Monday, October 27, 2008

The Untold Story of Bangladesh - How Journalists Failed A Nation

For years, I tried to bring to the attention of the international mainstream media how student politicians in Bangladesh were raping girls and killing each other – and failed.

I recall writing to New Hope International, and the editor sending me a terse note saying that if I found democracy so deficient, what alternative did I propose? Earlier, the chief editor had said that they would have been happier if I had attributed the violence I described to the market-friendly policies of the World Bank and the IMF!

I approached the Christian Science Monitor – they weren't remotely interested. I wrote to The Nation – thinking that this paper would surely be concerned about the plight of teenage boys used as thugs by the political parties; I never even heard from them.

I sent an article to the New Statesman. I got a reply saying that the relevant editor would get back to me after the Christmas holidays. I never heard from him again.

Then, my own analysis told me what was going on – these major newspapers were part of what I have come to call "The Freedom Industry". Since their readers have been indoctrinated into believing that democracy is God's gift to mankind (George Bush's phrase), any criticism of democracy would not go down well with them. Prestige and money were at stake.

Finally, I learned about the Alternative Media/ indymedia.

My first break came when Csaba Polony of Left Curve published a cycle of poems on the murder of student politicians by student politicians. I was grateful: I realised that criticism of students – who were supposed to have overthrown a dictator in 1990 – would only be acceptable to low-budget, low-circulation. non-mainstream newspapers and magazines.

And that turned out to be the case: I sent my article to an online journal called Axis of Logic. The editor was breathless with excitement: he immediately published it, and even tried to call me from America – but it's not easy to get through to Bangladesh!

You can access the article here:

It's called THE FREEDOM INDUSTRY AND STUDENT POLITICS IN BANGLADESH: every year, on the average, 50 student politicians were being murdered after the democratic transition of 1990. Why? Because these kids were being used by the political parties to bring down the incumbent in street battles and campus violence. Those street battles are called 'hartals' (these are not 'general strikes'!). Here's a description of a hartal: " Salahuddin (33), a fisherman, was killed in a skirmish between the two student wings of the political parties in the latest hartal. Two rickshawpullers – one of them unidentified, the other Badaruddin (32) - were bombed while they were pulling their rickshaws during hartal hours. It took them 24 to 48 hours to die. An auto-rickshaw was burned to ashes, and when the driver, Saidul Islam Shahid (35), tried to put out the flames, he was sprinkled with petrol, and burned to death. It took him more than two days to die. Truck driver, Fayez Ahmed (50), died when a bomb was thrown on his truck. And Ripon Sikder, a sixteen-year-old injured by a bomb, died on 4th May at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital after struggling for his life for eleven days." The whole idea of a hartal is to keep traffic off the roads to paralyse the country and discredit the ruling party – and that's where you need the boys.

The boys were allowed – even encouraged – to rape with abandon. According to the Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, the number of rapes skyrocketed from 407 in 1990 to 2224 by 1997.

In September 1998, a committee investigated allegations of sexual abuse at Jahangirnagar University against boys from the Chatra League, the student front of the then ruling Awami League. It revealed that

“more than 20 female students were raped and over 300 others were sexually harassed on the campus by the "armed cadres of a particular political party. "

No one was charged.

In desperation people resorted to lynching: lynching was unknown in Bangladesh. If people caught a thief, they used to give him a good beating and hand him over to the police. Now, they started killing them. And then came the public torching of muggers and robbers – they were cremated alive in broad daylight by a populace that had had enough.

Then, I realised that reading newspapers – ranging from The Economist to the Guardian to the New Statesman – would not give me a true picture of the world.

Only anthropologists could do that.

The first eye-opener was Stanely J. Tambiah of Harvard University. In his book, Ethnonatioalist Conflict and Collective Violence in South Asia (a book that, to my knowledge, no mainstream paper ever reviewed), he blames the rise in violence throughout South Asia on the party political system.

He says: ‘...participatory democracy, competitive elections, mass militancy, and crowd violence are not disconnected. (Stanley J. Tambiah ,Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia, (New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 1996), p. 260)."

I noticed that none of the NGOs ever raised their voices against student politics. Odd: these were supposed to be "civil society". Then two anthropologists revealed the truth.

The writers speak of an "aid market" that local NGOs know how to exploit.

“The political significance of such a massive proliferation of NGOs in Africa deserves closer attention. Our research suggests that this expansion is less the outcome of the increasing political weight of civil society than the consequence of the very pragmatic realisation that resources are now largely channeled through NGOs.”

The authors also - like myself - attribute the spread of democracy since 1990 to foreign donor pressure, and reject outright the notion of an emerging civil society: “It cannot simply be a coincidence that, now that the West ties aid to democratisation under the guise of multi-party elections, multi-party elections are taking place in Africa.” (Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument (Oxford: James Currey, 1999)23, 22, 118).

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, donors insisted on multi-party elections. The Economist finally acknowledged the truth after fourteen years: “...the cold war’s end prompted western donors to stop propping up anti-communist dictators and to start insisting on democratic reforms” (December 18th 2004, p. 69).

Then, when democracy threatened to turn Bangladesh into another failed Muslim state, western governments intervened: they again allowed the army to take over on January 11th 1997.

