Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Re: Political Crisis in Bangladesh

How could the NYTimes get this so wrong? Perhaps because you don't have a reporter resident in Bangladesh. Perhaps because Jamaat-e-Islami lobbyists have been paying you regular visits. Most of the general strikes this year were called by Jamaat in response to the on going war crimes tribunal. Some procedural short comings notwithstanding, the trials have been transparent and fair. Sheikh Hasina's government cannot be held accountable for the strikes. On the other hand, law enforcement agencies have had the responsibility to ensure that private and public property and human lives were not at risk from the violence that Jamaat thugs had unleashed during the strikes.

Bangladesh is well within her right to disallow Jamaat from participating in future polls due to latter's terrorist activities during the strikes. Plus, Jamaat's constitution violates Bangladesh's where people are the source of power and not God Himself. Also, majority of Bangladeshis do not wish to see Jamaat in Bangladesh's politics because of its role during 1971 war of separation from Pakistan where leaders of that party assisted the Pakistani army to conduct genocide and rape, and took part in them unabashedly all in the name of preserving a united Pakistan for the sake of Islam.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League made a worthwhile academic point of doing away with the caretaker government system of holding elections and holding them under the elected government of the time as is done in most other democracies. To this end she has amended the constitution to allow for this. While many Bangladeshis are right to suspect that elections under the current government will be rigged to its benefit, the current government has a record of holding thousands of local elections with impeccable fairness where members of the opposition BNP have won landslides. Moreover, a democracy illuminates its maturity when such elections can be held in a free and fair manner even under the current democratically elected government.

This is where Khaleda Zia of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has shown utter obstinacy in demanding restoration of the caretaker system. Little does she care that such an outcome goes against the grains of democratic continuity. She is right to scream about electoral fairness and hold the government accountable during elections. But her current stance is tantamount to treason. She has rebuffed the Prime Minister's offer for talks to resolve the crisis. Sheikh Hasina's formula for an all party interim government overseeing polls was a constitutionally valid compromise and yet Khaleda refuses to budge and has been calling for devastating strikes where her party men burn and kill innocent human lives (not to mention wreck havoc on the overall economy of the country).

Before you call for international sanctions against Bangladesh, I strongly urge you to send a reporter to be stationed in Dhaka to get the overall picture. The local media may educate him or her about a thing or two. And I strongly urge that instead of writing such hollow editorials, you learn to do your job properly. 

Sunday, July 03, 2011

This was published in News From Bangladesh on July 6, 2011.

I am aghast at the hypocrisy of the current government of Bangladesh
who pledged during the last election campaign to return the country's
constitution back to its original form of 1972. That was when
Bangladesh was born as a truly secular country with no state religion
or room for religion based politics. Subsequent military rulers
rehabilitated religion based politics, placed the full Arabic phrase
for "In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful" at the
beginning of the constitution, and introduced Islam as the state
religion, all in the name of achieving narrow partisan gains against
political opponents of the time.

In fact it is the very political party in power now, Awami League,
that consistently represented the said political opponents of those
military dictators at that time (with some exceptions). And it was
rightfully expected that now that Awami League was back in power, it
would take great pains to restore the constitution to a form that
millions of freedom fighters gave their lives for in the country's
independence struggle from Pakistan.

There was hope that this government would have enabled Bangladesh to become a beacon of secularism with a Muslim
majority population with other religious minorities having absolute equal status where the state made no distinction between its nationals of different faiths. Alas, having the state recognise one religion (the majority) over others rendered members of other faiths second class by definition. No amount of extra nuance stating the equal status of other religions (as has been mentioned in the recent amendment) made up for that.

If a constitution belonged equally to all Bangladeshis irrespective of
faith, then one cannot place the Arabic phrase mentioned above at the
beginning of that constitution. That Arabic phrase is ubiquitous to
the Muslim faith only. The constitution has thus failed to regain a
secular nature on two fronts. And the Awami League government has
betrayed us those who wished to see Bangladesh resemble Turkey in a
world full of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

One can however appreciate the difficulty in banning religion based
politics in the country, now that some such political parties are well
established. It would have been dangerous to ban them outright and
force them to go underground and mutate into more militant forms. Let
us pray however that there will be tough laws against people of such
political parties should they create communal divisions between
Bangladeshis and/or resort to militant ideologies.

