Saturday, February 28, 2009

a diabolic editor - how newspapers back criminal governments in Bangladesh

"we praise the sagacity of the present leadership...."

I'm curious; but tell me, Mahfuz Anam, just how many dead bodies would it take for you to CEASE to praise the sagacity of the present political leadership? 200? 500? 1,000?

And how many would it take for you to begin to QUESTION the sagacity of the present political leadership? 10,000?

And how many would it take for you to IMPUGN the sagacity of the present political leadership? 100,000?

"It would have been a most satisfactory ending but for the fact that" - there were just too many dead bodies around, right?

What kind of an editor are you: can you distinguish between sagacity and stupidity? Honesty from mendacity? A mission accomplished from a bungled and botched operation?

"some unseen quarters with an ill motive..."

Well, they got all the help they needed from our government, didn't they?

They got away scot-free, with the lights turned off, after getting more than enough time to go on an orgy of killing, looting, burning, and more - from inside the city, under the gaze of the entire nation, with the military only a few blocks away!

With friends like these....

"Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina showed tremendous sagacity, farsightedness and patience in handling the crisis."

Does that include waiting 32 hours before deploying tanks, Mahfuz Anam?

"PRIME Minister Sheikh Hasina's stern call hs had the desired effect, and has led to the surrender of the rebel BDR troops. This brought to a peaceful end in Dhaka to what can be termed as the most serious...."

That giant sucking sound was that of the lips of the Daily Star editor coming off the backside of the prime minister.

It wasn't the prime minister's speech that ended the mutiny: it was the tanks.

It took 32 hours for tanks to be deployed: incredible!

The entire affair could have been ended in at most 10 minutes if the army had been allowed by the prime minister to act in its professional capacity. The army's arsenal was several thousand times that of the BDR personnel with their peashooters.

But for the amnesty and the shocking delay, the wives of the officers would have been spared the indignity they suffered. For once, Khaleda Zia has spoken the truth and put the blame where it belongs: why were the lights turned off, why were the soldiers withdrawn...?

This was not a civilian issue, but an issue for the military: yet civilians went in waving white flags and claiming to be 'like the mothers of the jawans'. There was absolutely no sense of urgency, as though a picnic had gone wrong

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The tanks on Satmasjid Road

Today, Farhana and I went for a short stroll on Satmasjid Road in the afternoon.

Satmasjid Road is a straight, long stretch running north to south. At the southern end sits Pilkhana, where the soldiers of the paramilitary outfit, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), have been holding army officers and their families hostage.
Right outside the gate of our apartment building, a crowd was gathered, inspecting a piece of artillery and exchanging pleasantries with the artillery man. The soldiers were polite, taciturn yet friendly. They had somehow become part of the local society.

We asked some of them if we should leave our homes, but they just said to lie on the floor in case there was any shooting. That was a relief.
Earlier, rumours of approaching tanks had started a panic in our apartment building.

My friend, Munna, who lives above me, came to my flat and tried to talk about our next move. Unfortunately, the panic prevented him from talking: he was constantly called upstairs by a frantic household, terrified of the reported tanks.
I tried to assure them that tanks would have a deterrent effect: they were most welcome. My sanguine view did not prevail!

Farhana and I went out to look at the tanks.

The street was full: people were milling about, some were clearly leaving the area, others were chatting energetically into their cells. It felt like a festival, as though at the other end of the drag unspeakable atrocities had not been enacted by the BDR.

From time to time, the crowd would rush en masse backwards as they grew too inquisitive and the military charged them into retreat.

We decided to stay on the pavement.

Not a car or even a trishaw was to be seen: all told, I think I caught glimpse of one white sedan and one trishaw carrying passengers.

Almost every side street seemed to have a contingent of soldiers in camouflage fatigues and similarly camouflaged vehicles.

It was a cool February evening, and a benign sun descended behind the tall buildings.

Then the tanks came into view: there were eight of them, but we could see only five. We didn't get too close lest the mob scurry back and I broke my glasses!

They say the tanks did it: scared the BDR personnel into a hasty surrender. I wouldn't be surprised: tanks are an imposing spectacle.

The mutiny had spread throughout the country: it seemed as though it was the BDR versus their military officers. As a BBC reporter commented, could all this mayhem be due to grievances over pay and facilities? The government began to air suspicions of a conspiracy, and it certainly seemed plausible.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shootout in Dhaka, Bangladesh

It's been quite a day – and it isn't over yet.

From 9:00 in the morning till now, the paramilitary forces known as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) have been shooting indiscriminately in and around their sprawling headquarters in Dhaka at Pilkhana.

