We all helped suppress the Egyptians. So how do we change?

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By Johann Hari
The Independent
Friday, 4 February 2011

Very few British people would beat up a poor person to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do it all the time. Why?
The old slogan from the 1960s has come true: the revolution has been televised. The world is watching the Bastille fall on 24/7 rolling news. An elderly thug is trying to buy and beat and tear-gas himself enough time to smuggle his family’s estimated $25bn in loot out of the country, and to install a successor friendly to his interests. The Egyptian people ? half of whom live on less than $2 a day ? seem determined to prevent the pillage and not to wait until September to drive out a dictator dripping in blood and bad hair dye.
The great Czech dissident Vaclav Havel outlined the “as if” principle. He said people trapped under a dictatorship need to act “as if they are free”. They need to act as if the dictator has no power over them. The Egyptians are trying ? and however many of them Mubarak murders on his way out the door, the direction in which fear flows has been successfully reversed. The tyrant has become terrified of “his” people.
Of course, there is a danger that what follows will be worse. My family lived for a time under the torturing tyranny of the Shah of Iran, and cheered the revolution in 1979. Yet he was replaced by the even more vicious Ayatollahs. But this is not the only model, nor the most likely. Events in Egypt look more like the Indonesian revolution, where in 1998 a popular uprising toppled a US-backed tyrant after 32 years of oppression ? and went on to build the largest and most plural democracy in the Muslim world.
But the discussion here in the West should focus on the factor we are responsible for and can influence ? the role our governments have played in suppressing the Egyptian people. Your taxes have been used to arm, fund and fuel this dictatorship. You have unwittingly helped to keep these people down. The tear-gas canisters fired at pro-democracy protesters have “Made in America” stamped on them, with British machine guns and grenade launchers held in the background.
Very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons. Very few British people would beat up a poor person to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do it all the time. Why? British foreign policy does not follow the everyday moral principles of the British people, because it is not formulated by us. This might sound like an odd thing to say about a country that prides itself on being a democracy, but it is true.
The former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons spoke at a conference for Israel’s leaders last year and assured them they didn’t have to worry about the British people’s growing opposition to their policies because “public opinion does not influence foreign policy in Britain. Foreign policy is an elite issue”. This is repellent but right. It is formulated in the interests of big business and their demand for access to resources, and influential sectional interest groups.
You can see this most clearly if you go through the three reasons our governments give, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, for their behavior in the Middle East. Explanation One: Oil. Some 60 per cent of the world’s remaining petrol is in the Middle East. We are all addicted to it, so our governments support strongmen and murderers who will keep the oil-taps gushing without interruption. Egypt doesn’t have oil, but it has crucial oil pipelines and supply routes, and it is part of a chain of regional dictators we don’t want broken in case they all fall taking the petrol pump with it. Addicts don’t stand up to their dealers: they fawn before them.
There is an obvious medium-term solution: break our addiction. The technology exists ? wind, wave and especially solar power ? to fuel our societies without oil. It would free us from our support for dictators and horrific wars of plunder like Iraq. It’s our society’s route to rehab ? but it is being blocked by the hugely influential oil companies, who would lose a fortune. Like everybody who needs to go to rehab, the first step is to come out of denial about why we are still hooked.
Explanation Two: Israel and the “peace process”. Over the past week, we have persistently been told that Mubarak was a key plank in supporting “peace in the Middle East”. The opposite is the truth. Mubarak has been at the forefront of waging war on the Palestinian population. There are 1.5 million people imprisoned on the Gaza Strip denied access to necessities like food and centrifuges for their blood transfusion service. They are being punished for voting “the wrong way” in a democratic election.
Israel blockades Gaza to one side, and Mubarak blockades it to the other. I’ve stood in Gaza and watched Egyptian soldiers refusing to let sick and dying people out for treatment they can’t get in Gaza’s collapsing hospitals. In return for this, Mubarak receives $1.5bn a year from the US. Far from contributing to peace, this is marinating the Gazan people in understandable hatred and dreams of vengeance. This is bad even for Israel herself ? but we are so servile to the demands of the country’s self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey.
Explanation Three: Strongmen suppress jihadism. Our governments claim that without dictators to suppress, torture and disappear Islamic fundamentalists, they will be unleashed and come after us. Indeed, they often outsourced torture to the Egyptian regime, sending suspects there to face things that would be illegal at home. Robert Baer, once a senior figure in black ops at the CIA, said: “If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear, you send them to Egypt.”
Western governments claim all this makes us safer. The opposite is the truth. In his acclaimed history of al-Qa’ida, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright explains: “America’s tragedy on September 11th was born in the prisons of Egypt.” Modern jihadism was invented by Sayeed Qutb as he was electrocuted and lashed in Egyptian jails and grew under successive tyrannies. Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, was Egyptian, and named US backing for his country’s tyrant as one of the main reasons for the massacre.
When we fund the violent suppression of people, they hate us, and want to fight back. None of these factors that drove our governments to back Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt have changed. So we should strongly suspect they will now talk sweet words about democracy in public, and try to secure a more PR-friendly Mubarak in private.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We could make our governments as moral as we, the British people, are in our everyday lives. We could stop them trampling on the weak, and fattening thugs. But to achieve it, we have to democratise our own societies and claim control of our foreign policy. We would have to monitor and campaign over it, and let our governments know there is a price for behaving viciously abroad. The Egyptian people have shown this week they will risk everything to stop being abused. What will we risk to stop our governments being abusers?
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-we-all-helped-suppress-the-egyptians-so-how-do-we-change-2203579.html