In a struggle for Bengali nationalism, the status of today's
Bangladesh's indigenous people got side tracked and there was a great
opportunity to recognise them as equal citizens of the country during
the current round of constitutional amendments. This had been a demand
of the said people and of the civil society in Bangladesh for quite
some time. This government has shamefully betrayed them as well.

Civil society in Bangladesh had strongly urged the government not to
betray the spirit of Bangladesh's independence (secularism being one
of its key aspects) during discussions prior to the vote on the
amendment. This government is showing all the signs of arrogance in
power and not listening to eminent citizens.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Two weeks in Bangladesh

I just got back from two weeks in Bangladesh. It was one of my younger cousin's wedding. My parents were heavily involved with it. My mom was acting like and doing things as if it was MY wedding. Of course she knew that she would not have that pleasure and while I had no desire to pretend to be straight for a wedding, I did wish that I could have given my parents and the rest of the dynasty (on both sides of the family) that pleasure. It was very surreal. I was being older brother to the groom (my cousin) and really enjoyed myself but I felt a little empty when looking at the faces of my parents and sisters.

Most of my cousins know about me and I am quite open to them. But some of their parents (and grand parents) were complete pests. How many times do I have to answer questions about why I am not getting married? None of them were satisfied by my answer (that I am not ready yet) so they kept asking me again and again and again as if that would render a more meaningful reply. I truly felt after a long time the obvious - that getting married was an absolute certainty. At least that is how most people treat it. And that it was abnormal that someone of my age has not gotten married yet.

Which probably explains why two boys (men rather) I met in Tangail (one whom I have known to be gay from before and another whom I found out was gay this time) both have gotten married to women and the latter now has a kid. I tried to understand them a little better. Both of them were worried about being alone. They wanted company and kids. And the only way they knew to achieve this and peace in the family was to shun gay life (not sure how they actually do it or if at all) and procreate with their wives. The wives come in handy for all other aspects of course (like house cleaning, cooking, looking after parents etc.). What was more interesting was that they assumed I would be able to do the same if I put my mind to it and they insisted that I should because somehow that was preferrable.

While I wish the two of them happiness in their married lives, I cannot help but feel the gravity of the sorry state of affairs for gay boys in Bangladesh (at least those who do not belong to the uber upper class in Dhaka often with experiences in foreign countries). Bangladeshis are coming out, but not in Bangladesh (except for a few good instances in Dhaka). I did my part to explain to those two boys that in my humble opinion, it is not preferrable that I try to somehow change myself (through meditation and prayer as they suggested) and settle down with a woman (and perhaps kids). I have long accepted that I am gay and I wish to live my life accordingly. Not even God can change that now.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Victory for Secularism and Defeat for Mafia Rule

This was published in News From Bangladesh on January 4, 2009.

I am proud of the Bangladeshi electorate. The election results were truly transformational. It was a victory of secularism that Awami League still professes and defeat of the mafia rule that Bangladesh Nationalist Partly along with Jamaat-e Islami presided over during their last tenure. BNP-JI needed to be punished for their abuse of power and they were punished resoundingly. AL led a positive campaign containing a message for the future (digital Bangladesh, prosperous Bangladesh for the young etc.). BNP on the other hand tried to sow fear by crying "save country and save Islam". The voters saw through the absurdity of such rhetoric.

No one should be naive to think that all is going to be well from now on. Now that Awami League along with it's alliance partners have 2/3 majority, it has been given utmost responsibility. Power corrupts and AL certainly isn't immune from this. Their last tenure cannot be classified as squeaky clean by any stretch of the imagination. People expect a change of political culture. We may not achieve it fully in the next term but there needs to be a start. We expect the media to be the next government's harshest critic. We expect the government to return Bangladesh to the secular constitution of 1972. We expect trial of all war criminals. The likes of Jamaat have no place in Bangladesh's politics (sadly the reverse is true).

Sheikh Hasina has some formidable opponents. Islamic militants are out to kill her. It is not sufficient that the public at large is against their philosophies. Islamic militants must be crushed mercilessly. They are like cancer in the body of the country. And religion should be placed respectfully away from politics once and for all. Bangladesh should be restored to the country of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, people belonging to any other faith and those who do not belong to any. The tribal groups must be made to feel as equal citizens and they must be encouraged to participate in the country's body politic while being able to preserve their native cultures and languages.

We expect the government to create the precise environment that will attract domestic and foreign investment. Without economic growth rates of 8 to 10 %, substantial reduction in poverty will remain a pipe dream. Government should not be in the business of running businesses. We expect all state own enterprises privatised. We also expect the government to support and work together with reputed NGOs that have provided much needed safety net to those in need. It is upto AL to make sure that the transformational election results remain as such.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Biman Bangladesh Airline's Rebirth?

