Afghanistan’s Ahmed Karzai (left), Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf (centre) and Bangladesh’s Fakhruddin Ahmed at the World Economic Forum at Davos. ? AFP
The smile would warm the cockles of your heart. Especially if you were a CIA agent. This was exactly what was wanted. Happy obedient leaders. Democracy simply got in the way. Karzai, Musharraf, Fakhruddin. The new alliance. One new poodle.
It was summer 2006. The Talibans were getting ever closer to Kabul. Sitting in the Aina office in Choroi Malek Asghar, I was listening to Reza, founder of the Afghan media organisation. The recent anti-drug campaign was bound to have failed he claimed. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother was the chief beneficiary of the drug trade. The US $ 500 million or so spent on combating drugs, was more likely to have been spent on the now famous ‘corrupto mansions’ than on alternative livelihood for opium farmers.
I had felt at ease walking the streets of Kabul. My Arafat scarf and beard also helped. It was different for the ‘saviours’ of Afghanistan. They stepped from their secure offices into their secure vehicles and went to their secure homes. The saviours spend a lot of time in secure cars. The Lexus car that took me to the Serena hotel had five television sets. My Afghan friends call Karzai “The Mayor of Central Kabul.”
A month later I was across the border, in the earthquake zone in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir. I spotted flags with Iqbal, Jinnah and Mickey Mouse flying above one of the refugee camps. The significance of the cartoon character had escaped me. Chatting with my friend Zaheer back in Karachi, I brought up the subject. “Mushy Mouse” was his smiling reply.
Poet Iqbal, Founder of Pakistan Jinnah, and Mickey Mouse on a flag flying in Muzaffarabad. August 2006. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mushy had come into power through a military coup, ousting an elected prime minister. He had suspended the constitution twice and arrested the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On 3rd November 2007, days before a bench of the Supreme Court was to decide on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of his re-election as president, he had shut down all private television channels. He had also failed to protect the life of his chief political opponent, Benazir. The real Mickey might have run the country better.
There seemed to be no malice or sense of competition between the three US stooges in Davos. Emerging out of the darkness, hands held together in their solidarity of servitude, they positively glowed. Mushy was candid and genuine when he advised his peer Fakhruddin, the Chief Adviser of Bangladesh. “I think you are doing a great job. Carry on doing it no matter what anyone thinks, irrespective of human rights.”
This comedy of errors is a tragedy in the making and our adviser is being true to his script. Mushy would have been proud of Fakhruddin’s human rights record. The ban on media coverage of indigenous rights groups. The more recent ban on the outspoken journalist Nurul Kabir from TV talk shows and the written ban on the popular live programmes on Ekushey TV, neatly slot in with the suppression of free media that both Mushy and Karzai have practiced. Like most other bans, Kabir’s had no paper trails. No written instructions to deny. Just the phone calls from Uttor Para (the cantonment) that we have come to recognise. Our Chief Adviser might even be trying to get ahead of his senior poodles by teaming up with the Myanmar generals.
But Mushy Mouse and the mayor of central Kabul have already staged their sham elections. Our adviser’s play is yet to be played out.
Amnesty International launches Bangla website and discusses freedom of expression in Bangladesh
8 January 2008
Feature on Korean media
Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International speaking to participants at the “Freedom of Expression” roundtable at Drik. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Transcription by Asif Saleh/Drishtipat
Thanks to the technical team who helped set this up.
the secretary general of amnesty international irene khan is with us
Shahidul Alam introducing
Irene Khan is not only a Bangladeshi but also first muslim woman head of Amnesty
We will have this show in a different format than usual
This will be a discussion and not room for speech
We want to create dialogue
Shahidul thanking all.
Irene introducing speech with a history of Amnesty
Irene talking…when I am in bangladesh from higher level it seems there is a lively media
But there must be another story
I met the army chief today and expressed my views about freedom of expression
For years now we have picked up a steady stream of journalists who have been attacked and wounded
In times of change we desperately need room for freedom of expression.
I am going to try get a complete picture from every one.
Shahidul now saying we are going to try to keep the discussion small
My name is Akash
I used to work for CSB new
The roundtable is very important for me
I want to get a little bit of time for myself.
because my rights have been severely hampered
Akash describing the story of how his rights were violated
I reported a story in CSB news when a father was shot by RAB infront of his daughter and I got persecuted for this.
Akash describing the process in details….how he has been fleeing for 3 months
he has been living a crippled life for the past 3 months
The oppression that happened to me
Akash has broken down in tears
Describing the judicial process.
Even though the high court has given him bail but still the local court still has issued a warrant against me.
There may be a lot more Akashes out there
Jahirul Huq Tito , Manik Saha to name a few over the years.
I want to live a free life
I want to go back to my profession.
and work for humanity
I want to dream of a new Bangladesh…I don’t want the oppression that has happened against me to happen to any body else,
Irene is speaking
We knew about your case
When you were in detention, I explained your case very forcefully to the foreign adviser.
You said that you do not want justice but just want to live and that shows the desperation of the case.
I want to assure you that Amnesty will do every thing they can.
parvin Sultana asks whether irene feels that we have press freedom in Bangladesh
sanjib drong of adivasi forum speaks..
Describes the case of Cholesh Richil..who was killed on March in Modhupur.
by the joint forces
The killing on the indigenous community is always justified.
I want to request you to take up the case of cholesh richil and follow through.
The perpetrators know that if indignous leaders are killed then nothing happens and that is only going to encourage more killing
I would like Amnesty to find out at what stage the investigation reports are held
Irene: We have already picked up the case and already spoke to high level cases.
High level admins
There has been no prosecution on the case
A crime has been committed but no justice has been serveed.
Pavel partha speaks
I want to highlight the violence of the multinational companies.
Companies like Monsanto ..
Our natural resouces are being stolen,
cases like Phulbari is an example of what multinationals can do in the name of progress
Corporations are violating our rights
we want to know what Amnesty can do to highlight this…
Faruq Wasif of Prothom Alo speaks
thank you irene..
Your coming to Bangladesh and solving individual cases are not the solution
we want to highlight the case of 1971….Amnesty was silent during the war of 71
Similarly your stand in this visit was very mild.
Doesn’t it show a very tolerant view of Amnesty towards military regimes?
Omi Rahman Pial speaks from bdnews24…
I am a blogger
What is the limit of my work?
I see Akash in front of me and I fear what may happen to me and what I need to do so that it doesn’t happen to me?
We have lots of irregularities and working under lots of pressure…
I can’t publish news at the right time because our internet will be brought down , calls will be made etc.
Jornalist from Samakal
We are living in an era of depression rather than free expression
I want to hear from Irene — how is she explaining Bangladesh’s current state.
I want to understand the total role of Amnesty in current Bangladeshi situation.
Anisur Rahman from New Age speaks
Cholesh is from my village
Cholesh was a symbol of free expression as well.
Cholesh used to speak for others in the community.
That’s why Cholesh was targetted
They tried not to kill the person Chalesh but silence a whole community.
Garments workers are not getting their salaries but when they are protesting, they are being taken to court.
Also want to highlight the case of tasneem khalil
We don’t know where he is today,
He was a blogger and a journalist at Daily Star.
We are seeing freedom of expression only for a few folks in certain commissions of the government.
