Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.?American Anthropologist September, 2002 Vol.104(3): 783-790.

The main concern of the article is to determine if Muslim women do actually need saving. The focus is on the mandatory wearing of the veil, or burqa. The author discusses many groups that maintain that the Muslim women do need saving from the oppression that binds them to wear the burqa. The author also maintains that anthropologists, among others, should not be overly culturally relativistic but that they should recognize and respect cultural differences. Do those same petitioners that try and save the Muslim women also try and save the African women from genital mutilation or the Indian women from dowry deaths? No, they do not because they have been taught not to judge cultures based upon their own.

The basic argument of the author is that there should not be so much focus on the burqa, but on the other mandates that the women are forced to oblige. The burqa is not an imposition. The author states that should the women be released from this mandate, they would most likely choose another form of headcovering to wear. A headcovering is the appropriate form of dress for their community. The burqa symbolizes a woman’s modesty and respectability and provides protection from strange men in the public sphere. A burqa is a symbol of a “good woman” who is able to stay at home, not working outside with the public. The author refers to the burqa as a kind of “mobile home” in that the women would be in the “inviolable space of their homes, even though moving in the public realm”.

The author described the burqa and the practice of wearing one in Afghanistan and other Muslim societies. She also noted that the Taliban did not invent the burqa but they did impose the wearing of one on all women as being “religiously appropriate.” The author presented her arguments in a clear manner but also admits that she is not an expert on Afghanistan

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The rose is my qibla

POETIC VOICES of the MUSLIM WORLD
I am a Muslim:
The rose is my qibla.
The stream my prayer-rug,
the sunlight my clay tablet.
My mosque the meadow.
I rinse my arms for prayers
along with the thrum and
pulse of windows.
Through my prayers streams
the moon, the refracted
light of the sun.
SOHRAB SEPEHRI (1928-1980, IRAN), FROM WATER?S FOOTFALLTRANSLATED FROM THE FARSI BY KAZIM ALI WITH MOHAMMED JAFAR MAHALLATI

Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America


In the final years of the nineteenth century, small groups of Muslim peddlers arrived at Ellis Island every summer, bags heavy with embroidered silks from their home villages in Bengal. The American demand for ?Oriental goods? took these migrants on a curious path, from New Jersey?s beach boardwalks into the heart of the segregated South. Two decades later, hundreds of Indian Muslim seamen began jumping ship in New York and Baltimore, escaping the engine rooms of British steamers to find less brutal work onshore. As factory owners sought their labor and anti-Asian immigration laws closed in around them, these men built clandestine networks that stretched from the northeastern waterfront across the industrial Midwest.
The stories of these early working-class migrants vividly contrast with our typical understanding of immigration.?Vivek Bald?s meticulous reconstruction reveals a lost history of South Asian sojourning and life-making in the United States. At a time when Asian immigrants were vilified and criminalized, Bengali Muslims quietly became part of some of America?s most iconic neighborhoods of color, from Trem? in New Orleans to Detroit?s Black Bottom, from West Baltimore to Harlem. Many started families with Creole, Puerto Rican, and African American women.
As steel and auto workers in the Midwest, as traders in the South, and as halal hot dog vendors on 125th Street, these immigrants created lives as remarkable as they are unknown. Their stories of ingenuity and intermixture challenge assumptions about assimilation and reveal cross-racial affinities beneath the surface of early twentieth-century America.

The ambulance is more Muslim than you

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The ambulance is more Muslim than you

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis having breakfast in their home in Karachi. Their bedroom that doubles as their dining room. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

‘The ambulance is more Muslim than you’.?That was the answer Abdul Sattar Edhi gave to a question when once asked ‘why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?’ By any stretch of imagination, Abdul Sattar Edhi is an enigma to most people. None of us truly understand him. I often think that Edhi walks a fine line between passion and lunacy. I am not able to comprehend why this man insists on doing what he does, in the capacity that he does it, for as long as he has done it for. The heart wants to register it, but the mind questions the motive.

