Friday, September 26, 2008

US House of Representatives on Bangladesh

House Resolutuon 1402
In the House of Representatives, U.S.
September 23, 2008.

Whereas the independent, sovereign republic of Bangladesh was first proclaimed on March 26, 1971, and the Constitution of Bangladesh, ratified in 1972 following a war of independence, established a democracy ruled by and for the people;

Whereas Bangladesh has a population of 154,000,000 people and is the world's third most populated Muslim country, and has been known to be a stable, moderate, democratic Muslim Nation;

Whereas Bangladesh has held what the international community has viewed as three free and fair elections in 1991, 1996, and 2001;

Whereas in October 2006, as set up by the constitution, power was handed over to a caretaker government before the January 22, 2007, scheduled election;

Whereas the caretaker Government of Bangladesh imposed a national state of emergency on January 11, 2007, that suspended fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and detained a large number of politicians and others on suspicion of involvement in corruption and other crimes;

Whereas the state of emergency has restricted media reporting and it has been reported that journalists have been harassed, detained, or threatened by the authorities;

Whereas the anti-corruption campaign is creating institutions to fight rampant corruption throughout the government, including in the police and ports, but also has resulted in the reporting of human rights abuses;

Whereas the caretaker Government of Bangladesh reportedly arrested 18,000 persons with questionable records since May 28, 2008, and subsequently released most of them;

Whereas the Chief Adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed, announced that elections will be held by the third week of December 2008;

Whereas the current political situation has been exacerbated by food prices that have doubled within the past year, compounding economic challenges for the people;

Whereas Bangladesh has established an estimated 6 percent real growth rate in the last 4 years, and a 6.5 percent growth rate in 2007;

Whereas the Grameen Bank, through microfinancing in Bangladesh, has been able to provide lending to 7,300,000 stakeholders and has empowered women to control 97 percent of the Bank, alongside other agencies in rural Bangladesh creating a new climate of economic growth and increasing social capital;

Whereas the economic support extended by the United States has helped to create an opportunity for employment and growth in Bangladesh, with particular impact on the empowerment of women and strengthening the process of social moderation and modernization in Bangladesh; and

Whereas Bangladesh's long-term political stability and economic progress are critical to the security of the South Asian region: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
(1) expresses its strong support to the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh so it will be able to address economic and political challenges, and urges all stakeholders to play a constructive and forward looking role to strengthen such a process;
(2) appreciates the decision of the caretaker Government of Bangladesh to hold free, fair, credible, peaceful, and transparent elections by the third week of December 2008;
(3) welcomes the decision of the Government of Bangladesh to hold dialogue with all political parties and other civil society organizations to create a congenial atmosphere for holding elections and to ensure participation of all political parties in that process;
(4) urges all political parties to participate in the elections so that democratic governance can be maintained, which could continue fight against corruption and institutional and policy reforms;
(5) calls on the Government of Bangladesh to lift the state of emergency and remove other restrictions on political activity to allow free and fair elections to occur;
(6) urges the caretaker Government of Bangladesh to complete a transparent voter registration process that will facilitate the enrollment of the maximum number of eligible voters to protect the voting rights of all eligible voters regardless of religious affiliations or ethnic background, to use all practical technical means of ensuring the security of the ballot, to prevent violence before and after elections, and to permit and facilitate international and domestic nongovernmental monitoring of the entire electoral process;
(7) urges the caretaker Government of Bangladesh to invite foreign nationals to observe and monitor the December 2008 elections;
(8) urges the Government of Bangladesh to ensure the due process and equal treatment under the rule of law for all suspects, witnesses, and detainees;
(9) notes the initiatives of the caretaker Government of Bangladesh to eradicate corruption from all levels of government and society through institutional and policy reforms;
(10) expresses concern at the reported abuse of human rights and urges the Government of Bangladesh to ensure human rights, freedom of speech, assembly, and association;
(11) urges the caretaker Government of Bangladesh to protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, particularly Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Ahmadis, and non-Muslim tribal peoples;
(12) urges the President to work toward the return of democracy to Bangladesh as a high priority of United States foreign policy and affirm the willingness of the United States to provide assistance;
(13) urges the President to use the voice and vote of the United States in multilateral organizations to strengthen the rule of law and democracy in Bangladesh; and
(14) urges the President to consider, upon completion of an internationally-accepted free and fair election, extending generous economic support to Bangladesh as an incentive. #

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

National interests first

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

ALTHOUGH GOOD solutions are important instead of good speeches, but the address delivered by the Chief Adviser (CA) Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed to the nation, shortly before flying to New York to attend the UN General Assembly (UNGA) scheduled to begin on September 25, 2008, not only put an end to the long-drawn debates and speculations over the polling dates for the parliamentary and upazila parishad ballots, but also helped to dream of such a Bangladesh that would be totally free from hunger, poverty, illiteracy and conflicts.

There are plenty of reasons for everyone including the political parties and businessmen to feel happy about the announcement of the firm date for stalled elections. According to the CA’s announcement, the general elections will be held on December 18 and the elections to local village and town councils will be held in two phases - on December 24 and 28, which raise confusion among major political parties in Bangladesh as according to them it can distract the full attention of the Election Commission (EC) and the government to make the parliamentary elections a success. In addition, in their unpleasant list with the EC and the government, the CA neither made the issue of the withdrawal of the emergency clear nor the EC cleared its commitment with regard to registration of the major political parties and redrawing of constituencies.

But in regard to pledge together to prove before the world that Bangladesh is a democratic, peace-loving and forward-looking country, the general Bangladeshi people expect members of different political parties, government, and different democratic institutes to offer a positive agenda and get things done for the country.

The fact of change is more important than the feeling of change. Since its imposition on January 11, 2007 while President Iajuddin Ahmed cancelled scheduled general elections and declared a state of emergency and Fakhruddin, whose government had undertaken a number of schemes for political and electoral reforms and detained over 200 leading politicians on graft charges after he assumed the office as the head of the country, there was suspense and even clouded with suspicion and uncertainty regarding the journey toward transition to democracy.

Mentioning the previous anarchic situation, Fakhruddin hoped that only with the support of people and sincere cooperation from the political parties Bangladesh can establish a real democracy. A democratic system in the country where there will be no chaos and confrontation and where petty personal or party interest may not ruin the national interest. To reach a consensus on basic national issues shunning all negative and destructive politics, everyone will have to work with unity and amity to establish a congenial and stable atmosphere in the country so that the nation will come out from the vicious circle of terrorists and corrupt elements. He expressed his optimism that the next elected government would strengthen the institutional reform process that had been initiated by his government.

Besides other criticisms, if we put the country’s interest first, the CA’s address to the nation has some credentials. If we continue to operate as political operatives, rather than as dutiful citizens of a country, we will continue to wage the same old battle against the same old enemies with the same outcome. We are fighting on the battlefield of their choosing and on which they possess all the advantages. National interest cannot be achieved by settling old scores, vengeance for past wrongs, and demonization of those with whom we disagree. History operates its own court of justice and vengeance is the enemy of progress.

National interest is not an ideology and not the possession of a single cabal of self-appointed imperialists. It is not achieved by substituting consensus for principle. It is not bipartisanship for its own sake or in pursuit of bad policy. Bangladesh national interest is the product of its glorious national history. Equal rights for all, sustainable democracy, economic opportunity, respect to the constitutional guarantees, including most notable habeas corpus, regulation of market excess, natural heritage and environment, fairness, justice, and checks and balanced government are all national interests. On the other hand, concentrated wealth, fear of terrorism, theocracy, empire, corruption in government and politics, arrogant and ignorant executives, and violation of civil liberties always put the country in many difficulties.

Today people are considered to live in a planet without borders/ boundaries because any change of one element has an impact on other elements in the world. Good foreign policies can help to protect a country’s national interest, national security, ideological goals and economic goals. The foreign policy of Bangladesh is tied closely to the realities of its economic condition. Since independence in 1971, the country has required a great deal of foreign assistance in the effort to keep its people fed and to build, for the first time, a modern society. Despite its poverty and small military capability, Bangladesh has not hesitated to defend its sovereignty and to take strong stands on many international issues.

In the geopolitical sphere, Bangladesh has such prestige and influence in the world. It is one of the four largest Muslim democratic countries in the world. It is rich in historical heritage, cultural traditions and natural beauties. Besides various active roles in the UN organizations, Bangladesh is playing a vital role in other regional organizations like SAARC, ASEAN or OIC. In UN peacekeeping operations, Bangladesh is still the top troop contributing country in the world.

CA is now in New York and will address the 63rd UNGA on September 26, 2008. In addition, he will attend high level meetings of the Commonwealth heads of government, on millennium development goals, on Africa's development needs and on malaria. He will have an interview with TIME Magazine and BBC as well as interaction with local media. His last year address to the UNGA on September 27, 2007, had some merit considering climate change issue and Bangladesh’s participation in different UN organizations, but he repeatedly made an unqualified denunciation of the post-‘90 political governments.

In his 15-minute address, he neither mentioned anything about the legacy of democracy in the country nor even a word about the glorious democratic struggles of the people in the pre-independence and post-independence days or about the victory of people’s struggles against the military dictatorships and quasi-military rules in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

But his recent address to the nation brought new inspiration in the march of attaining total development of the country's progress and prosperity. And people expect that he and many of the future leaders of Bangladesh will put more positives agendas in front of them or global community rather using any negative narrative for any matter that goes against national expectations or interests in future. #

First published on September 23, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. Email: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Will there be ever a trial of war criminals in Bangladesh?

SACHIN KARMAKAR

THE WORST genocide of civilian population after Second World War was committed in former East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh, by the Pakistani Army during the 1971 war of liberation. In the period of nine months, the marauding Pakistani Army, with the help of local Muslim fanatics killed millions of innocents and sexually abused more than four hundred thousand women. Ninety (90%) of the murder victims were Hindus, and 95% or more rape victims were non-Muslims, in other words, Hindus. In the past 37 years religious minority organizations, including Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council have never demanded the trial of 1971 war criminals. Whereas, the Jewish community demanded and received justice for the victim of holocaust.

