November 30, 2007


Dear reader,

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

November 28, 2007

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

Please read Part 1 before this.

Ms. Nasrin and the "Secular Human"ists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1 - Mr. X and the Islamists

Let me guide you through my evening today.

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

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

Mr. X says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Really Hurts Bangladesh's Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 24, 2007

State of the Revolution - November Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to original story.

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

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

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

So much for nuance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 18, 2007

In Memoriam: Sonjib Chowdhury

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

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

বায়োস্কোপের নেশা যেন কখনই আমায় ছাড়ে না।

November 17, 2007

A Time to Weep

November 15, 2007

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

Photo Credit: Pavel Rahman

Donate to help cyclone survivors

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

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



Islamic Relief

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

Save the Children

Christian Aid

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

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

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

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

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

ref: Press release on flood relief

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

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

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

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

ref: Bangladeshi HC in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

ref: Bangladesh New York Consulate for further information

Blast from the Past: 2 Dead Leaders, 2 Lame Ducks and 1 General

To continue with the nostalgia theme, I present an article from the NYT (November 14, 1981) covering the presedential elections. I suggest you read till the end, presented below. It has a lot to say to the discerning reader.

For those, like myself, who grew into political maturity a long time after these events: Justice Sattar won that election and became president. His "presidency" lasted from November 20th, 1981 to March 24th, 1982.

Plus ça change...

November 14, 2007

AdComm sued

....or at least is reporting that as breaking news.

Are you a non-regular blog reader? Are you surprised at this piece of news? No need to be. We knew this was coming for some time thanks to shadakalo and docstrangelove.

Deshi media - 0. Deshi blogs - 2.

Video Update: Imran Khan Arrested Thanks to Jamaat (yes, Jamaat)!

Video update showing Imran's arrest:

Imran Khan arrested. Way to go Jamaat-e-Islami! I'm deciding if they're officially with Musharraf or if they decided that punishing Imran for marrying (and divorcing) a white woman took precedence over the fight against dictatorship?

Best online reaction to this news (in bangla).

Though as a Bangladeshi I cannot approve of Khan's appropriation of our national symbol, I'll make an exception in these dire circumstances: fight like a cornered tiger boy!

দিনগুলি মোর সোনার খাঁচায় রইলো না...

... সেই যে আমার নানা রঙের দিনগুলি...

...এতো বেদন হয় কি ফাঁকি?
ওরা কি সব ছায়ার পাখি?

আকাশ পারে কিছুই কি গো রইলো না?

না... মানে... ইয়ে... মাঝে মাঝে সেই রাজনৈতিক সরকারগুলোর হাস্যকর কথাবার্তা মিস করি, এই যা!

November 13, 2007

The World According to Barrister Mainul Hosein

Reaction to the demand to arrest cartoonist Arif "shut down Prothom Alo and arrest its editor and the editor of the Daily Star":

Reacting to the incident, Law Adviser Mainul Hosein yesterday called a meeting of select Islamic experts led by Baitul Mukarram Khatib Maulana Obaidul Haque.

Mainul informed the experts that the cartoonist has already been arrested and Prothom Alo authorities have also promised to take action.

"There is a conspiracy to create a dangerous and unwanted situation," Mainul said, adding, "Everyone has to remain united against the conspiracy to destablise the country."

On the demand to try war criminals:

Meanwhile, Law Adviser Mainul Hosein yesterday said some quarters are trying to obstruct the activities of the caretaker government by raising the issue of trial of the war criminals....

The caretaker government has the constitutional duty of holding a free and neutral election, but it has had to embark on a mission to establish good governance too, he said while addressing a briefing on Bangladesh Code, a compilation of all laws.

Asked if there is any international pressure for not trying the war criminals or if the government is afraid of Jamaat-e-Islami, Mainul said, "The caretaker government is not afraid...This is not the question of fear. This is the question of judgement, intelligence and wisdom.

"We are performing a very difficult duty but some politicians and others are trying to create obstructions by raising the issue now," he said.

In other words, arresting errant cartoonists lead to good governance. Putting on trial war criminals, who had worked against the country's national interest, leads to bad governance.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt when I saw that video clip of him with Jamaat leaders. Now I have to wonder aloud: why is the son of Manik Miah sheltering people who would have been anathema to his father and his father's ideology?

And even as I write another piece on the war criminals issue, I can't help but notice that the openly Awami League- leaning blogs (e.g Shuchinta) were silent on Nur Hossain's 20th death anniversary and the AL propaganda machine back home was low-key too. Surely his death became more salient than at any time in the last 16 years. Surely. That is because they are all wrapped up over the war criminals issue.

Now I'd like to see war criminals tried as much as the next sensible Bangladeshi. But there's a small fear inside me that Mainul Hosein could not possibly be so dumb as to under-estimate the importance of what he's saying and therefore is doing this deliberately to create more fury.

