by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh & Eng Lit 02 Jun 2007 12:04 pm

God’s Wheeze

Bonbibi highlights Zadie Smith’s sidelong view of Bangladesh:

People who live on solid ground, underneath safe skies, know nothing of this; they are like the English POWs in Dresden who continued to pour tea and dress for dinner, even as the alarms went off, even as the city became a towering ball of fire. Born of a green and pleasant land, a temperate land, the English have a basic inability to conceive of disaster, even when it is man-made.

It is different for the people of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, formerly India, formerly Bengal. They live under the invisible finger of random disaster, of flood and cyclone, hurricane and mud-slide. Half the time their country lies under water; generations wiped out as regularly as clockwork; individual life expectancy an optimistic fifty-two, and they are coolly aware that when you talk about apocalypse, when you talk about random death en masse, well, they are leading the way in that particular field, they will be the first to go, the first to slip Atlantis-like down to the seabed when the pesky polar ice-caps begin to shift and melt. It is the most ridiculous country in the world, Bangladesh. It is God’s idea of a really good wheeze, his stab at black comedy.

Great observation, and probably why she’s fondly but unfairly referred to as ‘HaramZadie Smith’ by Bangalis.

[haramzadi = female haramzada = bastard]

by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh & Human Rights 22 May 2007 05:15 pm

BNWLA Hostel Appeal


Andrew Morris and Julietta Schoenmann are education consultants who have been working in Bangladesh since 1998. Earlier this year they took up a formidable personal fundraising cause. They want to raise £330,000 in support of the Bangaldesh National Women’s Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA).

This money will go towards the building of a new hostel for women and children survivors of rape, trafficking, slavery, abuse and exploitation. Bangladesh has no social welfare system to speak of, so the welfare of the most vulnerable and victimised members of society is taken up by concerned individuals and NGOs. The hostel will provide a safe, educational environment that will go towards the rehabilitation of these women and children.

Andrew is working hard on fund raising. Together with Saad Chowdhury, he has formed BlueNote, a two-piece jazz ensemble (pictured), to raise money by playing in Dhaka’s elite clubs and at flashy corporate events.

I wholly support his efforts and will continue to do so where I can. But we need the support of others to help raise the money towards this superb cause. I encourage you to learn more where you can and support us with any donation, no matter how small or large, and best of all to tell others about this story of the effort of how dedicated individuals can and do create positive change.

Andrew Morris’ personal writing site:

The BNWLA Hostel appeal site:

Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association:

Bluenote Sound blogsite (info about upcoming performances)

Blue Note Campaign Site

by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh 22 May 2007 04:00 pm

They Be Plucky

Three blogs by VSO volunteers that made me marvel at their writers’ pluckiness, forthrightness, writing skills, powers of endurance, and at the same time hanker to be back deep in da ’desh:

Mikey Leung

Live it Lively

Bangladesh Barta


by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh 20 May 2007 11:28 pm

Elite Perceptions of Poverty

Why is poverty not an urgent priority for the Bangladeshi elite? Naomi Hossain, author of Elite Perceptions of Poverty in Bangladesh (UPL 2005), offers three explanations. First, and most importantly, because poverty presents no imminent threat to elite well-being through, for example, crime, epidemic disease, revolt or insurrection. Second, lack of faith in the state discourages support for stronger state action on poverty. And third, the elite appear to believe that appropriate action is already being taken on poverty, including through NGO interventions and private charity.

It’s easy to forget that to outsiders, the poverty that surrounds us, even on the leafy streets of super-deluxe Gulshan, comes as a horrible shock, with which many struggle to cope. People cope in different ways. Western psychologists have a theory that people often blame the victims of social injustices (such as poverty) for their plight. The ironically-named ‘Just World Theory’ says that blaming the victim is the only way some people can cope with the fact that the world is a terribly unfair and unpredictable place. Looking at how well the Bangladeshi rich and powerful live, apparently at ease amidst the most extreme forms of deprivation and squalor, suggests they must possess such a way of thinking. The visitors who typically experience ‘culture shock’ when they first arrive are just as horrified by what they see as the vast gap between the starvelings and waifs of the street and the callous, careless, rich elite.


One feature peculiar to Bangladeshi society is that the elite are not (yet) in a distinctly separate physical or social space to the majority of the poor – although the distance is visibly growing. In Bangladesh, the poor are always with us. They do the grubby and heavy work in the big houses. They share the language and many the religion and culture of those who take the big decisions and control the major resources – the elite, that is. Many of those elites also have personal ties to people or places in which they can see firsthand how the poor subsist. Bangladeshi elite society still looks favourably on people who maintain a rural desher-bari home, and who build clinics or schools for the poor of ‘their’ village. Many, many people run small charities or schemes intended to help the poor and have poor relatives who visit to tell their troubles and to ask for help.

