A Week In Shahbagh

“I will never agree on the death penalty for anyone…If it is handed down for a convicted war criminal, I’ll continue to work so that it is commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or Presidential clemency. Confiscate their property and compensate their victims, and let their children find their way out of the public humiliation and shame brought upon by the exposure of truth..Let us be better than them. I will continue to be there in Shahbagh even if I’m the last man standing, and I share this belief with millions of my brothers and sisters across our land.”

 

I

After having spent the better part of last week in Shahbagh talking to as many “ordinary” protesters as I could, by “ordinary” I’m referring to the extraordinary individuals from all walks of life and from pretty much everywhere in Bangladesh, I still find myself deeply conflicted.

The folks that I’ve talked to are the ones who, like me, continue to feel the compulsion in our hearts to reset the typical priorities in our typically everyday lives, and be in Shahbagh. We’re always AROUND but not ON the makeshift podiums and happenings as supporters and observers. We’re there neither to lead nor to really follow, but express our physical solidarity with what we’re confident is the right side of history unfolding all around us. We’re here to be included and empowered as our presence continues to empower this dynamic, complex and quickly maturing movement.

First a disclaimer for what it’s worth. I am utterly and passionately unapologetic about my deeply held anti-sectarian spiritual and political beliefs, and don’t see myself bailing out of all this whenever the going gets tough, thanks also to the desperately violent attacks we all anticipate from the proverbial other side. We are not at all afraid, and look forward to such a confrontation whenever it may fall upon us. We’ll are ready to put aside whatever ideological differences in our midst and fight the good fight with the full might our security forces when need be. That is an irrevocable promise and commitment.

Moreover, this is not some uber-sophisticated attempt at “tyna pyachano” or the act of wrapping a set of counterrevolutionary intent and ulterior motives, but a set of honest thoughts and feelings based on simply one man’s time at Projonmo Chottor. No hidden bamboo pike between a couple of barrels of fragrant oil here, and no, saying that doesn’t indicate a patch of fabric even finer that the finest Muslin. I recognize the inherent indignity in speaking for anyone other than myself, so here goes one middle-aged fool’s idealistic banter.

I love the sincere passion and love for positive change. I love the exciting potential inherent in this remarkable demonstration of people power converged around a set of core values that define us as a nation in this world. I’m ecstatic to see so many young people, including the young at heart who didn’t hesitate to cast aside their well justified cynicism to be in Shahbagh, so deeply caring about what they see as the Spirit of 1971, and the very real possibility that this may not only sustain itself, but actually evolve into a popular upsurge demanding genuine and much needed democratic reforms that will include and empower our marginalized majority and move our country forward at a pace their daily sacrifices deserve.

Democratic reforms from primary elections where their vote rather than small group will decide who to nominate, to the permanent repeal of provisions that deny their duly elected representative to vote according to his or her conscience irrespective of party line, and therefore truly represent the aspirations and better address the most pressing concerns of their respective constituencies on the national stage. We must have equal treatment under the law irrespective of economic and social status, and equal opportunity to actually exercise our rights as citizens of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh our parents and grandparents won for us. We all must have equal opportunity to bring our aspirations to life as individual citizens and thereby truly honor the noble combination of their unconditional love, righteous courage, ultimate sacrifices and heroic victory that has blessed us with our country.

It is incredibly gratifying to see such spontaneously organized outpouring of anti-sectarian sentiment and abject rejection of the BNP-Jamaat and JP narrative of 1971. It is heartwarming to realize that the ill concealed anti-liberation misinformation and misguidance have borne no significant fruit in its 37th year despite considerable effort and investment. In fact, all of their recent posturing and criminality in defense of alleged and in some cases, convicted war criminals, have had a dramatically opposite effect and has pretty much assured re-election of the deeply disappointing incumbent party in power, simply because we cannot afford to have the process stagnated, subverted and then derailed any longer by people who simply do not share our core values.