A small fear that all this is nothing but a smokescreen for something else (BNP being smashed out of recognition, Jamaat's entrance as the right-wing option, AL-CTG deal - let your imagination soar).

A small fear that once the need for the smokescreen is gone, the war criminals issue will be dead and buried, especially if the AL and the CTG reach some sort of deal.

A small fear that those of us who truly care for 1971 are being taken for a ride once again.

November 11, 2007

How I'm Spending My Saturday Morning

Tajuddin: An Unsung Hero

Part 2

Part 3

I'm still watching them intermittently, so I can't vouch for their quality.

November 10, 2007

নূর হোসেনকে নিয়ে কিছু কথা

সারাদিন ধরে ভাবলাম : শহীদ নুর হোসেনের স্মৃতির স্বরণে কি বলতে পারি আমি? বড় বড় বাক্য দিয়ে কাব্য রচনা করার ক্ষমতা বা ইচ্ছা, দুটোর একটিও নেই। ইচ্ছে নেই কারণ সন্দেহ হয় যে ২০ বছরের ইতিহাসের কলঙ্কধ্বণির মাঝে "গণতন্ত্র", "স্বৈরাচার" এই প্রকারের শব্দগুলো অনেকটা ফাটা কলশের মতো শোনাবে। স্মৃতিচরণ করারও ক্ষমতা নেই। বয়স তখন এতই কম ছিল যে সত্যি বলতে সেই দিনগুলোর ঘটনার বেশী কিছু মনে নেই। শুধু একটি অত্যন্ত প্রিয় স্মৃতি ছাড়া। সেটা পরে বললেও চলবে।

তবে সারাদিন ভেবেচিন্তে একটি সিদ্ধান্ত নিলাম : পোস্টটা করবো বাংলায় । এর পিছনে কারণটা নিজেও ঠিক বুঝে উঠতে পারছি না। অনেকদিন ধরে বাংলায় লেখালেখি করি না। আশা করি বানান ও অন্যান্য ভুল শব মাফ করে দেবেন।

শুরুতে বলি আপনাদের দু-তিন বছর আগের কথা। ঢাকার রাস্তায় আমার প্রিয় কাজটি করছি : গন্তব্যহীন, উদ্দেশ্যহীন ঘুরে বেড়ানো বন্ধুদের সাথে। কিছুটা পায় হেটে, কিছুটা রিক্‌শা চড়ে। যেদিকে চোখ যায়, মন যায়, সেদিকে আমরাও ছুটি।

কিভাবে যেন এসে পরলাম জিরো পয়েন্টের কাছে। যদি বলি যে তখনই মনে পরে গিয়েছিল নূর হোসেনের কথা, তাহলে মিথ্যে বলা হবে। স্কুলে শিখতে হয়েছিল আমাদের ইতিহাসের অনেক নায়ক, বীরপুরুষের কথা। তাদের নামে ঢাকায় রাস্তা, চত্তর, হাস্পাতাল, স্কুল, মসজিদ, স্টেডিয়াম আছে। এমনকি আমাদের ইতিহাসের খলনায়কদের নামেও একটি দুটি অট্টালিকা পাওয়া যায় আমাদের দেশে। নূর হোসেনের নামেও রয়েছে একটি চত্তর।

তবে কি করূণ অবস্থা তার! দেখেই বোঝা যায় যে আগে যা ছিল জিরো পয়েন্ট, সেটাই আজ হয়ে দারিয়েছে নূর হোসেনের স্মৃতিশৌধ। দেখে বোঝা যায় যে কোনো শিল্পী নতুন করে এটা রিডিজাইন করেনি। দেখে বোঝা যায় যে রাজুক এর যত্ন্যের পিছু বেশি খরচ করে না।

তবে আরও লজ্জা লাগলো নিজের কথা চিন্তা করে। নিজেকে একটু-আধটু “পলিটিকালি আওএয়ার” ভাবতাম। লজ্জার ব্যাপার হলো যে নূর হোসেনের কথা প্রায় ভুলেই গিয়েছিলাম। তার গল্প ফিরে এলো পুরানো এক বন্ধুর মতো।

মানুষের স্রোতের মাঝে থমকে দারালাম। শরীরের উপর দিয়ে ঠান্ডা এক বাতাস বয়ে গেল এবং কোন কারণ ছাড়াই মনে এমন একটি অদ্ভুত চিন্তা এলো, “গণতান্ত্রিক সরকার গুলোর কাছেও কি তাহলে এলিটদের জীবনের মুল্যের চেয়ে সাধারণ মানুষের জীবনের মুল্য কম?”