Tunisia Egypt Global Revolution Tribute

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– a video by Ken O’Keefe

Thinking the Unthinkable: Is the Gulf Next?

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By James M. Dorsey | 02 FEB 2011

Thinking the Unthinkable: Is the Gulf Next?
It?s time to think the unthinkable: Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states may be getting in line for their turn at confronting widespread popular discontent.
As a wave of mass protests sweeps the Arab world, shaking the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the core, rumblings of popular restlessness are bubbling to the service in the Gulf.
Shiite opposition groups in Bahrain, a strategic island kingdom that hosts the U.S. Navy?s 5th Fleet, have called for?protests on February 14 to demand greater political freedom, a halt to attempts to redress the sectarian balance in a Shiite-majority country ruled by a Sunni minority, an end to human rights abuses and improved economic opportunities.
Over the past month,?Saudi Arabia?s dismal soccer performance in the Asian Cup, unemployment, floods in Jeddah that killed at least four people and the granting of asylum to the ousted Tunisian leader have sparked protests and criticism on newspaper op-ed pages as well as on blogs and in Internet chat rooms.
Read more of the story at?The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
——–
James M. Dorsey, a former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, writes about ethnic and religious conflict. He is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.
======================================================

=======================================================
Dear friends,
Millions of brave Egyptians are right now facing a fateful choice. Thousands have been jailed, injured or killed in the last few days. But if they press on in peaceful protest, they could end decades of tyranny.
The protesters have appealed for international solidarity, but the dictatorship knows the power of unity at a time like this ? they?ve desperately tried to cut Egyptians off from the world and each other by completely shutting down the internet and mobile networks.
Satellite and radio networks can still break through the regime blackout — let?s flood those airwaves with a massive cry of solidarity showing Egyptians that we stand with them, and that we?ll hold our governments accountable to stand with them too. The situation is at a tipping point — every hour counts — click below to sign the solidarity message, and forward this email:
Yasmine Jaffri
?https://secure.avaaz.org/en/democracy_for_egypt/97.php?cl_tta_sign=887eb39ee0031d3012345f2fa90c21cf?
People power is sweeping the Middle East. In days, peaceful protesters brought down Tunisia?s 30-year dictatorship. Now the protests are spreading to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and beyond. This could be the Arab world’s Berlin Wall moment. If tyranny falls in Egypt, a tidal wave of democracy could sweep the entire region.
Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has tried to crush the rallies. But with incredible bravery and determination, the protesters keep coming.
There are moments when history is written not by the powerful, but by people. This is one of them. The actions of ordinary Egyptians in the coming hours will have a massive effect on their country, the region, and our world. Let?s cheer them on with our own pledge to stand with them in their struggle:
?https://secure.avaaz.org/en/democracy_for_egypt/97.php?cl_tta_sign=887eb39ee0031d3012345f2fa90c21cf
?Mubarak?s family has left the country, but last night he ordered the military into the streets. He?s ominously promised 0 tolerance for what he calls ?chaos?. Either way, history will be made in the next few days. Let?s make this the moment that shows every dictator on our planet that they cannot stand long against the courage of people united.
With hope and admiration for the Egyptian people,
Ricken, Rewan, Ben, Graziela, Alice, Kien and the rest of the Avaaz team
More Information:
Egypt unrest: Alert as mass protests loom
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12303564
Egyptian government shuts down the Internet
http://www.renesys.com/blog/2011/01/egypt-leaves-the-internet.shtml
North Africa: Will dominoes fall in the region?
http://allafrica.com/stories/201101280659.html
‘Beginning of the end’ for Egypt’s Mubarak as son and wife flee
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/105117/20110126/beginning-of-the-end-for-egypt-s-mubarak-as-son-and-wife-flee.htm
Amnesty International condemns the crackdown on demonstrations
http://amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/egypt-must-stop-crackdown-protesters-2011-01-26
Regular updates are being posted by Egyptian activists here:
http://www.elshaheeed.co.uk
ACCESS campaign for digital freedom in Egypt:
https://www.accessnow.org/page/s/help-egypt

