Constructing Islamophobia: The Hate Preacher

Let this post be an example of how snippets of seemingly-innocuous details quoted by the Media add to rising suspicion and hatred of Muslims in the West.

The Daily Telegraph alleged earlier today that a cross-Government working group on anti-Muslim hatred contained radicals or former radicals. The group, it was stated, is “pressing to lift bans on foreign hate preachers from entering Britain, including Zakir Naik, who has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”.”

warsi

That is one, evil preacher-dude, right? Who, in his right mind, says something like that? Unequivocally, I advocate that hate preachers be excommunicated, especially ones calling Muslims to terrorism. But here’s the thing. As a Bangladeshi Muslim, I have seen the lecture in question. In fact, it’s on YouTube (see transcription below).

cherrypick1

(Preacher) Zakir Naik’s talk: complete sentences vs. phrase quoted by The Daily Telegraph

Aware of the common media trickery of cherry-picking phrases, Naik goes on to add, “I am aware that ‘terrorist’ – more commonly – is used for a person who terrorizes an innocent person. In this context, no Muslim should even terrorize a single human being.”

While there are controversies surrounding Naik’s views, they are theological, not political, in nature. He certainly isn’t advocating Terrorism in this particular case. Yet, anyone who hasn’t seen the video, would take The Telegraph’s summation of Zakir Naik at face value. And why not? What does the Telegraph have to gain by smearing a lisping, Muslim preacher?

Let me repeat that question for you: What does the Telegraph have to gain by smearing a lisping, Muslim preacher?

Dhaka Days: Life During Hartals

Hartal ● /ˈhɑː.tɑːl/ ● a strike action involving a total shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, courts of law, usually as a form of civil disobedience.

Downtown Dhaka on a Hartal day (photo: Rajib Dhar, Dhaka Tribune)

Downtown Dhaka on a Hartal day (photo: Rajib Dhar, Dhaka Tribune)

Today – like most of 2015 – is a hartal in Bangladesh. A ‘hartal’ means a day of ‘political protest’ through a shutdown of transportation & markets; a willful hampering of school, work, shopping and eating out (which is 84% of all we do) in order to drive home a political point. Hartals are usually called by political opposition parties, who enforce it through processions, vandalism, arson and clashes with the police. You may choose to defy a hartal, but be prepared for a Molotov cocktail or two to land on your back. Hurled by underpaid street-children, these are the  newest additions to the arsenal of hooligans.

***

I am out for a walk.

Office timings are lax these days. My afternoon is free. The traffic is light by Dhaka standards; this only happens during the Eids. Commuters are cramming into rusty, Red buses. Pedestrians are walking along briskly – as if in a hurry to get away from an invisible attacker, but reluctant to reveal their fear.

My neighborhood is relatively relaxed and shielded from the violence: there are too many corporate headquarters, MNCs, newspaper editors and diplomats in the area. It’s the poor, slum-dwellers from across the lake who really suffer during the shutdowns. Up ahead, a van belonging to a food catering service is being turned into an ambulance. The technicians have never attempted this modification before. Ambulances are exempted from hartals and are often forced to serve as expensive taxis.

20150211_153337

Turning vans into ambulances makes a lot of business sense during long bouts of shutdowns.

20150211_154712

Bangladeshis are adept at turning threats into opportunities.

fokir

A green traffic signal frees his captive donors and this man steps aside for a smoke break.

Things seem almost normal. Most shops – having endured over a month of shutdowns – have now lifted their shutters. Business had been hurting. Prices are higher now, which is strange considering a hartal typically causes a build-up of goods, which should in turn lower prices.

School children are out too. They’re walking home in groups of four or five – their faces tense. University students are different. They just got wiiiings. In front of BRAC, they’ve taken to sharing snacks and notes, while some others huddle together to delve into their respective phones. Very few will go home before dark. It’s difficult to surrender a long-overdue, hard-fought Freedom from the tyranny of conservative, curfew-wielding parents.

An elderly man takes a break from begging and enjoys a relaxed smoke. Begging in Dhaka’s upscale residential areas is not entirely a bad profession. Despite the ‘Beggar-Free Zone’ road-signs, there are dozens of them chipping away at the bubble of air-conditioned cars that transport the Wealthy. There are urban legends about beggars who have erected 4-storey buildings with their earnings. I once met such a man, whose son was close to finishing medical school. Once the son became a doctor, the man had said, the father would have no need to beg anymore. Thank Allah for sacrificing parents!

