!" - CPB spokesman.

"Cricket is haraam." - IOJ spokesman *insert appropriate Arabic/Persian/Urdu title*

Excuse my poor attempts at humour. Rare to wake up in the morning and get some good news nowadays.

September 12, 2007

Yet Another Statement by HRW

This is getting a bit monotonous frankly. But what interested me particularly is this little snippet:

"...government censors ripped out two recent articles in the The Economist on protests and Bangladeshi politics before the magazine could be distributed. Bangladeshi editors and journalists have told Human Rights Watch that self-censorship has become common."

I don't know what the two articles are. I assume one of them is this one. I would greatly appreciate anyone who has information as to what the other one was.

Full statement.

Update: As the author of this blog confirms, the two "ripped" articles were from different issues of the magazine. The other article was most likely this one.

Update 2: And just so we don't forget, this isn't the first time this government has done this.

In Remembrance

"down the hall
down the stairs
in a building so tall
that it will always be there
yes, it's part of a pair ....

"look, another window to see through
way up here
on the 104th floor
another key
another door
10% literal
90% metaphor
3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
should be more than pawns
in some asshole's passion play"

- Self Evident by Ani DiFranco


The Strange Case of the "Islamist" Suddenly Believing in Collective Responsibility

By some piece of cosmis irony, today I came across a blog post that tries to blame an entire group for the sins of a few. It's about a USAID consultant molesting a child in Bangladesh. I urge everyone to read the entire piece, but here's a small excerpt:

"USAID consultant in case of kiddyfiddling in Bangladesh
Sunday, September 09, 2007

Apparently he was meant to be developing the shrimp industry. This story is disgraceful, but i suspect it wont really chasten the development industry.

One wonders what sorry excuses for literate and ngo employed human beings like Touhid Feroze would make of that. I'm thinking something along the lines of, 'we shouldnt judge as standards always change' perhaps. Or maybe something like 'nothing to get emotional about, none of the protagonists were Bangali'."

Now I'm going to overlook the terribly trivialising word "kiddyfiddling" to denote something as serious as child sexual abuse. What else can I expect from inhabitants of an island which calls cigarettes "fags", the Underground "the Tube" and all South Asians "Pakis"? They only invented English. The rest of us are burdened into speaking it properly...

I love the logic of those sentences up there. One NGO consultant molests a 10-year old. This somehow reflects on the ENTIRE NGO sector. Therefore the "development industry" needs chastening, and NGO employees are expected to "make excuses" for it. I note that the author does not reproduce any reactions from anyone in this mythical industry, just irrelevant links about what he thinks they MIGHT say....

However, I "admire" the logic involved: that an entire group must apologise for the sins of a few. What does that remind me of I wonder? *taps fingers thoughtfully on cheek* I re-direct you here to an interesting debate on a completely different issue at Serious Golmal while I think on that question.

More to the topic on hand, my "admiration" of this sort of logic also leads me to reproduce a few news stories of my own. Here's one that talks about the difficulties a Bangla daily in New York faced when they ran a story about an Imam accused of the crime in question. Here's one of a Male imam accused of the same. Does the entire ulema and their "apologists" and perhaps all Muslims including myself now have to "make excuses" and clear their/our good name?

Not to me, they don't. Perhaps the author of the blog will hold them accountable COLLECTIVELY. I highly doubt it given his previous statements. A friend of mine calls it in-group heterogeneity vs. out-group homogeneity: the in-group is composed of individuals, while the out-group has collective responsibilities for everything. All partisans work on that dynamic.

In the meantime, spare a thought for a traumatised child. I know organizations calling themselves "NGOs" who actually work to help victims of child sexual abuse. I don't know of any Bangladeshi self-proclaimed Islamist organization (who technically might be NGOs too, but since when did logic and consistency matter) that does so. What does that say about collective responsibility?


(PS. Fugstar, please don't come back with stories of how bad the "secular" media is and how much it lies about "religious" people. There really is no way you can justify that post in light of what I've just said. Trust me.

But feel free to try. I know you will....)

September 11, 2007

Late Night Wonderings

So who wants to speculate as to why Nawaz Sharif's airport drama draws an editorial from the DS?

A toast to human inventiveness and the power of metaphors to by-pass clumsy censors etc etc....

September 10, 2007


Lest we forget.

3rd World View on Bangladesh's garments industry's slowdown.

Heritage Foundation releases a memo on "Protecting Democracy in Bangladesh". (Because the American conservative track record of protecting democracy abroad has been sooooooooooo awesome! But mostly because Iraq is something no American conservative wants to talk about right now.)

