Nov 22, 2011
THE ROVING EYE
By Pepe Escobar
Last week, independent journalist Sam Husseini went to a news conference by Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia at Washington?s National Press Club – where Husseini is a member.
Then he did something that is alien to United States corporate media culture. He behaved as an actual journalist and asked a tough, pertinent, no-holds-barred question. Here it is, as relayed by Husseini’s blog:
I want to know what legitimacy your regime has, sir. You come before us, representative of one of the most autocratic, misogynistic regimes on the face of the earth. Human Rights Watch and other reports of torture, detention of activists, you squelched the democratic uprising in Bahrain, you tried to overturn the democratic uprising in Egypt and indeed you continue to oppress your own people. What legitimacy does your regime have – other than billions of dollars and weapons? 
Prince Turki, former Saudi intelligence supremo, former pal of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, former Saudi ambassador to the US, reacted by changing the subject. 
Continue reading “Exposed: US press 'freedom'”
AFP confirms veracity of debated Israeli abuse story
Agence France- Presse
Editor?s Note: Israel Caught Lying About Apartheid Abuse:
?Following the surfacing of the photos, the Israeli Embassy in Washington had asked all American newspapers ?to consider ceasing to publish the photographs of Hazem Bader,? claiming both the caption and the photo of the injured worker were untrue and ?perhaps staged.?
AFP (Agence France-Presse) agency responded to criticism over a Jan. 25 photo showing an Israeli Army soldier driving a truck over the leg of an injured Palestinian construction worker, saying both the story and photo were valid.
A recent press release by the news agency said ?after several days of thorough research […] AFP wishes to confirm the veracity of both the picture and the accompanying photo caption.?
BBC Bangla anniversary debate on Channel i focuses on freedom of information
Bangladesh?s rapidly changing media scene will be in the focus of the special BBC Bangla programme to be broadcast on Channel i, marking the 70th anniversary of BBC Bangla in the year of the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh?s independence.
The debate panel will include: Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, H T Imam; Editor of News Today, Reazuddin Ahmed; and Abu Saeed Khan, Secretary General of AMTOB, the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh. An invited audience of some 200 people will ask the questions.
Sabir Mustafa will moderate the debate, asking about the challenges facing the traditional and new media: ?These challenges are coming from the social media revolution which has opened up new avenues to exchange information and debate. They are also coming from governments and other regulatory bodies which seek to restrict the freedom of the established media through legislation and to restrict the use of social media.?
The pre-recorded hour-long debate will be followed by an hour-long live studio discussion during which BBC Bangla presenter, Akbar Hossain, and studio guests – photographer and blogger Shahidul Alam of Drik, and leading journalist and former president of National Press Club, Shawkat Mahmud – will discuss comments on the topic, texted by viewers using the short code 16262.
The panel debate will be broadcast by Channel i at 7.50pm Bangladesh time on Thursday 22 December, and at 8pm on Saturday 24 December on BBC 100 FM in Dhaka and on shortwave 12035kHz and 9800kHz. The live discussion will go on air on Channel i at 7.50pm Bangladesh time on Friday 23 December.
Nov 25th 2011, 13:04 by L.M.
AN OFTEN overlooked perk of being a country with a large population and relatively low wages is the capacity to employ people to carry out silly tasks. In India, for example, some people spend their days pasting white stickers onto maps of Kashmir printed in foreign publications (such as?The Economist). In neighbouring Pakistan, the regulatory body for telecommunications dreamed up an equally unlikely, if altogether more entertaining, assignment for its staff: to compile a list of ?undesired words? that could be used to block offensive text messages. In a remarkable show of efficiency (to say nothing of creativity), the agency managed to find?1,100 words and phrases in English and nearly?600 in Urdu. (Admittedly they may have padded it out a bit?how else to explain the presence of ?robber?, ?oui? or ?k mart? in a list that otherwise places rather more emphasis on sexual adventurism?)
Last week, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority?s (PTA) memo and accompanying list of the words sent to mobile-phone service providers were leaked on the internet. Pakistanis were aghast and amused in equal measure. Previous bans have?targeted Facebook,?Rolling Stone magazine?s website and the use of encrypted networks. These met with limited opposition. But the directive to block text messages containing certain words was seen as an attack on free speech.
The official reason for the ban was ?to control the menace of spam in the society?. Far more likely, the authorities finally grew tired of rude anti-government jokes that circulate widely via text message. Many feature the president, Asif Ali Zardari, in a starring role. (A tame example: ?The post office issued new stamps with Zardari?s face on them but they had to be withdrawn because the public found them too confusing: it was impossible to tell which side to spit on.?) Texting is perhaps the most effective means of mass communication in Pakistan: two of every three Pakistanis have a mobile phone and the cost of sending an SMS is among the cheapest in the world. Following public uproar, damning editorials and the threat of legal action from NGOs, the authority sheepishly announced that ?implementation of previous PTA instructions have been withheld? after it ?received input from customers, government and other quarters on this issue?.