Motive. What the hell is his motive? Please, someone tell me what this man?s motive is.
Through no easy deduction, I submit that I have discovered the answer to my question. It has taken every critical bone in my body to genuinely understand the answer, but folks, I can safely say that I have finally reached a verdict: there is no motive. There is. No. Motive. Edhi has destroyed my carefully built assessment of Man over the years. He has ruined my calculated analysis of the weaknesses of people. That he has negated all my years of hard earned views on Man single handedly almost leaves me infuriated with him. He has forced me to start over from scratch. For that, I cannot forgive him.
Abandoned family outside Edhi Tower in Karachi.

? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

This is a man that I cannot imagine my own life without. Mind you, I have never met him. I don’t want to. There isn’t a single day in my life that has collectively added up in honor to justify me being able to sit opposite Edhi. I have at best, been able to find the courage to go and drop off some extremely basic things at one of his many, many, charity centers the world over. While there, I stay for just long enough to try to fathom what all this man has done for my country. Being an impossible task, I soon give up trying to reach to the bottom of that barrel and leave very quietly. I imagine it is pretty much what anyone what do.
For those unaware of who this man is, let me put it in a very simple way: Hollywood has Batman, Superman, The Hulk, and Spiderman. Pakistan has Edhi.
A mother grieves for her son in an Edhi ambulance.

? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

What has inspired me to write about Edhi? He certainly doesn’t need any more press validating his incredible efforts or work done. He already has, safely locked away, the hearts of some 170 million people. But yesterday, I was brought to my knees by an action I witnessed that for lack of any other descriptive word, I can only describe as ‘Edhi’.

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A Blessing For My Children

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By Tabish Khair

(Excerpt from a talk given in 2005 at the Florence Poetry Festival, later also published in The Hindu, Chennai, on 1st January 2006.)

To be born into a minority is a blessing and a curse. I was born into a Muslim family in Bihar: Muslims are the biggest religious minority of India. But within the community of Indian Muslims, my family again belonged to a large minority: that of middle class, professional Muslims. My father was a doctor. His father had been a doctor, and his father?s father had been a doctor too. Before that my father?s ancestors had been impoverished but independent and proudly literate farmers. My mother had a college degree in political science and, for some time, ran her own business. Her father had been a police officer and his father had owned a small tea plantation in Assam.
When you are born into a minority that is a minority within a minority, you learn to belong in different ways. I grew up as Indian and as Muslim. I grew up speaking three languages and writing two scripts. I was told or I read stories and poems from the West (especially Russian and British) as well as the East (especially Hindi/Urdu and from the Sanskrit and Persian-Arabic traditions). I was brought up on a concept of civilization and modernity that was not spelled E-U-R-O-P-E or W-E-S-T, for while my family members spoke English, they also spoke other languages; while they had imbibed Western education, they often also had a sense of other sources of rational thinking and possible modernities.
It is this that often makes me frustrated even with much of acclaimed post-colonial literature, for very often this literature is only concerned about the bridge of West-and-the-Rest. In my family, over centuries, we had crossed many other bridges. It is also this that made me feel – when I grew older – that the India I had grown up in was a fragile entity: it was threatened by various kinds of fundamentalisms (Muslim, Hindu and Western); it was always in the minority. There were other kinds of threat too. There were Hindu-Muslim riots, which were more threatening to secular Muslims like me and my family members than to religious Muslims living in ghetto-like colonies. There were constant attempts to bracket our identity. Are you Muslim or Indian, we were asked – as if one could be only the one or the other. So, when the time came, it was not too hard for me to leave the geographical space of India – for the India that mattered to me was there in my mind and my memories.
Not that the questions got better. I was, after all, again part of a minority: the minority of coloured people in Denmark, the minority of immigrants, the minority of Indians, of Muslims. I was complimented on being taller than ?most Indians?; I was praised for more liberal habits than ?most Muslims?. And again and again I had to – I have to – read largely ignorant articles in newspapers denigrating Asians or coloured immigrants or Muslims. That is the curse of being part of a minority.
The blessing is that one belongs in different ways, one learns to see different perspectives, one speaks many languages, one is aware of many histories, one is both this and that. If you only stop to listen, you are blessed with so many stories. If you only shut out the screaming of those who will not listen, you recognise the blessing of a coherent identity: for the identity of a person from a minority does not depend on a piece of cloth or a ritual; it is part of his own lived being. It is not external; it is internal. And with it comes the blessing of having cause to write.
And so, in spite of the curses and the threats, in spite of the screaming and the swearing, this is what I wish for my son and daughter: may you always belong to a multiple minority, to the minority of minorities. For then you may learn to see – and feel.