তখন ছিল জোট-সরকারের দিন। বাতাসটা মনে হয় দিতে চাচ্ছিলো ভবিষ্যতের ঈঙ্গিত।

হাটতে হাটতে পৌছালাম এক চায়ের দোকানে। আমার বন্ধুরা হচ্ছে সম্পুর্ণ এ-পলিটিকাল। তাদের বলে লাভ নেই এই শব কথা। বলে লাভ নেই যে ছোটবেলার এক স্মৃতি এসে গুজেছে চায়ের কাপে। আরেকটি ভুলে যাওয়া গল্প, তবে এবার নিজের জীবন থেকে।

১৯৯০। ঢাকার মাঝে,মেইন রোড থেকে একটু দুড়ে এক গলির ভিতর দুই রুমের এক ফ্ল্যাটে থাকতাম আমরা। আম্মা খুব চিন্তিত, আব্বা চিন্তিত হলেও সেটা প্রকাশ পাচ্ছে না। মিছিল ও পট্‌কার শব্দ, গুলিও হতে পারে, কে জানে! রাত ঘনিয়ে আসলো, এবং কি এক খবর পেয়ে আমার আব্বা আমাকে নিয়ে গেলো তার সাথে সেই বাড়ীর ছাঁদে। তার ঘাঁরের উপর উঠিয়ে আমাকে দেখালো রাস্তা দিয়ে মানুষের স্রোত। দেখলাম অসঙ্খ্য মানুষ, দেখালাম অসঙ্খ্য মশাল। তারা যাচ্ছে মন্ত্রি-পাড়ার দিকে।

তখন ঠিক জানতাম না, তবে আজ জানি যে নূর হোসেনের সেই বাঁধ্‌ভাঙ্গা স্লোগান মুখে নিয়ে সেই মিছিল এগিয়ে গিয়েছিল। আজ জানি যে তার পরের ১৬ বছরে আমরা এলিটরা যেই ছোটখাটো অধিকারগুলো অর্জন করেছিলাম – যার শবচেয়ে বড় বহ্বিপ্রকাশ ছিল আমাদের গণমাধ্যমের স্বাধীনতা – তার পিছনে নূর হোসেনের মতো একজন “সাধারণ” মানুষের অবদান এলিটদের চেয়ে শতগুণ বেশী। ১৬ বছর ধরে সেই স্বাধীনতা উপভোগী অন্তত একটি সংবাদপত্রের নাম বলতে পারি, যারা আজ নূর হোসেন সম্পর্কে কোন নিউজ ছাপায়নি। অকৃতজ্ঞতা অনেক ধরণের‌ই আছে এই পৃথিবীতে।

আমি অকৃতজ্ঞদের একজন হতে চাই না। গত ১৬ বছরের কালো মেঘের মাঝে রোদের হালকা লুকোচুরির কথা মনে রেখে নূর হোসেনের জন্যে এই ছোট শ্রদ্ধাঞ্জলী।

BSF Chief Says Odhikar "Run by Former Bangladeshi Military Men"

This is basically a continuation of the last post, but I decided that this needed a headline of its own. Googling up "BSF"+"kills"+"Bangladeshis" gives one some interesting results, including this particular news item filed by IANS, which anyone can confirm by going to the IANS website which needs a subscription to see the entire news item.

So having got all that out of the way, let me get to the meat of the story. Anyone remember the BDR-BSF meeting in Dhaka last week? Well, the BSF chief, Director General A.K. Mitra, went back home and promptly shot this off at the Bangladeshi human rights organization "Adhikar" (sic: Odhikar) which claimed that 97 innocent Bangladeshis had been killed just this year alone:

Adhikar has emerged as an anti-Indian set-up which is run by former Bangladeshi military men. I admit there are incidents of firing at the border but all these allegations of Adhikar are not true

Really? Really?

Then one has to ask why Odhikar is busy investigating human rights abuses by "Bangladeshi military men". Now I don't know the background of the people in charge of Odhikar, but one simply has to ask this: has Odhikar shown the Bangladeshi military any favours? Given that they have investigated the Cholesh Ritchil case when almost no one else did, the answer is resoundingly "No!". I don't think A.K. Mitra is listening.

One suspects yet another government official affected by the "all NGOs are foreign government agents until proven otherwise" syndrome. By no means is this disease unique to Bangladesh as previously thought.

A.K. Mitra also claimed that the death toll was 47 and not 97. If it weren't so tragic, that could have been a punch line to some sort of joke. "No, no. I did not steal kombols from the flood relief committee. I was busy stealing the dheu tins. My accusers are liars!"

My 4-year old niece makes better excuses.

This is not the first time Odhikar has issued a report critical of the BSF's idiocy. Predictably it led to puerile reactions from the right-wing of the Indian blogosphere citing "illegal immigration" worries. Puerile because it actually calls out Odhikar's editing instead of its claims (grade 1 or kindergarden technique?). Puerile because the attitude seems to be: let's kill these "Bangla" immigrants instead of dealing with them legally and deporting them. So much for the world's biggest "democracy"!