He is now talking about some inconsistencies on tax loop holes
not sure..why 🙂
those who are on the web…this is not alam…but asif.
Shahidul asks to keep things shorts
Biplab Rahman , a blogger and journalist speaks
highlights internet monitoring.
I have done a lot of research on Chittagong Hill tracks
and I want to highlight why mobile network is not there is those 3 disrticts
Therer were towers placed by the telecom companies but it was taken down by the local armed forces
I wanted to highlight the cases of university teachers as well…and think they should be released
Tipu Sultan from Prothom Alo speaks.
The journalists outside Dhaka lives under severe restriction
All the news are screened by authorities
They can not send the news of fertiliser crisis because of joint forces restrictions
They regularly face the threat of extortion cases from the local forces
But the authorities in Dhaka know this but they still deny it.
BUt the Dhaka journalists are doing much better compared to them.
Yesterday there was a case like that in Thaurgaon.
Udisa Islam speaks
Freelancer ..used to be in tv
Another introduction of mine is — I am the wife a teacher who were detained in Rajshahi University,
I am hearing a lot of sad stories..
but what is the worth of presenting this here?
We need to share this stories with each other ALL the time
This I am saying as a grassroots journalist,.
Last Aug 22nd whatever happened in bangladesh, everyone knows
Similarly whatever happenned with the museum statues.
The media played a brave role there.
How were those published and not some other stories?
Journalists oppression goes on for years!!
Its not because of state of emergency
Tipu Sultan (another victim) was not created under State of emergency (SOE)
it will happen again and again.
We need to talk about the whys of that..
Are we going to talk about the 20 students that still in prison from the university crisis?
Hana Shams Ahmed of Daily Star speaks
I want to highlight the kind of censorship after 1/11
We are very demoralised
speacially after the arifur Rahman incident.
We are very demoralised…and we can talk any thing about religion or army,
priscila raj speaks
Want to highlight three things….
Extra judicial killings
How can we work with International orgs to stop creatiion of organizations like RAB
In cases of State of emergency the most suffered are the people who are the most vulnerable in the society ..like the adibashies (indigenious community)
Lastly why do we never see the results of enquiry reports of the investivative commissions
Zaid Islam a photo journalist speaks
Sara Hossain speaks
I am here as a lawyer who represented some of these journalists who were victims in the last few years.
We need to talk about what we can do to stop this.
We always complain about internation conspiracy but we need to work in our own houses as well.
We don;t coordinate our work,.
I highlight time to the stories about slum dwellers and I send the reports to you journalists but no journalists show any interest..
But that is not the case if the story is about a big politician’s bail.
Amirul Rajib, a photo journalist speaks,
When a big crisis happens and media highlights the issue a lot but not many people are found to help them.
other than the family
We don’t have a infrastructure…
to handle these cases.
we all have to have our own personal network…
How can Amnesty help in all these cases to build an infrastructure.
to handle cases of oppression,
and also cases of regular engagement with the grassroots is needed from int orgs.
Anis highlights that no local journalist in Modhupur highlighted Cholesh’s case because they knew that that they will not survive if they highlighted that.
Ataur Rahman of journalists forum thanks to portray the current picture of bangladesh media today.
Amnesty needs to have a presence in Bangladesh.
I want to blame Amnesty for today’s crisis somewhat.
they need to have a presence in Bangladesh.
We have to look at what is happening in South Asia as a whole as well.
Amnesty needs to play a much stronger role.
Another question speaking about how unfairly he was sacked from Amnesty Bangladesh 5 years ago.
Najma Chowdhury from Shwadesh Khabor Weekly…
Do you think anything will change after your visit, Irene Khan?
Chandan Shaha from a weekly,,,
He highlights a case where a minister was sacked because of taking a bribe from a multinational
and wonders why the minister got sacked and nothing happened to the multinational.
Irrelevant talk about corruption of govt
Does Amnesty have a way to research these stories? Shouldn’t they already know these things?
Someone from Manusher jonno speaks
tallks about child rights in Bangladesh
what to do for children prisoner?
Shafiqul Huq Mithu speaks about jahirul Huq Tito in Pirojpur.
another journalist who has been taken in to jail by the admin.
Highlighting details of Tito’s ordeal with the court and but law enforcement agency.
Highlighting the permission that he had to take for the event..
at World press freedom day.
which says that there you can not criticise the govt in such cases.
We are violating law here by criticizing the govt…Shahidul mockingly reminds Irene,
You all highlighted a lot of cases here..
As journalist you tend to be in the present.
But the activists have to take a longer term perspective..otherwise it gets very depressing…
You all talked about today…but we need to talk about the past as well.
When you take a long term view of human rights, there is not a supported political system where human rights are violated…
go back from 1971…there is a thread of impunity where human rights violations have been left unquestioned
National Human Rights Commission is something that can be very powerful
Whether it is going to be a watchdog or a lapdog, it will all depend on how much pressure we ALL can create
A lot of people told me that this year extra judicial killiing have been reduced…but I am not satisfied by such replies.
We need to highlight why they are going on and what is being done to stop it.
ON freedom of expression..
Irene asking why all the draconian rules are necessary under state of emergency..
These rules are hanging like an axe?
One think that that has struck me after talking to a lot of people…
civil society and govt have understood clearly how they can use international laws and international civil society to protect the human rights in Bangladesh.
One thing to highlight is there is a worldwide network of human rights defenders.
Today’s event is being captured by people worldwide and that says a lot.
about this network,
We have an enormous opportunity in the internet to create a worldwide network..
that is why Amnesty is starting a Bangla Human Rights Portal for everyone.
I hope you all will take part in it and create a network.
What I am saying is not going to solve the problems.
But if we all create a noise together and work for change, change will happen.
We All need to work together.
We are hoping we will be able to make our website more interactive.
Irene talking about the question on economic and social rights.
and explaining the campaign on human dignity which focuses on poverty.
what is relationship with human rights and climate change , poverty etc …
This is just a partial transcript of the whole conversation that took place.
Faruk Wasif and Irene are having an exchange over whether West has monopoly on human rights
We are closing …
thank you all
Shahidul thanking,,,Naeem, Givan, Asif for organizing this and highlighting the collaboration of a lot of people.
Shahidul ends with saying that the movement is ours whether or not Irene Khan is there or not,
It was a bad day for cows
Korbani meat being distributed outside National Museum during Eid. 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
But the Bangladesh government had a supreme sacrifice in mind. When the most prized of your possessions needed to be sacrificed, and when the gods have changed to western powers, the four-legged creatures simply wouldn't do. The nation's most prized archaeological possessions were therefore bundled away in Homebound chariots to distant museums. The door to heaven's gate might not have opened, but a Schengen visa and perhaps a few trips to Paris for some, had surely been assured.
It was well timed. The Eid holidays meant there would be no newspapers for two days. Most reporters would be away. The streets of Dhaka would be empty. Holidays meant there was no rush. No pesky public to worry about at opening hours. Still one needed to be sure. Bus no Dhaka Jo 11 1767, was on standby with riot police. The police jeep Dhaka Jo 11 4364 followed behind. Then the media that got in the way. With so many Eid events to cover, why had they gathered round the national museum? The sanctity of sacrifice should surely have been respected. Reinforcements in the form of another busload of riot police came in via bus number Dhaka Jo 14 1799.