How can I speak out?

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As a Muslim I cannot take the easy path of a rousing condemnation of Israel

By Tabish Khair
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 17 January 2009 11.00 GMT

The statistics are clear: about 1,000 Palestinians, including more than 400 children and women, killed by Israeli forces in the first 20 days of the current misadventure in the?Middle East.
Given these statistics, it should be easy to condemn?Israel. But it is not. Not unless you are Jewish.
As a Muslim I cannot take the easy path of a rousing condemnation of Israel. Because I have to bear in mind not only Muslim experiences but also Jewish ones. I have to bear in mind not only Zionism but also Nazism. I have to bear in mind not just the duplicity of Israeli politicians but the stupidity of Muslim ones. If I were Jewish I could simply condemn Israel’s latest misadventure. If I were Jewish, I could choose to overlook my own, Jewish, contexts and focus instead on the rights and suffering of the other: of Muslim Palestinians. If I were Jewish, I could hardly do anything else ? as a significant minority of Jewish intellectuals has demonstrated ? without lying to myself about my own motives and twisting facts. But as a Muslim I cannot give myself the right to overlook the fears of the other: in this case, Israeli Jews.
I cannot deny the holocaust, as fact and fear. I will not deny the holocaust just to obstruct Zionism, for that would be to play into the hands of the odious racism of the European right, which led to Nazism. I want Palestinian Muslims to have a safe, viable state, but I will not win that state for them with the tacit or direct support of Nazism. All I can do is point out, as the Jewish leader?Meir Ya’ari did, that Israeli leaders are using means of dispossession against Palestinians that bear a close resemblance to this earlier period in history. I will also not deny the right of Jews, in Israel or elsewhere, to be assured of life and property and human rights. For that is what I want for myself, and for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.
I will continue to speak up for the Palestinian people and support their struggle for a decent life, a viable state. But I do not want to use that for the sort of populist exercises that many Muslim, particularly Arab, leaders seem to be prone to. The missiles Hamas fires into Israel are of that nature. They are deplorable not only on humane grounds but also on strategic ones.
Arab leaders, being politicians with fragile popular bases, like to posture at times. Saddam did so most recently. When their bluff is called, it is the Arab people who suffer ? as the Palestinian people are suffering right now. Just as Zionists take the support of Jews for granted, expecting them to justify every crime committed in the name of a Jewish homeland, many Muslim leaders take the solidarity of the Muslim “ummah” for granted. I refuse to let these leaders ? Jewish or Muslim ? take my support for granted. I refuse to suffer for them or let ordinary people ? Muslim or Jewish ? pay the price of their juvenile politics.
Above all, I refuse to subscribe to Biblical reasoning. It is this that has infected Muslims, Jews and Christians on all sides of the international tragedy of the Palestinians, sharing as they do the assumptions of Old Testament logic. God cursed the ancestor, and the present is a consequence of the curse, that legacy. Switch on any talk show and you find Jewish, Muslim and Christian (though sometimes they pretend to be secular) champions hammering at the details of the past, using them either to justify or condemn Israel or Palestine.
Well, God was wrong. The sins of the father cannot and should not be visited on the daughter. That is the main condition for sensible living in the present. History is there to learn from, not to justify or destroy the present. And hence, as a Muslim I take my stand only on the ground of the present: a present that should assure all human beings, including Palestinians, of basic human rights. I take my stand on hope that is not rooted in the deprivation of others.

Lalon and Terror. Re-configuring the Nation's Political Map during Emergency

by rahnuma ahmed

Drifting in cage and out again
Hark unknown bird does fly
Shackles of my heart
If my arms could entwine
With them I would thee bind
— Fakir Lalon Shah, ?Khachar bhitor ochin pakhi,?
translation by Shahidul Alam.