Ban Ki-Moon commends Bangladeshi peacekeepers and CTG.

British irony: how MI5 spied on the guy who coined the term "Big Brother".

Secular India's "Untouchable" Harijan newspaper.

July 28th, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture says that UN needs "better peacekeepers".

Yet another reason to laugh at Pakistan.

Foot in Mouth of the Day

Our winner today: Mr. Mannan Bhuiyan and the rebel "mainstream" faction of the BNP.

In a letter to the Election Commission, they declare that the party chief's expulsion of Mr. Bhuiyan and Mr. Hossain on the day of her arrest was "a violation of the government's ban on indoor politics".

Ahh yes, that ban. The one that made it illegal for all politicians to make speeches inside their homes and call press conferences inside. THAT ban. In all fairness, Mrs. Zia did make her declaration on the steps of the CMM court, so technically she was outdoors. Unless "outdoors" in the new "indoors". Who can tell in this brave new upside-down, inside-out world?

Oh well, here goes: foot firmly in mouth.

September 08, 2007

As the Dust Settles - Ditiyo Khondo

(I deliberately held back on this post because I could not get my thoughts in order. I publish it as I wrote it then - raw, incomplete and ill-thought-out - because otherwise it will outlive its usefulness if any to myself and the reader. This was my attempt at summarising the consequences of the madness we saw during those ten fateful days of August. Madness both from the students and from the government. Where those tragic events leave us in terms of civil-government relations and more importantly civil-military relations, only time will tell.)

Let there be no doubt: Evil Forces and political hot money by themselves cannot explain the magnitude of these riots nor the speed at which they spread. Discounting inflation, the bulldoing of slums and the eviction of informal businessmen/women from the pavements is not only an insult to people's intelligence, but promises to trap our national discourse forever in "juju-ism": where we cannot take responsibility for our own actions but must forever find someone else (some omnipotent juju if necessary) to blame. A state is not built on paranoia.

Let there be no doubt in anyone's minds either about the fact that there was definitely fishing in troubled waters. This is the kind of opportunity that our political parties - especially when they're not in the government - wait for. And if they decided to mobilise their agenda through DU professors, who aren't exactly non-partisan angels, then so be it: arrest them and investigate. What I don't understand are the following:

1) How does this justify the indiscriminate beating of any and all DU students as a meaningful policy to keep the peace? Shouldn't there be at least a debate here about collective responsibility/punishment? And more importantly, some considerations about the effect on an already strained relation between civilians and the military/government?

2) How does this justify the harrassment of media personnel and censorship of the media as meaningful policy to keep the peace? I don't think I need to elaborate on this any more than I have previously. I will just say that the free flow of information reduces uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds discontent. Also, as noted previously, the BBC was not censored.

3) The BBC was not censored. If Bangladeshi governments were really worried about their "bhaabmurti" - instead of using it as a tool to de-legitimise its critics - then it would let Bangladeshi news outlets to control the story, not some foreign media outlet.

Oh yeah, I know what you're thinking... it's because our media constantly bitches about the government....well look at what the BBC does to their government.

Has anyone ever heard of a government fall because of too great a flow of information? No seriously, ONE example from media censorship advocates will do. Just ONE!

September 07, 2007

The "Post-Colonial" Condition

In remembrance of KJA:

"The fact that I
am writing to you
in English
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
My subject:
how to explain to you that I
don't belong to English
though I belong nowhere else"

- Gustavo Perez Firmat

September 06, 2007

Reality vs. Fiction

Last week, we had a former brigadier urging the government to look at the underlying causes of the student riots.

Yesterday, we had a university professor talking confidently about "the evil forces" who had tried to dislodge this government. He takes the professors to task for not doing enough to stop the rioting. He applauds the government for having done "a smashing job keeping the rioting at bay". He even says that allegations of torture are there "simply to tarnish the image of the joint forces". I could go on, but it's about to make me nauseous. Last word from the investigation: "no evidence of instigation on the first day."

Now I request all those who like over-arching categories like "students" and "army" to take a step back and think about which writer here is making more sense and who has more sympathy for the ordinary man in the street and who doesn't. Clearly the former army man wins out over the current professor. The former army man has more sympathy for the students than the professor. So where does that leave people who like to construct grand categories of "student/academics" vs. "army/armed forces"?

What you say is more important than who you are. No one person or profession has a hold on the truth.

September 03, 2007

Breaking: Khaleda Zia About to be Arrested

If the video below doesn't work, here's the BBC report from its youtube channel courtesy of an anonymous commenter.

And more BBC footage here.

BBC video report via Mash's blog.