September 22 is for remembering

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Daily Mirror

THURSDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER 2010 00:00


The 4th article of the Dasa Raja Dharma, Lord Buddha?s incomparable treatise on good governance is about Ajjava, i.e. honesty and integrity. The ruler, the Buddha said must be absolutely straightforward and must never employ any crooked means to achieve ends. This week I planned to dwell on this particular aspect of good governance but am compelled to employ the idea to dissect something more specific. I write about honesty and integrity but only in terms of how they relate to the month of September.
I am writing this on September 22, 2010. September 22 is significant for a specific and personal reason. It marks an anniversary. On this day, exactly one year ago, the Daily Mirror published an article by me titled ?Welcome to Sri Lanka Ms. Patricia Butenis?. Ms. Butenis had just assumed duties as the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka. My comment followed a statement she issued to the press subsequent to presenting credentials to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
She said in that note, ?No country, including the United States, has a perfect record in safeguarding human rights? but said that even while addressing its own shortcomings, the USA has a responsibility to advocate for the rights and freedoms of people worldwide. Ms. Butenis is aware I am sure of the adage that charity begins at home. I expressed in my response to her ?note? the hope that once she recovers from jet-leg, Ms. Butenis would write a lengthy piece informing Sri Lankans about what exactly the USA has been doing by way of addressing shortcomings.
A lot has happened since September 22, 2009. We?ve had Nick Clegg of Britain?s Liberal Democratic Party confessing while acting as Prime Minister that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. We?ve had ?Wikileaks? telling us of the horrendous and systemic perpetration of atrocities by US troops in Afghanistan. We?ve had the US justice system virtually giving a green light to torture of prisoners as long as it happens outside the borders of that country. We?ve had President Barack Obama wanting photographic evidence of excesses perpetrated by US troops in Iraq suppressed in the name of ?national security?. We?ve not had Ms. Butenis saying a word about these things.
Continue reading “September 22 is for remembering”

Murdoch phone hacking scandal

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Murdoch phone hacking scandal engulfs all Britain?s major parties

