A time to write 3

Posted in activism, blogging, Uncategorized by jrahman on October 28, 2019

Yes, we have to write.  And we need to be cautious and sensible, which is easier said than done.  The question, however, still remains — where to write?

Back in December, an editor friend told me in December 2018 to write in Facebook — you’ll get many more readers there!  He is still right, insofaras numbers are concerned.  Facebook would easily garner a large readership.  And size does matter if the primary objective is to shape the daily news cycle.

However, the longer term impact of the running-commentary-on-the-news-of-the-day is about as high as the bitter personality feuds that pervade the social media.  For any kind of longer form writing, Facebook is simply not all that useful.  If nothing else, as Zia Hassan experienced recently, it is quite easy for the regime’s trolls to disable or delete or erase the analysis posted in Facebook.

Ideally, there would be a multi-media platform where:

  • short, rapid-fire posts from Facebook are archived;
  • videos — including live ones — are posted or streamed;
  • long form writings are published and followed up with contrasting views;
  • TED-talk style videos are shared on relevant topics; and
  • all of these are publicized.

Incidentally, that was roughly the vision I had for the Unheard Voices blog in about a decade ago.  And I had suggested something similar to the editors of Nuraldeen blog in 2013-14.  If anything, there is perhaps a greater need / appetite for such a platform now.

Of course, just because there is demand does not necessarily mean supply is forthcoming, because this is not a well-functioning market.  You have to be incredibly idealistic (to the point of perhaps being naïve!) and energetic to try something like this in today’s Bangladesh.

The point about idealism is perhaps self-evident.  Let me stress the bit about hard work.  Running a platform like above is a full-time job — three people put 20-25 hours each a week on average on UV back in the day.  And much of the work is unglamorous chore — chasing people to meet deadline, proof reading, managing ego clashes and such like.  This is not for someone who treats writing as a glorified hobby.

I have been following two individuals with tremendous potential — Anupam Debashis Roy and Asif Shibgat Bhuiyan.  The former has started a platform that shares with this blog not just the name, but also a commitment to liberal democracy.  The latter’s experiments on youtube and publications on Islam show that a liberal future is still possible.

In solidarity with both.


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A time to write 2

Posted in activism, blogging by jrahman on October 16, 2019

It’s a time to write because, to put it bluntly, there is a moral imperative to write while we still can, before it’s too late.  But even if we accept that as a self-evident, axiomatic truth, questions still remain about what to write, for whom, and where?  There are, of course, many possible answers — let a hundred flowers bloom I say!


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.



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.


Blogging on hold…

Posted in blogging by jrahman on March 21, 2013

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

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.



Posted in 1971, activism, Bangladesh, blogging, China, Drama, foreign policy, history, India, movies, people, politics by jrahman on June 29, 2012

Seven trashes collected by the senses.


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For the news junkies

Posted in activism, blogging by jrahman on April 17, 2012

A number of things have happened in the past few months that would be worthy of Naeem Mustafa and Col Rumi.  But I haven’t posted about rumbles in the cantonment, gruesome double murders, or about corruption scandals forcing ministerial resignations.  And a few readers have asked why.

The answer is two-fold.  First, thanks to the vagaries of time zones, “real life” commitments, and software issues, I am usually pretty late to these stories myself.  This rules out ‘breaking’ any news. 

However, I could analyse some of these events, and their consequences.  And that’s where the second factor comes in.  I don’t think my analysis of current events are particularly good.  This is particularly true of matters political.  For example, I have little to say about the fallout of the Suranjit saga that one can’t get from many other sources. 

Of course, I may have little of interest to say about border killing or minority persecution — and that hasn’t stopped me from posting about them.  But then again, on both issues, the posts came when I felt like writng about them. 

So, the news junkies are very likely to be disappointed with this blog.  But there is, potentially, some good news for them.  Some new bloggers, and a few old hands, have started what could be a very exciting site.  (Some of my pieces will be cross-posted there time-to-time).

The founders of Alal-o-Dulal prefer to be low key for now.  I hope their wish doesn’t come true, and the blog becomes a huge hit.

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