The Secular Theocracy of Bangladesh

Source: EPA/npr.org

Source: EPA/npr.org

The future of democracy in Bangladesh is in serious jeopardy.

The machete attacks on secular, atheist and progressive bloggers and academics have become a norm.

Anyone speaking their mind about their worldview, as well as criticizing religious groups for their ignorance and obscurantism can consider themselves to be the next target.

It feels like just yesterday when I wrote about the brutal killing of Avijit Roy. Since then, dozens more have lost their lives including Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Niloy Neel, Nazimuddin Samad and more recently Professor Rezaul Kerim Siddique. The list goes on.

The latest occurrence was Bangladesh’s very own Charlie Hebdo, if you will. The killings of Xulhaz Mannan, Editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine Roopban, and that of the openly gay actor Tanoy Mojumdar, only occurring within a week of Professor Siddique’s murder, are particularly significant.

Unlike earlier attacks, this killing has been claimed by the Islamic State itself for the “unIslamic” sexual orientation of the offenders.

This is probably the first sign of the presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh, which is no surprise considering there are no ideological boundaries to this group. The presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh is obviously being denied by the Bangladesh authorities, considering the terrible optics that it involves.

I wonder what went on in the minds of the slain as they were witnessing the murder of fellow citizens who stood for free speech. I wonder what is going on in the minds of those who are alive and standing up for free speech in Bangladesh, as they see this menace get out of hand.

Using the word martyr is cheap. But these people were really brave and resisted life-threatening odds. Who knew what was going on around them, but instead of shutting up, they stuck to their positions. Walked the walk.

It’s easy to talk about freedom of speech, it’s an entirely different matter to live it. It surely is not easy. Especially in a world where it is easy and acceptable to use violence to silence people.

Secular bloggers and journalists in Pakistan have been enjoying relative safety considering the carnage in Bangladesh. Probably because they largely stick to the English language as a medium and preach to the choir, like myself. If confronted with a threat, most of us are not just likely to shut up, but to hide away for good.

Such a possibility is not entirely remote. Islamists are known for engaging in brotherly behavior, and they might very easily replicate the actions of their Bangladeshi brethren before you would expect.

With their repeated attacks on people who offend Islam, the Islamists have found an effective way to silence dissenters, apostates and critics. They have been carrying out these attacks with impunity, from Paris to Bangladesh, because they know that they will eventually get off the hook. Most commentators would gladly blame such groups for distorting their ideology than addressing the venom in the ideology itself.

In Pakistan, the liberal elements have always believed that the separation of Bangladesh was on a principled stance which included the demands of a secular constitution. Also, as a reaction to rights usurpation, a stolen election and injustices at the hands of the West Pakistan establishment.

However, despite escaping the theocratic leanings of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is disheartening to see Bangladesh lose its way in terms of building a more tolerant, free and open society. Probably becoming even worse than Pakistan.

And the incumbent Bangladeshi government, which sadly borders more on the lines of authoritarianism and fascist nationalism instead of being a liberal regime, is not exactly helping the cause.

Not only are liberal circles outraged at the inaction of the government to counter the attacks, the recent statements of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticizing the bloggers for attacking Islam have only added insult to injury. While I do not doubt the government’s commitment to purge Bangladesh of extremism and recognize the challenges to take the necessary action, these are surely not encouraging signs.

The Islamist groups, the traditional nemeses of the secular leader, have ironically welcomed her statement against antithetical and faithless elements. While her statement seems like the product of the pragmatism of any politician in a Muslim majority country, it apologizes nauseatingly for the murderers and blames the victim. Basically, the same old reason why Islamists get off the hook every time.

The situation does not make the secular and liberal elements in Bangladesh too hopeful about their government, which apparently seemed tough on Islamists with all the JI death sentences but is not willing to protect freedom of speech. When it comes to apostasy and blasphemy, even Sheikh Hasina would not dare confront the Islamists. Perhaps wisely so, or it could possibly make the religiously conservative population go out of control.

But some of her critics have other problems with the history of the government of the ruling Awami League.