The government?s inability to take a joke isn?t restricted to text messages. In an interview with the state broadcaster on November 21st, the UN?s ?world television day?, the information minister, Firdous Ashiq Awan, stressed the need for a code of conduct to help broadcast media through an ?evolutionary phase?. There is little doubt that Pakistan?s news channels could do with some restraint, especially when it comes to coverage of terrorist attacks, which tends towards the gory. But critics fear that an enforced code of conduct would use obscenity as an excuse to target the hugely popular political satire programmes that make fun of the nation?s ruling classes. ?It?s anti-government stuff, impersonations of Zardari and company?they don?t leave anyone alone. They make all kinds of jokes, some of them quite lewd,? said Murtaza Razvi, a senior editor at?Dawn, a leading English-language newspaper.
Pakistan?s broadcasting rules were liberalised under Pervez Musharraf soon after he took power in a military coup in 1999, and the number of television channels quickly grew from a single state broadcaster to nearly a hundred channels. The government would do well to draw a lesson from the experience of Mr Musharraf, who tried to clamp down on press freedom in 2007 and found himself out of office soon after. Mr Zardari may not enjoy being the butt of jokes every night but it certainly beats having angry?protesters on the streets of Islamabad.
In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan sixty-six years ago this week, and then for decades afterward, the United States?engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included vivid color footage shot by U.S. military crews and black-and-white Japanese newsreel film.
The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for twenty-five years, and the shocking US military film?remained hidden for nearly four decades. While the suppression of nuclear truths stretched over decades, Hiroshima sank into ?a kind of hole in human history,? as the writer Mary McCarthy observed. The United States engaged in a costly and dangerous arms race.?Thousands of nuclear warheads remain in the world, often under loose control; the United States retains its ?first-strike? nuclear policy; and much of the world is partly or largely dependent on nuclear power plants, which pose their own hazards.
Our nuclear entrapment continues to this day?you might call it ?From Hiroshima to Fukushima.?
The color US military footage would remain hidden until the early 1980s, and has never been fully aired. It rests today at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, in the form of 90,000 feet of raw footage labeled #342 USAF. When that footage finally emerged, I spoke with and corresponded with the man at the center of this drama: Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the US military film-makers in 1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept watch on all of the top-secret material for decades. I also interviewed one of his key assistants, Herbert Sussan, and some of the Japanese survivors they filmed.
Continue reading “The Great Hiroshima Cover-up”
Comilla, Dec 26 (bdnews24.com) ? A Comilla court has issued arrest warrants against the TIB chairman, director and a fellow for ‘maligning’ the judiciary in its household survey report.
Mohammad Tawhidur Rahman, a lawyer, filed the case with the Comilla Senior Judicial Magistrate’s Court on Sunday.
The court of magistrate Gazi Saidur Rahman took the case into cognisence and issued arrest warrants against TIB trustee board chairman M Hafiz Uddin, executive director Iftekharuzzaman and fellow Wahid Alam of the Transparency International, Bangladesh, a Berlin-based international corruption watchdog.
The case statement said the TIB report had tarnished the image, honor and reputation of the judiciary by naming it as the most corrupt service sector.
The plaintiff sought actions against the defendants claiming that the report had maligned his professional career.
Shahidul Alam in an interview with New Age
by Rahnuma Ahmed
Media reports on “Crossfire” exhibition
Latest report in Indepndent
Shahidul Alam?s exhibition, ?Crossfire? (a euphemism for extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion), was scheduled to open on March 22, at Drik Gallery, Dhaka. A police lockup of Drik?s premises before the opening prevented noted Indian writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi from entering, forcing her to declare the opening on the street outside Drik. The police blockage was removed soon after Drik?s lawyers served legal notice and the lawyers had moved the Court, and after Government lawyers i.e., the Attorney Generals office, had contacted the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner?s office, and the Home Ministry, during the hearing?on the government. The court commented that even after repeated rules had been issued on the government, crossfire had continued to occur. The court?s response and subsequent events enabled Drik to open the exhibition for public viewing on March 31.
|Shahidul Alam in front of a collage, part of his Crossfire exhibition. Cartoon in the background of Home Minister Sahara Khatun, ?No crossfire killing taken place?. ? Wahid Adnan/DrikNEWS|
You work in the documentary genre, this work is show-cased as being symbolic, interpretive. Does this mean a change in genres?