And courtesy of Sushanta bhai, we have footage! Enjoy!

Update 14: Well, it's settled. She has been moved to special jail aka the Speaker's residence at the Shongshod Bhobon complex. The poetic ironies are too good to let slip by without mention.

Two leaders who refused to recognise each other's right to rule inside Parliament are now trapped there against their will. Two leaders who refused to speak to each other outside Parliament are now neighbours inside Louis Kahn's splendid dreams. Irony, irony, irony... if a writer of fiction had come up with this, we would have said it was too much, too neat. Reality as always is so much stranger.

Update 13: Mannan Bhuiyan expelled by Mrs. Zia on her way out of the CMM, according to bdnews24. Dramatic to say the least. But I sense a general malaise setting into the Bangladeshi population, a sense of the dramatic becoming commonplace. As I've said, that red DS banner has been on display one too many times in 2007.

Mrs. Zia has left the leadership of BNP to Khandaker Delowar Hossain, Goyeshwar Chandra Roy and Hannan Shah. Between the three of them, how many partymen can they stop from defecting with Mr. Bhuiyan? And how many of them will leave out of conviction and how many will simply abandon a sinking ship?

Finally, a personal note: Mrs. Zia, I know this is a bad time, but let me be clear about one thing. Please, PLEASE, don't mention "family" and "party" in the same sentence. That is what got us here in the first place!

Update 12: BDnews24 ticker says that Mrs. Zia has been ordered to jail without chances of bail, Coco remanded for 7 days. So it seems that this is more part of the original "minus-2" scenario and not some new plan in response to the riots (see comments 1 and 2). I suspect that the arrest was brought forward because of the troubles though.

On the BNP front, Mannan Bhuiyan has been expelled from the party by Mrs. Zia according to the DS, and his replacement is Khandaker Delowar Hossain, who is Acting GS. I don't know what this means in terms of intra-party politics so would appreciate it if my readers illuminated it for me.

Update 11: And it's always nice to know that the pro-Awami League ...uhhh "pro-71" bloggers on "Voice of Bangladeshi Bloggers" are somewhat ambivalent about this arrest. "Deshi Blogger" writes:

"Finally, the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the mother of all corruption, has been arrested by the army backed care taker government. They're now trying to balance their action by arresting Khaleda Zia."

Ahhh yes, "finally"! As long as this CTG is not harming AL interests, it's called "balancing" and can be greeted with the relieved - nay, exultant - "finally" and justified with "the mother of all corruption" tag.

Just reminded me that despite all the bluster emanating from the AL side of the blogosphere, they were the ones who were ready to ratify whatever actions the CTG took.

What changed fellas?

Update 10 : Part of the chaos around the CMM has to be the lawyers trying to get in. At least according to bdnews24:

Lawyers defending Khaleda and her son in court are Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, Sanaullah Miah, Masud Ahmed Talukder, Lutfe Alam and Khorshed Alam. Prosecution officer Abdur Rashid will represent the ACC in court. Security officials battled chaos in front of the CMM's Court. Another group of lawyers, led by Barrister Mahbubuddin Khokan, tried to push their way into court, but RAB officers stopped them, sparking an angry exchange of words.

And just to show that BD news media know what the most important aspects of any event are, the report also includes these details:

Khaleda and Coco were given chairs to sit on in the courtroom. Khaleda arrived in court in sari and sunglasses and Coco was in jeans and T-shirt.

Is this news or Entertainment Tonight? And oh, was the T-shirt and jeans designed by Coco Chanel (sorry, really couldn't resist that awful pun)?

Update 9: People with access to Bangla TV channels: Any news on the "chaos"? What's going on?

A friend of a friend (yes, THAT old source) watching TV back home says that the "chaos" was more reporters than anything else. HOWEVER, the TV cameras went cold a while back, so we don't know the latest.

Update 8: Bdnews24 reports of "chaos hitting the front of CMM" as KZ arrives. What form this "chaos" took we don't know. Hopefully not rioting and property destruction. That explains the security measures mentioned in update 7. Bdnews says:

Security officials are battling chaos in front of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court for Dhaka as Khaleda Zia has arrived after arrest early Monday. The former prime minister and Coco were arrested shortly after 7:30am. The embattled former prime minister and her son were led away from their cantonment home in a security bubble.

Update 7: DS ticker reporting that "unprecedented security measures have been taken around CMM". Unprecedented? Really? More than during Mrs. Hasina's arrest? Perhaps just the same?

