Echo

Benelux Tour  

Posted by Rezwan

I finished a speedy tour of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg and two cities in Germany, Koblenz and Trier. Will write more about it later. Here are some photos uploaded in my facebook account.

A review of Geert Wilder's Fitna  

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Dutch politician Geert Wilders film, "Fitna" (meaning Discord in Arabic) features violent imagery of terrorist attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with Koranic texts. It interprets that Islam equates violence.

Mezba does a review of "Fitna" which is a great read. He writes after watching the film:

"Geert Wilders, the Dutch MP who has made an anti-Islam film, argues that he has the right, under Freedom of Speech, to say what he wants. And what exactly is he saying? He wants the Quran to be banned because it is a "hate speech". So here is a man using Freedom of Speech to argue that another speech - the Quran - should be banned. His much talked about film, Fitna, is equally circular in logic.
...
Honestly, a high school student could have produced a better Islam-critical animation. That the verses and their "controversial" meanings (when taken out of context) has been explained numerous times is immaterial. The "movie" is amateurish.

In fact, the only good thing about Fitna is the recitation of the said verses of the Quran. The qari who recited those verses had a melodious voice.

Geert Wilders must have hoped Muslims would see his movie and renounce the Quran. In fact it made me laugh at his childish movie and then search Youtube for more melodious Quran recitations."
Worldwide protests by Muslims are expected and there will be more politics - counter politics with it. But really there is a lot of difference between criticizing without hurting religious feelings and of amateurish poking in beehive to become famous and people should show their reaction accordingly.

Update: Another review "Fitna for whom?" (Thanks Hicham)
I really feel sorrow for him because he didn’t spent his time, effort and money to understand us and just followed the wave!
Update II: British-based Liveleak.com had pulled down the video. However the Fitna video is available in YouTube.

Update III: Review: Geert Wilders Fitna Farce by Ali Eteraz- a great read.

Update IV: A Muslim responds in Spiegel Online: "I am not a least bit offended"

Sending wrong signals  

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Bangladesh traditionally depends on India to import rice when there is a shortage in local production due to a bad harvest. This year the culprit was the cyclone Sidr and the floods. There was also a huge unofficial trade channel between the porous borders the scope of which is now limited because of the barbed wire border fencing by India. The smuggled goods evaded government duties and kept the price low.

The price of rice has soared in the past six months with an increase of upto 60%. This is probably the reality that Bangladesh is facing. India said it had a bad year too and are reluctant to export according to demand. After much drama the export price of the pledged government level exports were fixed at $430 per tonne.

And the final blow was Indian governments decision to hike rice export price at non governmental level to $1000 from $650. This is a ridiculous price as the international prices are much lower than that.

This will send a wrong signal to the market which will prompt stockists and brokers cashing in. Although the Bangladesh government says that it awaits bumper boro harvest in April when the prices will settle. But I doubt prices will not come down anytime soon because there are always a group of traders who exploits the uncertainties.

I think its time Bangladesh should look to import from other neighboring countries like Burma, Thailand or Vietnam. The dependency on one country will have many unwanted consequences. The poor people are the hardest hit as their staple food is rice. They are already mocking some senior government officials suggestion that people should start eating potato more instead of rice.

A tribute to the victims of the Bangladesh 1971 genocide  

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If you are wondering why I was not blogging last couple of month as frequently as before, I confess now I was engaged in a mammoth project.

It all started after the much discussed denial - Jamaat-e-Islami's leader Ali Ahsan Muzahid's statement that "Jamaat did not work against the Liberation War in 1971 and there are no war criminals in the country." Soon other apologists joined the procession of denials terming the war of liberation as a civil war. Even scholars like Sharmila Bose tried to deny a lot of thing with faulty research.

Some fellow bloggers notably Mashuqur Rahman and Tasneem Khalil stressed that we need a proper archive to tackle these issues. Since I was reading and compiling a list of all available content on liberation war since long, I came forward to gather contents for an archive. I started work in December 2007 and it was a learning experience for me to study and revisit our glorious history of liberation.

I have listed in this archive the International newspaper clippings, events, documentations, audio, video, images, media reports and eyewitness accounts of the 1971 Genocide in Bangladesh all with workable links to judge the truth for yourself. I have compiled views of Pakistanis, Indians, US Government with articles, documents and provided many rare known facts. I am not an historian nor I am here to distort the history. But I hope this archive will help the seekers of truth. For an example you can refute Jamaat's statement from the facts in this page (in Bangla) alone.

As I wrote in the about section of the Bangladesh Genocide Archive:

"The plot is so huge that no one person can tell the story. Many books were written, video footage was taken and words are passed from generation to generation. But due to lack of information in one place and platform many truth were distorted. The struggle for Bangladesh’s liberation and the efforts of the Pakistani army to cull the resistance resulted in one of the worst genocide in the World history. This was interpreted in many different ways. To many Bengalis it was a struggle for liberation, to many Pakistanis a armed rebel to be quashed, to the US govt. Pakistan’s internal affair. However it was in the US the peace loving people arranged the first ever aid concert for the people of Bangladesh.

Politicians tried to bank on these in the past and will be doing this in the future. The new generation is baffled as text books were rewritten to instill superiority of the visionaries of the political governments over rivals. People are forgetting that it was a mass effort and prompting to disrespect the catalysts and the father of nation, who was the inspiration.

That is why this site is born."
Actually its a repository of all the information available online listed in one place. From here you will be able to navigate to the original contents in their original locations. I will try to include all valid viewpoints with authenticated sources and let the readers/viewers be the judge.