Here’s my humble understanding of those values as a proud citizen of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh:

I. Nationalism: A resilient and hopefully enlightened “Bangladesh First” attitudewhen it comes to our individual and collective ethical, political, economic and cultural life while we as Bangladeshis, proactively nurture our Bangali and Indigenous languages and cultures as we go through dynamic, organic and positive change in an ever so closely connected and rapidly globalizing world.

II. Democracy: A society where all legislative and executive power is exercised by the duly elected representatives of the Bangladeshi people without compromising the inalienable human, civil and political rights of its individual citizens, especially those of who dissent from majority opinion. Such equal treatment under the law and the constitutionality of all legislation and any executive action, in light of the letter and spirit of the 1972 Constitution, is ensured by a judiciary independent of legislative and executive coercion but not above duly regulated public scrutiny and accountability in a democratic society.

III. Secularism: Absolute separation of religion and state in a democratic society where each and every citizen has the absolute freedom to practice or not practice any religion in a secular society. Such a secular society may and in my humble opinion should be informed by universally sacred values but simply cannot be a theocracy under a democratic veneer.

IV. Socialism: Equal and just economic opportunity and freedom for allBangladeshi citizens. Sustainable affirmative action must create real opportunities for marginalized citizens in a compassionate society that provides a social and economic safety net to ensure all of its core values by providing fiscally responsible and efficient education, healthcare, public safety, a combination of low interest and interest free, profit and loss sharing based enterprise loans and other key public services. The cohesive combination of progressive taxation and profitable public private partnership can finance such essential services without debilitating national economic growth, and the exchange of liberal regulations and tax benefits can encourage private enterprises into profit sharing across the board in order to drive wealth creation among the working class. Such a proactive trade-off can help investors and employers remain competitive in the global marketplace because of the lower cost and higher productivity brought about by such common ownership within the framework of a market driven and well thought-out business model.

II

Within the aforementioned constitutional context, I don’t believe that politically supporting the idea of Pakistan rather than Bangladesh is a war crime but being involved in genocide, rape, torture, brigandage, sectarian/ethnic/political cleansing, or looting during wartime certainly is.

I believe all Razakars and those who actively enabled the implementation of their evil designs to be war criminals. Razakars were formed as an auxiliary, paramilitary force by the Pakistani government to help them design and carry out the aforesaid war crimes in the name of “Islam” and “National Unity” against “Indian and Anti-Islamic” conspiracy. A similar auxiliary force was created amongst the Bihari community and they were referred to as Mujahids“Peace Committees” were formed by the government for PR and propaganda purposes, and many Peace Committee leaders were also active with Razakars (formed entirely from Jamaat, Muslim League and Nizam-e-Islami) and Mujahids.

Jamaatis formed Al-Badr Razakars and the Muslim Leaguers and Nizamis formed Al-Shams Razakars. These trials are trying Razakars within Jamaat and BNP for now, but in light of Shahbagh, will eventually include BJP and AL Razakars also InshAllah. The people have awakened to these general facts and have taken to the streets with their just demand.

This has been the biggest blow to Islamist sectarianism in Bangladesh since the last group of Razakars was subjugated in 1972, bringing to an end their campaign of genocide, mass rape, mass torture, brigandage, sectarian and political cleansing, and looting in the name of preserving their kind of “Muslim Umma”. Curiously we still hear the same albeit periodically recycled tune today whenever they want something at the expense of someone else’s rights. Thanks to Shahbagh, the game is now up and Jamaat is finished anyway in this country, and any political party affiliated with it or anything similar to its ideology is also finished politically. Until and unless they sincerely reinvent themselves and actually come up with a platform not driven by Awami League’s failures, they’ll fail to remain competitive at the polls.

I don’t think Jamaat is capable of getting even a single seat in the Parliament after this and BNP, wholly dependent on guaranteed 5000 plus votes Jamaat delivers at the polls, finds itself in deep you know what. Good riddance.

On the other hand, I am totally disheartened by anger, hatred and lust for vengeance clouding the better judgment of so many in Shahbagh. Depriving others of their democratic rights and the attempt to turn the judicial process, as flawed as its applications may be, into a popularity contest is not only totally inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the 1972 Constitution, the very codification of the Spirit of 1971, but actually subverts it.

