August 27, 2008

You say "goodbye" and I say "I'm moving to Wordpress"

Yes. The Recent Comments widget's umpteenth breakdown was the final straw. Therefore, I humbly ask my 16 readers to redirect their appetite for my sarcasm and rage to the new site.


Blogger... we'll always have Dhaka.

August 19, 2008

Killing Bangladeshis

(This post is rated R for violence and strong language)

If, like most Bangladeshis of all political hues, you are completely invested in the worldview of Indians and Pakistanis, you will not be able to follow the line I am about to draw. If you are too busy licking up the ideological crumbs from the tables at Delhi, Islamabad or Riyadh, then you will deplore my “tasteless comments”. On the other hand, if you are a self-respecting Bangladeshi, whose first priority is the preservation of Bangladeshi lives, you might still be offended but you will see where I’m coming from.

Two things happened the past few weeks. Firstly, a freedom fighter was humiliated at a Jamaat-sponsored “Freedom Fighter’s” convention. Secondly, around 4-5 Bangladeshis were killed by the Indian border guards, who carry the very deceptive title of “Border Security Force”(BSF).

These two events are not unrelated.

The first event underscores once again our complete, callous lack of willingness to try those who killed Bangladeshi citizens – rich, poor, Hindus, Muslims, civilians and armed forces personnel – between 25th March 1971 and January 10th 1972. This sends a signal to the rest of the world that Bangladeshi life is cheap, that killing Bangladeshis is an action without consequences. As a result, when they need to or feel like it, the rest of the world indulges in this murderous little exercise. Thus our migrant workers are fucked with on a regular basis by foreign governments everywhere. But more relevant to the matter at hand, the BSF guns down Bangladeshis at will, knowing full well that the only consequence they have to face is some hot air. Lip service without action. Hot air is the only thing Bangladeshis know how to dish out.

We need to ensure that killing Bangladeshis – at the centre, the border or outside – by anyone becomes a very, very, very costly venture.

And what better way to start than by trying the murderers and rapists of 1971? I have one very bloody, absolutely essential and absolutely un-Islamic suggestion: execute all collaborators found guilty of murder, take their dead bodies to the most volatile border areas and leave them hanging there with a small note (in all 23 official languages of India) stating precisely what their crime was and why their dead bodies are hanging there.

No, I don’t think that is going to stop the BSF shooting, but it will let those fuckers know exactly what we do to those who kill our people.

Whew. Enough about that. On the margins of each event are little points of interest I wish to touch upon.

Among the participants at the Jamaat-sponsored “Freedom Fighters” Convention were one Mr. Mahmudur Rahman and Mr. Rezwan Siddiky, both columnists for Naya Diganta. That speaks volumes. (Mr. Mahmudur Rahman, should you choose to sue me, please note I am implying that you are a piece of shit who does not understand the very meaning of the word “sovereignty” that he uses in every other op-ed piece, not a Rajakar.)

But my focus is more on Rezwan Siddiky. Last time I was in the country, I read an article on foreign policy by Mr. Siddiky, and almost threw up. He was bemoaning the current government’s perceived alignment with India (which I myself am not too fond of). But what induced vomit was his criticism of the current government for not completing the sale of Rupali Bank to a Saudi prince (which I consider a security risk).

According to Mr. Siddiky, “Saudi Arabia has always been our friend through thick and thin. They have been for a long time.” Even if this wasn’t written 3 days before March 26th, it would beg the question, “Where were the Saudis during 1971”? Unless of course Mr. Siddiky doesn’t think that 1971 fits his definition of “বিপদ-আপদ”.

Sometimes, spotting a Jamaati from a mile away is as easy as smelling piss at the stadium during lunch on day 4 of a test match.

All I wish to do by way of this little dot-connecting exercise is illustrate where Jamaat’s clout comes from. Maybe this gives us an inkling as to what keeps these lovely, “furry” people out of jail. Also, a clue as to why Jamaatis are ready to denounce “Western” ways of capitalism, liberalism, over-consumption etc. but never the environmental degradation that comes from fossil fuel over-use. Just something to think about.

I’ll conclude by taking a moment to remind myself and readers that all those killed that week were people like you and me: they had parents, they had loved ones, moments in their lives filled with unexplainable joy, moments spent just staring at space over tea and moments when they despaired of doing anything with life. They lived far away from the glittering lights of Dhaka city, all of them trying to put food on (perhaps non-existent) tables, some in the uniform of the Bangladesh Rifles and some without. They were all born in this green land, and born with Hope, which this land quickly snuffs out.

Is it then too much to ask the government, the media and Dhakabashis to make as much noise for those of its fallen citizens out of uniform as it does for those who wear the armed forces’ clothing? The reaction and coverage of the death of civilians and armed forces personnel deserve equal force. Note: equal.

Daily Star Coverage of the BDR personnel killing:

Front page day 1


1 of 3 articles on 20th July

Daily Star Coverage of a cattle trader’s killing

Gulf Times recap of the week says 4 civilians

BSF gunning down their own

August 07, 2008

Various stuff

Unfortunately, as many of you have figured out, my internet access is very limited at the moment and my time to blog is very limited indeed. So posts like this will unfortunately be the norm rather than the exception, about items that are of interest to me, but that I don’t have time to deal with at length.

Whither Central Bank Independence?

If a democratic polity hinges on an independent judiciary, then a free, prosperous economy hinges on an independent Central Bank, one that is supposed to look after the economy as a whole and not after the government’s fiscal interest.

Among bloggers, I think Saif@Addafication (whose lack of posts is a far greater loss to the Bangladeshi blogosphere than my current sojourn, but that’s another story) was the only one to have noticed it and asked us to keep an eye on it. Taking a cue from that post, I did try my best. Basically the Central Bank kept telling the commercial banks that their spread (difference between lending and deposit rates) were too high. Now that is basically the equivalent of the Potato-Eaters going around telling rice merchants that they are making too much profit.

Theoretically spreads/profits reflect the level of risk associated with any venture, and yes, in the real world that is not always the case. But while 99% of the population is dependent on the rice trade, how many are affected by the “spread”? Obviously there was something else at work here. Some of my friends mentioned that the big borrowers had gotten to Bangladesh Bank so they could refinance the loans they had taken out for bad investments.

Then the budget was announced and another angle came out. The government was going to be a big borrower this coming fiscal year. So why not pressure them to get the spread down and free up tax-money to spend towards other, worthier causes (say for instance, higher wages for civil servants? Trust me: the savings aren’t coming back to the people’s pockets through tax cuts or rebates!). Central Bank independence? There is none and with good reason. Only a capitalist pig, IMF-driven, seditious, unpatriotic and possibly yaba-smokin’ Indian Agent like me could want it.

Waiting for the Star (with pre-emptive apologies from the tone-deaf)

Just a small note to readers that it has been a month and a half since we were privileged to engage in this space, Mr. Zafar Sobhan, the Assistant Editor of the Daily Star in charge of the Op-Ed page and Forum. Mr. Sobhan had suggested that I or some other reader should pen a piece refuting the lick-spittle propaganda piece by one Abdul “we-are-wallowing-in-press-freedom-you-ingrates” Hannan. To which my suggestion was that they should either get a professional journalist to do it or re-publish Rahnuma Ahmed’s op-ed on the matter. Which may or may not have been fair, but I’ll leave that up to my readers to decide. I will just mention that in the month and a half since, they have failed to do either. In that month and a half the op-ed page carried a piece on the prospects of World Government (honestly, I’m laughing out loud as I write this, even though I know this isn’t funny… but World Government?) In that month and a half, the irrelevant coverage of the US elections continued on the Op-Ed page instead of the International Page where it belongs. Truly the Daily Star and I, a BANGLADESHI citizen, share different priorities at this point.


Transit, gas blocks, terrorism. Those are some pretty heavy issues to talk about with an allegedly interim government. India’s jaundiced views of BNP and their lack of diplomatic engagement with a democratically elected (if noxious, but that’s OUR call to make) BNP government are well known. With that in mind, India’s willingness to engage with an undemocratic government over some of the key issues in our bilateral relations really sends all the right signals to Bangladeshis. Lets just say that I, for one, will be a bit less patient when I hear my Indian friends or their politicians drone on about their lofty democratic ideals vis a vis their Evil Twin. It was never Gandhi’s India. Now it seems that it is not even Nehru’s India anymore. This is the post-Emergency, “Emerging Markets” India. USA-lite the South Asian version. Not good for us. Not good for friendly relations in the long term. On a side note, the most important issue – water – doesn’t seem to be on the agenda according to the reports I’ve seen.
(Since I started writing this, there have been more killings of Bangladeshis by the Indian Border Security Force. A separate post on that is forthcoming. Yes, within the week!)

Nizami gets bail

How does he do it? How does Jamaat do it? What magical powers do they have in an independent Bangladesh that they didn’t have in occupied Bangladesh in 1971? How do they manage to walk between the raindrops when it’s pouring like an unforgiving আষাঢ় day?
And how do the Utterly, Unquestioningly Patriotic Sector live with this outcome? Jyoti bhai tells me that Jamaat expressed disappointment at its own lack of following inside the Patriots’ Club. If so, then why are we seeing this? Are the hands of Most Disciplined Force tied?

Honestly, some answers would be good. My philosophy has always been to follow the money/arms trail. Who funds Jamaat? Not from the powerless inside, but from the powerful outside. Maybe that’s where we should be looking for answers.

I would like to end by mentioning a small, unnoticed punch to the nose of all anti-Hindu bigots out there. Alok Kapali’s century may have gone in vain, but it proves once again – if further proof were needed – where the loyalties of Hindu Bangladeshis lie. If only bigots relied on proof…

August 01, 2008

Where’s Waldo?

[Unfortunately, as many of you have figured out, my internet access is very limited at the moment and my time to blog is very limited indeed. So posts like this will unfortunately be the norm rather than the exception, about items that are of interest to me, but that I don’t have time to deal with at length. ]

A few months ago, you couldn’t visit a newspaper’s website or read a story without coming across Akbar Ali Khan, the bespectacled former advisor and current chairman of the Regulatory Reforms Commission. Indeed, he was starting to make pronouncements very close to what political parties were saying and that must have been terribly uncomfortable for this government. Indeed, what is the state of the RRC at the moment? Are we still keeping up that pretense of reform?