In this NewAge article, Naomi Hossain unravels how Dhaka’s ostentatious elite perceive the wretched poverty that surrounds them.

by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh 16 May 2007 09:53 pm

Himal Banned

The South Asian current affairs magazine, Himal (edited by the redoubtable Kanak Dixit), has been banned in by the Emergency Government in Bangladesh following the publication of two articles in it’s May 2007 edition. The expunged articles can be found on Himal’s site:

The Dhaka regime’s messy surgery

Khaki politics in Dhaka

Himal statement:

We regret this course more so because the Bangladeshi press continues to carry independent pieces much like the one carried by Himal. We would also like to alert readers that the cover feature of the upcoming June 2007 issue of Himal will address the ongoing political experimentation in Bangladesh.

by Sid H Arthur - Uncategorized 16 May 2007 11:32 am

Long Shot Kick de Bucket

One less bigot in the world: clerical fascist gone to meet his maker.

by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh 10 May 2007 11:04 pm

Tasneem Khalil Arrested

TasneemBangladeshi journalist and blogger, Tasneem Khalil has been picked up from his Dhaka home and detained by military police. Tasneem has fearlessly, some would say recklessly, reported the spate of extra-judicial killings and detentions that have increased in frequency since the military-backed takeover of Bangladesh earlier this year.

Tasneem is a brilliant and uncompromising journalist (CNN, HumanRights Watch) with an unstinting record of highlighting human rights “irregularities” and privations of successive governments, not to mention the present military-stroke-civilian caretaker government, who have all benefitted from a culture of zero accountability.

Others would say Tasneem has a tendency to fly too close to the flame with his work as an investigative journalist and activist. The military are now seen to have complete control after a short period of flitting in and out of the porda during the recent civilian takeover. The detainment of journalists and the muzzling of the media is now seen as a prelude to yet more quashing of civil rights and impunity in more, so-called, extra judicial killings of the “previously powerful”.

Now is the time to raise your voice in protest, in denunciation, in any way possible, to stop Tasneems’s and other detainments and disappearances of citizens.

Other blogs who are alerting us:



Third World View

Salam Dhaka

Update: HRW press release.

Update 2: Pickled Politics is in the process of organising an e-petition and a weekend protest in front of the Bangladesh High Commssion in London.

Update 3: From Asif @ Drishtipat:

Update 9:11:33 pm BDT
Tasneem is meeting with Mahfuz Anam in his office alone. Staffers in office say he looks physically ok, but badly shaken up. He is being taken home to his wife by DS staff after the meeting with MA.

Update 8:11:15 pm BDT
Tasneem Khalil released by joint forces. 24 hours after being picked up.

Update 7:10:15 pm BDT
Senior Daily Star office are huddled in office, including Mahfuz Anam. MA has released a statement. Excerpts: ” “I contacted the authorities concerned and was informed that him being questioned was not due to his journalistic work and had nothing to do with his functions at The Daily Star….In fact, it was because of the contents of his personal blog and some SMSs he had sent recently….Following my discussions with the authorities and because of the caretaker government’s commitment to the policy of freedom of the media, it was agreed that he would be released tonight.” Full statement is not online on DS website yet.

by Sid H Arthur - Middle East 05 Mar 2007 12:15 am

The Trouble With Iran

When it comes to information on Iran, avoid at all costs the murky paranoia and the colloidal stodge oozing from the blogs and columns of the weird-nasties of the ‘decent-left’ persuasion.

If you read one article to inform you about the state of affairs in Iran, make sure it’s Fred Halliday’s authoritative overview published in openDemocracy. It’s all you’ll need.

by Sid H Arthur - Bangladesh & Eng Lit 02 Mar 2007 02:09 pm

Profile: Tahmima Anam

Cover A Golden Age, a novel by Tahmima Anam, is set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh Liberation War (Mukti Judhho) of 1971.

Tahmima stayed in Bangladesh between 2000 and 2002 to collate research material for her PhD from Harvard University, upon which she drew for the novel. She comes from an illustrious family in Bangladesh; her father is Mahfuz Anam, editor and a prominent figure in Bangladehi civil society and her grandfather Abul Mansur Ahmed was a renowned satirist and politician.