By Jean Shaoul
22 September 2010

World Socialist Website

A desperate damage control operation is underway as further allegations emerge about the extent of the illegal phone hacking at the Rupert Murdoch-owned?News of the World. The paper?s royal editor and a private investigator were found guilty of hacking into the voice mail of members of the Royal family and their aides in 2007.
It is now alleged that the practice was much more prevalent than was revealed at the time and that the Metropolitan Police failed to investigate all the cases known to them.
Journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were found guilty at the Old Bailey in January 2007 after they admitted hacking into phones. Goodman was jailed for four months and Mulcaire for six months.News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned following the case. He denied knowing about the hacking, but he accepted ultimate responsibility as editor of the paper. Prime Minister Gordon Brown immediately phoned to offer his commiserations. He assured the journalist that he had acted honourably in resigning and expressed his confidence that Coulson would soon have another job.
Coulson is now Prime Minister David Cameron?s director of communications and at the centre of the new allegations. His presence in the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition administration implicates all three major political parties in the affair. It is now suggested that under the previous Labour government, the police and parliamentary investigations were cut short. The Liberal Democrats, who challenged Coulson?s claims that he was ignorant of the phone hacking, are now part of an administration in which Coulson plays a key role and must, as deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did in the House of Commons earlier this month, defend him.
A network of relationships has been exposed which reveal the incestuous nature of the British political elite and its ties to global corporate interests, in particular to Rupert Murdoch?s News International Corporation. A coalition government has just come to power that supposedly represents a new chapter in British political life after 13 years of Labour rule. But the Murdoch empire has slipped seamlessly from one government to the next. Even if Coulson is never charged with any crime and never found guilty of any crime, this affair will have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that official politics in Britain is entirely divorced from the interests of ordinary people and in the hands of a criminal oligarchy who act outside the law.
Real political power lies with this plutocratic layer and not with elected representatives in Parliament. Allegations have emerged this month that the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee held back from pursuing its investigation into phone hacking at the?News of the World. Adam Price, a former Plaid Cymru MP who retired from Parliament in May, claims that MPs were afraid that their private lives would come under investigation if they called on News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks to testify. Members of the committee discussed getting the sergeant-at-arms to issue a subpoena for Mrs. Brooks.
Continue reading “Murdoch phone hacking scandal”

Democracy Is Dead!

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Sadly, this is not restricted to Sri Lanka alone. SA.
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Editorial, The Sunday Leader, 11 April 2010

Switch off the lights. Rend your hair. Don only white. It is time to go into mourning. An old and ailing relative? democracy, has died an inevitable death. Dead at barely 60 years old though the abuse it suffered during its short life span made it appear much older.
Like the aunt who lingers on long after most of the family believe she is already dead, this week?s death was a quiet one, it was long expected, some would say even overdue. There was no shock, no sudden loss.
Democracy in this country wasn?t overthrown by a dictator, nor shattered suddenly by the chaos of war and revolution. Instead it died a painful, slow death. Strangled by corruption, stifled by authoritarianism and finally snuffed out by the disinterest and apathy of the general public. ?And while it somehow lingered on despite being savaged by decades of war, riots, and attempted revolutions, ?this week we finally saw democracy die in the hearts and minds of voters.
The turn out ?for the 2010 general election stands as the lowest in history? only ?50% of the country?s people made the effort to participate in the country?s political process; not enough to sustain democracy?s ebbing life force. ?While some will criticise the voters? apathy, in reality you can only marvel at the patience of a people who voted regularly for six decades. ??At the devotion of a population who after years of false promises and disappointment continued to vote until finally a lack of credible candidates, tangible issues and the impossibility of effecting real change finally destroyed their interest in democracy.
Of course the truth is and always has been that ?regardless of the final results of this election, thugs, cronies and criminals will continue to rule this country. And regardless of anyone?s vote the present ?situation of lawlessness, ?emergency rule and authoritarianism is guaranteed to continue. The election was never going to address this country?s fundamental issues. Its lack of law and order, its almost medieval levels of women?s representation, the broken education system.
None of these things were even on the agenda. With victory guaranteed ?the most keenly fought battles in this year?s election took place within the ruling party, as the government?s heavy weight candidates fought openly over the spoils of certain UPFA victory; the 20 million vassals and serfs who no longer enjoy even the pretense of rights.
Instead of issues and achievements, candidates ?struggled to display their closeness to the country?s centre of power. ?We were treated to the unashamed sycophantism of ?posters showing Wimal Weerawansa sharing breakfast with our leader and ?Bandula Gunawardena daring to pass the ?phone to the President. ?Eventually ?desperation for inter-party preference votes saw ?government candidates desecrate Buddha statues and violate every section of the country?s election law ?with impunity.
Seeing the ugliness of the government, the impotence of the opposition and the hypocrisy ?of the institutions ? police, courts, charged with safeguarding democracy the people were inevitably disgusted. ??And at ?a crucial moment in the country?s history they ?chose to hide their faces from this mockery of the democratic process. They looked away ?from the hideous posters, meaningless slogans and the futile opposition ?and refused to make the effort to vote.
But while everyone looked away ?democracy died a second death ? that of the two thirds majority. ?Figures indicate that the UPFA ?will receive nearly two-thirds of the votes ?cast. ?And with this majority comes nothing less than absolute power. The ability to amend the constitution, the very basis of ?the nation?s law. The checks and ?balances that ?are the key to democracy have disappeared. ??And with the government in such a comfortable position the reforms that could ?possibly have breathed new life into the islands democracy? the 17th Amendment, quotas for women, a Right to Information Act, will never materialise.
Democracy in Sri Lanka is beyond revival. And in its place we now have just one party or more accurately, one ?family. ?And the country?s citizens have just one choice, either demonstrate their loyalty, obedience and gratitude to the ruling family or risk detention, death or worse the utter irrelevance of ?powerlessness.
This is no longer a criticism or a warning, ?it is simply reality. One chapter of the country?s history is now closed ?? the flickering light of democracy has gone out. ?The ailing opposition, the clapped out General, the toothless UNP will never be able to restore the people?s right to democracy. ?Instead if it is ever to return, democracy in this country will have to be reborn. Instead of ?being imposed by colonial masters it will have to take hold again in the hearts and minds of the people.
If nothing else this year?s low turn-out indicates dissatisfaction ?with the current political system and perhaps ?a longing for a process we can all believe in; ?it is still possible that the country?s people still long for genuine democracy. ?But until that hope manifests itself as a genuine grass roots movement for a return to a politics based on principles, representative politics and good governance we ?have dark years of despotism ahead of us.
Democracy is dead. And today only thugs, cronies and sycophants ?have reason to celebrate; the rest of us will be in mourning for a weak, flawed but comforting old friend.