I am not holding my breath for a reaction and rebuttal from the Bangladeshi government. Governments that silence their own citizen-dissidents have very little to say when those citizens criticise foreign governments. Don't hold your breath, Odhikar has to deal with this itself.

Lastly, I have one small question to ask. I have a few regular readers who keeps citing "respect" and "reputation" as determining factors for whom to believe in situations like these: in their eyes, "respect" and "reputation" are greater in the realm of military people than those who work for "NGOs". Are you doing the same in this instance as well? If "no", please tell me why. If "yes", please explain to me how this is not yet another way for an Indian to discredit a Bangladeshi organization critical of Indian actions. Thanks.

November 09, 2007

Indian Border Security Force Pissing Me Off

To any Indians reading this (yeah right!)..... what the hell?

Why do we have to read something like this every week? And why don't West Bengali newspapers report on this?

I tried running a search for "BSF" and "Border Security Force" in the Statesmen which yielded almost no coverage whatsoever! I did get a lot of hits for fake currency worries though.

Stop killing our people!


November 08, 2007

Comic Relief - Progressive Democratic Party

Courtesy of Omi Rahman Piyal @somewherein, two images that speak for themselves but boggle the mind. Readers are advised to draw their own conclusions and share reactions. Jokes welcome sorely needed.

Update: Bdnews24 photo caption reads that it was at "a ceremony of the Islamic clerics joining the party". Is this the same Belali who was JP General Secretary? The plot thickens and gets baffling like that of a c-grade movie an insomniac watches without caring at 4 in the morning.

Related: Poribar-tontro Domon Party.

Ferdous Qureishi (L) and Habibullah Belali (R)

"Dark Clouds" - Election Commissioners at London

Via Voice of Bangladeshi Bloggers:

On a tax-funded pleasure highly important trip to London, the election Commissioners speak. Of much interest is Commissioner Shakhawat's segment. Apparently he had said at some point that "there are dark clouds on the horizon". Asked what "those coulds were", he says:

"A lot of things. There are still 12 months - 14 months to election. A lot of things can happen in Bangladesh. We have seen an incident at the University. I urge the political parties to proceed with caution - in these coming 14 months - their programs - let's hope that the elections are not impeded (bahoto) because of them."

"A lot of things can happen in 14 months", is a phrase reminiscent of what General Moeen said on his visit to the U.S. Soon afterwards, the midnight coup within BNP took place. Dark clouds indeed, but I doubt that the "neutral" EC and humble bloggers like ourselves see the same clouds.

Shabash New Age!

Yesterday on Tacit's blog, I commented:

"how we are to distinguish between uncritical support and government coercion, I leave you to figure out. Yes, they (Daily Star) can be slightly more critical as NA (New Age) is, but even then, one does not quite know what kind of pressures are on them."

Today, I think we see a clear difference between those who are coerced into silence and those who are in bed with the current government. While some newspapers go so DISGUSTINGLY low as to report on what brand of undergarments a female arrestee possesses, others take bold - even provocative - stances. From the sidebar of the New Age:


When New Age was going to press on Wednesday evening, we had in our possession photographs of top-brass BNP leaders, including standing committee member Mahbubur Rahman, being assaulted by activists of their own party. While we at New Age strongly believe that – in the spirit of freedom of the press and our readers’ right to information – we are committed to bring those photographs to our readers, a number of our journalists were repeatedly ‘reminded’, however courteously, that Mahbub after all is a former army chief and publishing photographs of him being assaulted may not go down well with his former charges. Living in these times of ‘reminders’ and their untold consequences as they are, we, therefore, sincerely apologise to our readers for our inability to publish those photographs, and hence absconding, even if momentarily, in our responsibility to bring to you the whole truth in its full, graphic manifestation."

(emphasis mine)

Ahhh yes, his former charges. The paternalistic patriots whose patriotism is simple suspicion of their fellow countrymen. We already know what retribution against their fellow countrymen another picture brought.

I do NOT approve of the treatment meted out to a Bangladeshi citizen (Mahbubur Rahman's most important identity to this blog) because of his views, nor do I approve of the picture. But out of sympathy for a young lady who is being subjected to a Bangladeshi version of witch-burning and stigmatization, I will link the picture. Yes, just for today, let me wallow in the one rule I frown upon: two wrongs don't make a right.

But remember, there is no news censorship in Bangladesh. How could there be when the Daily Star is free to tell us what brand of undergarments is worn by different people?

God Bless Nurul Kabir!

November 10th - Nur Hossain Day

Celebrate a real Bangladeshi hero for a change. Nur Hossain as an ordinary man who gave his life to restore democracy 20 years ago.

One blog post for Nur Hossain. One blog post for Democracy.

Gonotontro Mukti Paak!

An appeal to the Bangladeshi bloggers (received via Email):

In March 1982, the army overthrew a democratically elected government in Bangladesh. The military junta cited rampant corruption and a breakdown in governance as the reasons for the intervention. The army chief, Lt Gen HM Ershad, went on to assume the presidency through farcical elections.