Baul sculpture, and the nation’s most powerful man

‘No decision is taken without the the army chief’s consent, that’s why we informed him,’ said Maulana Noor Hossain Noorani, amir of Khatme Nabuwat Andolon Bangladesh and imam of Fayedabad mosque, at a press conference. `He didn’t like the idea of setting up an idol either, right in front of the airport, so close to the Haji camp. It was removed at his initiative’ (Prothom Alo, 17 October).
The `it’ in question was a piece of sculpture, of five Baul mystics and singers. Titled Unknown Bird in a Cage, it was being created in front of Zia International Airport, Dhaka. Madrasa students and masjid imams of adjoining areas were mobilised, Bimanbondor Golchottor Murti Protirodh Committee (Committee to Resist Idols at Airport Roundabout) was formed. A 24 hour ultimatum was given. The art work, nearly seventy percent complete, was removed by employees of the Roads and Highways Department, and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
Artists, intellectuals, cultural activists, writers, teachers, students, and many others have since continuously protested the removal of the sculpture, both in Dhaka, and other cities and towns of Bangladesh. They have demanded its restoration, have re-named the roundabout Lalon Chottor, and accused the military-backed caretaker government of capitulating, yet again, to the demands of Islamic extremists, and forces opposing the 1971 war of liberation.
Soon after its removal, Fazlul Haq Amini, Chairman of a faction of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) and amir of Islami Ain Bastabayan Committee (IABC) said at a press conference, if an Islamic government comes to power, all statues built by Sheikh Hasina’s government (1996-2001) will be demolished, since statues are `dangerously anti-Islamic’. Eternal flames, Shikha Chironton (Liberation War Museum), and Shikha Anirban (Dhaka Cantonment) will be extinguished. Paying respect to fire is the same as worshipping fire.’ What about statues built during Khaleda Zia-led four party alliance government (of which he had been a part). ‘Where, which ones?’ Rajshahi University campus was the prompt reply. `Why didn’t you raise these questions when you were in power?’ ‘We did, personally, but they didn’t listen. We were used as stepping stones.’ Amini also demanded that the National Women Development Policy 2008, shelved this year after protests by a section of Muslim clerics and some Islamic parties, should be scrapped (Prothom Alo, 18 October).
Noorani and his followers demand, a haj minar should be built instead, and the road should be re-named Haj road. ‘Men from the administration and the intelligence agencies,’ he said at the press conference, `wore off their shoes, they kept coming to us.’ (Prothom Alo, 17 October). Now where had I read of close contacts between Khatme Nabuwat and the intelligence agencies?
I remembered. A Human Rights Watch report, Bangladesh: Breach of Faith (2005) had stated that KN had close links to the ruling BNP through the Jamaat-e-Islami and the IOJ, its coalition partners. I remembered other things too. It was the same Noor Hossain Noorani who had said, Tareq Zia, Senior Secretary General of the BNP, was their “Amir and same-aged friend,” and had threatened police officials saying Tareq would directly intervene if Khatme Nabuwat’s anti-Ahmadiya campaign was obstructed. According to reports, highup intelligence agency officials (DGFI, NSI) had mediated contacts between the ruling party and the KN. He had met the DGFI chief in Dhaka cantonment thrice, Noorani had thus boasted to Satkhira reporters in 2005, a statement never publicly refuted by the intelligence agency (Tasneem Khalil, The Prince of Bogra, Forum, April 2007, issue withdrawn, article available on the internet).
What links does the present military-backed caretaker government, and more so, its intelligence agencies, have with these extremist groups? I cannot help but wonder. Is there more to what’s happening than meets the eye?
Other questions pop into my head. The Baul sculpture was not advertised, as public art should be. No open competition, no shortlisting, no selection panel. On the contrary, the contract seems to have been awarded as a personal dispensation. The only condition seems to have been that the sculptor must get-hold-of-a-sponsor. High regard for public art, for Baul tradition, listed by the UNESCO as a world cultural heritage, and for procedural matters. Particularly by a government whose raison d’etre is establishing the rule of law, and rooting out corruption.

Simplifying the present: from `1971′ to the `Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh

British historian Eric Hobsbawm terms what he calls the ‘short twentieth century’, The Age of Extremes (1994). I can’t help but think, things seem to be getting more extreme in the twenty-first century.
In his most recent book, On Empire. America, War and Global Supremacy (2008), Hobsbawm traces the rise of American hegemony, the steadily increasing world disorder in the context of rapidly growing inequalities created by rampant free-market globalisation, the American government’s use of the threat of terrorism as an excuse for unilateral deployment of its global power, the launching of wars of aggression when it sees fit, and its absolute disregard of formerly accepted international conventions.
The US government’s role in not only contributing to the situation, but in constituting the conditions that have given rise to extremes, of being the extreme, is disregarded by many Bangladesh scholars, whether at home or abroad. Most of these writings are atrociously naive, exhibiting a theoretical incapacity to deal with questions of global inequalities in power. Authors repeatedly portray American power — in whichever manifestation, whether economic or cultural, military or ideological — as being benign. Two images of Bangladesh are juxtaposed against each other, a secular Bangladesh of the early 1970s, the fruit of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle of 1971, and a Talibanised Bangladesh of recent years. `National particularities’ and ‘the dynamics of domestic policies’ are emphasised (undoubtedly important), but inevitably at the cost of leaving the policies of US empire-building efforts un-examined.
One instance is Maneeza Hossain, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, who, in her 60 page study of the growth of Islamism in Bangladesh politics, tucks in a hurried mention of US’ supply of weaponry to Afghan jihadists, and moves on to call on the US to shake off its `indifference’ to Bangladesh, to use its ‘good offices’ to help democratic forces within Bangladesh prevail (The Broken Pendulum. Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism, 2007.
Ali Riaz, who teaches at Illinois State University, author of God Willing. The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh (2004) provides another instance. International reasons for the rise of militancy are the Afghan war, internationalisation of resistance to Soviet occupation, policies of so-called charitable organisations of the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and (last, it would also seem, the least) `American foreign policy’. A token mention showing utter disregard towards 1,273,378 Iraqi deaths, caused by the invasion and occupation. 1971 was genocidal, but so is the Iraq invasion. On a much larger scale. Unconcerned, he goes on, policy circles in the US are `apprehensive’ about militancy in Bangladesh. Even now. The solution? He advocates open debates, particularly between the intelligence agencies and the political parties (Prothom Alo, 3 February 2008).
And then one comes across Farooq Sobhan who claims that president Bush has ‘taken pains’ to convince Muslims that the war against terror is not a war against Islam or a clash of civilizations (no, it’s a crime against humanity). Rather petulantly, he asks, why has Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country, not figured prominently on the US ‘list of countries to be wooed and cultivated.’ Further, he writes, “High on the US agenda has been the issue of Bangladesh sending troops to Iraq“. Sending ‘troops’, like crates of banana, or tea? Surely, there are substantive issues — of death and destruction of Iraqis and Iraq, of war crimes — involved.

Re-configuring Politics during Emergency

Creating a level playing field so that free and fair national elections could be held, that’s what the military-backed caretaker government had promised. Twenty-two months later, after failed attempts at minusing Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, with their respective parties in shambles, thousands of party workers in prison, constitutional rights suspended due to the state of emergency, economy in tatters, police crack-downs on protests of garments workers, jute mill workers, women’s organisations and activists, on human chains against increasing prices of essentials, the only two forces to have remained unscathed are the Jamaat-e-Islami, and Muslim clerics, Islamic parties and madrasa students, those who protested against the Women Development Policy, agitated for the removal of Baul sculptures, recently caused havoc in the DU Vice Chancellor’s office protesting against newly-enforced admission requirements. Are these accidental, or deliberate governmental moves? I cannot help but wonder.
Several western diplomats — members of the infamous Tuesday Club, particularly ambassadors from United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and the EU representative — and also the UN Resident Coordinator actively intervened in Bangladesh politics prior to 11 January 2007, in events that led to the emergence of the present military-backed caretaker goverment. Renata Dessalien did so to unheard degrees, leading to recent demands that the UN Resident Coordinator be withdrawn.
In a week or so, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon arrives in Dhaka, to see for himself electoral preparations, and extend support for the government. A visit that has nothing to do with politics, we are told. In the eyes of many observers, Ban is one of the most pro-American secretaries general in it’s 62-year history. He has opposed calls for a swift US withdrawal from Iraq, and is committed to a beefed-up UN presence in Baghdad. The UN staff committee has protested Ban’s decision saying it would `make the institution complicit in an intractable US-made crisis’ (Washington Post, 24 September 2007).
In the name of bringing ‘beauty’ to politics in Bangladesh, the lineaments of political reconfiguration undertaken by this military-backed caretaker government are becoming ominously clear: mainstream political parties in shambles, Jamaat-e-Islami intact (`democratic party,’ Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State, 2006), Muslim clerics and Islamic forces re-emerging as a political force under state patronage, and the exercise of rampant power by western diplomats.
A beast in the guise of beauty? Time will tell.

On the Flight Path of American Power

I borrow the title from British-Pakistani historian Tariq Ali’s coming event: `Pakistan/Afghanistan: on the Flight Path of American Power,’ to be held at Toronto, November 14.
Seven years after the US led invasion, Pakistan, America’s strong military ally, is now “on the edge” of ruin. Pakistani political analysts repeatedly warn Bangladeshis that they see similar political patterns at work here: minusing political leaders, militarisation, milbus, National Security Council etc etc. I do not think that an Obama win will make any difference to the American flight path for unilateral power. As atute political commentators point out, Obama and McCain differ on domestic policies, not substantively on US foreign policy. A couple of days ago, president Bush signed the highest defense budget since World War II.
Maybe there should be an open public debate in Bangladesh, as Ali Riaz proposes, but with a different agenda: are we being set on America’s flight path to greater power by this unconstitutional, unrepresentative government, one which is more accountable to western forces, than to us?

I can kill any Muslim

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Year end play: The Nuculier God
Theatre: The World
Set Design: Tony Blair
God: George Bush
Sacrificial Lamb: Saddam Hussein
Slaves: Saudi Royal Family and cohorts
Extras: The United Nations
Theme song: I can kill any Muslim
I can kill any Muslim
Any day I choose
It?s all for the cause of freedom
I can kill any Muslim
Wherever I choose
It is cause we?re a peace lovin? nation
So we egged him on
When he attacked Kuwait
And the trial may have been harried
So we supplied him arms
To gas the Kurds
With him dead, that?s one story buried
Violence in Iraq
Has been on the rise
The US can hardly be blamed
Our interest was oil
And we stuck to our goal
Why must my cronies be named
Saddam?s emergence
As Arab resistance
That wasn?t part of the plan
Had Amnesty and others
Kept quiet when it matters
We?d have quietly gone on to Iran
Asleep I was
When he hanged on the gallows
Well even presidents need to sleep
Oblivious I was
When the planes hit the towers
I had other ?pointments to keep
More Iraqis dead
More ?mericans too
OK they warned it would happen
Why should I listen
When I rule the world
No nation?s too big to flatten
The Saudi Kings
They know their place
At least they?ll know by now
Muslim?s OK
If you tow the line
Out of step, off you go, and how
Tony and me
We keep good company
Dictators know when it matters
Regardless of crimes
And religious inclines
Safe if you listen or its shutters
I can kill any Muslim
Wherever I choose
I choose quite often I know
I can kill any Muslim
Any day I choose
I did it so now they will know
Similar to Rumsfeld’s concern that the Abu Ghraib pictures coming out, and not about the events themselves, the Iraqi government worries about the footage of Saddam being taunted, getting out. The fact that the taunting took place doesn’t appear to be an area of concern. With the US government stifling Al Jazeera, and increasing censorship in mainstream media, citizen journalism appears to be the only way people can get past the PR camouflague.
With all political parties of Bangladesh, as well as most Muslim leaders around the world, choosing to remain silent at the execution of Saddam Hussein, it is left to human rights organizations to remind us, that despite his atrocities, Saddam will be remembered for his defiance. The butcher of the Kurds will go down in history as a victim of flawed justice. The guns are now clearly turned against Iran, but the Saudi rulers, as well as the Egyptians and the Jordanians would do well to ponder, ?Who is next??

We Would Have Had So Much Fun Shooting Them Down

Paris, Charles De Gaulle airport, 13th October 2001.

The documents were impressive. I had an official letter from Le Directeur des Rencontres, Ministere de la Culture of Mali certifying that a visa was awaiting me in Bamako, a certificate of accreditation and an invitation letter from Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, a well-known personality in France and the director of AFAA/French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Still, I left well in time, knowing there might be problems. I was to do a report for the Prince Claus Foundation in the Netherlands and was on my way to attend the Fourth African
Photography Encounter in Bamako. I also had my yellow fever certificate.
None of what happened at the airport seemed sinister, until you realised what it was leading to. The immigration in Hall B in Terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle is BEFORE the check-in desk. The questions started well before then. Where was I going, what did I have with me, why was I going. We went over and over the same things.
Lengthy manoeuvres that kept slowing me down. Still, there was almost an hour to go to departure time when I reached the check in desk, and immigration had already been done. I had a confirmed ticket, so I wasn’t worried. There were plenty of passengers at the check in desk, but when it came to me, the officer calmly said, “Sorry sir, the flight was closed at 10 o’ clock.” No degree of persuasion, or my insistence that I had arrived at the designated place in the airport well in time and that the delay was due to airport officials, seemed to matter. The fact that immigration, security and airlines check-in desks operate independently, made it easier for the check-in desk to deny responsibility. I had one of these cheap tickets, non- refundable, non-endorsable, so I was stuck.
Eventually, when I pointed out to the individuals who had delayed me, they did offer me an alternative booking for the outgoing flight. I could leave on a date FOLLOWING my date of return. No doubt they found it funny. I offered to pay to get onto another flight, but that too couldn’t apparently be done. By then I had worked out what was going on, and asked them to book me on the date they suggested, AFTER my due date of return. This they did. I could see people were still checking-in, and knew, if I could get through the blockade, I would get on the flight.
So I took a flight out to the nearest airport from which I could get a connecting flight. The idea being, that if I went through the check- in procedure elsewhere, where such barricades might not be present, they would no longer have grounds for refusing to let me fly. I left early in the morning from my hotel in Strasbourg, taking the tram and the bus through the fog at night to be the first person to arrive at the check-in desk. The woman at the desk at this small airport was extremely helpful. When I said I wanted to go to Bamako with a connecting flight, she immediately took my ticket and issued me a
luggage tag to Bamako. Then of course she discovered I was not booked on the flight. She made a tentative booking, issued me a `boarding pass’ without a seat number, and put in a note in the computer that I was a passenger bound for Bamako. She even gave my luggage (now tagged for Paris, in place of Bamako) a priority tag, so I would not lose time changing planes.
The luggage arrived early as planned. I rushed across to terminal B, arriving well in time to lay a claim to a seat. People were still checking in. When I approached the officer in charge, she whipped the temporary boarding pass from my hand, tore it to bits, and with a dramatic gesture, let the flimsy flight coupon fall to my hand. “The are no seats” was the terse reply.
This vulgar demonstration of power, reminded me of the article I had been reading on the 13th, the day I was first refused onto the plane, in the Wall Street Journal Europe (October 12-13, 2001, Brussels, page 3). [Lt. Ken, a 28 year old pilot from Washington state was munching on Twizzlers candy at the controls of his jet when the 57- millimeter artillery rounds started exploding below. “I’ve been peppered before, hunting pheasant, but it doesn’t really compare.” He said in Vinson’s ready room. Vinson’s air wing is trying to put all ts pilots through combat flights ? learning the tricks “before the other guys get smart,” as Capt. Wright puts it.
Capt. Wright saw two MIGs parked at the end of the runway. He fired a laser-guided bomb at one; the pilot of another F-14 nearby hit the second. “When they blew, they blew big ? you could see they were full of fuel and ammunition.” But infrared images indicated that the MIG engines were cold, which means that the jets weren’t about to take off ? much to Capt. Wright’s annoyance. “We would have had so much fun shooting them down” he said. As Capt. Wright flew back to the ship, chewing on a peanut-butter sandwich and sharing his post-battle emotions with the flight officer sitting behind, they suddenly had to dispense death to a different enemy: a cockroach had crawled up the airman’s legs. “We got a little bit of hilarity on that,” he said.]
John Wayne might have died, but these Texan-led soldiers could well have been riding into the prairie to `cut em off at the pass’. Five hundred years later, they continue to find new `Indians’ to `dispense death to’.
As for the luxuriant growth of hair on my face. I’ve decided to let it grow longer.
Shahidul Alam
Tue Oct 16, 2001