(Since I began writing this, there has been a news item that Mr. Khan has just returned from the U.S. after medical treatment. I still feel that this was a move to sideline/discipline him and would look out for any change in tune if/when he returns to the talk-show circuit. Reader help (all 5 of you!) in this is most welcome.)

July 07, 2008

The Movies of Kim Jong-Il

The logical end to unbridled power invested unquestioningly in a single individual. The Ershad of the North one might call him.

So the obvious question to ask is this: are movie-critics in North Korea charged with “ruining the image of the Glorious country” by the nomenklatura or with “being counter-revolutionary” by Communist party apparatchiki, or with “disrespecting our Dear Leader who knows better” by the pathological bootlickers?

June 30, 2008

Southwest Asian Distractions

Yup. “Middle East” was always a colonial term, forever changing with the demands of the powerful. Nope, not about to use Arabic terms like al-Jazeera or Mashriq either.

1.O Palestine

I am not sure how many people saw this, but Vanity Fair recently had an interesting article where it said it had obtained documents showing American plans to supply Fatah with weapons so that they could “take out” Hamas. Having written about the Palestinian split last year, I thought I’d bring this to my readers’ attention. It would now appear that Hamas sensed the arms build-up and struck first. Just goes to show that arms do not solve domestic crises, simply breeds more insecurity.

I don’t know much American history, but rarely has there been an American President who got EVERYTHING wrong during his term in office.

Please note, Hamas won an election in the Territories, an election which the Bush administration pushed for, despite Fatah saying repeatedly that it wasn’t ready. In other words, the Bush administration does not even know how to press “selective” democracy properly. Yet another lost American art I suppose. After the election, having gotten a result they did not like, they tried to instigate a coup d’etat. Lesson for Bangladesh: true democracy is home-grown, not ambassador-delivered. On a related note: here’s Shirin Ebadi on her recent speaking tour through the US.

Moral of the story: Thou shalt not take American advice to take their arms to point at thine own countrymen. No, wait, I’m still thinking of Yahya’s Butchers in ‘71. My bad.

2. The Road to Damascus Leads Through Tehran

Turns out that last year’s mysterious Israeli airstrike inside Syria was indeed aimed at a nuclear facility, mimicking the attack on a similar Iraqi facility in the 80’s. The U.S. administration tried to establish links between Syria and the North Korean regime, saying they had actively helped each other with their nuclear programs. The Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. had a lovely reaction to that, which could be summarized as “Fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again!”

The week after this news broke, the Israelis signaled that they were ready to talk to Syria about the status of the Golan Heights, which they took in the ’67 war. The Heights are of immense strategic value to both sides. What Israel expects in return is for Syria to stop supporting groups such as Hizb’Allah and to expel people like Khaled Meshaal, the head honcho of Hamas who’s holed up in Damascus (couldn’t resist the alliteration).

Now this is a bit of a pickle for Assad Junior, or AJ as I like to call him. While experts and post-Nasser Arab Nationalists talk about how Syria will “never abandon the Palestinians”, it is worth remembering that his father was a Machavellian “realist” who made and broke alliances at will, especially during the Lebanese Civil War. Towards the end of his rule, Hafez al-Assad would now and then exclaim that he wanted to retire and soak his feet in Lake Tiberius, which is part of the Golan, a clear signal to the Israelis that he was ready to talk about the area. (Hafez al-Assad was alive the last time these two sides spoke on the issue). I am not sure whether AJ is in any position to do so. For one, there is the increasing isolation of Syria following the Hariri assassination which led to a further alignment with Iran. Iran will most likely veto any attempt at peace, even if peace is in Syria’s own interest. As a result, I think they will be able to get Meshaal, but not cut out Iranian aid to Hizb’Allah. In any case, I really have no great hopes for peace in the region without Americans/Israelis talking (once again) to Iran.

And guess which American president presided over and partially caused Iran’s star to rise in the region?

3. Iraq Me, Dave Petraeus … Or Not

Sadly, Jon Stewart will not be able to use that song again.

Dave Petraeus has been promoted to U.S Central Command, which oversees the U.S. military operations not just in Iraq, but throughout North Africa, Southwest Asia and Central Asia. He is replacing William Fallon, who was known to have disagreed with the George “I Lissen to Mah Gen’rels” Bush administration on a number of key matters (Good thing Fallon was an Admiral, not a General. Otherwise I’d think Bush was some sort of hypocrite). In any case, both Afghanistan and – more ominously – Iran fall into Petraeus’ purview right now. We know him to be a student of famous insurgencies and how the Western Empires “dealt” with them. I hope he is enough of a student still to note the causal connections between how the “natives” were “dealt” with and the mess parts of the post-colonial world are in at the moment.

Somehow, not optimistic on that score. Would appreciate anyone else’s view on what difference this appointment might make.

May 26, 2008

The Daily Star’s Lowest Point: Error-ridden, Dishonest Op-Ed Piece Takes Pot-shots at New Age

April was a bad month for the Daily Star as far as I was concerned. (Read about that here and here). I honestly thought that was the lowest point they had reached and would bounce back.

Turns out I was wrong. They sunk even lower. The other day, as I scanned the Op-Ed page, I came across this gem of a piece on the state of press freedom in Bangladesh written by one Abdul Hannan, a freelance contributor. I do not know what Mr. Abdul Hannan’s line of work is, but researching press freedom is hopefully not it, because he is liable to be fired. Someone writing about press freedom in Bangladesh, in one of its highest circulated newspapers, is expected to know the fundamentals of the subject.

Moreover, the editors who let this go to print should ensure that there are no factual errors in the piece. There is one glaring error that underpins this entire write-up. In the fourth paragraph, the writer says:

“However, it is remarkable that now there is no curb on press freedom in Bangladesh, although the country has been under emergency rule since the present caretaker government assumed power in January last year. It is important to note that it is for the first time in Bangladesh that there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment of journalists. It is unprecedented in a country under emergency rule.”

Mr. Hannan most likely reads the Daily Star. Which is why he seems particularly unaware of what Mr. Tasneem Khalil of the same newspaper went through last May. Which is why he does not know about Mr. Jahangir Alam Akash and his broken legs.

But surely the editors at this newspaper know what happened to their own colleague last May if not about Jahangir Alam Akash! That they let this falsehood go to print reflects very badly on them as people, but that is not my judgement to make.

Then there is the pot shot at the New Age. For those who missed it, Rahnuma Ahmed’s courageous piece on press censorship came out on Wednesday right after the editors’ meeting, led by Nurul Kabir earlier in the week.

What does Mr. Hannan have to say about all this? I draw your attention to the 7th paragraph:

“A section of the press, particularly a mainstream English daily in its editorial comments and columns has consistently engaged itself in scurrilous and vituperative attacks on every action and statement of the government in order to hold it up for ridicule, hatred and disrepute to deliberately create disaffection among the public against the government. In this context, the mild government reaction, by way of phone calls and press advice, is considered government intereference. If this is true, as alleged by editors and representatives of journalist associations recently, it can be better appreciated when viewed against the background of the generally continuing liberal attitude (sic) of the government towards the media.”

“Deliberately create disaffection among the public against the government”? Is this a Daily Star editorial or Matiur Rahman Nizami’s spokesman?

Phone calls are not government interference? I used to remember a certain editor who once held a stunningly different view about phone calls. Wonder what happened to him and his newspaper…

In any case, one cannot object to a change in a man’s heart or his newspaper’s editorial stance. What one can object to is the deliberate peddling of lies as the truth. This op-ed piece’s asserts “that there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment” of journalists under the State of Emergency.

That is a falsehood.

We should correct them, and perhaps remind them of their erstwhile colleague. Below is a sample letter that I urge my readers to take two minutes out of their busy schedules to email to . I wish I had the knowhow to make an email form on my blog, but copy-paste will have to do for now.

Dear Editor,

In your May 25th, 2008 issue, the opinion piece titled “Freedom of the press” states that: “there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment” since the current government came to power. This is factually incorrect.

There have been a number of cases of persecution and harassment of journalists. Two of the better known cases are those involving Mr. Jahangir Alam Akash of Rajshahi and Mr. Tasneem Khalil, a journalist affiliated with your newspaper. I find it surprising that I have to remind you of Mr. Khalil’s case. During the riots of last August, a number of journalists were arrested despite the government pledge that their press cards would work as curfew passes. Hardly the rosy picture painted by the columnist.

It is unfortunate that you decided to publish this piece without checking it for glaring errors such as those. We urge that you actually read newspapers other than yours – I would suggest the New Age – to remind yourself that what happens on the ground in reality is not restricted to what the Daily Star decides to acknowledge through its reporting.


There. Let’s see if the Daily Star publishes that. I was almost tempted to add: “and if you’re being held hostage by a bunch of people giving “press advice”, nod twice.” Somehow, I feel that would have given them too much credit.

May 19, 2008

Of Prostitutes and Politicos

I’m getting nostalgic this month because it has been slightly more than a year since I started blogging about Bangladeshi politics. A few days ago, I recalled my conversation about Ayub Khan last year with J@Shadakalo. We both agreed then that labeling Ayub a “Khan-ki Pola” – tempting as it was, and factual too, in both Bangla and Urdu – would be an insult to all children born into brothels everywhere. (I feel like I should explain that term, but I doubt that the 7-8 people who still read this blog will any problem deciphering it.)

Now I realize that even associating Ayub Khan and others of his ilk with prostitutes would be an insult to the latter. It all started earlier this month, in Big Daddy Kissinger's country. Deborah Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam” as she was dubbed, committed suicide. She herself was a former prostitute before turning into a “Madam” – essentially a female pimp. Her clients – which include one “family values” Republican, David Vitter – continue to lead their lives and retain their jobs.

Yet, which of these two made the worse trade-off? Palfrey for selling her body? Or Vitter for selling his soul?