I personally thank to all these individuals and organizations who have done excellent job over the years but people barely know about their excellent efforts. In different sections of the archive I have listed and collated from their commendable works in one place and linked them accordingly so that people can go to those sites and see the amazing work they have done.

I also thank Mashuqur Rahman, and MMR Jalal for their contents we proudly present here. If MMR Jalal was a website himself no other sites would be required. Ehab did an excellent work on site architect and design (more features coming). Also thanking here fellow bloggers Sushanta, Tasneem, Nazzina, Tanoy, Zafa, Shada Kalo, Rubel, Faiyaz and seniors like Saleem Samad and Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury for their support and encouragement. One disclaimer here is that this is purely a personal effort and I will keep this from any political or organizational alignment.

Let this be a tribute to the victims of the Bangladesh 1971 genocide and all those who fought for the country.

If you haven't bookmarked it yet here is the site: Bangladesh Genocide Archive

Bhutan -the happiest democratic nation?  

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Bhutan national emblem

Bhutan once was found to be the happiest nation on the earth. The humble and peaceful landlocked nation on the hills of Himalayas have long preserved their culture and national identity through regulation of foreign influence and tourism by the monarch.

It is becoming a democracy for the first time as the general elections were held there yesterday.

More here.

Cyber journalism in Bangladesh  

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BDNews24 does a report on cyber journalism in Bangladesh. Although the report is informative, it fails to portray the Bangladeshi Blogosphere. Its sad that the mainstream media fails to highlight all the good work that are being done by the Bangladeshi bloggers.

Bangla Town in Toronto  

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Bangladeshis are migrating in Canada in growing numbers. The Star.com of Canada writes about emerging Bangla Town in Toronto:

Ground-level storefronts like Miah's – bustling grocery stores, movie rental shops, the Desh Pharmacy and businesses offering help with taxes – may be the public face of Little Bangladesh, a stretch of Danforth between Dawes Rd. and Victoria Park Ave., just south of Crescent Town.

The first wave of Bangladeshis arrived as refugees after the 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan, followed by a trickle of skilled immigrants in the 1990s. Those who have had a Western education are more likely to have arrived recently.
A Bengali in To writes about more Bangladesh news in Toronto.

Chinese oppression in Tibet, what you can do  

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Vijay Sappani says:

We can not turn a blind eye to the atrocities against Humanity, oppression of human rights because of the cheap ‘Made in China’ products.

Start looking at better alternatives of ‘Made in Taiwan, Made in Thailand, Made in Bangladesh, Made in India, Made in Turkey, Made in Malaysia over the Bloodied Made in China products and maybe we will see Tibet in a better light.
True!

Taslima Nasreen is under treatment in Sweden  

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Taslima Nasreen arrived quietly in Sweden and is under going treatment in a clinic. Sweden Sify News reports:

Taslima Nasreen Taslima is being held virtually incommunicado by the Swedish authorities, under the care of the Swedish Pen Club.
Maria Modig, vice-chairperson of the Svenska Pen says about Taslima's plans and official formalities:
"Taslima is a Swedish citizen and has been so for more than a decade now. She is a Swede and has come home."
Meanwhile Indian press terms Taslima's episode as a national shame for India.

Today's Links  

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* Bangladesh: Facing the rice crisis

* NGO Swindling: Tk 2.2 million seized from house in Natore

* A twelve-minute film about the Koran

* The International Audit of Bangladesh

* From Taslima to Tibet, India proves chicken

Taming foreign diplomats  

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At last The Bangladesh Government criticized the "renewed perceptible tendency" by some foreign diplomats to interfere in Bangladesh's internal affairs.

Recently US Charge d'Affaires Geeta Pasi's meetings with political parties ahead of year-end general elections and Indian high commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty's comments on the delay in rice shipments from India sparked protests among many.

However according to BDNEWS24 :

Law adviser AF Hassan Ariff has said that speaking of the country's internal political matters by foreigners during their visits here on tourist visa is not in conformity with law.

"A bit stronger stance has been taken now," Hassan Ariff said in his weekly briefing.

"Foreigners are not being allowed to talk to journalists on political matters of the country. Anybody coming on a tourist visa cannot talk about Bangladesh's internal politics. If we go to any country on a tourist visa, we don't speak on that country's internal matters. And we can't."
Is this true? Is he referring to publishing journalistic comments in newspapers or personal opinions? If its personal opinion, shouldn't that deter one's freedom of speech?

Court orders release of Arifur Rahman  

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BDNews24 reports:

A Dhaka magistrate asked authorities Thursday to free Arifur Rahman, a former cartoonist of Bangla-language daily Prothom Alo who faces charges of 'hurting religious sentiment'.

The magistrate, however, did not specify any timeframe for his release.

The latest court order came approximately two months after the High Court declared Arif's detention illegal.

Background:

* Bangladesh: yet another Muhammad cartoon controversy
* Attack against freedom of speech: Bangladesh cartoon controversy update
* Cartoonist arrested over harmless play on name Mohammed.
* One Arifur Rahman and his fight against corruption
* Muhammad cat: Clerical Hypocrisy

IMF does mashup  

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The International Monetary Fund has a data mapper mashup. This is very interesting.

Photographer of the year 2007  

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From the official Blog of Bangladeshi photographers the photographer of the Year 2007 Photography Contest grand prize winner is Bir Azam. Check out his work in Flickr.

RAB loses it again  

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From Canada Free Press:

Kidnapped from his own office, which had been stormed by members of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) at 7 p.m. Dhaka time last night, anti-Jihadist Muslim journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury was questioned for hours.