Considering the violence that erupted after the calls of the boycott of the polls by the opposition Bangladesh National Party, they have been blaming deaths such as that of Avijit Roy on the rival party so instead of the Islamist terrorists. The Prime Minister is still maintaining that stance. Not that the leading opposition party has any better thoughts to offer on the killings, being an ally of Islamist parties itself, citing “absence of justice” as the age-old reason.

Just like the rest of the subcontinent, violence and intimidation are not unheard of in Bangladeshi politics. The last elections were a clear instance to prove that point. Some bloggers have even reported to be threatened for criticizing the government, which probably gives you some insight into how deep this problem runs.

There is no wonder why citizens with secular and liberal are growing more frustrated by their government for not blaming and cracking down on the Islamist militants for the killings.

Whether the threats to bloggers and journalists originate from Islamist extremists or secular political groups, the only losers are freedom of speech, democracy and the people of Bangladesh.

However, the Bangladeshi government should at least admit the presence of Islamist groups in the country and must take decisive action against theocratic activity. When it comes to Islamist groups, proactive action is justified in order to control more attacks on non-violent political commentators and journalists.

1971 worked. Perhaps secular Bangladesh should consider starting another movement for liberation from authoritarianism and theocracy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Lessons from Chernobyl 30 Years Later

Source: history.com

Source: history.com

Each April 26, apart from recalling the anniversary of my first ever hard drive crash, I wonder if we have learned anything from Chernobyl.

Thirty years ago on this day, easily the worst peacetime nuclear disaster occurred on this planet. And it leaves us with a big question.

Can nuclear installations be trusted in the hands of the government near population centers?

I wonder why Chernobyl has not made the answer easier for us. Clearly not. Chernobyl is not just a reflection of the horrors of nuclear technology, but it is also an insight into the mindset of the bureaucracy in a country with a massive government.

Granted, such a design mistake has not been repeated since, yet that is not the only danger involved in nuclear reactors.

We probably do not realize the extent of irreversible damage nuclear radiation could cause. Actually, we clearly don’t.

 

Chernobyl released at least 100 times more radiation than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, according to the BBC. Other sources consider the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone uninhabitable for humans due to dangerous Cesium radiation levels, and that the inhabitable zone would remain dangerous for the next 20,000 years. That’s shocking.

Not to mention the terrible toll the disaster has taken on animal life in the region, with suppressed biodiversity and startling diseases emerging among newborn and children as a result of genetic mutations.

 

Chernobyl disaster literally turned the neighboring Pripyat into a ghost town, which sends chills down your spine.

The nuclear radiation from the disaster spread out as far as Sweden and Western Europe.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

We may hear about it on a day like this, but we never really believe that a nuclear spill or meltdown as in the case of Chernobyl could last for thousands of years.

As of January 2016, 439 nuclear reactors are operating around the world on five continents. While there is no doubt that nuclear technology has only improved over the years and most scientists consider nuclear technology very safe, it hardly changes the lethality of a possible accident.

Fukushima could not have been a harsher reminder of our vulnerability. If a highly advanced industrial nation such as Japan cannot handle the breakdown of a nuclear reactor in the aftermath of a natural disaster, even worse can be expected from countries with far poorer government infrastructure, such as Pakistan and India.

As a matter of fact, some reports suggest that the fallout from Fukushima is far worse than Chernobyl and Hiroshima and that the worst effects of the accident are yet to materialize. However, the reporting of the risk has largely to do with the politics of the source as well, there is little doubt that Chernobyl was incomparable in its consequences due to its meltdown nature.

Fukushima also reveals is that no nuclear facility is completely disaster proof and that the potential fallout is nothing short of an environmental apocalypse.

I leave this post by pondering what to make of nuclear energy policy. Nuclear energy has its benefits as clean energy and the probability of nuclear accidents is considered very low. Furthermore, with maintaining nuclear weapons becoming almost a necessity for world powers, why not just take the risk of building nuclear reactors for power generation as well?

After all, they are well protected anyway.

But isn’t the risk of the pervasiveness of civil nuclear power plants unique in its own right? Despite the fact that most of the warnings about the potential danger of this mode of generating power are dismissed as pure alarmism.

Clearly, the only lesson that is visible after 30 years is that we are only building more nuclear reactors.

But what if we were building around our neighborhoods, with our own hands, the same disaster that we feared and dreaded so much during the uncertain Cold War?