I find these categorisations problematic. I see myself as a storyteller. There?s fiction and non-fiction. This is clearly non-fiction, though it draws upon many of the techniques that fiction would use. The allegorical approach was deliberately chosen as I felt it had, in this instance, greater interpretive potential than the literal approach. Quite apart from the fact that one could hardly expect RAB to allow photographers to document their killing (they do sometimes have TV crews accompanying them on ?missions? but they are never allowed to be there during ?crossfire?), I felt that showing bodies, blood and weapons would not add to the understanding people already had. We are not dealing with lack of knowledge. ?Crossfire? is known and, in fact, it is because it is known that the exhibition is seen as such a threat. So, while reinforcing the known with images would have a value, it would be unlikely to be as provocative as these more subtle but haunting images are likely to be.
I wanted the images to linger in people?s minds, perhaps to haunt them. They are desolate images, quiet but suggestive. The attempt is not one of inundating the audience with information, but leaving them to meditate upon the silence of the dead.
Crossfire deaths continue despite regime changes. How do you view this?
Criminals have survived because of patronage of the powerful. The removal of criminals, through ?crossfire?, does not affect the system of control, but merely substitutes existing criminals for new ones. This is why crimes continue unabated under RAB. All it does is to undermine the legal system. Unless serious attempts are made to remove such patronage and, better still, catch the godfathers, the extermination of thugs and local-level criminals (and many innocent people are also killed) will have no effect on crime. The ruling elite knows this. So why use RAB at all? I believe it is to keep control. Dead criminals don?t speak. Don?t give secrets away. Don?t take a share of the spoils. They are disposable, and RAB is the disposal system.
Every government has used RAB and other law enforcement authorities to remove troublemakers. Bangla Bhai had become a liability when he was apprehended. He didn?t die in crossfire, but was hurriedly hanged all the same despite the fact that he wanted to talk to the media as he had ?stories to tell?. Dead people don?t tell stories. So, all governments would rather have RAB, to clean up their mess, than be confronted by their own shadows.
A change of government does not change this structure.
The inclusion of the Google map has turned this exhibition into a collective, history-writing project. Why that added dimension?
Art projects are generally about the glorification of the artist. The audience is generally a passive recipient. I see this as a public project. I have a role to play as a storyteller, but my work is informed by not only the collective work of my co-researchers, but also that of human rights groups, other activists, and most importantly by the lives, or deaths, of the people whose stories are being told. The survivors, the witnesses and others affected by these deaths are important players in this story and it was essential to find a way to make this project inclusive. I would be kidding myself if I assumed this show would put an end to extrajudicial killings. I also believe there are still many unreported cases.
The Google map has the twin benefits of being interactive and open. We have already been told of one person who had been crossfired but his name hadn?t come up in the archival research.
The internet will also allow a much wider participation than might otherwise have been possible.
Besides the Awami League?s electoral pledge of stopping extrajudicial killings, it had also promised us a ?digital Bangladesh?. I think it is appropriate that this digital Bangladesh be claimed by the people.
What is the significance of research?in the sense of dates, names, places, events?for this project, and for the exhibition?
The assumed veracity of the photographic image is an important source of the strength of this exhibition. We have deliberately moved away from the mechanical aspect of recording events through images, but supplemented it by relating the image to verifiable facts. Meticulous research has gone into not only providing the context for the photographs, which has been included in the Google map, but each image, in some way, refers to a visual inspired by a case study. By deliberately retaining some ambiguity about the ?facts? surrounding the image, we invite the viewer to delve deeper into the image to discover the physical basis of the analogy, and to reflect upon the image. The photographs therefore become a portal through which the viewer can enter the story, rather than the story in itself. Yet, each image, relates to a finite, physical instance, that becomes a reference point for a life that was brutally taken away.
Your exhibition is political, with a capital ?P?. Why is political engagement generally not seen in the work of Bangladeshi artists?
Art cannot be dissociated from life, and life is distinctly political. To paraphrase the renowned Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, the price of tomato is political. However, life is also nuanced and multi-layered. Our art practice needs to be critically engaged at all levels. While the war of liberation is understandably a source of inspiration for many artists, there are many other wars of contemporary life that seem to slip from the artist?s canvas. Most artists, with some exceptions of course, claim they produce art merely for themselves. I don?t believe them. Of course there is great joy in producing art that pleases oneself. But I believe art is the medium and not the message, and all artists, I suspect, want their art to have an effect.
I know it is pass? in some quarters to be producing art that is political. Being apolitical is a political stance too. While I can understand schools of thought that have rebelled against the traditional trappings of art, I do not see the point of producing art that is not meaningful. Strong art is capable of engaging with people. It is that engagement that I seek. My art is merely a tool towards that engagement.