The demand for justice against the perpetrators of 1971 is more important than the movement against the Vested Property Act, or the movement for the restoration of Ramna Kali Temple. Rape is considered as the most heinous crime of all. We may some time in future get back our properties, but not the dignity that we lost. We the victims never demanded justice for 1971 holocaust, and have thus helped the perpetrators to get away with their crime. If we could succeed in achieving justice to the victim of 1971, then all other issues would become that much easier to solve. Because we could not serve justice to the perpetrators of 1971, the massacre of Hindus in 2001 was possible. And undoubtedly more will come in future. Due to financial, moral and diplomatic support from Muslim countries the perpetrators of 1971 war crimes are still unaccounted for by any court of justice. Bangladesh government is yet to request the UN or the International War Crimes Tribunal for support. Because they believe the majority Muslim population of Bangladesh will not support such trials.

The mindset of Bangladesh government and people are very clear about the perpetrators of 1971 war crimes. Many believe rape and forced conversion of non-Muslims are legal under Muslim Sharia law during war. After being ruled for centuries by foreign Muslim rulers, converted Muslims of India consider the Arabs and Persians a higher race and dream of an Islamic khilafat (caliphate) in India. You will find many ruthless murderers like Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni and Timur Lang (Tamerlane or Timur the Lame) held up as heroes of Islamic history and many parents proudly name their child in those killers’ names. The war criminals of 1971 merely tried to repeat the history of their barbaric ancestors.

Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and other religions that were born in the Indian subcontinent, never denied their debt to Indian culture. But in contrast, Muslim elites not only refused to acknowledge their link to Indian culture, they tried to impose an essentially foreign culture on their population, by holding up the norms of Arab culture as worthy of emulation. We will see the same pattern of cultural attitude in the Muslim population of Europe and America.

The partition of India brought an end to centuries of Arab, Dutch, French and British domination of India, but culturally split the society into many groups. Many different religions can live side by side in harmony but not different culture. During 900 years of Muslim rule, the rulers planted Arab culture within Indian society through newly converted Muslims, which ultimately led to the partition in 1947. An Islamic political party, the All India Muslim League was founded in 1905 at Dhaka with Bengali Muslims in the forefront. Referendum for partition was held on 1946. In that historical referendum, a majority of Bengali Muslims voted for Pakistan. Without mass Bengali Muslim participation, partition of India would have not been possible. This is the mindset of Bangladeshi people today. Although there are so many myths about the independence war, the fact is that Bangladeshis overwhelmingly voted for Awami League in 1970 for economical parity, not for separation from Pakistan. Purely on sectarian basis, the two nation theory was put forward by All India Muslim League leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah. After a series of communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in 1946, Pakistan became a sovereign state for the Muslims and India remained committed to all religious sects. Just one year after partition, the first governor general Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared “Urdu” as the only state language of Pakistan. People of East Pakistan started agitating against the decision of Mr. Jinnah and that led to bloodshed of 1952. This language movement in 1952 planted the seed for Bangladeshi independence struggle in 1971.

Bangladesh is the only country in the world that still practices apartheid: minority Hindus are officially enemy of the state by a law called “Enemy Property Act” (which was conveniently renamed as the Vested Property Act after independence). Under this unfair and draconian law, the government can confiscate Hindu properties and redistribute them to Muslims. So far more than a quarter million acres of Hindu owned land has been grabbed by the government and given over to Muslims. Ottoman and fascist Germany used similar law to confiscate non Muslim and Jewish owned properties. During Muslim occupation of India, the majority Hindus were forced to pay infidel tax (Jaziya). Bangladesh was created with spilling of Hindu blood and Indian military support in 1971. Ironically, India and Hindus are officially enemies of the state in Bangladesh today.

The first farcical war crime trial ended with the restoration of citizenship to Golam Azam (one of the top war criminals of 1971) and the present movement will likely end with a historic judgment from the Supreme Court that will effectively establish that there are no war criminals in Bangladesh. Thus, a dark chapter of human history will be closed for ever like the Turkish massacre of Armenians during the First World War.

A country that officially practices apartheid can never serve justice to another apartheid victim. If all minority organizations strongly campaign world-wide for justice for the victims of 1971 Holocaust, we may succeed one day. But by remaining quiet and diverting attention otherwise, we are helping the perpetrators. #

Sachin Karmakar is a liberation war veteran and was among handful young Mukti Bahini guerrillas who were recruited as military officers in 1971. Later he was given forcible retirement from Bangladesh Army for his political belief and allegiance. He presently lives in exile in New York, USA. He could be reached at: karmakarsachin@yahoo.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bangladesh: The Return of the Pharaohs

Photo: Begum Khaleda Zia (BNP) and Shiekh Hasina (AL) recently released from prison after courts bailed them in charges of alleged corruption

GM SOLAIMAN

I GUESS, by now you all have enjoyed much of the getting out of prison cell rat race in Bangladesh. The accused are getting into free air one by one. Were you surprised? I was not. We all knew that court was able to give them a bail, and they would have easily got a bail in normal condition in any civilized country. The only obstacle was state of emergency. That was the only reason court had to deny the bail. Well, the state of emergency could only go so long. It has to end at some point, otherwise that state of emergency itself would became normal and you loose the power of emergency.

Of course, the justice itself has nothing to do with bail. Just because they got bail, does not mean they are out side of the law now. The justice can go as usual and verdict will be given. If court rules them innocent, they are! They should be free to whatever laws of the land allow them to do. If they are guilty, they should be back in the jail. That is not troubling at all, even though many folks seem to cry aloud based on their party affiliation.

What is very troubling is the feel in the air. In recent local elections, same old and crooked faces have been emerged. Violent protest has claim one innocent bystanders life in Dhaka University. There has been report of clashes between student wings of different parties. It is not a deja vu anymore. It is very real. The Pharaohs of the two family owned parties are coming back in business. The perspective of the every day people in the street of Dhaka has changed.

Bangladesh is back on the old track. Old culture is back.

I guess the old junkies are back in business. It is the return of the pharaoh. In the land of Pharaohs, who else would come to rule you think. I believe firmly that a country gets the leaders it deserved. I have no other choice but agree that this is what Bangladesh deserved.

We can argue for another 37 years whether the 'khaliphas' were qualified to reform. I am sure that we will have an argument whether intend to the reform was genuine or not. I am not saying that these arguments are not valid. However, regardless of that, it was indeed a wild ride. It was truly unprecedented in BD's history. I have enjoyed that. It was the closest we ever gone to a reform, a much needed reform.

Failure is never good. It is always painful. Do not believe anyone who says participation is the big thing, not the pass or fail. It is not true. You are in the game to one and only one goal. It is to win. Failure always hurt. Should we cry on it? If you are among those who share the pain, by all means, cry it out. However, the question may come to the face, was it worth trying? Be sure that it was. It was definitely worthy of trying regardless of the out come.

My thanks are to those who had a real intention of reforming Bangladesh. My thanks are to those who supported the effort. My thanks are to even those who simply clapping their hands giving nothing but encouragement. My thanks are to all those who believed on it. My thanks are to all those who share the pain. It was a wonderful journey. At least, now we can say some one did tried. Some folks at list tried. They failed because it was not to be reformed. It was simply impossible. If your children ever ask you, now you can say, yes we tried!

There was a reason why God asked Moses to migrate out of the land of pharaoh. It is because the land of pharaoh does not deserve to be cured. I am not asking for a divine intervention and expecting the same fate that follows. I am just trying to accept that thing that we cannot change. Well, may be it is good in this way. After all, it is their land. Pharaohs are the rightful rulers. What can you do? Good thing is that now we know.

Give a big hand to The Return of the Pharaohs. #

First published in the American Chronicle, September 12, 2008

GM Solaiman writes from Silicon Valley, California. Email: gm.solaiman@gmail.com

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Suddenly, Bangladesh politics heading for uncharted water!

A.H. JAFFOR ULLAH

THE CAPRICIOUS politics of Bangladesh, which was in doldrums like a boat in a river without any wind to move it in the forward direction, got the much needed gusty wind now — but the direction of the move is unfortunately in the opposite direction. It seems as if the reverie nation with its huddled masses is heading for uncharted water! Thanks to the invisible power that is ensconced in the cantonment, which had been propelling the government run by a bunch of oligarchs for the last 20 months.

Many political observers both inside and outside the country are puzzled by this new direction. Gone are the tough words that used to emanate from General Moeen, the silent dictator who made the coup possible on January 11, 2007. Also, gone are the strongly worded messages from advisors that used to grace the pages of Bangladesh’s newspapers. What lies ahead for this godforsaken nation of 160 million impoverished is quite uncertain.

The outgoing government of Khaleda Zia tried to engineer an election coup by placing election officials all over the nation sympathetic to her party. She also tried to manipulate the selection of advisors of the caretaker government that would conduct the upcoming parliamentary election. This was going on in the aftermath of Khaleda Zia government’s expiry sometime in late October 2006.

President Iajuddin Ahmed, who was a Khaleda Zia’s stooge through and through, took marching order from Hawa Bhavan, the epicentre of Khaleda Zia’s party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). He took the onerous job of the chief advisor of the newly minted caretaker government violating the constitution of the land. That however did not ruffle feathers in him or in BNP leaderships. The opposition parties including the Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina Wajed took to the streets in retaliation to Iajuddin’s move. Consequently, a state of anarchy was engendered.

While all these were going on, the military of Bangladesh who is the arbiter of politics in this impoverished nation, received a warning shot from the United Nation. The U.N. officials knew that an army coup might come anytime soon. To thwart this unwelcoming development, the U.N. officials told the army in no uncertain term that if an army coup is stage, Bangladesh army stand to lose any future lucrative contract from the U.N. as peacekeeping force. This overseas job brought a steady source of extra income for army officials and foot soldiers who participate in the peacekeeping force in disputed areas throughout the world. The Bangladesh military did not want to lose the contract; therefore, they engineered a silent coup to topple Iajuddin and the advisors from the caretaker government. The chose Fakhruddin Ahmed, an ex-employee of the World Bank, and a handful of ex-military officers and civilians to form the second consecutive caretaker govern for which there is no constitutional mandate. However, in Bangladesh, when the military talks everyone listens.