It gives me no pleasure to say that this is a passionate and disciplined lynch mob not at all clear about the principles of democracy and constitutionality. What I heard repeatedly was all about majority rule without any regard for the civil and political rights of the dissenting minority.

That’s nothing short of latent Fascism with Fascism being the unilateral exercise of power without accountability and the possibility of role reversal “justified” for the sake of some “common good”. What they seek now, hopefully it’ll gradually change in the next phase, is not better and more convincing application of the judicial system, but a subversion of the system by demanding to force a predetermined verdict irrespective of whatever due process of the law we have. That’s nothing but a kangaroo court driven by a lynch mob in my book. The Spirit of 1971 is about neither and democracy and the rule of law is much more than a popularity contest driven by true passion but misguided and ignorant notions.

Democracy covers freedom of conscience including speech and the freedom of assembly, irrespective of “intent” no matter how subversive it happens to be.Preemption is a slippery slope in too many ways. The focus should be on Jamaat or any political party for that matter, violating the law (criminal, financial, anti-terrorism, national security etc) in their actions. Cases should be filed and the due process of the law must be allowed to take place. Banning is not an option with democracy as a key principle.

In a democratic society based on inalienable civil rights of each and every one of its citizens, people have the right to be “wrong”, and those who truly understand and believe in democracy, must be ever so vigilant in protecting that fundamental right.

This fundamental freedom of conscience as expressed by the freedom of speech and assembly must not be conflated with breaking the law from crimes against humanity and the Bangladeshi people, something with absolutely NO statute of limitation, to spreading fear within the general public through organized intimidation, violent assault and wanton destruction of public property designed and executed for the very purpose of generating terror.

One is a civil rights issue that affects us all regardless of political viewpoint, and the latter is a law and order issue which must be pursued vigorously with extreme prejudice, regardless of political affiliation.

Breaking any constitutionally permissible law passed by the freely elected representatives of the citizenry warrants due process where an independent judiciary must ensure equal and fair treatment under the law. That’s justice.

I’d have been more than happy to express unconditional solidarity with my fellow citizens in Shahbagh, had the focal point been such justice, not mob-driven and state sponsored murder, even when applied to mass murders, and the disenfranchisement of a certain type of politics while using the noose as its symbol, within the context of a democratic society which fought for and won its freedom with democracy being one of its founding principles.

The current provisions only allow for appealing an acquittal, nothing else. So now the current government is trying to appease and accommodate the lynch mob by adding the right to appeal “inadequate punishment” rather than demanding a publicly held judicial inquiry in Parliament. They won’t do that because I suspect at least a few of their leaders were somehow behind the unconvincing verdict.

Based on what I’ve been told by a legal expert, the court itself, not the prosecution has the power the invoke Article 104 after a verdict in order to ensure “complete justice”. The Parliament can persuade the court to do so by demanding a publicly held judicial inquiry which may hear arguments from the prosecution. The inquiry then would serve as the basis for the court to see whether or not “complete justice” was done and decide on a new verdict or a retrial.

I know it’s easy to get euphoric about what’s happening but we cannot let the euphoria cloud our better judgment. We must “think” as we ought to because we’re a citizen of a democratic country that needs to do better. That’s how we honor the victims and survivors of Razakar and Pakistani war crimes.

Of course the Kader Molla verdict is suspiciously lenient when compared to the Bachchu Razakar but who decides what’s “adequate punishment”? Erudite people familiar with the details of the case as they relate to the law or a lynch mob? Or should it be a political party being intimidated by the lynch mob? May as well piss on the real Spirit of ’71 and go totally Fascist and let the majority, assumed or real, decide everything.

Maybe the Constitution and the courts should be replaced by Internet polls and voice votes from self righteous lynch mobs playing GOD and shouting for blood. Let us all bite the dog together until one of us becomes the proverbial dog without actually biting anybody. Better yet, let us demand an eye for an eye until we all go blind. Or maybe we ought to think about countering evil with good because we need to be better than them.

