As the events are unfolding in the North African and Middle East region quite dramatically, there are talks as to whether the balance of power in the region would mark any shift. The changes and developments were so sudden and unexpected that it left little room for maneuvering; and intelligence agencies hardly had any clue whatsoever about what would happen in the next few moments. No one apparently imagined that a mere protest in Tunisia, which led to the collapse of Ben Ali’s empire, would spark and engulf the whole Middle East. And the fall of Mubarak regime in Egypt marks the most striking development with huge strategic significance. This single incident may lead to further equations as to the future geo-politics in the region.

For quite a long time Mubarak-gong was successfully serving the US interests in the region–supporting their policies; stabilizing the most war-prone and volatile region; securing incessant energy supply; and ensuring the very security of Israel. But the costs of playing for the master were proved to be high in the domestic end. The people of the respective countries were virtually in living jails. Absence of pluralist democracy, fragile institutions, weak civil society, and civil-military nexus and supports for the ruling coterie promoted and prolonged the dictatorships. These tyrants crushed any dissent voices with iron hand.

Democracy in the Middle East is a bitter pill for the US to swallow. It has been proved in the past that whenever a democratic government assumed power, it paid less heed to US concerns. Democratic Iran is more than unfriendly, democratic Kuwait is less differential on policy matters, democratic Palestine (election of Hamas) is a nightmare. There are not a lot more instances of democracy in the Middle East. But whenever it triumphed somewhere, it was proved counter-productive for the interest of the United States. Now, it will be really interesting to watch the US response to the uprising in the region and whether it will merely watch the events, or, as usual, will opt for meddling in the affairs and trying to halt any unfriendly outcomes.

If we assume that ultimately democracy will triumph and the new players will turn their back to the US, it will be worth watching the subsequent developments in the Middle East. Especially, the new Egyptian leadership–apparently the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhoods–will be central to this equation. If they consider any realignment of their country’s earlier position, we can expect that the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty will be reconsidered, at least as to its effects, to respond to the popular demand; will try to be closer to Hamas or other Palestinian political entities; will keep the the Rafah Crossing open; and more adversely will grasp the friendship offers from Tehran and Damascus. Any variations to these very few choices could be a game changer. Especially, the response from Israel will be crucial. There are however lots of ifs and buts. If Egypt recedes from the peace treaty obligations, what would be the status of the Sinai Peninsula? If Egypt permanently and unconditionally opens the Rafah Crossing, will Hamas and other Palestinian fractions exploit this chance to smuggle arms, rockets and more lethal trajectories? What would be the Israel’s response to this sovereign Egyptian decision? What will be the response from the US and Israel if the new Egypt ties itself with Iran, Syria and other nations hostile to them?

Although Egypt is holding the key to most of these discussions, there are certainly a few other concerns which are also important given the past history of the region. As the Israel-Palestine issue remains in the core of Middle East politics for decades, issues on this particular dispute certainly are of great concerns. Already three regional wars (1948, 1967, and 1973) took place centering around the dispute. And in all those wars, most heavyweight forces got themselves actively involved in those wars–either by initiating a war or by participating–and, frustratingly for them, Israel came out as the winner each time. One of the main reasons the United States, the Western forces or the Israel fears the democratic Middle East is that most people of this region are carrying absolute resentments towards Israel. It is not only that Israel is an imposed Jews state or an unfriendly nation but also the compassion as a losing force. And the decades of heavy rearming of these countries including Saudi Arabia, which is the key ally of the US after 1973 war testifies their willingness to recover from that bitter end and shock and preparedness for the retaliation.

Now the ultimate challenge has popped up: the rise of a democratic Middle East. Two most important aspects have to be considered to assess any implication of this new reality and of the reshaped Middle East in the region. One is, the way newly democratic countries would behave and the other is, the reaction of the stakeholders of so-called peace process in the region. It will also shape the proceedings of the US engagements, and whether there will be any alternations to the usual preemptive reactions of Israel that we all have experienced in the recent past. Certainly, democracy is not a sluice for any war rather vice versa. But that equation worked reversely in this part of the world. Here dictatorship was promoted to quell the tense and democracy was feared for peace. However, for the people of Middle East, democracy is also an option for status quo. They believe that to contain Israel’s adventurism–bombing and intimidating any country at its will (Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza were the worst victims)–there should be balance of power. Formerly, the country which could have balanced the power in the region and could play as the defusing factor was the United States. After Israel’s assumption of nuclear power, which offered it the ultimate edge over other regional powers, the US role should have been to rebalance it. Ironically, it chose the wrong path; its incessant supports for Israel did make it more than the regional super power and pushed others to the corner. Moreover, it endorsed all of Israel’s misdeeds, provided Israel with billions of dollars in aid for military purchase, and transferred sophisticated war technologies. Obviously, greater democracy will not entirely rebalance the power game. It will at best, create an uncertainty as to the response of inferior powers, which would then be driven by domestic pressures and choices. For the United States, the stability of the region is not entirely for the security of Israel but to ensure the energy security. Any miscalculating move by any of the inferior powers may not result in its winning over the other, but could certainly impair the second limb of the US policy pursued over the decades.