When RAB stormed the offices of Choudhury’s newspaper, Weekly Blitz, they ordered his employees out and interrogated Choudhury, seizing his telephones and not allowing him any communication, friends or legal counsel.

“After more than an hour and a half on the scene, RAB claimed to find a controlled substance in Shoaib’s desk—an allegation that Shoaib’s friends and associates claim is impossible,” his American friend Dr. Richard Benkin told Canada Free Press (CFP) last night. “His brother, Sohail claims that any evidence had to be planted.”

“Shoaib was blindfolded and taken to an RAB interrogation center in Dhaka, where, according to Shoaib, his captors verbally abused him for hours, repeatedly calling him a “Zionist spy and agent of the Jews”. They used expletives to refer to journalists against whom RAB has a record of harassing, and the United States Congress, which passed a resolution in Shoaib’s support. The verbal assault, which included numerous threats, continued for another three hours until someone RAB described as a “high government official” telephoned and ordered them to release him. When Shoaib asked about the contrived drug charge, he was told they would not pursue it.”
Apparently all these drama had only tarnished the country's image. What were they trying to achieve?

YouTube video of the day  

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Obama on race and politics.

A news without cliché possible?  

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Evgeny Morozov, is a technology journalist from Belarus (I met in Istanbul last month) who writes for The Economist and other international publications. He has launched a new site called Kill the Cliché, which analyzes the international news stories published by half a dozen prominent newspapers in America and identifies terms and phrases that get overused by journalists. He says:

The premise is simple: given the destitute state of affairs in American media, it may be a good idea to purge it of cliches…
According to the data compiled, the all time hit cliché is 'insurgent' and the most cliché-heavy reporter is 'Jill Drew' of the Washington Post.

Via Ethan Zuckerman

Bangladesh: another crisis looming?  

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The price of rice, the staple food of Bangladeshis keeps on going up. If one is paid the minimum wage that is about 2000 Taka a month, he/she will be able to buy a kg rice a day with nothing to spare. So how one is going to survive? WFP says poorer households are the hardest hit who spend up to 80 percent of their income on food. And this may cause political and social unrest in Bangladesh soon.

Meanwhile Chairman of the Regulatory Reforms Commission and ex adviser of the care taker Government Akbar Ali Khan slammed the Government for furnishing 'rosy' development scenario. His quote that the country is undergoing silent famine has provoked much reaction. In certain parts of the country the silent famine or Monga is again surfacing. According to Independent Bangladesh:

Compared to national average gross domestic manufacturing product at Tk 2,720, it is Tk 254 for Lalmohirhat, Tk 263 for Nilphamar, Tk 341 for Kurigram, Tk 400 for Gaibandha and Tk 820 for relatively well-off Rangur among the monga-prone northern districts.
In Drishtipat blog in a discussion on the global financial meltdown Jyoti lists its impacts on Bangladesh:
1. The government (ie taxpayers) will have to pay more for the past debt. This will mean less money for other expenditure such as health or education.

2. Government will find it harder to borrow. The call for government expenditure beyond its revenue is likely to increase.

3. Private sector will also find it hard to borrow. And this will mean investment will slow, with follow ons to employment and household income.

4. Exports will suffer, especially if Europe enters a recession.

5. Remittances will suffer, even without a global recession. This is because most NRBs will have to pay higher interest payments in their house/credit card/personal loans, and it will mean less money to send home.
Looks like its a double blow for Bangladesh and the situation is so volatile now that a little spark can turn to big fire of protests in the country. We are sadly watching the meltdown and are able to do nothing.

Taslima Nasreen decides to quit India  

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Taslima Nasreen, the controversial Bangladeshi author living in exile in India has had enough in that country. She was first driven out of Kolkata in September 2007 because of a movement by Islamic extremists and communist sympathizers demanding expulsion of Taslima from India. The Intelligence Bureau kept her in a 'safe house' within a National Security Guards complex in Delhi.

But this recluse had taken toll on her. India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Nasreen a "shelter" in India on conditions and Taslima apparently had to agree to a compromise formula. On November 30, 2007 Taslima agreed to remove three pages from her book Dwikhondito (Split up into two). The book has been criticized by Muslims as "anti-Islamic". (BBC and wikipedia)

On 20 January 2008 she wrote a poem which was published in The Statesman of Calcutta:

Was a poet ever kept in house arrest?
May be she has been a subject of politicking
True she caused clashes once in a while
May be an arson, too.
But no, a poet was never taken to safe custody.
This India, this civilization, this 21st century
They all had welcomed the poet
Ignoring its childish religionism, its merciless politics.
But today, the poet languishes in house arrest.
She has done no offense.
On 11 March 2008, Taslima Nasreen wrote in Mukto-mona, an internet activism group:
Where am I? I am certain no one will believe me if I say I have no answer to this apparently straightforward question, but the truth is I just do not know.

What crime have I committed that I have to spend my life hidden away, relegated to the shadows? For what crimes am I being punished by this society, this land? I wrote of my beliefs and my convictions. I used words, not violence, to express my ideas. I did not take recourse to pelting stones or bloodshed to make my point. Yet, I am considered a criminal. I am being persecuted because it was felt that the right of others to express their opinions was more legitimate than mine.

I know I have not been condemned by the masses. If their opinion had been sought, I am certain the majority would have wanted me to stay on in Bengal. But when has a democracy reflected the voice of the masses? A democracy is run by those who hold the reins of power, who do exactly what they think fit.
And finally she decides to quit India. In an email to IANS she writes:
I used to call this the torture chamber. I gradually came to realise that it was the chamber of death instead. I was not even allowed to stay in hospital for long though the doctors felt it was necessary in order to stabilise my blood pressure.