I understand what you mean. A lot of the artwork that?s being produced in Bangladesh stems from commercial interests. Producing formulaic work that sells is the job of a technician and not an artist. Sure, an artist needs to survive and we all produce work which we hope might sell, but once that becomes the sole purpose of producing art, one is probably not an artist in the first place.
There is a strong adherence in Bangladesh to an antiquated form of pictorialism. This applies both to representational and abstract art. Ideas seem to take back stage. While I?m wary of pseudo intellectualisation of art, I must admit that the cerebral aspects of art excite me. The politicisation is an extension of that process.
Books on crossfire have been published, roundtable discussions have been held. Why did the government react as it did, do you think it says something about the power of photography?
The association of photographs with real events makes the photographer a primary witness, and thereby the photograph becomes documentary evidence. This makes photography both powerful and dangerous. Way back in 1909, much before Photoshop came into play, Lewis Hine had said ?While photographs may not lie, liars may photograph.?
Today, liars who run corporations and rule powerful nations, also have photography at their disposal. This very powerful tool is used and abused, and it is essential that we come to grips with this new language. Advertising agencies with huge budgets use photography to shape our minds about products we buy. Politicians and their campaigns are also products that we, as consumers, are encouraged to buy into. I see no restrictions on the lies we are fed every day through advertising or political propaganda. It is when the public has access to the same tools, and in particular when they use it to expose injustice that photography becomes a problem. These seemingly ?innocent? photographs become charged with meaning as soon as we learn to read their underlying meaning. This makes them dangerous.
Perhaps this is also why photographic education has been systematically excluded from our education system. A tool for public emancipation will never be welcomed by an oppressive regime. And we will have oppressive regimes for a while to come.
?Crossfire? was curated by an international curator, and you yourself have curated exhibitions abroad. Do you think international curators are more likely to engage with work such as ?Crossfire? on the basis of aesthetic considerations rather than lived, political ones, since s/he will ?be less knowledgeable about its history, meanings, metaphors, how the government has manufactured popular consent, resistance, etc. For instance, and you mention it in the brochure: John Pilger, the well-known journalist, had written when Barrister Moudood Ahmed had been arrested during the Fakhruddin-Moeenudin regime, he?s ?a decent, brave man.? And of course, it?s quite possible that Pilger didn?t know that the Barrister saheb, as law minister, was one of the political architects of RAB.
Ah yes, Pilger bungled that one. I think artistic collaborations create new possibilities. Our art practice is so often informed by western sensibilities that we at Drik deliberately explore southern interactions. The discussions between Kunda Dixit of Nepal and Marcelo Brodsky of Argentina in Chobi Mela V (our festival of photography) pointed to the remarkable similarity between the political movements in Peru and in South Asia. This made the inclusion of a Peruvian curator even more interesting, and Jorge Villacorte is a respected Latin American curator and art critic. Several other recognised international curators, from Lebanon, Tangiers and Italy had seen the show. I was somewhat surprised that while they introduced interesting ideas about curatorial and art practice and were hugely appreciative of the aesthetic and performative elements of the work, not one of them ever asked me about the impact it might have upon crossfire itself. Though it would be arrogant to suggest that this show would put an end to that.
As someone deeply in love with my country (I find words like patriotic and nationalistic problematic), my primary concern is the welfare of my community. If my work can contribute to improving the lives of my people, I will have been successful, regardless of how my art is perceived by critics. If the work is perceived as great art, but fails in its ultimate goal of furthering the cause of social justice, then I will have failed.
That said, the exhibition was only a small part of the larger movement for democracy. The activism surrounding the show, the legal action, the media mobilisation, and the spontaneous popular actions were all part of the process. The international curator had an important role to play, but only as a point of departure. We have since had students critiquing the curatorial process, where they have brought in elements relating to their political practice and social concerns. The debate resulting from the work is more important than the work itself. But it is the power of art, and particularly photography that makes such actions so vital.
There is an interesting sub-text to this exercise. The dinosaurs of Bangladeshi art have been incapable of recognising photography as an art form. Photographers are still not invited to participate in the Asian Biennale (though foreign photographers have even won the grand prize in the event). There is still no department of photography in either Shilapakala Academy (the academy of fine and performing arts) or Charukala Institute (the institute of fine arts). These are 19th-century institutions operating in the 21st century. It is interesting however, that while Charukala Institute refused to show my work in 1989, because it was a photographic, and not a painting, exhibition, it was the students of Charukala Institute who organised the first public protests when the police came and blockaged our gallery to prevent the opening of the Crossfire exhibition. It is reassuring that the students at least can raise their heads and look above the sand.
