imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for September, 2006

Sunday
Sep 10,2006

Holy smoke - Bangladesh is set to get its first saint!! Yes folks it another first for bengalis - this time a bengali is entering the pantheon of saints! The process has started for the canonisation of the late Archbishop Theotonius Amal Ganguly. At present he has been declared a “servant of god.” This is the first stage of a three stage process of becoming a saint. Apparently he is the first “servant of God” among Bengalis and of course the first in Bangladesh.

I don’t want to be flippant here but when it comes to matters of religion I can never help myself - so here goes: I think this could have a beneficial impact on tourism. Of course the odd sighting of the Virgin would help, and bleeding stigmata always adds a bit of spice.

I wonder how the Government of Bangladesh and its islamic zealot contingent will react to this news. Christians have faced restriction after restriction -  everything from bible printing and dissemination, preaching and the formal status of christian organisations.

Mindless Violence

Saturday
Sep 9,2006

Dhallywood violence

And coming tomorrow to streets near you - more violence! As if the violence was not enough the other day, the grateful action-movie-loving citizens of Bangladesh have been promised another round this sunday in high definition resolution. The plot line of this real life movie is simple: street violence followed by casualties followed by a sense of victimhood followed by feigned outrage followed by more street violence etc. And with it no doubt we will get more still shots of Hasina’s son like this one below. Never mind that poor Saber is bleeding internally, Awami League wants you to see the still shots of the annointed one its handsome lead man.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury in hospital

Will you be in the front row tomorrow Joy? And what about some pictures of you with the less well known actors from the latest action sequences? The cannon fodder er I mean extras your mum relies on for these shows? ie Joe public?

Hartal poster

Me? I am going for escapism. I am going to get away from it all and see some mindless violence in some disreputable cinema hall as soon as I land next week.

Friday
Sep 8,2006

So when Tarek Zia hits out at civil society for daring to speak out, Mahfuz Anam quite rightly used the front page of the Daily Star to write a trenchant piece on Tarek’s effrontery. And we feel proud that people are up for the fight. But wait - have you checked today’s news? When Mahmudur Rahman tried to use the courts to muzzle leading civil society figures ( who are part of the civil society coalition, as it were, with the Daily Star and Prothom Alo) guess what happens? They reach an out of court settlement! Eh? You wot mate? Yes you read correctly. They have reached an out of court settlement.  An amicable settlement even. Dear god. Does this mean Rehman Sobhan and Debapriya are somehow acknowledging they were at fault with the things they were saying in scholarly papers and international conferences and to which Rahman took such exception? I don’t think they are but it certainly looks like it does it not? Why not stick to your guns and see how far this Rahman can take his nonsensical charge? Why not put the boot in and use the platform provided to further argue your case? If you are sure about your research and your statements why not stick by them? Why appear to come to some sort of agreement which to all intents and purposes sounds like capitulation?? And why in heaven’s name have the Ambassador of the USA and the High Commissioner of the UK broker this ? What kind of precedent does this set? Dear me. Talk about immaturity or what.

Thursday
Sep 7,2006

Saber Hossain Chowdhury

Every so often the noblemen of Bangladesh organise massive pageants called “gheraos” and “hartals.” During these events, the brave knights of the order of Hasina go forth and do their best against, what they call, the brute and corrupt forces of Queen Khaleda, the widow of a former supreme knight of the realm. Quite what the purpose is of all the pomp and fanfare no one is sure about. One conjecture is that the photo-opportunities provided by the jousting like the one above of Saber Hossain Chowdhury - taken during yesterday’s festivities - are just too good to miss out on for the knights concerned. They enhance the knight’s credibility within the pecking order and help to ensure a high sanctification should the incumbent monarch ever be unseated and should Hasina the Usurper ever come to occupy the throne. Queen Khaleda’s noblemen never directly challenge Hasina’s knights preferring the comforts of Gulshan and cantonment homes. Rather they let loose their dogs of war - Rab and police and peasants if any are available - and they ensure that these timeless rituals never change.

You too can witness these quaint cultural and historical activities. Just book a flight to Dhaka around December or better still January of next year. Better than the Pamplona Bull Run any day.

East Timor and Bangladesh

Wednesday
Sep 6,2006

I am going to indulge myself today and reminisce about the old days and talk about personal things. About 14 years ago I set up the Oxford university East Timor society with the encouragement of my East Timorese mate, Joao Boavida. (Joao -where the f… are you?) Noam Chomsky even agreed to be our patron when we approached him at a presentation he was giving. Anyway, a couple of weeks back I was introduced to a certain Wing Commander of the Bangladesh airforce. All he talked about was East Timor or Timor-Leste ( its official name) and its many connections with Bangladesh. Everything from portugese traders to present day Bangladeshi entrepreneurs making a living out there to the shared experience of genocide at the hands of a state bent on imposing its will.

