Sunday, August 31, 2008

al-Ghazali on Democracy

[This essay was written before the military takeover of January 11, 2007]

There are some writers who would identify democracy with Christianity. One of them is Larry Siedentop. In his book Democracy in Europe, he observes: “For the Christian God survives in the assumption that we have access to the nature of things as individuals. That assumption is, in turn, the final justification for a democratic society, for a society organised to respect the equal underlying moral status of all its members, by guaranteeing each ‘equal liberty’. That assumption reveals how the notion of ‘Christian liberty’ came to underpin a radically new ‘democratic’ model of human association.” (The italics are the author’s.)
His words are not to be taken cum grano salis. In respect of the family, he makes a trenchant observation. The family, in Christian teaching, takes a back seat to the individual. “And he said unto them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9: 23) Here is Christ asking for free, voluntary sacrifice on the part of his disciples. So did the Prophet Mohammed; but the difference lies in the fact that Christ asked his follower to ‘deny himself’ – renounce family life, earthly good – in a voluntary association. According to Siedentop, this supremacy of the individual over the family was the herald of the civil society and western democracy. This supremacy is absent in Islam. “And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, take nothing for your journey....” (Luke 9: 2-3) Siedentop concludes: “...Christian and liberal norms have always had difficulty with assessing the claims of the human family, often treating it primarily as a preparation of adult freedom – a view which can perhaps be traced back as far as Jesus’s radical pronouncement on the need to reject family ties when the service of God, in conscience, requires it”.
This explains many anomalies in the practice of democracy in Bangladesh. Its chief proponents – ambitious men and women with careers rooted in the west - hold despotic sway over their children’s lives and careers. The nepotism that is rife within so-called ‘civil society’ in Bangladesh appears inevitable. In their desire to maximise their gains from the west, our democrats and NGO people try to have the best of both worlds – the Christian and the Muslim. They preach against nepotism, and practice it openly with donor money. They preach against despotism, and practice it openly in their institutions and organisations. For we admire the man who takes care of his family – it is an Islamic injunction – and we despise the person who neglects his family. We are awe-struck when we see Catholic priests give up home and hearth to come to this God-forsaken country from the United States or Europe to ‘serve the people’. If any one of us did the same thing, we would ostracize him – or bung him in an asylum!
Thus, Muslim society cannot be an association of individuals; there has to be a father figure at the top. There can be no democracy in Muslim society. In 1990, we rebelled against despotism: this was un-Islamic, a sin. This is not my view: it is the view of al-Ghazzali.
Al-Ghazali and al-Mawardi are only two examples of Muslim political philosophers who defended absolute despotism absolutely. “Sixty years of tyranny are better than an hour of civil strife,” maintained al-Ghazzali. Even today, Arab children are taught since childhood to fear chaos. Al-Ghazzali said that it was a religious duty never to overthrow a ruler "no matter how mad or bad". So long as he could maintain the peace and protect against external enemies, he must be tolerated – nay, it is our religious duty to preserve and respect his rule.
To quote al-Mawardi: ‘An evil-doing and barbarous sultan, so long as he is supported by military force, so that he can only with difficulty be deposed and that the attempt to depose him would create unendurable civil strife, must of necessity be left in possession and obedience must be rendered to him, exactly as obedience is required to be rendered to those who are placed in command”. The individual has a positive duty never to resist the sovereign.
I have deliberately emphasised the reference to military force – for this reference is not accidental. From the Prophet onwards, every khalifah and sultan and emir in Muslim civilisation was a military ruler. Initially, of course there had been no standing army - the citizen body itself was the army - just as there was no bureaucracy. Later both army and bureaucracy developed together. Whoever had military power had civil power as well, and never the other way around. (This extends to the navy also; Muawiyah was the author of the Muslim navy - the English word "admiral" comes from the Arabic "amir al-bahr", Commander of the Sea).
Our civilisation is, therefore, based on military rule and obedience.
Then Europeans came along and told us that it was barbaric for the military ruler to be the civilian authority – the former must serve under the latter. Since the Europeans conquered us and offered us rich rewards, we accepted their views and renounced 1,400 years of our civilisation.
If democracy and Christianity are identical (and they share many aspects, as Siedentop has demonstrated), what we are witnessing today is nothing short of mass conversion of our society. Even in Pakistan, the mawlanas – yes, even the mawlanas – insist that General Musharraf must relinquish his military post if he is to remain president: what arrant rubbish! Surely, one would expect learned mawlanas to recall the words of al-Ghazzali! But no! They, too, have sensed power, and election as the avenue to power, and are singing western songs. Throughout Muslim history, after the period of the Khalifa-i-rashidun, religious authority had been subservient to the secular powers, as al-Mawardi makes plain.
I can vividly imagine what al-Ghazzali would have said today had he been here: “Unhappy people! Fifteen years ago you rose in rebellion and sinned; today, you and your children suffer for that act of impiety; rape and murder are your everyday lot; some among you, inspired by alien ideas, think that merely because you can criticise your rulers, your are blessed. Criticise rulers! Heaven forbid! Would you criticise your father and mother? It is your religious duty not to criticise your ruler – of whom there must be only one, not many. You have learnt to despise military rule, and yet I lived and wrote under military rule. Your ancestors have prospered under military rule: and you think your ancestors barbaric! Where will you hide your shame? You who spit on yourself! The calamities that befall you daily can only be reversed if you reverse your rebellion of fifteen years ago. May Allah show you the true way, and may He protect you!”

