Archive for October, 2006

Reality-based community

Ok, I normally hate people who just read something and then blog about it because they assume the whole world is interested.

But on occasion I just can’t help it. This sort of thing drives me nuts. Sorry.

There’s this article on BBC News online at the moment about the Pentagon creating a new ‘media war unit’ to get in to the Blogosphere and counter all the apparent lies and untruths that keep on being talked up hurting people’s perceptions of the war of terror.

Any effort to disseminate the truth can only be a good thing. But from the Pentagon? It’s like they’ve got cross because they were so succesful in spinning lies through the main-stream media (MSM) pre-Iraq, and now they’re cross that they can’t do it through New Media, because it’s far more transparent and accountable. So what do you do? Tell the truth? Or just launch a New Media propaganda unit?

Undoubtedly opinions fly across the internet that can too rapidly become fact, and this does no good, whether it’s about Iraq or Paris Hilton.

But I can’t help but read this and immediately think of an article that came out in October 2004, by Ron Suskind, where he quoted a Bush-administration official as complaining about the Liberal Media because they were the ‘reality-based community’. It’s amazing. Read it here. But the killer paragraph is:
“The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [my emphasis]
So what’s going on now? Are the Pentagon trying to attack the reality-based Blogosphere community? Even when they talk about real events, such as US Army abuses in Iraq, we find out about ‘repetitive administration of legitimate force‘, which in reality means being beaten to death. I’ll never forget sitting up late one night doing some background research on abuses at Abu Ghraib for HRW, reading USDD reports, and the shock of working out what ‘butt-kissed’ meant.


Crisis in Bangladesh

It’s been a strange last couple of days. Bangladesh has descended in to violent protests, the two main political parties mobilising their supporters and activists, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets all over the country. These people don’t mess about, and are armed with sticks, and either sort of oar-like planks, or sickles, depending on which political side they’re on. It almost makes one think of something out of Asterix.

The irony is that we are possibly the people with the least awareness of what’s happening in Dhaka; as although we’re smack in the middle of town, we’re strongly advised not to leave our flat, and have no internet, no English-language radio, and no TV.

The only way you can tell that something is awry is that it’s quiet. The streets are practically empty, there are very few cars on the road, the very occasional baby-taxi, and just lots of passenger-less, meandering rickshaws. There are people walking around, talking on the streets, but nearly all the shops are closed so there’s virtually nothing to do but hang around on the street and talk to someone. Compared to a normal working day in
Dhaka, which is full of a teeming mass of noise, pace, rush, energy, frustration and pollution, it’s very unsettling, as if everyone’s left town and you don’t know why.

However, there are various forms of police and security forces all over the place, camped out on every major street corner. They vary from oldish looking little guys in crappy uniforms with sticks, who look like they’ve seen better days, to riot police with flak jackets and bigger sticks, to the Rapid Action Battalion, who wear all black uniforms and sunglasses, occasionally a bandana, and look seriously hardcore, with guns to match. And then there are army people. So even though it’s earily quiet, there’s very much a calm before the storm sense around the place.

Actually, Dhaka without the daily chaos is very nice, but you look out the window at the tranquillity down below, with the knowledge that about four miles away in the centre of town all hell is breaking loose.

Because we’ve been stuck without much info, and it’s all been happening so quickly anyway, I can’t really surmise easily what’s been going on.

But the strange, stupid, and frustrating thing about it is that everyone has known this could or would happen for years, and in the last month it’s been pretty much a racing cert. And yet it’s been allowed to happen.

You can get a good timeline of Bangledeshi’s recent political history off the BBC here.

My 60 second nutshell is this: The two party leaders, Khalida Zia of the ruling Bangladesh National Party and Sheikh Hasina of the opposition Awami League hate each other. From 1996 the Constitution was changed to allow a Caretaker Government to take power for 90 days at the end of the normal electoral term, and oversee the new elections. In May 2004 the BNP amended this, so that they could get their man in as the head of the CTG – allegedly. The opposition Awami League have said this was wrong and have been going nuts ever since.