The novel tells the story of the War of Independence through the eyes of the central character Rehana Haque and her family. Rehana’s story begins in 1956 when she loses custody of her children after her husband’s death. Along with her struggle to win them back, and then her attempts to protect them as they get involved with the war.

I got a chance to put to her a few questions about her work and the novel:

Is there a particular novelist whom you admire and influenced you in writing A Golden Age?

Tahmima: When imaginging the novel, I turned to other writers whose writing had a strong sense of place. I like the novelists of the American south, because they write very evocatively about the landscape of the south-which, remarkably, resembles the landscape of Bangladesh. So I get a lot of inspiration from those writers, such as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. I also read a lot of novels set in and around wartime, such as Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy, Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise.

A Golden Age is a hugely important book, if only for the vast Bangladeshi diaspora who have yet to see the events of 1971 set forth in a novel in English. Did you realise that younger Bangladeshis have been waiting for a book such as this, and was it your intention to write for them?

Tahmima: Yes, I certainly did think of the younger generation of Bangladeshis when I was writing the book. There’s been a lot of literature written about the war in Bangla, but without translation some of these stories and novels cannot reach a wider audience. So I was thinking of this wider audience-both the younger generation of Bangladeshis and also a wider western audience who are unfamiliar with the war.

With the different kinds of political appropriation of the war back home, I felt it was important to write a story about the lives of ordinary people during ‘71-how they survived, how their relationships with one another were transformed by this event. I think it’s important to tell the story from that point of view, so that the younger generation of Bangladeshis don’t just relate to the story of ‘71 as a political issue, but rather a part of our history that we can all lay claim to.

Monica Ali has admitted that research was not “hugely important” for her in Brick Lane. On the other hand, A Golden Age is steeped in the minutia of the events of 1971, and your attention to detail is notable. How important was research in the writing of this novel?

Tahmima: The research aspect was crucial for me in writing this novel. I really believe in the importance of doing one’s research-even when evoking a fictional world.
As this was a historical novel this was especially important. I went to Bangladesh for two years in 2000-2002, where I interviewed many ex-freedom fighters, guerilla fighters, and student activists from ‘71. I asked them all kinds of questions, right down to the details of what they wore and what kind of music they listened to in ‘71. I also read lots of memoirs published by ‘71 veterans, which gave me an insight into the times. When I’d finished my novel, I gave it to several people to read to make sure that the details were correct. So even though I will always maintain that this is a work of fiction, I tried very hard to retain the historical accuracy.

Are you expecting any political fall-out as a result of the novel’s look into the contentious interpretations of the political history of Bangladesh?

Tahmima: I do think it’s unfortunate that our liberation war has been used as a means of gaining political legitimacy. So it’s possible that a novel about the war will become controversial. But if that is the case, at least it will start a dialogue about what aspects of our history we want to turn over to the politicians, and how we might re-claim that history for ourselves. Perhaps a debate will encourage others to write competing narratives.

Why did you choose to write about 1971? Was it the story or the characters that came to you or did you choose to write about the period and then shape the story around it?

Tahmima: I’ve always had a fascination with ‘71 and I’ve always wanted to write a book set in that period. However, the story did not take shape until I found the main character, Rehana. When I decided to tell the story through her eyes, the structure of the novel fell into place.

What is your next writing project?

Tahmima: The next novel is set in Calcutta in the 1920’s. It’s a novel about the Bengali muslim aristocracy in the waning years of the British Empire.

A Golden Age is published on 8 March. As part of the launch day, Tahmima will be reading at the literary festival held in the East End, Spit-Lit, on March 8 at 7pm. More details here.

Tahmima also has her own website at

She recently did an interview for the Sunday Telegraph.

photo: Ellen Nolan

by Sid H Arthur - Iraq & Middle East 02 Mar 2007 12:33 pm

The Big Brzezinski on the Iraq War

This is part of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s address to the Senate on the end to war in Iraq:

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran—though gaining in regional influence—is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

He then constructs a four-point solution for the US:

  1. The United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time.
  2. The United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed, and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.
  3. The United States should issue jointly with appropriate Iraqi leaders, or perhaps let the Iraqi leaders issue, an invitation to all neighbors of Iraq (and perhaps some other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Pakistan) to engage in a dialogue regarding how best to enhance stability in Iraq in conjunction with U.S. military disengagement and to participate eventually in a conference regarding regional stability.
  4. Concurrently, the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

In full. (PDF)

Hat tip: NG

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