According to their spokesmen, the army, which contributes to their officer ranks (the BDR itself has no officers) have been discriminating against them. During the two-year military rule, they alleged, the army had made a lot of money by siphoning off funds from a meal program for the poor. Additionally, they are overworked and underpaid by the army.

However, the rebellion seems to be contained exclusively within the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. The BDR are stationed throughout Bangladesh – their major duty is to guard the border – and there have been no reports of anything similar happening outside Dhaka. My sources report, for instance, that the BDR soldiers at Teknaf in the south-east have deposited all their weapons, and the keys to the armoury are firmly in the commanding officer's hands.

The government has granted them amnesty, and now, it seems, the soldiers are ready to put down arms. Their earlier demand had been the removal of the army encircling Pilkhana.

From morning, the army has been gathering its forces and materiel around the BDR headquarters. The pictures were taken by my wife, Farhana, from our verandah! We are less than half a kilometre away from Pilkhana. The streets around – indeed the whole city – have been deserted.

All day long, we've heard shots being fired at a distance.

So far, it is reported that five people have been killed, including civilians. Several army officers, including their families, are being held hostage. No one knows what it is like inside Pilkahana.

It is past 1:00 at night, and Farhana and I went to the verandah to see two truck full of soldiers patiently stationed below in the narrow street.

Their presence is warmly reassuring.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How many million make millions?

"Millions with flowers in their hands while (sic) toddlers holding their mothers' hands or riding their fathers' shoulders joined (sic) the Shaheed Minars that turned the monuments into the human sea.

Barefeet (sic), wearing black ribbons and clutching bouquets of flowers, thousands of people from all walks of life approached the Central Shaheed Minar in the capital to pay homage to the martyrs of the language movement, observing International Mother Language Day.

The entire Dhaka University campus and its surrounding areas turned into a human sea as youths, freedom fighters, politicians, foreigners and others walked towards the memorial with due reverence in queues, many of them singing in chorus 'Amar Bhaiyer Rokte Rangano Ekushey February Ami Ki Bhulite Pari.'" )

This is a description of the yearly ritual held on 21st February in Bangladesh. It is a nationalist ritual.

How many people attended?

In the first paragraph, we read about "millions with flowers": if millions moved across Bangladesh, how is it that we haven't seen any signs of this?
And what the "millions of flowers" – where's the stench? Surely, such a large number of flowers must leave an awful pong behind, and, indeed, where did so many flowers come from?

And what kinds of flowers were they: roses, tulips, China roses....or water hyacinths? Only if the latter, could there have been "millions with flowers".

Then the number shrinks when we reach Dhaka: " thousands of people".

That's much better: but I personally don't know anyone who went.

And since I don't have a TV set, I couldn't analyze the pictures to see what the class composition of the "thousands" was: how many rickshaw pullers were there, garment-factory girls, street vendors, farmers....?

We are only told: " thousands of people from all walks of life ", and that's all. But the writer gives himself away in the next paragraph: " youths, freedom fighters, politicians, foreigners and others". Where were the sans-culottes? The "others'? These sound like a residue, a substratum, a scum, an afterthought...surely not the people? More like the 'cetera' after 'et'!

And this furtive nocturnal gathering is supposed to be a national festival: who is the nation, then? A couple of thousand insomniacs?

It has been estimated that 7% of the French participated in the French Revolution, and 11% Iranians in the Iranian one.

Suppose even 1% of our people came out at midnight on 21st February: that would be an impressive army – no, a veritable horde – of 1,500,000 (the size of roughly China's army). But the Daily Star article clearly said "millions with flowers". How many make "millions"? 5 million? 10 million? That would mean an astounding 3 to 6% of the population! Half a French revolution 56 years after the event! Surely every satellite would have picked out such a migration? Surely every newspaper and TV channel would have broadcast the mass of humanity? Not to mention all those flowers.

So it seems even the middle classes didn't come out – they were snoring.

Not only that, I haven't heard of any other country or people who celebrated a so-called International Day – it seems that neither the national, nor the international, turned up for the International Mother Language Day.

The chap who penned that piece should take up fiction – clearly his forte. Not reportage.

In a novel perhaps he can answer the question: who is the nation (and in a sequel, he can delineate the 'International")?

Friday, February 20, 2009

cowards and fools - student politics in Bengal and Bangladesh (1908 - 2008)

Student politics is when the cowardly hide behind the ignorant.