The general's rule, however, did not go unchallenged. There were frequent strikes and agitations. One such took place on 10 November 1987. On that day, a political activist named Nur Hossain had the words 'gonotontro mukti paak' (roughly translated as 'give back democracy') on his back.

Nur Hossain was killed by the security forces shortly after this photo was taken. See here for details.

Democracy is once again suspended in Bangladesh 16 years after it was re-established. Martyred Nur Hossain epitomizes the sacrifice and struggle of our fight for democracy.

November 10 2007 will be the 20th death anniversary of Nur hossain.

Please write a post and display his pictures on the 10th of November, 2007 as a sign of solidarity.

~Nur Hossain Bloggers

November 07, 2007

Foot in Mouth of the Day - the Highly Contested Award

For the first time ever, DhakaShohor's award for speaking out of your ass has seen a contest between two worthy contenders. Unprecedented, but this is what happens when you give bureaucrats unchecked power.

On this side of the ring: Regulatory Reforms Commission Chief Akbar Ali Khan.

Mr. Khan notes that NGOs have little transparency or accountability. Fair enough. DhakaShohor agrees. Unfortunately, being a part of the Bangladeshi government, he has little to no moral authority to lecture other people about "transparency and accountability", especially "NGOs" comprised of private citizens.

The private citizens of this country, especially those involved with voluntary organizations, are nowhere near as bad as the bureaucrats. Nor do they have the power to censor, silence and exile critics.

So foot in mouth.

His opponent on the other side of the ring, the formidable, the magnificently double-tongued, the elusive Dr. A.T.M. Shamsul Huda! Our very own CEC is aspiring to the ranks of humour that only Jester Pervez "Action Man" Musharraf has risen to.

He says that a "doctrine of necessity" has prevented him from inviting the Zia-Delwar group of BNP:

Asked to explain the doctrine, Huda said: "The party chairperson is in prison. It's not possible for her to convene a meeting or discharge other duties. But the party cannot wait or stagnate. It has to be run. When such was the situation, senior leaders took an initiative and we consider the standing committee's meeting appropriate."

Now the phrase "doctrine of necessity" was first popularised by people like DhakaShohor's Friend (not Master!) and posthumous Foot-in-Mouth winner Ayub Khan, so when a civilian bureaucrat says the same it sounds like clutching at straws to us.

He then stakes his claim to DhakaShohor's award through this comment:

"You [journalists] are free. Why don't you write about these? You can interpret and analyse. I won't explain further. We have said in writing whatever we had to say

Impressive Commissioner. Very impressive. Akbar Ali Khan is clearly scared at this point by the CEC's massive lies punches.

But then he really proceeds to knock the wind out of Akbar Ali Khan with this next left hook:

"The BNP chairperson's decision to expel Bhuiyan is not acceptable to us as well since appropriate procedure was not followed"

Oh well done Commissioner, well done! "Doctrine of necessity" to override the constitution for Mrs. Zia, and "appropriate procedures" for Mr. Bhuiyan. And still you are claiming to be fair and neutral!

This is the stuff that disrespectful bloggers like ourselves wait decades for! We'd say foot in mouth and link two different stories, but Dr. A.T.M. Shamsul Huda has saved us the trouble and managed to contradict himself within the same piece. I leave the readers to judge for themselves who deserves the award more.

November 06, 2007

"A List of Right Wing Experts" - Jamaat Comments Take A New Twist

(Small updates and links included since first published)

Muhammad Jafar Iqbal writing in Prothom Alo a few days back. I usually read his columns on the day they come out, but this weekend has been too busy for that. Besides, it looked like another impassioned plea against war criminals by a man who lost family members in 1971, so I thought that could wait. It looked like that until section 3, para 2.

There Dr. Iqbal says this:

"Television channels have been sent a memo from government agencies. That memo contains the names and phone numbers of a certain brand of intellectuals. The tv channels have been instructed to invite at least one guest from this list for each of their talk-shows. I was outraged to see the list. If some newspaper were brave enough to publish that list, then the people of this country would be outraged as well. Most of the people on the list are extreme right-wingers. If this is indeed the ideology of the current government, then it is not hard to guess where Mujahid or Shah Hannan are getting their courage from."

Interesting. Right after the DU riots, talk shows were cancelled for a month as everyone remembers. They resumed under certain "informal guidelines" that included:

D. Inviting the same guest repeatedly is to be discouraged.
E. Enough care should be taken in the selection of guests for talk shows. Noted thinkers, intellectuals, academics, and businessmen can be invited. Panels of guests should comprise people of various ideals.

There is no mention of a "guest list" in the guidelines of course. On a sidenote, it is around this time too that certain Islamists (not Jamaat necessarily) suddenly found their voice and clamoured for the arrest of an innocent cartoonist, putting even a pro-free-speech advocate like New Age on the backfoot. They brought out processions on the streets within a month after students were clubbed black and blue for doing the same.