No, visiting a prostitute does not mean you have sold your soul. Not in my books. But Vitter is such a panderer that he stood for “family values” in public – values that he clearly did not act by – to get elected by a bunch of rednecks. Did Ayub Khan really care about the “integrity” of Pakistan on which his government brought the Agartala charges forward, while at the same time mouthing off about how every country needs a civil war? Of course not. He was just trying to sell himself to his “dear countrymen”.

Who deserves more condemnation? Ayub or the girl turning tricks at Ramna? Who gets more?
Major religions – both Ayub’s and Vitter’s - teaches you that this body is simply a shell and that the soul is all. Should that not also mean that the soul is more valuable than the body? Then why do religious leaders from both Christian and Islamic traditions judge those who sell their body so much more harshly than those who sell their soul? Less than a month after a bunch of bearded men made a taal out of a teel in front of Baitul Mukarram, the answer is on the wall. The infamous double-standard. Religion might make women and men equal, but (even religious) boys will be (testosterone-charged) boys. And in a boy’s eyes, a woman’s sex is so much more than anyone’s soul.

Religion was supposed to reverse that that sort of animalistic thinking, but you won’t have to look too hard among the religious to find defenders of insecurity-filled patriarchy. Ironic really.
Perhaps you do not believe in a God or any religion. Fine by me. You may care about people then (if not, God help a nihilist like you). Who has the greater effect on people’s welfare, a politician or a prostitute? Yet, have you ever seen the same kind of moral outrage over a politician’s pandering? A few months back, the media in our country jumped up and down on the couch screaming about a “Nikita” and darkly implying that she was running a prostitution ring. But at the same time, there were politicians (and bureaucrats, both civil and military) who were renouncing their life’s beliefs, all in the face of money, power and prestige.

Yet, what effect did Nikita really have on our lives?

And what effect will a new, servile class of politicians eager to sell their souls for those in power, what effect will that have on our lives?

But the double-standard sells newspapers you see. We can all be outraged at prostitutes and “fallen women” like Nikita without risking anything. Expressing outrage at politicos, who are in favour – a Hafiz, an Ibrahim or a Qureishi – comes with the risk of being hauled up by the “powers that be”. Yet, these latter have sold their souls, their beliefs to those who come offering them silver and gold.

Yet, we must condemn those who sell their bodies. Louder and louder.

Enough about Bangladeshi global social and moral hypocrisy. Can anyone tell me what the legal view of prostitution is in Bangladesh? Does the client get charged if caught? If so, is his (and it’s almost exclusively a “he”) punishment equal or less than the prostitute’s? I like the Swedish legal system’s take on this matter: make prostitution legal, but soliciting illegal. Thus, the entire legal liability hinges on the (almost exclusively male) customer rather than the (mostly female) seller. I am tempted to say that it will only be the Baitul Mukarram/Kakrail Mosque crowd who would oppose a move like that. But I know that such a statement would greatly understate the misogyny of the “secular” Bangladeshi middle/upper-classes.

May 14, 2008

How Much Potato Does the Daily Star Think We Need?

The week of April 20th-26th, 2008 will not be remembered as the Daily Star’s finest. Now, I know there are some of you who never thought much of this paper, and I am not just referring to fringe elements. But the truth is that the Daily Star once did its job, that of holding government accountable and creating a space where government actions could be debated. It gave up that job a few months after 1/11 and this particular week of April it reached its lowest point yet.

The food price crisis is no doubt one of the most important issues for Bangladesh. Many solutions are floated, and the media as a whole is doing the nation a service by creating this marketplace of ideas. Recent Daily Star op-eds reflect this, in the number of editorial and op-ed columns they dedicate to this particular crisis. Which is laudable. However, a sudden flurry – three in the space of a week –of recent Daily Star op-eds seem to be focusing on the “potato solution” at the expense of other policy options (links at the end, feel free to add any I’ve missed) or even other topics.

First, let’s see what other topics they could have devoted those column inches to. How about the looming gas shortage? One piece in the same period from the ever reliable Abdul Bayes. How about the killings of Bangladeshis at the border by the BSF, which is a chronic problem? No pieces as usual.

Among the many solutions of the current food crisis, one is undoubtedly a change in the food habits of the people of this country. I would just like to get some acknowledgement from the Daily Star editorial team that - when compared with Open-Market Sales (short-term), currency devaluation (short-term)and increasing agricultural productivity (long-term) – this solution is also the hardest one to implement and the most ethically problematic.

In light of the problematic nature of this particular option, I would like to ask them why they have devoted as many as three op-eds in the space of a week to the glories of the potato, especially when the latter two are more or less superfluous.

Lastly, I would like to humbly suggest that they are abusing the public trust that they have earned during the last 10+ years.

The reason behind the sudden potato fascination is, of course, obvious. The same reason that “Prothom Bangladesh Amar Shesh Bangladesh” is played right after the National Anthem during BNP rule. The same reason that the March 7th Speech got played on BTV after AL’s ’96 win, but not on March 7th ‘91-‘96 or ‘01-‘06. The same reason why Bangladesh Betar became “Radio Bangladesh (sic)” in the middle. Nothing but the subservience of Reason and Truth before Power. And some good old spineless toshamodgiri. The timing speaks volumes.

People – from any walk of life – no longer trust BTV and Bangladesh Betar.

Is the Daily Star headed the same way?

(Methodological note: I have deliberately focused on the op-ed space because that is where the potato frenzy is at its height. While I am sure they have covered the gas crisis in the business section and the BSF killing in the news section, the editorial and “point-counterpoint” sections are reliable indicators as to what the editorial team thinks is important news. Clearly, potatoes were more important than gas crisis or Bangladeshis dying during this particular week!)

April 20

April 24

April 26

Letter in protest

May 08, 2008

So, How Come No One’s Saying, “We Are Becoming India”?

I appreciate those worries that we are becoming Pakistan and that “certain quarters” are trying to implement the Musharraf game-plan. Every time there is a rumble at the Baitul Mukarram, we hear ominous talks about the Lal Moshjid. I harbor these same fears to a certain extent. Comparative political analysis is something I enjoy a great deal, and my skeptical eye is certainly satisfied by the appropriateness of the case: Pakistan is after all the other Muslim-majority state in South Asia, and we did inherit some of its dysfunction in ‘71 (and not just through Jamaatis as some proponents of an “Original Sin” theory would have you believe).

But my comparative heart gets mighty malnourished when I see no one pointing out another obvious and appropriate case: India. Consider our friend and neighbor to the west (…and north and east). There are many things Indian that I would love to see in B’Desh: a thriving economy, a sense of pride in their country despite their differences, an increasingly assertive movie industry and, of course, Bipasha Basu.

What about the negatives that we wouldn’t like to see replicated in our own land? And I don’t mean the urban capitalist success stories with the huge swathes of rural disenfranchisement and isolation. Let’s leave that for another day, another blogger and focus on the politics for just one minute.

Within South Asia, India is the only democracy operating for more than one election (sporadic or otherwise. So Nepal, Bhutan and, if you like, Afghanistan are out of the picture) where a religion-based party is not just the Mainstream Right-Wing Party, but also one that has actually come to power at the Federal level (or its equivalent). It is quite an amazing feat for the BJP to position itself into THE right-wing alternative to Congress in a country that repeatedly professes to be more secular than its neighbours and, particularly, its dysfunctional, “truncated” twin. Why India does not have a secular right-wing option - the way BNP is to the Jamaat-B, Sharif’s ML is to Jamaat-Pakistan, and UNP is to hard-line Buddhist parties in Sri Lanka (disagree all you want on these examples) - is something that Bangladeshi citizens would do well to look into at this current juncture in our history. I feel myself particularly inadequate for the task.

But my interest lies here: that while many have commented about how BNP’s downfall will facilitate Jamaat’s rise as THE right-wing alternative to AL - thus making it BJP’s equivalent within the Indian system - I am yet to hear that fear encapsulated in this particular, analogous sound-bite: “Bangladesh is fast becoming India”. Why is that? And please don’t say validity. I can punch a few holes into the Pakistani analogy without breaking a (mental) sweat.

Is it taboo? Not catchy enough? Is India a country even our right-wingers secretly look up to and see no negative in? Will saying it get us a fatwa from Bigot-in-Chief Saidee? Does India mean only Amitabh, Tendulkar, Lata Mangeshkar and endless soap operas (and of course Ms. Basu and Mr. Abraham) to our people? Are we afraid that Fugstar will inflict yet another obnoxious-for-the-sake-of-being-obnoxious comment on us if we do say it? Will Naya Diganta use it as their premise to theorise – nay, prove! - that 1/11 was sponsored by the Indian Thread Makers’ Cabal (no doubt in collaboration with the Markin Shoe Makers’ Chokro)?

A bright, optimistic side of me wants to believe that deep inside, people – whether Awami or BNP or non-war-criminal Islamists - associate evil with Pakistan – with good reason – and despite all the India-bashing, India still isn’t evil in the same way. But I still wonder, and I ask this with no malice, a smile on my face and out of genuine curiosity, what is it that prevents that particular sound-bite about India?

May 02, 2008


This article is not about Kamal Hossain’s digbaajis. He has proven himself a non-entity in our democracy and I am not about to waste time on his potential as a politician. No, this is an appeal to thinkers in BNP.

This is Shameran Abed in New Age writing about Dr. Kamal Hossain in an unflattering way. Link
This is Mahmudur Rahman in Naya Diganta writing about Dr. Kamal Hossain in an unflattering way. Link

Please read each and note the difference.

Abed is “critical”, Rahman is “negative”.

Abed deals with what Dr. Hossain has said, done and whom he has professionally associated with. Rahman deals with whom Dr. Hossain married (are we talking about Hameeda Hossain here?), her background and who he might have associated with in 1971.

In short, Abed talks straight about the issues raised by Dr. Hossain’s (unsupportable) remarks and his latest political somersault. By contrast, Rahman tries to make the same points but manages to significantly weaken his case by first insinuating and smearing the person based on whom he married.