Balloon man outside National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Family out on Eid. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Aisha outside National Museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Sign says the museum is closed from the 20th till the 22nd on account of Eid. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Aisha had come with her parents to visit the museum. Like many others they were turned away. The museum was closed, at least to the public. The Eid holidays of museum officials had however been cancelled. The shippers were working overtime.
Police returning to station, after staging the 'escape'. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Police and plainclothes intelligence officials were present in abundance, their riot gear jarring with the bright new clothes of Dhakaites. Then it took another turn. Spitting and booing had failed to stop the Homebound trucks earlier. This time the protesters changed tack. Chains were put on the gate of the national museum. Visions of the Chipko Resistance
Protester chaining front gate of National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Police breaking padlock at front gate of National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Gazi Nafis Ahmed/DrikNews
Burning shirt in protest outside National Musuem. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Despite emergency rule and government efforts to bury the story, media continued to give the event full coverage. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
sprang to mind. In place of burglars breaking in, the comic view of government officials breaking their way out of the national museum to escape with museum valuables would have brought laughter in a trirotno drama (popular Bangladeshi sitcom). In the theatre of Bangladeshi governance, it was yet another tragedy.
"The benefits, for both countries, are cultural: it is a win-win situation where France gains a better knowledge of Bangladeshi heritage and Bangladesh gains a better image on the international cultural scene," the French embassy handout had clarified.
The partially demolished Rangs building continues to be a grave for the buried Bangladeshi workers far down the priority chain. Presumably, that is a 'Bangladeshi heritage' the Parisians will not get to see.
The last time round, they had been playing one of my favourite Bhupen Hajarika songs. This time there was no music, and no one was smiling. Even the Bangladeshi flag failed to flutter on this Eid day. Video of trucks carrying artefacs out of museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
embed> Bangladeshi flag refuses to flutter as prized Bangladeshi objects are taken out of museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Video of trucks carrying artefacs out of museum.
As colleagues are out there trying to? provide relief to the people affected by cyclone Sidr. As I talk at my book launch of “Nature’s Fury” in Glasgow. The mail from Kenneth Van Toll reminding us on World Human Rights Day, of the disparity in people’s lives provides food for thought.
The people of Bangladesh have some of the lowest ecological footprint in the world, but they are the ones who will pay the price for the effects of? the world’s biggest consumers.
Today, poverty prevails as the gravest human rights challenge in the world. Combating poverty, deprivation and exclusion is not a matter of charity, and it does not depend on how rich a country is.
By tackling poverty as a matter of human rights obligation, the world will have a better chance of abolishing this scourge in our lifetime…Poverty eradication is an achievable goal.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
What The World Eats
??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? Beth Hartford-DeRoos
Germany : The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week : 375.39 Euro or $500.07
Favorite foods : fried potatoes with onions, bacon and herring, fried noodles with eggs and cheese,
pizza, vanilla pudding
United States : The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week : $341.98
Favorite foods : spaghetti, potatoes, sesame chicken
Japan : The Ukita family of Kodaira City
Food expenditure for one week : 37,699 Yen or $317.25
Favorite foods : sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips
Italy : The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week : 214.36 Euro or $260.11
Favorite foods : fish, pasta with ragu, hot dogs, frozen fish sticks
Great Britain : The Bainton family of Cllingbourne Ducis
Food expenditure for one week : 155.54 British Pounds or $253.15
Favorite foods : avocado, mayonnaise sandwich, prawn cocktail,
chocolate fudge cake with cream
Kuwait : The Al Haggan family of Kuwait City
Food expenditure for one week : 63.63 dinar or $221.45
Family recipe : Chicken biryani with basmati rice
Mexico : The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week : 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Favorite foods : pizza, crab, pasta, chicken
China : The Dong family of Beijing
Food expenditure for one week : 1,233.76 Yuan or $155.06
Favorite foods: fried shredded pork with sweet and sour sauce
Poland : The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week : 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Family recipe : Pig’s knuckles with carrots, celery and parsnips
United States : The Caven family of California
Food expenditure for one week : $159.18
Favorite foods : beef stew, berry yogurt sundae, clam chowder, ice cream
Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week : 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Family recipe : Okra and mutton
Mongolia : The Batsuuri family of Ulaanbaatar
Food expenditure for one week : 41,985.85 togrogs or $40.02
Family recipe : Mutton dumplings
Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week : $31.55
Family recipe : Potato soup with cabbage
Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week : 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Family recipe: Mushroom, cheese and pork
Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week? : 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods : soup with fresh sheep meat
He was charming, witty, and took blame upon himself. Adviser Ayub Quadri, was the Minister of Education, Minister of Primary and Mass Education and Minister of Cultural Affairs, Government of the People?s Republic of Bangladesh. He was the perfect guy to rely upon for damage control. The public school background showed, as did the many years as a top bureaucrat. He had been a member of the elite Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP). An old boys network that still holds clout in the subcontinent.
The Press Information Department (PID) auditorium on the 3rd floor of Building 9, in the Bangladesh Secretariat was packed. Unlike many other Bangladeshi events this press conference started on time. Squeezing through the footpaths, crossing fences, lifting my bicycle over rickshaws stuck in traffic, I had panted my way to the secretariat. The police at gate 2 had been too perplexed by a bicycle going through the gate to even stop me for papers. I arrived just as the first question was raised. It was a packed hall, and while I thought I would stay at the back, I realised that I needed to get up there to stand any chance of getting a question in. I sat on the floor in between the video tripods.
The journalists had done their homework. And while there were a few questions that were repetitive, by and large, they knew what they wanted. In response to a question about the alleged corruption charges against one of the government officials involved in the transaction, the adviser joked. “Well I am the person in overall charge. The police don’t seem to be after me for corruption.” Pretty answer. Pity it didn’t answer the question.
The large table with the adviser in the middle was imposing. The Secretary of Culture on the left and another officer on the right played a largely ornamental role. So did the entire row of officials in the back. They did however lean forward to whisper in the adviser’s ear from time to time. The question came up of the alleged transportation of the bronze casket in 1959 to France, which Mr. Zakaria, the ex Secretary of Culture had mentioned in a press conference on the 1st December. The adviser let the question slip, saying he’d heard of such accusations and was looking into it. A member of the back row broke ranks and retorted, “There is no such record.” Mr. Zakaria, also an ex director of the department of archaeology, had mentioned a 49 year fight to get back this prized possession, without success. A journalist mentioned the case of the 30 paintings of Mohammad Younus. They had been sent to Yugoslavia, on a government to government exchange. None had ever come back. Quadri again said he didn’t know. “Don’t know” was quite a common response to questions. Candid perhaps, but not particularly useful.
In answer to the questions about the irregularities regarding the loan inventory, the adviser did provide figures, but no documents he could back them up with. Questions from the floor pointed to the disjoint between the figures he quoted and the ones given in the government documents submitted to the court. That they didn’t correspond to the inventory produced by the French themselves. He promised to provide updated documents this very evening. Tomorrow morning at the latest. Why the government had provided documents to the court which did not tally with the shipment, was a question that never got asked, and was certainly not clarified. The mystery of calling a press conference, but not having these documents at hand was never solved by the guests.
“I have full confidence that the items will come back.” He said, taking the weight of the world on his shoulders. As to why Bangladeshis should have confidence in him, was one that was never clarified.
