September 20, 2007

Attack against freedom of speech: Bangladesh cartoon controversy update

(Cross posted in E-Bangladesh)

The issue gets complicated as:
* The Government asks Prothom Alo publishers to suspend the publication of the newspaper’s weekly satire supplement Alpin.

* The Dhaka district magistrate asked the publishers to explain within two weeks why the publication of Alpin would not be banned and legal action would not be taken against the publisher.

* Three cases were filed Thursday with different courts against the editor, publisher and cartoonist of Bangla daily Prothom Alo.

* Religious groups postponed their planned demonstration in front of the Baitul Mukarram mosque on Friday after a meeting with the daily’s editor.

* In one of the three cases filed Thursday, officer-in-charge of Tejgaon police, Jan-e Alam brought blasphemy charge against the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman in Dhaka. A madrassah official in Chittagong brought sedition charge against editor of the daily Matiur Rahman, publisher Mahfuz Anam and the cartoonist while a lawyer in Comilla accused the three of violating emergency power rules. (The new age)
This is clearly a hypocrisy as 9 years ago, a similar cartoon was published in Bangladesh by Chattra Shibir, the Student wing of the Islamist party Jamaat-E-Islami. Where was religious feelings then? And why no case is filed against the Islami Chattro Shibir?

We saw more drama today. Rumi of In the middle of Nowhere describes this picture:
The all powerful editor of the most circulated daily in Bangladesh, Mr Motiur Rahman, is begging apology, knees bent, to the boss of the bigots and the head Islamist of Bangladesh, Khatib Obaidul Haque. Supervising the apology ceremony is none other than the information advisor (Minister) of Bangladesh, Mr Moinul Hossain.
Very worrying sign indeed.

The adviser, Barrister Mainul Hosein, has publicly and on the record stated that there is a deep conspiracy to destabilize the country with this single cartoon. Sada Kalo has this to say to him:
Mr. Hosein, if I may offer some advice: if there is a conspiracy, you don't have to look too far. See the pictures of the people burning newspapers and protesting outside the mosques? They are the people who took a cartoon, which may be offensive to some people, and blew it out of all proportion.

Mr. Hosein, you are playing into the hand of these fundamentalists. I understand mobilizing the army or police against these kath-mollas would be counter-productive, but at least shut your mouth and don't give them any more ammunition.

Another strong blow to freedom of speech:

Saptahik2000, a popular magazine's Eid supplement was taken off shelves because of a memoir of exiled writer Daud Haider. The news paper report was that he compared Kaaba Shareef of Mecca with a brothel.

The Bangla blogosphere were quick to find out the truth. It was these lines of Daud Haider:

"I have come to Lukhnow, shouldn't I visit the Baiji's house (traditional dance hall; hat tip Mash)? What will people say if I don't. If anybody travels to Mecca, is it befitting not to visit Kaaba Shareef?"

It seems some people can't read the fine prints and sniff religious provocations everywhere. Rumi explains in comments section about Baiji Bari:
He looked for baiji bari (house). And he was told those old traditional baiji bari, where classic music and dance by very well trained professional musicians used to entertain the elites of the society, is no longer existent. Some brothel run here and there with the name of baiji Bari.
Daud Haider, who is renowned for his phrase "birth is my life-long sin" is a renowned poet of Bangladesh. In March 1975 poet Daud Haider published a poem in Daily Sangbad tiltled "Kalo Shurjer, Kalo Jotsnai Kalo Bonnai" which contained remarks against religious values. In independent Bangladesh the fundamentalists first showed their strength by protesting in front of Baitul Mukarrom Mosque and some fatwa was declared against him declaring him Murtad. He is on self exile till then and now living in Berlin, Germany.

It may be reminded here that the Shaptahik 2000 is a publication of the Prothom Alo group. The Daily Amar Desh reports:
Shaptahik 2000 authorities apologized for the inadvertent mistake in the publication and said that it has withdrawn the issue. There was also a press note of Islamic Shashontontro andolon who said by comparing Kaaba Shareef with brothel the magazine has attacked the Iman of the whole Muslim nation. They demanded cancellation of the declaration of Prothom Alo
Now we are getting somewhere. It seems that certain quarters are targeting the Daily Prothom Alo and the Daily Star who were vocal against the fundamentalists in the past decade.

In another move today the Government has set some guidelines for TV talk shows:
* Television stations will not air more than three to four talk shows a week and edit them before put them on the air. That means there will be no live talk shows, sms or phone-ins.

* Producers will consider only businessmen, educationists and intellectuals as potential guests and the debates will focus on nothing else but cultural, economic, social and educational issues.
What is there to speak except from praising the lord in the month of Ramadan? Welcome to the Hirok Rajar Desh.

Update I: Daud Haider clears his position in an interview broadcast in Bangla TV, UK:

"I do not possess the mentality to utter derogatory remarks against Islam. I did not compare Islam or Kaaba Shareef with anything". He also comments that the present government is running the country in consultation with the anti-independence force Jamaat-Shibir. He says if the uneducated bigot Mullahs (clerics) become judge of arts and culture then all the progressive publications will shut down. He also urged his countrymen to save the country from these fundamentalists and uneducated clerics.


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