Siege of Drik Gallery

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New Age Editorial

THE siege, so to speak, of the Drik Gallery by the police on Monday, to force cancellation of a photo exhibition on extrajudicial killings by acclaimed photographer and Drik managing director Shahidul Alam, not only undermined the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution of the republic but also put the entire nation to shame. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, the police, along with the Rapid Action Battalion and the Special Branch of police, had, from midday onwards, put pressure on the Drik management to not hold the exhibition on the ground that it did not have official permission and that it might cause ?unrest in the country?, before they cordoned off the gallery half an hour before the inauguration of the show. Subsequently, the organisers were forced to hold an impromptu inaugural ceremony on the road in front of the gallery.
The reasons cited by the police appear somewhat dodgy. As Shahidul Alam pointed out, Drik has been ?arranging shows since 1993 and no permission has ever been required.? Other galleries in the capital and elsewhere in the country would certainly make the same observations. In other words, even if there is a provision in the Dhaka Metropolitan Police ordinance that makes obtaining permission for an exhibition mandatory, neither the organisers of such exhibitions have deemed it necessary to comply with it, nor have the police themselves shown any urgency with regard to its enforcement. The question then is why the police deemed it invoke a provision that is seldom enforced. The answer may be found in the remark of an assistant commissioner of police quoted in the New Age report. ?The organisers did not obtain official permission although exhibitions on sensitive issues require prior permission,? he said.
Indeed, the issue that the Drik exhibition deals with, i.e. extrajudicial killings, is sensitive. It is, perhaps, more sensitive for the police and the Rapid Action Battalion because they are the prime perpetrators of such killings. It is, perhaps, equally sensitive for the government since it has not only failed to rein in the trigger-happy law enforcers despite widespread criticism and condemnation, at home and abroad, of extrajudicial killings and, most importantly, embargo by the highest judiciary but also appeared, of late, to be trying to justify such blatant violation of the rule of law by the supposed protectors of law. It is unlikely that the police acted on Monday beyond the knowledge of the government, which could only indicate that the incumbents may be even willing to foil any attempt at creating public awareness of, and thus mobilising public opinion against, extrajudicial killings, which is what the Drik photo exhibition appears to be. It is ironic that the ruling Awami League promised, in its election manifesto, to put an end to extrajudicial killings.
As indicated before, the police action not only was in contravention with the constitution but also put the entire nation to shame. The inauguration of the exhibition was scheduled to be followed by the launch of the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, and the guest of honour was none other than celebrated Indian writer and human rights activist Mahashweta Devi. There were also celebrated personalities from some other countries. In other words, the police enacted the shameful episode in front of such an august gathering tarnishing, in the process, the image of the nation as a whole.
While we condemn the police action, we demand that the government order immediate withdrawal of the police cordon around the Drik Gallery and thus allow the exhibition to continue unhindered. It is the least that the government should do.