Saturday, August 30, 2008

China, and democracy in Africa

"Western-style democracy simply isn't suited to African conditions but rather it carries with it the root of disaster. The elections crisis in Kenya is just one example."

These words from the Chinese government were greeted with the usual derision by the western media, including the Economist (from which they have been taken, February 9th 2008, p. 41).

Interestingly, two highly respected and intelligent anthropologists – Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz – made the same observation in their contemporary classic "Africa Works" (Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument, (Oxford: James Currey, 1999))

Chabal and Daloz say: “Indeed, the wholesale adoption of a political vocabulary issued from the Western democratic experience is eminently misleading: the words do not correspond to the realities which they are supposed to embody...The vote is not primarily a token of individual choice but of a calculus of patrimonial reciprocity based on ties of solidarity. ”(pp. 38 – 39) (Emphasis added.)
Again: “Democracy...simply has no proper role for political losers in Africa....Politicians are expected to represent their constituents properly, that is, to deliver resources to them. It is, therefore, comprehensively useless to be an opposition politician....” (p. 56).
The individual is part of the patron-client nexus.
It should be natural – and rational – for Mwai Kibaki to rig the election for himself; similarly for Robert Mugabe. In a personal e-mail to the author, Patrick Chabal observed that the breakdown of the neo-patrimonial state in Africa has dire consequences.
The Chinese would agree.

Monday, August 25, 2008

changing the diapers

Politicians, like diapers, need to be changed, and for the same reason.

Our politicians stink to high heaven – they've been around for smelly decades. Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia are walking stink-bombs, yet we don't even hold our noses.

It took a suicidal attack to remove the awful pong of Benazir Bhutto. But her husband is still there, mal-odoriferous.

Then there's Nawaz Sharif, twice flushed down the commode, run into the sewer, and back, all soiled and dirty and covered in faeces.

India twice removed the diapers – and very violently too. The first time they got rid of Indira, and the second time they unbundled her son.

In Bangladesh we nearly removed the nappies on one occasion, but Sheikh Hasina survived.

Why don't we change the diapers? It seems we love ordure and odour, the messier and smellier, the better. That, or our olfactory nerve (and cerebral cortex) is severely damaged.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

the sozzled Abul Barkat

Mr. Abul Barkat recently observed that Bangladesh was galloping forward on the economic front when the military intervened like a party pooper (they removed the punch-bowl just when everybody was sozzled and disorderly).

Iraq is galloping away at 7% GDP growth rate (faster than Bangladesh ever did).