“The company that had packed the crates have been doing so for 300 years,” he mentioned. The doubters have been asking for the packers to be named ever since the beginning, but have not been given an answer. Those who had thought the press conference would enlighten them were disappointed.
Since only government members of the committee were present, there was no one to question the claim that everything had been done to please the committee. That the committee had been fully satisfied with the proceedings. The fact that the official letter by the committee, in the hands of the press, said something entirely different was a mere technicality.
The inconsistencies were the problem. We still don’t know exactly how many items are being sent. Neither do we know exactly what is being sent. The few specifics the advisor provided, that there were “50 silver coins, and 8 gold coins,” might have helped in purchasing supplies for an Everest expedition, but didn’t help much in evaluating either the value, or the specifics of a museum item. Especially when the court record states “50 punchmarked coins” in one entry and an unspecified number of “gold and silver coins” in another. Assuming the number of silver coins in the latter entry is non-zero, and that the punchmarked coins are all silver, we still have a problem. The French inventory specifies “93 punch marked coins.” Are the “gold and silver coins” non-punchmarked? Do they add up to the “8 gold coins” the adviser was referring to? 50 + non-zero number = 50 and 50 + 8 = 93 in Ayub Quadri’s arithmetic.
There are bigger issues. He generally accepted that the insurance value was low, but claimed that it was an academic issue in the case of priceless items. Especially since he was confident that they were all coming back. However the French press release, issued on the 25th September 2007, stated that the insurance value was 4 million euro. The adviser today clearly stated 2.6 million euro. So who are we to believe? We are after all talking of the most prized possessions of a nation. Consistent statements help remove doubt. The adviser’s “confidence” might work on a poker table, but does little to put a worried population at ease.
He brushed off the accusation about whisking off the items in a hurry, or that there was any question of impropriety or stealth in terms of going against court directives. When asked why such an important event, which was covered by all major independent media, was completely unreported on state television, he smiled. The gentleman on the right did speak up this time. He pointed out that the question was “irrelevant.”
Other questions remain. Gold and silver coins is one thing. In the documents presented to the court by the government, even one of the most valued items, the large (and extremely rare) bronze statue the Vajrasattva does include an insurance value (not always the case for other items listed) of 200,000 euro. This item too does not have an accession number.
Quadri was unruffled throughout, never losing cool. Always extremely pleasant. His only admission to some concern was in answer to a question about when the items would come back. He said in no uncertain terms, “April.” He added, “Until then, I will stay worried, and looking at the mood in the room, I can tell that you too will not rest.” I hope he meant 2007.
As a child, we would watch the candy floss man take a tiny spoonful of sugar, a dollop of colouring and would watch with amazement as the machine spun out a pink web, which he would twirl around a stick. One portion was only dui poisha (two paisa). A figure which we could realistically save up. The large pink fluff, folded on contact, and melted in the mouth, but did give a sense of attainment. We called it hawai mithai, sweet made of air. This candy floss press conference too, had little substance but plenty of form.
Whether the media kids will feel they got value for their dui poisha is something we’ll see in tomorrow’s headlines.
3rd December 2007. Dhaka.
Previous governments have killed farmers when they demanded fertilisers and seeds. Villagers have been killed when they had the audacity to demand electricity, resist open pit mining. Yesterday 14 cyclone affected people were detained for trying to present a memorandum demanding relief. We wonder what demands for saving our heritage will bring.
The battle lines appear to have been drawn. Guimet is a respected museum, and there has been natural interest in a show that should be very special. Why then such resistance from art lovers of Bangladesh? Surely art is to be appreciated? It is part of our identity and an important part of the image we portray. Why on the other hand, the secrecy? The organisers should be taking credit for arranging such an event and not trying to sneak away under police protection. If there is nothing to cover up, why the covert operation?
The emotions are high. I’ve seen people weeping because something very special to them has been taken away. I have seen people angry because they feel violated. I have seen people frustrated, because they feel helpless against the power of the establishment.
As a journalist I need to be wary. It is important to separate the emotions from the facts. To not let friendships sway one’s judgement. To apply journalistic rigour in one’s analysis regardless of whether one agrees with the outcome of one’s research.
So let’s separate the facts from the opinions.
The Guimet is a respected museum known and admired. The protesters are respected citizens with a high level of credibility. Questions have been raised about both entities, which we need to address further, but there appears to be a gap in the puzzle, which no one so far has discussed. The answer could perhaps provide a vital clue.
What was the motive behind the exhibition and who initiated it? Who are the stakeholders? The interest of Guimet is understandable. Leaving aside the accusations for the moment, an important museum specialising in non western art would surely have an interest in such a prized exhibit. But would a museum, knowing there is so much resistance, and bad press, insist upon such an exhibit coming, when so many other options are available? Major museums are usually booked way in advance. The opening dates for this one is also well past. We have Christmas and New Year coming up. Setting up the show, once the entire shipment has arrived, will take another three weeks by the director’s own admission.
We have been repeatedly told that the event is in the interest of promoting the image of Bangladesh abroad. Having put in the huge amount of work and expense that has gone into the curatorial process, does it really make sense for the French Government and Musee Guimet to take on such flak? Does it make sense for the French Government and the Museum officials to demonstrate their love for Bangladesh, when Bangladeshis themselves are opposing the event so vociferously?
While exploring these options I have come across several opinions. One states “The truth is that that some quarters in Bangladesh are upset that the items to be shown are Hindu art artifacts and that this exhibition is going to send the wrong image of Bangladesh to the French public: that Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country, has a strong Hindu culture and art history. This is the real story not the bullshit that has been published. How come knowledgeable sources in Dhaka write to me to tell me what they know for sure and not to you?”
Another friend said “The majority of the works are fakes, and taking the show to the Guimet would reveal this fact, exposing the perpetrators. Hence the resistance.” This too is attributed to knowledgeable sources. None of the people who tell me these stories will reveal who these knowledgeable people are.
Sitting in the comfort of the French Ambassador’s residence we heard him say, “Some people who wanted a good image of Bangladesh had promoted the exhibition.” By implication, this was something the protesters were not inclined towards. So the love of the nation, or lack of it was his criterion for determining which side of the divide one would stay. And who are they? He too was reluctant to reveal who these good people were. I suppose good people are by nature modest, and unwilling to take credit for their virtue.
It doesn’t take deep analysis to see that none of the accusations hold. So we are still grappling with the motive. Not of Guimet itself, but of the ‘some’ people that the French Ambassador has repeatedly alluded to.
There was another event “Sonar Bangla Fair” which was planned as a conjunct to the Guimet exhibition. While both the government and the French embassy have denied direct ties to this event, it is clear from the many circulars and press releases that have gone out, that the Guimet exhibition was part of a package. The extensive lobbying, the pressure applied to media houses, and the behind the scenes manoeuvres through which people have been told to ‘drop’ the case, has come not so much from the French, but from highly placed Bangladeshis. Is it their love of Bangladesh that is the driving force? Is love for their country something they should be so secretive about?
The protesters have been very open about their position and have stated so through their physical actions and their statements. Independent bloggers from both sides of the camp have expressed their opinions openly. Why have the promoters of this exhibition, with access to both the government and the embassy, chosen to work strictly under cover? The planning for this exhibition has been going on for a long time. As in many a Bangla romance, the promoters’ unrequited love has been a well kept secret, but it has survived a change of government.
