Monday, July 27, 2009

democracy and blasphemy

"Dutch film FITNA has been released. In the film they made fun of our beloved PROPHET HAZRAT MUHAMMAD (S.) n' refused to apologize. Now please join hands to boycott the dutch (Holland/Netherlands) products. 1.6 billion Muslims can surely 'SLAP' dutch economy. Plz forward this sms to all muslims. It's our holy duty as a muslim.
Remember ALLAH might ask you one day, WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN THEY MADE FUN OF MY FRIEND MUHAMMAD (S.). Be ready to answer the questn."

I received this on my mobile the other day. I let as many people know as possible, but I asked myself one question: "Does the sender believe in democracy?"

I know the sender, and I didn't want to start a riot in our relationship by pointing out her incoherence. For in all likelihood, she probably believes in democracy – and freedom of expression.

Like most Muslims who are democrats, she is unaware that you cannot go around sending messages like that and arguing for freedom of expression. Freedom of expression and democracy mean that you can makes movies like fitna without making any apologies.

Many of my friends are Muslims and they believe in freedom of expression, and all the western baggage that comes with it. But they won't take the belief to its logical conclusion – the right to offend by speaking your mind on any subject under (or above) the sun.

If you want to appear 'modern', you run the risk of contradicting yourself, and revealing your hypocrisy.

In fact, you don't even know what you believe in.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Crematorium

Shaheen would like to be cremated.

She is a distant relative of mine, and like most of my wider family, supports the Awami League with blind devotion (that is to say, she is an Awami Leaguer.)

One evening, when we had gone visiting a very sick relative, she was unfortunately there. The subject turned to burial – she maneuvered the conversation towards that topic. Naturally, like any good Awami Leaguer, she disapproves of burial, the only reason being that it is practiced in Islam. Everything about Islam is anathema to Shaheen, whereas everything about Hinduism is glorious.

One of these glorious aspects is cremation; she deplored the fact that she could not be cremated in Bangladesh. I wondered why she didn't just sneak across the border before death and had herself burnt and floated down the river. (Or she could go down to Japan, where she would be toast even before you could say 'rigor mortis'.)

Now, her husband works for a conglomerate and earns a pot of money. If she migrates to India, her husband would lose his status and a significant part of his income, Muslims being more discriminated against in India than dalits, according to academic studies.

Shaheen wouldn't like to live in India, mind you: she loves money too much for that. She would like to sit on this side of the fence and sigh, casting wistful glances at the other side. Ah! If only the money on this side hadn't been so good! If only they didn't live in a mansion with a second home to get away to for the weekends and from that terrible Muslim ritual, Eid! If only they lived in poverty and could make it to the other side, pretending to be Hindus, and take up jobs as coolies. It's all the fault of that man, Jinnah!

If it hadn't been for him, she would have been cremated.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pssst…wanna be a millionaire (or, where are Bill Gates's dollars going)?

First, you set up a small charity, and pretend to help the poor. After a year or so, you set up a central committee…consisting entirely of your family members (make sure your cousins have different last names)…then you wait another year.

Then you approach an NGO like ActionAid and ask for a small donation. The donor obliges, since you are tight with the staff.

Here comes the beauty part: then, using your modest capital, you buy controlling shares in a company: you may not own the company, but you are effectively the owner.

So now you control a lot more capital than before: of course it helps no end if you are already the top man at the company, but that's not always important.

Now, with control over the firms' capital, you buy the controlling shares in another company, and acquire control of more capital.

Meanwhile, you and your relatives take out very modest salaries on your little NGO…but are making enormous money on the side.

That's where Bill Gates's money comes in. Naturally, there are many entrepreneurs – I mean, philanthropists – like you by now. You form a net, a network.
Bill (or whoever the idiot may be) has no option but to operate through the mafia…I mean the network.


The number of NGOs getting into commercial activity is beginning to be significant. I once checked into a hotel where I had often been before…and then I found that the unit had been taken over by an NGO called TMSS (Thangamari Mahila Sabuj Sangha). The tariff had gone up…and the service had jumped off a cliff.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Clothes and 'modernity'

(click above for article)

"For example, I prefer to wear jeans and T-shirt too. Because I need easily to use my legs and arms." My 'modern' Turkish friend pleads efficiency for her attire; oddly, though, efficient farm girls in Turkey wear the shalwar, as they do in Bangladesh, along with the saree. 'Modernity' comes in many covers, and this one conceals less of its sinister side than most.

Please submit the link above to

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Crimes of Finance

(click above for article)

I remember how, on the saree-tails of Sheikh Hasina, the Beximco Group allegedly rigged the stockmarket in 1996, soon after the petticoat came to power; today, again, on the same garmented ladder of the same woman, and again as soon as she came to power, the Beximco Group appear to be treating other people's money as their own.


"The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, appeared on television in a question-and-answer session on every subject conceivable. It was a charade of 'transparency'. Among the three interviewees was one Debapriya Bhattacharya, well-known to the author since his childhood days, and well-known among the elite today (indeed, he is currently president of the Trade and Development Board of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD). He questioned the prime minister how it was that 50 million takas had been siphoned out of the country and the alleged masterminds incorrectly charged. He noted that it was regrettable, and the subject, of such enormous moment, was quietly shelved. But Bhattacharya had earned his fifteen minutes.

It so happened that Bhattacharya's mother, Mrs. Chitra Bhattacharya, was an MP of the ruling party, and the whole family was tight with the PM. This was what allowed young Bhattacharya to appear to be questioning the executive: a very well-choreographed family affair."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Ignorant Ignorant of Ignorance

Why must people pretend to know more than they do? Is it some kind of weakness or some sort of criminality?

I just had a fight with a friend who seemed to know every subject there is to know: as an engineer, her mastery of the subject invited my deference. But when she makes a casual remark on a solitary sentence of mine that has taken five or more years of study, one wonders if one is dealing with a friend or a charlatan.

Most people are experts on social science, political philosophy, psychology....The man who spends year after year pursuing a single thread through the Minoan labyrinth finds it galling when his most well-thought-out statement is dismissed by an appeal to (fake) 'common sense'.

Why is it that we can't acknowledge our ignorance? I am reminded of Socrates who was regarded as the wisest of men because he knew that he knew nothing. Perhaps this is a very painful position to hold, like grasping a sword the wrong way: but the edges must be grasped even if the spirit bleeds.

If only my fine friend had had the humility of wonderment, the child-like bafflement before an incomprehensible universe, the primitive piety before an inscrutable cosmos, totally insecure in the knowledge that what we know is as nothing compared to what we do not know, not alone on the individual level, but on that of the collective. For the collective lends the individual a spurious pride, as though he is the receptacle of the enlightened ages, when all we know is that we, and I, know nothing.