DAILY STAR Editorial

Police action against Drik exhibition:It undercuts people’s political and cultural rights
THE police action, stopping the Drik gallery exhibition of images relating to the incidents of ‘crossfire’ in Bangladesh, is a case of oppression and curtailment of our fundamental rights of freedom of expression, speech, information and cultural expression. On Monday, just before the exhibition was to be inaugurated by eminent Indian intellectual Mahasweta Devi, policemen positioned themselves before the gallery in Dhanmondi and simply refused to let anyone enter or come out of its premises. By way of explanation, they told the media that Drik gallery did not have permission to organise the 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

Widespread condemnation of closure of photo exhibition in Bangladesh (Power of Culture)

Prince Claus Fund partner closed down by police (Metropolis M)

News in UK

?Crossfire? censored ? the power of documentary photography (Prof. David Campbell)

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PRESS RELEASE

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.
END/
News in USA

Police in Bangladesh Close Photo Exhibit







By David Gonzalez

New York Times

Shahidul Alam had hoped his ?Crossfire? exhibit on extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh would ?shock people out of their comfort zone? and provoke a response.
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.?

China-US Politics over Exhibiting Tibet. In Dhaka

By Rahnuma Ahmed

Writer and translator Tarek Omar Chowdhury, a committed Maobadi and a dear friend, was deeply worried. `Of course I do not support what happened, although I must admit I look at it? differently.’ He was referring to the government’s pressure to close down ?Into Exile ? Tibet 1949 ? 2009,? an exhibition organised by the Bangladeshi chapter of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), in partnership with Drik, November 1 ? 7. `I express my solidarity,’ said his e-mail.
At first it had been the cultural counsellor from the Chinese embassy in Dhaka. Turning up at Drik he told Shahidul Alam, its managing director, “We would like you to cancel the Tibet exhibition.” Tibet was a part of China. If the exhibition was held, the relationship between Bangladesh and China would be affected. Drik, he was politely told, was an independent gallery. They did not have the right to tell Drik what it could, or could not show. But other visits and phone calls soon began: Bangladeshi government officials, police, special branch, members of parliament. Using either intimidation or persuasion, they basically conveyed the same message. The show must be cancelled. Later, the police insisted that Drik needed official permission but were unable to produce any written document. On the 1st afternoon, police in riot gear entered Drik’s premises and locked it up. A symbolic opening, inaugurated by professor Muzaffer Ahmed, was held on the street outside. Having registered its indignation, Drik decided to close down the exhibition the next day as a mark of protest.

Policemen encircle Professor Muzaffer Ahmad, chairman of the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International, as he went to Drik Gallery in the capital Dhaka to open an exhibition titled ?Into Exile ? Tibet 1949?2009? on November 1.
? New Age photo