Drik under Crossfire (Independent)
Posted in New Age on 8th April 2010
Media reports on “Crossfire” exhibition
The question of permission is totally uncalled for. There are hundreds of photo exhibitions and other such functions of public viewing happening everyday in the capital city. Did their organisers have to seek permission in each case to be holding these? Drik itself has been organising such events since 1993. Never was any permission required or sought or demanded by any agency. Exhibitions such as these have educative, informational and instructive values. Free flow of ideas helps enrich intellectual wealth of the country, broadens its outlook and enhances the level of tolerance in a society of contrary or dissenting views. There may be a debate on an issue but it doesn’t mean people on one side of an issue need not hear or refuse to see the other’s point of view.
This is exactly the level of maturity we crave for and have actually reached in certain areas of national life which must not be allowed to be undone through any ham-handed act of indiscretion. If the police become the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong for our society, then God help us.
Let certain facts be made clear. Democracy entails a guarantee and preservation of the political and cultural rights of citizens. In such a setting, the sensitivities of certain individuals or groups or bodies cannot override the bigger demands of an open, liberal society which the present government espouses as policy. Now, if the police or any other agency is upset at a revelation of the sordid truth that ‘crossfires’ have been, they should be making sure that such extra-judicial killings do not recur. The fault lies not with Drik gallery that it organised the exhibition. It lies in the inability or reluctance of the authorities to dig into the question of why ‘crossfire’ killings are today a reprehensible affair. Besides, why must the authorities forget that by preventing what they think is adverse publicity for the country they are only making it more pronounced before the nation and the outside world?
We condemn the police action. And we would like the home minister to explain to citizens how such acts that clearly militate against the people’s right to know and observe and interpret conditions can at all take place.
News in Netherlands
News in UK
?Crossfire? censored ? the power of documentary photography (Prof. David Campbell)
23 March 2010
Bangladesh: Lift ban on extrajudicial killings exhibition. Amnesty International is urging the Bangladeshi authorities to lift a ban on an exhibition of photographs raising awareness about alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by a special police unit.
?Yesterday?s closure of the Drik Picture Library exhibition ?Crossfire? in Dhaka is a blow to the right to freedom of expression,? said Amnesty International?s Bangladesh Researcher, Abbas Faiz. ?The?government of Bangladesh must act immediately to lift the police ban and protect the right to peaceful expression in words, images or any other media in accordance with Bangladesh?s constitution and?international law.?
Hours before the ?Crossfire? exhibition was due to open at a special ceremony in Dhaka, police moved in and demanded that the organizers cancel it. When they refused to shut it down police closed the?premises, claiming that the exhibition had no official permission to open and would ?create anarchy?.
The exhibition includes photographs based on Drik?s case studies of killings in Bangladesh, which government officials have portrayed as deaths in ?crossfire?.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Bangladesh since 2004 when the special police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was established.
In most cases, victims who die in the custody of RAB and other police personnel, are later announced to have been killed during ?crossfire? or police ?shoot-outs?.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider these killings to be extrajudicial executions.
Human rights lawyers in Bangladesh see the closure of the exhibition as unjustified and with no legal basis. They are seeking a court order to lift the police ban on the exhibition.
Drik?s Director, Shahidul Alam says he has held hundreds of other exhibitions without needing official permission, and that ?the government invoked a prohibitive clause only because state repression?was being exposed?.
Abbas Faiz said:?By closing the ?Crossfire? exhibition, the government of Bangladesh has effectively reinforced a culture of impunity for human rights violations. Amnesty International is calling for the?government to take action against those who carry out extrajudicial executions, not those who raise their voices against it.?
The ban is also inconsistent with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina?s pledges that her government would take action to end extrajudicial executions.
Amnesty International is urging authorities to allow peaceful protests against the killings and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
News in USA
By David Gonzalez
New York Times
He got his wish.
Minutes before the show was to open on Monday afternoon, the police shut down his gallery in the Dhanmondi district of Dhaka.
But instead of stifling public debate, the government?s action has had the opposite effect: art students have formed a human chain at the university and lawyers are preparing to bring legal action to reopen the show.
?It really has galvanized public opinion,? Mr. Alam said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from southern Bangladesh. ?People were angry and ready ? they just needed a catalyst. The exhibit has become in a sense iconic of the resistance.?
The photography exhibit was a symbolic treatment of the wave of executions carried out by the Rapid Action Battalion, an anticrime squad whose many critics say that it engages in violent social cleansing.
Rather than document actual killings ? something already done at great length by groups like Human Rights Watch ? Mr. Alam created a series of large, moody prints that touched on aspects of actual cases.
[Lens published a post and slide show, “Where Death Squads Struck in Bangladesh,” on March 16.]