Constitutionally the government had to be dissolved last Friday, and the head of the CTG sworn in. The AL said they would kick off big time, and dialogue on this over the last month has failed. On Thursday there was a major defection of about 100 senior members of the BNP, forming a new party, the Liberal Democratic Party. On Friday, the BNP handed over power. The AL kicked off big time. The swearing-in ceremony was switched to Saturday. The proposed head of the CTG, under intense pressure, said he was ill and pulled out at the last minute.

More riots. No-one there to take over power. Shahidul Alam took some amazing photos of the chaos.

Yesterday the President stepped in and said he would lead the CTG, in the constitutional absence of anyone else. Now we’re waiting.

I have to go back and do another session here at VSO, so will try and write more later on.

But Blog-a-rhythm cinically has suggested that Shiekh Hasina and Khaleda Zia (the leaders of the AL and BNP) be awarded another Nobel Peace Prize, for ‘making a peaceful country in to a holocaust in only 14 hours’.

It’s obviously not that bad, but from an observer’s point of view, that such utter carnage could develop, so quickly, and so expectedly, makes you wonder what politics is all about.

I think the bigger, more interesting story is about the Constitution, how it can be used to govern a country, and how personalities in a democracy can overshadow the conceptual sanctity of a Constitutional Democracy itself. What comes first – the people? The Nation? The Constitution? And who has the power/authority to decide?

Something worth thinking about.


Security Briefing Three

And this is the third briefing from the VSO Country Director, which we got today. Things are calming down a little bit, whilst the opposition Awami League observes what the President does.

“Dear all,

With a view to making you aware of the latest political situation and necessary precaution of your movement I would like to inform you that as all the 5th options for deciding upon the Chief Adviser to next Caretaker Government have failed, according to the Constituent, the President Iajuddin Ahmed has resumed the office of the Chief Adviser in addition to his presidential responsibilities.  The 14 party-alliance has not welcomed him; but at the same time they have not rejected the idea of participating in the next General Election in January 2007. They would like to observe the activities and attitudes of the president and then will decide if they will contest the next polls or not. To ensure the fulfillment of their other demands for fair election, they have decided to continue their on going movement including road blockage, port blockage, Dhaka-seize Programme etc.

Prior to the handing over of power to the President last night, terrific violence occurred throughout the country including gunfire and bomb blasts. Eleven people were killed and more than five hundred people were seriously injured. Most violence took place in Muktangan, Paltan, Bangabondhu Avenue, surrounding Baitul Mokarram mosque, Shahabag, Bijoynagar, Dhanmondi, Mirpur, Dhaka University area, Green Road, Mogbazar, Sayedabad, Jatrabari, Tangi, Gabtali and Gulisthan.  However, it is hoped that the situation will develop gradually. 

In these circumstances, I think that you can join your office with prior discussion with your employer as situation may vary place to place and they know the best of the latest situation of their respective locality
You are strongly advised to be extra vigilant and keep low profile while visiting outside the home for office and any other purpose.  Please avoid all types of political demonstrations and large gatherings as well. Please also remain updated about the general security situation with discussion with your employer, friends and colleagues as well and also be in touch with the newspapers and news from radio and television.

If you come across any issue to address, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. Situation is being closely monitored and time-to-time you will be updated of the latest. 

Thanks for your cooperation as ever. ” 

Security Briefing Two

This is the stuff we got from the VSO Bangladesh Country Director, on Sunday when people thought things were going to deteriorate. And then the next one is from the British High Commission. Nice that they’re thinking of us. Pity they didn’t invite us over for tea and scones. Should have registered with Poland as well, I bet the Poles were all taken in for cabbage. They know how to behave in a crisis.

“Dear all,

With a view to making you aware of the latest political situation that there was a huge violence throughout the country yesterday (28th October) centering Justice KM Hasan’s assuming the office of the Chief Adviser to next Caretaker Govt. The violence spread everywhere and there were even incidents of firing and bomb blasts. Four people were injured and a good number of people were seriously injured among of them some were passers-by or curious people. It is a good news for all that Justice Hasan himself refused to be the chief of adviser of the govt. through a letter to the president. But the issue has not yet been resolved and the President has called a meeting with all the Secretary Generals of all the parties who have representation in the parliament at 2 pm today to reach a solution. It is expected that a good result will come out form this meeting. But again if it fails, the situation will deteriorate seriously. It is to note that the situation is not worse for only of the foreigners, rather it is common for the entire citizen here as well.