The recent statement by prominent citizens to the French Government, shows a disturbing turn in the position taken by the protesters. “While we were originally open to the idea of showing the work at Musee Guimet provided the transparency issues were addressed, the recent actions of the museum has removed any semblance of trust in the organisation, and we are no longer willing to loan our prized possessions to an organisation with such standards of behaviour. The incident, originally restricted to the issue of an exhibition now appears to have created a general distrust in the French government amongst the Bangladeshi public.”
How come these well wishers of Bangladesh risk alienating the very public that they love so dearly, but are still shy about declaring the love for their country?
I believe one important word that has so far not been uttered is ‘money’. What is the ‘package’ that the Guimet exhibition falls under? How much money is involved? Who are the beneficiaries, and how were they chosen? Who are they affiliated to?
The government in power has made corruption their number one target. Business people, prominent politicians and even ordinary citizens have been asked to declare their assets and their links to financial ventures. Perhaps it is time for the government to ask all the people who are linked with Masterpieces of the Ganges Delta exhibition, the Sonar Bangla Fair and all the ancillary events to declare the extent of their association and the monetary value that such association brings. Citizens have been asked to help the government by reporting any suspected cases of corruption. With activities of the Ministry of Culture itself in question. With the government appointed committee complaining of non-cooperation by Culture ministry officials. With people chanting chor chor (thief, thief) in the streets outside a public institution, why has the government suddenly gone blind? Have the sniffer dogs of corruption, who bark at the slightest whiff of a nexus, suddenly lost their sense of smell? Or would that be a same side (own goal)?
Perhaps this piece of the jigsaw will help us see the full picture.
12:40 am 3rd Dec. The Government has finally responded. Press conference called by the Ministry of Culture at 12:00 pm. Building 9. Bangladesh Secretariat.
letter-to-the-french-government.docStop Press: Ten crates containing rare archaeological treasures of Bangladesh have been bundled out of the national museum and are said to be bound for Guimet Museum in Paris, via flight AF 6731 (dep: 1205 Saturday 1st Dec 2007). Preparations had been made to secretly remove the items through a shipment order by the French Embassy made to Homebound Packers and Shippers. Trucks and forklift arrive secretly in museum in early hours of morning. But the news leaked and media professionals and protesters gathered outside the museum. Under heavy police presence Homebound vehicles (Dhaka Metro Umo 11-0814, pho 11 3634, U 14 0187) and fork lift trucks all bearing “Save The Children and USAID Cyclone Sidr Emergency Relief ” signs were used to remove the priceless items. Predictably, and as in the case of all previous authoritarian governments, while the story was the lead news in all major newspapers and independent television channels. BTV the state run television channel which is the only terrestrial channel in Bangladesh, failed to report the incident altogether.
Protesters and media professionals watching as crates get loaded onto Homebound trucks. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Homebound trucks preparing to leave National Museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Trucks being escorted out of National Museum by police. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Homebound convoy heading to airport. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Police arrest Shekhar Shaswata. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Shekhar being taken into custody. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Media professionals demanding to be let in. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Further clashes with police. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Media storm into Shahbagh police station. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Media in officer Morshed’s office. Morshed claims he knew nothing of what was going on all day across the road. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Shekhar being released upon signed undertaking by those demanding his release. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Protesters clashed with police. Shekhar Shashwata was arrested, and some media professionals roughed up. Eventually protesters were able to get Shekhar released. Police officer Morshed who made the arrest, claimed he “knew nothing about what was happening across the road.”
The lack of transparency surrounding the exhibition has led to huge controversies where leading citizens have demanded that the government and the French Museum allow experts to inspect the items being taken away. Past allegations of art objects having been taken to France and never returned have increased the suspicion.
While the government has appointed a committee to investigate the matter, in an unprecedented move, government and French Embassy officials have, without informing either the committee or the media, taken the items out of the museum in what resembled a police protected museum robbery.
Protesters are asking international media to disseminate the news, and prevent the artefacts from being taken away in this manner. Bangladesh is under emergency rule where protests and gatherings of any form are illegal, and police have wide ranging powers. After a recent unrest at the universities arrest warrants were issued against 8,300 largely unnamed people. Teachers, students and university employees arrested after the event are yet to be released. There have been accusations of torture in custody.
Earlier on in the day:
Above: Tearful protester outside museum at 10:15 AM 30th November 2007. Below: Homebound truck with Cyclone Relief sign outside museum.
? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
Forklift on standby
Forklift in front of Museum
Homebound in line of fire
Protesters outside museum
Video of protests. ? Rabeya Sarkar Rima/DrikAV
The background to the story by Anisur Rahman
Letter to the French Government by prominent citizens
1st Video Clip of Protest Press Conference. ? Naeem Mohaiemen
2nd Video Clip of Protest Press Conference. ? Naeem Mohaiemen
The Price of Priceless Objects by Shahidul Alam
This was breaking news. Shishir Bhattacharjee, Nisar Ahmed and Rahnuma were racing against the clock. The pukur churi (daylight robbery, lit: pond stealing) had to be stopped. Bangladesh is awash with conspiracy theories and I needed to be convinced that something irregular was really taking place. A major exhibition of Bangladeshi heritage in a well-known western museum seemed a good thing. I wanted hard facts. Facts emerged, and eventually tumbled out.
The issue in question was a proposed exhibition at the Mus?e National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, in Paris, where some of the most prized archaeological objects collected from the five major museums would be on display in an exhibition announced on the Museum website as “Masterpieces of the Ganges delta. Collections from the Bangladesh Museums.” The only suggestion that things might not be going entirely as planned came from the notice “dates to be confirmed.” The France Guide still lists the original dates: 24/10/2007 to 03/05/2008.
Doubts had been raised about the transparency of the process through which the exhibition had been arranged. With leading national experts calling for a stay order and the court requiring the government to demonstrate that due process had been maintained,
things were getting murky. A hastily called press conference by the French Embassy landed them in further trouble. The Ambassador was promptly withdrawn. Unconnected some say, but unusual in a country where the departure of western ambassadors is generally accompanied by considerable fanfare.
“Some Bangladeshis who want to improve the image of Bangladesh abroad have been supporting the exhibition”, the new ambassador stressed. The suggestion that the Bangladeshi experts who had questioned the intentions of this prestigious museum and the French government itself, and even had the audacity to suggest that the French might possibly have intentions not entirely in keeping with Bangladeshi interests, were unpatriotic, was perhaps unintentional.
Not a hair on Sita’s head was singed as she had walked through the flames. But she had been doubted, and she felt only the test of fire could prove her innocence and her loyalty. Who is loyal to Bangladesh is now the question. Protagonists of the proposed exhibition at Guimet promptly dismissed the ones who demanded transparency, as Talibans and enemies of the state. My beard didn’t help.
The fact that these very experts had over the years been the mainstay of collecting, creating and nurturing these collections, didn’t appear to affect the French argument. Given Kwame Opoku’s recent statement “Mus?e Guimet in Paris which incidentally also holds thousands of stolen/illegal objects from China and the rest of Asia,” one would have expected the French to be more concerned with damage control.
Extract from “The Museums in Bangladesh” by Firoz Mahmud and Habibur Rahman from the chapter initiated by the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Return and Restitution of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin” set up by the International Council of Museums ICOM. Page 487.