"Mr. Sarkozy is even more worried about high school unions. They are more unpredictable, and more easily influenced by hard-left or anarchist groups, or by teachers, who lose pay for days on strike and so prefer the students to come out instead." (The Economist, January 24th 2009, p 46).

In Bangladesh, we have seen how teachers urge students on to violence, instead of getting out and getting their hands dirty and bloody.

In Bengal, this is a time-honoured institution.

When the Japanese defeated Russia in 1905, the Bengali intellectual was wild with joy. Fair enough – unlike what proceeded. The Muslims of Bengal were poor and backward, and they refused to quit British goods – which were expensive. This turned the Muslims into enemies of the Brahmins – and Muslims were quick to emphasize their allegiance to the British.

The mistake the British made was in pouring resources into tertiary, instead of primary, education: such education inevitably produced the educated and unemployed Babu. We see the same thing going on in Bangladesh today: resources are devoted to the public universities, while primary education is starved.
The partition of Bengal was a sincere desire by the British to improve the lot of the Muslims – but the Hindus would have none of it. The terrorist acts that students unleashed forced the government to backtrack. Some of these anti-Muslim elements are today heroes in Bangladesh.

Here are a few contemporary observations from a book on India published in 1908 (The Project Gutenberg EBook of India, Its Life and Thought, by John P. Jones):

"This spirit found its incarnation and warmest expression in the opposition to the government scheme, two years ago, under Lord Curzon, for the partition of Bengal. The Bengalees keenly resented the division of their Province; for it robbed the clever Babu of many of the plums of office. He petitioned, and fomented agitation and opposition to the scheme. Then, in his spite against the government, he organized a boycott against all forms of foreign industry and commerce. This has been conducted with mad disregard to the people's own economic interest, and has, moreover, developed into bitter racial animosity. The Bengalee has striven hard to carry into other Provinces also his spirit of antagonism to the State. Though he has not succeeded in convincing many others of the wisdom of his method, he has spread the spirit of discontent and of dissatisfaction far beyond his own boundary. Even sections of the land which denounce the boycott as folly, if not suicide, have taken up the political slogan of the Babu (_Bande Mataram_--Hail, Mother!) and are demanding, mostly in inarticulate speech, such rights and privileges as they imagine themselves to be deprived of.

"The movement is, in some respects, a reactionary one; and race hatred is one of its most manifest results. It is not merely a rising of the East against the West; it is also a conflict between Mohammedans and Hindus. In Eastern Bengal, where the Mussulmans are in a large majority, and where the Hindus have become the most embittered, the former have stood aloof from the latter and have opposed the boycott. This has led to increasing hatred between the members of these two faiths,--a feeling which has spread all over the country, and which has carried them into opposing camps. This is, in one way, fortunate for the government, since it has given rise to definite and warm expressions of loyalty by the whole Mohammedan community.

"Disgruntled graduates of the University and school-boys take the most prominent place in this movement. The Universities annually send forth an army of men supplied with degrees--last year it was 1570 B.A.'s; and it is the conviction of nine-tenths of them that it is the duty of the government to give them employment as soon as they graduate. As this is impossible, many of them nurse their disappointment into discontent and opposition to the powers that be. Many of them become dangerous demagogues and fomenters of sedition. Not a few such are found in every Province of the country. And they find in the High School and College students the best material to work upon. These boys have been the most numerous and excited advocates of this movement."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Israel and civil society

First, the background: the French revolution and nationalism - assimilated Jews were infected by nationalism (who wasn't)? They wanted their own state: against the wishes of the pious Jews - there's a book by Max Simon Nordau [The Project Gutenberg EBook of Zionism and Anti-Semitism, by Max Simon Nordau and Gustav Gottheil, EBook #24186, first published in 1902], which says it very well:

"The premises of political Zionism are that there is a Jewish nation. This is just the point denied by the assimilation Jews [that is, those who believed in assimilation rather than separation], and the spiritless, unctuous, prating rabbis in their pay. Dr. Herzl saw that the first task he had to fulfill was the organizing of a manifestation which should bring before the world, and the Jewish people itself, in modern, comprehensible form the fact of its national existence. He convoked a Zionist congress, which in spite of the most furious attacks and most unscrupulous acts of violence,--the Jewish community of Munich where the congress was originally intended to be held protested against its meeting in that town,--assembled for the first time in Basel, the end of August, 1897, and consisted of two hundred and four selected representatives of the Zionist Jews of both hemispheres."

Here, we see civil society at work: civil society is the bane of civilisation. A determined group of people can hold an entire nation hostage, and generate violence (the expert on Civil society, John Keene, emphasises this point about violence).

There were other associations: the English evangelicals, the financiers, et al.