Update 6: It's official according to bdnews24:

The police arrested Khaleda Zia and her son Arafat Rahman Coco at their cantonment home early Monday, security officials said. She was arrested shortly after 7:30am along with Coco. The embattled former prime minister and her son were led away at 7:39am, in a security bubble. The move came hours after the Anticorruption Commission filed a corruption case against 13 people, including the former prime minister and the younger son. Police and RAB officers and intelligence agents swarmed the road to the Shaheed Mainul Road residence of the BNP chief. Khaleda will be taken to the court of metropolitan magistrate Md Salehuddin. Security officers put in place a huge security arrangement on the road to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court for Dhaka.

A commenter on my blog believes that she will be arrested but released on bail. I await further developments with much interest. Anyone with information, feel free to leave comments.

Update 5: Daily Star's all-too-frequent-in-2007 red banner says that she is expected to be produced in court soon.

Update 4: Shocholayoton blogger Onrinno says that the law enforcers are still inside her house. She's expected to be arrested and produced before a lower court at any moment.

Update 3: Much like Mrs. Hasina's last minute interview with bdnews24, Mrs. Zia has also granted them an interview:

In an exclusive interview with, Khaleda Zia said: "I'm not afraid of arrest. People are with me. The case against me is false." The embattled former prime minister spoke to's Senior Correspondent Sumon Mahmud as police arrived early Monday at her cantonment home apparently for arrest, hours after the Anticorruption Commission filed a corruption case against her and her son Arafat Rahman Coco. "Against the BNP, there was a conspiracy in the past. Still there is. I hope BNP leaders and workers stay united," she told "I worked for people all my life. I'm passing the burden of justice to people as well. Please pray for me," Khaleda told by phone from home.

I don't mind these interviews. I just don't like politicians from every party crying out "the cases against me are false" and "conspiracy" every time they suffer political intimidation. If there were really these many "conspiracies" in Bangladesh, our GDP would have shot up a bit more!

In any case, how about some calls for "restraint" and "settling this in a court of law" instead of "passing the burden of justice to people"?

Update 2: Shamokal reporting that she's already arrested. When did this paper's internet edition come out?

Update: bdnews24 has this to say minutes after I posted this:

Scores of security officers in plainclothes drove into Dhaka cantonment early Monday amid wide speculation about the imminent arrest of Khaleda Zia. Police officers in plainclothes arrived at Khaleda's house on Shahid Mainul Road in the cantonment, house staffer Ruhul Amin told at 5:40am Monday. Amin said the police asked Khaleda and her son Arafat Rahman Coco to "get ready". At least 10 cars in the first batch drove into the cantonment shortly after 5am, followed by another convoy of up to 25 cars, witnesses reported from the scene.

Dhaka is once again the city of rumours. reports that security was tightened around her residence, and the breaking news ticker says that "Police and RAB have driven into the cantonment".

Louis Kahn, here we go again...

Stay tuned folks.

Ummm.... Ok.

Commenter at Drishtipat talking about the Daily Star's bias against the CTG/army.

Commenter at In the Middle of Nowhere talking about the Daily Star's bias against the politicians in jail.

Does anybody think that neutral institutions exist in Bangladesh? Anybody?

September 02, 2007

Failing Our Women

Last month, I speculated that income foregone might be a small factor for female NRBs' decisions to stay abroad or return home compared to freedoms foregone. Fellow blogger Bonbibi then elaborated a bit on this issue, even as she prepared to tackle life back home. Today, I came across this article that further confirms my speculations.

While we squabble about "democracy" and "evil forces", half of our people are suffering on a daily basis. We as a people are failing our women.

Fishing in Troubled Waters...

...or using the clarion call of "human rights" for political purposes.

I know I've been heaping my never-ending supply of wrath and disdain mainly on the CTG, but that doesn't mean I don't have some to spare for other political players. With BNP lying relatively low (or is that "supine"?), I present to you my target for the day: Mr. Sajeeb Wazed, the first Bangladeshi politician on the blogosphere.

Writing last week about the student riots, Mr. Wazed wasted no time in appropriating this as a pro-Awami League Democracy movement, to which he gave his blessings. All well and good and old. I will simply note that there were no spontaneous protests at the university when Mrs. Hasina Wazed was arrested, except for some DUTA fossils with their black badges. Something to think about.

A few days later, he wrote about the response of the authorities to the riots, reproducing the Human Rights Watch statement on the current situation. This is in keeping with his consistent portrayal of the CTG as the PRIME CAUSE for the poor human rights situation in Bangladesh. The HRW statement is obviously a bit more honest:

"Some kinds of violations, such as torture and extrajudicial killings in the form of alleged "crossfire killings," were serious problems before the caretaker government came to power, and have continued under its administration."