Would Mr. Barkat like to live in Iraq – or perhaps visit the two rivers as a tourist? It shouldn't be too expensive: after all, he'll be leaving his family behind and will only require a one-way ticket. (I would have suggested Sudan, but it has very few tourist attractions).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Justice B. B. Roy Chowdhury on the events of December 6, 1990, and more....

The late Justice Bimolendu Bikash Roy Choudhury was one of the finest and most upright gentlemen it has been my pleasure to know. His respect for the constitution was such that he was furious with the events of December 6, 1990 – years after they were over – for he realised the long-term consequences of the fateful day.

December 6, 1990. President General H.M.Ershad resigns and hands over to the Chief Justice. Chief Justice Shahabuddin, rather than the then vice-president (as was demanded by the constitution), becomes acting president. The former vice-president belonged to General Ershad’s party, and, to have him excluded, the constitution was gleefully raped by lawyers, intellectuals, donors – and the Chief Justice. After elections, the chief guardian of the constitution had the constitution amended – by the 11th and 12th amendments [*] – by Parliament to legalise this act of illegality! And we had been taught to believe that the doctoring of constitutions was the prerogative only of military dictators!
The chief guardian of the constitution had become its chief violator, and, henceforward, none in this nation can ever believe that, in the face of sufficient international and domestic pressure, the highest court of the land, the only independent institution of the country, will never cave in.

Justice Chowdhury had great respect for General Ershad. He told me that the General had never tried to influence the judiciary. This was in stark contrast to the – democratically elected – Awami League, whose ministers took tot he street with sticks when the learned judges declared themselves too embarrassed to hear the appeal against the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. A lower court had found the men guilty and has decreed that they be executed by "firing squad" – which is not allowed in Bangladesh, as the judge well knew – and, if that were not possible, by hanging. One can imagine the pressure that had been brought to bear on the magistrate, or his enthusiasm for the ruling party and its leader and prime minister at the time, Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Sheikh Mujib. One can imagine to what depths of barbarity we had descended when we reflect that our ministers carried sticks – against the judges!

Another interesting fact that Justice Chowdhury imparted to me (a fact that is never mentioned in our papers) was that General Ershad had tried again and again to separate the judiciary and the executive – and had repeatedly been frustrated by the bureaucrats. Our newspapers like to paint General Ershad as a "brutal dictator" – the facts speak otherwise. What kind of a "brutal dictator" tries to separate the executive (which he heads) from the judiciary. It was tantamount to trying to cut off his own legs!

And then in 1996 – after the Awami League shut down the country for several months and the ruling BNP tried to cling to power in a farcical election – some genius had the diabolic foresight to bring the Supreme Court into the democratic process by instituting a system of caretaker government before every poll – the chief caretaker being the last retired judge of the Court!

The Court, as was to be expected, became highly politicised – just like the bureaucracy and the army had been – and finally the western donors had to ask the army to take over on January 11, 2007: we had politicised every institution and faced near-civil war.

The appointment of, and the administration of oath to the Chief Justice of Bangladesh as Vice-President on the 21st day of Agrahayan, 1397 B.S. [local calendar] corresponding to the 6th day of December, 1990, and the resignation tendered to him by the then President and all powers exercised, all laws and Ordinances made and all orders made, acts and things done, and actions taken, or purported to have been made, done or taken by the said Vice-President acting as President during the period between the 21st day of Agrahayan, 1397 B.S. corresponding to the 6th day of December 1990, and the date of commencement of the Constitution (Eleventh Amendment) Act, 1991 (Act No. XXIV of 1991) (both days inclusive) or till the new President elected under article 48(1) of the Constitution has entered upon his office (whichever is later), are hereby ratified and confirmed and declared to have been validly made, administered, tendered, exercised, done and taken according to law. (The Constitution of The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Section 21, Fourth Schedule [Article 150])

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

an evening with a lunatic

My wife and I spent an evening with a lunatic. We didn't realise he was barking mad until it was too late to extricate ourselves. After all, the seemingly sane chap was a very senior bureaucrat. His wife sat with us, knitting, not looking up, in a long skirt and top. The two kids – for the lunatic had sired two children – played in a corner.

"I don't believe in the god of Islam or Judaism. This god wants loyalty, and I don't like that."