Extract from list of organisations and locations where stolen Bangladeshi cultural property have been illegally taken. Page 488
Or was this an attempt to gain what they could before the cat got out of the bag? Els Van Der Plas, the director of the Prince Claus Fund in the Netherlands, held Guimet in high regard and had respect for the director. June Rollinson of the British Council in Dhaka, also spoke highly of the Guimet. Mark Haworth-Booth, former senior curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was an old friend and had been a guest teacher at Pathshala. He fully supported museums lending work to each other but felt a shared copyright of the photographs (the contract gave Bangladesh no rights over the images of the artefacts) would have been the normal practice.
However it was Mark’s comment “I do not think that professionally-run museums would lend an object if it had no accession number” that got me going. The appendix listing the items, obtained by court order, was a farce. The number of items varied in different reports. We managed to obtain the French internal listing which had 20 more items than the Bangladeshi list. These had been obtained in a joint excavation (France and Bangladesh) in Mahasthangar, and were all marked ‘reserved’. Items had been clumped together without individual listing (e.g. ’93 punch-marked coins’). Insurance value was sometimes missing. The basic documentation of a normal museum inventory, like period, condition and markings were missing. A large number of items had no accession numbers. And this was a listing of the most precious items belonging to Bangladesh, many of which Bangladeshis themselves had never had the opportunity of seeing! Not even the nation’s leading scholars, researchers historians or archaeologists. Certainly, it was the Bangladeshi side that should have provided these details, but with UNESCO stressing ‘due diligence’ on the part of the borrower, to accept such a precious consignment on the basis of such flimsy documentation, was fishy. More importantly, there was no way in which even the most diligent officials could verify that the objects lent, were indeed what had been returned.
This was what the French press release had insisted was ‘complete documentation’.
When Jos van Beurden sent me his soon to be published article “Diplomats and smuggling of art” providing extensive and well documented instances of how majority world countries had their art objects stolen by wealthier ones via diplomats, it appeared as if it is the image of France and not of Bangladesh that needs rescuing.
With some juggling of schedules, I was able to combine a trip to Paris to show a newly made film, with the possibility of a trip to the Guimet.
Mus?e du quai Branly, the museum inviting me, was also on the ‘wanted’ list put together by Opoku and others. I needed no further convincing. I was off to Paris.
Quai Branly had sent a car to pick me up from Charles de Gaulle airport, and it was with considerable curiosity that I asked the driver what he thought of the Guimet Museum. Xavier had never heard of the place. I must have been unlucky with my driver, for Michel Philpott of Le Monde du, who had invited me, did indeed know the Guimet. It was perhaps not amongst the finest in the world, but still an important museum. It was also within walking distance.
The following morning, my Armenian photographer friend Ruben and I decided to pay the Guimet a visit. I had my HDV video camera with me. I had done a few other things in preparation too, like writing to the press officer Helene Lefevre, asking for an appointment. She did respond to my mail, but no appointment had been granted. I had been concerned that the Bangladeshi government had no rights over the photographs taken by the French photographer, but a mail to him also failed to elicit a reply. So Ruben and I were taking our chances. With my own work having been shown at the Centre Georges Pompidou fifteen years ago, I thought I had the credentials as an artist. I also had my press pass.
Crossing the Seine on a sunny Paris day, looking back at the Eiffel Tower, walking through the manicured pathways with Parisians striding by in their haute couture, I could picture Doisneau photographing the famous kiss.
The Kiss. ? Robert Doisneau/Magnum
Finding the museum in the busy Paris map was not easy. Tucked away in the edge of a roundabout in Avenue D’Iena, was our famous Mus?e Guimet. Two homeless people had camped outside on the footpath, and children were having lunch on the short staircase. This represented the reality in all our countries but is distant from the image the establishment generally tries to provide.
Map of Paris. Guimet Museum shown as small dot in centre of red circle.
Left: Homebound truck loading outside Bangladesh National Museum 11:15 AM 30th November 2007. Right: Homeless people outside Guimet Museum. Paris. France. 31st October 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majorityworld
I felt at home as I walked through the small entrance. This was far less pretentious than our own national museum. The informality of the place was comforting. The elderly gentleman beside us as we stood at reception overheard me asking about the Bangladeshi exhibition. Speaking with an American accent he remarked on what a fine show it would be. “It was taking time, but it would definitely be there.”
I was in journalist mode, and having discovered that he was Ambassador Dean and a board member of Guimet, gently led him on to the sort of work the museum was known for. He pointed out that the museum had just restored the head of a Cambodian statue to its body after 500 years. “Where was this statue?” I asked in as innocent a tone as I could muster. “Right here in this museum” was the proud board member’s reply. The head that was France’s gain, was presumably Cambodia’s loss.
I was lucky. Both the director of Guimet Jean-Francois Jarriage and the curator of the show Vincent Lefevre, were available that day, and didn’t appear to have any appointments at that time. I handed over my card, and spoke to Anna the director’s secretary, over the phone. She hadn’t seen my card then, but when I explained over the phone that I was from Bangladesh, I could sense a chill. Suddenly everyone clammed up. Neither the director nor the curator was able to see me, and no one in the museum would make any comment. Perhaps it was years of colonialism that had shaped our behaviour, or our rustic mannerisms of hospitality. I couldn’t help wondering how a visiting journalist who had arrived at the doorstep of any of our museums, would have been drowned with cups of sweet tea laced with condensed milk by the time the director had come over.
It was only a month ago when I had walked through the national museum at Siem Reap, aghast at the rows of ancient Cambodian statues whose heads were missing. One wonders where the heads have landed up. Ambassador Dean’s quest for restoration might just result in Guimet’s acquisition of the remainder of the bodies.
“Masterpieces of the Ganges delta.” France’s gain, Bangladesh’s loss?
Some of the rare sculptures being taken to Guimet Museum
Article by Kwame Opoku
Portraits of commitment
Why people become leaders in the AIDS response
Challenges help us find our true selves. They take us on a journey within the depths of who we are, leaving us at a destination we hope is worthy. Some people find themselves at lesser places.
AIDS is one of those challenges.
The South Asians in this book tell how AIDS has made them a better doctor, researcher, legislator, citizen or person. We know AIDS affects our daily life?but because of it we now have more respect for human rights and individual choice where once there was little or none. AIDS has helped us to see who we want to be.
Photographs by Shahidul Alam. Interviews by Karen Emmons. Commissioned by UNAIDS.