Back to this guest list. There has been talk of a list of "approved" guests for a while now on the Bangladeshi blogosphere. Till now however, everyone thought that this list consisted more of the pro-CTG variety people than the anti-Muktijuddho/"rajakar" type of people.

If MJI is right, the question that badly needs to be asked is this: can the CTG not find enough ideological/intellectual spokespeople in Bangladesh from among pro-71 people?

Truth is they can, it's not hard at all.

The question then becomes more ominous: why then are they not doing so? And who is sending out these lists with these snakes on them? And why?

CU Bars Students from Working - Another Way to Censor the News?

No sooner had I posted the story below than this story was brought to my attention via the commenter "abarzigay" on In the Middle of Nowhere:

Chittagong University (CU) authority is likely to take action against the students who are gainfully employed. According to the recent direction of education ministry, the CU authority is going to adopt measures against those students who are engaged in jobs in violation of university act, concerned sources said.

A New Age editorial sums up the fears:

Two important factors, however, make this decision motivated rather than ensconced in absurdity. The fact that the government specifically sought to ban student-journalists implies that it was not a commitment to better education but an agenda of censorship that was the driving force behind the decision. Secondly, the university authorities evidently attempted to enforce the ban without having the decision vetted by the university’s decision-making body – the syndicate – knowing well that it would face almost unanimous opposition within that body. In these circumstances, the evidence points an accusing finger at a section within the government that, drawing strength and impunity from the Chief Adviser’s Office, resorted to a knee-jerk reaction to students at the university whose reporting was running contrary to their interests

(Emphases mine. Links tomorrow once NA is archived)

Who exactly is this section of the government? And what exactly is the state of student journalism in Bangladesh? Has CU students been running "controversial" stories lately? I'd highly appreciate comments from people in the know.

With the Dhaka media crawling on its hands and knees to lick the boots of the powers that be, it seems the attention has turned outwards from the centre.

"A Database of Journalists" in Northern Bangladesh

Update: The Daily Star carried a small news item on this the very next day. Watch this space for updates.

Via Voice of Bangladeshi Bloggers:

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Apparently a "government intelligence agency" (oh my!) has distributed forms to journalists in the area, asking for some specific pieces of information. And what could these oh-no-doubt-essential-to-National-Security-and-Sovereignty pieces of information be? The interviewee says (and I translate directly) that the forms ask for information concerning their "personal life, family life, political life (???), in-laws and of course parents, whether they have travelled abroad or not".

A stunning breach of an individual's right to privacy if you ask me. And obviously yet another way to muzzle the media. The fact that the government is asking about the family of a journalist is itself enough to open it up to charges of intimidation. Isn't this the same government that makes noises about ending corruption? Mark my words, no nation on earth has ended corruption by muzzling down reporters. You listening CTG-supporters?

When asked, government officials told them that a "database of journalists" was being created. Yes, the government is admitting that it is creating a database of people whose job description includes - among other things - saying bad things about the government and people in power. Classic.

Apparently this happened last Wednesday. Has anyone seen any news reports on this?

Coming soon, a form for the people who man our intelligence agencies....

La Femme Nikita

She might be a drug-peddler. But she is still a lady. What should I then call the men who made a spectacle of her spectacular fall? I have no sympathy for drug-peddlers, but if this continues, I will have no sympathy for law-enforcers.

And what should I call the media who helped in creating this spectacle?

Justice should not be downgraded to drama. I can mention a certain popular facebook group on the Bangladesh network in this regard - a group whose goals I share, but whose members make me ashamed to be party to a virtual public lynching - but lets save that for another day.

As far as the media's moral bankruptcy is concerned, I can mention the rumours flying around a former PM's younger son (and indeed herself), which again should have remained private but was made into another media spectacle. I can mention the death of a poet, another private affair made into yet another media spectacle. But let's save those for another day too.

And I can mention a certain tenancy dispute yet to be covered.

But for now let's all ogle la femme Nikita because we've been told she is more important than everyone else in the country right now. Luc Besson should have been a journalist in Bangladesh. At least his films are less surreal.

November 05, 2007

Remember, Remember Those Bloody Days of November

"I think I must talk to you on some important matters. You are encircled by some people in your office in a way that I would not have opportunity to talk to you there, and the environment there is also not congenial. That is why I am using this red telephone for the purpose. You are going to establish a one-party rule, but I told you many times about my reservation. Today I am registering my conclusive opinion. I do not agree to your one-party system. Please tell me why you should go this way.

"First, I am not convinced by your logic. Secondly, this is not my question. This is my statement. As the prime minister, you have enough power in your hands, and I think that you don't need to have a one-party system, or any other change like that. Thirdly, you and I together traversed the country for long 25-30 years, and there is no field or place where we did not go. There we delivered speeches hoping for a happy and prosperous country based on democracy. The democracy for which we talked so much will end through a single stroke of your pen, establishing a one-party system. I am very strongly disagreeing to your decision.