Which of these two approaches do you want to see in Bangladesh in the future? Issues or smears?

(Angry sidenote: And since when does someone, who held a cabinet-level post alongside a War Criminal like “Minister” Nizami, get the right to call out his political opponent based on the Pakistani origins of the latter’s spouse? It’s called a mirror Mr. Rahman. Take a long, hard look!)

We have had quite a few discussions on these pages about the lack of intellectual voices and a solid, positive ideology within the BNP. Those discussions were not motivated either by sheer opposition towards BNP or by a desire to “concern troll” on AL’s behalf. There are potentially very healthy trends within the BNP, which address concerns close to my heart: namely, security and free market principles. I, for one, would like to see them gain on their strength in these areas, and ditch the anti-Hindu, pro-Jamaati stands as soon as they can. For the better of this country and the party.

Regarding the lack of a solid ideology, I read with interest Tacit's post in which he regards BNP’s lack of solid ideological foundations as a positive thing. I hope that was nothing other than a rhetorical flourish, because, unfortunately, I have to disagree.

It is the lack of solid ideology that:
(i) sustains all sorts of contradictions within BNP during its ruling years, especially the tussle between the Young Turks and the Old Guard in 2001-2006
(ii) makes it easier for any potato-loving bullshitter to hijack the party without too much trouble.

While AL grassroots ask, “What have you done for our ideology?”, BNP grassroots cannot be left asking, “Are you for the people?” Of course they are! Who in this country is “anti-people”?

The lack of further depth in their ideology makes BNP a tabula rasa, a blank drawing board on which any hijacker can come and draw his own bullshit and gets away with it. Unless they address this issue, they will not become a sustainable political party.

And the road to this is hampered by people like Mahmudur Rahman, who once sued people despite VIDEO evidence that showed he had no case. In fact, suing CPD members, instead of responding vigourously, cleanly and perhaps with a pinch of ridicule to their “clean candidate” campaign back then, is exactly the kind of politics that has harmed the BNP.

I am not saying that he is the only BNP intellectual out there. There are many others who are far more articulate, respectful and intelligent, such as Professor Mahmudullah of Jahangirnagar U. or his brother Mahfuzullah the journalist. But Mahmudur Rahman is certainly the most outspoken, most prominent, and, apparently, the most stubbornly stupid one among them at the moment.

Both he and Shameran Abed had the same end-goal. Can you necessarily agree with their means?

The means matter. Firstly, such smears appeal to the lowest common denominator, so that intelligent people who might agree with what you say are driven away. Secondly, the politics of dirty smears drives out intelligent discourse from within BNP ranks, discourse that might solidify into positive ideology.

Thus, a culture develops in which these smears are taken to be “politics” and issues are taken to be “atelism”. No coincidence then that foul-mouthed, bigoted SaQa Choudhury was nominated for OIC Secretary General while Dr. (“Our sons don’t get along”) Badruddoza was thrown out of the party?

I mean, how ridiculous was that?

Simple advice for our litigious former energy advisor: leave the smears at home, talk issues. Not much hope that you’ve learnt your lesson.

April 29, 2008

Bangladesh Zeitgeist Watch: The Rise of the Aloo

Lying there, half-immersed in curry sauce, ignored by those looking for meat, the aloo has been a much-neglected vegetable indeed. Until now that is. The Knight of the Order of the Aloo rode in on horseback, his armour - polished by the spittle of a thousand supporters - shining in the deltaic sun! All to save the aloo from the ignominy of being made bhorta. The aloo is indeed redeemed, for chefs at five-star hotels now covet it. The Knight is vindicated, and we admire his courage for mixing himself up with such a funny vegetable.

Without further ado (aloo), below I list some things I expect to witness in the coming months, and fondly contemplate how the aloo mania is affecting my favourite advisor ever. Just remember: aloo must be consumed ALONGSIDE rice, not INSTEAD of it, as any number of recent op-eds in the Pravda can attest.

Mohammad Ashraful (speaking English WHEN HE COULD BE SPEAKING HIS OWN MOTHER TONGUE!): We eat rice and lose all the time. From now, we eat aloo and win!

Robi Thakoor (back from the grave, beard longer than ever): I made a spelling mistake in one of my songs. It should have been “Aloo amar, aloo ogo, alooy bhubon bhora, aloo jokhon bhorta, tokhon alooy petta bhora.”

Naimul Islam Khan (writing yet another egotistical editorial): Aaj thekey Amader Shomoyer naam bodliye amra holam Aloor Shomoy, eengrejite ja daray the Age of the Aloo. Ami jani pathokra ei cheyechilo. Ami jani.

Matiur Rahman (not to be outdone): Aloor Shomoy kono potrika holo? Oita to puro goyendader hathey. Tar thekey apnara aaj thekey Prothom Aloo porun. Amra shecchay aloo khai.

The Tagore-Protection Committee (open letter to various newspapers): We, patriotic aloo-eaters that we are, strongly protest recent attempts made on certain blogs to parody Tagore’s lyrics. We condemn this dhakashohor chhokra in the strongest terms and hope he does not get his aloo tonight.

Mainul Hosein (unemployed, breakfast: aloor dom): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Hasan Mashud Chowdhury: The potato’s meteoric rise is very suspicious. I think amader uchit hobey ekti case thookey dawa, jaatey remandey niye alooke ektu bhorta kora jay.

Daily Star’s Crown Jewel’s filed report: The Potato’s meteoric rise has come under the scrutiny of the ACC. The Potato’s activities are known in every corner of the country. The Potato is rumoured to have established a shady presence in a few flats, a few cars, a few companies, a few restaurants and a few television channels, all in an illegal manner as far as I know. And I didn’t try looking too hard, just used my access to government officials without trying to get independent confirmation of the aloor bhaji they fed me.

Wait – Breaking News: Potato found to be none other than our very own “aloo”, favoured by Knights on Horseback. Case dismissed! No suspicion on the aloo ever. No, we don’t apologise.

Mainul Hosein (unhinged, lunch: aloo bhaji): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Delwar Hossain Saidee: Aloo is halal. Not just halal, but the most Islamic of foods. From Saladin to Jinnah, they have all endorsed the aloo as “Islamic”. That is all that matters to Believers like me. It is also easily proven that the Ihudi-Nasra-Hindu-Nasteek Buddhijibi-Indian Thread Makers-Venusian Sith Lords Chokro have never spoken well of the aloo.

Shahriar Kabir: Aloo khetey ami raaji, but we must ask, is this Secular aloo? If the farmer prays for a good harvest, then surely that aloo cannot be Secular. Also, I heard Delwar Hossain Saidee praising the aloo, so surely…

Saidee (the next day): Aloo is haram from today. Nasteek buddhijibira aloo khetey raaji!

Dan Quayle (hand-written statement): I wish Banglanians Banglastanis Bangladeshies the best in their ongoing adventure to harness the awesome power of potatos.

Mainul Hosein (approaching senility, dinner: aloo bhorta) : Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Forhad Mazhar: Porashoktir ekta slang term ache, “couch potato”, maaney sharadin sofay boshey boshey, aloor chips kheye kheye jara aloor moto dekhtey hoye jay. Jemon hoyechey dhakashohor namok ak bhojonbilashi, olosh-prokritir shamrajyobadi-blogger! Chee chee. Aantorjatik o aancholik porashokti ei chay: tader bohujaatik company gulo diye amader aloo khaiye khaiye couch potato banatey. Shabdhan!

Pinak Ranjan Chakrovorty: Bangladesh could learn a lot from India on how to make your aloos secular and your aloor dum more tasty.

Mahmudur Rahman (writing in Naya Diganta): This sort of comment on our aloo and our aloor dum is nothing short of a Breach of our Sharbobhoumotyo! Amader aloo ar aloor dom ke opomaan korechey bharoter rashtrodoot. Er pichoney nishchoi amader sushilder haath achey, tara aloo na kheye polao korma kheto eto din. This is the Greatest National Crisis Ever (GNCE) to hit us since India tried to make us a “captive market”, and look how well my Jatiyotabadi government dealt with THAT! Ei sorkar eishob meney nay ki korey?

Patricia “Beauty Apa” Butenis: We will welcome your aloos in Iraq. We will make freedom fries out of them.

Abul Barakat (yet another roundtable): Hawa Bhaban stole 64 billion MT worth of aloos. In one night. Just from my dinner table alone. God knows how much more aloo they stole from the entire country and deposited in Switzerland! I know for a fact that the Swiss have been switching from cheese to aloo fondue not just because it is cheaper, but obviously more fun to do. (groan away!)

Syed Badrul Ahsan (weekly column in DS): April is the cruelest month, breeding aloos from the dead land. Yes, indeed the land is dead, for its people have failed to acknowledge that it was Bangabandhu and NO ONE ELSE who came up with this grand plan to eat aloos!

Mainul Hosein (sleeping, pillow: aloor bosta): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspiracy!

Hossain Zillur Rahman, (PhD): Sorkar ekti notun udyog niyechey. SMS korun amar phoney, ebong ami apnader ek bosta aloo pathiye debo. Rice via OMS chilo political solution, riddled with corruption. Amader solution hochchey aloo via SMS. Wider coverage (I use GP, you should too)*wink* and no chances of corruption.

Forhad Mazhar: PhD ajkal money hochchey Potato-holder’s Degree hoye gechey. Etao porashoktir arek shorojontro. Aloo khawa cherey din. Shabdhan!

Shishir Bhattacharya: I honestly cannot think of any funny cartoons or joke about aloo and our current national obsession with it. And no, I don’t check out blogs for ideas for my cartoons.

Shahriar Kabir (angrily, on some talk show): Ei dhakashohor naam diye ek neo-Jamaati, shamprodayik bojjat cheley blog korey. Aloo niye likhtey giye tar shamprodayikota exposed hoye giyeche. Shey Robindronath Thakoorke bangyo korechey! Amakeo! Er porey aloo khawa jay ki korey, apni bolun?

Delwar Hossain Saidee (Friday afternoon on television): Aloo is halal again! Reading that bekhtameez larka dhakashohor’s idiocies is still haraam!