My airforce contact has some amazing shots of Timor-Leste from the sky ( he was a copter pilot with the UN peace keeping force) and equally amazing tales to tell - some of which I shall recount here another day. He even argued, though a little unconvincingly, that the people there look like us Bengalis (how unfortunate that would be…). To prove his point he apparently persuaded a group of East Timorese women to wear saris, and took a snap of them. He now challenges bengali friends and colleagues to tell the group apart from bengali women, and he insists that that those taking the test don’t manage to detect any difference!

I am co-producing a documentary film ( more on this later too!) and it is apt that I should be re-connecting with East Timor. It was a documentary about the massacre in Dili by the Indonesian forces in the early nineties which made me realise the power of film making. As always I am looking to my south african mates to point the way ahead, and I have already received essential tips from them. For which, thanks. As always.

Bangladeshis in the Middle East

  • Filed under: labour
Monday
Sep 4,2006

If you scan online news sites from the middle east, you will find lots of stories about the plight of workers - bangladeshi workers. The coverage is not surprising really given that Bangladeshis make up 10 percent of the population of the United Arab Emirates.

Illicit relations: if you are a woman worker and you acquire a boyfriend you are likely to end up in the nick. And if no one pays for your air fare to go back home, you will stay there.

Sexual and Physical assault: Becoming a domestic help is a risky matter. So much so that the government of Bangladesh frowns upon it. Nevertheless labour touts/dalals still trick people into becoming domestic workers, and they often end up in very uncomfortable circumstances. Kulsum Akhtar Moni went to Dubai “in search of a better life for her daughter.” Somewhere along the way, she was coerced by five men into prostitution. She could not tolerate her life as a prostitute and the five threw her out. Threw her out of a window that is.

Bachelor Buildings of Abu Dhabi: The living accommodation provided for workers - both married and unmarried - is atrocious. Charles Stratford reports on the “rotten stench that fills the back of your throat…” in squalid, dimly lit and unsafe buildings.

Entrepreneurialism and devotion: Newsboy by night and car cleaner by day, Tajulislam holds down two jobs in Dubai and sends his hard earned money back home to support his parents. Remittances sent back home by Bangladeshis from the UAE totalled 512.6 million US dollars between July 2005-June 2006.

Friday
Sep 1,2006

Ziauddin Sardar

Ziauddin Sardar is a leading british muslim intellectual and is the author of Desperately Seeking Paradise (amongst others). The above book is a must read for anyone wanting a synopsis and analysis of the major trends in Islam. In the book, Sardar engagingly recounts his journey through many muslim societies trying to get to grips with different approaches and philosophies, and critiquing them along the way. I could not put the book down, and though i had difficulty with his critique of secularism, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to all and sundry. There was a channel 4 docu pretty much based on the book - but his intellect and charm are much more evident in the book.

The above book actually starts off with his stint in the Tablighi movement - where he ends up running away with a young (white) girl and takes her home to his parents! Now, Sardar has new light to shed on the Tablighi movement. He says that the character of the movement is changing. More than that, the change has come about through infiltration and is anything but benign. I want to quote at length and hope that the New Statesman chaps, where the article appears, won’t mind. The relevance to Bangladesh is that each year the movement has its biggest gathering in Tongi - just a few miles from Dhaka - with followers attending from all over the world.

Conventionally, the Tablighis are seen as an unchanging, conservative, benign, global network of simple preachers. This, I think, is a serious mistake. Organisations do not remain static. Simply because Tablighi Jamaat has followed exactly the same course for decades, no one thinks it can change. It has. Drastically.

To begin with, there is not one but two Tablighi Jamaats. A breakaway group emerged in the mid-1990s and added a seventh point to the Jamaat’s programme: jihad in Pakistan and abroad. In October 1995, a group of Tablighi soldiers from the Pakistani army were involved in a plot to overthrow Benazir Bhutto, the then prime minister. The plot was discovered; and Bhutto purged the army, sending a string of Tablighi officers into early retirement. But the new faction, for all intents and purposes quite indistinguishable from the old one, went on to establish its headquarters in the northern Punjab town of Taxila, from where it advocates active involvement in politics and jihad.

But even the old Jamaat is not what it used to be. It has been infiltrated by groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, the banned organisation responsible for sectarian violence in Pakistan. Office-holders in Lashkar-e-Toiba, and other militant organisations such as Harkat-ul-Ansar, openly boast that they recruit their volunteers from the Tablighi Jamaat. This doesn’t surprise me. An unquestioning mind, which is what the Tablighi tends to produce, can easily be redirected towards nefarious ends.