Hence, you are strongly instructed to be in low profile and be vigilant. You are instructed to stay at home and do not go to your office or outside until you have a call or message from me tomorrow. Please keep yourself update about the general security situation with discussion with your friends and colleagues as well and also be in touch with the newspapers and news from radio and television.

If you come across any issue to address, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. Situation is being closely monitored and time-to-time you will be updated of the latest. “

Dear Wardens, Community, Businesses and Schools,
Since 27 October 2006, there has been widespread civil unrest across Bangladesh particularly in Dhaka City which resulted in up to 14 deaths and some 2000 injured. This was in response to the dissolution of Parliament and proposed handover of power to an interim administration for the period leading upto the forthcoming National Elections.

Violence took place all over Dhaka city especially in the following areas: Muktangon, Paltan Maidan and area, Bangabandhu Avenue, Baitul Mukarram North gate, Shahbagh, Bijoynagar, Dhanmondi, Mirpur, Dhaka University, Green Road, Moghbazar, Sayedabad, Jatrabari, Tongi and Gabtoli, Gulistan….

Further violent demonstrations are expected in Dhaka and other cities. The situation is extremely volatile and British Nationals are advised to restrict their movements until the current violence abates. Please also exercise extreme caution and vigilance when travelling outside the Gulshan & Baridhara areas of Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh as demonstrations are often held at short notice and can be expected to become violent.

We also advise that you monitor the local press / media and be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Photo page

Ok, I’ve managed to put a few photos up. They’re thumbnails, so if you click on them it should open up to a better quality. Not great quality though, because each one takes ages to load. But I’ll try and add more when I can. It will just be a suprise.

Mohammad Yunus

Since he won the Nobel Peace Prize a few weeks ago the people have been acting as if it’s pretty much the best thing to happen to Bangladesh since their Liberation. A good article about him has just been published in Open Democracy, you can read it here.

Another interesting op/ed appeared in Dar Al Hayat a few weeks ago, contrasting Dr Younis as a shining example of Islam, with Bin Laden. Check it.

Security Briefing

This is what we’ve just been sent from work, ahead of the dissolution of the current Government and hand-over to an extremely contentious caretaker administration on Friday. We’re going to be out of Dhaka up in the Tea Estates – but it certainly sounds like more than your average British protest, don’t want to cause a fuss old bean but do you think you might possibly be able to etc etc…:

“Security update

Dear all,

With a view to making you aware of as well as for taking necessary care of your movements, I would like to inform you that the proposed date for handing over the power for the present government to the Caretaker Government is 27th or 28th October for holding the National general election in January 2007. During that period, it is apprehended that the both government and the opposition alliance will arrange huge showdown of their popularity and power in Dhaka and the law and order situation may deteriorate across the country. It is also to note that if the present dialogue is not successful and Justice KM Hasan take over the office of the Chief Adviser to the next Caretaker Govt. The opposition alliance is going to hold Dhaka-seize Programme along with seize programmes in all the Upazillas and district levels. The activates are also instructed to stay in Dhaka with sticks-rowers-paddles. They would also declare continuous shrikes across the country with increased level of agitated movements, meetings, demonstrations and public gatherings. On the other hand, BNP is going to arrange programmes in Dhaka from 27th to 31st October to keep their control on streets and in the city. The activates are asked to bring sickles with them. All these give the clues that the political situation is going to deteriorate more than expectorations at the time of power handover and later on if the crisis is not resolved through dialogue.

Hence, you are strongly suggested to be in low profile and be vigilant. Please avoid all types of political demonstrations and large gatherings as well. It will be very much apprehensive if you discuss with your employer and if needed, don’t go to the office during those days with prior discussion with your employer. Please remain updated about the general security situation with discussion with your friends and colleagues as well and also be in touch with the newspapers and news from radio and television.

If you come across any issue to address, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. Situation is being closely monitored and time-to-time you will be updated of the latest.

Thanks for your cooperation as ever. ”