"By taking this step you are closing all the doors to remove you peacefully from your position. Mujib Bhai, the most unfortunate event will be that the bullet will not hit you alone. We shall also be killed and the nation will plunge into danger."

(A few days late I know, but it was that sort of a weekend. I got the following from this article. I cannot verify whether this conversation actually took place or not, but I'd like to believe that at least one of our founding fathers had a completely unstinting faith in the power of democracy to bring prosperity and happiness to our people. God bless his soul.)

Portraits of Pakistani Terrorists

Salima Hashmi and Asma Jahangir

Mister Pervez Musharraf, you always had an Orwellian streak about you, but this time you have completely crossed the line to absolutely hypocritical. Free Asma Jahangir and Salima Hashimi immediately!

November 04, 2007

Pakistani Slapstick - A Study in the Absurd

I might just make this a regular segment.

Musharraf declares a state of emergency supposedly to fight "terrorists".

Among the first places surrounded by troops was the Pakistani Supreme Court.

I present to you Pakistan's new den of terrorists:

I hear from good imaginary sources that the judges who reside herein have been responsible for links with the Taliban in the 80s, not the ISI or the Pakistani army.

Pervez Musharraf explained the decision thus:

"Kindly understand the criticality of the situation in Pakistan and around Pakistan. Pakistan is on the verge of destabilisation...

"Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide."

A random , hyper-ventilating Pakistani fictionally interviewed by DhakaShohor at a train station out here in the Decadent West said: "Yes, yes of course we've heard this before. *short quick breaths* From Ayub, from Yahya, from Zia-ul Huq, even from my mom and dad sometime. *short quick breaths* But THIS TIME *short quick breaths*, it's different. *short quick breaths* THIS TIME *short quick breaths* , Pakistan really is in danger from *shouting* those Muslim Fundies. Musharraf is the promised Messiah, the Philosopher-King, the Most Virile Man, the Only One who can save us! Musharraf Zindabad!"

The random Pakistani finished his sentences with the panting of a man who has just finished a 100m sprint or something more enjoyable than talking about a short, moustachioed brown man like himself. He then decided to throw himself in front of an oncoming train screaming out, "Inaction at this moment is suicide!!!"

November 03, 2007

Guest Post: Jamaat's Sudden Shift

While the blogosphere puzzles over Jamaat's sudden and vocal shift from "national reconciliation" into complete denial of any crimes committed in 1971, Mahmud Farooque bhai made some interesting comments on the same thread, which I'm reproducing below. So far we Kremlin-watchers bloggers have speculated that Jamaat's increased boldness was thanks to regime support, either because the regime is also Jamaati (highly implausible) or because the regime wanted to create a diversion while taking over BNP (more probable). Mahmud bhai provides a fresh perspective, especially his linking of the "midnight coup" within BNP and Jamaat's sudden boldness.

A mere speculation on my part would lead me to think that perhaps in the game of high stake poker, Jamaat took a calculated gamble to force the General to show his hand. The anti-AL vote has been up for grabs ever since BNP supporters deserted the Tareq Zia camp in favor of the Moinuddin bandwagon. Jamaat could be trying to establish itself as an alternative to AL. The effort to shore up BNP could then be an attempt to counter Jamaat. This may have been in the books, but Jamaat’s well orchestrated media blitz triggered the backup plan into immediate action, providing us with all the drama and the theatrics! DS and PA did not hold back any punches this time around, although they have been absolutely mum about the CTG/Army's misadventures. One would then imagine that they have the administration's blessings in having a cleansed BNP appear as a counter weight to Jamaat as opposed to having Jamaat solidify its role as a default alternative to AL.

I don’t think the audience for Jamaat’s current disinformation campaign is the elite or civil society constituency that is vocal in the general media and the Internet. Jamaat would be ecstatic to be able to simply run out the clock in that particular game, because they are more interested in winning the war.

What they get to do here is frame the debate and draw their opposition into an argument that they firmly believe will not see a resolution in the courts. That would be enough for them to win the war through their non-elite constituency by feeding the anti-AL block just enough disinformation to accept them as the default opposition to all things Indian, non-Muslim, US, NGO, Women empowerment, progressive, democratic, etc.

Now let me elaborate why I think that despite the favorable comments from the CA in the media, no trial for the war criminals will be allowed to happen at least under its watch. You know some of us have been growing crazy during the last ten months trying to figure out the ideological and political leanings of the Army backed CTG. I guess instead of looking at them through those lenses, an alternate approach could be to view them simply as the “serious gondogol (conflict, unrest, agitation, etc.) avoidance cooperative”. The continuation of the emergency, the stifling of any voice of dissent either in the media or in the public domain, the dismantling of the ‘gondogol-wing’ of the two major political parties, the DU crackdown, Arif arrest, snooping and eavesdropping into private conversations, etc. do not necessarily reveal a consistent ideology or principle except for the desire to diffuse or preempt any developing situation of possible conflict and exercise control to stave off any possibility of widespread unrests that could bring about a change in the government.