Even though they constantly pressured me mentally to leave the country, I refused to budge. I was determined I would not leave this country. When they saw it was pointless trying to destroy my mind, they attempted to destroy my body. In this they succeeded by ruining my health, which leaves me with no other alternative but to leave this country.
(Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

Update I: Taslima arrived in Europe, reportedly in Sweden.

John Pilger on Moudud.. biased propaganda?  

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Renowned investigative journalist, documentary film maker and writer John Pilger writes a piece on Bangladeshi politician Moudud titles "The prisoner of Dhaka" which was published in The Guardian.

There is no doubt that he was framed with an absurd charge, possession of Alcohol, but there are dozens of more legitimate cases that can be brought against him. But he was portrayed as a saint by Pilger and this is what Bangladeshis say about him:

Asif Saleh writes in Drishtipat:

Moudud Ahmed, is one singular politician who has the distinguished record of serving under all governments under different parties. Translation: he is a shameless political chameleon who has not winked one bit in changing parties and supporting dictators and autocrats under different times to get political benefit. I wish John Pilger did his own due dilligence first rather than just depending on Moudud Ahmed’s wife’s testimonial about him.

Granted fully that one Moudud Ahmed has the same right as one average citizen. But, it is still disconcerting to see the previous perpetrators of human rights abuse, thanks to their foreign friends, are getting disprportional highlights in the foreign media as victims than the little people with no foreign connection.
Shahidul Alam writes a letter to Pilger:
"The arrest of Moudud on the basis of alcohol being found in his house is laughable, and clearly a setup. We have written about it in national Bangla newspapers. The actions of the military government cannot be justified, and we have vehemently protested through our blogs and in local newspaper columns. Unfortunately our words do not reach mainstream media in the west. Yours does. Hence it is important that you voice your opinion against such irregularities, as you have indeed done in this article. But to paint Moudud as a saint, does go against the sentence at the top of this mail. A google search on Moudud Ahmed and chameleon will provide enough links to whet any researcher’s appetite. Sure, not all those links can be trusted and as a journalist you need to dig deeper to get to the facts, but that precisely is what has been carefully omitted in the Guardian article.

I have watched this man wax lyrical about any leader he currently served, only to rapidly change colour and join the winning side when the tables were turned. Moudud and his group of lawyers have abused the legal system wherever possible and under each regime, but for me, one of his ‘lesser’ crimes is perhaps the most blatant. Demanding the clemency of a murderer, because he was a political thug loyal to the party.

There are far more sinister charges against the man and it is somewhat pathetic that the government had to resort to this charade to jail him. But to paint one of the most despised men in Bangladeshi politics as a hero, does insult the Bangladeshi public."
Hope Mr. Pilger reads it.

At last....  

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After 14 losses Bangladesh cricket team finally wins a match...against Ireland. Captain Ashraful says:

"It's always important to win matches no matter against whom."
I think he was indicating to ICC "send more below Test status team to play to get my records straight".

Fighting Rickshaw ban  

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Kathryn Hummel writes in Pop Matters:

Bangladesh’s endangered rickshaws and wallahs serve as brightly colored, moving works of art, and as constant, mobile displays of human nature – often at its best.

In 1998 the data showed that Rickshaws took up 38% of road space while transporting 54% of passengers in Dhaka . The private cars on the other hand, took up 34% of road space while only transporting 9% of the population

So who would dream of waging war on the humble rickshaw and the colorful men who ply them? Car owners, traffic police and the World Bank, that’s who.
Voice of South writes about the environmental impact on the proposed Rickshaw ban in Dhaka:
For a better transport system in Dhaka we need to create a city wide network of Rickshaw lanes.
(Photo credit JoyBangla.info and Kathryn Hummel)

US Ambassador and her pet dogs  

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Rahnuma Ahmed analyzes the reason behind ex-US ambassador to Bangladesh Ms. Patricia Butenis's (now US ambassador in Iraq) return to Bangladesh. Newspaper reports say she is on a private visit to fetch her dogs left behind and to visit her old workplace. But she might have met Pakistan's ex-president Wasim Sajjad’s in Dhaka. She might have been here to hold meetings with the opposition party leaders of Bangladesh or secret meetings with top military and civilian officials.

She had even gone to the UNDP-organised ‘Celebrating the Halfway Mark of Voter Registration’ programme, attended by top Election Commission officials, senior-most military and civilian officers, political party leaders, heads of diplomatic corps, and foreign diplomats.

This and more in Rahnuma's piece which was first published in the Daily New Age on 17th March 2008.

Tacit goes further to claim that she was in Dhaka to deliver paybacks of the $1.265 billion deal of Bangladesh Biman with Boeing to purchase eight aircrafts.

Bangladesh: the next economic hub  

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The Japan Times publishes an insight into the manufacturing industry of Bangladesh. Surely Bangladesh's female workforce powers this silent revolution.

Communist party in Bangladesh: failing to deliver  

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The communist party in Bangladesh has turned 60 last week. But it failed to achieve any change in the country, let alone popular support. After the end of cold war (esp dismantling of Soviet Union) it got disarrayed. Even the leaders live a bourgeois life now.

From the Bangladeshi Blogosphere: Poverty, Homosexuality and Travel  

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In this week's roundup we will highlight some of the discussions happening in the Bangladeshi Blogosphere on the issues of Poverty, LGBT and Travel .