Mainul Hosein (lost in a field of aloo): Conspiracy! Conspiracy! Conspi – (gets hit on head with aloo)

April 11, 2008

শহীদুল জহির RIP

হয়ত সেই রাতেও পূর্ণিমা ছিল
হয়ত রাস্তায় এক ফকির তার বাবাকে থামিয়ে বলেছিল যে তার কপালে এমন এক সন্তান আছে যার মতো লেখক বাংলা ভাষায় এর আগে দেখা যায়নি।
হয়ত সেই কথা শুনে তার বাবা অবাক হয়ে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকার সময় ঘাট থেকে নৌকাটি ছেড়ে দিয়েছিল।
হয়ত তার পরের নৌকায় উঠার সময় তার সাথে দেখা হয়েছিল তার ভবিষ্যত স্ত্রীর, তার ছেলের ভবিষ্যত মা।
হয়ত সেই ছেলে ভুতের গলিতে সত্যিই ভুত দেখতে পেয়েছিল।
হয়ত সে সত্যিই শুনেছিল গ্রামের মানুষের কাহিনী সেই জ্যোৎস্নার আলোতে।
হয়ত সে সত্যিই জীবন ও রাজনৈতিক বাস্তবতা মেনে নিতে পারেনি।
হয়ত সে কারণেই তার মতো মানুষ, যে এই দেশ ও দেশের মানুষের করূণ বাস্তবের মধ্যেও সৌন্দর্য ও ভালবাসা খুজে পেয়েছিল, সেও চলে গেল এত কম সময় কাটিয়ে।

শহীদুল জহির ওরফে শহীদুল হক – ১৯৫৪-২০০৮ইন্নালিল্লাহেওয়াইন্নাইলাহে্রাজিউন।

April 08, 2008

Leave them alone

Call me old-fashioned. But there are some things about our tradition I cherish unquestioningly. To take a random example, as those who are even remotely familiar with worker revolts in tea-estates know, women, children and the elderly are never targets. The men, ie. the head of households, are. It’s considered bad form to attack those who cannot defend themselves. This might be a patriarchal mindset, but it does lead to admirable self-restrain and spares someone amidst the mindless violence. That is our tradition.

This is a code of conduct I cherish amongst fighters, whether in the fighter’s arena or the politician’s. I recall it being broken once, in bloody fashion about 23 years ago. A pregnant woman died that day. A 10-year old boy died that day. A mother of five died that day. The killers remain unpunished. Even worse, their disrespect for our own Bangladeshi tradition and their cowardice in attacking women and children are not sufficiently berated in certain quarters.

Which brings us to the present day. I can understand if not condone that there are people thirsty for power after 15 years of rule by two people. But what exactly are they doing by charging and/or arresting wives, children and siblings of those they are up against? I have previously argued against the insanity of charging a young girl for her father’s corruption. I have argued against Mrs. Hasina’s sister being charged absurdly in her cousin’s extortion case. Now, I hear that Dr. Zobeida Rahman and her mother (of all people!) are being charged with some thing or the other. I’m sure many more families will suffer if this keeps up.

Which leads me to wonder if I might be charged with hiding something since I happen to be Mr. Moudud’s cousin, 64-times removed. I estimate we have a common ancestor somewhere in the 12th century. Now you might say that’s not true, and you’d have a point. But if you believe that the charges laid against all these relatives of prominent politicians are true, it was worth a shot trying to convince you of my (in)famous family connection.

What a pathetic bunch of losers these guys are turning out to be.

April 01, 2008

Forum does an April fool piece in March

Do you pick a fight with a helpless beggar on the street for swearing at you because you didn’t give him/her any money?

No? Then why pick one with Henry Kissinger?

I was annoyed when some Bangladeshi journalist thought it worth his while to ask Kissinger about the “bottomless basket”/ “international basketcase” remark. But when I saw this article in March’s Forum, my annoyance turned to utter astonishment! I urge every reader to read the article for themselves before reading my blog post.

Surely Forum is trying to promote itself as a publication that carries thoughtful, high-end political, economic and social commentary. In which case, what is it doing running an article that would fit better into a rag like Amader Shomoy?

The entire point of this article seems to be that some anti-Bangladesh and anti-Mujib quarter has amplified the importance of the “bottomless basket” phrase to hurt “Bangladesh’s image abroad” (Mrs. Zia, Mr. Babar, Mr. Nizami, meet your soulmate!). How have they amplified this? By asserting that the phrase was uttered by Kissinger himself when in reality it was made by some career diplomat that no one has heard of.

Oh brilliant! Simply bloody brilliant!

There is one big, glaring problem within the article, and some larger, more ironic meta-problems.
The BIG GLARING problem

I have just finished reading the article twice. I read it the second time because I could not quite believe what was going through my head, so decided to duck back and re-read the entire thing more carefully. And here is what I found: there is one single sentence that talks about the U.S. administration’s “tilt” towards Pakistan in 1971. There is no background given for this, which would explain that Kissinger was the architect of that infamous “tilt”. There is no mention of the fact that Kissinger deliberately turned a blind eye to the atrocities carried out by the barbaric Pakistani army, and that made him anti-Bangladesh more than any throw-away remark.
Sticks and stones actually break bones; words… not so much!

I repeat: there is NO mention of this not-unimportant detail; not a little mention, not an understated mention, not a footnote even. NO mention of this easily verifiable historical fact. A Bangladeshi writes about Henry Kissinger’s relationship to Bangladesh (if only tangentially) and does not mention this historical detail at all: what do you call that? Astounding.

Reminds me that when Sharmila Bose was publishing her drivel, there was talk about who was backing her. Some said the U.S. foreign policy establishment was trying to get her to re-write their dirty role during our war and its attendant atrocities. At a time like this when the historical record is under attack, surely the editors at Forum can take a closer look at the impact of what they are publishing. Especially when the article in question focuses on words that Kissinger may or may not have uttered, and NOT on his egotistical backing of Pakistan against us, just so that the little f***er could score a deal with China and feel like a real man!

Let me illustrate all this by way of a parable. Mr. X is accused of murdering his neighbour. Mr. X is also accused of calling his neighbor “a man of loose morals”. Mr. X’s lawyer gathers about witnesses, documents and testimonies from those in the know to prove that not only did Mr. X not say anything, but furthermore he cannot even pronounce the words “loose” or “moral”, and moreover Mr. X has philosophical doubts about the very worth of morals themselves. Indeed, all this proves what a “heavyweight” Mr. X is therefore absolved of never having said any of this, and therefore his neighbor has nothing to be unhappy about! Take the focus away from the murder and onto the insult.

This article is – deliberately or inadvertently – Mr. X’s lawyer.


And this leads us to several meta-problems.

1) I quote from the article:

“ Now, more than ever, is the time to de-link Kissinger from the “international basket case” as its real history intimates, and correct ourselves and leave our younger generation free from false context and wrong historical perspective.”

The phrase “right perspective” also crops up twice in the introductory paragraphs.

The irony is that this article itself seems to be perpetuating the very “false context and wrong historical perspective” that it decries. To repeat ad nauseum: the problem with Kissinger was not this remark, but his material support for the Pakistani army!!!

That’s the right perspective and it is not represented here!

2) But wait, there’s more. The writer and editors might argue that this was not an article about Kissinger’s foreign policy, but only about his “bottomless basket” remark. Which of course poses a larger meta-problem. Because the article says clearly:

“It was this propaganda that had been carried out in the world to unmake Bangladesh -- to prove that breaking up with Pakistan wasn’t a viable alternative in the first place. And unfortunately, knowingly or unknowingly, we are participating and/or contributing to that propaganda today.”

And asks desperately:

“Why do we continue with the legacy of erroneous information and flawed interpretation and be a part of the anti-Bangladesh propaganda?”

Why indeed? Propaganda does not work without our consent. By focusing on just the “bottomless basket” remark, we have once again given it undue importance and thus “participating and/or contributing to that propaganda today” by consenting not only to propagating it, but also to say that it is actually important enough to refute. As I’ve asked before, do you pick fights with a helpless beggar who says something awful about you? Why or why not?

Frankly, this borders on the ridiculousness of CNN decrying the cable news coverage of the latest Britney Spears breakdown… which of course is their way of covering the latest Britney Spears breakdown! I say “borders” because our genocide actually matters!

3) Nothing though beats the extreme irony of what this article teaches us. It teaches us that Kissinger is “a heavy weight”. It says things like “Bangladesh did not get even a year to prove the American diplomat Ural Alexis Johnson wrong!” and lastly, with a truly ironic attempt at irony, “Let us recognize Ural Alexis Johnson ….and work in unison to prove his prediction wrong…”

Firstly, “development” is not – or at any rate, should not be - about trying to prove the NYT or Americans wrong, and even less about trying to live up to the expectations of Westerners. That entire “proving” business is the worst thing about our little obsession over Kissinger’s comments.
Secondly, since when does an admirer of Mujib have to acknowledge Kissinger as anything other than the slimy rat he was? We, who love Mujib, love him regardless of something that Henry Kissinger (of all people!) said. Is Forum’s audience now reduced to fringe Jamaati elements and Muslim League remnants that they are publishing this drivel? They’re about the only Bangladeshis elements in Bangladesh, who think Kissinger’s some sort of a “heavyweight”. At least, I used to think so until I saw this article!

Lastly, let me just nitpick a bit about the picture that accompanies this piece. It shows men – some with beards, some in punjabis and almost all wearing prayer caps – burning an American flag.

If the photo editor wanted to compare BANGLADESHI critics of Kissinger to knee-jerk anti-American, flag-burning Islamists, then that is the highest insult towards us that I can imagine!
If on the other hand, s/he wanted to compare the magnified importance that these Islamists give American gestures and political figures to the magnified importance that the author of the piece gave to Mr. Kissinger, then I am fully behind him.

Forum, save the April Fool jokes for the April issue!

March 25, 2008

Pilger-Moudud Controversy

Background here

Mr. Moudud is a snake no one likes but every politician wants on their team.

Mr. Moudud is also incarcerated on ridiculously trivial charges.