Sadly, the evidence that we have witnessed over the years is just too overwhelming to ignore.

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The Irresponsible Legislators

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Even though an overwhelming percentage of the population in Pakistan turn up at the voting booth, most of them would not take the parliament seriously. But why should they if the legislators themselves do not take their job seriously?

The Cybercrime Bill was recently passed in the National Assembly, but according to reports in the media, only 32 members were present in the house.

How the bill was even passed with this sort of roll call is incomprehensible. Odds are that most of the MPs would not have even read the bill. Utterly shameful.

This is probably not the first time that we have seen voting patterns dictated by the party leadership. We have witnessed the entire parliament voting unanimously on significant constitutional amendments. But perhaps that’s because the discipline in our political parties is exemplary.

In any case, should such absenteeism be tolerated?

But what to do with a legislature, whose leader, the Prime Minister himself would hardly visit the house once or twice a year. After all, the executive is the legislator-in-chief of the system, isn’t he?

But honestly, I don’t blame the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers for that. The work of the executive office is completely different from that of the Speaker or the Chairman Senate.

The parliamentary system is inefficient in combining the executive office with the legislature. I seriously don’t think that the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers have the time to bother themselves with the business of the legislature. However, they should have the time to at least answer to the body.

This is why I think the administrative branch should be separate from the legislative branch, as in the Presidential system. But this is not necessarily to assert that the parliamentary system does not work well. However, we know for a fact that our current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is not one who fits well in the legislature. He would rather be left alone to administer the affairs of the state with his handpicked cabinet.

One way or the other, we will always have a legislature and since people vote to hire legislators in the general election, it is time we should pay more attention to appraising their performance as well.

This is why the public must have access to a parliamentary performance scorecard, to at least help our passive-aggressive urban ideologues to get an idea of what their elected members are up to.

FAFEN is a great institute, which is already doing a great deal of work in this regard, but not a lot of people pay attention to their work. I highly recommend subscribing to their mailing list to get an insight into the daily proceedings of the federal and provincial legislatures.

However, I am not sure that the contribution of a non-profit with limited resources is enough to inform millions of Pakistanis. It is surely insufficient to reach out to a considerable number of the urban population anyway.

This is why the media could possibly work to provide this information to voters. If continuous programming about it sounds too boring, it’s easy to produce the legislative report card and voting record on issues near the general elections. At least that could help generate some anti-incumbency votes. Only this way can our legislators stop taking their jobs for granted.

As for the terrible house rules, the legislature needs to do a much better job in terms of guarding the rights of the citizens through serious legislative deliberation. But on the other hand, they would probably not be able to vote on anything if they keep on waiting for a reasonable quorum.

Democracy is a fragile process, particularly in a country such as Pakistan where a good number has still not accepted the idea wholeheartedly.

Of course, the guardians of democracy are not helping its case much for the people.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Cruel Plan

Source:www,immoderati.it

Source:www,immoderati.it

The more you study the condition of nature with cold, hard scientific facts, the more you come to the conclusion of how much of a disaster life actually is.

It is simply shocking how vulnerable and condemned to doom every living organism is. The physical nature of this condition is not as much shocking as the psychological and emotional struggle requried to sustain it.

It is important to consciously acknowledge that at least any human being, if not all sentient animals, need a functional psychological and emotional balance to get through the ordeal of living.

Given these disturbing and disabling facts, it is only amazing how an intelligent species capable of making up completely meaningless concepts to feel better about their meaningless existence. Especially when the meaningless concepts cruelly promise to liberate from God’s cruel plan, which only makes the misery of it even worse.

Sorry, if the word God offended you, but most of us like to personalize someone at the back of this cruel plan. Otherwise, it is hard to make any sense of it.

So, what to do about it? Because for the incurably depressed and perpetually curmudgeonly, the eventual logical step is suicide. I believe it is an intellectual conclusion, despite everything.

But life is strong, self-protective and self-preserving. Pretty strange for a meaningless creature, but not so much for a cruel one.

 

Therefore, the most important function of conscious, sentient life is to overcome the realization of the condition of life and to indulge in the meaningless meaningful, fulfilling, yet distracting concepts of self-fulfillment.