Today, civil society in America - the AIAPAC, evangelical Christians, the media - have demonised the Arabs (a major aspect of nationalism: according to Keene, The Other is everything and nothing. Nationalism needs enemies - this is an important point.)

It is fascinating how Zionist civil society in America gradually extended its grip - the early Jewish writers used to suppress their Jewish identity (in Dangling Man, only one brief paragraph is about the speaker's Jewishness; later, Saul Bellow would openly wear his Zionist heart on his sleeve - he admits in a short story that he hadn't thought Israel a great idea at one time).

Is Israel a democracy? Very much so! The relationship between democracy, violence and nationalism is deep - but is whispered only in academic circles.

But one thing's for sure - Judaism is not Zionism; they are two antithetical religions.


"We know people want martial law, but we can't print that!"

I remember, back in the late '90s, I submitted an article to the Daily Star, the last line of which Mahfuz Anam refused to publish – and I refused to alter. His sub-editor, Modon Shahu, called me once day and urged me to change the line.

He chuckled and said: "We know people want martial law, but we can't print that!"
My piece finally appeared, but – lo and behold! – when I opened the paper, I did a double-take: instead of my last line

"We can either have democracy or safety, but not both";

instead of this last line, the wise Mahfuz Anam or one of his lackeys printed the final paragraph in the picture scanned from the paper above.

Pause and ponder the implications of the sub-editor's statement and the self-censorship of the Daily Star (we were taught that only military rulers imposed censorship!).

The battle-cry of The Daily Star is "Committed to the People's Right to Know"; also, "Journalism Without Fear or Favour". Add "Not" before the first, and change "Without" to "With" in the second shibboleth, and you have an accurate idea of the newspaper's ethos.

When a newspaper knows what people want, and what they are saying, it is its duty to report that. Instead, we have a so-called newspaper in cahoots with western donors and NGOs, trying to force-feed democracy down our collective throat.

Well, we finally regurgitated on January 11, 2007 – the day democracy ended: the conclusion of a sixteen-year-old nightmare. But the nightmare has been resumed, for it seems that without a certain politician, the daughter of a certain father, in short, without a certain dynasty, there can be no democracy in Bangladesh.

And that's not a democracy, but a caricature.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Die Nasty: The Sins of the Fathers

The sins of the parents visit the child.

Consider the fate of Benazir Bhutto. She was warned not to come to Pakistan. It was almost like a Greek chorus hissing disapproval, yet powerless to do anything. She was destined to death.

For the sins of her father.

At an Oxford debate, an opponent described her father's calling as that of “a tradesman of some description. A butcher, I gather.” She looked like she had been slapped across her mug.

The speaker was referring to the genocide of 1971 for which half the blame must rest with her father.

The other half must rest with the other demagogue elected from East Pakistan – Sheikh Mujib. Together, they destroyed the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. And both men died violent, unnatural deaths. I was fifteen when Sheikh Mujib was killed – and I still remember the nationwide jubilation at his passing.

When there's no other way to remove a dynasty –the ballot cannot do that – there remains only one way: the bullet.

Sheikh Hasina has received intelligence report that she is on an international terrorist hit list. They say there have been 21 attempts on her life – which if true, reflects very badly on the military prowess of the jihadis. Kidding aside, how long does Sheikh Hasina have – a year, two years?

I'm not a betting man, but if I were to wager a significant amount, I would take a punt on 1 year – that is, 2009. Before the year's out, she'll be out. Of course I could be wrong about the timing, but it's a foregone conclusion. Just a matter of time.

And then? The dynasty will renew itself, and there will be more assassinations...nemesis, like evil, never tires.

jamhoorie islamie iran zindabad

The Iranian mullahs may sometimes do what appears silly – such as clamping down on 'bad hijab'; but we must keep in mind that the elite of Iran are very pro-Israel, pro-American and anti-Palestinian (I know, I have many friends among them); and if you look at a military map of the Middle East, you'll find that the only country that has no US military bases is Iran.

Iran has been a close friend of the Palestinians, and the Iranian elite (those tempted to show off their coloured hair in public) hate the mullahs for it.

When American presidents wish to be popular, they kill civilians in a distant country; when Iran's mullahs wish to be popular, they crack down on the elite. Which one is worse?

Far from demonising Iran, we should appreciate its lone attempt to help Muslim countries: it took in Afghan refugees, despite its own economic problems and despite the drugs that came in their wake; it has financed and aided Hamas and Hezbollah, offering the only resistance to Israel's expansionism. It is in constant threat of being bombed by Israel and/or the US.