Poverty:

Bangladesh is a developing country and the main problem of this country is overpopulation. It has one of the highest population density among the worlds big countries. Although the reduction in the growth of population to 1.7 percent (3% in the '70s) is a miracle its vast rural population with their simple style of living are dropping its per capita income average to make it a poor country. It is almost self-sufficient in food for its population of 140 million (over 90%) if no natural calamity strikes in a year. We look at the Blogosphere to see how the country is fighting to get out of the cycle of poverty.

Shawn Ahmed of The Uncultured Project posts an investigative video report on the young hardworking Poor of Rural Bangladesh. He comments:

If poverty could be eliminated solely by the hard work and determination of the poor, then third world poverty would have ended a long time ago. The poor in the developing world are some of the hardest working people on the planet....I once again point out something I learned long ago: the poor aren’t lazy.
Here is the video produced by Shawn (used under creative commons license):



Bangladesh's fight back to reduce poverty is largely contributed by its clothing industries which flourished from the late eighties. Lower income class women used to have no options other than working as housemaids for food, lodging and a small amount of money, now work in thousand of garments and other factories. And the proliferation of micro-credit introduced by the Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus targeted women to help them get out of poverty. And this had impacted a great deal in empowering women in a predominantly Muslim society.

Dr. Kathryn Ward of Bideshi Blue is a co-founder of Nari Jibon project, a provider of alternative skills for women, which has done commendable job in providing low cost classes in Bangla, tailoring, English, and computers. Kathy informs:
Many of our students have gone on to develop their own businesses, improve their salaries from literacy in Bangla and skills, jobs in offices and NGOs, and pursue their higher education with computer and improved skills in English and Bangla speaking, writing, and reading.
Although there are many such organization working in Bangladesh Nari Jibon has done a bit more. With a Rising Voices grant it has brought working class women of Dhaka towards blogging who are telling the world the stories their lives, struggles and joys. Listen to Kathy discussing the benefits of blogging for Bangladeshi Women in a radio interview.

Gay Community

From Drishtipat blog we are pointed to an article published in Himal South Asian magazine which sheds a light into the Bangladeshi gay community. As homosexuality is still a taboo in the society people are using the internet to form a virtual community and meeting place of the gay-identified men in Bangladesh.
It was in late 2002 that the first online gay group for Bangladeshis – a Yahoo group called BOB, for Boys Only Bangladesh – was started by a handful of educated men. Tired of looking for other gay men in public places such as the Ramna Park hangout, they were hoping to build friendship ties online so as to begin talking about their sexuality comfortably. Since BOB is the biggest congregation of gay-identified men in Bangladesh, it has since come to be seen as something of a barometer of the gay community in the country. As such, BOB helps to gauge the political aspirations of this group – and, more recently, has provided a window into how the past year of emergency rule has affected the gay community of Bangladesh.
Travel:

Joybangla.info, a travel blog from Bangladesh informs:
After many delays, interruptions, disagreements and a fence, the train ride between Kolkata and Dhaka will begin running again on 14 April.
Bodda in Scattered Words Blog had taken a new year's resolution that he will visit places in Bangladesh and blog about it. The blogger visits Kushtia, which is famous for Lalon, the singing mystic of Bengal and Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali Nobel Laureate. Raza Rumi has more on Lalon Fakir.

Ahmed Sharif writes a photo essay in his PhotoBlog "Desher Chobi" after his visit to Lawachara Rain Forest & Sreemangal.

Blocked  

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Blocked walkways in Dhaka - caught in the camera of Ershad Ahmed.

First Online Free Expression Day Observed  

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Reporters Without Borders held the first Online Free Expression Day on March 12, 2008 protesting the internet censorship across the world.

Rebecca MacKinnon has more on this.

A peek into child prostitution in Bangladesh  

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The Independent publishes a detailed investigation by Johann Hari on the sex trafficking of Bangladeshi homeless children to India.

While the report is shocking I should commend Comic Relief, a aid organization set up by comedians in UK, which uses comedy and laughter to raise money and change lives. Check their website to learn about their great works.

It funds a lot of NGOs in Bangladesh to fight for those street children quoted in above report including Aparajeyo (Undefeated), Dhaka Ahsania Mission, CSKS etc.

Here is a thank you note from Comic relief to one of the donors:

...an enormous thank you to Willesden Short Story Prize for sending us the £5,000 donation to Sport Relief 2008. ... £15 could buy a set of books for 3 street children in Bangladesh for a year. With an education these young people will be better equipped to get a job when they are older and thus escape from the cycle of poverty they would otherwise be trapped in. ... It just goes to show, the money you donated really will change lives and we couldn't do it without your support so keep up the good work.

House cleaning required  

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The Doha Debates is a public forum for dialogue and freedom of speech based in Qatar held each month. The debates are Modeled on the Oxford Union debates and presented by the internationally renowned broadcaster Tim Sebastian. A motion is presented to the 350-strong audience and two speakers argue on behalf of the motion and two speak against it.

Earlier this month I watched in BBC a debate titled "This House believes that Muslims are failing to combat extremism". It was a lively debate with speakers like Ed Husain, the ex Islamic fundamentalist. His book 'The Islamist' was published in 2007. In it he says Muslims have a responsibility to stand up and reclaim their faith from extremists.

While most Muslims react to the fact that they are getting the blame of religious extremism around the world, sometime they forget to raise to the occasion when they are required to stop such incidents from happening in their communities. E.g. in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere) propaganda books calling Jihad against non Muslims are sold outside Mosques and nobody seem to care about it.