Obviously such coerced and convenient “additions” represent serious legislative interference in a country where the judiciary’s presumptive independence has already been compromised due to overt politicization. Such meddling aggravates an already major problem in a country where the law is regularly subverted not only through a wide variety of illegalities casually undertaken by those responsible for its enforcement, but also through its selective rather than equal enforcement.

This “addition” may not stand up in Supreme Court because in order to pacify the lynch mob, it will violate the right of the accused to receive a fair trial in a highly prejudicial environment unduly influencing the judges. That will not go down well with the civilized world outside Bangladesh just as the almighty noose isn’t either.

Having said all that, I sincerely hope that people involved in the protests stay involved and mature as active participants in the political process. Only a popular upsurge can bring about much needed democratic change in this country’s subverted democratic culture, and only widespread and sustainable involvement from the general population can create such popular upsurge.

The bastards who benefit from the egregious staus quo won’t change by themselves and give us what our parents and grandparents fought and died for. We have to take it because it is ours by right, but we must do so without subverting those ideals and the law as the embodiment of those ideals ourselves.

We must be better. We must do the right thing. If not, we become a part of the fundamental problem, not a possible and much needed solution. Two wrongs never make a right because a reaction is never as good as a response. A nation of the people, by the people and for the people MUST BE RIGHT AND RESPONSIVE.

III

Now, let me emphasize that there are people within and outside the Jamaat-BNP nexus out there who will try to take advantage of the differences of opinion among people in Shahbagh and we must stand guard against such attempts. But we must do so without silencing different perspectives within ourselves, meaning those of us who believe in the founding principles of Bangladesh, and prevent anyone in the establishment from co-opting what has been started until it is first fragmented, and then rendered irrelevant as business of traditional politics resumes. We must stand united in our diversity, but be neither naive nor overzealous when it comes to correctly recognizing our common and absolutely real enemy.

We must learn to agree to disagree without being disagreeable, and without losing sight of the core values that brought us together in the first place. We must grow in such a way that our growth sustains our unity and enhances our rightful power as citizens of Bangladesh. Good faith discussions only make us stronger because if the other side perceives this as a weakness they can exploit, they would be sorely mistaken. Any overt or covert attack against Shahbagh would result in us instantly setting aside our differences and stand united to defend our country and ourselves more decisively than they care to imagine. FAIR WARNING!

I understand that many if not most will not share my view on the death penalty and that’s OK. As a willful submitter who has reasoned the Holy Qur’an to be the speech of GOD, I have absolute certainty in this matter. GOD clearly distinguishes between enemy combatants in the battlefield fighting to perpetuate injustice, and prisoners. Anyone arrested is a prisoner and cannot to tortured or put to death, period. No ambiguity there. All other arguments against the death penalty simply add to that core principle for me personally.

Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) tells us to want for our fellow man, which includes our enemies also, what we want for ourselves. This is a call to transcend what some perceive as our human nature, and strive to be more pleasing to our Lord in the process. Such universally shared values must influence and guide a secular and compassionate state for it to be just, and more than a reflection of the emotional reactions and instincts of the majority of its citizens.

I will never agree on the death penalty for anyone under any circumstances. If it’s in the books, I’ll continue to work to repeal it as cruel and unusual punishment antithetical to the principles of human rights our Constitution is based upon. If it is handed down for a convicted war criminal, I’ll continue to work so that it is commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or Presidential clemency. Confiscate their property and compensate their victims, and let their children find their way out of the public humiliation and shame brought upon by the exposure of truth, only in expiation through service to Bangladesh, her values and her people. Throw away the key and have them rot in prison with the knowledge that we know what they did as do their families and loved ones, and perhaps worse punishment awaits them after they die. I wouldn’t call that mercy, but I will call that the right message to send.

Let us be better than them.

I’m sorry to say that many in Shahbagh simply don’t get it, not yet anyway, but I must believe that they will a lot sooner than I care to imagine. I will continue to be there in Shahbagh even if I’m the last man standing, and I share this belief with millions of my brothers and sisters across our land.

Source: Alalodulal

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