My wife and I listened without interrupting: that is usually the wisest strategy with someone who's not all there.

We expected him to be against all religion, since he was a vigorous nationalist, and kept a picture of Sheikh Mujib in his office when it was mandatory to keep only the prime minister's picture there. When the nation – and its language – is your god, other divinities must be anathema. But we were wrong.

"I like Apollo – and Siva." In fact, he only liked Siva, because he was a Hindu deity. Curiously the Bengali nationalist loves Hinduism and all things Indian. He's non compos mentis, you see.

"I use the seal of Siva on my pads."

He asked the servant to bring his seal. It was a metal contraption, and looked as though it had been designed for torture or circumcision – or perhaps both.

He placed a sheet of paper inside the machine, pressed down the lever, and looked delighted (as schizos and psychos do with their handiwork).


He handed us the sheet and there was an embossed print of Siva.

We smiled appreciatively. We were dying to get away.

I have heard of nationalism that rests on one's own religion РIreland and Israel come to mind Рbut nationalism inspired by an alien religion, a religion not of one's own people but of foreigners, must take the recherché biscuit, to use James Joyce's expression.

The lunatic, as you will recall, was a bureaucrat. And he was a (covert) member of the Awami League, the nationalist party that hates Islam and the Muslim world, and loves Hinduism and India.

A bureaucrat is not supposed to engage in politics – yet he kept a photo of Mujib in his office even when the other party was in power (of course, after the rebellion of the bureaucrats in 1996, loyalty to party has replaced loyalty to the state even among civil servants).

Before an election, the caretaker government had sent him out of the country and told him to stay out until the polls were over.

A senior bureaucrat like him was bound to try and help rig the election in favour of the Awami League (in the event, it was rigged in favour of the BNP!).

When the lunatic finished, we ran.

Monday, August 18, 2008

the savage beasts of politics must be caged

I congratulate the caretaker government on its proposed Political Intelligence Office. It is imperative for the state to keep an eye on the people who have made the lives of anonymous, hardworking, ordinary people like me miserable, to put it mildly. We, after all, have to earn a living, and anyone who denies us our daily bread must be constrained and invigilated. If the proposed PIO can prevent hartals, murders, campus violence and other assorted villainies we have come to expect from the political parties, then even more power to the PIO. It is as though wild and dangerous beasts are about to be unleashed on the people, who seek frantically for protection. We (the people minus the politicians) will be eagerly looking forward to the speedy implementation of the PIO.

Friday, August 15, 2008

my morally challenged elders (2)

One of my relatives (a perfect jerk) scolded me in no uncertain terms when I expressed my fervent hope that the military would take over the country (this was just before 1/11).

According to this minion of the west: "The army is for external defence, and it has no business running a country".

Well, I though to myself, none of your daughters have been raped by student politicians...if they had...!

Where did this British-period, America-inspired, Europe-indoctrinated retard get these ideas from?

Now, the bugger claims to be a devout Muslim, and he doesn't know the first thing about Muslim history - or Muslim literature.

Sheikh Sa'adi says: "A sultan rules by means of his troops."

Al-Ghazzali said: "Sixty years of tyranny are better than an hour of civil strife."

Al-Mawardi said: "An evil-doing and barbarous sultan, so long as he is supported by military force, so that he can only with difficulty be deposed and that the attempt to depose him would create unendurable civil strife, must of necessity be left in possession and obedience must be rendered to him, exactly as obedience is required to be rendered to those who are placed in command."

These people – our ancestors – lived and thrived under, and sanctioned, complete autocracy. My devout relation had never even heard the expression 'zel Allah' – the shadow of Allah, the Muslim world's expression for a ruler.

He is the shadow of Allah because he stands between order and chaos, which is Satanic.

This freak, with whom I am unfortunately related by blood, hasn't noticed that Muslims have a history, too – a far more benign and greater history than the white masters he bends before ("The white race is the cancer in human history," observed Susan Sontag

The military is only for external defence? Jeez!

