Mukti

Ghosts of Shapla Chattar

Posted in Bangladesh, history, Islamists, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on November 4, 2018

What is the current status of Jamaat politics in Bangladesh?  The country’s largest Islamist party — at least in terms of parliamentary representation over the past few decades — is denied registration by the Election Commission.  So it can’t participate in the next election under its own name.  Its members can, of course, participate as independent candidates, or under some other party’s ticket.  In either case, they won’t be able to use the party’s traditional electoral symbol of scale.

But Jamaat is not officially banned.  The party still exists.  And is used as a cudgel by every Awami hack to beat up, literally all too often, any opposition voice.

Ironically, the legal status of Jamaat in today’s Bangladesh seems to be pretty much what it was under the bette noir of the current regime.  As Rumi Ahmed describes in detail, Jamaat was denied electoral registration when Ziaur Rahman restored multi-party politics.   ‘Zia rehabilitated Jamaat’ is one of the commonest lie in Bangladesh, and is so successful as a propaganda that even BNPwallahs don’t tend to refute it.  The fact of the matter is, to quote Rumi bhai:

Ziaur Rahman’s assessment was that after their direct opposition to Bangladesh in 1971 and their atrocities – Jamaat brand politics is too toxic and unsuitable for Bangladesh. He was also very aware of Jamaat’s organizational base and 5-10% vote base which he wanted to be used in the joint moderate IDL platform.

To elaborate on this, Zia was acutely aware of the risk of disenfranchising a part of the country that was capable of ruthless, organised violence.  In that regard, allowing a parliamentary party that explicitly drew its politics from Islam was an act of far-sighted statesmanship in 1978 — that is, before the Muslim world was rocked by Ayatollah Khomeini’s triumphant return to Tehran, Soviet tanks in Kabul, and the bloodbath in Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Anyway, this post is not about Zia’s legacy.  Instead, I want to think through some issues around Islamist politics in Bangladesh as we head to what might be another politically charged winter.

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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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