During the trying times of Bangladesh I penned an article a week after the silent military coup, which was published on January 19, 2007 eight days after the inauguration of the military-backed Fakhruddin Government, in which I clearly pointed out that the new caretaker government, had the tacit approval from the army. To my knowledge, mine was the first article to label the present government as the military-backed unconstitutional government. This extrajudicial government was legitimized because the civil society gave their approval through Center for Policy Development - a non-governmental organization headed by some powerful members of the civil society. This newly minted government also had the approval of Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen bank chief, whose popularity was cresting at the time due to the Nobel Peace Prize which he and his organization received sometime in late October 2006.

The caretaker government promised to make a level playing field for all political party by reconstituting the election commission, a demand waged by the opposition parties. They also promised to clean up the politics by arresting leaders who made theirs misbegotten wealth through bribe-taking, malfeasance, and influence peddling. The civil society gave their approval to this and the nation witnessed a mass arrest of politicians. The military-backed caretaker government also railroaded the Islamists to walk the gallows for killing two judges in Jhalakathi, a town in south Bangladesh. They did not allow the Islamists to talk to the press lest a can of warms comes out to implicate the military and BNP in the spate of bombings all over Bangladesh in August 2006 in which nearly 300-400 homemade bombs were blasted, synchronously. The August 21, 2004 bombing of Awami League’s meeting in Dhaka is an unsolved murder but many observers believe that it was a handiwork of a consortium composed of Islamists, BNP goons and persons from Kurmitola cantonment. It makes hell of a lot of sense as to why the Islamists were sent to gallows so quickly.

The military-backed government spoke mostly through Barrister Mainul Hosein and General Matin. Later, an ex-general Mashhud Chowdhury who got the portfolio of the chairman of a revamped anti-corruption department (ACC or DUDOK in Bangla) became the mouthpiece of the government. This anti-democratic and repressive government ruled Bangladesh tightfistedly for the last 20 months promising to reform many institutions and the politics but instead of solving the problems it has exacerbated the situation. The developmental projects mostly financed by WB and foreign governments came to a standstill. The productivity had slowed down and the economy hardly expanded with an anaemic rate of growth.

The military-backed government promised to wipe out corruption from the government and politics. But it miserably failed. The government arrested in excess of 250,000 ordinary people calling them political hooligans. These incarcerated people were languishing in jail without facing the court. The government also arrested a few notable industrialists and newspaper publishers but failed to prosecute them. In April 2007 the government took a new initiative to send the two leaders, Ms. Hasina and Ms. Zia, in exile but for whatever reasons failed to execute the plan. Then the government tried to break the major parties without much success. It also tried to float new political party one time through Grameen Chief, Muhammad Yunus, and another time through an obscure politician by the name Ferdous Qureshi. This mischievous plan did not bore any fruit, though.

During Khaleda Zia’s five years stint at the helm many of her party men including her two worthless sons have amassed billions of Taka (Bangladeshi currency) through bribery, extortions and whatnot. And we thought finally these vile groups of politicians will pay a price receiving stiff jail sentencing and they will be barred from entering politics rest of their lives. But how wrong was I.

On September 11, 2008 when the world was remembering the victims of 9-11, I read Dhaka’s newspapers to learn to my amazement that Khaleda Zia's corrupt son was released from the jail and he was sent to U.K. for treatment. Khaleda Zia who was the protagonist in Bangladesh's “tragic” political drama was also released from the jail. Sheikh Hasina is also out on furlough now visiting America for medical treatment. The general secretary of Awami League, Mr. Jalil, was also freed from the jail. To add insult to injury, hardly a week ago a few other corrupt BNP politicians were let loose from the confinement by the military-backed government.

All of these new developments, which hardly make any sense, are telling a telltale sign. Why the government did make its volte-face? Did they realize at long last that it will be an arduous job for them to reform the existing political parties?

This writer has always expressed a concern for the oligarchs who ruled Bangladesh rather unconstitutionally for the last 20 months. During that time, the Harvard “trained” army General gave enough hints that democracy as practiced in Bangladesh needs to be reformed. The General being the servant of the government overstepped his authority to pontificate his fellow countrymen.

I have the slightest clue now what prompted this government to give up their reform movement. Maybe, under pressure from Big Brothers abroad the military is finally willing to host the parliamentary election. This is also perplexing to know that all the champions of the reform movement - the CPD, Muhammad Yunus, and the rest of the Civil Society Movement is maintaining their reticence. Rather than maintaining their deafening silence this is the time they should open their mouth to protest the unleashing of corrupt politicians from jail. Why it took so long to take the corrupt politicians to court? Where are Barrister Mainul Hosein, General Matin, and General Mashhud Chowdhury at this critical juncture, now that the nation needs to hear their strongly-worded warnings? Should not they vociferously complain the government’s unwise decision to turn the clock backward? #

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cyber crimes need more attention

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

I WENT to a coffee shop for a cup of coffee and to utilize the shop’s Wi-Fi Hotspot to surf the web while I reached at Union Station, Washington D.C at around 4 o’clock in the morning. After connecting to the hotspot network, I found common news in almost all the national dailies in Dhaka. The website of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was hacked by an unknown person.

According to the news in the following days, RAB arrested four students of a private technology institute in the city's Mirpur in connection with hacking its website. Abu Musa Mirza Kamruzzaman Shahee, who claimed himself the lead hacker, told that they hacked the website of the elite crime-busting force just for adventure while RAB officials termed it as an irresponsible and regrettable work and they would continue their investigation to ascertain whether it is done out of fun or a criminal act.

Praising their IT experts, RAB Director General (DG) Hassan Mahmood Khandkar told that the hackers had boasted greater expertise than the RAB officials, but actually they are not that good because the RAB officials took only 24 hours to detect and arrest them whereas Shahee claimed that they are ten times better and genius than RAB experts.

Although it is now under investigation, but more or less it is clear that Shahee Mirza, who himself is a son of sub-inspector of police Mubashwer Ali Mirza, along with his other alleged friends, hacked the RAB website including Bangladesh Army and 22 others to boast their worth. Shahee and his friends complained against the existing cyber security in the country saying that most of agencies either don’t care maximum security features or don’t know how to protect them. On the other hand, RAB officials became satisfied as they detected them within 24 hours while the hackers left their real identity, their own computer, and their real IP address (Internet Protocol).

As it burgeoned, computer was hailed as an integrator of cultures and a medium for businesses, consumers, and governments to communicate with one another. It appeared to offer unparalleled opportunities for the creation of a forum in which the global village could meet and exchange ideas, stimulating and sustaining democracy throughout the world. Technology has forever changed the way commerce is conducted, virtually erasing geographic boundaries. While technology has made our lives much easier it has also created new vulnerabilities. Today, computer hacking and identity theft pose serious risks to our commercial, personal, and financial security.

The estimated number of internet users in the early years of the twenty-first century is over a billion. In this global village, consumers, companies, and governments from around the world must further develop ways to protect the sensitive personal and business information and detect those, whether here or abroad, that conspire to exploit technology for criminal gain. RAB, however, assured that the hacking incident won't create any security hazard as it is an open website, but what about other sensitive fields that should be secured by any means.

As an end-user while I was surfing the websites at Union Station, it wasn’t virtually impossible for someone else to see my data, such as login information or credit card numbers if I did any online banking or online shopping. Since SSL (Secure Sockets Layer-A network protocol) is used most of the times and is hard to break, but a fatal mistake can subjected anyone to an SSL Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack. If a hacker was present at the coffee shop and was connected to the same Wi-Fi network I was connected to, he might run a number of other utilities to sniff the data, act as an SSL Certificate Server and to be the Man-in-the-Middle. It is pretty darn hard for a hacker to decrypt the data/credentials being transmitted, even if he/she is able to sniff the data, if there is a good certificate and is connecting directly to the website to which someone intends to use because all the data will be is encrypted from his/her browser to the SSL website where the bank’s website will use the information from the certificate it gave its client to decrypt his/her data/credentials.

This is a bad thing if someone receives a “fake” certificate being sent from the hacker, and he/she is actually connecting to the hacker’s machine, not directly to the bank’s website. In this case, client’s credentials are being transmitted between his browser and the hacker’s machine. The hacker is able to grab that traffic, and, because he gave him/her the certificate to encrypt the data/credentials, he can use that same certificate to decrypt client’s data/credentials. Since the hacker will be replacing the Bank's or online store’s valid certificate with his own fake one, he will turn on the utility to enable his system to be the Man-in-the-Middle for web sessions and to handle certificates. He is now ready to go to sniff the client’s data passing through his machine. If is encrypted with 128-bit SSL, no problem, since he has the key. What he simply needs to do now is decrypt the data using the certificate that he gave the client.

When the MITM Hacker uses the “fake” certificate instead of the “good,” valid certificate, the end-user is actually alerted to this. Firewalls are the first and foremost thing people should do for their computers. It is advisable not to use the wireless network for emailing or sending messages, unless the wireless network has provided access to VPN (virtual private network.). VPN is a highly secure network that encrypts all the information that is sent from and to the computer.

Today most of the largest financial groups and other organizations use image as login information which is hard to break. But still there are skilled hackers who are trying their best to break it. Last month, there was the single largest and most complex identity theft case ever charged in USA. 11 men of different nationalities pulled a large-scale scam on nine major U.S. retailers, such as OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and Forever 21. The hackers stole more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers by using sniffers. In order to make the numbers usable at any ATM, the hackers encrypted them on blank cards.