The “controversy” over at UV is starting to border on the Gulliverian debate of which side to break an egg on. It pretty much boils down to this: when advocating for due process in Bangladesh, should we or should we not note that some of the most ill-reputed people are on trial. That’s really all there is to it folks! Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say that everyone arguing there is for fair trials and fair convictions/acquittals, instead of kangaroo courts and rubber-stamped verdicts.

So what’s interesting here and why am I writing about this?

I think the debate is a preview of what promises to be the next major cleavage in Bangladeshi politics, assuming we continue down the path we are on: minus-2 version-2, candidates barred from contesting polls based on speedy trials, the neutering of the AL and the hijacking of the BNP. As each side’s position hardens and moves away from the other’s, two camps will emerge among the chatterati: the Daily Star-CTG camp and the BNP (mainstream/Khaleda-ponthi… is there any other kind?) camp, for lack of better terms. The DS-CTG camp will keep reminding people of all the bad things that “these politicians” did. The BNP camp will simply say that this is undemocratic, unconstitutional and against the fundamental rights of our people.

Squeezed in between will be genuine human rights activists like those at UV – and I want to draw a distinction here between those truly committed to human rights above partisanship like the good people at Drishtipat, and those who use “human rights” to further their own agenda, from the left or the right or simply out of a commitment to “journalism without fear or favour”!

Now please note that both camps will be right. Factually correct, if only partial in their reporting. If I had to choose sides – and I hate choosing sides that are partial in their acknowledgement of the truth – I would choose the BNP side over the other any day. Not because I think the crimes of the 4-party government were small (they weren’t), but because the BNP-camp addresses concerns more dear to my heart.

Politicians make mistakes. To repeat an old cliché, these must be dealt with politically: i.e. through the political process as outlined in the constitution. Reminding us constantly that Moudud reaped what he sowed is unfortunately a bit too much like the tastelessness of certain remarks made against both Mujib and (at times more so) against Zia. And equally wrong-headed!

Yes, incarceration is not assassination. But – this might come as a shock to some - the land and its underestimated people recognize two ways of dealing with errant political leaders: constitutionally and unconstitutionally. It doesn’t matter to the law - and, I argue, to the people - whether the unconstitutionality involves brutality and murders of the past. Or the hostage-taking and torture of politicians by holier-than-thou bureaucrats of the present. Mujib and Zia were dealt with unconstitutionally and I doubt the good people of the DS-CTG camp applaud that or the resultant complications that haunt us to this day. Bloggers like Mash have been pointing this out since January 12th, and I confess that it took some time before I came to a similar realization.

So why are they silent, complicit or active at further unconstitutionality?

It’s a fallacy of bhodrolokes in the DS-CTG camp that they underestimate the “ordinary people”. They think that our people see only the surface of events without noting their deeper significance. They have no idea about such difficult phrases/ideas as “due process” and “constitutionality”. Inherently, we all have an idea about these things. In the long run, only those who advocate (or are seen to advocate) fairness and consistency who are going to win out. The BNP-camp is the one that’s doing it right now. Not their opponents.

Which is a pity, for the Daily Star was a good paper for a while there while Moudud ran amok. As a friend of mine far, far more experienced in the ways of Bangladeshi politics said soon after 1/11: “Where you stand today will determine how you’re perceived for the next decade or so.” The Daily Star people seem to be standing on the wrong side of history after getting it more or less right on a host of key issues for more than ten years.

A pity really.

March 21, 2008

Arif is free

Drishtipat and E-Bangladesh are reporting that cartoonist Arif has been released from his six month incarceration. This blog promised to highlight his plight until justice was done. We now thank all those who helped Arif in his struggle: other bloggers, letter writers, petitioners, and most of all, Barrister Sara Hossain and her team. When the issue moved off the headlines, Sara and her team kept on fighting the lonely legal battles. This blog also notes the cowardice of our major editors, who disowned Arif in his hour of need, and who refused to publish any op-ed on the issue. And finally, we wish Arif well for his life ahead.

March 20, 2008

The Irony of Being Naya Diganta

As Jyoti bhai pointed out, Naya Diganta was one of the few papers to carry the news about the torture report issued by HRW. I have already discussed certain aspects of the interrogations transcripts. Yet another that obviously caught my attention was the almost exclusive focus on India throughout. I don’t know if this was a solely a scare-tactic or whether the intelligence agencies really believe that one, and ONLY one country out there mean us any harm and everyone else is a সাধু. I sincerely hope it’s the former.

But even if it was a scare tactic, what enables this sort of tactic in the first place? A disproportionately large fear of India within our populace, stroked by the communally-charged elders, certain political forces, a parochial and outdated foreign policy (if one can call it that) community, and the media. Naya Diganta, while focusing on certain very worthwhile India-related stories, does run others that make it seem like a card-carrying member of this sort of baseless India-bashing group. Which ironically enables the very torture on suspicion that it has run a story about! Are these guys so dumb that they don’t see the irony?

At the risk of repetition: there is nothing wrong with a focus on India. My beef is with an exclusive, wrong-headed focus, not cool-headed analysis. I have previously described the latter attitude as that of a foreign-policy hawk, and the former as that of dodos. It seems that in Bangladeshi foreign policy circles, we have don’t have hawks and doves, but instead are blessed with do-nothings or dodos.

I’m not quite sure where to put Naya Diganta in that category. When I see ND reporting on how the civil aviation delegation might have sold us out during negotiations in Delhi - the civil aviation secretary was made OSD on return - my heart warms up. (New Age had a similar report). That is an instance of keeping people informed about the relevant points and people, thus adopting a tough stance vis a vis India.

However, a few days previously, I had seen this absolutely incredible report on how apparently there was a vast আন্তরজাতিক চক্র (International Conspiracy with a capital I and C) led by none other than that Ancient and All-Powerful Secret Cabal, the Indian Thread Makers! This Secret Cabal is apparently in control of some NGO in UK which has managed to convince major retailers like Marks and Spencer’s not to buy from Bangladeshi suppliers if they use Uzbeki cotton. Of course, I am tempted to ask why the Indian government is so stupid as to let a bunch of thread-makers disturb their diplomatic ties with a country that is increasingly becoming a major regional supplier of gas even as India is becoming ever more energy-hungry, but such questions are more likely to fall on deaf ears. Worse, they can get me in trouble with the (lack of) intelligence services for harbouring “pro-Indian” sentiments!

I understand that ND does not like the current government. Nor do they like India or Daily Star journalists who talk openly about Jamaat’s connections to religiously-inspired violence in Bangladesh. (It is said that ND is backed by Jamaat-leaning individuals; I’m also told that it gives space in its monthly magazine to some staunch left-leaning “secularists”, and not just Farhad Mazhar!). So the irony of these two reports within the span of a week is simply laughable. Or is it simply the cynicism of using a more helpless adversary like a tortured journalist to get a bigger fish, like the current government?

Lastly, at the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum, let me say once more: if crying “wolf” becomes the national pastime, you will have a desensitized, disbelieving population that really doesn’t care about TRUE stories of being pushed around by its bigger neighbor to the east. And if that happens, there is clearly only one winner: India.

Tip to Naya Diganta: stick to facts. Leave the conspiracy theories for the fools who fall for them.

March 08, 2008

Professor Muzaffer Ahmed and our Farce-Perception Index

Professor Muzaffer Ahmed was awarded the Ekushey Padak this year. This blog congratulates him on that.

His work with TIB has managed to publicise more allegations, appearances and perceptions of corruption more effectively than opposition political parties sitting in the highest political body of the land or media dinosaurs sitting in their offices.

Indeed, so damning are these allegations that they have managed to put about a hundred plus people behind bars, but not on any evidence of corruption which is admissible in a court of law. Finding evidence of corruption after all seems not to be TIB’s job. They seem concerned more with the perception of corruption than with evidence of corruption itself. Which might just be thematically appropriate. He is after all receiving the Ekushey Padak from a government whose members are concerned more with the perception of prosperity, rule of law, and democracy rather than any evidence of it; and in choosing a man whose contribution to society is more in the perception of a select few rather than in the evidence of benefit to the general masses, this government seems to have remained true to its nature.

The perception of corruption seems to have gone down since that perception-changing, paradigm-challenging, simply, absolutely, unquestionably wicked awesome and generally kickass day which has become enshrined in our vocabulary as 1/11. Those three 1’s separated by that angular line are unavoidable nowadays, turning up like the name/title/portraits of a Bengali/Bangladeshi nationalist leader during their respective party’s rule.

Yes, 1/11 seems to have brought about seismic changes in Bangladeshi politics.

Suddenly, we have all these people with PhDs coming out of the woodworks to join politics without a single thought to building support bases amongst the general population, generally regarded as a prerequisite to successful political participation in a democracy.

Suddenly, Dr. Kamal “Jowls of Steel” Hussein is electable again.

Suddenly, we are no longer sure if Hannan “অসহায় মানব” Shah is a real person or a Monopoly™ token which is repeatedly landing on the “Go to Jail” spot.

Suddenly, Osmani look-alikes (our answer to Elvis impersonators) are being shoved down our throats with all the energy of a demented aunty force-feeding you on Eid day.

Suddenly, Canadians are thinking of invading Bangladesh, one human-rights lawyer at a time. “Today Bangladesh, tomorrow downtown Toronto…. Or maybe not!”

Most ominously, H.M. “িবশ্ব েবহায়া” Ershad is neither getting married nor divorced (nor estranged, sued, etc.) Do we really need further proof that some great cosmic change has come upon us?

You may argue that these are not seismic changes, but I say to you: don’t they appear to be seismic changes? My Political-Change-Perception Index (PoChaI) is tingling again! Massive changes are underway. I perceive it.