Viewers watching “Portaits of Commitment” at Fort Station in Colombo on the 21st August 2007, as part of ICAAP8. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
A story from Sri Lanka on WAD: Positive & Strong Princey Mangalika on HIV/AIDS
Reviews: IPS. Daily Mirror
Shilpa Shetty. Actress, Big Brother Winner. Mumbai India. “Being a celebrity has advantages – people hear you. I thought I should make use of this position and speak out.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Tahir Baig Barlas. Corporate Manager. Karachi Pakistan. “We have the opportunity to do something now before it’s too late. Let’s not be reactive.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sabina “Putul” Yeasmin, Daughter of a sex worker. Tangail Bangladesh. “I gave wrong information to make others afraid, as I had been. I had to go back and give correct information.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sapana Pradham-Malla. Advocate. Kathmandu Nepal. “I can’t turn away.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sally Hulugalle. Community Worker. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I want a better deal for those who are voiceless.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Rev. Alex Vadakumthala. Priest. New Delhi India. “The church finds its meaning when it responds to the challenges of the times.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Rajiv Kafle. Former Drug User. Kathmandu Nepal. “I saw a need and an opportunity where I could step up and really make a difference.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Noor jehan Penazai. Partliamentarian. Islamabad Pakistan. “These politicians have to realise it’s a very serious disease and we have to talk about it.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama. Doctor. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I had to do something for the patients …they needed a place to go, to be consoled and, if dying, to die with dignity.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Arif Jafar and Anis Fatima, MSM and mother. Lucknow India. “I am grateful to Allah he gave such a son to me.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Habiba Akter. Dhaka Bangladesh. Positive Counsellor.
“I have no choice. If I don’t do it no one will.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
An exhibition supporting the book opens at the Barefoot Gallery, in Colombo at 7:00 pm on the 18th August. 704 Galle Rd. Colombo 3.
Photo: Philip Jones Griffiths
Tales From a Globalising World
Before the white man took black slaves across the Atlantic, before the Romans marched their armies across Europe, before Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and Krishna brought new meanings to our lives, people had reached across the boundaries of their known world to reach for the unknown. They searched for power, for wealth, for salvation for escape. Though the world has changed the forces are largely the same. Photographers, the modern day storytellers, tell the tales of these new journeys. Ten photographers from different nations and different sensibilities take us along their routes. They hold our hands, for we are all strangers in this slippery and winding path.
They talk of promised lands and unrealized dreams. Of struggles, triumphs and contradictions. Of unseen poverty and empty glamour. Of wounds that have healed and of new forms of enslavement. Of mixed identities and changing fortunes. Globalization is not new, and colonialism is not dead. The search for roots competes with the search for utopia. But In a world where new fears give rise to new forms of oppression and corporate interests create the new rules of engagement, fragments of memory compete with visions of imagined futures while reality in its many forms, across nations and across cultures, continues to shape our lives. Through tender, provocative, abstract and sometimes brutal images, through lost childhoods and regained lives, through dense ghettos and lonely faces, through found mementos and anonymous production lines, through images of hope and visions of despair, the storytellers of today remind us of the invisible threads that connect us all.
Photo: Andreas Seibert
Somewhere from Nowhere
China, Pearl River Delta: 21st-century megalopolis
They once had dreams. Huddled at dusk into the back of a truck that appears to move into the night, they?ve traded their dreams for the harsh realities of makeshift homes. They build boutiques, condominiums, fancy homes for fancy people. They will never enter the homes they build or shop in the fancy malls. Their only chance to enter the condominiums is as a domestic servant or as a delivery boy. The dream of the big city where the streets are paved with gold only survive in the electronic TV screens in cramped dorms. There is a certain universality in their existence. The stark faces lit in the cool neon lights in Andreas Seibert?s rendering of migrants in China?s Pearl River Delta, have an eerie resemblance to the faces in the sweatshops in Europe. The man crossing the barren field to the tenement squares could easily be songwriter Ralph McTell?s old woman in London:
She’s no time for talking
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags
Photo: Thomas Kern
Homeland of Globalization
USA: from Detroit to the Mexican border
They had talked of a world without borders. Of freedom for all. Of opportunities unlimited. But the mobility of people did not parallel the mobility of goods. The notions of freedom do not apply equally to all nations, the search for freedom changes into the quest to protect ?American Values?. Huge inequalities across borders and between communities create isolated groups that find more solace in guns and the cross than in reaching across barriers of class and race. Factory floors transform people into robots. The champions of consumerism come face to face with poverty and discontent. The glitter of Las Vegas loses its sparkle in the relief queues in black neighborhoods. Amidst the rhetoric and the slogans, through the memorials and the sit-ins, the biggest war machine in existence searches blindly for peace. Wrapped in the metaphor of the American flag, they continue to ask ?Why do they hate us?? without once stopping to look at themselves.
Photo: Cristina Nu?ez
Made in Italy
Italy, Milan and Naples: parallel worlds of fashion
They tell us what to wear, how to look, what to feel. They shape our desires. Anorexic women tread waiflike along catwalks as if suspended in space. Swirling amidst the popping flashlights, they walk in measured gait. In calculated gestures, they cast vacant glances, looking into space. Celebrities and brand names team up to create a make belief bubble that longs to be touched but is never within reach. It is a world within itself, celebratory, narcissistic, trend setting. Back in the dressing room, the make-belief world slowly merges with reality. Peeling off layers, Nu?ez strips down the mask to reveal the world beneath. The sweatshops, the hopefuls and the also-rans switch between the real world, the fake world and the make belief world in no particular order for the borders are often blurred.
Photo: Stephan Vanfleteren
Belgium: the poverty of loneliness
GDP, GNP, per capita income. These are the measuring sticks of progress. First world, second world, developing world the tiers of development. As nations strive to move up the value chain to greater wealth and greater prosperity, they leave behind the fabric of human connectedness that bind our souls. The second car becomes more important than the time spent with a friend. Not everyone makes it to the speeding train of progress. Some fail to catch it, some step out willingly, some slip off the packed rooftops. But it is a speeding train, and once it goes by, is difficult to stop. The ladder of success has rules of engagement, and those who fail to understand the rules, never make it to the goalposts. They dream, they love, they despair, they cling to familiar haunts, to known friendships. Lonely friends unite in their solitude, be it drugs, a lover, a pet, an old harmonica.
Photo: Shehzad Noorani
Nepal, India, Bangladesh: struggle to survive
The child is lonely in a crowd. The island in the middle of a busy road offers a brief respite, but hunger gnaws away, and work must begin. The employment differs, from cleaning kitchens near the fish market, to satisfying men with a hunger for more than food. The train station, the local brothel, the dock, the crowded slum, offers shelter, sometimes food, but always demands something in return. It is an equation they have learnt early and is far more real than the maths equations which they will never learn. They leave homes, friends, family, sometimes forever, returning perhaps only to die. Race, religion and class and all other tools of social oppression, combine to ensure that those born poor will die poor. Like the snail without a shell they wander through life, moving from ?uncles? to ?husbands? to ?masters? and ?bosses?, accepting whatever is dished out to keep the hunger away for another day.
Photo: Ziyo Fafic
Quest for Identity
Bosnia-Herzegovina: recovery from war
Sombre clouds over dense mountains. Square pictures saturated in colour. Neat rows of coffins, bodies of the only ones recognisable after the genocide. A comb, a watch, an old note, dentures, bent spectacles. How does one represent war? What is the image of bereavement? What colour is pain? For a young man who has been through war, it is a difficult portrait to paint. But Ziyo Gafic paints it with muted light. Unsentimental, but tender, he observes from within. It is not only grief that he photographs, but survival. Muslim but white, European but Muslim, white but poor, Gafic takes on the dilemma of his identity and gives it form. The solidity of a bridge over placid water. The luminescence of transparent plastic bags over dense foliage carrying the remains of known ones. The earthiness of digging a grave, the silence of a morgue, the weightlessness of objects of everyday use, form the background of his tapestry. But through it all the carefree leap of a child, defying gravity, exuding joy, remains a lasting image.