Website Hacking is not uncommon. It is simply trying to break into a site unauthorized. Webmasters can use encryption to prevent this. However, as most website programmers do not use encryption their websites are easy targets. The whole planet is today terrorized by the web hackers to whom hacking seems a mode of getting pleasure by the way of gaining knowledge or mere entertainment. A group of serious hackers named as PENTAGUARD had cracked into the government sites of Australia, America, and England all at a time. According to the USA Today in May, 2008, Spanish police have arrested five hackers in various cities around Spain, who allegedly disabled internet pages run by government agencies in the U.S., Latin America, and Asia. The group refers to itself as D.O.M Team, attacked more than 21,000 web pages over the last two years. Among its victims, the group hacked the Venezuelan national telephone company's page, and rumours are circulating that they broke past NASA’s security as well.

With a proper understanding of the relevant programming languages such as C, C++, Pearl, java etc, one can be fully equipped with the technique of hacking into website. Shahee and his friends used Linux operating system as it clean up the tracks so that the feds fail to trace out the hacker. They just opened up a shell and typed some command. If any site does use a database, and has an administrator login who has rights to update the site, or indeed any forms which can be used to submit content to the site — even a comment form, there is a simple technique called SQL Injection to mess it up. It is not difficult to access any password protected websites if someone has enough html and JavaScript knowledge.

Webmaster should have to validate all inputs like page header, cookies, hidden fields that are used in forms etc and emails from users. HTML script helps to avoid any unwanted script elements. Sometimes webmaster forgets to disable his/her directory list. Before installing a web application, plug-in or script, research it online through Google, Yahoo, etc and see if there have been security issues. Application developers often find security holes, patch them and release regular updates to their product. Setting a file’s permission to 777 (Read/Write/Execute), is often dangerous.

According to the BSA (Business Software Alliance), no less than 35% of the world's computers have at least one pirated software program installed. Most of the computer firms in Bangladesh use pirated programs to design websites for their clients. Pirated software often lacks the important elements, documentation, and comes with no warranty protection or upgrade options. Counterfeit disks may be infected with viruses that can damage the hard drive or cripple the network, without the benefit of technical support.

Every email sent will have a point at which it was injected into the information stream. Even a person can monitor or spy other machine. But it’s not as easy as RAB did to locate the hackers. If so, most of the terrorist organizations in the world that have websites and maintaining liaison with one another can be traced out easily. There are a lot of programs in the market that can find the proxy sever available to a user and set it as his/her proxy server automatically.

Although RAB is not only one victim of cyber attack whereas there are lot of examples in the world including a portion of Pentagon Computer Network that was hacked in June, 2007, but the government of Bangladesh should have to aware enough and implement a comprehensive and proactive security programs that includes layered access controls and threat and vulnerability assessments. #

First published on September 09, 2008, New York Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. Email: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Taslima Nasreen: Intercepting lonely Star's morality and wisdom

Photo: Controversial feminist writer Taslima Nasreen was issued death threats by radical Muslims and Islamists politicians

MOHAMMAD GANI

"IT WAS war criminal Golam Azam and Maulana Nizami gangs those mercilessly killed our founding father Mujib and his immediate family members" says one of the dedicated young comrade of "Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee"!! No wonder why our original rising star Doctor Taslima Nasreen targets "burgeoning Islamic fundamentalists" in Bangladesh as the only culprits behind our women's freedom, equal rights etc. No, here I have no plan to declare any war against her rights of free speech or have any intention to denigrate her "honest" odyssey of rescuing our neglected women society from "the hell". She must have her absolute right to say whatever she wants to say, whenever she wants say and the way she wants say.

For last several years, this stalwart defender (?) of our women's rights has become the front runner and been carrying the "torch" of freedoms of the women's world wide, especially of Bangladesh with her extra-ordinary genius ideals and superior mission. Sadly no one, I mean no one of her own creed has so far been jumping into her wagon and singing with her except only diminutive numbers of adulating MEN associates. "Messages" of her corrupted wisdom and scurrilous behaviors go against her "asperities" for women's freedom those would also be outright dismissed even in our modern and civilized/secular world.

Taslima's profane and grandiloquent proclamation on "a woman having sex with 10 men and could still preserve and maintain her virginity" (Ref; her interview with Devil's Advocate" posted in Mukto-Mona, dated, 20 August 2008) is an audacious and lurid expression of a perverted and morally exhausted mind. There is nothing decent and honorable about this iconoclast's idolatrous hyperbole who is riding on immoral and cyanic sarcasms those shall engender more indignity, pandemonium and compunction to our women society. Those of us, who believe in "morality" that helps separating right from wrong is unscientific and not logical, thus should not even exist; must be either ascribing to the morality of the animal kingdom or deceiving their own mind. Her illusory messages toward women's equal rights are implacable and "unproven truth" in our culture/society including women society. Our women society could never be proselytized by these inconsequential ideals and vagaries under the tutelage of liquidated Taslima Nasrin.

Years ago, mother Theresa was talking about importance of virginity to the girls (students) at Wellesley College and at Harvard. "It has more to do with love, affection, family bindings and spirituality than any physical/biological implication that shall keep human civilization moving" she said. I have difficulty in disagreeing with mother Theresa than accepting Taslima's permeating renditions of parasites. Obviously, infidelity is not a legal offense, thus spouses could not legally file divorce or legal actions against their spouse for cheating them. So, what is exactly so bad about infidelity and what it has, if at all, to do with morality, commitment, ethical conviction, trusts and family value? Are all these "virtues' of any importance to human civilization by any means? If infidelity is not a moral offense at all, then why the most powerful nation with civilized democracy, secularism, equal rights and freedom of speech (USA) and its entire Congress were so furious on President Bill Clinton's clandestine amorous relation with Monica Lewinsky? Why did they fail to accept that it was his all personal and private matter?

Here, one could genuinely come up with a debate on the definition of "Morality, Right & Wrong". I do clearly see the line that divides right from wrong is not defined in its absolute terms either and it is very relative. For instance, let us briefly talk about homosexuality; one cannot find anything wrong even in relative terms. If homosexuality is an act between two mutually consenting adults, what is exactly so wrong about it but honestly, how do we accept it in our real family, cultural and social life and why? I bet it is mostly the introduction of religions that have changed the dynamics of the issue since some of them have clearly stated that the act of homosexuality is a sin. In our real world of human civilization, we can also say that we have rightfully placed the concept of religion and God at a higher plane in understanding the concept and existence of life. We have our natural instincts pretty much in line with the law of the land and also equally with the religions because of the very fact that these laws were developed based on the opinions of the many (majority), many years experiments and statistical findings.

Insatiable and desultory Taslima needs to understand and recognize that humans are not animals and that sex is a morally significant issue. As sex does raise important moral concerns, sexual intercourse should be limited to loving and "committed relationships", institutionally known as marriage in a civilized or in a "not so civilized" world. This commitment is not simply matter of words of feelings; it legally, humanly, spiritually (if spirituality does exist!!) involves a full existential sharing on the part of 2 human beings of the burdens, opportunities and the challenges of their historical existence. We, often fail to see the wisdom of this view because we see the world through the lens of an acquisitive society and also that we are indeed different from animals. Often our socio-political environment encourages us to think of having sex with someone in the same way we think about going out to dinner with them. If I ask an attractive lady to dinner and she agrees, there is nothing morally wrong with our sharing dinner. Likewise, if I ask her to have sex and she agrees, there is nothing wrong with sharing our bodies, could only be an argument of Taslima's ground zero morality but are we there yet or should we ever be at all? This ignominious character got (herself) married 3 times with solid dignity and integrity besides her unofficial (several) amorous knots of "living-together" with few of her Kolkata sweet hearts those give us an authentic picture of her upscale and elite class definition of "family value", moral value and freedom of choice!! Well, there is nothing legally wrong to get married "every month" during her entire life and she could still be absolutely "RIGHT" too in doing so but what is "MORE RIGHT" is that a family with one spouse in general has become norms and facts of our life even in a civilized modern world, that's all! Could our women be ever inspired with this ultra-modern moral value and scientific ethical (mis)conducts? I doubt!

On women's equal right issue, this infamous character is spurious and more disparaging in attacking the Islamic fundamentalist than coming up with real issues of concerns those have been keeping our women behind and taking away their equal rights. This decrepit woman is motivated, saturated and occupied with her personal vendetta against them and thus coming up with no ameliorating objectivity instead. Of course, there many disturbing pictures on the issues of women's equal rights and freedom in Bangladesh those I hardly could comprehend. Only few weeks ago, a beautiful young woman, Aparna Roy (27) took her own life to get herself "freed at last" from the torturous "demand of dowry" in US soil (Woodside, VA). She left her crocodile; I mean "loving" husband Sumon Roy and 2 beautiful children behind. Aparna and Sumon were married only in 2001. This poignant ending of a beautiful life made me sick and emotionally charged with angers! There are hundreds of those so-called "accidents" in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan (not mentioning other Muslim nations) those are not becoming news or getting much attention. This is how our children (girls) in Bangladesh (perhaps in India too) are taught to treat their husbands as (almost) God or Debota during their childhood/youth and are forced to download all sickening abuses throughout their entire life.

Now, if we get back to the pre-Islamic history, we shall see that having "baby girls" was an indignity (in Arab world) and were buried alive. In medieval Hindu society, a widow was not looked upon favorably. She was at times considered a burden and there was fear for her purity, especially if she was young. They feared that she might partake in sexual activity. Men were, however, exempt from this if they were widowers. Some communities in our Indian subcontinent, wives still have no "divorce right". Women in Islam are not allowed to be Imam (conducting prayers in Mosque with man) though nothing is stated PRECISELY anywhere in the holy Quran to this motion or that only Men shall be the Imam. General meaning of Sura Al-Nisa (4-34, Women) in the Holy Quran is not conclusive on women conducting prayer (I mean only in the holy Quran). Women are not permitted to be Cardinals, Arch Bishop or Pope in Catholic beliefs. Dowry and acids burns have been taking tolls on women's lives and causing sufferings inhumanly. Sati Daha (Burning of widows) custom was a scary social custom practiced in portions of India in different times. It was the practice of cremating the widow live along with her husband. Its roots can be traced to ancient mythology; Sati, the wife of Dhakhsha, overwhelmed with grief at her husband's funeral jumped into the funeral fire and burned to death. This was an idealized representation of a wife's devotion to her husband and the custom bears the name of Dhaksha's wife, Sati. Through the works of some noble Hindus, especially Raja Ram Mohan Roy, this practice had been curbed. The Sati Daha custom had now diminished and in 1987 a law was passed making Sati Daha illegal, after a case of Sati Daha was reported.