Although the killings have drawn international condemnation, they have continued, despite promises by the government to rein in the battalion. Mr. Alam, a photographer, writer and activist, had hoped that his track record and international reputation would offer the ?Crossfire? show some protection.
But the police and officials from the battalion began to put pressure on him around midday, according to a press release from the gallery, insisting that the exhibit did not have the necessary official permission. As the 4 p.m. opening hour approached, the police closed the gallery, saying the show would create ?anarchy.?
With the gallery closed, Mr. Alam, his associates and invited guests put on an impromptu exhibit outside the gallery. The government?s intrusion ? without any apparent court order ? was denounced as illegal.
?The forcible closure of Drik?s premises is a blatant violation of our constitutional rights,? Mr. Alam said in a statement. ?We call upon the government to immediately remove the police encirclement, so that the exhibition can be opened for public viewing, and Bangladesh?s image as an independent democratic nation can be reinstated.?
By Rahnuma Ahmed
As a New Age columnist, I was thinking of writing about the controversy surrounding the Tibet exhibition (Into Exile. Tibet 1949 ? 2009, November 1-7) for my next column. My dear Maobadi friend, Tarek Chowdhury’s piece, which he was kind enough to forward me, had meanwhile been published in Samakal (`Tibboter odekha chobigulo onek kotha boley,’ November 13). Since some of our political concerns and perspectives are shared, since I benefited from his piece as I did from that of other writers who had trodden the path before me, who have extensively researched and written on China, Tibet and US imperialism, who have carefully built up their arguments and critiques based on a close scrutiny of facts and figures and have thereby helped deepen our understanding of imperialism, I drew on them. Unflinchingly. Unreservedly. Of course, I was careful to credit ideas as I went along (but not all. For instance, although I learned a lot from reading pieces by authors such as Michel Chossudovsky, F. William Engdahl and others, they were not named since I had not directly cited them. For an ex-academic like me, the space constraints of column-writing have been a learning experience).
In `Smoking Gun Abused for Smokescreen‘ (December 13) Tarek assumes that what I wrote in my column (‘China-US politics over exhibiting Tibet. In Dhaka,? November 23) was a `response’ to his Samakal op-ed. But if I had felt obliged to pen a response, surely??I would have written it up as that, and sent it off to Samakal?
I wrote as a columnist, not as Drik’s spokesperson. I have never done thus, because I do not see myself in that role. Neither, I think, do my readers (nor Shahidul Alam, or anyone else at Drik for that matter, but that’s beside the point). Secondly, I do not think my task is to pass judgment (`we don?t see Rahnuma draw any judgement about the SFT?the real ?area of contention? between us’). Not on SFT (Students for a Free Tibet), nor on anything else. That work, I think, is best left to judges. As a writer, I work towards contributing in, and in opening up further, spaces of critical thinking. Hence, I map out fields of debate, I position myself within the debate, often bringing into the discussion issues which have escaped the attention of other writers (in this case, `neat fit,’ Guantanamo, which I will go into later). I constantly seek to clarify why I think and believe what I do, as I do. Readers are intelligent people; in my view, they are both capable of, and also free to, reach their own conclusions which may, or may not, be in agreement with mine. To try and persuade, yes. To argue, yes. To pass judgment, no.
And hence, what I wrote in my column was obviously framed by my concerns (which would not have been the case if I was writing a `response’). After briefly describing what had happened (a visit by Chinese embassy officials, followed by Bangladesh intelligence, eventually a lock-up of Drik’s premises by the police), I wrote about what Tarek had written in his Samakal piece: the SFT, its funding sources, his suspicion about the timing of the exhibition, CIA funding of the Tibet movement through NED (National Endowment for Democracy). I then drew on the work of others who have researched on the SFT/NED/CIA nexus to elaborate on Tarek’s argument, and to offer my readers additional evidence: NED’s Reagan-ite origins, the roles of the (present) Dalai Lama’s brothers in the Tibet resistance movement during the 1950s in which the CIA had been active, had trained guerrilla units etc. etc.
After this, I broached the issue of cultural and political activism, seeking Shahidul’s response: an `opportunity to see rare photos,’ `we have faced pressure before,’ even `progressive institutions’ have wanted us to practise `self-censorship’; this I juxtaposed with Barker’s argument, namely, that progressive activists, both Tibetan and foreign, should first and foremost cast a critical eye over the `antidemocratic’ funders of Tibetan groups, or else, a progressive solution to the Tibetan problem, a `more thoroughgoing democratisation of [Tibetan] social life’ will not be generated. But Shahidul had said that Drik was not above criticism, that it was welcomed, and I expected readers to remember that. For me, the obvious implication of what he’d said was, whether Drik’s decision to co-host the exhibition was right or wrong should be a matter of public debate. It would give Drik the opportunity of critically appraising itself.