I am thinking of writing about it, said Tarek. But of course, you must, I said. His piece, `Tibboter odekha chobigulo onek kotha boley’ appeared in Samakal, 13 November. While highly critical of government interference and heavy-handedness, Tarek voiced suspicion about the SFT and its funding sources, whether the opening was timed to coincide with Dalai Lama’s Arunachal visit, to draw media attention, to villify China by portraying it as an occupying force in Tibet. The US government, more particularly the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), wrote Tarek, has directly funded the Tibet movement from 1956 to 1972, and later, indirectly, through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an organisation best described in the words of its first acting president, Allen Weinstein, ?A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.?
What Tarek has written is amply supported in research conducted by many academicians and scholars. The NED was established in 1984 with both Republican and Democratic party’s support during president Reagan?s administration to ?foster the infrastructure of democracy ? the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities? around the world. Created by an act of Congress, it is funded primarily through annual allocations from the Congress. It operates through four core institutes: the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDIIA), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), and the Center for International Private Enterprise. The latter, CIPE, has in recent years awarded a grant to the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and more recently, it has supported an initiative undertaken by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI). But I will write about that some other day. To return to Tibet and CIA connections: NED-funded organisations include SFT, which was founded in 1994 in New York. Together with five other organisations, the SFT in January 2008 proclaimed “the start of a ‘Tibetan people’s uprising” and co-founded a? temporary office in charge of coordination and financing. Other published sources document how, in the USA, ?the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the Dalai Lama?s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that group. The Dalai Lama?s second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA in 1951 [although CIA aid was only formally established in 1956]. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet.? (Michael Barker, “Democratic Imperialism” ).
So, I asked Shahidul, what made you agree to co-hosting this exhibition? I thought it would be an interesting one, he replied. The public would have the opportunity to see rare photos. And I did tell the embassy officials that we would be happy to show a Chinese exhibition, if the quality was right. Our point is to open up the debate. And it’s nothing new, we have faced pressure before. From the British Council in Dhaka over the European Currency Unfolds show. From Bangladesh government officials over some images of 1971. And then, Dhaka’s Alliance Francaise had backed out from sponsoring my exhibition which was critical of Ershad’s military rule. So did the Art College. Intimidation, fear, exhortations to self-censorship?that too, by progressive institutions?these are not new. But of course, he added, this does not mean that we should not critically appraise ourselves. We are not above criticism. I invite it.
My attention turned to something Barker had written. NED’s funding issue, he says, is clearly problematic for Tibetan (or foreign) activists campaigning for Tibetan freedom. Progressive activists should first and foremost cast a critical eye over the antidemocratic funders of Tibetan groups. Only then can progressive solutions for restoring democratic governance to Tibet be generated by concerned activists. Or else, he says, we get what William I Robinson terms polyarchy, or “low-intensity democracy” which mitigates the “social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status quos” and suppresses “popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing democratisation of social life in the twenty-first century international order.? As I read, I was reminded of Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who received the Nobel Peace prize (1976) in recognition of her determined attempts to peacefully resolve the troubles in Northern Ireland. Maguire had gone to Israel in 2004 to welcome? Mordechai Vanunu, on his release from prison after serving an 18-year prison sentence for disclosing Israel’s nuclear secrets.? She was hit by a rubber-coated bullet in 2007, while participating in a protest against the construction of Israel’s security fence outside the Arab settlement of Bil’in. She was taken into custody by the Israeli military this year for being on board a small ferry carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Recently (October 2009), Mairead was one of three Nobel Peace laureates to launch a major `Thank You Tibet!’ Campaign to commemorate Tibetan peoples 50 years in exile. The Campaign statement extends support to “His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet.” It says, ?They are a model for all of us: despite the attack on their people and the displacement of their culture they preach and practice compassion and respect for the dignity of every person.?. Compassion and respect for all? Some may not agree. Recently (October 2009), when asked about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, His Holiness had replied, “I think too early to say.”
To return to Tarek. I did tell him, I don’t agree with everything that you say. One area of contention 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.
The other point has to do with recent news reports of the presence of Chinese interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who had gone to grill Uighurs (a Muslim minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, in western China). Chinese officials were actively assisted by US military personnel to soften up the Uighurs for interrogation: sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures, isolation, holding up their head by the hair and beard so that Chinese officials could take facial photographs. According to them, it was “their lowest point” at Guantanamo. This active assistance was extended, while Washington reportedly continues to support secessionist movements in Xinjiang by supporting several Islamist organizations through CIA-ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) liaison.
Another friend, a keen political analyst, predicted that the US officialdom stationed in Dhaka would soon enough overcome its prolonged misgivings about Drik, as expressed in an e-mail from the USIA director John Kincannon, `Given what I’m reading in Meghbarta and your apparent active opposition to President Clinton’s visit to Bangladesh, it seems odd that you would expect USIS would have much interest in cooperating with Drik on anything’ (March 16, 2000). My friend was right. An invitation extended by the US ambassador himself arrived, sooner than predicted, for Shahidul.
Published in New Age 23rd November 2009.
Further analysis by Omar Tarek Chowdhury

Charge Of The Light Brigade

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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 19, Dated May 16, 2009
CULTURE & SOCIETY ?
photo essay