And it’s not just me! Muzaffer Ahmed’s PoChaI must be tingling as well. And I’m not saying that because he was awarded the Ekushey Padak. Governments have given awards even to their trenchant critics from the time of Shawkat Osman and Ayub Khan’s stormy exchange of mutual recognition in the 50’s. No, there is a better reason for us to think that Muzaffer Ahmed’s senses are not just tingling, but overloaded. A friend of mine tells me that a new book has been launched, a selection of the army chief’s speeches and writings. It was launched on 20 Feb, and apparently the TV channels could not get enough of it (I haven’t seen a newspaper item on it, so I leave readers to find their own links). Guess who was present and spoke on the book launch? Yep: one Dr. Muzaffer Ahmed. Blissfully oblivious that there is no greater corruption than corrupting a political system. Must be all that sensory overload.

Say, what do you call a man who can measures others’ perceptions of corruption but fails to perceive evidence of a conflict of interest in his own role as a public intellectual outspoken about corruption? An idiot or a sell-out? Whichever you say, you miss the important point: with that punjabi and shawl, he doesn’t appear to be either.

And what do you call a man who appears to have given his approval to attempts at subverting our nascent democracy in return for an award? Corruption? Maybe. But not the appearance of it. Perish the thought!

Is anyone else’s farce-perception index shooting up?After TIB is dead and buried, we will still need citizens’ organizations that monitor government corruption on behalf of the citizenry. With TIB’s glorious precedence – as exemplified by Muzaffer Ahmed in the glorious month of February– in pointing out the corruption of all governments with equal energy to guide us, can we possibly go wrong? I perceive not.

March 07, 2008

Tasneem Khalil’s Torture: A Pop-Psychological Analysis of the Intelligence Agencies

“কাদতে আসিনি, ফাসির দাবী নিয়ে এসেছি” – মাহবুব-উল-আলম

Apologies firstly for being MIA and secondly for playing a pop psychologist hack like Dr. Phil. But the recent HRW report really is too distressing to let pass by without some observations. First and foremost though, I lend my voice to those who find torture abhorrent on principle and absolutely useless on practical grounds. My deepest sympathies lie with Mr. Khalil and his family, for it is with our tax- money and the silent consent of our informed but selfish middle classes, that they had to suffer.

This has got to stop.

Beyond that, I’d like to try and glean something about the psyche of the intelligence agencies from the very graphic details that have come out. A strong focus throughout the interrogation seemed to be on Mr. Khalil’s foreign and diplomatic contacts, casting those in a negative light. I find this line of thinking rather intriguing, especially when coming from members of “one of the foremost contributors to UN peacekeeping missions”, and would like to pursue this further.

The following is neither scientific nor comprehensive and is based on my limited observations of human behaviour. What exactly is going through the unconscious minds of these people when they act like this? Why is it halal for the military to have foreign contacts, and not civilians?

These are the questions I’d like to answer.

I assume that a section of Bangladeshis look unconsciously upon the foreign community as parents, “the hand that feeds them” financially and ideologically. Given this assumption, intelligence officials in particular and the military in general find themselves unconsciously acting out two roles: 1) the jealous, older sibling to the civilians’ younger sibling; 2) the rebellious child who tries but fails to escape the bonds/bounds set up by their tyrannical and exploitative “parents”, the donors and UN big five. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive and indeed feed off each other.

Role 1 means that these intelligence officials secretly resent civilians such as journalists, NGO-workers, local embassy/ UN staff, college students, doctors, scientists, artists etc. for their foreign connections, especially those with foreign governments. Since all “foreigners” are essentially the same to these people, any connection with “foreigners” is seen as trampling on the territory of the big brother. “A refusal to share the royal teat”, as someone says in “The Good Shepherd”, is an apt description (I apologise for the crudeness). After all, the more “love” (read: money) that these parents expend on their younger siblings, the less there is for the big brother.

Role 2 is of even greater interest. Here we focus on why - when the GOB and the armed forces are supposedly on a neutral, “hostile-to-none” foreign policy - are they so bloody paranoid about their citizens interacting with foreigners? Could it be that their own hands are tied thanks to the large amount of “donor aid” (Europe), lucrative peace-keeping missions (America) and the cheap weapons (China) that are sent their way? Could it be that they would like nothing better than to secure the sovereignty of their country and its independence, but are too utterly addicted to the rewards of not doing so, and unconsciously they know it?

If we follow this line of thinking, there are some interesting results. For then, civvies like Mr. Khalil become not a rival, but their own guilt-ridden consciences. Mr. Khalil did not just criticize the armed forces in his blog. As far as I recall, he has also spoken out against the ill-effect of the global capitalist system and the influx of “donor aid” to create a comprador, spineless “civil society”. He has done by the pen what these men have been too impotent (I use the word deliberately) to do with their guns: break free of the tyrannical parental units. When they torture conscientious people like Tasneem Khalil, they unconsciously torture their past selves: the now-unrecognizable dreamers they were when they entered the service. They dreamt of standing up to their tyrannical parent in their own way. They found out that not only does the parent ensure their existence, but that others are doing a far better job of breaking free than they are. They can’t fight the parent. So they fight those who have successfully usurped their dreams and are living it.

With some amusement, I read a New Age report a few days back that the ACC (led by an ex-army man) has promised to look into corruption within the military. And who did they make this “promise” to? Not to civvies like ourselves, no! Or heaven forbid, to our elected representatives, their political masters! But to a visiting Danish parliamentary delegation. I repeat, a Danish parliamentary delegation. Apparently they refused to comment on it afterwards to our media.

Read that last paragraph again and tell me that there’s nothing rotten with that picture.
That is the sad tale of dependence and misdirected rebellion I read between the lines of their “interrogation”: the miserable antics of a bunch of impotent, insecure frat-boys playing out their unconscious desires to break free of the very same parental unit that sustains them and their jealousy, resulting in torture, of someone who has broken free of the system, thus fulfilling and usurping their aspirations!

Pathetic to see a bunch of boys trying to be real men? You bet.

March 05, 2008

No Country for Young Men

Yeats should have sailed to Bangladesh.

For in Bangladesh, the old in one another’s arms dance on the bloodied corpses of the young.

I speak not only of “cowardly liberals” such as our twin editors, who seem to have sacrificed a man each to save their own political hides. Whereas they should have been leaders, voices of experience and bulwarks of strength who sheltered the more adventurous of their flock – Mohammad Arifur Rahman and Tasneem Khalil – they have instead proven themselves to be sell-outs and sycophants through not just their “sacrifices” but also their silence.

No, I come not to speak only of these so-called progressive voices of a decrepit generation with suitably unoriginal, decrepit ideas. I speak also of other older, more honourable men. Men who vow to keep us safe, where “us” equals every person who inhabits our green land. Men who send our finest and bravest to battle. Men who have taken on young men and women to fight for their land and are responsible for their safety.

After a generation of INDOCTRINATING our young army personnel against India as opposed to TRAINING THEM TO THINK about countering India’s influence meaningfully, I see the most honourable of men travel to Delhi. The Bangladeshi media reports sycophantically on it. The Indian media talks about “joint exercises” aimed at eradicating the Indian North-East of “rebels” and “terrorists”.

Now unlike Mr. Farhad Mazhar, whose write-up on the topic I appreciated highly and urge everyone to read for its section on the Bay of Bengal gas blocks issue, I am not about to make emotional appeals that go like, “Our army is going India’s bidding!”. Joint exercises are not doing anyone’s “bidding” and, if our army is to become/remain well-trained and have a global outlook instead of the parochial one that pervades it, such exercises are positive. I will not make such emotional appeals.

I will humbly point out a small, probable scenario: the only reason these “rebels” have not turned their guns against us is because we turn a blind eye to them (at the least) when they want to use our territory as refuge. If we start to carry out “joint exercises”, they may not appreciate it and we might have our own little problems on the northern border. The Hindistani (my latest word for “North Indian”) elite at the Indian centre does not quite understand that there are real grievances at work in these areas. They seem to be under the impression that these insurgencies are being “fed” by our military, and that if our military suddenly switches sides, that is going to stop the insurgency. In the presence of real grievances, this is not about to happen. Indeed military solutions to insurgencies are highly prone to failure (too lazy to link).

And if this does happen who will pay the price for the switch? Our young of course. The ones who were indoctrinated against “Indians” will then be re-indoctrinated against a new set of “Indians”, you know, the ones with “chinky” eyes. They will fight and they will be sacrificed, while old men play golf and talk expensive horses or arms deals with American secretaries of defence.

As far as I know, no promises have been made. But given the alacrity of old men to sacrifice the young in this country, should I not be fearful? Give me one reason why I shouldn’t be? We’ve talked so much about the riots of August, but did anybody really focus on the Tragedy of young, 20-something Bangladeshi students fighting young, 20-something Bangladeshis in uniform, simply because all their elders are obstinate old men who didn’t get along in the heat of the 70’s?
And I’m not even going to start talking about the issue that this New Age editorial brought up, to wit the issue of undignified, box-like structures at the border. I’d just like our pan-Bengali-rhetoric sprouting folk to stand up and say something at this point. Yes, that’s you Mr. Aly Zaker! You too Mr. Syed Badrul Ahsan! Decrepit old men with decrepit old ideas the whole lot of them!

I’ll end with a jibe that I should know better to make, but simply can’t resist. A certain blogger who enjoys putting down economists (perhaps under the mistaken impression that I am a student of economics!) has previously expressed his admiration for the man in uniform on horseback. Now it seems that the man in uniform has gone to Delhi to beg for rice. And I contend we have come to this because all the economists have been pooh-poohed from the left as “IMF-stooges”, from the right as “shushils” and by this blogger as purveyors of “craponomics”.

But of all of these pooh-pooh-ers, only the last has something to be happy about in all this. The Indians gave this most honourable man in uniform a few horses, so it seems that our fellow blogger’s dreams of having the Man-on-Horseback president will be fulfilled, even if begging for rice and doing India’s dirty work is the price of that dream.

And I thought it was only the economists who ran the country on craponomics!

January 11, 2008

Ramblings on 1/11 anniversary

An entire generation has been lost thanks to the meaningless arguments they have had to witness in that most sacred of our political places, Jatiyo Shongshod Bhobon.

Those arguments were petty, but dangerous.

Petty because, when your country's highest decision-makers debate most passionately over "Who's the father of the nation/declarer of independence", you know there is something rotten in the state of Bangladesh.

Dangerous because they effectively tainted the meaning of the word "politics" for an entire generation. Much needed discussions on a variety of issues from hereonin will be stopped by using a simple formula: "Bangali shobhaab hochchey shob kichu niye politics kora" or a variation thereof. Which is a pity, because politics is the norm, such as being right-handed. Lack of politics is the exception - sometimes enforced abnormally - or being left-handed. Dirty politics is a disease afflicting the right-hand for which being left-handed is not the answer.

Then came 1/11. I too had hopes during those heady days of January when a disgraceful scholar-president was being neutralised and the overnight millionaires were getting locked up. The rumours were shadowy, so one did not know what to believe. For the sake of one's sanity, one believed the best. The lists were long, so one did not quite notice that a few odd-ones-out had slipped in. Yet, one believed the best.

I too had hopes on 1/11. As part of the generation fed up with Mujib VERSUS Zia, crooks versus thiefs and brothers versus brothers, I had hopes that day. Naive? Perhaps, but no regrets as always.

Bit by bit over the summer, I have lost those hopes. I have become gradually disillusioned with the military-backed-and/or-led-and-maybe-civilian-controlled-caretaker-no!-national-unity-ok-maybe-not government, often fondly, wistfully, almost nostalgically abbreviated to "CTG".

Any criticism of this government is usually countered with the question (or accusation), "Would you rather there be corruption in your country?" or some variation of it. My answer is a humble no. I'm however yet to see any sound reason as to why people think that the CTG's actions will reduce corruption.

Criticism more strident might lead to censorship, perhaps even jail. Thankfully I write online and the majority of Bangladeshis do not read this language anyway. Even more importantly, I do not reside in Dhaka. There used to be a time when I would inevitably add "unfortunately" to that last statement. Nowadays I'm not so sure.

Without further ceremony let me walk you through the milestones I've constructed marking out my journey from hope to disillusionment over the course of 4 months of summer. Please remember, these are entirely my personal reactions. Yours will be different. The time frame represents the free time I had to concentrate on Bangladeshi politics on a day-to-day basis. No doubt the warning signs were already there before summer (that call to Mahfuz Anam, MK Alamgir's arrest, the unequal application of the law, Choles Ritchil's death at the hands of army personnel), but I was either too dumb, too naive or too busy to pay attention.

Milestone 1: The arrest of journalist Tasneem Khalil - May 10th in the Western Hemisphere.

My first inkling that the "revolution" had lived up to the Shavian view of revolutions. It was becoming business as usual for this government as it had become of every other "revolutionary" government. On that evening, as the sun was starting its habit of setting late in the western sky, I could have written the entire script for the farce to follow the arrest of a journalist critical of the regime made by plain clothes men without warrants: follow it up with an unproven, unprovable, reputation-damaging, we-have-evidence-you-cannot-see sort of accusation of "anti-state activities", then either keep him/her in custody indefinitely or hound the accused into exile. If you know your Kafka or recent (2001-present) American history, then you know this script. Who says we don't embrace American ideas enough?

Oh and before the usual doubters start formulating their conspiracy theories about how all of us bloggers simply echo each others' views (or are in the pay of political parties or whatever), let me be very clear in saying once again: in defending him, I stood up for one of my core principles: "I might disagree with what you say but I will defend till death your right to say it". Sadly, no government of Bangladesh has embraced that principle till this day.

In conclusion, though Mr. Khalil was thankfully released within 24 hours (though not without some "forget-me-nots" from his detainers), the incident had laid bare how similar this regime was to the ones it had followed. That he was later hounded into exile like many a dissident before him simply confirmed it.

Milestone 2: The Jute Mills Fiasco at Khalishpur - July-August.

Once again, the indications were there from the start. Poor people getting beaten up for asking their due wages.

But what unfolded in Khalishpur went far beyond the shutting down of factories, that tragic end of the miguided ethos of state capitalism. What happened in Khalishpur signalled that the old ways were definitely not gone. I speak of the constant suspicion in which every organ of this and all previous governments regard the citizen. This is Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal on his experiences there as part of a citizens' initiative to help the jute workers:

"When we arrived in Khalishpur, we started noticing something odd. Police, NSI, DGFI - all of them were acting harshly. It seemed that they had started smelling some whiffs of conspiracy in what was a completely humanitarian effort. This plan had been made after everyone had been informed and all sorts of permissions had been sought and granted. One cannot know a catastrophe by reading a newspaper but rather by observing through humane eyes. We had gone only to do that humane deed.

...... After returning from Khalishpur, an odd thing began to happen. Some of the local workers at the gruel-kitchen had ropes tied around their waists and were paraded through the workers colony by the police, who also tried to scare them by making noises about "crossfire". They were evicted from the place where they were supposed to be cooking. After a lot of thought I could only find one plausible explanation: the government must think that this gruel-kitchen is damaging their image. (Do you remember "image"? How the 4-party government also worried about their image? If one word was said about JMB-Jamaat, they were quick to proclaim that their "image" was being spoiled!) Now I see the same dymanic. If feeding unemployed workers khichuri for one day destroys the government's image, then why doesn't the government take up the responsibility?..."

(Section 3 on Page 3. Translation and emphasis mine.)

And this from Dr. Hameeda Hossain:

"The distribution took place outside three of the mills. The manager in one of the mills had told the Committee that there was no crisis, and workers were doing well! Yet it was from this mill that workers brought their vessels for food. Before the distribution started, personnel claiming to represent intelligence agencies did the rounds of the Committee in Dhaka and Khulna to find out the purpose of the distribution.

Justice Rabbani, too, was telephoned by the BJMC chief. The Committee had collected sufficient funds to keep the distribution going for about 5 days, but at the end of the first day, the local organisers were told to remove their cooking vessels and stop distribution. Four workers were roughly handled, allegedly by the police, and told to stop their voluntary work.

When the police commissioner was asked, he claimed he had given no such orders. So who had, and why was it necessary to stop this support?

(Emphasis mine)

Why indeed? Nothing, except that the traditional bureaucratic (and I count security agencies among the bureaucracy) stance has been to look down upon the very people they ruled over with suspicion, an attitude inherited I suspect from the ex-colonial power. Can a small ethnic minority dominating a much larger ethnic majority look at them with anything other than constant suspicion? South Asia with its high population density has thus inherited a tradition of intense bureaucratic suspicion and hostility towards their very people. An intensity without too any counterparts in the rest of the post-colonial world. (And yes, the link is deliberately to Mr. Khalil's superb op-ed on Kansat, to show that even when I disagree with someone on one particular issue, I do not start discounting the good things they have said!)

1/11 did not change that. And class really has little to do with it: everyone's a suspect. A farmer or a blue-collar worker is as much a suspect as elites such as Drs. Iqbal and Hossain. The only difference is in the way they are treated. And sometimes, as in the case of Tasneem Khalil, even class privilege cannot save you.

Which brings us to....

Milestone 3: The Dhaka University Riots and Curfew. Also called "that week in August". Also known as the straw that broke the camels back. Known aliases include "THAT week". August 20th-August 27th.

This is such a hard topic to write about that I have been stuck at this point for the last two days. I will not recount the events for the regular readers of this blog know it only too intimately. The irregular ones can find out from other sources. Just one request: please look at a source that presents facts, not baseless opinions.

I will not even attempt to present a chronological list of how events unfolded. That is left for another time far from August, and perhaps for another person. Instead let me guide you through a very subjective recollection of matters. (Once again, my own impressions, so please don't come back and tell me that I'm "editorialising" the facts. That is exactly what an opinion piece is for!)

What I remember vividly was well-educated NRBs calling for the blood of Dhaka University students in the name of law and order. If you don't believe me, go and read Unheard Voices' August archives for a sampling. Trust me, it only gets worse in other forums. I refuse to link to any of the comments on UV, except one I found particularly telling.

I understand the need to maintain law and order. I understand the sanctity of public and private property. And I condemn, utterly and unequivocally, the destruction of public and private property that was carried out in the name of "protests" by the students, despite the fact that the avenues for protest are rapidly shrinking nowadays.

However, the key is the maintaining of LAW and order, not simply order. A godfather keeps as much order within his gang as a judge does within his court's jurisdiction. I don't need to tell the reader which one is more lawful. By the same token therefore, the LAW-enforcement agencies have to work within the stipulations of the very law they seek to uphold. (Some other time as to why the "law" component of law and order leads to prosperity - I refuse to use the word "development".)

The evidence suggests they didn't. This BBC interview with an eye-witness is the most damning evidence I know.

The August riots of Dhaka University had an amazingly polarising effect on the Bangladeshi blogosphere, and I'd venture to say, on Bangladeshis everywhere. As an example, I present this one comment left by a cheerleader for the CTG's repressive actions that August, a commenter named Boishakhi who said the following:

"We have two choices either we want things to be cleaned up or maintain the status quo. It’s time we take a side."

And here I was thinking that all Bangladeshis were on the same side! It is highly ironic that the same people who draw these arbitrary lines dividing "us" from "them" were/are also the ones worried most about "civil war" and "failed state" status. Clearly George Bush's Manichean view of the world has conquered further and wider than his armies. An embarrassingly childish statement at a critical time. Yet, who else would egg on the government to baton-charge and tear-gas its own (admittedly rowdy) citizens except children who didn't have to face the consequences themselves?

There really is nothing more I want to say about those ten awful days of August. I believe that nothing more needs be said.

Milestone 4: The arrest of cartoonist Arifur Rahman.

No other single event (this was written before the Rangs Bhobon collapse) has shows the moral bankruptcy of this government than the imprisonment of one of our young citizens for the politicking of the decrepit, elite oldies. I have written enough on this topic, I cannot write anymore. I want to thank bloggers - Addafication and Shadakalo come to mind - for not letting this issue die just yet.

We were supposed to create a state where the strong would take care of the weak, the destitute, the young and others who cannot (yet) take care of themselves. Instead, we have come to this: the weak subsidising the strong, the destitute being made more so by the bulldozers of the strong, and the young being sacrificed to please the old and cynical.