Hundreds of year’s racial segregation known as "Apartheid" in South Africa orchestrated by Afrikaner (Dutch reform churches) and by early settlers in USA (before 1965) have been dismantled with the life long struggles of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. It is only 1927; women achieved their voting rights in USA. And there are so many to mention……BUT WHAT DO THE ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISTS EXACTLY HAVE TO DO WITH ALL THE ABOVE? Isn't it 9/11/2001 that made all these out of focus except only the Islamic fundamentalist as a bill board?

I am not here to rescue the Islamist fundamentalists or be any apologist for them but am only urging to broach the real culprits and issues of concerns against our women's freedom and equal rights in a colloquial manner. I did see the atrocities myself committed by "JAMAT" to our innocent men/women and against our freedom during 9 months liberation war against our so-called "Muslim brothers" of West Pakistan. Taslima's acrimony and concepts are grown from her personal animosity, transpires iniquitous and disgraceful. A Bangladesh "without religious fundamentalists" shall not "GUARANTEE equal rights and freedom for women there, will it? I wished it would have been that easy. Our motherland Bangladesh (former East Pakistan or India) is not ruled nor was ever ruled by fundamentalist like Taliban in Afghanistan or Khomeini in Iran rather has been a matriarchy for last 15 years. How many families/people of 150 million of Bangladesh are actually fundamentalist and how much control do these fundamentalists have over 150 million people/families and precisely how? My experience is most of the Bangladeshi people/families today are pro-Western in their heart and have great respects for western cultures.

So, we (Taslima included) need to look up for roots beyond making only religious fundamentalist a scapegoat against women's equal rights and freedom those have been embedded into our cultural bloods and social systems as norms and been reigning over for hundreds of years; many years before 9/11/2001! We also need to recognize that our cultural identity is based on our traits and values that are learned in the family, school, social gathering etc. as part of our ethnic origin, religion, gender, age, socioeconomic level, geographical region, place of residence but we do notice that all these are CONSTANTLY CHANGING, though not enough! Our mental modernization believes and trusts that science could lead us down to the road of progress real fast but question always remains whether only science could really get us there. The aphorism is "Haste makes waste".

We need cogitate before adjudicating on the risk factors of our women's prerogatives with uneven opinions or conclusions those could be misleading and distract us from actual core problems. We need to address and attack our poverty, education, standard of living, unemployment, healthcare........and all other basic needs along with the introductions and manifestations of public laws first to ensure a prosperous family of extant traditional culture, happiness and prosperity for all women. Yes, often religious fundamentalist (of any religion: say, recent Orissa event) could be obstacles and be on the way of our spirits and momentum of progress on women's equal rights and thus it must be addressed as culpable too; because it is an issue but not the only issue!

Nevertheless, the bottom line is; this picayune and evanescent star's temerity and laudatory ebulliences shall get lost real fast with full disgrace from the history of our time and beyond our notice. #

Mohammad Gani writes on Bangladesh current affairs and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Bangladesh: A book that burns

Photo: Maj Gen (retd.) M A Matin, Bangladesh Home Affairs adviser

BHASKAR ROY

In this exclusive column for Sify.com, he dwells on the vitriolic attack on India, on Hindus, Awami League Leader Sheikh Hasina and on all secular and progressive sections of Bangladeshi society by Bangladesh’s Home Affairs Advisor, Maj Gen (retd.) M A Matin

“THE PEOPLE of Bangladesh must sit up and ask whether their Home Affairs Advisor, Maj Gen (retd.) M A Matin, Bir Pratik, Pakistan Staff College (PSC), has lost his mind.

In a book written sometime earlier this year, the decorated freedom fighter launched a vitriolic attack on India, on Hindus, Awami League Leader Sheikh Hasina and on all secular and progressive sections of Bangladeshi society.

The book Succession of our Struggle for Freedom and a Few Contextual Words also commits the ultimate sin by scurrilously attacking Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to liberation and independence.

Through selective quotes from sources and mischievous juxtaposing of sentences and phrases, Matin tries to insinuate that Mujib was more interested in negotiating with Pakistan for provincial powers than in independence.

Cleverly using Mujib’s negotiations with Pakistani leaders President Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for provincial self-rule, Matin argues that in his historic March 7, 1971 address to the people, Mujib kept the door for discussions open, despite pressure from students and the people.

Instead of an open declaration of independence, Mujib had only declared that “now the struggle would be for freedom,” says Matin. He then notes that the Sheik had invited Yahya Khan for talks in Dhaka, and simultaneously put forward his “four point” proposal which, apart from lifting of Martial Law and the trial of organised killers, largely acceded to the Pakistani points.

Since Mujib did not want to declare outright independence, it was Col Zia-ur-Rehman who went ahead and declared independence from the Kalurghat radio station in Chittagong on March 25, 1971, Matin notes, obliquely suggesting that it is Zia, and not Mujib, who should be recognised as the ‘Father of Bangladesh’s Independence.’ (Major general Zia-ur Haq became the 6th President of Bangladesh on April 21, 1977. His wife Khaleda Zia, who took over his Bangladesh Nationalist Party after his assassination in May 1981, has been Prime Minister of Bangladesh twice.)

Matin also notes that while Mujib is popularly described as the ‘Father of the Nation’ that title has not been officially bestowed upon him.

Taking the third issue first, a person of Matin’s mettle should understand that such honorifics are not listed in official decorations or honour lists of countries. These are given by the people of a country. This honorific was given to Sk Mujibur Rahman overwhelmingly by the people of Bangladesh.

Matin, who now holds a very senior position as the Advisor for Home Affairs in the current caretaker government of Bangladesh, has openly challenged the esteem that Sk Mujib is held in. This may be his personal opinion, but since he has written this while holding a post of such responsibility, it assumes importance. No person holding a public post can declare his private opinion on national issues. Since Matin has stated his position, it is for the people of Bangladesh to debate the issue and put the record straight.

As for the declaration of independence by Zia-ur-Rehman on March 25, this is an old BNP argument and part of the deliberate distortion of the country’s history. Zia declared independence on behalf of Mujib, and had himself admitted this. Mujib did not have access to a radio station, while Zia had. The message had gone to Zia through non-traditional channels. Mujib,who was waiting to be arrested by the Pakistanis, had already given the call for “freedom” in his “March 7” speech.

Mujib had to negotiate with the Pakistani government in order to buy time. If Matin thinks the people of Bangladesh were ready for a war of liberation at that time, he is wrong.

The main demand of the people was the supremacy of the Bengali language, which Matin describes as the Bangladeshi language in East Pakistan. The people also wanted the due share of the revenue for their wing of the country, and development of industry. The next demand was autonomy.

The spirit of total independence was really ignited by Mujib’s public address of March 7.

Matin perhaps does not understand that a democratic revolution has to be raised from the grass-roots. Breaking away from Pakistan required tremendous effort. Islamabad had strong supporters in the US and China. Some international support or, at least, empathy had to be generated for the breakaway cause.

Bengali army officers and other ranks split from the Pakistani army mainly after Pakistan ordered them to disarm, forcing many to defect to the freedom fighters. They included some of Mujib’s killers. M A Matin was probably one such reluctant army officer forced by circumstances to switch to the freedom fighters’ side. The bottom of Matin’s arguments have just fallen off.

While pretending to be an honest broker, Matin barely touches on the anti-liberation forces. He meticulously avoid any mention of the Razaakars, the Al Badrs and Al Shams, the pro-Pakistani radical elements who took more glee in raping and killing Bengalis than the professional Pakistani army did. His book does not spare a single word for the hapless people who were ravaged, suggesting his sympathies lie with the rapists and killers.

There is no mention of the Jamaat-e-Islami either, the mother of the groups mentioned earlier, and its role in running the country in the last government led by the BNP and Jamaat.

Apart from a vitriolic attack on Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina for her friendly disposition towards India, he faults her for trying to bring her father, Mujibur Rahman’s killers, to book.

The “killer majors” as they are popularly known, not only assassinated Mujib and his family on the fateful night of August 14-15, 1975, but also killed Awami League leaders like Tajuddin Ahmed and others in jail. This was not a revolution but a criminal conspiracy at the behest of a foreign master, and cognizable under international law.

Matin’s book also leaves a huge hole by not discussing Zia-ur-Rehman’s post-1975 role. Zia, as President, appointed some of these “killers” to diplomatic posts as a pay off. Some discussion as to how Zia used and then secretly executed Colonel Abu Taher would have exposed Zia’s character. But Matin has kept away from such pernicious issues.

Instead, he lambasts Sheikh Hasina and all secular elements as Indian agents. Not only does he spew venom at India, he uses India to charge the secularists and liberals as anti-Bangladesh.

Matin also dangerously distorts history, starting with the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny against the British. He claims Hindus had done little or nothing for independence from the British, that the Hindus always denigrated Muslims, and Muslims and Hindus are two different “races” and cannot exist together.

First, he confuses between “race” and “religion,” perhaps deliberately. But more alarmingly, his discussions on the Muslim-Hindu issue suggests that he could be endorsing or even inciting communal riots in Bangladesh and ethnic cleansing of Hindus.

Matin’s support for the Taliban, the religious radicals that ruled Afghanistan before being routed post 9/11, comes through loud and clear as he denounces the US for pressuring Pakistan because it supported the Taliban. He also asserts that the new friendly policies of the US and China towards India stems from the commonality of their views against Talibanised Islam.

Matin’s book, originally written in Bengali, is not meant for the informed and the discerning urban population. But it is circulating among the simple, innocent people in the country’s semi-urban and rural areas.

The book is a recipe for the destruction of Bangladesh, and it is the people of Bangladesh, and not outsiders like India, the US or China, who must address this propaganda.