And for those who think that this is referring to the BNP-Jamaat alone, let me present some excerpts from Amnesty International reports during the 1996-2001 era. Since Mr. Wazed himself is talking about torture and treatment in police custody, the excerpts are limited to mostly those issues. The entirety of these reports are worth perusing for the non-partisan Bangladeshi, but be warned: it's gut-wrenching stuff.

AI report 1998: "Several prisoners of conscience were among scores of political activists detained without charge or trial under the Special Powers Act (SPA). Police ill-treated demonstrators. Torture, including rape, was widespread and reportedly led to at least two deaths in custody....

"Several prisoners of conscience were among scores of people detained under the SPA which permits detention without charge or trial for an indefinite period. They included four senior members of the opposition BNP who were detained in March before a nationwide general strike. The four were held without charge until the High Court ordered their release in April...

"At least two people died in custody, reportedly following torture. One of them, Nuruzzaman Sharif, was arrested in June for illegally entering the Prime Minister's office in Dhaka. He died in police custody two days later. A post-mortem reportedly showed injuries consistent with torture...

"Ill-treatment by police continued to be reported. Scores of demonstrators were beaten by police during a number of political rallies organized by opposition parties throughout the year...

AI report 1999: "Scores of political activists were detained without charge or trial under the Special Powers Act (spa). Torture, including rape, in custody was widespread and led to at least one death...

(TO GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE) "In October Bangladesh acceded to international human rights instruments, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights...

"The spa, which allows detention without charge or trial for an indefinite period, continued to be used to detain scores of political activists, often during demonstrations. Most were released after several days or weeks. Several people were reportedly arrested at the instigation of politically influential individuals on false charges. In January, for example, three men were arrested following an altercation with the son of a government minister in a street in Dhaka, the capital. The minister's son threatened to punish the three men and they were later arrested at their homes by police accompanied by relatives of the minister's son. While in custody the officer in charge of the police station reportedly allowed the elder brother of the government minister's son and two other armed men to enter the room where the three men were detained and beat them. In February the three men were released after the Home Minister withdrew the spa detention order and dropped the charges...

"Torture in police custody remained widespread. In July a student, Shamim Reza Rubel, was allegedly beaten to death in police custody five hours after being arrested at his home in Dhaka. According to the autopsy report he suffered a brain haemorrhage. Following an investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department, 13 policemen and a local Awami League leader were charged in connection with his death. A judicial inquiry into the case confirmed that Shamim Reza Rubel's death was not accidental, although the full findings of the commission were not made public by the end of the year...

"At least three cases of rape in custody by the security forces were reported, in addition to the rape of a 10-year-old girl by an off-duty policeman in April in Dhaka...

" Throughout the year Amnesty International expressed concern about torture in police custody and urged the government to take steps to eradicate the practice...

AI report 2000: "Torture and ill-treatment by police
Disproportionate use of force by the police against demonstrators continued to be reported throughout 1999. Scores of people were injured when police indiscriminately beat anti-government protesters or journalists covering the hartals. Torture, consisting mostly of beatings by the police, was reportedly routine in all areas of the country. It was used to extract bribes or information, or to inflict punishment on detainees. At least three people were reported to have died in custody as a result of torture...

"Custodial violence against women continued to be reported, with at least three cases of women being raped by police..."

Three reports out of five highlight the fact that the same "remand" that he now deplores was in force when the Awami League was in power. Will someone from within the party ask him why they did not dismantle that culture then when they had the power to do so?

"Apologising" to the Wrong Group

Let's face it. This apology has come straight from the powers that be.

How do I know that?

Well overlook for one minute the idiocy of holding one person responsible for the works of many in a non-hierarchical setting, and think about WHO he's apologised to: because if the professor was really taking responsibility and meaning the words he said, he should have apologised to THE PUBLIC for the property damage that ensued and not to the army for one lonely picture of one isolated incident involving a man in uniform.

Are professors really more concerned about our hard-working (and I mean that) armed forces than the long-suffering (and I mean that too) people of Bangladesh? Should anyone be?

Takfiri Politics - Must Read by Shaher Zaidi

Shaher Zaidi on "Dalal Politics" - what I've referred to as "takfiri politics" - and what it does to the space for and terms of debate. I disagree with a lot of people on the blogosphere on a lot of issues (I'm hard to get along with), but try my best not to cast slurs on their characters or their love for 'Desh.

I hope others extend me the same courtesy.

September 01, 2007

Islamists and Secularists - Here's Another Pickle

For people who want more religion in government (and you know who you are!), here's something to think about.

Oh, also meant for people who believe in "secular" governments, which the Chinese government unapologetically is.