Published in News From Bangladesh in September 28, 2008.

Biman Bangladesh Airlines has recently signed a deal with Boeing to purchase 10 brand new aircrafts, four Boeing 777-300s, four Boeing 787-8s and two Boeing 737-800s. There are two important aspects of this. First of all, it is being said that the airline has done this for the first time without interference from the government. If this is true, then that's quite a development. We know very well how our previous governments have directly purchased or leased old aircraft through dodgy tenders that involved kickbacks. The result was that the choice of aircrafts was old (and fuel guzzling), the planes were varied in terms of the manufacturer (leading to high maintenance and other costs), schedules and route planning made no commercial sense other than instilling some vague notion of prestige, and customer service and inflight service remained prehistoric compared to the competition. Thanks to how the governments used the airline as their personal fiefdom, this airline gradually turned into nothing other than a national disgrace.

The second noticeable aspect of this development is the choice of aircraft. The current composition of DC-10s, A-310s and F28s come from 3 different manufacturers (who have stopped manufacturing them long time ago) and have little commonality in them regarding spare parts, pilot flexibility etc. US carriers used to be notorious in this regard (having up to 10 different types of aircraft from various manufacturers in the fleet). Depending on the business of an airline, you need only 3 to 4 type of aircraft and most preferably from the same manufacturer. In this regard, I think the choice of aircrafts during the recent deal with Boeing was excellent. A similar deal with Airbus would have been fine as well but according to reports, the offer from Boeing was financially more beneficial. The 777-300s are wonderful planes that can operate on high density long distance routes. The 787-8s promise to be very economical aircrafts and will be able to operate on medium density long or medium distance routes. The 737-800s are good for short haul routes. Airbus 320 series aircrafts compete with this model from Boeing very well but I am glad that Biman chose to stay with a single manufacturer thus ensuring better discounts.

I hope future route planning will make more sense and be more economical. Passengers like the right balance between varied destinations and point to point connections. This means that passengers from Dhaka need not endure any stoppages in Dubai and Paris along the way to London. Biman should fly to destinations that justify non stop flights with sufficient load. If non-stop flights to Paris from Dhaka make no sense, then Biman ought to simply ignore that destination and find a suitable European partner to connect Paris bound passengers from London or another European city that Biman can commercially fly (non-stop) to (example Rome). Needless to say Biman is currently and must continue to concentrate on the Middle Eastern routes since that is where there is the highest demand for seats and that is where the airline has made money in the past. Reliable, daily non-stop flights to the various cities must be one of the main features of the future schedule.

Opportunities must be explored to connect Sylhet directly with London. Just like the Bangladeshis in the Middle East, the Bangladeshis from Sylhet in the UK have long contributed immensely towards Bangladesh's foreign exchange pot without receiving much in terms of gratitude or respect. Families have long suffered the gruelling experience of Biman through Dhaka that involved missed connections and lost luggage. Biman can re-engage in attempting to establish Dhaka as a mini hub for transfer passengers from the Far East to other parts of South Asia, the entire Middle East and Europe. Non-stop flights to New York from Dhaka ought to excite the huge Bangladeshi population in the US East Coast as well.But the success of all of this is contingent on the level of service provided on the ground and inflight. I hope proper consultants will be appointed to train staff at all levels to ensure service that combines the warmth of Bengali hospitality with sophistication and style that international travellers have come to expect. Ease of ticketing (online and offline) is as important as the communication skills of flight attendants (in both Bangla and English) as is inflight entertainment and catering. Fortunately there are competitors that Biman can emulate. With IFE (inflight entertainment) from Emirates, the warmth of cabin crew from Malaysian Airlines, the cabin interiors of Singapore Airlines, the professionalism of flight attendants from British Airways, and the right combination of Bengali and international catering, Biman can hope to compete in its own niche market.