Western civilisation since the Dark Ages has never had powerful kings because they couldn't raise taxes without the consent of parliament – a creature that was born in the stinking cesspool of the medieval world. (And this explains why the king and queen of Spain had to conquer the New World and enslave its inhabitants for gold and silver to fight their European wars – so that they could bypass parliament!)

WE – the Muslim world – NEVER had a Dark Age; WE have NEVER had any foul-smelling, nauseating, stomach-turning beast called 'parliament'.

Of course, I could never - much as I would have loved to! – tell mon oncle to shove democracy up his backside, to stay loyal to the west where he lives and to stop – stop! – exporting his masters' ideas here (the moron had the vapours when his son married a Hindu girl who refused to convert to Islam – he nearly went off his rocker, the modern, westernised bugger!)

But I never said all that – why not?

Because he is my murubbi, my elder – and, in our culture, you mustn't argue with an elder. He can tell me off, but I must remain silent.

That's our culture.

It is a non-democratic culture.

It is a culture of frigging obedience.

He knows it, I know it.

And yet he wants democracy, equality, argumentativeness (then why get the bends when your son marries a Hindu who won't convert to Islam!), the tearing off of pubic hair, freedom of expression, blasphemy, pornography....

Maybe I should give him a dose of his own democratic medicine and tell him to kiss my (equal) ass.

Monday, August 11, 2008

my morally challenged elders

I shouldn't speak ill of my elders, but with all due respects, they are a bunch of scumbags.

One moment, they will say "Joy Bangla! (Victory to Bengali)", and the second moment, they will say to their children, "Get out of this country; this country has no future; what will you do here?"

Most of my elders are Awami Leaguers, though there are some BNPers. Both groups are mad, especially the former (the latter are focused on money, which, as economists will tell you, is highly rational).

As Harvard anthropologist Stanley J. Tambiah has observed: “In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, the attempt to realise the nation-state on a Western European model has virtually failed. The nation-state conception has not taken deep roots in South Asia or generated a wide-spread and robust participatory “public culture” that celebrates it in widely meaningful ceremonies, festivals, and rituals”.

Some of my relatives refuse to 'salam' people – that wouldn't be 'Bengali' (sorry, Bangalee); that would be – Allah forbid! – be Muslim. One branch, my mother assures me, used to wear the "dhoti" – including the women. My parents themselves get the vapours whenever they see a burqua!

Their nationalism consists of identifying with the pre-Islamic "culture" of South Asia, I suppose. But then, why stop at Hinduism? Why not Buddhism? After all, Bengal was the last redoubt of that noble religion. The magnificent ruins at Paharpur are those of the first Buddhist monastery in the world, drawing tourists and experts regularly from east Asia.

Or why not Jainism? Or Sikhism? These are South Asian religions, too.

The answer is that nationalism, a western ideology when transplanted to the east becomes
incoherent – all manner of contradictions result. It becomes a dogma only for fools and the intellectually challenged.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in Iran. Some – certainly not most – of my Iranian friends are nationalist.

What does that mean?

That means that they 'believe' in Takhte Jamshid, or Persepolis. They 'identify' with Zoroastrianism and the Achaemenids – like the deranged Shah.

But – at the same time – they are immensely proud of the great (very Muslim) poets – Hafez, Rumi, Sa'adi....These poets were devout Muslims, but Iranian nationalists reject Islam and yet cling to Muslim poetry.

And why identify with Zoroastrianism? Why not with Manichaeism, or its many variants?

Indeed, why not identify with the religions of the Central Asian linguistic group, the Aryans (from which the word 'Iran' comes)? Why not identify with Central Asia?

How far back in time should we go? We should go back to East Africa, where humanity was born (if you believe in evolution; otherwise, with Adam and Eve, if you are Jew, Christian or Muslim); and there are Hindu, Buddhist....cosmologies and cosmogonies – take your pick, it's a la carte, not table d'hote.

If we stop at central Asia – at the Aryans – then Indians and Iranians are – wait for it! – the same people!

Nationalism in Asia is the ideology of morons. In Europe it was the ideology of lunatics (I say 'was' because the European Union is the attempt to destroy nationalism where it was born.)