***

It’s well past noon. I am hungry. I enter a “bhaat er hotel” – literally meaning a ‘rice hotel’ – a traditional wayside food-joints. These restaurants are the staple when it comes to working men’s lunches. They are typically cheap (lunch with rice, chicken curry / fish, lentil soup @ USD 1.5) shabby, ill-lit, carelessly-serviced and seldom empty. Housed in tin-sheds or thatched-cottages, these Hotels are different from your everyday restaurants. Here’s how:

  1. You can walk in and sit at any table with empty chairs i.e. the tables cannot be booked. This means that capacity is fully utilized and that beggars, cops, executives, mosque-volunteers and development workers often end up at the same table.
  2. There’s an auto-order feature where waiters – usually boys of 10-14 years of age – will set down a plate of rice, a fixed platter of veggies / mashes and an elementary salad in front of you. You are free to eat from it.
  3. If you choose not to eat from it, they will take it back. Interestingly, this is not the case in India, where food served (i.e. touched) cannot be returned. Many suggest it may be because people of upper castes consider it a sin to eat of food touched by lower castes.
  4. Water is free. Its sources are dubious.
  5. Once you’ve run out of curry / vegetables, they will give you some more for free. This is known as ‘thhora’ (a little bit) or ‘jhol’ (gravy).
  6. These hotels almost never overcharge or have hidden costs. Tipping is optional, but rewarding.

As I sit at my table, enjoying my hot chicken curry, fragments of conversation come floating. Two men are discussing a wedding feast. I gather one is the elder brother of the groom and lives in the nearby slum. The other is a professional baburchi (chef / cook).

hotel

Inside the Rice Hotel: the two men on the left are planning the wedding.

It is an afternoon wedding, which means, people will eat more. The groom’s brother wants both chicken and beef on the menu – but can’t come to terms with the costs. But in a Bangladeshi wedding, the feast is everything. It must be scrumptious and available in gluttonous quantities. It’s a matter of honor. So the brother readies himself for the blow and starts to list down the ingredients. The chef takes a deep breath and lets out a tirade: onions, chili, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, khoya / mawa, raisins, saffron, sour yogurt …it goes on for 10 minutes. With each item, he quotes the amount needed for 150 people.  

Outside, a small procession is broken up by the armed police in combat gear. Some small explosions are heard. Two, three men rush inside the hotel – slightly out of breath. They seem to know the owner …so, it’s all okay. In the midst of this commotion, the wedding plan goes on. The chef has now moved on to sweets and is mounting a crazy, new list of ingredients.

***

My day ends at my in-laws’ place. Mother-in-law is cooking for me. As we wait for dinner, she also tells us stories: stories of her childhood, her village and her relatives. In course of time, a sturdy, mighty grandfather-figure comes up …

Circa 1975: it happened one day that a rumor spread across the village that a singular of wild boars had come out of the jungle. Wild boars could be potentially dangerous. So, shutters dropped and doors locked. Immediately, this elderly man chopped down a bamboo from his front-yard and sat down to fashion it into a spear.

The women implored him to come back indoors. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. “Am I not a human being? Why should I retreat in my own turf? You think I can’t defend our home?” he thundered. Sure enough, the singular of boars began to infiltrate the boundaries of the kitchen garden. The patriarch took up his makeshift spear and began to fend them off. At one stage, one boar charged. At the end, one animal lay wounded, the others having fled. The man lived to tell the tale. Till this day, his can’t straighten his fingers, all of which were broken during the scuffle.

But it’s not with a sense of trauma or regret that he tells his tale; but with pride and righteousness. His logic is simple: if a boar comes into your home, you fight. You don’t break down and question why God sent this misery your way. This, to me, seems to embody the indomitable, Bangladeshi strand of Resilience. Try and outlaw me in posh neighborhoods, but I’ll find a way to send my son to medical school. Restrict my van on the roads and I’ll turn a profit by making it into an ambulance. Throw Molotov cocktails my way, but I’ll put up the best wedding feast this side of town. This side of the Bangladeshi doesn’t let up. He doesn’t mope ‘Oh God! Why me?’ …he takes the boar by the horn and throws his punches.

Sometimes, it works. And that’s Life.

Constructing Islamophobia: The #Ushergate Incident

These days, if you’re a journalist or a reporter …reporting the news is just not good enough. You need ‘news that sells’. So, sometimes you have to invent angles and embellish details.

That’s precisely what Channel 4’s Cathy Newman did.

newman

“Whaaaaat? Embellish details?? Me?”

Covering UK’s ‘Visit My Mosque’ Day, Ms. Newman attempted to go into a mosque and was ‘ushered out’ of the facility. Shocked, she did what any of us would do: take to social media for a good, ol’ rant.

usher

cathy1Her tweets were retweeted hundreds of times. News outlets picked up the story. And let’s not forget Ms. Newman alone has around 80K followers, all of whom saw exactly how suspicious these mosques were …denying entry and ushering out a journalist of such high standing. ‘Visit My Mosque Day was such a fail!’ some commented. Some probably wondered what these mosques were hiding and why Muslims were so rude, uncivilized and barbaric even.

But then, a CCTV footage surfaced.

She hadn’t been ushered out at all (perhaps, she misremembered?)

Of course, Mrs Newman had arrived at the wrong location as she attempted to take part in Visit My Mosque day. Rather than being hurried to the door, she had simply been pointed in the right direction by Muslims and left to make her own way out. That is hardly ushering. And saying that isn’t splitting hairs.

Mrs Newman last night apologized for causing any ‘misunderstanding’ over the visit. It comes a little too late for the Islamic centre at the centre of the claims, which has received a torrent of online abuse and two telephone death threats.