But most importantly, we need to learn one of the most important lessons from successful economies. Governments should not be in the business of running businesses. The present caretaker government should complete the job of completely privatising this airline. I am very doubtful of whether the next elected government will continue the process or not.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Second responce to Nazrul Islam on Gay Marriage

Published in News From Bangladesh in June 3, 2008

I apologise for giving the impression of proving my ego for any purpose in my last response to you. So I will simply concentrate on some of the points you have raised instead. When you refer to "Guy Marriage", you are probably referring to "Gay Marriage" - the term that encompasses both homosexual men and women. As far as demographic statistics are concerned, I will ask you to kindly go to Google's website (or any other search engine) and look up terms "Homosexuality", "Homosexual Studies" etc. and find relevant links (you will unfortunately run into pornographic sites as well if you include the term "Gay", so simply avoid them). Ten percent is not an absolute figure but a rough one provided by studies (in the western world) that involved interviewing people and asking them to report the gender they are more sexually attracted to and engage in sexual activities with.

You asked me the following: "So you don't seem to have any problem with 10% but you think ,more than that would threatened human propagation like maybe anything more than 10%. Suppose 90% of humans practice homosexuality , you will really be concern than!". To this I have to ask you to refer to my earlier response to Asif Khan explaining that homosexuality is indeed widespread in the animal kingdom and that this practice or state of being has not disappeared through evolution in a small percentage of human beings. Studies are showing this percentage to be around ten percentage not ninety as you ask hypothetically. To your hypothetical scenario, all I have to say is that if 90% of the human population was indeed homosexual, then what control would we have over it's evolutionary effect? None. We would simply have to face the facts and probably go extinct quickly. But the fact is 90% of the human population is not gay and what my concerns would have been had that been the case is completely irrelevant to the discussion. I would like to reiterate that neither homosexual or heterosexual women and men choose this state of being or orientation. They simply find themselves in this situation. Any discussion regarding homosexual practices and one's personal opinion of them need to be put in that context.

If you accept this then you will see that promotions and legalisation of gay marriage resulting in the percentage of homosexual population increasing from 10% to 60% is absurd since this is not something you can promote. The only thing that can be promoted is awareness of homosexual people and their right to live their lives according to their natural state of being. I am not going to get involved in the much bigger discussion regarding acceptance of homosexuality within framework of the world's major religions. This is a discussion that is still evolving and I have only started to learn about it. Needless to say only a fraction of the religious scholars around the world express a view in favour of homosexuals whereas majority are against. I will ask you to kindly do your own research on the web if you are interested.

Finally you mentioned that I defend Gay Marriage. Not necessarily. It is more complicated than that. I defend gays and lesbian's right to live in a society according to their sexual preferences and not be ostracised by the government and society in general. If there is no place for homosexuals in the framework of the world's religions (a subject that is being debated) then the orthodoxy of those religions can be respected and a new framework can be created for homosexuals by a) ensuring that any kind of discrimination against them by government and private entities is strictly illegal and b) administering Civil Partnerships or Civil Unions for them giving them the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples but without the requirement of any divine blessing. This is what has happened the UK.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Response to Nazrul Islam on Gay Marriage

This was published in News From Bangladesh on May 24, 2008.
I read Nazrul Islam's letter on above subject. His views on the subject are typical and as expected. He said: "It is a paranormal union of people of same sex which if accepted would seriously contradict the basic foundation of genesis of Human civilization as per all popular religions". I would like to point out that ten percent of the world's population are born as homosexuals. This is now an established fact. Their sexual attraction to the same gender isn't a decease that can be treated but is a natural state of being for them. And since they constitute only ten percent of the world's population, there is no need to fear end of human civilisation or what not!

As far as how will religious people come to terms with this? This is where it is important to differentiate between gay marriage and gay civil unions. In the UK, there is no such thing as gay marriage but there is something called gay civil partnership. The latter is a way of giving legal status to the relationship between two consenting men or two consenting women. Once legalised, they enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as traditional heterosexual married couples. But going about it this way means that Churches, Mosques, Temples etc. don't need to get involved in such civil partnerships and can hold on to their own beliefs and structures. What has happened in California in the US is slightly meaningless since other states in the US will not recognise such marriages and the US Federal Government will most certainly not recognise them either. Depending on who gets elected in the next American general election, the Federal Government may legalise and recognise same gender civil unions in line with what has happened in the UK.

What does all this mean? People of various faiths around the world need not feel threatened by the existence of homosexuals or their right to have their unions recognised. For those who realise that they are gay but have grown up practicing a faith that traditionally considers homosexuality a grave sin either tries to reconcile his/her homosexuality with his/her faith (usually with not much success), or leaves the faith altogether. On the other hand, there are already debates going on in certain Muslim quarters in Europe and Middle East about whether Islam has indeed expressedly condemned homosexuality and homosexual unions. Similar debates have already taken place among Christians. But that is a completely different topic and not for this time around.