Delwar Hossain Sayedee, an Islamic preacher and a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country’s largest Islam-pasand party, was sentenced to death on 28 February for war crimes committed during the 1971 Liberation War. Within hours, Jamaat cadres and activists clashed violently with police and law enforcement agencies. Scores have been killed in some of the worst political violence the country has experienced in recent years.
Five other senior Jamaat leaders, including its current and former chiefs, are being prosecuted for war crimes committed in 1971. Another leader was sentenced to life imprisonment on 5 February. That sentence triggered what has come to be called the Shahbag Awakening—a month of largely peaceful gathering of tens of thousands of people in the middle of Dhaka. A key demand of the largely government-supported Awakening is to ban Jamaat.
Will the Jamaat be banned? The ruling Awami League has a three-fourths majority in parliament, while the Jamaat is a key ally of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. A general election is expected before the year is over. So there are complex political calculations involved. Meanwhile, even if the party survives, how will it perform if its top leaders are convicted (and possibly executed) for war crimes?
I argued in the last post that Bangladesh is back to politics-as-usual. Whereas I was surprised by the Shahbag Awakening*, needing a reassessment of a lot of my priors, nothing like that is needed to analyse politics-as-usual. I can use my mental model of politics — including the key players and their objectives, incentives and strategies — to analyse the situation. That doesn’t, of course, mean the analysis will be necessarily correct. But even when I get things wrong, I can update my views with the latest infromation as long as the basic framework of my analysis is intact.
An analysis of unfolding events since Friday makes for some rather uncomfortable conclusions for me. And yet, there are times when one ought to make a stand, even if it means taking a side. I believe now is such a time. Over the fold is why this blog rejects tomorrow’s hartal.
In a number of online forums including this blog and UV, I’ve chided Bangladeshi progressives for lumping all Islamic movements — harakat, to use the Arabic term preferred by many participants of such movements — as one monolithic and homogenous enemy, and demonising them as war criminals / collaborators / militants (if not chhagu or something worse). For some ultranationalists, anyone with facial hair and skull cap – dari-tupi — or hijab is enough to warrant such derogatory tagging. Childish such behaviour may be, but in a country where 90% of the people are Muslim, that behaviour will have dangerous blow back.
This post, however, is not about making that argument. Rather, this is really my attempt at classifying several streams of harakat as I see them in (hopefully soon to be post war crimes trial) Bangladesh. The analysis behind the classification is based on my own personal experience, observation and conversation, as well as a reading of the relevant literature (authors I would recommend include Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, Timur Kuran and Wali Nasr).
As always, the views are ever evolving and tentative. I may well change my mind in future. In fact, I will very likely do so. But this is how I see the movements in near future Bangladesh.
This is a positive post, not a normative one. That is, I am not going to comment on where I stand on the movements or their objectives. Rather, the idea is to classify the movements.
All About Eve, the Oscar-winner in 1950, is a drama set in the black-and-white era Broadway. It shows how the seemingly innocent Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) connives, deceives and manipulates people and event to eclipse the ageing star Margo Channing (Bette Davis). In her quest, Eve is initially assisted by the theatre critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). But before long, DeWitt makes it clear who calls the shot. Let me outsource to wiki to describe how the movie ends:
After the awards ceremony, Eve hands her award to Addison, skips a party in her honor, and returns home alone, where she encounters a young fan—a high-school girl—who has slipped into her apartment and fallen asleep. The young girl professes her adoration and begins at once to insinuate herself into Eve’s life, offering to pack Eve’s trunk for Hollywood and being accepted. “Phoebe” (Barbara Bates), as she calls herself, answers the door to find Addison returning with Eve’s award. In a revealing moment, the young girl flirts daringly with the older man. Addison hands over the award to Phoebe and leaves without entering. Phoebe then lies to Eve, telling her it was only a cab driver who dropped off the award. While Eve rests in the other room, Phoebe dons Eve’s elegant costume robe and poses in front of a multi-paned mirror, holding the award as if it were a crown. The mirrors transform Phoebe into multiple images of herself, and she bows regally, as if accepting the award to thunderous applause, while triumphant music plays.
You see, whether it is Margo or Eve or Phoebe — it’s Addison who makes or breaks the star. The question is, what makes Addison tick?
And more generally, what motivates the media?
I don’t really have much to say about how the war crimes trial is unfolding. However, I think it’s important to push back against a propaganda being peddled. According to some anti-trial voices (in facebook, Bangla blogs, newspapers, and even some TV talk show stars), the trial has annoyed the Saudis, and remittances are crashing because of that.
The thing is, there is no evidence of that in the data. The chart below shows through the year growth in total remittance and remittance from Saudi Arabia. Do you see the slump in remittance from the kingdom as we approach the trial conclusion?
(Source: CEIC Asia, smoothed by three month moving average).
There may be reasons to worry about the outlook for remittance — there could be a slump in oil prices, or there might be political turmoil in the Gulf. We should be concerned with the human rights situation in the region. But Saudi annoyance over the war crimes trial is causing a remittance slump — that’s nonsense.