I wonder if an apology suffices for turning a helpful direction into ‘ushering out’. Any decent human being would think twice before posting tweets with incendiary intentions. A reporter – whose very profession is supposed to be verifying and establishing the Truth –  would’ve done well to remember that. In the end, all Visit My Mosque related stories are now linked to Ms. Newman (Google ‘Visit My Mosque’ and see how many links are really about Cathy Newman and her moronic gaffe). She has successfully stolen the story and made it about her.

The #VisitMyMosque campaign, organized by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), is part of a 2015 effort to reach out to the public and relieve heightened tensions between communities. Members of the Muslim community “may be on hand to answer questions about Muslims and Islam where this is possible,” the MCB said.

In the Name of a Prophet

makouli

Detectives at the location of the Makouli shooting, near Avignon.

Gunmen shot and killed at least 17 people last week in France. Apparently, they did this to ‘protect the reputation / honor of the prophet Muhammad’. They did this without regard for common Muslims’ safety or sentiments. They did this without thinking about the likes of Mohamed El Makouli – who was stabbed 17 times and killed today right before his wife in France. The attacker was screaming “I am your god, I am your Islam”. He has now been sent to a psychiatric hospital (how predictable!). The wife managed to escape with her child. However, neither Islam nor Europe seems likely to escape a return to the dark ages.

must die

“ISLAM MUST DIE” accompanied by a Swastika. Blatant Islamophobia surfaces at the University of Birmingham. (photo: redbrick.me)

 ***

For decades now, ordinary people (Muslims, Christians, all) have suffered the consequences of terrorists’ crimes. Like most others, the Charlie Hebdo ‘terrorists’ sported beards like the prophets and had Arabic names. Only, they failed to follow the teachings of the prophet.

Flashback to the 6th Century A.D. – Ridiculed, hunted, tortured and even exiled during his lifetime – the Prophet responded not with vengeance or hostility. Guided by the God of Abraham or the God of Moses or YHWH or Allah, Muhammad was merciful and gracious. He wrote extensively to his magistracy and representatives to ensure Muslims behaved themselves. At a time when religious groups were at loggerheads and the entire region in flux, he wrote the following about adherents of other religions and detractors: bismillah 1

(In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent and most Merciful)

 “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.

The Muslims are to fight for them.

If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

200px-The_Patent_of_Mohammed

A charter of peace, ratified by Prophet Muhammad – copy stored with Monks of Mount Sinai. (Wikipedia)

Slander not the tree, I say, having tasted its rotten fruits. Muhammad – as history will testify – was a kind man who surrendered his will to Allah (SWT). He is as venerated as the other prophets in Islam – Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, Lot, Job, Ishmael, Isaac, John and Jesus. No more, no less. And while Muhammad was not afraid to repel attacks on his community or march on the city of his birth to retake Makka’h – he never willfully spilled the blood of the innocent.

Those are the facts. cave

To borrow from Plato’s Cave Allegory: it is logically and morally wrong to ascribe meaning to a flame, based on the shadows cast by our own hand gestures. It is our hand. We decide what shape it takes. The light is constant. It is not the flame, but we, who cause our own souls to be manifest against the Light when we commit crimes in its name.

Let us discover the true transmissions and teachings of Muhammad and judge him according to those. However, let’s also be warned that when we venerate prophets to the point of worship …it is sacrilege in Islam. When we make up stories of violence and abuse in his name …it is baseless slander. When rogue idiots shoot people – innocent or otherwise – in the name of protecting Muhammad / Islam, it is just gruesome, avoidable murder. Neither Muhammad, nor his Master, asks it of any Muslim.

“It is as though the terrorist themselves are declaring to the Muslim World, “I am your god, I am your Islam”. It’s a big middle finger to all those trying to clutch on to the fundamental teachings of Islam and at the same time, fit into an increasingly radicalized, discriminating world.”

I reject the Terrorists’ creed and their ranks with utmost disgust.

These violent acts tarnish neither the Scripture, nor He who sends it. It says nothing of what Muhammad thought, felt or did. This is freestyle Islam …doing what we want to do for political gains or money or power or thrill – and then demanding that Islam be expanded to accommodate our actions.

Thank God ‘Islam’ is not only a Noun, but also a Verb!

To Be Charlie Or Not To Be Charlie

Charlie Hebdo isn’t dead. It has been hijacked.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is trending. About this surge in support, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonist Bernard Holtrop has said, “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.” He added that this newfound fame was laughable and was coming from people who had never seen an issue of Charlie Hebdo before the shootings shot it into Internet stardom.

"We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends" - Bernard Holtrop, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

“We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends” – Bernard Holtrop, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

Statutory Distancing From Terrorist 

I try to imagine the horror of Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and editors in their last moments …and it sends a chill down my spine. I think of the newspaper office that I used to work in as a lowly sub-editor for a monthly salary of US$50. It was a matter of passion: to write, to report and to be read. And therefore it is bone-chilling, outrageous and hate-inspiring to think that dissenters would dare to physically attack me for mere opinions. I grieve for the murdered journalists and I hope all (Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim) terrorists die horrible deaths.

I can’t bring myself to respect or condone what Charlie Hebdo stood for in the first place. The explosion of Charlie’s cartoons all over the Internet has left a bad taste in my mouth. It is the first time I’ve (accidentally) laid eyes on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad …viciously unkind ones at that. And in a Free World, I shouldn’t have had to. (Read the response to this post at Carl’s blog).

It is probably unfathomable to the high-and-mighty, liberal, progressive, pretty and White people of France, USA or UK – how deeply offending the caricatures are. Suffice it to say that in our prayers, we pray for the Prophet first, and our parents later. Yet, I hear, it is the essence of their Freedom to be able to hurt us again and again – by making a unnecessary mockery of all we hold sacred. Good job, Ahmed Merabet on defending that largely-White privilege. We’ve seen how viciously Muslims are jeered for exploring the life of Jesus in an academic fashion. God forbid one should try ridicule or satire.

Is Hate Speech the Essence of Free Speech?

It is baffling that we have come to think that Hate Speech is the most essential cornerstone of Free Speech. And Muslims have inherited much of the hate left over from the plates of pre-World War 2 Jewish peoples. We’ve forgotten that there are much more important and substantial bastions of Free Speech operating around us and their freedoms are constantly under threat from widespread surveillance, sovereignty-undermining drone attacks, state-sponsored extra-judicial killing of citizens or baseless edicts.

Bigots’ right to Hate Speech isn’t really the most urgent issue of our times. And transforming the written word to sketches and caricatures doesn’t blunt the dagger of division that Hate Speech is driving between communities. The numerous attacks on mosques, Muslims and their affiliates have made clear how Charlie’s malignant contents have wedged apart and isolated the Muslim community in France.

tellmeme

The #JeSuisCharlie groups, when they purport to support Free Speech, are actually defending ‘the Right to Offend Muslims': the greatest Others in Europe. Anti-Semitism, they will condemn. Anti-Black content, they’ll deem Racist. Anti-France lyrics, they’ll sue. Anti-homosexuality content, they’ll label homophobic. But malign or insult Muslims …that’s fine. They represent the only legitimate, sufficiently-weak and marginalized group that can be mocked without socio-economic repercussions.

Consider this: the objective of depicting a naked Muhammad is to offend. But to what end? To anger the radicals? To taunt them? If so, the massacre is the height of Charlie Hebdo’s success. They enraged extremists elements to such an extent that they were driven to this bloody shooting. I want no part of this filth or this carnage.

But if the objective is to offend all Muslims, then I don’t see why it doesn’t qualify as Hate Speech. After all, Charlie Hebdo did fire journalist Maurice Sinet for anti-Semitic remarks. Is it then okay to taunt and hurt Muslims, but not so okay to link Judaism and financial success? Hate speech is “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”

Islamophobia is not only on the rise, it is becoming increasingly acceptable.

Islamophobia is not only on the rise, it is becoming increasingly acceptable.

Can you imagine how we would react if Charlie’s vicious satire was targeted at homosexuals? Or disabled veterans? Would people still think it funny if it hit that close to home? Probably not. But insulting Muslims is fun …because they react so viciously. Then tragedy strikes and some lunatic takes things into his own hands and goes on a shooting spree.

“Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims,” Tony Barber, Europe Editor, Financial Times. “France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.”

The fact that Charlie operates in France, gives it even more specific context. Furthering of Free Speech and Freedom of Expression in France has often involved antagonizing the Muslim minority: a minority where 80% are of Algerian descent / origin; an oft-oppressed and massacred religious minority. For 132 years, France occupied and pillaged Algeria; it tortured and murdered Algerians Muslims by the thousands. If this had been done to any ‘Western’ nation, France would’ve earned a rightful place beside Hitler’s Nazi Germany. But narratives of colonization of pauperized Muslims in the hands of a mighty, White European is largely normalized in our world. It is this colonized, pauperized, robbed and murdered minority that Charlie Hebdo had valiantly taken on. The same Charlie Hebdo that is now receiving Google and possibly government funds to spew their venom. Imagine if it got that funding when it was accused of anti-Semitism in 2009!

Selective Freedoms for Elective Speech 

In 2006, France’s most popular rapper was charged with anti-Semitism and offending public decency. Rapper Monsieur R. had referred to France as a “slut” and vowed to “piss” on Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. “France is a bitch, don’t forget to fuck her till she’s exhausted/You have to treat her like a slut, man” he sang.  Laws were proposed to ban this content and hundreds of lawmakers voiced their opposition for such lyrics. So, it is not okay to demean the ‘Dignity of France’, but perfectly fine to take a piss on Islam, its last Prophet or to ban expressions of religious affiliation in the name of Lacaite. France’s notions of Free Speech is messed up to say the least.

islamophobe 1While it makes me deeply uncomfortable and sad, I understand why Charlie chose to depict the Prophet Muhammad under the sword of an ISIS thug. It sends a powerful message: Muhammad or Islam aren’t the source of ISIS’s hateful ideology. But a graphic orgy of the Holy Trinity or other explicit images may be needlessly provocative. It gives rise to Otherization of minorities and prevents assimilation of any kind. That, in turn, leads to hate crimes and a realization of a Clash of Civilization narratives.

Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorist attacks. The Charlie Hebdo shooting wasn’t even the most deadly attack on January 7, 2015. A car bomb killed 37 people in Yemen on the same day – but the demography of the victims failed to attract any notable media attention. Still, I feel for the blaspheming victims of Charlie Hebdo. It’s not up to me to judge their intentions or actions. But it doesn’t mean I stand by or endorse what they were doing. Let’s not confuse support for Free Speech with support for the actual contents in question.

I am not Charlie.

And unless you’re a bigoted, xenophobic, racist, hate-breeding, minority-taunting neophyte …you shouldn’t be either.

Monajatuddin: The Minstrel Journalist

Adnan R. Amin:

My piece on Monajatuddin …the talented, devoted rural journalist who formed and swayed the national agenda in Bangladesh.

Originally posted on Alal O Dulal:

Monajatuddin (photo: Pabna News) Monajatuddin (source: Pabna News)

by Adnan R. Amin for AlalODulal.org

The works of Monajatuddin – the Minstrel Journalist – have had more of a shaping role in contemporary Bangladesh than that of many a politicians, development-pundits, editors or litterateurs. Take for example, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014, only recently okayed by the cabinet. It was Monajatuddin’s keen, investigative reporting on child marriage that informed and laid the groundwork for necessary social-debates and policy-making.

View original 1,325 more words

“Drain Baby” and His Unfortunate Friends

Yesterday, an Australian woman was arrested for dumping her infant down a Sydney drain. The baby was 7 days old (he is 8 days today, 5 of which, he spent in the storm drain) and has become known as “drain baby”. Now, the mother is being charged with attempted murder. Hah! Only if she had attempted it a couple of months earlier!

The drain where the baby was dumped (photo: James Alcock)

The drain where the baby was dumped (photo: James Alcock)

I find thoroughly bewildering the unchallenged and widely-accepted norm that this mother could’ve killed her child some months earlier and gone Scot-free. With our language, we have created a gulf of difference between the unborn and the born child. We’ve virtually equated the embryo to a piece of steak. But are they really so different in the days before and after birth? What really changes at the instant of Birth? I perceive it to be two things:

  1. Physical Displacement: the tiny being passes through a canal to emerge at a different place. It is the exact same being, only in different space (i.e. not the womb).
  2. Change in Sustenance Sourcing: it no longer has to rely on the umbilical cord for nutrition. The infant is still consuming the same nutrients (food and Oxygen), but just sourcing it from a different place. So, it is more helpless before birth.

There are no other physical changes. So which event signifies Life – (a) or (b)? Or is it both? When do our mighty courts, activists and jesters decide to grant the ‘Status of Life’ to that tiny organism? Because – clearly, we have completely cleaved out ‘Life’ from the ‘Status of Life’ – taking it upon us to decree the hour when a being comes to life.

In many states, it's perfectly legal to 'terminate' any of these fetuses up to week 36. But who's to say when Life began?

In many states, it’s perfectly legal to ‘terminate’ any of these fetuses up to week 36. But who’s to say when Life began?

Let’s face it: we don’t know when Life begins. Childbirth, being an event we can see, seems obvious. So, to what we had dubbed a ‘fetus’ – we now give a new name, an ‘infant’. Let’s not forget that these are mental constructs that we have invented to help us grasp the rite of passage (e.g. when does a boy become a man and a girl, a woman? Do we not define these in terms of rites of passage?). We define these stages according to how we perceive the transformation from the outside. If by some miracle, the infant could retreat into its mother’s womb – would it again be okay to kill it off?

If-it-isnt-a-babyOur moral and legal position on abortion (which should’ve been termed ‘killing’ or at least ‘putting down’) are almost exclusively about ‘Us’ …the ones who safely made it out of the womb and are now living full, healthy lives and pontificating about choices. Is it really that surprising that we can make up rules and norms to decide the fates of unborn children – when we are constantly doing it to those who have already been born? What would we say if it were us or our children that faced termination?

It’s hard not to wonder what the properties of Life are. Is it the capacity to perceive the world around us? Basic self-preservation instincts? Is it responding to external stimuli? Protesting hunger and deprivation? The instinct of preserving the status quo? – Because a fetus often fulfills each one of these prerequisites. Yet, we decide that since it is in a specific place (the womb) – though not of its own choosing – it cannot be said to have Life. Even the kindest of us – who weep at the execution of seasoned rapists and serial killers – decree that it’s okay to kill a child. An unborn one at that!

One doesn’t have to be a Conservative or a Liberal to honestly reassess his/her position. “They say X is acceptable and I usually vote for them, so I must concur” is not a real, political position. It’s Groupthink: a mix of intellectual laziness, self-centrism and capitulation to peer pressure. It has almost become fashionable to support feticide in the name of being ‘pro-choice’. The word ‘choice’ is powerful, and evocative of basic freedoms. But it’s also misleading. You would support people having the choice to pierce their nipples, but not the option to fry – with microwaves – a baby kangaroo in its mother’s pouch. For God’s sake – these same pro-choice liberals also weep over veal!

Yes, we feel sorry for “Drain Baby” …but he has survived not only Birth, but also an attempt on his life. In 2008, 44 million babies didn’t get to be born. That’s the same as the population of Spain! Women must have the right to choose – but before, not after the fact. No one – not men, not women – can have the moral right to preemptively massacre 44 million lives. Besides, we mustn’t fail to consider what choice we’re leaving the unborn child.

  • P.S.1 while I was writing this post, another drain-baby has been found in Spain.
  • P.S.2 within the same timeframe, another 14000 babies have been aborted

Remember, Remember

On the 5th of November, sparks went flying in Dhaka, Bangladesh. While it wasn’t to commemorate Guy Fawkes, in the end, the incidents did end up striking a blow at powerful, wayward institutions.

By now, you’ve surely heard of the assault on a renowned photographer and his two nieces by hooligans who turned out to be from the ranks of the Bangladesh Chatra League (BCL). When social-media outroar culminated in a protest at the Shaheed Minar, BCL men came out in droves to harass and intimidate the protesters. Obscenity was used online and offline in a desperate and cliched attempt to attack the character of the two female victims (i.e. nieces). The perpetrators were later identified and expelled from the university. But whether BCL ousted them or not, remains unclear.

TDS3

Drawing from a pool of hungry and blindly-loyal young men, political institutions in campuses have started to rival their hosts. Student wings of political parties have claimed halls, exploited students, engaged in extortion and other minor crimes for decades. Especially when their mother-organizations are in power – these wings think it their lawful right to profit from their respective campuses. For some years now, BCL’s ‘mischief’ has overflowed campuses. Not two months back, ten cadres of BCL assaulted Abdullah Al Noman, a Banglanews24.com correspondent. Last year, one journalist of Amar Desh was attacked. And these are only incidents that made the news! Largely under the radar, men from the organisation have been implicated in muggings around DU campus. Tyranny over the Weak is tacitly accepted. The problem only arises when such bully organisations pick the wrong prey. And by the looks of it, Beg and his two nieces certainly hadn’t appeared to pose any threat to BCL-blessed men.

What these bullies failed to recognise (possibly due to missing classes) was that the Bangladeshi power-structure has been undergoing significant changes over the past decades. Alongside nephews of MPs and sons of ministers – businesses and corporations, media professionals, civil society members, social influencers and activists and online celebrities have started wielding power too. It is a different kind of power that cannot be met with invectives or sticks. Sometimes it can’t even be intimidated. That is precisely why BCL has been forced to express regret after each of these incidents. And BCL’s (or that of JCD, JCS, ICS) failure to understand these changes – is contributing to its reduced relevance and importance as a political institution.

***

dhaka-university-du-assault-imtiaz-alam-beg

Noted lawyers, politicians, musicians and social activists brought out a procession in protest. (photo: The Daily Star)

There are three groups of victims from the Curzon Hall assault: the University of Dhaka which must grapple with its fall from grace, the Chhatra League which has been thus far unable to arrest its plummeting reputation and the actual victims who must deal with the trauma.

The University of Dhaka (DU) – juggling with 35,000 students – has been effectively rendered helpless in the situation. Housing massively powerful student bodies has undermined its own authority. Now it must remain a bystander and watch as different quarters vie for changes in the power structure. As long as student-wing oversight remains with political parties, and not campus authorities, the university will continue to be a bystander and watch its ‘Eastern Oxford’ reputation be dragged through the mud. As with any other academic institution, this could mean a drop in intake-quality and graduate performance.

BCL, as an institution, is also a victim. It has lost its former glory as a frontier of students’ movements and lost sight of issues that are truly relevant to students or country. Now it’s having to pay dearly for unnecessary bullying that will yield no profits. Labouring up the ranks for years, rogue leaders are now middle-aged men who must earn a living and support families. Having once tasted easy money and influence – they can’t go back to the glory days. Yet, the Awami League has seemingly had it with BCL’s hooliganism. Both the Prime Minister and her son, Joy, have condemned recent BCL misdeeds. In November-14 exchange meeting, Joy advised BCL men to study well and protect the reputation of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. That he did this in the presence of BCL General Secretary Siddique Nazmul Alam and BCL President H M Bodiuzzaman Shohag is significant. It sends a strong message to the BCL, which is rapidly turning into an embarrassing burden for the AL and a tool for opposition parties. It must evolve or evaporate.

Goons belonging to Bangladesh Chatra League beat up an opposition supporter. Photo: Star File

Goons belonging to Bangladesh Chatra League beat up an opposition supporter. Photo: Star File

Lastly, the three people who were assaulted and hundreds of protestors who were jeered, hurt or intimidated are unwilling victims in all of this. However, none of them have taken it lying down. The two nieces, Rubaiya and Saba, embarked upon a social media campaign – with a lot of restraint and grace – reaching thousands of people; triggering media outlets to take note. The combined pressure caused BCL to quickly identify the men, in an attempt to distance themselves from the incident.

It is saddening to note that if things hadn’t heated up so, BCL may have attempted to shelter its men, if not justify their actions. This is evident in their large presence at the Shaheed Minar, where they passed lewd comments, threw bottles, jostled and invested in obscenity and defamation against the two female victims. There are qualitative differences in how BCL and the protestors approached the confrontation. It was a confrontation of Hooliganism and Civility. And this chasm may be a combined result of different social values and different organizational cultures.

One of the girls who suffered the wrath of BCL that day, Saba Ahmed, herself an ex-student of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) of DU, wrote on her blog, “We are living in such a segregated society that the only frame of reference ‘they’ have about me is the ‘bratty girl in her satin housecoat’, plucked directly from a commercial Bangladeshi film. They think I wear leather pants, I learned, as I flipped through the smear campaign on Facebook, following the attack. They think I call my parents Mommy and Daddy. Pieced together, I am the spoilt daughter of a Chowdhury shaheb, who eventually gets whipped straight by the proletariat protagonist.”

***

Roles, scopes and failures of historic institutions have been exposed by the incident. But more importantly, it has exposed a deep fracture in our immediate societal vicinity – a chasm that separates not Morals/Virtues, but tribes. A chasm that separates bastions of (social, cultural, educational, financial) Elites from less-privileged, challengers seeking ways to break the status quo. While jostling between social classes is a natural, continuous phenomenon – its manifestations must be reasoned, civil and at a homegrown middle-ground.

For all of us – it is important to remember when politics completely consumes a student wing, it ceases to be about ‘students’ and becomes about ‘politics'; when institutions can no longer control their constituents, they cease to be in control of reputation and hence, performance (this goes for both DU and BCL). Also, it is important to remember; when citizens deign to act against prevalent injustice, corruption or violence – it is possible to defeat perpetrators. It is important to remember that this may be achieved with composure, consideration and tolerance; the point is not to defeat, but to bridge.

So, remember, remember, the 5th of November.

A Ration of Irrationality (Or Looking For A Lighter, Finding God)

Okay, I’ll admit it: I smoke.

There! There you go …I said it! I don’t smoke anything else but cigarettes (not anymore i.e.). I don’t smoke in public or enclosed spaces (well, maybe a restaurant or two). Never around kids. I try to be considerate: I retreat behind some invisible bulwark; blow the smoke upward; crush the cigarette halfway through. I hide, in my palms my cigarette, when elders pass. Every three months, I vow to quit. And then quit the vow.

A pair of smokers stand outside of an office building in the Times Square region of New York (photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

A pair of smokers stand outside of a building in the Times Square region of New York (photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Smoking is the marriage that I can’t get out of. I enjoy, not without a measure of guilt, the mental respite that it gives me; the idleness of raising the cigarette to my lips, puffing, blowing half the smoke out, inhaling, bringing hand down and exhaling; telling myself – who knows whether to the aid or detriment to my resolve to cut-down – I have earned it.

Stop looking at me like that! Don’t judge me. There are many of us …many great ones too – why! Obama smokes! …or -ed!  George Harrison smoked. But the noose is tightening. We’re being rounded up. There’s smoke police out there, donning Righteousness as a cap and Consternation as a badge. Sir, excuse me sir – you may NOT consume this item you bought of your own volition with your own money.  No …no, don’t you dare run away …!

What has the world become …? No smoking here! No smoking there! Is that a cigarette in your hand? Get down, get down! Get down on your knees! The world just harbors so much normalized, institutionalized discrimination against people with different consumption patterns! Anyway, I won’t launch into my pro-smoking (and probably, right-wing) agenda. Suffice it to say, it pertains to the notions of ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘victimless crimes‘.

Besides, it helped me understand God.

***

smoke

Ignore that glass of whiskey, mom …it’s stock footage.

When you’re smoking …and I mean, really smoking and not just puffing away nervously at some dingy, tar-stained airport lounge or gasping with the satisfaction of scratching an itch …fixing a jonesing …you aren’t really doing much else. You’re just smoking. That is especially true if you’re trying to cut down / in the process of quitting (I subscribe to the school of thought that says quitting is a process, not an instant act). You relish that smoke. Anchored in the part of one’s Consciousness that is dealing with the release of Dopamine (happy chemicals) – is another part that flies above the hot, concrete jungle. That part of the Consciousness soars above dingy, smoky roads, beyond inflation-stricken salaries and Formalin-tainted fruits to reach into life’s bigger questions. I think we’ve become – sadly –  ashamed of pondering or discussing the real big things in Life. Android devices, superhero fanfiction, X-Factor / The Voice and weekend games pervade our Consciousness and Thoughts. But during those few, quiet moments – I try to understand what the really big questions are. I’m no philosopher. But I’m not ashamed to confess to thinking about Life, God, Love, Universe, Men and Brotherhood once in a while.

So, there I was …settling down in the dark of my 3rd floor balcony, on my China-made Victorian park-bench, only dimly-lit by my Victorian garden lamp, my feet brushing against the carpet …when I realized I did not have a working lighter. Damn! Well, I did have an old, rusted, clattering work-horse that had seen its best days. Its replacement had already been bought. Feeling too lazy to go get the new one, I tried the rusty lighter once. Nothing. I tried again. Just the metallic sound of the wheel screeching. In this way, I gave it exactly twelve tries. None of them worked. In a bid to procrastinate, I considered my options: I could either go inside, walk across my room, enter a third room and get the replacement lighter. Or else, I could give this crackling little cheapshit another go. Remember this: I had tried the broken lighter at least a dozen times before. It just wouldn’t work.

So I gave it another shot.

Wait!

Why did I just do that? Why did I rely on the baseless Hope that it would ignite a spark? Especially when all the evidence from previous trials suggest otherwise? I could’ve – and should’ve – just relied on the certainty of knowing exactly where I keep my spare lighter. It was a sure shot. So, why bank on the belief ‘this time …this is the time …this time, it will all change. Does the human mind automatically rely on hope …almost like happy optimism …instead of believing evidence from past patterns?

Rationality Vs. Belief

You may be thinking ‘it’s probability’. Well, I don’t agree. You see, if the perceived probability of it working were at least 50% – I would totally understand. But twelve trials had yielded the evidence that the lighter wouldn’t work. What evidence is there to suggest it will acquiesce during a thirteenth attempt? Why did I think I was special? Is it not irrational behavior?

Albert Einstein once said something to the tune of, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That’s what it is, at the core of it: Irrationality; hoping for a Singularity with such fervor that it influences actual behavior; an evidence-flouting, unreasonable act based on belief (from a thinking, logical being). But what is this belief? Who or what, did I think, would turn things in my favor? What evidence did I have to make such a choice? The truth is, I had no evidence. Just blind hope. Faith. Which is the firm belief that something good will happen. It is a belief that gets millions of people out of bed: searching for jobs in a bad economy; trusting in health plans though it cuts into insurance coverage; trying to quit smoking after 30+ failed attempts; flirting with girls at the counter even though they’re clearly out of our league.

Remember what they say about black-holes? They say that their gravitational pull is so strong that they even suck in light. So you can never see a black-hole. You can only know it exists because the orbit of everything else around it is warped by its pull. All over the world, people’s actions are refracted by their faith in something bigger, something greater than themselves (I guess, somewhat like Plato’s Cave Allegory). And sure …why not a Being? To me, it’s the same as ‘An Invisible Force’, ‘Nature’, ‘Highest Vibratory Energy’ or ‘Yahweh’ – i.e. they’re all constructs that we’ve adopted for convenience. I’m quite sure anything that can conceive & create Life, Universe and Time – is sentient. I don’t know if (S)he is up in the sky or Light years away. But like a black-hole, (S)he is there: unseen, untouched but as real Skittles.

So, there you have it. That’s how I (supposedly) found God while looking for a lighter.

P.S. Oh! And that old, rusty lighter? It did work on the thirteenth attempt.

Leave a Comment?

Halloween’s Gifts for Muslims

As my Facebook newsfeed fills up with images of Bangladeshis going gaga over Halloween costumes and parties, there have been more important developments around the world. Two things seemed particularly relevant to Muslims.

In the first update, Sweden has become the biggest (Western) European, EU-member country to recognize a Palestinian state. The linked report sort of dismisses the Swedish government by saying its ‘left-leaning’ (and hence capable of yodeling, patronizing dog-sledding or siding with those crazy Muslims!). But it’s good news since it sets a precedence.

hall1

It’s sad news because we have to make such a big deal out of a long-overdue act of justice, decency and civility. Like today’s spoiled kids, these European countries constantly clamor for incentives, even for the most routine of tasks. Let’s not forget that 134 other countries had already beaten Sweden to it.

Still, kudos to Sweden.

hall5

The second update is that our dear, dear Walmart has introduced a ‘Muslim costume’ for this Halloween. In what is described as a ‘Pashtun Papa’ costume – a figure who looks like a Taliban man menacingly juggles invisible balls with a sinister beard-smothered grin on his brown face. The post from their website said “Shock your friends with this Islamic costume.”

hall3

Meh! Walmart’s role in allowing Islamophobic products, comments and attitudes isn’t entirely shocking. Last year, they were forced to fire an employee who made ghoul-related comments about burqa-clad, Muslim women (later, Muslim groups requested Walmart to reinstate the employee – out of respect for his freedom of speech on social media).

hall

The company’s blatant monetization of Islamophobia and xenophobia is without parallel. And I see their logic too: if it’s Muslims that frighten people – if it has really come to that – then it should definitely be a Halloween costume. Any company that can market a fat girl costume, is capable of anything for profits. Who cares about the social consequences of such actions? Thankfully, Walmart was forced by a angry mob of online Tweeters and Facebookers to withdraw the item and issue an apology. But don’t be too crestfallen. Check out what you can still get from them …

hall4

Happy Halloween! 

hall2a

Halloween originated from an ancient, pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago. Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living, just after harvest season, or Samhain (hence, the pumpkins). Some of them wore ghoulish costumes so that wandering spirits would mistake them for one of their own and leave them alone. They even offered sweets to appease the spirits. In medieval Europe, the Catholic clergy adopted local pagan customs and had their adherents go from house to house wearing costumes and requesting small gifts.