Rendering unto Caesar – Who Trusts Anu Muhammad’s Judgment?

Posted in economics, politics by jrahman on July 9, 2011

Guest post by Dhakashohor.

It was with great pleasure and relief that I read Shahana Siddiqui’s piece on the protests against the oil deal with Conoco-Phillips. It felt like someone was finally raising some of the issues that had bothered me. Shahana is right to say that, sometimes, the arguments against such deals do not amount to anything more than neo-Luddism. An exception is Rahnuma Ahmed’s piece here, where she rightly criticises successive governments’ lack of transparency of the terms and conditions of these contracts.

But I want to raise another point here: that of the crude anti-Americanism/anti-imperial politics of one of the key people involved in these protests — Professor Anu Muhammad.

I used to have a lot of respect for the Professor back in the days when I was more suspicious of multinationals than lefty activists. But then l’Affaire Yunus happened, and we all got to see where an old-style left activist like Anu Muhammad stood on issues of individual versus state. Especially when the individual in question happened to be pro-market and pro-Western.

Here is Anu Muhammad in April of this year:

The economics professor from Jahangirnagar University noted that despite the current US stance, it did not favour anybody for personal relationship. Anu reasoned that the support for Yunus, and thereby microfinance, was for two reasons.

“Firstly, [microfinance] has become an industry. [The US] doesn’t want to face another crisis as its economic condition is not so good following the depression.”

He went on, “Secondly, it has become a model. They’ve launched a worldwide campaign.”

“The US wants to keep microfinance from falling on its face at any cost as alternatives might be politically and ideologically disastrous.”

Right. So the fate of the world’s only superpower is hinging on the fortunes of microcredit. Someone alert Bernanke and get some TARP funds into Grameen immediately. Maybe he’ll even come in a helicopter.

So at the moment, I’m not entirely sure what is motivating some of the leftist activists who are against this deal. Especially what is motivating Anu Muhammad.

Are they really afraid that the costs of drilling in the Bay will far outweigh the benefits under the terms of the deal?

Or would they be more comfortable if it was Gazprom/GDF Suez doing the drilling instead of Conoco-Phillips?

I’m not entirely sure.

What I’m sure of is that, post l’Affaire Yunus, I’m finding it increasingly hard to take their word that it’s because they are afraid that this deal is not pro-people. Because when the 97% shareholders of Grameen were trumped by the government with its 3% shareholdings, Anu Muhammad was on the side of the government and not of the people.

Ahh, but back then the people were being backed by the Big Sheriff in the Cowboy Hat, and those ultra-patriotic Awami League supporters all over the place were busy beating their chests at how their Netri was defying the Superpower. (Wonder where they all are these days…)

It’s been years since I’ve read the New Testament, but one line from it has always stayed with me: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s”. This is usually interpreted in American politics as supporting the division between Church and State. But it does have another wonderful meaning when seen in its historical context. The words are uttered by a man from the Roman-annexed province of Judea, surely the very definition of the marginalized in that time and place. Yet he says: you must not expect only the Romans to be just, you, the marginalized yourself, must be just and give the Romans their due. Even the most powerful of the Romans.

It’s something for every anti-imperial activist to think about: sometimes the Empire is right. If you did not give them their due then, why should we trust your judgment now?

Further readings:

On role of government post-1989:

Option value of not drilling:


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4 Responses

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  1. tacit said, on July 10, 2011 at 12:12 am

    DS, I disagree. That quotation is directly concerned about taxes. As far as I know, Bangladesh is not the 51st state. There is nothing that is owed to Caesar.

    I’ve seen the point made in many places that if it was a Russian or Chinese company, Anu Mohammed would not be so vocal. But how is that either here or there? If Bangladesh was a province of Myanmar rather than Pakistan, India would have behaved differently in 1971. Does that mean we regret their support in 1971?

  2. dhakashohor said, on July 10, 2011 at 5:04 am

    I disagree on both counts I’m afraid.

    Such literalist interpretation of the Bible is quite Medieval (but apparently quite popular in certain parts of the US) and not up to your usual standards Tacit. Yes, in the particular instance, the quote was regarding taxes. But that’s a bit like saying that “turning the other cheek” refers to standard Christian response to slapping in particular rather than aggression in general.

    But if you prefer a categorical denial on my part lest I come across as Uncle Sam’s paid agent: no I don’t believe Bangladeshis owe America anything. Other than the fairness they owe everyone else.

    To address your second point:

    The question here is NOT about whether Anu Muhammad would favour some other nation. I’ve not come across that anywhere yet.

    The question is that he comes across – to me, if not the charukola kids – as rabidly anti-American, to the point where he is willing to sacrifice decency and Bangladeshis’ well-being to score ideological points against them – I refer to the Yunus saga rather than the current one. Of course, politics and resistance makes for strange bedfellows, but let me put it to you as a Hillary supporter from back in the day: if David Duke had endorsed Hillary in 2008, would that have lent credibility to her campaign?

    Ok, someone who hates black people vs someone who hates the Romans – huge difference right? But that was the entire point, there shouldn’t be.

    That 1971 bit really is a misleading analogy, but the differences are illuminating. The question of whether we should remain part of Pakistan was one that was mulled over over 25 years, debated by both politicians and technocrats and ultimately put to a public vote. In this case, such a debate is not being had. And the participation of such an anti-American activist is muddying the waters and hurting the movement’s credibility. Its like India intervening to “liberate” East Bengal in 1951 rather than 1971. History would have been very different indeed. In any case, while realpolitik might be a good ideology for conducting international relations, its record for building up prosperous societies is unsurprisingly weak.

  3. tacit said, on July 10, 2011 at 9:28 am

    So, you think AM’s opposition to the deal is based on his rabid anti-American feelings rather than any ideological position? And the example cited is the fact that he didn’t support Dr. Yunus. But as I understand, it is quite common for those with left-of-center ideologies to believe that microcredit is a latter day economic opiate of the masses. So, there may well be multiple reasons for his stance regarding Dr. Yunus.

    Finally, hating someone due to racist views as opposed to based on intellectual world-view and cerebral differences – no, I think there should be a difference.

  4. dhakashohor said, on July 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I am aware of how left-of-center ideologues regard microcredit. What has made me immensely uncomfortable during the Yunus affair has been how they have let this ideological division blind them to the rule of law and human decency – namely that the sacking of Yunus has nothing to do with microcredit’s underpinning market ideology, which will remain untouched by the Awami League. This was a personal vendetta, as was obvious to anyone above the age of 6, and yet every left-of-center ideologue jumped on to the bandwagon and began talking about anti-Yunus points. I have linked to the article – there Professor Anu Muhammad is quoted as supporting the bdnews24 “siphoning” allegation. There were others who did the same, most notably the blogger Shafiur of Imperfect World.

    It’s one thing to be ideologically opposed to someone. I have differences of opinion with you at the moment. Tomorrow the government accuses you of drug trafficking and gun-running thanks to clearly planted evidence. Tar maaney ki ami checha mechi shuru korbo: ha Tacit hocchey master criminal, o amar shaathey ei AM-MY issue te eye-to-eye dekhchey na – o nishchoi karo na karo dalal. 🙂

    Of course not. There might be multiple reasons to criticise micro credit, and God knows I’m aware of them, but not one of his multiple reasons for his stance against Yunus in April are valid. That much I can assure you of.

    At this point, I don’t think that Anu Muhammad’s differences with America/Americans are intellectual or cerebral anymore. Again, it has to do with his criticism of those Americans who support microcredit. Some of them are likely to be even more left of centre than Anu Muhammad when it comes to such dimensions as social/cultural norms. Their only problem is that they are American and they subscribe to their one shahadah, that the free market rules. Sorry if I sound sour and reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt – given my arguments so far, you can see why.

    But I’ll retract the David Duke comparison. No one deserves to be compared to that creep.

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