However, while it clearly is an internal matter for Bangladesh at the moment, it has the potential to become an issue of grave regional and international concern if it snowballs further. #

First published in Sify.com, India, June 05, 2008

Bhaskar Roy, who retired recently as a senior government official with decades of national and international experience, is an expert on international relations and Indian strategic interests

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Proscribing Islamist Politics in Bangladesh: Lessons from and for Pakistan

Photo: Agitating Islamist gather at national mosque in capital Dhaka after Friday prayer demanding to scrape rights of women in the national women's policy- AFP/Getty Images

TAJ HASHMI

CONTRARY TO what Indian nationalist Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915) is said to have observed, “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”, in view of the ongoing and least expected “Pakistanisation” of Bangladesh, one may rephrase the statement as, “What Pakistan thinks today, Bangladesh thinks tomorrow”. It is beyond the comprehension of many analysts and scholars that a country created in the name of Bengali nationalism, democracy and secularism, within five years of its inception adopted Islamism and autocracy turning away from the last vestiges of secularism, democracy and the rule of law.

The growing menace of Islamism and state-sponsored Islamisation has been wrecking havoc to Pakistan’s economy and socio-political structure, at times making experts and laymen wonder if the country has already become a “failed state” or on the verge of becoming one. The situation in Bangladesh, an erstwhile Pakistani province, is slightly different in this regard as Islamists do not pose any impending threat of taking over parts of the country, as in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, it has also inherited Islamism as a legacy of the past; Islamist terrorism, including suicide attacks, is no longer an unfamiliar phenomenon in Bangladesh; Islam-oriented parties have become decisive factors in forming governments. While overt or covert martial law has become normative, with periodic interregnums of dynastic civil oligarchies a la Pakistan, Islamism and state-sponsored cosmetic Islamisation of the polity have remained well-entrenched since late 1975.

One may attribute these phenomena to the failure of the welfare state, not that different from what has happened in Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan and The Sudan, among other Muslim countries. Nevertheless, we need other explanations as to why not only the crest-fallen masses have been drawn to Islamism (considered an alternative to the “failed” secular ideologies of democracy, nationalism and national-socialism by many), but also the bulk of political and intellectual elite, including some hitherto-radical leftists.

As poverty, bad governance and the “Global Jihad” breed Islamist nihilism, so is illegitimate rulers’ exploiting religious sentiments of the people with a view to legitimizing their rule with state-sponsored Islamisation. Islamisation of the polity out of sheer political expediency, in the long run, could be disastrous for the polity as we find out in Pakistan, and on a minuscule level, in Bangladesh. What was once beyond one’s imagination that Bangladesh, a country created in the name of secular nationalism, would one day adopt Islam as its “state religion”, and pro-Pakistani Islamist political parties would play important role in running the polity, is a reality now.

However, despite the abysmally poor state of affairs in regard to governance and overall well-being of the people, there is a faint hope that Bangladesh will eventually reduce the level of Islamist obscurantism and insurgency in the near future. One is hoping against hope in view of the latest development in the country. The so-called Neutral Caretaker Government (NCG) is contemplating some bold steps towards curtailing the influence of Islamist political parties.

As reported in the media, the NCG is contemplating impose a ban on all religion-based political parties in accordance with the 1972 Constitution. It is indeed heartening that the provisions of the latest Representation of the People Order (RPO) stipulate that “a political party shall not be qualified for registration if any discrimination regarding religion, race, caste, language or sex is apparent in its constitution”. Since Islamist parties allow membership exclusively to “religious Muslims”, the RPO, in accordance with the Constitution, may legitimately de-register all religion-based parties.

In view of the above, as Bangladesh have lessons to learn from the Pakistani experience that unbridled growth of Islamism and even worse, state-sponsored Islamisation of the polity, can be disastrous in the long run; similarly Pakistan may learn from the example of Bangladesh, where the government is thinking about proscribing Islamist political parties as a step towards containing, if not eliminating, Islamism. A successful deregistration of all Islamist political parties, especially the well-organized and well-funded Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, would be a good example for Pakistan and other countries confronting similar Islamist menace. This would also demolish the myth that Islamisation of a polity is not reversible. We once nourished similar view about communism.

There is no reason to be complacent about allowing the so-called “constitutional” and “non-violent” Islamist parties like the Jamaat, Muslim Brotherhood and their likes. Although apparently they look different from al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Harkat Ul-Jihad al Islami (HUJI), the Taliban and similar Islamist outfits, there is no reason to assume that the Jamaat and Brotherhood believe in democracy and peaceful co-existence with liberal Muslims and non-Muslims. These proto-fascist organizations are committed to installing Islamist governments throughout the Muslim World by gradually infiltrating into every level of the polity, finally to takeover by violent means.

Let us hope Bangladesh will make an important breakthrough in delegitimising Islamism by de-registering all Islam-oriented political parties as the first step. All democratic and secular Bangladeshis should come forward demanding the immediate de-registration of all religion-oriented parties. The civil society has to play an important role in this regard as some of the leading “secular nationalist” political parties are still going around with Islamists, weighing in the “vote bank” potential of the Islamist groups. Then again, Bangladesh alone cannot delegitimise Islamism in the country. Since deregistration of the various Islamist parties would be a major step towards their elimination process, countries and international donors can play a vital role in this regard. Having enough leverage to influence the policy makers in the country, they should press them hard to implement the proposed deregistration order vis-à-vis the Islamist parties.

Conversely, if Bangladesh fails to contain the so-called “constitutional and democratic” Islamist parties along with the clandestine Islamist ones now, under this unique military-backed Caretaker Government, the forthcoming elected government (in the event of elections taking place by December) is least likely to succeed in this regard irrespective of which party or coalition comes to power. Firstly, the major political parties in the country want to appease the Jamaat and similar Islamist groups out of political expediency; and secondly, the prevalent Islamisation of the polity mainly due to bad governance, corruption and patronage of Islamism by various governments in the last thirty-odd years, Islamism has its special niece in the body politic of Bangladesh. In sum, we must realize what Islamist quagmire Pakistan has fallen into due to sheer negligence of the menace in its formative phase and the various governments’ flirting with the Jamaat and its likes since the 1970s. Bangladesh government’s success in deregistering Islamist parties would be a positive example for others, signalling a major victory in the “war on terror”. #

Taj Hashmi is Professor, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bangladeshi descent struggling to survive in Pakistan

Photo: Market scene in Bangla Para, Karachi

JAN KHASKHELI

WELL OFF families opt for hiring of cooks who are of a Bangladeshi descent as they are famous for maintaining the quality while preparing exclusive and scrumptious delicacies.

Giving a brief history of this tradition, the activists reveal that Hindu Pundits long ago prepared a technique through research by adopting traditional methods of cooking food while giving special attention to health safety and required nutrition.

The Muslims of Bengal followed the same method and prepared even more delicious food in accordance with health and safety, reveal activists working for communities comprising people of Bangladeshi descent.

Therefore, the parliamentarians, businessmen, landlords and other well-to-do families hire people of Bangladeshi descent at their residences in the city and their villages as cooks and chefs, who prepare food according to the body's requirement.

However, speaking about the living conditions of the community, activists reveal that the people of Bangladeshi descent do not enjoy political rights in Pakistan. A fact which can be gauged from their long term work experiences in the same places. Activists claim that the people of Bangladeshi descent are fully aware that if they commit a crime or are found guilty in any such wrongdoing they will be punished and nobody would come for their rescue in this country.

Mohammed Hussain Shaikh, a social activist struggling for protecting the rights of the community, explains, " The endless fear created by the government organisations in the name of registering `aliens' has forced most people of Bengali descent residing here to become united."

According to him the government looks at all the people of Bangladeshi descent in the same light despite the fact that several families have been here long before the separation of East Pakistan.

"My family had migrated to Karachi in the search of livelihood in 1965 when both the East and West Pakistan were combined. I was born in 1969 and raised here in Moosa Colony, Liaquatabad Town," expressed Shaikh.

Quoting the speech of the late Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Shaikh commented that Bhutto announced an official pardon for Bengali speaking people and stated that those who want to stay should be provided a citizenship equally while those who want to migrate should be allowed to do so officially, there will be no restrictions for the Bengali-speaking people living here as they are innocent and our brethren."

"Despite this we are being humiliated at our workplaces, homes and streets and being treated like aliens, behaviour which must be condemned", he reacted.

He said when a male is arrested by a certain law enforcement agency his family goes through a traumatic experience. Women are forced to beg and children sometimes take shelter in criminal activities to meet the domestic requirements.

"We believe that we are Pakistanis now. We celebrate the national and religious days with the similar spirit. Then why is this ill treatment being meted out to us? Why doesn't the government recognise us and issue a permanent citizenship. What more do we need to do, to prove that we are Pakistanis?" he lamented.

Shaikh added that it seems as if the National Aliens Registration Authority (Nara) and Bangladesh Cell have been set up to keep the people of Bengali descent under pressure, depriving poor workers of their wages, arresting our youth on their way home and releasing them after acquiring bribe money.

More than 80 per cent of the community people depend on fishing. The men go to open sea while women peel shrimps at the shed in the Machhar Colony, while other Bengali people work for garment factories.

The activists complain that the local fishermen do not recognise the community as their own despite the fact that they have been associated with fishing for generations.

Hussain Shaikh claims that there are three million people of Bangladeshi descent living in different areas of the city, including Machhar Colony, Orangi Town, Noorani Basti of Korangi, Burmy Colony, Bilal Colony Landhi, Moosa Colony, Mujahid Colony, Ziaul Haq Colony, Lasi Goth, Ali Akbar Shah Goth, Ibrahim Hyderi, Ali Goth, Jumma Goth and Abbasi Nagar.

The Pakistanis of Bangladeshi descent speak the same language with different dialects. For instance, he said people called Burmese here are not from Burma, but due to their dissimilar dialect they are known as Burmese.

However, Shaikh explained that they are fighting the war of survival here, as everybody feels insecure. Therefore, the community is unable to continue their ancestral traditions. Long ago our elders used to sing Bengali wedding songs that have almost disappeared now. The community, Shaikh explained has adopted a new culture.