German nationalism (the reflex of French nationalism, which cost around 2 million lives all told) was internally consistent. The German race was the Aryan race (consistent, but factually incorrect, for 'Aryan' refers to a linguistic, not racial, group). The blond beast was the greatest of all beasts – the uberman, to vary the metaphor. Given this premiss, all else follows with horrible logic: the lebensraum struggle, the killing of the mentally retarded Germans, a punishment extended to gypsies, homosexuals, and, finally, the Jews.....

How can any human being want to be a nationalist?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Damazine – The Cuckoo and the Author – Iftekhar Sayeed (a poem)

Damazine – The Cuckoo and the Author – Iftekhar Sayeed

It is a Muslim belief (found, for instance, in Sheikh Sa'di) that birds do not merely utter calls, but actually read the rosary (tasbih).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The British-period relics

31st December 1999.

A young woman named Badhan went out to the university area to celebrate the coming-in of the new millennium.

She was stripped nearly naked by the student politicians of the ruling party, the Awami League. She somehow got away.

On January 25th, the subject came up in parliament – by means of an Awami League MP, a criminal called Joynal Hazari. The opposition was, of course, absent – that is what the opposition does in Bangladesh: it stays away from parliament.

"How could a Muslim woman go for an outing in the dead of night during the month of Ramadan?" he queried rhetorically. "Was it wrong that the drunk young men jumped on the lady who was dancing on the street with half her body exposed? It was natural that she was treated this way. (Star Magazine, February 11 2000, p. 22 "(That Muslim boys are not supposed to drink seemed to have slipped the MPs mind.)

Now, the above might seem to have issued from a rabid, Islamist political party. In fact, the Awami League is considered (and described as such by the western media) to be "the secular party".

"The Daily Star reported that Hazari finished his statement uninterrupted. Even the Chair, Professor Ali Ashraf, did not use his power to stop him under rule 270 of the Jatiya Sangsad's [Assembly] Rules of Procedure. Under the rule, a member is not allowed to use any offensive, abusive or vulgar expressions, or defamatory word."

What the Daily Star Magazine conspicuously failed to mention (the title of the article is "Badhans of a Male Chauvinist State") was the fact that there were thirty female MPs present, and not one of them uttered a word of protest, then or later.

Among them was – you guessed it – Mrs. Chitra Bhattacharya.

Party loyalty in Bangladesh comes before everything else – decency, humanity, morality....

I must credit my family with having instilled in me such notions as that it is wrong to hang out with rapists, murderers and other criminals. (However, when I grew up, I found my elders enthusiastically supporting rapists, murderers, and other criminals. In fact, one of my cousins even sought nomination from the BNP! My elders are British-period relics who try their best to pervert younger people – and succeed.) But here was a woman I had regarded as a lady since infancy keeping the very company I was meant to abhor.

Joynal Hazari and his thugs later beat up a journalist within an inch of his life; another MP, Shamim Osman, had the prostitutes at Tanbazaar brothel evicted (after one of them was murdered to create the necessary crisis)to seize the property.

And then there was the rape and sexual assault of over 300 girls at Jahangir Nagar university by the student politicians of the Awami League – and again Mrs. Bhattacharya's deafening silence and continued membership of a barbaric party.

"Hasina, in fact, has been the biggest disappointment for even AL supporters. Throughout her term she showed incredible tolerance to her party-men, who virtually unleashed a reign of terror all over the country. She did not ask any of her cabinet members to resign even after knowing about their criminal activities. The student wing of AL the Chhatra League carried on the legacy of their predecessors, the Chhatra Dal, with equal zeal, occupying the university halls, controlling tenders and spreading crime across the country. One group became famous for their serial rape spree in Jahangirnagar University where a Chhatra League (interestingly former Chhatra Dal) leader celebrated his 100th rape on campus. Again Hasina remained silent."

Mrs. Bhattacharya should have resigned after this, for sure.

For details on the political parties' abuse of students (and the rapes they committed), visit:

For newspaper reports collected by the author (for these devilish democratic diversions were printed in all the papers, and were known to everybody), please visit: