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Bangladesh: Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism and Almighty Allah

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Last year, the writer and historian Ryan Shaffer put forward that “Bangladeshi atheists and secularists are under attack from their government and Muslim extremists. In the last year, several leading Bangladeshi secularists have been murdered. In late 2014 and early 2015, four vocal professors, authors, and bloggers were killed by extremists by being hacked to death in public. The first murder was of Shafiul Islam, who was killed by several machete-wielding men near his home following allegations that he banned women from wearing burkas in his university classes. Then Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi American writer who was critical of Islam, was attacked by three men with machetes and died at a nearby hospital from his injuries. Lastly, Oyasiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das, both atheist bloggers, were killed by assailants with machetes in separate but nearly identical attacks. These murders are just the latest in a campaign against atheists in Bangladesh. Since the 2013 murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider, another blogger who criticized Islam, the Bangladeshi government has walked a fine line between safeguarding its official religion of Islam and trying to protect nonbelievers from violent Islamic extremists”.[1]

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In early 2014, AFP reported that “Bangladesh police have charged seven students of an elite university and a cleric over the murder of an allegedly atheist blogger who was critical of Islam and Islamic groups. The students are accused of hacking to death Ahmed Rajib Haider, 35, near his home in Dhaka in February [2013], days after he helped launch a campaign against Islamist leaders accused of war crimes. Police also charged an imam from a Dhaka mosque with instigating the murder by allegedly preaching that it was legal to kill atheist bloggers who campaigned against Islam”.[2] The situation in East Bengal seems to be very dire indeed. The report goes on to say that the “body of Haider, better known by his Bengali online identity Thaba Baba, was found with hatchet wounds to the head in what police said was an apparent attempt to behead him. Six out of the seven men — all of whom are students of the prestigious and private North South University — and the imam have been arrested and are being held in jail, [Dhaka police deputy commissioner Masudur Rahman] said. Haider’s killing was the second attack in Dhaka against bloggers critical of Islam, after the stabbing of a self-styled ‘militant atheist’ by three unidentified men in January [2013]. After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s Islamic parties started to protest against other campaigning bloggers, calling a series of nationwide strikes to demand their execution, accusing them of blasphemy”.[3]

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Giving a little potted history, Shaffer explains that “Bangladesh has its origins in religious strife and sectarianism. It gained its independence in 1947 when British India was divided to create a separate Muslim land. Originally founded as a Muslim-nation called East Pakistan, the country underwent a devastating ‘war of liberation’ against West Pakistan in 1971 and became Bangladesh, a nation of Bengalis. Though the country has a secular democracy, Islam is the official state religion and Muslim political parties play significant roles in crafting laws and influencing prosecutions. However, the current ruling party is the Awami League, a left-leaning secular socialist party [in power since 2009], and the prime minister is Sheikh Hasina, a woman who also governed the country from 1996 to 2001. Bangladesh’s recent history has been marked by corruption, assassinations, and arrests of political rivals, including Hasina’s 2008 indictment for extortion. At the same time, Muslim extremism has cast a large shadow with terrorist attacks killing and injuring large numbers of people, most notably two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries following Hasina’s public anti-terror speech in 2004. Indeed, the country has weak governance and vocal religious extremists, which is further complicated by poverty and terrorism. Politicians have used Islam as a wedge for broadening its appeal and tapping into populist support for the nation’s official religion. Specifically, the government has been pursuing atheists and humanists for “hate speech” over their online posts critical of Islam”.[4]

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The Bangladeshi Constitution proclaims that the country “is a unitary, independent, sovereign Republic to be known as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh” (Article 1).[5] The document then goes on to state that “[t]he state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic” (Article 2.A).[6] And driving home the point, the document also points out that “[t]he principles of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, together with the principles derived from them as set out in this Part [of the Constitution], shall constitute the fundamental principles of state policy” (Article 8.1) and that “[a]bsolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions” (Article 8.1A).[7] As a result, it seems that the Bangladeshi mind is bound to be somewhat confused and muddled, as the Almighty Allah is the driving force behind “nationalism, democracy and socialism” in East Bengal . . .

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[1] Ryan Shaffer, “Crisis in Bangladesh: Secularists Killed by Extremists and Under Legal Threat from Government” Council for Secular Humanism (02 June 2015). https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/articles/7551.

[2] “Cleric, students charged with ‘athesist’ blogger’s murder” AFP (29 January 2014). http://www.9news.com.au/world/2014/01/29/07/48/cleric-students-charged-with-atheist-blogger-s-murder#eDrLKJjuBtEuGOqO.99.

[3] “Cleric, students charged with ‘athesist’ blogger’s murder”.

[4] Ryan Shaffer, “Crisis in Bangladesh: Secularists Killed by Extremists and Under Legal Threat from Government”.

[5] “CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH” International Relations and Security Network. http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/research/bangladesh-constitution.pdf.

[6] “CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH”.

[7] “CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH”.

The Butcher of Gujarat: Is Modi’s India flirting with fascism?

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‘In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of India’s ruling BJP and former spokesman of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation and ideological wing of the BJP.- Published on Dec 25, 2015′.

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Debunking the Gandhi Myth: Arundhati Roy

‘On The Laura Flanders Show: Author/activist Arundhati Roy on the Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar and the Western myth of Mahatma Gandhi. And Glenn Greenwald addresses diversity concerns about his new media venture TheIntercept.com. Published on Oct 21, 2014′.

“It will be distressing to people in the black community who have been taught to valorize him and people on the American left who keep invoking him, but the fact is that all of us including I have been taught that Ghandi’s political awakening happened when he was thrown out of a white’s only compartment in South Africa on the train, and in fact Ghandi believed in racial segregation. His first victory in South Africa was to campaign for a third entrance to be opened in the Durban post office so that Indians would not have to use the same entrance as Kaffers. And all my analysis is not my analysis, I have just reproduced his own writing so there is no interpretation going on here, and he calls them savages and caffers, and people say oh he changed but he did not change you know, he partnered with the British in the war to tighten imperialism in South Africa.”

Climate Week NYC 2014

‘U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announces U.S. plan to help fund new World Bank program to counter climate change (22 September 2014)’.

Also on Monday, 22 September, the Washington Post‘s Adam Taylor declares that this “week, the United Nations will host a huge and well-publicized one-day summit on climate change. The public is likely to be watching it closely: It comes just days after thousands of people in New York and around the world took to the streets, demanding more political action to help fight global warming. The climate summit’s organizer, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, took part in the New York march, and for Tuesday’s event, he is promising to bring together some of the most powerful people in the world with a common purpose. “I have invited leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to present their vision, make bold announcements and forge new partnerships that will support the transformative change the world needs,” he wrote in a blog post on the summit for the Huffington Post. It’s certainly true that the climate summit has an impressive guest list: More than 120 world leaders are heading to the United Nations in New York for the event, including President Obama and many big names from the private sphere. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio will give one of the opening speeches. But as impressive as that guest list is, what’s more interesting is who is missing. Notably, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are skipping the event. In empirical terms, it’s hard to think of two more important leaders in the world right now: Together they lead more than 2.5 billion people, more than a third of the world’s population”.[1]

 

 

[1] Adam Taylor, “U.N. climate summit is high-profile, but some of world’s most important leaders will skip it” The Washington Post (22 September 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/09/22/u-n-climate-summit-is-high-profile-but-some-of-worlds-most-important-leaders-will-skip-it/.

Frankly Speaking with Narendra Modi

‘Narendra Modi speaks exclusively with TIMES NOW‘s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami on Frankly Speaking, his first interview to an English news channel since being announced as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Modi speaks on the issue of the Election Commission blocking his Varanasi rallies, the battle with the Gandhis, Priyanka Gandhi’s ‘neech rajneeti’ barb, controversies raked up by his party leaders Amit Shah and Giriraj Singh, 2002 Gujarat riots, snoopgate, businessman Adani controversy, the Robert Vadra issue, bitter fight with Mamata Banerjee, BJP confronting with other parties, caste and religion playing a role in election campaign, whether his economics is more swadeshi or pro-market, and if terror and talks can continue simultaneously with Pakistan (8 May 2014)’.

 

 

Ganesh’s Birthday Celebration 2014

‘Simon Reeves is in Mumbai in western India (in Maharashtra, to be precise) during the celebration of the elephant-headed god Ganesh (also known as Ganesh Chaturthi). There he witnesses a giant statue of the deity, among many others, being carried down to the sea at the culmination of the festival (26 April 2014)’.

The India specialist Dr Robert Brown opines that Ganesh “is often said to be the most worshipped god in India. As the lord of beginning, he is worshipped by devotees of other Hindu deities — of Shiva, Vishnu, the Goddes — either as the initiator of the path to these deities or as the direct road to mundane goals and success. He is also worshipped by some as the primary god”.[1]

 

[1] Robert L. Brown, Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God (New York, 1991), p. 1. http://www.google.com.tr/books?hl=en&lr=&id=oF-Hqih3pBAC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=ganesh+hindu+god&ots=nG24gsGzJP&sig=-L66igTyZvhc1kaMZFlx9-0e1_U&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=ganesh%20hindu%20god&f=false.

The Butcher of Gujarat goes to Washington: Narendra Modi in Power

Now India’s marathon elections are over — nine voting days spread out over five weeks — and the BJP has gained an even bigger landslide victory than expected, the world’s leader Barrack Obama sees an opportunity to make a buck or two. As reported by Al Jazeera‘s Rosiland Jordan, “[n]ine years ago, the US rejected Narendra Modi’s application for a visa. But in a phone call in the past few hours, US President Barack Obama has invited him to visit” (16 May 2014).

In his Op-Edge on the Indian elections, the New Delhi-based journalist, author and strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma writes that the “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed into power on Friday [, 16 May 2014] riding on the crest of a Narendra Modi tsunami which gave a clear majority to a single party for the first time in India for 30 years and swept the ruling Congress into oblivion. It has become the worst-ever electoral performance by the Grand Old Party [aka the Ghandi-led Congress]. With Modi emerging as the undisputed strong man of India, this will have its own implications for the world”.[1]

The Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut Vijay Prashad then writes that in 1984 “the Congress Party led by Rajiv Gandhi secured 414 seats (out of the 533 seats in the Lok Sabha, the parliament). Mr. Gandhi’s mother, Indira, had been assassinated not long before the election, and the Congress won decisively on a massive sympathy wave. It did not matter to the electorate that the Congress had engineered an anti-Sikh pogrom that resulted in the death of 3000 Sikhs in two days. The 1984 election was the Congress’ largest victory yet. In the 1984 election, the Hindu Right’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won only 2 seats. This year, the tide has turned. The BJP is projected to win a large majority, not near 414 but as decisive. It did not stop the Indian voters that the BJP leader, Narendra Modi, is accused of having a hand in an anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. The Congress, led by Mr. Gandhi’s son, Rahul, has posted its lowest ever total. It will limp into second place. India will now have a powerful Hindu Right government with a very weak opposition. It is the worst of all worlds. To come to power, the BJP wiped out several major political parties across northern India – the major parties of Uttar Pradesh (BSP, SP) and of western India (including the NCP). It also decimated the Congress”.[2]

Prashad goes on to explain that the “Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has been in power since 2004. In the first UPA, the Congress’s commitment to neo-liberal policies had been constrained by a substantial Communist bloc with which it had to ally in parliament. Despite that, the Congress was able to deepen its LPG agenda – liberalization, privatization and globalization, an explosive mix that brought India in line with the planet’s rising inequality. An Indian Planning Commission study from December 2012 found that urban inequality was rising “steadily over the years, with a sharp rise in the 2000s. This rate of inequality exacerbated the condition of deprivation suffered by 680 million Indians, according to a study by McKinsey & Company. The McKinsey study suggested that the “empowerment gap,” namely the additional consumption needed to bring the deprived Indians to the “Empowerment Line,” is seven times greater than the cost of poverty elimination. The Congress led government fell short not only of bringing the population to the poverty line (which is very low), but it was no-where near providing an agenda for the 680 million who were below the Empowerment Line. The policy slate of the Congress-led UPA intensified inequality, allowing a narrow slice of the Indian population to accumulate vast amounts of wealth and another slice to benefit from the expenditures of this small moneyed elite. Policy options that sought to enhance the entrepreneurial class as the engine of growth also provided that class with the mechanisms to benefit through corruption. The number of scandals that rocked the second UPA government (2009 onward) began to define the administration of Dr. Manmohan Singh. By the time the Indian electoral went to the ballot, they saw the Congress as the party of corruption. That was something that the incumbent party could not shake . . . The BJP’s record in governance is not any different from that of the Congress – with inequality and corruption being the order of the day in its bastion of Gujarat, for instance. To take one indicator as illustrative, in Gujarat the mal-nutrition rate is so high that it is worse than the average level of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa (where the rates of mal-nutrition remain very disturbing). Gujarat’s ‘development model’ also favored the privileged businessmen of the ruling party, the BJP, and its chief minister, Narendra Modi. Family firms such as the Adani group earned substantial gifts from the BJP government, which enhanced their profits, and helped Gujarat increase its own profile as “open for business.” Modi was able to dodge questions of the “Gujarat Model.” He was quickly anointed by the BJP as its Prime Ministerial candidate and hastily favored by the media with far more coverage than any other politician. Modi ran as the development candidate with a carefully calibrated argument – he suggested that it was not neo-liberalism that created inequality, but its symptom, namely corruption, which the BJP tied to the mast of the Congress. In other words, the BJP never ran against the roots of inequality or deprivation, but only what it deemed to be its symptom – corruption. This was a clever strategy. It both rode the anti-Congress wave, which had been produced by anger at the inequalities in the country, and it mollified the corporate community, which would not have been interested in any criticism of the policies of neoliberalism. Unlike the rest of the BJP leadership, Modi had no need to take recourse to the language of the Hindu Right. He had been the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the riot, and despite no finding of guilt has worn the odor of responsibility. A man of the Right, Modi simply had to gesture toward his base to comfort them about his commitment to their ideology and demands: it was sufficient to journey to the headquarters of the powerful Hindu nationalist organisation called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the brain center of the Hindu Right – was one indicator, and to deliver his wink and nudge speeches about Muslims and their need to be Indian. He did not have to ride on the chariot of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, although not one of his hard right supporters doubted his commitment. It freed Modi up to be the pro-Business leader rather than the anti-Muslim one. It was a campaign run with a masterful touch”.[3]

And what does this new wave of Hindu Nationalism mean for the rest of the world??? Business opportunities for the world’s movers and shakers and a docile Indian workforce perhaps??? And how does Modi compare to other world leaders that have come to power on a wave of religious and chauvinistic sentiments??? According to the Modi biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, the prospects appear bleak, or maybe even bleaker than bleak: “[t]here was one observation routinely made by almost everyone I interviewed while researching for this book [Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times] — that Modi did not like to listen to any other viewpoints besides his own, that he was authoritarian and did not allow any of his peers to acquire a distinct identity and thereby even remotely pose any threat to him. Most people said that this also reflected a basic insecurity in his personality — a major flaw — and that he was using power to demand — and secure — subservience from those around him. On this matter, most people I interacted with felt that Modi was among the least democratic leaders”.[4]

 

 

[1] Rajeev Sharma. “‘Modi-fied’ India: Implications of BJP’s landslide win” Op-Edge (16 May 2014). http://rt.com/op-edge/159536-modi-india-election-victory/.

[2] Vijay Prashad, “An Anti-Congress Wave in India Propels the Hindu Right to Power” The Brics Post (16 May 2014). http://thebricspost.com/an-anti-congress-wave-in-india-propels-the-hindu-right-to-power/?fb_action_ids=10152419786631678&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=.U3ZDxDvNLHk.like&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582#.U3ciiZNrP4h.

[3] Vijay Prashad, “An Anti-Congress Wave in India Propels the Hindu Right to Power”.

[4] Ryu Spaeth, “India’s Narendra Modi and the threat of Hindu nationalism” The Week (16 May 2014). http://theweek.com/article/index/261658/indias-narendra-modi-and-the-threat-of-hindu-nationalism.