As for what I had written, it’s implication was much sharper. If formulated as a question it would stand thus: should Drik, as a progressive institution, have agreed to partner an exhibition with the Bangladeshi chapter of SFT, since the latter (the parent organisation) receives funding from NED, which now does what was covertly done by the CIA 25 years ago, even though the exhibition gives members of the public an opportunity to see a collection of rare photographs? This clearly was a matter for public debate (not a matter of my passing a `judgment’). I was certain that intelligent people/readers would clearly see what I was driving at.
I then returned to Barker’s argument. I wanted to tease it out further, not to minimise the importance of what he had said, but because I think (as probably Barker and many others do too) that there is no `neat fit’ between the different movements for freedom that different activists may, and do, simultaneously support. In other words, there is no `single’ list of freedom movements that will satisfy everyone critical of US imperialism. To illustrate my point, I drew on Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Irish Nobel Peace laureate, who is a strong defender of both the Palestinian, and the Tibetan, cause. I pointed to the recently-launched `Thank You Tibet!’ campaign to which Mairead belongs, which extends support to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet, claiming that they are a “model for all of us.”
In `Smoking Gun,’ Tarek points out that I had failed to mention Maguire’s connection to ICT (she’s a member of the International Campaign for Tibet’s International Counsel of Advisors). Also, that she’s an advisor to the Points of Peace Foundation (a media and human rights foundation located in Norway with “a mandate to support Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in urgent need of media, dialogue and communication assistance in their home countries and internationally”), and the founder of Voice of Tibet radio station (a PPF project aided by NED; the radio station, from what I gather, was founded by three Norwegian NGOs and not Maguire, as Tarek states, but it’s a slight error which is not crucial to our discussion). However, these additional? facts provided by Tarek, only serves to substantiate my point that there is `no neat fit.’ Does Maguire’s support for the Dalai Lama, her ICT membership, and being a PPF advisor weaken her credibility as a progressive activist? Does it imply that she is, let’s say, not genuinely concerned with promoting freedom and democracy in Tibet, or elsewhere, like Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq? Even though Maguire has strongly criticised Israel, “an allegedly democratic country with a sham justice system,” ?and the Bush administration for “increasing nuclearism, ongoing wars, and the ignoring of international treaties and laws“ in articles published in CounterPunch, USA’s best known left newsletter (which has also published articles critical of “anti-Chinese frenzy in the West, pursued in the guise of pro-Tibetan… human rights activism,” John V. Whitbeck)? (CounterPunch has published articles critical of CIA, US imperialism, too countless to mention).
Maguire’s support for the Dalai Lama, interestingly enough, does not appear to have prevented US immigration officials from detaining and harassing her at Houston airport (May 2009). `They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war.’ She added, ‘They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities.’ Detained for two hours, grilled, fingerprinted, photographed, then grilled again, Maguire was released only after the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organisation she helped found, raised a hue and cry.
There are `strings attached’ to Maguire’s `compassion for Tibet,’ says Tarek. I am not clear what he means by this phrase, and much less so, by this sentence which follows soon after, `True beauty of any actor can only be judged when the audience gets the chance to take a glance at the greenroom’ ? except that it seems to imply that something sinister lies behind Maguire’s activism. If Tarek means that support for the Tibetan cause is per se suspect, then what is one to make of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent decision to pull out of a peace conference meeting linked to the 2010 Football World Cup because the South African government had denied Dalai Lama a visa? (Reportedly, as a result of Chinese pressure). Further, what is one to make of Archbishop Tutu’s statement on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, human rights leaders and concerned individuals which tells the Dalai Lama, “we stand with you. You define non-violence and compassion and goodness.” How does one view this? As naivete on the Archbishop’s part, because he does not seem to be aware of the Dalai Lama administration’s acknowledgement (1998) that it had annually received $1.7 million in the 1960’s from the CIA, spent partly on paying for guerrilla operations against the Chinese, a fact which critics say, puts His Holiness’ commitment to non-violence, as being a public face? Or, should we be looking for a `strings attached’ answer? Or do we interpret it to mean that Archbishop Tutu’s opposition to apartheid and/or his subsequent defence of human rights and? commitment to campaigning for the oppressed is not genuine, but a mere rhetorical device? Or, do we re-think some of the issues, while reminding ourselves in the process that premier Chou-en-Lai had lent his support to the Pakistani military dictatorship in 1971 when it had unleashed a genocidal campaign against the people of east Pakistan because it was in communist China’s national interest?