* The article first appeared in the Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star, June 11, 2011. URL: http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=189435

Two thousand five hundred years ago the small Greek city-state of Athens made a series of adjustments to its domestic political arrangements. The reforms of Kleisthenes, the Chief Archon in Athens in 525BC, which were a severely local response to protracted local difficulties, provided an impetus to an ideological breakthrough for the future course of political thoughts, a new system of government – Democracy. It is noteworthy that Kleisthenes’s democracy was more about dismantling the autocratic and suppressing practices of his previous tyrants and providing people with some degree of freedom when they had fewer expectations. Nevertheless, today’s standing of democratic ideas and concepts differ fundamentally. In present day’s definition, pluralist and elitist theories predict that democratic government will lead to better results for society than available alternatives (other form of governments). Accordingly, normative theories share the premise of people’s equal right to participate in the collective self-determination, whereas the egalitarian premise is very crucial. Yale University Professor Ian Shapiro illustrated the democratic ideas as follows: “they (people) expect to participate in making the collective decisions that govern them and that these decisions to be informed by extensive public deliberation. Besides, they expect those who lead public discussion and implement the collective will to be held accountable for their actions by the electorate…” With these all and many other attributes, the idea of liberal democracy gradually emerged. However, in reality, democracy so far failed to deliver as expected and it provides a cause for disappointments for the demos. Its participation is somehow fleeting, accountability is little more than nominal and the mechanisms for “democratic” decisions are obscure.

Despite the egalitarian structural distributive principle of democracy, the actual distribution of political power, however, depends on people’s political preferences as they act within the structure. To be self-governing, people require the capacity to form public opinion and then to have that public opinion influence and ultimately control public “will formation”- that is, government laws and policies. The media constitute a crucial sluice between public opinion building and state’s “will formation” (the term is coined by Jurgen Habermas’ in his book Between Facts and Norms). The mass media, like elections, serve to mediate between the public and the government, hence, in a democratic system, play a role of a Fourth Estate within the government structure (the other three estates are: the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary) as Edmund Burk historically put it: “there were Three Estates in Parliament; but in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Although the media in a democratic system is sometimes considered (often hyped) as the single-most vigilant actor in the vertical accountability mechanism, recent trends have given rise to some serious concerns as to media’s dubious role in many public interest issues. Media owners have to take much of this blame for this imbroglio. However, when developed countries are facing the ownership concentration issue, underdeveloped or developing countries are gradually being introduced with this new kind of phenomenon. Whatever the case is, it has seriously become a matter of concern which threatens the foundation of the very concept. Noam Chomsky, in his book Secret, Lies and Democracy, illustrated how media owners remotely control the news contents and stated that: “Investors don’t go down to the television studio and make sure that the local talk-show host or reporter is doing what they want. There are other, subtler, more complex mechanisms that make it fairly certain that the people on the air will do what the owners and investors want. … that propaganda system includes not just how issues are framed in news stories but also how they’re presented in entertainment programming — that huge area of the media that’s simply devoted to diverting people and making them more stupid and passive.” Thus media owners sometimes not only twist the facts and make people stupid, but also used to serve the vested and special interests of big corporations, corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, political extremists and fundamentalist groups. Hence, the irresponsible media usually consistently presents one-sided and inaccurate depictions of the political landscape through intimidations, deceits, biased reporting or unsubstantiated commentaries. Moreover, spectacular media images and stories, or as Douglas Kellner (in his book Media Spectacle and the Crisis of Democracy) terms it “media spectacle,” have also become important factors in swaying public opinion and national politics in the 21st century.

Bangladesh is as new a democracy as the country itself. However, since the very beginning of its independence, the commitment for democracy by its founder fathers has been enshrined in the newly orchestrated constitution. Nonetheless, it has experienced some hiccups in the political realm (some were ruthlessly brutal) compounded with a few military interventions which diverted the new-born country from its democratic path. Later, after nearly one and a half decade, it reinstalled the democratic system of government in the early 1990s.

Until recently, media ownership in Bangladesh was mainly handed on typical professional groups came largely from the journalistic background who understood and apprehended their role as social reformers and considered their efforts would pave the way for the nation building process. Thus, the sector was nearly intact from any big controversies. However, there was always an existence of more politically attached individuals whose primary objectives were to serve respective political interests and propagating their ideologies and agendas. Nevertheless, the situation started changing rapidly during the early part of 1990s with reemergence of democracy when a coterie of business people flocked into the parliament as its members while some of whom later discovered that only mere legislative power could not breed their purposes. Therefore, they endeavored to form an executive-legislative-media power nexus in which a person-elect could avail every option to exploit his business and personal interests whereby concerned authority and the common people would hardly dare to question any of his misdemeanors, power abuses, corruption and malpractices. Since then, we have experienced a surge of business people in the realm of media sector. May be a success of one lured many others. This is a new and threatening reality of our media realm, with which we have to learn to live or we must find a way out to rescue the Fourth Estate. Because, when the intention of a person becomes exploiting vested interests, hiding corruption with a propaganda machine, challenging and fearing the ruling authority and the administration not to meddle in his corrupt affairs, then the idea of the free press becomes a farce and has to face a serious backlash. The very freedom suddenly becomes a burden.

One such case of ownership crisis has been detected recently. A businessman-cum-politician Mr Mahmudur Rahman, who himself later voluntarily assumed the Editorship (acting) of a national daily by injecting hard cash was in question about his roles played during the editorship. His multiple interests were in direct clash with his responsibilities and obligations as an editor which to be in consistent with Fourth Estate principles. Many alleged that the editor (now detained and jailed) has deliberately blurred the line between subjectiveness and objectiveness in his biased reporting, forced reader to swallow which were sometimes a threat to religious harmony (by portraying, on a number of occasions, religious extremists as innocent madrasha people), national integrity (by creating xenophobia and spreading hatred against neighboring countries with tailoring divisions between nationalistic forces), and social stability. He also breached the gentlemen agreement by virtually taking side of the killers of Father of the Nation by publishing a series of stories justifying the killing when the killers were waiting to face guillotine. It was of utter frustration to many when he impliedly portrayed those killers as heroes by necessitating the killing spree at such a crucial time when apparently the whole nation was awaiting to take the long overdue burden off its shoulder. Unhesitatingly, for the sake of a healthy social environment, any society cannot but condemn this sort of obnoxious activities. Regarding media owners’ such kind of intentional ignorance to social concerns, the most important semi-official and policy-oriented study of the mass media in U.S. history, the Hutchins Commission Report, explicitely noted that- these owners did not provide adequately for the needs of the society, and that they sometimes engaged in practices that society condemns.

A remark from a renowned journalist and press critic A. J. Liebling could be more relevant in this context as she once opined that “Freedom of press is guaranteed only to those who own one”. Democracy allow us to enjoy a set of freedoms but it has also been tagged with a string of responsibilities. If we want a better government, it will be our purposive actions that will bring about the desired change as one must remember the popular maxim that “people deserve the government they have”. People have to share some responsibilities and obligations with the government to transform the change into a more meaningful and sustainable outcome. As much as they do so, the democracy worth more to them and, at the same time, the less people understand and apprehend their boundaries, the less liberal the democracy turns into. The two things are very much intertwined while one without another is simply risky and harmful for the society and obviously less sustainable.

*First appeared on E-Bangladesh.org, an online news forum, on November 10, 2010

There are a series of incidents occurred in Bangladesh during the last couple of weeks. Among them, the incident in Pabna, the controversial remarks from the Health Advisor to Prime Minister and other few ministers, and bashing the media at Jatiya Sangsad by the ruling alliance are just a few to name. In Pabna, more than 100 ruling party activists on September 17 attacked two examination centers during a recruitment test of class-III government employees. A couple of days later, on 21st September, Prime Minister’s Health Advisor Dr Syed Modasser Ali ridiculed many with his own version of government recruitment policy at the Health Sector while addressing local people at Gopalganj Sadar Hospital. On the same day many ruling alliance MPs came down harsh on the press during a parliament session at the Jatiya Sangsad. A number of lawmakers including two ministers castigated some newspapers for publishing false and motivated reports defaming the Parliament and its members. All were happening in a row and it seems they are losing their nerves.

These few incidents unquestionably negated the ruling party’s pledge to establish good governance in the country. The crisis of governance once again comes at the forefront while the people responsible for delivering it are getting nonsense day by day. However, that would really be a wonderful thing if the people and the press of Bangladesh continue pressing for good governance issues for the coming months and years forgetting some other divisive issues. It will definitely push the ruling authority to change its direction, which, If not altered, will fade the hope for them of winning the next general election.

The paradox we are living in Bangladesh is that the countrymen are being left with two relative options in respect to choosing parties to govern them: the bad party-club and the worse party-club. Now, who support the bad one and who prefer the worse? Well, there is no straightforward answer to this. Allegedly, on the one hand, some people like to tag them as progressive, leftists or central-leftists or social democrats, religiously moderate, and argue for distinguishing the state and the religion apart, and their opinion is that the AL-club is no question a bad choice but, to them, they had only been left the worse one to pick. Simultaneously, people, who want religions to have more say in the state apparatus and prefer intermingling relations between state policy and religion, who are rightist or central-rightist or conservatives, say the vice-versa. To them, BNP-club is no wonder a bad one but the other one (AL-club) is, of course, worse. So, we are now being left with the problem to pick the supporters, well-wishers of the both clubs. But supporters of both clubs more or less agree that they are supporting the bad ones in absence of a better alternative. Noteworthily, apart from these differences, both clubs’ policy on economy, trade and commerce see no fundamental differences. Both clubs are willing to exploit the state power to feed their own party-men, relatives, and clients. Both like to manipulate tenders, resort to distortion and encroachment of government properties. Obviously, one resorts to these bad practices more recklessly than the other. But never mind, nobody can distinguish it. Who will try to do it with a risk of being tagged with a partisan seal? Apart from this, there are people who stand nowhere as it is pretty usual that some people always chose to watch and become victims and scapegoats of events and chronologies of history.

Needless to say, Bangladeshi politics are far more complex than any other countries. Huge population in such a small piece of land turns it next to impossible to govern. The dimensions of problems within the structure are unprecedented. It is quite easy to put a comment on the governability staying far away of the podium, but it is thousand times difficult to run and control the administration and other apparatuses in Bangladesh. The only fact is enough to portray the impossibility of governability of the country and that is the density of population. The country is ranked the top amongst all countries in the world and virtually second to none! (approx. 1000 people live in per Km2 in BD which is almost three times more than the second positioned country – India!). Therefore, the buzz words relating to good governance and political and social stability working better in the other parts of the world is irrelevant in our context. We can only try to invent a new unorthodox mechanism to make the impossible a possible.

The other factor is quite fundamental. If democracy is a rule of demos where majority will pick and chose some people to rule others, our democracy is absolutely in the right direction no matter what the purists claim or whatsoever. Please go to the BBS statistics. Nearly 40 percent of our people live under the poverty line, which means they are living a life on a dollar per day. It is almost half of the population to whom one single meal is more important than the rest of the world. If you go back to the previous election results, parties won consecutive elections only having mandate of less than 40 percent people (near past exception: 2008 election). To them, freedom of speech, movement, free press, freedom of assembly, religion, equality of opportunity, right to information etc. all are but buzz words. Although these civil rights carry a great weigh given the liberal democratic values and constitutionalism, it can hardly entertain a country where a meal a day is more important to the most of its populace. One can argue that only for such reason, these rogued political parties, who show little respect to these democratic principles, are enjoying such strong footing and leverages in Bangladesh.

Therefore, the gigantic tasks are to be performed by those aspirants who want Bangladesh to be truly democratic. Those are all very fundamental and one must address them before expecting a true nature of democracy flourishing in Bangladesh. These include: (1) Significantly reduce the birth rate (we need a negative growth rate for more than a couple of decades! However, clerics are not going to bow down so easily), (2) Allow massive economic activities without questioning certain level of corruption or procedural loopholes (We can allow ‘white corruption’, a system of impliedly allowing some specific types of grand corruption which allow corrupt money to be recycled and reinvested in the domestic economy. But of course we need to nearly stop the petty corruption which affects the daily lives of the common people. If we go on to bury both petty and grand corruption at a time, an economy like the Bangladesh one will come to a standstill and will go nowhere in near future. The last CTG tenure almost proved that obvious.), (3) Reform the education system drastically (which is underway), (4) Don’t allow fewer people (military) to rule the most rather stick to the principle that majority rule the others (however, don’t question if the majority party give jobs to their clients, you know the spill over effects) (we are in there now), (5) Engage the purists and elitists in street and grassroots politics so that they understand the needs and necessities of the society (which is mostly food, food, and then security) without being utopian (reminiscing the western life-style they once used to live in) and stop sermon the nation which, in Bangladesh’s perspective, can never (too harsh?) be achieved, (6) Restructure the higher education system at par with the society’s demands, engage them in empirical researches to feed the social needs, (7) Draw a rein on reckless and irresponsible media houses (by activating press council?) to stop blackmailing people and confuse the public opinion. (so that Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Americans, Bhutanese (!), Nepalese (!), Industrialists, Corrupt politicians-bureaucrats-businessmen cannot buy the journalists to write, report or propagate in their favor or espionage for themselves!), (8) Change the mindset of the administration people that they are the servant of the state and the executive not the rulers, also upside down the whole corrupt nature of the Judiciary to transform it into the last resort of the common people (9) Transfer key decision making powers to the local elected representatives (no to UNO, no to DC; yes to Upazilla Parishad Chairman, and yes to Zilla Parishad Chairman, having recognized the fact that these elected people can go too far (Pabna incident), yet it is hundred times better than a ‘king DC’), and last, but not the least, (10) A second chamber in the House to allow those purists and elitists to have an access to power and to learn and understand that how easy it is to bash the politicians from staying safe and untouched and how difficult it is to run a country like Bangladesh! A long exhaustive list indeed, but it doesn’t end here. Question must be asked: how did I prioritize and chose these 10 points when the problems are more acute and pervasive? Here, everyone has to remember that purposive sampling can have its many downsides, but it also can be a good one comparing the other mediocre methods.

So, all these are possible now? Or, do we need (or prefer) a benevolent dictator to implement those?! (even if we say yes, s/he must emerge from a sturdy political process and, of course, not chosen by any big brothers (foreign) or small brothers (cantonment))

Floor is open to the purists and elitists…

*First appeared on E-Bangladesh.org, an online news forum, on October 03, 2010

For many long years, we, the Dhaka dwellers, are stuck by traffic congestion. Endless talks, planning, seminars, symposiums and round-tables took place hither and thither, but we remained at the same point as we were before. Lots of feasibility studies have been conducted, Dhaka remains standstill. No governments were able to break the shackles or simply they lacked political will or commitment to deliver. Whatever the case was, people are the ultimate sufferer.

We cannot count on finger for how many times we were lured with words like Metro-rail, Mono-rail, Expressway, Elevated highway and so on. But as said before, everything ended in talks and later trashed. We went back to square one.

The present AL-led government, so far, exhausted one and a half year of its limits. No wonder, again people are being lured with the same words, being played with the same tactics. Still, nothing is visible, nowhere. Yet, the government will have a democratic largesse to end up its tenure unless any untoward hiccup surprises us all. However, some claim that the government is committed to those billion dollar projects, some go even further that many of these projects will see the daylight very soon. We, the common people, cannot be pessimistic as we are destined to be hopeful. Optimists hint that we have started talking about numbers, so the things are closing in, and for us to see how many years it will really take to transform those numbers into reality.

We are decrying for a better leadership for quite some time. But things went worse when we tried to experiment with backdoor interventions. Therefore, we have to live with the ladies. No matter what the narcissists says, the mass people of Bangladesh are to be served by only those who represent them in line with their quality (you cannot dismiss the fact that nearly 40% of our populace live under the poverty line to whom liberal or constitutional democratic values are a far cry!). Besides, we all know the popular maxim, ‘the people deserve the government they have’. Therefore, nowhere to run. Aristocrats better try to accommodate themselves into this reality or may depart to the land of heaven.

Our present PM inherits the best man’s blood of our nation. She should live up to the promises and the expectations of the common people. Regarding this congestion issue too, she has to deliver what she promised to her people. People are becoming better informed day by day with the pace of new technological penetration into the system. Leaders and parties are to face their hardest test in the coming days. As the emotive events (in our political realm) are set to be settled once and for all, they have to find ways how to survive in a better equipped way. Henceforth, for solving this mammoth traffic congestion, apart from looking into other odd things, what our passionate PM needs to do is to draw rein of vested interests with iron hands who before impeded many good initiatives of the authority by either prolonging the tendering process, questioning the contract awarding and entering into legal battles etc.

Having recognized the corruption, nepotism and undue favor in the contract awarding process, we are no less harmed by putting the whole process in danger by those vested interest coteries. These evil groups include corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, lobbyists, and special interest groups. There are also politicians who try sabotage their own government by taking bribe from either of these groups or from some ‘unknown’ sources. For the rulers to be efficient, these challenges, although mammoth (as on the one hand- stay away from corruption and malpractices and skillfully maneuver the vested interest groups on the other), must be addressed before making any big strides. Here lies the test for the leadership.

*First appeared on E-Bangladesh.org, an online news forum, on September 20, 2010

For the last few weeks, we have been in a little bit of conundrums, originating from some propaganda from a certain quarter, that whether our freedom of expression has been challenged by the ruling authority. This has been heightened after the detention of Mr Mahmudur Rahman, the Acting Editor of the Daily Amardesh. Latest news is Mr Rahman has been jailed for six months in a contempt of court case. Many ascertained that the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman and his subsequent conviction is a threatening factor for a free press. Certainly they have their own different perspectives in viewing this event. Also, some rather bashes Mr Rahman as they found him a narrow one-eyed person who merely has any quality to become a journalist let alone an editor. In Bangladesh as everything is politicized and polarised, this division is quite natural.

To me, Mr Mahmudur Rahman, as a columnist, was okay so far the concept of freedom of expression goes. But as an Editor I don’t think his qualification as a journalist made him fit for this post. Because as media is considered as the fourth column of a state, it imposes greater responsibilities on one’s shoulder. Therefore, as a columnist when you prefer writing trash or rubbish it has little significance but as an Editor of a national daily you cannot enjoy that much freedom, because you are bound by some laws, principles and conventions. Following his numerous write ups, I am in a complete doubt whether he poses this journalistic attributes.

 I had the privilege to follow almost every issue of the Daily Amardesh on internet during his editorship which led to have my own observations of his controversial tenure as an editor. To me, it was of utter frustrating when I saw him taking side of militants on a several occasions- when almost every other newspaper reported any arrest of suspected militants, his one tried to cast a doubt on it by creating confusion that the innocents were being harassed because they were from madrashas or other religious schools. He has also deliberately taken side of the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as when the hearing of the review petition was going on at the Appellate Division which was later dismissed and the killers were hanged, he very purportedly published news and reports alleging Bangabandhu for delivering misrule and thus tried to justify the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Some argue that there is no bar publishing reports on Mujib era. Very true. But one should not also be so blind of the sensitivity of such a compassionate time. Even hardcore rightist newspapers didn’t chose to dig the so-called misrule of Bangabandhu when the nation was waiting for the punishment of the killers. But the great editor (!) entertained the killers successfully by trying to portray them as heroes or salvagers. Besides, by supporting hardcore fundamentalists and militants, and by trying to inflict division within society based on religious belief, he proved himself a risky person for the society. Alongside, during all these days of questionable editorship, his attempt to spread absurd xenophobia (with his trade-mark India-phobia) among certain quarters was continued.

Another dubious news was the banner headline of the corruption allegation against the Prime Minister’s son and the Energy Advisor without reliable sources which went totally against the spirit of independent news media (you cannot simply put your banner headline implicating the Prime Minister of the state based on unknown (inexistent) sources). That was something outrageous. Even in the first world, you cannot do this rubbish. I am not saying that PM or her son cannot resort to corruption. If you have reliable information (even with a slightest degree), I would say you may go with it. But publishing news with such magnanimity without having any sort of reliable sources (Mr Mahmud only managed to refer to an anonymous letter filed by an unknown Siddique, who later proved to be inexistent!) which can be verified independently- shouldn’t have a free pass at all. Regarding the contempt of court, based on which he has been jailed, same goes here. He was alleged for generalising everything from a narrow angle and perspective. If we look into those controversial headlines: “Chembar Judge manei sarkar pokkhe stay” and “Shadhin bichar bivager name tamasha”, we will understand this syndrome. Read carefully both the headlines again. First one renders that whatever cases put before the ChamberJudge, it means stay (on the part of the govt.). It was totally stupid. Even if you sample the Chamber Judge’s decision during the last one year I am not sure whether the ratio would even cross 50% or less. Another headline was self-explanatory which he published from his much politicized point of view and with also a too generalized way. If an editor lacks such a little common sense, how can he be allowed to carry on the editorship of a national daily? There are many such examples can be presented before the reader to show how he misused his noble duty. Now is the question, how much space one should allow to an Editor? What is the bottom line for an Editor? How far an Editor can go and to what extent?

I think we all have to understand that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of nonsense. Your freedom ends where my freedom begins. This is the simple math for freedom of expression. We appreciate journalists’ efforts to bring in the transparency and accountability within the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and dig into and question about their misuse of power, corruption, and misrule. But, in Bangladesh, sometimes it goes beyond our imagination that to what extent many journalists themselves resort to corruption and how rampantly they misuse their noble power by exploiting their identity to garner their personal benefits. For a research purpose, we had a chance to visit most of the countryside of Bangladesh and talk to local civil society people. Astonishingly, we had a view, from our random sampling (off course one may question the method), that most of the local journalists were not paid (or ill-paid) from their appointing authorities which forced them to resort to corrupt practices and thus they also became associates of criminals and goons. When we talked to them regarding their remuneration, they simply asserted that their authorities advised (!) them to utilize their ID Cards (that was all what those authorities gave to them) (you know what it means). Only a few (very few) pay their correspondences regularly and adequately. Mentioning this unfortunate scenario is not for belittling the status of journalists or the news media, but to let the readers know that journalists are not considered as saints or event good fellows to follow at the local level. Ironically, this rotting symptom has started sweeping at the national level too. Some, at this level, are finding more interests in maintaining good terms with corrupt corporate bosses, political thugs, militants, and foreign patrons and chose to entertain them all for personal benefits, sometimes for name and fame.

One cannot support arresting or harassing a person for expressing his opinion. But a person should also not be allowed to do/speak whatever he chose, wants to- which in turns infringe others’ rights as well. If he does so, he cannot escape liability for spreading hatred among common people (sometimes by telling lies) and creating danger for the greater masses by inflicting divisions based on beliefs. To protect the society, law has its inbuilt ‘incapacitation’ measure in its armory which acts as a ‘deterrence’ against the evils acts (including intentions and thoughts) of any criminal person. We have every reason to believe that Mr Mahmudur Rahman has been accused for many of these allegations.

The state sometimes goes crazy. The establishment sometimes loses its nerves. The people in power sometimes become unbearably intolerable to dissents…  In Bangladesh, given the recent developments of our politics, many point their fingers towards that end. Some bigwigs, many say they are key politicians (if you mean it), are detained by the cops for allegations not go with their heights. Right now, we do not have a reign of blasphemes where uttering obnoxious words against religion would amount to detention or some other serious prosecutions. Therefore, detaining ones who enjoyed privileged standing in the society for long for such trivial accusation is well enough to be unjustified and could dangerously back fire sometimes in future. To me, there are certainly some other reasons for capturing those bigwigs and we all sense what that could be. We all are long waiting for the legendary war crime trial…

In very recent times, police are breathtakingly busy with a special duty to disperse rallies and human chains, impose restriction on assemblies, and even on indoor meetings. All of a sudden, many of us became suspicious of whether we are being derailed from our democratic path, depriving of our constitutional rights, and so on so forth. Ideally and technically speaking, these sorts of actions are not healthy and could produce some reactionary measures from many quarters, especially when you are dealing with such a dangerously idealistic force, the followers of which sometimes ready to sacrifice their lives for their causes. And they could even go to underground politics which could endanger the greater stability of a nation and harm the harmony of the society.

Now, for the sake of an argument, if we have been told that their arrest was made only due to finding a direct link with the war time crimes, what should be the proposition? I was finding it really interesting that whether the trial of misdeeds of a politician should only be restricted to his/her constituents’ rejection. The question arises when many argue that those bigwigs accused of war crimes should not be hold accountable, because even with this allegation people elected them MPs for several occasions. Now the question is whether electing a person in office charged with a criminal offence can wash up his hands. If not, can we wage a movement for a person held for criminal charges and demand his release? If the answer is `no’, can we call it unconstitutional when police barred the fellows of that person charged with criminal offence from holding any rallies or human chains, calling assemblies or indoor meeting for eventually freeing them? In this case too, if the answer is `no’, the government is in no way to blame for what is happening right now around us. But if we consider `yes’ for all those answers, the proposition will be vice versa.

However, our society has witnessed a deep division here and the question of `right’ or `wrong’ has been blurred somehow. Also we have little faith on our system no matter whoever runs it. Therefore, the tension remains. The ultimate danger is everybody would find reasons for their actions in this situation. Though the muscle will triumph at the end of the day but we are really suspicious whether that triumph would mean anything to anybody when the risk remains typically high than that of gain… whether it will implant a long lasting hatred, whether it will narrow down the division or widen it, whether it will defuse the tension or intensify it… many questions, queries… few answers…

We demand war crime trials, but can we leave our society deeply fractioned, divided, devastated, and shattered as a trade off with that trial? Or can we really afford to do so?! A mammoth challenge for everybody involved in this process. The only way, to me, to redress the anger, the tension, the confusion is to ensure the justice, to maintain the transparent process, to safeguard the right to defend, to wide open the arguments and let people know who stands where, and stop delaying the process as well as stop rushing to the end…

Good luck Bangladesh!

In an age of web revolution, the silhouette of actual revolution has been changed a bit. In recent times we have seen many ‘color revolutions’ taking place around the globe which skeptics assert as ‘facebook revolutions’. It gives us a hint that now you can maneuver a movement through using means of web technologies. Similarly Blogs, another recent web innovation, is also increasingly becoming an alternative kind of sources of information. And in the time of ’embedded journalism’ (nowadays the word ’embedded’ has lessen the magnitude of the other such kind – ‘yellow’), people merely trust journalists of what they write or opine. Therefore, blogs have emerged as an unconventional source for knowing untold stories, facts and facets of events. This has sometimes also widened the scope for spreading false propaganda. Whether or not we know the grounds reality of Iran’s recent post-election unrest, ‘Neda’ can be portrayed as an idol to the rest of the world, especially to the west. Keeping this skepticism aside, most of us will surely acknowledge the fact that blogs really help us find some interesting facts which could hardly be known or disclosed otherwise.

We are nearly approaching to mark one year of one of the black events of our history — the BDR Mutiny. It took place right on 25th -26th February last year. Since then, our national life has slowly crept into the normalcy and the nightmare of bloods has somehow been erasing from the memoirs. Deceaseds’ families are trying to adjust to their new lives with implanting new hopes and building new dreams with looking for a completely different world. Time is really the best healer. But on the other side, there still many contentious spots remain vivid, rumors and suspicions continue to take important place in public discourse and spreading hatred and pointing finger against each other sees no stop at the end. Many blogs, facebook groups, and websites joined to further fuel into the fire of propaganda war that the killing was spearheaded by the ruling party men. Many of them shyly put a threat that these ‘conspirators’ will have to face trial in a favorable time in the near future. I had the chance to look into at least five such interesting observations which were being widely spread out on web. Unhesitatingly, many people are with these points and rigidly believe that their bullets hardly miss targets while others continue to believe otherwise.

1. Why did the Government not have any information on the conspiracy of this magnitude?
2. Why did the government send inexperienced ministers to negotiate with the rebels?
3. Why did the ministers Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Shahara Khatun go in and out of the BDR compound without need for security? Why did they feel safe and secure in such a hostile environment?
4. Why did PM Hasina give the BDR rebels general amnesty without confirming the fate of the Army officers and their families?
5. Why did the government move the Army 3km away from the BDR camp and black out the whole area? Effectively allowing the criminals to flee from the scene?

These five seemingly serious allegations were put on an article of an Islamist website and subsequently on many blogs and facebook groups. I was very curious about these arguments and have given some thoughts in it.

To me, the first allegation can quite easily be dismissed. It is very interesting proposition that a new government who took office merely a month ago (of the mutiny) and whose grip on power in different organs of the state (administration, military, security intelligences, and all other organs) was virtually inexistent, could endeavor for such a deadly massacre which event’s sensitivity could easily ouster the newly installed government without any prejudice given the context of a third world country’s internal balance of power.

For the second one, I didn’t find any barometer of what ‘experienced minister’ really mean (why should Sahara Khatun at the age of 65 and Jahangir Kabir Nanok at the age of around 55 be considered as such inexperienced and in which barometers). If having no experience in running a public office is being considered as inexperience, this would hardly suit to the idea of injecting new and fresh bloods into the politics. During 2008 US Election, we frequently heard an argument against Democratic Party contender Barak Obama that he was too inexperienced to run a country like United States. Many, including Hilary Clinton, even mocked at Obama that there was no chance for an on-job-training in the US Presidency! But after having one year in office or so far, no one spotted him as that much childish. Ours example is more of a bizarre kind where a mere housewife, not well-educated, exceptionally skilled or having expertise or brilliance in any sphere of knowledge, was pretty qualified for the office of the Prime Minister twice! Therefore, this allegation is hardly justified, especially when the argument comes from that particular club.

Third allegation makes little sense. We do not understand why BDR Jawans would have attacked and killed those ministers who were negotiating and trying to address, among other issues, soldiers’ demands. Apparently this one contradicts with the second allegation where experience ministers were sought to deal with the issue. What does all it stands for? Experienced ministers should have a free passage to enter inside Pilkhana to negotiate and should be exempted from being a target only because they are experienced?! And inexperience ministers should have been the target only because they failed to secure some scores on experience barometers! Really an interesting proposition.

The issue of general amnesty has been widely discussed, perhaps the most talked about issue surrounding BDR mutiny. Many argue that the government declared amnesty to rebels given the fact that they raised some valid demands on their part and public opinion, up until then, was on BDR’s side. It can be assumed that the government has just played to the gallery, affirming their position that they are not against those valid demands. And it would not pose any serious question or whatsoever if the officers were not killed, and with such a brutal and heinous way which in turn, all of a sudden, altered public opinion against BDR Jawans. If we consider the whole thing as a rebellion, and the likely face-to-face confrontation among many army and BDR camps scattered around the country, the general amnesty was deemed to be a good decision to quell the tensed situation, checking further incitement and to bring rebels back to the negotiation. Well, if one does not prefer negotiation and instead opt for a military solution, he will have to face a completely different situation altogether which could be even more dangerously bloody given the length and breadth of the mutiny. Perhaps then we could manage to save some of those officers, but hundreds of BDR Jawans and army soldiers and many more civilians across the country could face a different fate. However, if someone goes for the value judgment of lives, and conclude that lives of officers are more worthy than those of soldiers and common people, the argument will also face controversy. We know that the life of a Head of any state (President or Prime Minister) is considered more precious than the millions (we know the White House has a capsule implanted deep inside the underground banker which could save the US President even from a possible nuclear attack; no matter what will happen to the whole Washington DC, the President should alive!), even then, we lost our two Presidents who were brutally killed by these victims’ fellow officers. They did not even consider one of the killed Presidents’ family members’ rights to exist!

Fourth allegation is also very dubious and is too a self-contradictory one. At the one hand one is asking for a military solution – attack on the rebellion’s base – and on the other hand criticising military preparedness! We know that surroundings and adjacent areas of Pilkhana are highly densely populated. We understood from the later clarifications by the concerned high ups of the government that they initially avoided the idea of an attack and opted for negotiation to seek a peaceful (later we discovered that it was not that peaceful as all expected) and political solution to the issue. And putting their enough in negotiating the matter, they prepared for the both – continue the negotiation and if that collapse – carry out an attack. For the second option, they reasonably plead to people living adjacent to Pilkhana to go and find a safer place. This is not an unorthodox decision in any consideration. You cannot start bombing and shelling without notifying innocent civilians for a safe exit. If the Jawans took advantage of that massive exodus, we cannot dismiss the logic for giving civilians a chance to vacate the area. The only allegation one can put here is the failure of the government to cordon the area with enough care and sensitivity. There are also some heated remarks on blackouts. This is also an irrational blame-game. Blackout can easily be maneuvered by the soldiers themselves and it was so easy to switch off the power station inside the Pilkhana. No one needs to be a rocket scientist to understand this simple math.

Military operations are the worst solution ever if you look back the history. It only brings miseries and innumerable sufferings to many. Yes, we lost 57 officers and if any kind of military operation carried out, maybe we could save a few of them, but the cost would have been so high given the political consideration. Let alone the apparent massacres of BDR soldiers, their families, and civilians, there would have been some deep spots left on the psyche of the nation’s second largest force. BDR Jawans who rebelled for some of their just causes, would unhesitatingly face defeat. But not every defeat is a win. That defeat would not augur any good for the nation. The BDR forces would always consider that their just causes were quelled by force. Instead, now, at least, they have some resentment that they chose a wrong path by executing such brutal killings of their fellow officers.

We, the common people, want objective analysis of the event. Every responsible party should stop politicising this very sensitive matter further. The nation has already paid high cost for politicising our military which was began by one of our ‘General’ President in the mid-70s and consolidated by the other ‘General’ in 80s. Therefore, officers themselves are also partly to blame to be the victim of politicisation within the military. We need to maintain a clear and distinct line between civilian and military affairs. The more we maintain the safe line, the better for the nation. Subsequently, we want our leaders to focus on economic prosperity in an age of Asian Century (21st century is being considered as a century led by Asian resurgence). Time has arrived to say goodbye to the politics of fear mongering, spreading hatred against neighbours, and false propaganda. The people are much more aware now than decades ago. Almost each and every part of the country now enjoys the access of national news media – at least print media. People are watching who is doing what and how. Those old stories will prove futile. Let us look for issues pertaining to economic significance, issues affecting lives and livelihoods of people. Those vague jingoisms and spreading xenophobia are the matters of 20th century politics and not the story of 21st century. Our leaders must apprehend that.