The number of student politicians murdered plunged from 48 in 2006 to 10 in 2007 and 6 so far this year. The restoration of (colonial) democracy in December means that more kids are going to be killed every year, and more women raped by these kids.

But no newspaper will ever tell you that.

(For more articles on Bangladesh and violence, you can visit

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Robert Sowell and history

Robert Sowell makes an absurd claim during the online discussion of his book "Economic Facts and Fallacies".

He maintains that colonialism never touched the poorest places on earth.

What about Congo?

Surely he must have read 'Heart of Darkness'? He will claim that it was post-colonial rule that failed the country; even if that can be proven (and it hasn't been proven), it doesn't alter the fact that colonialism did touch one of the poorest places on earth today. The only country to have benefited from colonialism in Africa was – Belgium.

Throughout his discussion, there is an unhistorical - indeed, anti-historical – bias. It shows when he maintains that markets (say, for credit) don't discriminate against black people because, in that case, they also discriminate in favour of Asians.

Asians are high net-worth people; more so than white people on the average. Asian values are world-famous; so is the "Protestant ethic". And Asian-Americans are immigrants to boot – a group that often out-achieves the natives.

Black Americans did not come to America voluntarily; they were not immigrants; they were not free; they were systematically denied their rights; the net worth of a black person in the bottom quintile is – hold your breath! - $57; while that of a white person runs into five digit figures.

Markets always discriminate – that is their function ("effective demand", remember?). Markets allocate goodies according to purchasing power. To "allocate" is necessarily to discriminate. And why should credit, for instance, be allocated to somebody who's worth $57? Markets don't care about history. They care about returns.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

infanticide in Britain

"For parents in Britain, 2004 marked the first year in which other people were more likely to kill their children than they were themselves."

The Economist

Saturday, October 18, 2008

nothing extraordinary about renditions: they started with Bill Clinton

"In 1993, Bill Clinton was pondering whether to authorise what is now called 'extraordinary rendition', when American agents snatch a suspected terrorist abroad and deliver him to interrogators in a third country. The White House counsel warned that this would be illegal. President Clinton was in two minds until Al Gore walked in, laughed and said: 'That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.'

"To understand how the Bush administration went crashing off the rails, it helps to know where the train was coming from."

The Economist, August 2nd 2008, p 82

Friday, October 17, 2008

tragedies and statistics

STALIN: The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is a statistic.

COROLLARY 1: Jihadis are only capable of tragedies; Americans and Europeans are only capable of statistic.

"Health Ministry Statistics say that the incidence of abnormal births has increased 400-fold since 1991. The Iraqis also say that, all told, 1.7m children have died because of the various effects of UN sanctions."

The Economist, September 14th 2002

COROLLARY 2: Therefore, Americans and Europeans are admired; jihadis are not.

COROLLARY 3: Only if (and when) jihadis are capable of statistics will they be respected.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

burqua versus The Story of O

French equality on display (left)

"It is not a religious sign but the visible sign of a totalitarian political project preaching sexual inequality".

These spirited words come from Fadela Amara, France's cities minister of Algerian origin, who should know what she's talking about(after all, France murdered one million of her compatriots)). What prompted the remark was the denial of citizenship to a Moroccan woman for wearing the burqua by the Conseil d'Etat. It was reported that "the woman adopted the burqua at her husband's request in France where she 'lives in total submission to the men in her family'. ("A burqua barrier", The Economist, July 19th 2008, p 53)"

"It is not a religious sign but the visible sign of a totalitarian political project preaching sexual inequality".

Let's go over the text: number one, it is not a religious sign; unlike, say, the wimple? Perhaps nuns are not all required to wear the wimple, but I haven't seen any in mini-skirts and strappy, high-heeled shoes – not yet, anyway. I haven't even seen any lay Catholics wearing such minimalist attire either.

Number two: the burqua is the visible sign of a totalitarian project – and the French know all about totalitarianism, don't they? After all, they invented the phenomenon in 1789 and welcomed the Nazis and sent Jews off to their gaseous deaths (only two French collaborators have been prosecuted to date). Perhaps there are invisible signs of totalitarian projects, unlike the burqua. But only the French know about these things, I suppose.

Number three: sexual equality. The more a woman covers herself, the less equal she is. Therefore, the more naked a woman, the more equal she is. Therefore, a stripper is more equal after doffing her garb than before – especially as she does that before applauding or jeering men, who probably respect her equality like crazy. So a woman can acquire equality after just a few minutes on the stage.

To take matters to their logical conclusion (and why not, since the French are a logical people): the ultimate act of equality must be the sex act – provided it is performed before an audience. In short, pornography. Pornography glorifies woman, raises her to new heights of respectability, and – of course – equality. "The Story of O" – that's equality a la Francaise.

Postscript: It follows that if the lady in question had been a stripper or a porn artist – thereby regularly exposing every square inch (and more) of her body to men for their cash – she would have been granted citizenship. This is not a society that values liberty – this is a society that's taken leave of its senses.

Further reading:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Roman Catholic Church and dictatorship

"Latin America's crop of military dictators received no condemnation at the archbishop's hands. Where there was chaos, he reminded his bishops, people needed firm government."

- Obituary of Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, The Economist, May 3 2008, p. 93