16.2.13

Shahbagan: Garden of Hate and Fear

For the last week or so, the spectacle at Shahbag has continued to drive and distract political attentions in Bangladesh. This gathering calls for the execution of people it designates 1971 war criminals and the banning of religion based political parties, namely Jamat e Islami. Meanwhile the government has been busy passing legislation to allow itself the facility to hang people that its courts decide not to.

Without being a member of the party, standing for fair trials for the accused and non-secular political rights should be a no-brainer position. However, it requires a lot of people to argue uphill against their received wisdom and against a secular liberal establishment that has raised a blinded generation over some years. It doesn't help that Jamaat's own leaders have failed to address these issues directly, introspectively and convincingly enough.

Sentiment built over decades.
Into the mouths of babes:
"They are war criminals. We want them hanged."
The Shahbag demo is the descendant of a collective that rose to prominence in March of 1992 by holding mock trials of its designated war criminals. The demands and narrative of this Nirmul Committee match Shahbag, which builds on its emotional, organisational and (mis)informational foundations. The younger generation will have had less contact with people lived through enough of our political history to know history started well before 1971.

There has been a disappointing but predictable cover-up of the negative nature of the protest, a cover-up which shows not just me, but a wider audience how superficial so many of Bangalee Nationalists are with their oft-advertised liberal values.  From the naff novelist daughter of the Dhaka press baron, to the BRAC PR man, who used to run a human rights blog, and the trendy lefty anthropologist.  It's just quite sad.

Playground politics learnt from an earlier generation.
Nothing new here.
The twitter behaviour has been interesting to participate in. The intolerance of the proShahbag twitterati really is something of a liability to the liberal's projection of a new political horizon.  Detractors are put onto hit-lists and functionaries ordered to report them as spam (see left).

Such silencing of dissent is not confined to social media, but extends to print media, with Jamaat's newspaper Naya Diganta's building burnt by the ruling party student thugs. These are messy, dirty and greasy times. Mess has taken on new forms, for example, one of the things that Shahbag has prompted is a wider spread adoption of twitter amongst the different political camps in Bangladesh.

Shibir, Jamaat's student front, are not responding to violence against them in an angelic or cheek turning fashion. Accusations abound regarding their violence, from the usual quarters and usually without too much context. It appears that they have not, as yet, decided to go ape shit. It is difficult to know whether they have a creative way out of this. What would I do if I were them? Either way looks deadly and oppressive. Desh watchers have their work cut out for them establishing the truth of the violence these days.

Starting to unwind
Yesterday was Friday, the day of Jumma prayers. In the coastal areas of Cox's Bazaar, police fired on a post Jumma procession of Jamaat activists, killing between 4 and 7 individuals including a child and a random female bystander. Later at night, a young pro-Shahbag blogger was murdered in a grisly fashion in Dhaka.

All loss of life is to be mourned, and as we know, some loss of life is mourned and politically mobilised more powerfully than others. Late Rajib Haidar's death has unjustly and prematurely been attributed to Jamaat by co-protesters and now it seems the Prime Minster.  It looks set to fuel a new level of paranoia, fear and venom. Today many protesters were scratching their heads over the role of the janaza as funeral rites for someone who apparently didn't self identify with the faith any longer.

Watching the Shahbag nonsense engine deploy its master narrative on the loss of their comrade demonstrates just how a falsity, unchecked and unproven can be generated and spread in very little time. Within minutes of news being broken, the link was made to the Jamat and by morning it was well embedded into common sense.

Alternarratives
You might be interested to know who isn't joining on the bandwagon. An Indian writer mused on the similar sadisms of Indians and Bangladeshis.
...no matter how much we claim ourselves as democracies, at the end of the day we are nothing but a poor people who vent their frustration through sadistic instincts
At the start of the week it looked as in the Bangladeshi Nationalists (BNP) had started to wake up and recognise their irrelevance to an important public issue. The Weekly Holiday featured some less emotional thinking, and the ever challenging MBI Munshi cast a penetrating gaze on Shahbag's imagery, rhetoric and context. In the near future, Mahmudur Rahman's Amar Desh will continue to be one of the few major papers with the balls to face down our politics of hate and the sold-out nature of the main opposition BNP.

The BNP party seems to have left one of its senior member out to dry, Salahuddin Quader Choudhury was Parliamentary Special Adviser during the last BNP-Jamaat alliance government. Not particularly known for their balls-of-steel these days, they might sort their lives out nearer to the elections, but I am not holding my breath. They feed of the same master narrative as the Awami League, but with more militaristic, centre right, General Zia focussed trimmings.

What's a Razakar?
In the context of the 1971 Bangladesh War, the razakars were a paramilitary force raised to counter the Mukti Bahini.  In the context of Shahbag, a razakar, sometimes spelt with a 'j', denotes a person to be eliminated. It is a form of takfir, exclusion and casting out, applied selectively to political enemies of the regime in power.

Not only is this a historical lobotomy of the complex truths of how people tried to protect an established state from disintegration, but it is mighty convenient who isn't labelled a razakar and who overcompensates to distract attention.  HINT: There is a Minister in the Bangladesh Government, the ministry of Law to be precise, who is acting funny. More on him later.

These past days have taught me how little our people have moved on from 1971 thinking. Narrow racial thinking, autotakfir, very bad leadership, and the inability to see anyone else's pain or story.

What now?
  • Keep in dialogue with friends and relations in desh.
  • Do not feed this monster.
  • Encourage press to pay attention to seculib head spinners and less articulate islamists.
  • Duas for a Sakina (Tranquility) storm to enter the hearts of the restless.





3 comments:

Fuad Hamid said...

PM Hasina is responsible for all this ongoing anarchy. He dreams of his father's BAKSAL (kinda fascism) Regime to be established again.

Fuad Hamid said...

PM Hasina is responsible for all this ongoing anarchy. She dreams of his father's BAKSAL (kinda fascism) Regime to be established again.

Seeker said...

Fug, brilliant article making all the points that needed to be made at this stage. Sad though that to get truth our we have to struggle and all the "reasonable" minds appear to be too eager to join the bandwagon of hate. lies and misinformation. Well done mate!