Iran's planes frequently crash - why? Because America won't let it buy the parts it needs to keep them safe. Despite American and European intransigence, Iran has a great record in promoting health and education. Today, more women are enrolled in universities than during the Shah's time.

I for one know that if Bangladesh is ever bombed by the west, only one country will come to our aid - Iran

Friday, February 6, 2009

government-academic complex in America

"And in a speech in Washington, DC, on November 18th Eric Shmidt, chief executive of Google, an internet giant, claimed that government-funded research done in university laboratories was 'the core aspect of America's competitiveness'. Without a dramatic increase in investment in such research, and in maths and science education, Americans risked becoming mere 'captive consumers' at the mercy of rising Asian powers, he argued."

The Economist, 22nd November 2008, p 67

So, what does American capitalism rest on? The private sector? Not quite.

Innovation – the seminal fluid of capitalism – issues from Uncle Sam: it is his largess bestowed on the military-industrial-academic (MIA) complex that allows the latter to churn out new innovation (like the internet, for instance, courtesy of DARPA) that then stimulates the civilian sector.

And who provides the mass education in science and maths required by the MIA? Uncle Sam again, but in this respect he's been doing a terrible job lately. The best education is going to the richest: now, that's no way to run a mass-market capitalism!

It is a paradox that a CEO of a private sector firm, Google ('Don't Be Evil), wants the government to fund research: this clearly shows how corporations rely on the government, especially when they squeal that they are not getting enough.

sharia, monarchy and moolah

One thing always intrigues me.

Many of my (highly educated) compatriots – and relatives - live in the United Arab Emirates for years, then either come back with plenty of money or use some of that money to buy a citizenship in Canada.

Not only do my compatriots troop down to the UAE lured by the moolah, an army of Americans and Europeans regularly head to these rainbow-ends every month.

Come to think of it, I have known may western expatriates who have been loth to leave Bangladesh – for here they get a mansion, servants, chauffeur, and all mod cons. Back home, they'd have to live in a cramped little apartment.

Now, getting back to my relatives: these moolah-seekers never complain about the UAE. I am most surprised at the total absence of complaint regarding the sharia law.

These good, unhypocritical folk don't mind the monarchy either.

Take my uncle: he and his whole family battened on the oil-proceeds of the emirates, then emigrated to the freer climes in the west, from where he harrumphs and humphs and hoomphs about the evils of autocracy: having made his pile under autocracy and the sharia law, he finds it convenient to sound like an American.

Corruption is part of human nature: no amount of legislation or moralistic preaching or fire-and-brimstone sermons are going to rid corruption from our genes (not even in science fiction).

Monday, February 2, 2009

war before election, like foreplay before the act

Pre-election bombing of 'the enemy' is a tried, tested and successful strategy in politics. The latest episode is the Gaza killings. According to Gwynne Dyer: "The war is being fought now largely to shift the opinion polls in favour of the ruling parties before the election."

The same strategy was used by Boris Yeltsin when his popularity flagged: he bombed Chechnya, and started the first Chechen War. The second Chechen war was intended to catapult Vladimir Putin into the presidency – which it did.

The major reason for George 'warmonger' Bush to invaded Iraq was to galvanize 4 million Christian evangelical voters, who, his Svengali, Karl Rove, had figured out had stayed home in 2000. The evangelicals duly cheered – and he won handily in 2004.

Notice the enthusiasm with which young Sinhalese are queuing up to join the army against the Tamils. Rajapakse's popularity soars with every bullet fired.

For the enduring popularity of war, look no further than the Great Republic, the beacon on the hill, of which Scott nearing wrote in 1921 in his book "The American Empire": " The "Historical Register of the United States Army" (F. B. Heitman, Washington, Govt. Print., 1903, vol. 2, pp. 298-300) contains a list of 114 wars in which the United States has been engaged since 1775. The publication likewise presents a list of 8600 battles and engagements incident to these 114 wars. Two of these wars were with England, one with Mexico and one with Spain. These, together with the Civil War and the War with Germany, constitute the major struggles in which the United States has been engaged. In addition to these six great wars there were the numerous wars with the Indians, the last of which (with the Chippewa) occurred in 1898. Some of these Indian "wars" were mere policing expeditions. Others, like the wars with the Northwest Indians, with the Seminoles and with the Apaches, lasted for years and involved a considerable outlay of life and money."

Neither was Europe immune to elections and war. The historian, J.M.Roberts observed: "When it started, the Great War, which was to reveal itself as the most democratic in history in its nature, may well also have been the most popular ever."