Monday, 11 March 2013

Dissecting the mind of a Homo Shahbagicus

Another analysis of the Shahbag phenomenon appeared during the last few days, written by a sympathiser who is also a budding academic in the field of social work. The article belongs to the by now well-established genre of poetic glorifications of Shahbag written by Western educated deshis. It has a number of characteristic hallmarks of that genre, including the serious scholarly feel provided by the long list of references at the end of the article. Equally characteristically, it fails to mention any concerns with the trials, and explains the ongoing violence in Bangladesh as a mindless reaction to the Shahbag by the quasi-terrorist organisation that Jamaat-e-Islaami is. Here is what I posted in response to the article:

Thank you for that incredibly shallow and one-sided analysis of the current events in Bangladesh. It is useful insofar it provides us with insight into the mind of Homo Shahbagicus, and his (or her) uniquely banal approach to history, law and justice. Here are some points you may want to consider:

- the violence in Bangladesh caused by the trials at the ICT started much earlier than February this year. Large scale clashes took place in November, after it became evident even to the most obtuse observer that the court will not stop at anything to make sure the defendants are found guilty. That first wave of clashes between JI supporters and the police was triggered by the abduction of a defence witness in the Sayedee case. He was 'disappeared' by intelligence officers outside the ICT gates, and no investigation whatsoever was undertaken by the court or the police. The witness is missing to this day - quite probably dead. Then again, you don't care about the deaths of anyone except the 'Shahbag bloggers', do you? Not to mention the tens of JI activists (a number of whom were teenagers) murdered by the trigger happy Bangladeshi police. In the eyes of a Shahbag fan, Islamist lives are worth much less than those of enlightened secularists (who peacefully call for death penalties in trials which have not yet been completed), and the violence meted out by the police is but a necessary action to stop those faceless marauding Islamist barbarians.

- the violence started to get really bad when the Skypegate scandal occured in December 2012, revealing a collusion between the judges, government and prosecution. What did the court do? Nothing. The chairman of the tribunal quit for "personal reasons" and the trials went on. As a result, in the Sayedee case, "one of the three sentencing judges had heard only a fraction of the prosecution’s evidence, another had heard none of it and the third had heard no evidence whatsoever". But wait: evidence is not really relevant when it comes to 'rajakars', is it?

- As for your quote from Rao and Murshid: you are of course aware that (a) Mujib himself rehabilitated plenty of 'collaborators' and gave them posts in his government and administration, as is thoroughly documented in Mascarenhas' 'Legacy of Blood' and Lifschultz's 'Unfinished Revolution' and (b) Mujib did not only ban 'JI and other groups that collaborated with Pakistani forces' but
also eventually banned all political parties except his own, the Awami League. It's entertaining to see how Shahbag sympathisers, in typical Awami League fashion, blame Zia & co. for bringing about the culture of impunity for 'collaborators'.

- You say that JI threatened to carry out suicide attacks - any references for that claim, or did you get it from Prothom Alo(o) and the Daily Star, which in turn picked it up from a well informed Shahbag blogger?

- Don't you think it's worth mentioning that the current leader of the Shahbag movement is an Awami Leaguer, Imran H Sarkar, and that another leading figure in the movement (Lucky Aktar) had been beaten by AL goons for not allowing AL politicians to grace the crowd with their words of wisdom?

This is the problem with Shahbag and its sympathisers: they are completely blind to the obvious fact that the ICT trials have been a miserable failure and that no closure or justice can possibly result from them. Instead of recognising this and channeling their anger towards the ones responsible for this failure (the Bangladeshi government), they blame Jamaat, which, as a consequence, is becoming more reactionary by the day.  

PS The interesting question that arises here is how it is possible for cultured and educated Bangladeshis to be so oblivious to the failings of the court, and the politicisation of the entire process. Is this a conscious denial of reality, a sort of moral compromise necessary in order to avoid facing the possibility - by now a certainty - that there will never be any real closure for the tragedy of 1971?

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