Tarek writes, “Mistakenly she has equated Parenti?s strong criticism of China of ?dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate? (does this apply to pre-1978 period or when HH fled to India?) with the China which ?stood up? in October 1949 under the leadership of Mao and misled her readers grossly by misrepresenting Parenti?s views.”
What I wrote was: “One area of contention [with Tarek] is an old one, centering on whether Tibet is better or worse off, under Chinese communism. As Michael Parenti, severely critical of the Hollywood `Shangri-La’ myth puts it, old Tibet, in reality, was not a Paradise Lost. But if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free market paradise?with its deepening gulf between rich and poor, the risk of losing jobs, being beaten and imprisoned if workers try to form unions in corporate dominated “business zones,” the pollution resulting from billions of tons of industrial emissions and untreated human waste dumped into its rivers and lakes?the old Tibet, he says, may start looking better than it actually was.”
Now, if I were to list out the different periods and their characteristics that are packed together in this passage, this is how it would look:
1. Old Tibet/pre-Communism, was not Shangri-la/paradise lost
2? New Tibet=part of Communist China:
(a) earlier/pre free-market paradise
(b) present/emerging free-market paradise: deepening gulf between rich and poor, risk of losing jobs in corporate-owned zones, pollution, untreated human waste
As should be obvious to intelligent people/readers who know that chairman Mao was not an advocate of free market enterprise ? even to in-attentive readers because of? the word `emerging’ ? the sentence incorporates the assumption that the deepening gulf between rich and poor, risk of losing jobs in corporate-owned zones, pollution, untreated human waste etc. etc. — was unbeknownst in the New Tibet which precedes the present pre free-market paradise, in other words, it was unknown in Mao’s China.
Tarek further writes, “To make her public response to my views and questions…” which seems to imply that my `private’ response to his `Tibboter odekha chobigulo..’ (Samakal had published its own slashed-down version) had been very different. But this is how I had responded privately:
2009/11/9 Rahnuma Ahmed (translated to English)
Many thanks for writing this article, and for selecting me to be the first reader. My chief comments are:
(a) the issue of China-Tibet-US politics, and its analysis from a geo-strategic perspective, is undoubtedly interesting, and important. But when this perspective is utilised to analyse the politics of culture, it is necessary to be extra-cautious, since our conceptual tools have been developed to analyse geo-strategic politics, on the assumption that it is primary.
(b) I have felt that you view politics and political struggles conspiratorially, this diminishes the significance of your piece, for instance, you seem to view people as conspirators. To push my point further, I have felt that you did not subject the Chinese government/state to the same critical eye as you did the US and Tibet/Dalai Lama.
(c) while it is true that the US and China are opposed forces, that their political systems and ideologies are different etc., I do find their alliance in some areas — and here I am not? talking of trade relations — very interesting. For instance, the recent Uighur/Guantanamo incident. And it is incidents such as these which remind me that it is no longer possible to view China from a 1960s perspective, as a beacon of light amidst darkness. If one sticks to the dichotomy that China is `good’ and the US is `evil’ — one has to turn a blind eye to too many things, I believe this will hinder our attempts to understand the state as a historical phenomenon.
We will/must continue to argue and debate. lal salam/r
And toward the end of my column, I spoke of the Uighur/Guantanamo incident, of how Chinese interrogators had gone to Guantanamo and grilled Uighurs (a Muslim minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, in western China), how they had been actively assisted by US military personnel to soften them up. But in hindsight, it is my second point, about a conspiratorial view of politics, that now seems almost-prophetic. Even though, I must admit, it doesn’t answer why Tarek has chosen to ignore the long response which I posted on Shahidul’s blog (December 4) in response to? questions and comments on my column `Exhibiting Tibet.’ I had forwarded him the link, he himself had posted two comments after mine. Probably, an acknowledgement would have made writing `Smoking Gun,’ with all its allegations and accusations, difficult.
When Tarek writes, “Personally, I won?t be surprised to see the SFTBD?s Bangladeshi national director (it has quite a corporate style organisational structure), the young devoted lady who ?breathes her time equally between Dharamshala ? and Bangladesh? rewarded soon by some heavyweight promoter for her superb service” (italics mine), his gaze is undoubtedly male. It is directed at male readers, written to incite their curiosity on gendered lines.
May be if Tarek had been less melodramatic, less into `actors,’ `greenrooms,’ `make-up,’ `choreography,’ `media event,’ `orchestrated propaganda,’ `dress rehearsals,’ `TV shows,’ `anchors,’ he would have digressed less. May be if he had steered clear of metaphors that have become associated with an imperial mentalite ? Condoleeza Rice’s declaration, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” ?? he would not have barked up the wrong tree. Maybe, if he had been less `judgment’-al, he could have meaningfully contributed to the debate.
But who knows?
Published in New Age, December 20, 2009