If you are a Muslim, then watch this debate to know how to reclaim your faith from extremism and if you are a non Muslim then understand the complexities in the Muslim communities around the world (Muslims are not always Arabs, and with strong religious views) deterring them to take an unified action against extremism.

World Clock  

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Check this out to be reminded about the crude realities of the world.

Today's Links  

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* The battle for Wikipedia's soul.

* 12 surprisingly controversial Wikipedia pages.

* Bangladesh: Jobless rural poor rush to the cities

* Bangladesh: Country Report on Human Rights Practices by US Department of State

* The prisoner of Dhaka.

* Justice to Disabled People: Myth or Reality?

* China beats India in modern art…because Indians are too free!

The devil can say what he wants - in the name of religion  

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On the International women's day (March 8) The chief adviser of the caretaker (interim) government of Bangladesh Fakhruddin Ahmed had announced the National Women Development Policy 2008. From the New Age the text of his speech:

‘To achieve the goal of women’s economic empowerment, there should be enactment of necessary laws covering important aspects like health, education, training, vocational training, information, opportunity for income, property, debt, technology and equal rights and establishment of the right to have control over moveable and immovable property earned through market management,’ read one of the clauses of the policy
However Mufti Fazlul Huq Amini, chairman of Islami Oikkojote (Islamic confederation) has proclaimed a Fatwa in a press release that by announcing the policy, the caretaker government has spoken against the Koran, and are thus considered apostates. He has also asked President Iazuddin to disband the government, and asked Army chief of staff Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed to withdraw his support (via Shada Kalo).

But Amini did not describe how the Government had violated the Koran. Although there is a law in Bangladesh which prohibits any Fatwa, the government had not taken any action against Amini. Instead it sounded a meek protest that the policy has been 'misinterpreted':
"The caretaker government has not passed any "law" regarding inheritance, Law Adviser AF Hassan Ariff yesterday said, adding that the National Women Development Policy, 2008 has been misinterpreted.

The women development policy is not a law, it is only a policy to work out measures for protecting women from different forms of harassment and deprivations. It does not even contain anything concerning inheritance."
The crux of the matter is thus the law of inheritance and women's equal rights.

According to AFP:
The government "does not have any plan to enact any laws that goes against the Koran and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad," a government statement said. Arif gave the assurance to top Islamic clerics and scholars late on Tuesday, after Islamic groups warned of nationwide protests, saying they would not tolerate any law that went against sharia, the Islamic law code.

Sharia is based on the teachings of the Koran, prescribing both religious and secular duties, from prayer to alms-giving, as well as penalties for law-breaking. There are many interpretations of the sharia.

The clerics' complaints followed a new government policy announced last week which stated women should have equal property rights.

Bangladesh, whose population is 90 percent Muslim, has a secular legal system but in matters related to inheritance and marriage Muslims follow sharia law.

Sharia practised in Bangladesh's inheritance law generally stipulates that a girl would inherit half of what her brother gets. Women groups have long protested against the disparity and demanded equal rights.
And if you are wondering who is this Amini read Sid's post:
Fazlul Haque Amini MP is one of Bangladesh’s more repulsive political Islamists and head of a Jamaat-friendly Islamist political party (Islami Oikya Jote). A man with a history of managing some of the most hate-filled religio-political projects Bangladesh has suffered. In 2004 and 2005, Amini blackmailed the Bangladesh government into a brutal and ugly campaign of attacks against the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority of Bangladesh. More information here.

Amini said in a press statement that if ever an Islamic party came to power in Bangladesh it would ban Grameen Bank from operating in the country.
Why the grudge against Grameen Bank? Because they empowers poor women.

And why people like Amini are around with their fanatic approach? Even the so called progressive political party like Awami League reached an agreement of coalition with them agreeing on these astonishing clauses (which were later termed void by AL because the election did not happen):
1) Certified Alems (Islamic clerics) will have the right to issue fatwas (Islamic religious edicts) if the grand electoral alliance comes to power.
2) A bar on enacting any law that goes against Koranic values,
3)A ban on criticisms of Prophet Muhammad.
4) Those who do not believe in the assertion that the Prophet of Islam is the last messenger of Allah would forfeit their right to be known as a Muslim, an oblique reference to the Ahmadiyya community.
It seems power brokers do not want to mess with Amini and he seems ever immune to hate speech against the government under a state of emergency.

The authorities did not take any action against Amini's puking towards them whereas a common citizen can find himself in deep trouble because of constructively criticizing the Government under the state of emergency. Such is the standard of law and justice in today's Bangladesh.

Video of the day  

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Trailer of the documentary "Two Million Minutes". Two million minutes is how much time a student has after completing this eighth grade to prepare for college.

"How students spends the time during their high school effects their entire economic future. And by extension a country's economic future depends on how its students collectively spends those valuable minutes."
Via Evgeny

We got more information on the Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury's farcical trial. On September 18, 2006 a controversial judge had ordered him to stand trial for sedition, a capital offense. He is a free man but this saga is being dragged on and on.

Salah Uddin writes about his latest hearing where the hearing was postponed to a later date because no witness was present:

"When I came out of the court, I was asked by a local reporter as to why the witnesses are not coming while the government is not dropping the charge. My reply was, the government wants to appease the Islamists, so they are not going to drop the charges. On the other hand, the reason behind absence of the witnesses are:

In the charge sheet and the charge, it is clearly mentioned that, I wrote an article titled ‘Hello Tel Aviv’, which was published in USA Today in 2003. There are numerous quotes from that article, and the Investigating Authority and the court are convinced that there are ingredients of treason in that article. But the fact is, I NEVER EVER WROTE ANY SUCH ARTICLE SO THERE IS NO QUESTION OF IT BEING PUBLISHED IN USA TODAY. This is a completely baseless allegation brought by the prosecution. The government is well aware of non availability of any evidence against such allegation.

In the CHARGE, the trial court observed that government agents recovered a copy of speech; I was carrying to Israel for the conference. The judge said, in that speech, I have forecasted about existence of Jihadist training camps within Madrassas. In the drafted speech, I also mentioned about existence of Islamist militancy groups in Bangladesh. NOW FIRST OF ALL, THAT SPEECH WAS NOT DELIVERED OR PUBLISHED, SO THERE IS NO QUESTION OF BRINGING ANY ALLEGATION ON AN UNDELIVERED SPEECH. SECONDLY EXISTENCE OF ISLAMIST MILLITANCY GROUP IN BANGLADESH AND JIHADIST TRAINING IN MADRASSAS ARE ALREADY PROVEN FACT.

So how the government or the prosecution shall be able to prove the allegation of sedition, treason and blasphemy against me? Now, they have opted for harassing me mentally and financially. This is their clear intention."
Although Mr. Shoaib Choudhury's past is somewhat dubious (his ties with the Islamists and business clashes with them) and his lobbyists are questionable , it is evident that the case against him was done to nail him rather than asking for justice. There are no concrete evidence, witnesses. Whatever one's opinion is he/she should have freedom of speech to express it; that is the fundamental rights given by our constitution.

So I hope the government takes care of this PR disaster before this turns more nasty in the eyes of the world.

Picture of the day  

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A house in the compound of the Russian colony Alexandrowka in Potsdam. It is a small enclave of Russian architecture (including an Orthodox chapel) built in 1825 for a group of Russian immigrants. Since 1999 the colony has been a UNESCO world heritage site.

Poverty in Bangladesh  

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Poverty in Bangladesh in the eyes of an expat Ashley Wheaton:

Living in a country like Bangladesh constantly forces me to redraw the lines around my mental conception of poverty. A factory worker seems hard done by until you meet the construction worker. The construction worker earns your sympathy until you see the child collecting trash. The child is then outdone by a disabled beggar... When I was not immersed in this reality it was easy to treat them all as poor, to condemn all of the conditions they faced as equally bad. But in reality the poverty here is extremely complex and it isn't realistic or meaningful to treat each person's poverty as if it were the same.
Yes, poverty is really a complex thing. It all depends on where you set the standard. If you go to a village you will find the simplicity of a living. They may not have TV refrigerator or even electricity but they are surviving. They can still live an eventful life with their sorrows, joys, love and patriotism. A village family's monthly expense can be less than what a rich family dines in a restaurant in the capital in one night. Yet if you compare those riches with a rich people in a Western country they will be outclassed.

In the West there are also poor people but you can barely notice them. Its not only that they are protected by social security, but there is hardly any difference of appearance between rich and poor.

Except for the über rich people (who have their limos and jets) people do not show off their richness to others. They don't have maids at home, they are not more shiny in appearance than the less well-offs. Even you cannot distinguish between a day-labor and a rich lawyer in the streets as they are treated as equals.

But the picture is different in Bangladesh. There is a pseudo class notion among the people. Ask anyone from a village, their goal is to be rich one day to have maids and cars to show off. From lower income class to middle class, upper middle class to rich every body dreams to oppress the lower class; there is no sense of equality. And that is why the poverty is so complex and ugly. Because there is a competition to be richer and show off your shiny cloth, assets in every strata of society. So you get a hierarchy of poors, a million dollar mansion overshadowed by slums beside it. And nobody seem to care about others.

Shawn, who came to Bangladesh to do something about poverty finds out this reality:
"With an estimated 80% of the country surviving on less than $2 a day, Bangladesh is sharply divided between those struggling to survive and those living it up. Being rich, in Bangladesh typically means being insulated and detached from the tragedies that fall upon the country.

The rich tend to congregate in Dhaka City where they live in up-scale apartment complexes and homes. These are strategically built on higher ground, in gated communities, with their own backup generators and reserve water tanks. Most of the urban rich do not have to worry about driving, cooking, or cleaning as it is relatively inexpensive for them to hire chauffeurs, cooks, and maids. Having lived in this country for the past six months, I have observed that the typical routine for rich Bangladeshis is to stay sheltered at home during floods, riots, and curfews and then - when it is all over - resume daily activities as if nothing has happened."
Its true that the recent inflation is taking the toll of the poor and the rich and political elites of the country seem to be not effected by it and are not doing much to tackle it.

Shawn prescribes:
The first step to solving a problem - is to admit there is one. Refusing to acknowledge or publicly speak about P O V E R T Y in Bangladesh keeps us further away from solving it.
And poverty can be fought only if it is possible to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and sense of equality established.

Today's Links  

Posted by Rezwan in

* The perception game: Am I a journalist or blogger?

* New technologies, citizen journalism changing Pakistan’s media.

* Green economics and new thinking.

* Who needs a caliphate?

* The man who tracked Cambodia's war crimes.

* Imagining Bangladesh

* Moeen as Bangladesh's Musharraf

* Sony’s got a lock on the Bangladesh market.

Gaza Bleeds: and the children are the hardest hits  

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Another incursion by the Israeli army in Gaza took toll of a one month old Palestinian baby amongst other 30 deaths.



The above video was taken off by YouTube as "inappropriate content"

Children are the hardest hits in this conflict and one can imagine how is it for them to live under distress. No wonder you can imagine what makes a "suicide bomber".

Via Black Looks we read a Palestinian women’s story "Raising Yusuf amongst the bombs":
"We celebrated Yousuf’s fourth birthday today. We ate cake. And we counted the bodies. We sang happy birthday. And my mother sobbed. We watched the fighter jets roar voraciously on our television screen, pounding street after street; then heard a train screech outside, and shuddered. Yousuf tore open his presents, and asked my mother to make a paper zanana, a drone, for him with origami; And we were torn open from the inside, engulfed by a feeling of impotence and helplessness; fear and anger and grief; despondence and confusion.

It is a slow and calculated genocide-a Genocide through more calibrated, long-term means. And if the term is used in any context, it should be this. In many ways, this is a more sinister genocide, because it tends to be overlooked: All is ok in Gaza, the wasteland, the hostile territory that is accustomed to slaughter and survival; Gaza, who’s people are somehow less human; we should not take note; need not take note; unless there is a mass killing; or starvation."
But don't assume its one sided. If one has to question 'who is to blame' the missile attacks from militant organizations like Hamas and Fatah should also be taken into account. Just weeks ago two Israeli kids were severely injured by the Hamas missiles. The indiscriminate Hamas missile attacks are creating panic amongst the ordinary Israelis providing more legitimacy to the Israeli army actions. The world remains confused.

So can all these nonsense stop? Can protests and negotiations be achieved without missiles and smart bombs on children/people of both sides? Can we bring sanity?

2008 US presidential election results  

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Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Take it with a pinch of salt. Guten Appetit.

Dhaka, the second dirtiest city in the world  

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The way Dhaka city is being developed you know this was coming since long time. Every development, every growth is concentrated on this Mega city, which is the capital of Bangladesh.

Forbes Magazine lists Dhaka as the second dirtiest city in the world. The main culprit is lead-poisoned air. Traffic congestion in the capital continues to worsen with vehicles emitting fatal amounts of air pollutants daily, including lead.

The unplanned growth of city, more and more people pouring in from rural areas to the city slams and the narrow streets unable to cope with the traffic of these people have augmented the miseries.

The solution is simple, decentralize from Dhaka. Transfer the Government Secretariats to outskirts of Dhaka including housing compounds. Give importance to other commercial cities like Chitatgong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet etc. Encourages businesses to shift major portions out of Dhaka. Make special zone for Garments industries outside Dhaka and Shift the factories there. But will we able to see these changes in 10-20 years of time? Otherwise the number 1 spot is secure for Dhaka.

Baku in Azerbaijan has clinched the top slot with its life-threatening levels of air pollution emitted from oil drilling.

Here is the complete list of the 25 dirtiest cities of the world:

No. 25: Port Harcourt, Nigeria
No. 24: New Delhi, India
No. 23: Maputo, Mozambique
No. 22: Luanda, Angola
No. 21: Niamey, Niger
No. 20: Nouakchott, Mauritania
No. 19: Conakry, Guinea Republic
No. 18: Lome, Togo
No. 17: Pointe Noire, Congo
No. 16: Bamako, Mali
No. 15: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
No. 14: Moscow, Russia
No. 13: Bangui, Central African Republic
No. 12: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
No. 11: Ndjamena, Chad
No. 10: Brazzaville, Congo
No. 9: Almaty, Kazakhstan
No. 8: Baghdad, Iraq
No. 7: Mumbai, India
No. 6: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
No. 5: Mexico City, Mexico
No. 4: Port au Prince, Haiti
No. 3: Antananarivo, Madagascar
No. 2: Dhaka, Bangladesh
No. 1: Baku, Azerbaija


(Polluted Dhaka: Image copyright Ahron de Leeuw used under creative commons license)

Escape from death  

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(Image credit: AP)

Hurricane "Emma" caused millions of euros in damage across Europe over the last weekend and caused the deaths of at least 13 people.

The above images are of a Lufthansa Airbus 320 with 137 passengers, which suffered a near crash last Saturday afternoon. It was about to land in Hamburg airport when a sudden gust of wind from Hurricane 'Emma' lifted the right side of the airliner, making the left wing barely miss the ground at a speed of 250 km/h. The pilot with a quick reflex added power to the engines before it was too late and the airplane regained altitude again. He succeeded to land with calm in the second attempt.

Watch this amazing video to understand what happened.

Another PR disaster for all accomplishes  

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There is a saying that "If your only tool is hammer, all your problems look like nails." Probably thats what is happening in the case of Bangladesh. When Human Rights Watch published the reports of accounts of torture of Tasneem Khalil, you could see that this was a too bigger blunder to bury with intimidation.

Today IHT published an Oped by Tasneem Khalil which also strikes a blow to the forces behind:

I am tempted to remind foreign governments that the abuses happening in Bangladesh in the name of "reform" and "anti-corruption" are possible thanks to their complicity and complacence. The support of donors like the United States and Britain, eager to address political paralysis and corruption but naïve about our history with military governments, has been crucial in providing legitimacy to an illegal, unconstitutional arrangement. Supporting a monster to kill a demon might work for computer gamers, but in politics and diplomacy it is usually disastrous.

It is time for Bangladesh's friends in the United States, Britain, and European Union to support our struggle for democracy and pressure the military to end its "state of emergency" and declare an early date for free and fair elections. Military torture centers should be shut down and extra-judicial executions ended. And every perpetrator of human rights violations should be prosecuted and punished. No one else should experience what I went through.

YouTube video of the day  

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Obama... Obama...You can change the world