Charge Of The Light Brigade
Bangladesh?s award-winning photographers are subverting the first world lens, says?SHAHIDUL ALAM
LATE IN 1990 we knew we had a photographic movement on our hands in Bangladesh. General Ershad had imposed strict censorship laws and in protest all the newspapers had stopped publishing for a few weeks. But everyone was still working. We planned to paste the photographs that we took of the unfolding events, surreptitiously at night on the Press Club walls, knowing the police would take them down as soon as they were spotted. We hoped at least some people would see them. Then, suddenly General Ershad stepped down. So we showed the photos at the small gallery of the Art College, Dhaka. We printed on cheap paper and had a crude, impromptu show. Over the next three days four lakh people saw the show. We nearly had riots.
The photographic movement in my country began with the Bangladesh Photo-graphic Society in the mid- 1970s, largely as a camera club where professionals and amateurs got together. I?ve been judging camera club contests around the world. Except that in Iran they do not have pictures of naked women by waterfalls, camera clubs do not vary much from country to country. In 1984, when I joined I was very interested in introducing documentary work and photojournalism. At the time there was considerable friction between Bangladeshi photojournalists and the camera club.The camera club thought their work contributed to the art form and the photojournalists thought the camera club was only into pretty pictures. (Which was the truth, as you would guess from photographs titled Composition 1, Study 2).
BUT SEVERAL events contributed to the growth of the Bangladeshi photography movement. In the mid 1980s we started some basic courses in photography. We set up a very bare, basic gallery. In 1989, I set up Drik, a photo agency. For each of these initiatives we built infrastructure from scratch and got nothing from the government. In 1993, Drik even created Bangladesh?s first email network ? how could we run a photo agency without communicating with the world?

We had a crude, impromptu show. Over the next three days four lakh people came. We nearly had riots

In 1998, World Press Photo kicked off a training programme in Bosnia, Peru, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. We were already conducting workshops but felt our students would benefit with continuity. So we took the plunge and started Paathshala, a photography school in Dhaka. We had one room, some bricks for another room, an old slide projector and 12 students. But we had fine teachers from Bangla desh and abroad. Later, we made another leap and start ed a selfproclaimed BA course. Today we have nearly 140 students, and all the photographers in Bangladesh?s media houses are former Paathshala students. We teach the MA photography course at Dhaka University though the government has still not recognised our programme!
When Chobi Mela happens, all of Bangladesh talks about nothing else. Chobi Mela is the annual photography festival which we have organised since 2000. This year, there were over 60 exhibitions, 35 participating nations, well over 1,000 images, over 50 visiting artists from Asia alone and two lakh visitors. Mahasweta Devi, Noam Chomsky and Stuart Hall spoke via live video broadcasts.
Decades ago, I invited the security guards and caretakers from the company I worked in, to my first show. Later I found out that none of them had even attempted it because they were sure they would not be let in. So to me it is very special that this year I walked into a gallery during Chobi Mela and saw a bunch of street children capering about. Ensuring the general public?s access is an important and complicated task. We try to have photo exhibitions in open-air marquees. Our mobile exhibitions is now a trademark of the festival, where 10 rickshaw vans, plying the streets of Dhaka, move the festival away from galleries to the more public spaces of football fields and open-air markets. Another way in which we?ve made inroads: a monthly television programme. In each episode we introduce a major Bangladeshi and international photographer and something that the ordinary person would be interested in, such as wedding photography or how to get better prints. And this is as important to us as the high-profile guests at Chobi Mela.
Leaning to the other extreme from our camera club days, today most of our best work is being done in documentary photography and photojournalism. Today our photographers have won awards in every international contest and there is a lot of pride in that. And in the fact that I, a Bangladeshi photographer, am the only non-white person to have been the chair of the World Press Photo international jury.
Poverty is a commodity in the world of photography. We started Majority World, a photo agency, with the intention of fighting the making of the images which are the most popular among Western photographers shooting in Bangladesh. Even the name Majority World is a response to the phrase First World. At the same time, we do not deny poverty and we teach our students to photograph people with dignity and to understand that the issues of poverty and exploitation are intertwined.
When we put together the exhibition?The War We Forgot?on Bangladesh’s liberation war of 1971, the government asked us to remove the images which showed revenge killings by Bengalis against Urdu speakers. We pulled the exhibition from the National Museum and held it in Drik?s gallery instead. The government was left with egg on its face because visitors kept asking why such a show was refused by the National Museum. The British Council asked us to not show an exhibition criticising the invasion of Iraq on their premises and we refused. This year one of the shows was by a Swedish artist examining terrorism. But her work was strongly sexual, using images involving much nudity. The Indian government was a partner in the Chobi Mela until we had a show of photographs taken by children of sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata. Years ago, one night after Drik had hosted a press conference criticising the government, I was stabbed on the street. But we know we are here to push the envelope constantly and we won?t stop.

(Alam is an award-winning photographer and activist)