Speaking about their ideologies and beliefs, activists explain that the people of Bangladeshi descent use their own intelligence instead of following instructions blindly. The members of the same family might not necessarily have the same opinion on any given matter. Their inability to follow instructions and using their own creativity is in their blood, they justified.

The community arranges marriages of their members at an early age, which some times causes separations within a few years.

After an engagement the community spends two-three months in celebrating the wedding. They bring the bride to the groom's house where a religious leader solemnises a Nikah in the presence of family friends and relatives of both the sides. Subsequently, the community artistes perform Indian, Pakistani and Bangladesh films' songs, portraying the culture of three neighbouring countries. #

First published in The News, Karachi, Pakistan, September 6, 2008

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Random rule of law in Bangladesh

RATER ZONAKI

THE HIGH Court finally compelled the military-controlled government of Bangladesh to release an imprisoned businessman on Aug. 28, after the authorities ignored the court’s order for more than a week.

The army-led Joint Forces arrested Salman F. Rahman, a top businessman and former president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries, on Feb. 4, 2007, under the Emergency Powers Rules-2007. He was subsequently charged in seven cases of corruption and land-grabbing. Salman managed to receive bail in six of the cases during his prolonged detention, none of which has yet come to trial.

On Aug. 20 the High Court granted bail to Salman in the last case against him, in which he is accused of corruption in connection with the International Finance Investment and Commerce Bank. The prison authorities received the court order but took no action.

Salman's counsel, Barrister Rafique-ul Haque, a former attorney general of Bangladesh, had been contacting the prison authorities every day until Aug. 25, while the concerned officials kept assuring him that his client would be released on the following day. However, eight days passed and Salman was not released. Haque brought the issue to the notice of the court, which summoned the attorney general and held him accountable for failing to release the prisoner.

On Aug. 28 Salman's counsel attempted to lodge a contempt-of-court complaint against the responsible officials. The court asked the attorney general to produce Salman before it within one hour, unless the top public servant wished to be summoned for contempt of court. The authorities soon released Salman from the Kashimpur jail after this strict intervention.

The day Salman was arrested, and at one point detained in the cantonment police station in Dhaka, this writer witnessed him moving around in the office of the police station, which was surrounded by police and other forces. In contrast, the poor who are regularly arrested by members of the same forces face radically different treatment.

A person like Salman F. Rahman, who could afford to pay for attention at the Supreme Court level, was able to manage bail for the cases against him lodged by the military-controlled government. He had access to a high-profile lawyer, a former attorney general, and enough money to spend on arranging his bail. Still it took around one-and-a-half years for him to be freed.

Similar intervention from the High Court does not happen to the poor like Mohammad Ripon, a hosiery worker who earned only 3,000 takas (about US$44) per month, despite working hard from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day at a tiny factory in Dhaka. He lived in a dormitory in a slum adjacent to the Turag River.

One day before the state of emergency was imposed, when Ripon was walking home late in the evening, the Shah Ali police arrested him. He was detained in police custody overnight and was sent to jail via a Magistrate's Court that implicated him in a case of petty theft.

Mosharaf Hossain, owner of the factory where Ripon was employed, told this writer in front of the Dhaka Central Jail that he had been waiting for Ripon's release. Mosharaf reasoned that Ripon, the only hosiery producer of his factory, had no relatives except his elderly mother, who lived in a shelter in Pabna district, around 300 kilometers from the capital. Due to Ripon's detention Mosharaf's factory was closed, and there was no trusted substitute for him.

Mosharaf spent more than 4,000 takas (US$58) on a lawyer for five days, excluding his transportation and other expenditures, such as bribes to court staff so they would allow him to stand in the queue to present a petition for bail. Every day the lawyer assured him that Ripon would be released, and suggested that Mosharaf wait in front of the jail's gate to receive him. But Ripon did not come out.

Mosharaf was counting the money he spent, planning to deduct it from Ripon's salary once he was released. He needed his employee back for the survival of his hosiery factory. The 4,000 takas he had spent was more than one month’s salary for Ripon; but it was not enough to secure his release or get the attention of the High Court.

Around 500,000 people were arrested as part of the government’s crackdown under the state of emergency. Among them, about 200 are very rich, like Salman. Perhaps 1,000 could afford the cost of legal proceedings in the Supreme Court. On the other hand, the huge majority of those who were arrested cannot afford even the minimum expenses for justice at a district level court.

The victims of arbitrary arrest and detention have been facing unimaginable suffering while large amounts of money are wasted in the process of trying to obtain justice, apparently for nothing. It may require special research to expose the whole situation concerning economic losses incurred in the futile attempt to secure due legal process.

The courts of Bangladesh, especially the Supreme Court, seem unable to remedy this situation. The courts should be competent enough to address the serious problems the nation is now facing. It is not debatable that courts exist to ensure effective and prompt compliance with the law. They should ensure that no one, including legal professionals, is allowed to avoid or ignore their responsibilities. The century-old habits, attitudes and mindset of the judiciary must be changed if the nation is to be saved from the dirty ditch of arbitrary behavior and survive with dignity. #

First published in UPI Asia Online, September 02, 2008

Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national with a degree in literature from a university in Dhaka. He began his career as a journalist in 1990 and engaged in human rights activism at the grassroots level in his country for more than a decade. He also worked as an editor for publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues and contributed to other similar publications

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Social capital amidst extremism and mediocrity

IMTIAZ AHMED

Bangladeshi academics must reach out to combat rising violence and intolerance – or are they part of the problem?

LET US begin with an understanding of the state and the place of academics in Bangladesh. From a methodological standpoint, the spheres of the state can be thought of as being divided into three sections. The first is political society, which includes the actors and agencies that possess coercive power – government military, police, laws and regulations, and the like would all be included here. The second is the market, where economic power resides. Indeed, in certain circumstances, this sphere could possess enormous power, to the point of becoming the determining factor in essentially reproducing the state. Bangladesh is a good example in this respect, where critics maintain that only a half-dozen or so importers control 60-80 percent of all imports. If this is the case, it is not difficult to understand the enormous profitability in having a political-business nexus that can ensure this monopoly – another name, of course, for endemic corruption.

The third and final sphere is the so-called civil society, which focuses on reproducing social capital. This would include academics, students, intellectuals, civil-rights groups, the media, cultural bodies, even sports clubs and other associations. In addition to intellectual discourses and social networking, trust plays a key part in reproducing social capital. As one critic has noted, “Nothing happens if you don’t trust people … Social capital is strongly dependent on rich durable networks which develop trust.” Fortunately, Bangladesh has abundance of the value system of trust, as has been corroborated not only by national surveys, but also by the fact that it is the birthplace of micro-credit, which is essentially founded on trust.

Academics, therefore, are not only part of civil society, but are also key actors when it comes to recovering, nurturing and disseminating trust in a society. This raises an inevitable but important question: Have academics in Bangladesh remained true to their vocation? Conversely, what happens when academics cross certain boundaries to begin profiting from the coercive elements of either political society or the economic market? By extension, in a country such as Bangladesh, does the role of the academic run the risk of contributing to the business of ‘reproducing extremism’?

Before delving into these questions, let us ground this discussion in the words of Mohandas K Gandhi. Once, while being interviewed by an American journalist, Gandhi put forward that there was no caste system in India, and offered an impeccable line of logic to back up what many would consider an outlandish conclusion.

“What about the Brahmans?” asked the journalist.

“Brahmans were supposed to provide knowledge, but today they are busy making money, so there are no Brahmans,” Gandhi responded.

“What about the Kshatriyas?” the journalist continued.

“The Kshatriyas were supposed to protect the country, but today the British are ruling us, so there are no Kshatriyas.”

“What about the Vaishyas?”

“The Vaishyas were supposed to trade honourably, but today they are engaged in unfair trading practices, so there are no Vaishyas.”

The journalist was getting exasperated. “Surely,” he asked, “you would agree that there are Sudras?”

“The Sudras were supposed to do menial jobs with the full dignity of a person but, today that is not the case,” Gandhi responded. “They have been robbed of their dignity, so there are no Sudras!”

In our case, extending Gandhi’s logic would imply that there are no academics of merit engaged in reproducing social capital in the highly politicised, polarised, partisan context of Bangladesh. This, of course, is only partially true, and would stand only for some self-willed if not self-aggrandised academics. But let us first reflect on the complex nature of issues relating to combating extremism and the role of academics. There are two sides to this problem – the structural and the intellectual, though the first certainly feeds on the second. Let us look at the structural first.

Politics, business, extremism
Let us first consider academics as ‘party-demics’, those that become particularly involved in politics in relation to political parties. On the surface, this would seem to be a mere exercising of democratic rights. But the post-independence experience of Bangladesh has shown that such academics have mostly ended up engaging in party politics – or worse, bringing partisanship within the boundaries of the academic institution, with Dhaka University being a classic case in point. Interestingly, Bangladeshi academics have become ‘party-demics’ not so much by inviting the government into the corridors of academia, but more by succumbing to the call of the government, which hopes to keep academics under its sway. In this, the government has succeeded in two ways. First, by conflating ‘state responsibility’ with the responsibility of the government, and making annual budgetary provisions to public universities at the sole discretion of the government. Second, and more nakedly, the regime in power has become the key actor in appointing academics both within the university (including the posts of vice-chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor) and outside, in academically and financially rewarding jobs.

Given such a structure, academics could not help joining the rat race of seeking the attention of the party in power – or, for that matter, even the party in waiting. In such a situation, academics become hostage to the party bosses and cadres, which inevitably include ideologists, fanatics, and even the musclemen mastans. The reproduction of social capital is thus compromised, to the point of making party politics the ends and means of academic life. And, as in national politics, where alliances and numbers play a critical role in strengthening one’s constituency, when called upon the academics do not hesitate in conspiring with forces colluding with religio-extremism. We will return to this issue.

