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.