I believe someone mentioned that Jamaat hardly does anything by impulse. If that is true, their decision to seize the moment, perhaps, could be taking into account something similar to what I have elaborated above.

A similar analysis is tacit's post, which speculates that Jamaat might be asked to be the loyal opposition against some sort of centre-left King's party.

November 01, 2007

Updated: The Curious Silence of the Watchdog

Update: In the spirit under which this blog operates, I link Mr. Nazim Farhan's Chowdhury's response to Mash's post yesterday here. While I don't agree completely with him as to why the media has remained silent on this case, I'll let it pass for now and simply say this: if reputations are what keeps journalists away, then we have come to a sad state for the media. Please refer to Rumi bhai's excellent post linked below titled Fallen Heroes.

I hope Mr. Aggrieved comes back to read this update and sees that we're not out "gunning for" anyone, nor are we giving in to populist baying for the blood of "the aristocracy". This blog has simply asked WHY the media has not covered a story deemed worthy of public interest. We respect the Chowdhury's right to privacy as much as we respect any citizen's. However, the trappings of power (and NOT their reputation!) means that they should expect (encourage?) reporting on their affairs to be greater than a Paban's or a Joynal's, not less. Yet, how many reports have we had on the respective stories?

Lastly, if I ever see any commenter use that "forgot (?!!!)" again for a piece on media censorship, I will crown them the king of irony. One cannot forget what one did not know in the first place. Thanks to Mr. N.F. Chowdhury, the cloud is somewhat cleared.


Today's post will be short and sweet. It asks one question; which court cases and/or accusations should the media focus on, the ones made against private citizens or the ones against highly placed government officials? Even if those cases have nothing to do with their performance as public officials?

I ask because even as the newspapers are full of a litany of accusations against an "infamous" Paban (a private citizen) and a Purbani director/owner (a private citizen), there is near complete silence on the Geetiara Safia Chowdhury story.

Now please don't mistake me: innocent until proven guilty for all. I'm sure that there can be an innocent explanation for the entire matter, and that it is the accusers of the Chowdhury family who are the real culprits. My interest lies less in their innocence or guilt than in the near-complete silence of the media on a story of public interest, precisely because it involves a public figure, albeit in her other hat as a private entrepreneur. Precisely the sort of conflicts of interest that we have been quick to label "corruption".

What's stopping people who clamoured about the watchdog role of the media for the last five years from fulfilling their duties in the changed circumstances of 1/11? Anyone?

Related: Mrs. Chowdhury's son, Nazim Farhan Chowdhury's blog.

The Fallen Heroes.

And for whoever's counting: deshi blogs - 2, deshi media - 0.

Amar Bolar Kichu Chilo Na... Na .... Na

Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary on the motives of our MuktiJoddhas:

"Some joined the liberation war for the allure of beautiful women, some to loot Hindu property while some to serve the interests of India," Molla, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat, told a meeting at National Press Club.

"No one took part in the Liberation War out of patriotism or sincerity. Many attempted to involve Bangladesh in the idea of undivided India. The conspiracy is still on," he said while speaking at the meeting to commemorate the works of former Baitul Mokarram Khatib Obaidul Haq.


Ji. Ar apnara nishchoi Pakistanider shahajjo korsen out of pure selflessness tai na? Apnara to hochchen ferestha who don't know the vices of lust, greed and power, tai na? Thik asey meney nilaam. PROVE to me that the Muktijuddhas served Indian interests, fell to the "allure of beautiful women" and looted Hindu property. Those are serious allegations. We need them proven in a court of law. Come on asshole Na-Pak bhaiyera, start the investigation and we'll see how many Rajakars did the same versus how many freedom fighters. Let's have some evidence!

And to whatever (non-Rajakar) Bangladeshi is reading this, AL-er or BNP, pro-71 or pro-nationalist: these words should affect you in both camps. There would be no Bangladesh or Bangladeshi Nationalism or Ziaur Rahman or Bangladesh Armed Forces without the War of Independence. This man is showing utter disrespect towards the Genesis of our Nation and those Heroes who sacrificed all they had to achieve it. They did it for you, not for themselves and certainly not for the Indians!

Today in Bangladesh we raise our own flag and use our own beautiful language to cut each other down, thanks to those heroes. We have our own parliament and Dhaka rules over all, not Islamabad and certainly NOT Dehli. Hell, if not for those who fought in 1971, I'm not even sure my family would ever have had enough to give me a decent education. That goes for many of my readers too!

The least you can do in return is this: raise your voices. Silence is complicity. Worse, it is ingratitude.