Photo: Tim Hetherington
Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya: ways out
The weather-beaten fingers hold the ball firmly. A torn scarf, strings tied together and bits of cloth make up this football. Small and not quite round it is held as it should be. A prized possession. Bob Kpwilo of Millenium Stars Football Team (formerly Power from Heaven), stands in the middle of the field, the sweat on his dark skin glistens in the soft light. They are footballers. Masters of takwondo. Sometimes they are glue sniffers, or child soldiers, or all of them at once. In bare classrooms and overcrowded cities, they practice sport in the shadows of war. The children are pawns of competing warlords. The countries are pawns of wealthy nations. To slave traders, gold miners and oil diggers, Africa is just a pawn. But these children want to play a different game. They have been torn from their parents, wounded in battle, blown up by mines. They have been raped. They have raped, they have killed. But these are games they will no longer play. With wooden limbs, blinded eyes and scarred minds, they?ve chosen sport as their answer. They?ve chosen games without pawns.
Photo: Bertien van Manen
BERTIEN VAN MANEN
Paradise in Boxes
France: immigrants in the Paris suburbs
They generally stare at the camera. Young children, couples, families wearing their best clothes. Young men in football gear. Propped up on the mantelpiece, or held against the favourite carpet. Sometimes it is a photograph of their home, or their wedding day, or their identity card with a faded photograph. Lodged between teacups or stuck on a window, they show different realities. Lives they have found and lives they have left behind. Which is more real? Who is the man through the broken glass? What are we looking at, the photograph on the windowpane or the Parisian cityscape beyond? The flare from the flash bounces rudely off the print. The prints stuck between a gilded frame and the wallpaper compete for attention with the artifacts of living. The duality of these images plays on the duality of their existence. Here, there, now, then, before, after. A self exiled existence that rarely turns out the way it was planned. A choice that was not really chosen.
Photo: Philip Jones Griffiths
PHILIP JONES GRIFFITHS
Independence and Transition
Vietnam: values, old and new
They put poison in their fields. Mothers still bear children with twisted limbs and enlarged heads. They still die of cancer. Between 1961 and 1971 the US military used the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. On March 10 2005, judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. No Vietnamese have ever received compensation for the damages they have suffered. But the country has changed in many ways. A giant bill-board hovers over a paddy field, towering above a farmer with her bamboo hat. For Philips Jones Griffiths, the author of Vietnam Inc., the signs of westernisation give mixed signals. Belly dancers, mobile phones and yuppie kids might show a Vietnam moving west, but Griffiths also sees the other side of the coin. The mannequins modeled on western features and urban poverty as farmers are pushed into the cities show the erosion of value systems that capitalism threatens to destroy.
Photo: Akinbode Akinbiyi
Black Atlantic Divinities
Nigeria and Brazil, Lagos and Brazilia: migrant gods and returnees
They embraced all the gods. Their ancient ones, the ones of their brothers and sisters under oppression, even the ones of their oppressors. Moving across the ocean, the music, the architecture, the culture, the religion, fused into one. Three centuries of slave trade have created a bond across continents. The African beat and the colours of Brazil, immerse in each other. The chaos, the vitality, the fervour, the passion all become one. Yoruba, Candombl?, Umbanda, three religions with blurred borders, protect the mixed communities on either side of the Atlantic. The collective gods punish evildoers and the insolent, but also protect motorcars, overlook wars and ensure justice and creativity. The shrines, the rituals, the symbols, the art, are preserved in the mixed cultural roots of the Africans of the west coast and Brazilians. Their bondage has led to a shared sense of divinity. They dance and they pray together. Out of the darkness came light.
7th July 2007, Dhaka
Photo: Md. Mainuddin/Drik
Tales From a Globalising World exhibition being packed at Drik Gallery in Dhaka for shipping to La Paz, Bolivia.
Drik Gallery presents
30 years of photojournalism: Manoocher Deghati
Photo: Manoocher Deghati
In the summer of 1978, Manoocher Deghati educated as a filmmaker, returned to Iran after three years of studies at the Rome school of cinema just as the first major demonstrations against the regime of the Shah were breaking out. He decided to photograph these events. “I remember going out the first day with a camera in hand. There was a great deal of agitation. A truckload of soldiers rolled by. One of them loaded his rifle and fired at me. The burst of bullets passed on either side of my head. I was alive. I was shocked. But above all, I realized that I was a target because I was taking pictures. That only reinforced my determination to take pictures.”
In 1979, the Sipa Press agency had asked him to become a permanent correspondent in Iran. Manoocher photographed all the big events of the new regime of Khomeini, the hostage crisis at the American embassy and the Iran-Iraq war, which he covered for six years. Currently he is the head of IRIN Photo, the United Nations’ News Agency, and lives in Kenya
Manoocher Deghati will present his work on the 18th July 2007 at 6:00 pm at the ULAB Campus Auditorium. Manoocher will also talk about his work with Afghani photographers at AINA Media Centre in Kabul.
4th floor ULAB Campus
House 56, Road 4/A
Dhanmondi Residential Area
Year end play: The Nuculier God
Theatre: The World
Set Design: Tony Blair
God: George Bush
Sacrificial Lamb: Saddam Hussein
Slaves: Saudi Royal Family and cohorts
Extras: The United Nations
Theme song: I can kill any Muslim
I can kill any Muslim
Any day I choose
It?s all for the cause of freedom
I can kill any Muslim
Wherever I choose
It is cause we?re a peace lovin? nation
So we egged him on
When he attacked Kuwait
And the trial may have been harried
So we supplied him arms
To gas the Kurds
With him dead, that?s one story buried
Violence in Iraq
Has been on the rise
The US can hardly be blamed
Our interest was oil
And we stuck to our goal
Why must my cronies be named
As Arab resistance
That wasn?t part of the plan
Had Amnesty and others
Kept quiet when it matters
We?d have quietly gone on to Iran
Asleep I was
When he hanged on the gallows
Well even presidents need to sleep
Oblivious I was
When the planes hit the towers
I had other ?pointments to keep
More Iraqis dead
More ?mericans too
OK they warned it would happen
Why should I listen
When I rule the world
No nation?s too big to flatten
The Saudi Kings
They know their place
At least they?ll know by now
If you tow the line
Out of step, off you go, and how
Tony and me
We keep good company
Dictators know when it matters
Regardless of crimes
And religious inclines
Safe if you listen or its shutters
I can kill any Muslim
Wherever I choose
I choose quite often I know
I can kill any Muslim
Any day I choose
I did it so now they will know
Similar to Rumsfeld’s concern that the Abu Ghraib pictures coming out, and not about the events themselves, the Iraqi government worries about the footage of Saddam being taunted, getting out. The fact that the taunting took place doesn’t appear to be an area of concern. With the US government stifling Al Jazeera, and increasing censorship in mainstream media, citizen journalism appears to be the only way people can get past the PR camouflague.
With all political parties of Bangladesh, as well as most Muslim leaders around the world, choosing to remain silent at the execution of Saddam Hussein, it is left to human rights organizations to remind us, that despite his atrocities, Saddam will be remembered for his defiance. The butcher of the Kurds will go down in history as a victim of flawed justice. The guns are now clearly turned against Iran, but the Saudi rulers, as well as the Egyptians and the Jordanians would do well to ponder, ?Who is next??