Then there are the ‘business-academics’, who get caught up in the world of money. Perhaps this is somewhat inevitable, given the meagre salary available in public universities, forcing many to take up part-time jobs in private institutions or to take up business entirely. The concern here is not so much with the former, although it is true that even in such cases the intellectual pursuits of the academics inevitably suffer. Rather, the concern is with the latter category, under which academics fall easy prey to the political-business nexus. With time and economic exigencies, many end up becoming particularly partisan. If significant profit is promised by forces colluding with religio-extremism, then the prospect of a nexus between the political, business and academic in the service of extremism becomes a very real possibility. There lies the fear.

Finally, we must look at academics as ‘academic-extremists’. Bangladesh already has a few of these, some of whom are currently awaiting jail terms. Militancy and extremism, after all, are first and foremost intellectual exercises, which only later express themselves through violence. However, the complicity of the state, particularly the activities of some of the actors and agencies within the government, cannot be ruled out in the birth of ‘academic-extremists’. Police interrogation of mastans and former ministers currently incarcerated seems to validate this contention. A quick response would be in the form of a dialectic: the structural infects the intellectual, while the intellectual reproduces the structural. Let us look at this in more detail.

Incapacity in extremis
Broadly, in Bangladesh there are two categories of intellectuals, including academics. The first are those who are intricately connected to the regime or ruling social class. The second group can be thought of as the dissenting or revolutionary, those who disown their class and challenge the status quo. Both owe their early conceptualisations to the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. What is important in contemporary times, however, is not so much how they differ in class affiliations (with which Gramsci was most concerned), but rather what they are actually advocating and the manner in which they are hoping to accomplish that goal. In this, let us return to the question at hand: When does an academic turn into an ‘academic-extremist’? In this, my observations will be limited to the Islamic domain, but the argument could be extended to other religious communities as well.

First, mediocrity is an undeniable factor when it comes to the issue of religio-centred extremism within the Islamic domain. In Bangladesh, there is little doubt that ‘academic-extremists’ have been significantly influenced by a rigid – or, more appropriately, an ill-informed – version of Islam, the Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia. We do not need to go into detail, except to point out that the general interpretation of Islam is no longer in the hands of the meritorious. Rather, partly due to Muslim despots and partly to colonial domination, the interpretation has over the centuries landed in the hands of the mediocre. Amidst this evolution, academics have failed miserably to contain rigidities and extremism, not so much for want of motive as for want of Islamic scholarship.

A second factor in this would be ‘mediageneity’, or a love of media attention. Ideally, academics, particularly at the tertiary level, are supposed to ‘publish or perish’. But if you have a mediocre academic, or one who has become lethargic due to institutional dysfunction, it is likely that such an individual would settle for a ‘no publish, no perish’ policy. One way to be noted, then, would be to become an academic-extremist, which opens the door to becoming a well-known leader overnight. One prominent example would be Muhammad Asadullah al-Ghalib, a professor of Arabic Studies at Rajshahi University, as well as a top leader in the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), who was arrested in February 2005. Today, Ghalib is not known for his publications, but rather for his advocacy of violence and extremism. Who would have known him otherwise?

The third and final factor can be thought of as ‘mechanicality’, with the fear of humans turning into machines – the worry of many thinkers over the centuries, including Freud, Weber, Tolstoy and Tagore, among others. This past March, Shashi Tharoor, the former Indian UN official, offered some interesting thoughts on a not-so-pleasing coincidence: research at Oxford University by sociologists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog pointing to a correlation between engineering and terrorism. Tharoor wrote:

[Consider] the evidence: Osama bin Laden was a student of engineering. So were the star 9/11 kamikaze pilot Mohammed Atta, the alleged mastermind of that plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and their all-but-forgotten predecessor, the chief plotter of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef. The Oxford scholars, after putting together educational biographies for some 300 known members of violent Islamist groups from 30 countries, concluded that a majority of these Islamist terrorists were not just highly educated, but a startling number of them are engineers. Indeed, according to Gambetta and Hertog, nearly half had studied engineering.

This correlation, of course, need not be limited to engineering. In fact, it can be broadened and blamed on a mindset nurtured much earlier. A comprehensive education, whether secular or religious, is what is missing in the academic of modern times. And ‘intellectual certainty’, or intolerance, has come home to roost while disciplining minds in the name of education.

Ideological drive
Mediocrity, mediageneity and mechanicality are, of course, as much intellectual as they are structural, all prone to religio-centred extremism in the business of terrorising the state and public alike. This circle, therefore, has to be broken if a more healthy role is to be accepted from academics in combating extremism. So, what is to be done?

The intellectual campaign needs to be geared up, and on this Bangladeshi academics are slightly blessed. Bengal, after all, is one of the domains of the hyper-tolerant Sufis, as well as the relatively more receptive (and juristic) tradition of the Hanafis. There is therefore significant hope, despite the fact that the latter has lately been increasingly influenced by Saudi-Wahhabism. The problem is, as the Moroccan writer Fatima Mernissi points out, the “Muslim’s duty to turn into a rebel against an imam who makes unjust decisions.” Over the years, two opposing schools of thought have emerged, including in Bangladesh: the intolerant and often bloodthirsty Kharijites, and the rationalist Mutazilah. These two differed in terms of the means to be employed in this rebellion, but (again in Mernissi’s words) still “shared one basic idea: the imam must be modest and must in no way turn to despotism.”

As time went by, however, and as the Mutazilah were condemned and systematically driven out by the Muslim despots, particularly following the usurpation of power by al-Mutwakkil in 847, the Kharijites re-defined themselves in the context of newer despots and those championing the cause of extremism – including Hanbalism, or the more recent Wahhabism. Are the academics of contemporary times well-enough equipped to confront the latter, which has succeeded in making Islam in Bangladesh relatively more intolerant and violent? Or are they uncomfortable with the prospect of recovering Mutazilah and restoring its place in Islam, which could result in delinking them from the state’s much-coveted favour? After all, the state prefers unrestrained obedience to rational free thinking.

Of course, lack of religious knowledge need not be blamed for all of the intolerance and extremism in the Muslim community. In 2005, researchers at the University of Chicago’s Project on Suicide Terrorism found no relationship between suicide attacks and education, not even in terms of a country’s wealth and level of extremism. In fact, the Chicago study, looking at the beliefs of 384 out of 462 suicide attackers between 1980 and 2003, found that 43 percent were religious and 57 percent secular. The evidence, instead, points more in the direction of ideological drive and group dynamics, indicating the presence of both secular and religious compulsions for violent extremism. In the case of Bangladesh, therefore, there is an urgent need for academics to intensify critical research and reflection, and not engage themselves in a priori formulations and politically soothing conclusions. The former would certainly help to reproduce social capital, while the latter would only serve coercive and ill-bred economic forces.

Constant, critical voices
Certain structural innovations are required to make space for academics to ponder and pursue the intellectual. Let us consider three in particular. First, racial politics in public universities, including Dhaka University, must come to an end. This refers, of course, to the ‘party-demics’ and their obsession with party politics and partisanship. Several years ago, I came across a slogan written on the wall of the residence of Dhaka University’s vice-chancellor: bornabad nipat jak! (Down with racism). In class, I told my students that I was happy to see such writings on the walls, and the interest the students were taking in problems affecting the United States and South Africa. But my students quickly corrected me: “Sir, these writings are a call to shun the politics of the teachers!”

A double-layered delinking is required for the role of Bangladeshi academics to be meaningful in combating extremism. The autonomy of public universities must be fully restored, which can be achieved by replacing the current system of appointing academics to key posts. The formation of independent (national or international) search committees is necessary. In addition, we need a process to delink the student bodies from the ‘party-demics’ and party politics in general. This should not be understood as a suggestion to do away with the student unions. On the contrary, the students and the student unions need to be salvaged from party politics, and put into the service of reproducing social capital.

The second structural innovation relates to public insecurity, including corruption and extremism, and the academic input required to contain them. Incidentally, Bangladesh’s current caretaker government is said to be in the final stage of forming a national security council, which would attend to all national crises, from natural calamities to political misgovernance. That such national security councils, of one shade or another, are present in most countries around the world is taken as justification. But what is the organisational structure of this proposed body, including its composition?

Given the quasi-legal circumstances in which the issue has gained prominence in Bangladesh, it is likely that such a council would consist of members of the government, including the military and the opposition, with just a smattering of non-partisan members of civil society. In fact, if the council is to have a constant yet independent flow of information and analysis, then it cannot do without having a research cell made up mainly of capable academics, researchers and scholars. The council, of course, would require intelligence and media cells as well, but without the information from both of these cells going through a process of critical vetting, it would be impossible for the members to judge the merit of any crisis, and subsequently to recommend unbiased policy options towards its resolution.

It should be noted that the discipline of security studies in general is itself short of scholars and scholarship, and that there is an urgent need to institutionalise it given the current state of insecurity – in Bangladesh itself, but also regionally in Southasia. Without a steady stream of fresh, creative minds, constantly discussing security issues and recommending policy options, there is always the possibility of taking recourse to ‘old wine in new bottles’, what could be referred to as the ‘statist’ resolution to issues of a non-state or post-national nature.

The final structural innovation relates to the need to disseminate the intellectual output of the academic into the mainstream public discourse, beyond the corridors of the institution. Workshops, seminars, dialogues, poster campaigns, newspapers, columns and the like, while reproducing social capital, also go a long way in highlighting the menace and need for combating extremism. In this, the broad-based impact of the visual medium, including documentaries, cannot be overstated. This realisation would imply that academics and academic institutions, if they are to have a central role in combating extremism, must now turn increasingly towards the visual, perhaps even by way of starting up their own television channels.

This may sound a bit farfetched at the moment, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility, particularly for large institutions such as Dhaka University. Administrators could start down this path by expanding their college’s audio reach, by starting up or strengthening FM radio broadcasts; this could utilise the support of all faculties – arts, science, business, social science – and could have the students directly engage in programming. This is certainly one very strong way of linking the public directly with academia. One way or another, Bangladesh’s academics must ensure that they have something to say and that they are heard, if they are to seek the involvement of the public in combating extremism. #

First published in HIMAL Magazine, Kathmandu, Nepal, September 2008

Imtiaz Ahmed, a political scientist and prolific writer on political issues. He is a professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka