Mukti

All my hope is (not) gone

Posted in activism, blogging, forced disappearance, Rights by jrahman on November 19, 2017

It was over a decade ago, before smartphones, at the dawn of the Facebook age.  Most online communication still involved sitting with a laptop, or even desktop.  And daily routine involved checking a few googlegroups and blogsites over morning caffeine.  That morning, the big news was that Tasneem Khalil had been picked up by the army.  Over the next 24 hours, online activists and offline negotiators, from Dhaka to DC and a dozen other places. worked hard to secure his release.  CNN was involved, as was Bangladesh-related big wigs in the American foreign policy establishment.  And it was impressed upon the big wigs of the 1/11 regime that releasing Tasneem was in the best interest of everybody.

Deshe jacchi, kintu nervous lagcche, Caesar re kara niye gelo….  (Going to Dhaka, but feeling nervous, who took Caesar….) — someone was saying at a social event recently.  Caesar is the nickname of Mubashar Hasan, of Dhaka’s North South University.

Tasneem ke jokhon dhorsilo, ke, keno, kothaye, ei gula toh jana chilo….. (When they took Tasneem, we knew the who, why and where)….  — Tasneem got in trouble for publishing a piece linking Tarique Rahman, the DGFI and radical Islamists in North Bengal.  Mubashar has been missing for a week and half, and no one seems to know who has taken him or why.

His research involved globalisation and Islamisation — could be heavy stuff, sure.  But he wasn’t an investigative journalist or an avenging activist.  He was focussed on synthesis, and practical, policy-oriented research.  Still, he might have come across things that could upset people in Dhaka.

Do you notice I write in the past tense?  Have I given up on the possibility of Mubashar returning?

When you say it’s gonna happen “now” / Well when exactly do you mean? / See I’ve already waited too long / And all my hope is gone

Maybe not all hope is gone.  After all, his near and dear ones have been pleading, begging, from divine and Prime Ministerial intervention for Mubashar’s safe return.  If there was no hope, would they have supplicated thus?

But then again, in a decade, we have gone from defiant activism and applying pressure to quiet submission and passive acceptance — collective despair, you be the judge.

Mubashar was — what’s the point of not using the past tense — hopeful.  Unlike so many others — yours truly included — he did finish his PhD.  He started blogging after the glory days of Bangla blogosphere.  He worked within the system, because he knew that’s the only way to make change.

Most importantly, he overcame issues in personal life to give his daughter a better tomorrow.  We had bonded over not just the stupidity of Shahbagh, but also about co-parenting.  There is a little girl out there hoping his Baba will return with some My Little Pony gift.

I too submit, submit to the Almighty — please don’t let that girl grow up without hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shahbag to Shapla Chattar — songs of water and fire

Posted in activism, Bangladesh, blogging, Freedom of speech, history, Islamists, media, politics, Rights, uprisings by jrahman on March 26, 2014

The blog went into a hiatus about year ago. The reasons for that extended absence are, unfortunately, still relevant. That’s why the blog has been far less frequent than was the case in the past. However, it is what it is. I am not sure when the blog can be fully operational again. For now, pieces will come infrequently, and the blog will often be an archive for material published elsewhere. Also, the comments section will be off —it is disrespectful to not respond to comments, but since I can sometime be offline for days, if not weeks, it’s better to have the comments off.

This means no direct interaction with the reader.  But this also means the blog will become what blogs originally were — an online diary, a weblog, where one records one’s own thoughts and observations.  I guess it’s somewhat fitting that the first post in the new format is on the set of events that rocked Bangladesh as the blog went into hiatus.

These events, according to the contemporaneous analyses, were going to change everything forever. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the contemporaneous analyses were mostly wrong. This is a for-the-record post summarising my evolving thoughts as the events unfolded between 5 Feb and 5 May 2013. It is important to note what this is not.  This is not analysis — I am not trying to offer an explanation of what happened, nor provide any insight into what they mean for our past, present or future.  This is not activism either — I am not arguing any particular case.  Rather, this is an extremely self-indulgent post, the target here is really myself years down the track.  If anyone else reads it, that’s just bonus.

 

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Arrest warrants have started, the youth must awake

Posted in activism, blogging by mehomaan on October 10, 2013

AKM Wahiduzzaman, a BNP-leaning online activist, may become the first casualty of the draconian new ICT Act — see here for detail.   Guest-post by Shafquat Rabbee Anik. 

I know AKM Wahidizzuman, Apollo bhai, reasonably well.  He used to be involved in the Chhatra Dal politics.  During the Shahbag Awakening, multiple voices from the young generation of BNP, Jamaat, Awami League and left organisations sprung up in the internet.  Thousands tuned into the net to hear these voices.  No one forced anyone to do so.  People befriended or followed these voices because of their own curiosity or interest.  Among the nationalist voices, Apollo bhai is the most popular (in terms of readership count).

Professionally he teaches at a public university.  There is a youtube video of Apollo bhai where, as a geography teacher, he correctly predicted on TV the path of a recent cyclone.  At that time, other experts failed to correctly predict that path.  As far as I know, he is the author of the most popular and best-informed online article protesting the Rampal power plant project.  He was also vocal about the Tipaimukh project.  He used to participate in some TV talk shows as well.  But his popularity was mainly due to his razor sharp facebook statuses on daily political events.  He could say in hundred words what many others couldn’t manage in a thousand.

The process that has led to the issue of arrest warrant against Apollo bhai, and if he is indeed arrested as a result —the whole thing will be extremely shameful for online activists of all ideologies, whether they are nationalists, secularists, Islamists, Awamis, Shahbagis or leftists.  For everyone, this development will give birth to many worries.

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Blogging on hold…

Posted in blogging by jrahman on March 21, 2013

… indefinitely until unavoidable “real life” issues are sorted out.

A time for grown ups?

Posted in activism, politics by jrahman on February 23, 2013

Something curious has been happening in Bangladesh in the past 24 hours.  After the jumma prayers yesterday, groups belonging to a dozen or so small Islamist parties took out processions against ‘atheists’ and ‘apostates’ of Shahbagh.  Apparently these defenders of Islam were joined by Jamaat as well.  There were scuffles with police.  Shaheed Minar was attacked in Sylhet, and the national flag was burnt.  And then there were some counterattacks against Jamaat-owned businesses.  By nightfall, things were under control.

That’s what I get from the mainstream media (or the parts I can access — Prothom Alo and Daily Star aren’t safe for my iPad), and that’s not the curious thing.  If that’s all there was to it, it would be hardly different from the occasional rampage some of the more ‘pious’  and excitable fellows get up to every time any government wants to give women equal rights of inheritance.

The curious thing is what I see in facebook and blogs.  Judging by their account, Bangladesh stood on the brink of civil war.  Religious fanatics had openly declared war on the country as it exists.  On the other side, a large crowd had returned to Shahbagh in the evening, demanding that unless the government acts, there will be a revolution.

As explained earlier, on Shahbagh I’ve preferred to keep my mouth shut and eyes open.  That remains my general approach.  I have little factual understanding of what exactly is happening in Bangladesh.  It may be that my facebook friends are an alarmist bunch (bloggers of all types in all countries are usually a hyperventilating lot — Andrew Sullivan felt suicidal when Obama did poorly in a debate!), and the mainstream media had it right: nothing of consequence happened yesterday.  Or, it may be that there are complicated games at play — not being privy to any palace intrigues, I’ll leave conspiracy theorising to others.

If those scenarios happen, then what follows should be discarded.  But as long as there is a non-trivial probability that the more alarmist version is right — that Bangladesh was/is close to civil war — then I believe it’s time for the grown ups to calm things down. (more…)

সাতকাহন

Seven trashes collected by the senses.

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Shahbagh ramblings

Posted in activism, politics, society by jrahman on February 20, 2013

I had not been following the war crimes trial in much detail.  Like many, I was surprised by the sentencing of the Abdul Quader Mollah.  He was convicted, but not given the maximum penalty (death sentence) — what gives, I wondered.  I saw some facebook chatters about a behind-the-scene understanding between Awami League and Jamaat-e-Islami — the alleged war criminals don’t hang, and Jamaat abandons BNP and participates in the coming election, the speculation went.  I saw some facebook messages about a gathering in Shahbagh protesting the ‘farcical verdict’. 

Here is a video of the gathering.* 

I didn’t pay much attention.  I was wrong.  I was wrong not to pay attention. By the time I took notice, Shahbagh turned into a sea of people. I saw and heard and read of people of several generations going to Shahbagh. Some dismissed them as hujugey Bangali. But I think that’s insulting the sincerity and passion of large number of people from all walks of life. Clearly this was something we have not seen in Bangladesh for a long while.  And having been wrong in my decision to not pay attention, I decided to keep my mouth shut, and eyes open. 

In general, my reading of history and politics is that spontaneous, leaderless uprisings tend to eventually yield to organised forces.  I didn’t expect much from the Occupy or Anna Hazare movements.  Even in Egypt, I expected the much better organised Muslim Brotherhood to gain ahead of liberal forces.  The initial surprise and the large crowd in Shahbagh notwithstanding, I see no reason to change my view of history and politics when it comes to Shahbagh.  If Shahbagh changes Bangladesh, it will have to do so through the organised, mainstream politics of Awami League and BNP.  

This is not to say Shahbagh has no impact.  It clearly does.  Awami League has already changed the law governing the trial process, while BNP has explicitly stated that it will continue the trial.  Neither would have happened without Shahbagh.  Even if the movement stopped tomorrow, these are already concrete achievements.

And there may well be further ramifications, including the AL capitalising on the nationalistic sentiment for its re-election campaigns.  It’s just that whatever fundamental change we might be hoping for, I think the avenue for them is through organised politics.  If Shahbagh is to replace AL and BNP, then it has to eventually create organisation(s).  And by the same token, I don’t take seriously talks of fascism or fear of civil war.  Fascism requires a fascist party.  If AL is a fascist party, then it has been so without Shahbagh.  And a few renegade Jamaati vandalism or terrorist act a civil war does not make.

That’s about as much as what I have got on Shahbagh’s big picture as it enters the third week.  Over the fold, couple of specific issues that I’ve found interesting.

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Not really on Shahbagh

Posted in activism, blogging by jrahman on February 16, 2013

Thaba Baba, a nationalist and atheist blogger/facebook-er and a Shahbagh activist, has been brutally murdered last night.  There is a good possibility that he was killed for his writing.

If the murder is political, then liberty is under assault in Bangladesh in a way not seen in recent years.  We have seen the state gagging opposition media.  But with that kind of assault, there is an eventual corrective counter assault — as political tide changes, those who applaud the closing of Ekushey TV eventually become the victim of the temporary ban of Amar Desh.

But that’s not what happened here.  If Thaba Baba was indeed killed for his writing, then the killers are likely to be non-state actors.  The Shahbagh movement has already claimed him as the movement’s first shaheed, pointing the finger at militant, fundamentalist cadres of Jamaat-e-Islami.

If they are right, then Thaba Baba will join a long list of Bangladeshis killed for their views by militants supposedly acting in the name of Islam.

If they are right, will the Shahbagh movement remain non-violent?

This post is titled ‘not really on Shahbagh’.  That’s because I am still not sure I understand well enough what’s going on to say anything particularly interesting.  Never mind interesting, my own thoughts are in a state of such flux that even jotting them down just for the record is difficult.  For example, I see a lot of comments like ‘this is a new revolution, Bangladesh will never be the same again’ interspersed with a few ‘dawn of fascism’.  What I don’t see is an analysis of how a dozen or so people turned into a hundred thousand or more overnight.   Until I understand what’s happening — and it may well have ended before I feel I understand remotely enough — I will leave the commentary to others.

Instead, let me return to Thaba Baba.  This blog’s fundamental principle is liberty.  If a Bangladeshi blogger is killed for his opinions (whatever the opinions may be), then all bloggers have been put on notice.

That cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

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The fifth anniversary post

Posted in blogging by jrahman on October 10, 2012

While I was involved with student magazines, it was only during grad school that I started toying with the idea of long form writing.  The first idea was a Clancy-style Desi thriller — a Muhajir general in Pakistan army trying to affect the ground realities in Kashmir, setting off a nuclear crisis, which is defused by a daring Indian Muslim academic with the help of a Bollywood heart throb with a secret past…  It was good six months before the Kargil War, which (along with the pressures of school) put paid to that story.

The next idea was a bit more serious — a group of Desi boys and girls growing up in a Sydney-like city, with its sun and surf, but also the ethnic suburbs, you know, the angst and the agony of the whole ABCD existenz.  Zadie Smith had just written a book on that theme, but hey, while she dedicated White Teeth to Jimmy Rahman, I was Jimmy Rahman.  That story was to end with a spectacular explosion in some iconic location.  The story was conceived prior to 9/11, and needless to say, it died on that day. 

That story upset many of my closest friends because, well, I didn’t portray them in charitable fashion.  I tried to redress it a few years later.  With my brother, I wrote about 70 pages of this.  This would have been the biggest, baddest Bollywood movie ever.  Sadly, life got in the way. 

Blogs are much easier to write.  Couple of hours maximum for a long piece, half an hour for shorter ones.  Write about whatever you fancy.  Don’t need to continue on the same subject.  That was the idea behind A-A-A.

As Bangladesh was sleepwalking into 1/11, I started following UV, where a blogger named Rumi caught my attention with his political analysis.  While everyone was convinced that Iajuddin Ahmed was going to rig the January 2007 election for BNP, Rumi Ahmed argued that in the ‘digital age’, it’s very difficult for an unpopular incumbent (like BNP was at that time) to pull off a rigged election against a determined opposition (like the Awami League could have been).  I agreed with Rumi bhai’s analysis, while he felt strongly enough about Ziaur Rahman to write to me personally about this post

Correspondence continued after 1/11, with analysis of what happened and what was to come. By April 2007, I was blogging in UV. That was also when DWC started.  By then, UV had decided to oppose the regime, and DWC heavily pushed the anti-1/11 agenda. 

While I contributed regularly to UV/DWC, I needed a space to post personal thoughts/ideas/ramblings, most of which were too half-baked for broader association.  A-A-A wasn’t really the place for it, not the least because the other bloggers there had little interest in Bangla politics.  So, five years ago this week, this blog was born.

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Is the Bangladeshi garments sector facing collapse?

Posted in activism, economics, labour, trade by jrahman on September 19, 2012

Deyalpotrika has compiled recent New York Times articles on labour unrest in the Bangladeshi garments sector.  She provocatively asks whether ‘Made in Bangladesh’ will become a scarlett letter.  In the comments section, Naeem Mohaiemen claims:

If you don’t think this is the coming crisis that will destroy Bangladesh’s economy, you’re too busy with other tamasha …. Look at the NYT reader comments and you can see the contours of the coming Bangladeshi goods boycott.

Now, I enjoy a tamasha as the next person.  But I enjoy thinking about economics even more, and definitely lot more than the next person.  So I’ve thought about the issue.  Are we really likely to see a boycott of Bangladeshi goods?  No, I doubt we will. 

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