Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Music, Melodies and the Savior

Music, Melodies and the Savior

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

August 15, 2006


Classical music has its dazzling charm. Piercing violin, up and down cello, and in only background the reflective organ mash the music in its virtuoso synthesis. A world of music, where new tunes defy the traditional vigor, frothing like dewy soap bubbles, harmonious beauty in soothing sound. You can hear distant tabla chatting with playful sitar while harmonica keeps tango with shifting piano and strumming guitar.

So many talented music composers contributed in the vastness of musical library around the world, generations after generations. All different kinds, different appeals to different people from varied background. Poor or rich, literati or illiterate, music can seep into everyone’s welcoming veins if given a chance, transfusing agonies into sweet melancholy.

In its elemental form music have no boundaries, no immigration laws could bound its soaring trebles, and no artificial barriers could stifle its flowing crescendos. In war and in peace, music can bring solace in grief and in meaningless triumph.

A mother’s lullaby, from Russia or Venezuela, or perhaps in American middle class suburb, has the similar effects on an infant or a child of innocence as it has on children of starving Africa or burning Middle-East. Music can pour love in hate-filled minds. Music can lift deadened boys or girls to lively lost childishness.

Even if you look closer into an apparently desolate vanishing summer like ours, where the jovial mood has gone sour witnessing distressing events surrounding our livelihood, remote but so close to the heart, day by day erosions of accumulated civility in the broaden world stage by masterful gory violence of deliberate randomness, where truth has sunk into the deepest level of Pacific or Atlantic ocean, buried into the darkened whiteness of blinding deserts, a simple melodious tune from stringy mandolin enmeshed in gentle tuba and mechanized harpsichord raise the level of awareness of cosmos and vast expanse of our singular universe.

We are all into it. Into romantic pop, ear splitting rocks or heavy metals, cool Jazz, Brazilian samba, poetic rap, Bangladeshi forgotten melodies, Arabic qanun dominated pleasing harmony, piety empowered Hebrew Nusach; our frazzled mind gets pacified in taking Buddhist and Hindu chant in variable raga and kirtan; even Muslim muezzin’s enchanting azaan, full of melodies, so similar to captivating hazzanut, Jewish equivalent of classical music, and then the spiritual gospels of Christianity, orchestrated in purified hymns of pacifist doves.

Perhaps the “saviors” of our humanity remain within our humane reach, not in some dismal mythical figures. Perhaps changing chords of guitar or piano aspire to replenish our severed but still repairable bonds.

When the choice comes, music will surely vanquish bombs and mindless destructions in a sweeping binding coda. At least that is the musical melodies yearn to accomplish in its variable beats amid shadows and clouds.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cynicism

Cynicism

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

August 11, 2006

You may call it whatever you like. You may just ignore it at your own peril or convenience. But the fact of the matter is that we are in the middle of a rupturing cynicism. Day by day our patience are thinning out, our tolerance level toward opposing views and culture are reaching threshold point, and sooner or later there will be commotion beyond our worst imaginable dream that can forewarn.

You may agree or not, there are clever methods in action, from groups of vehemence, who wants to create sharp and deep wedges between different ethnic groups and cultures. Palpable but quite not tangible essence of being caught up in a growing whirlwind that will surely suck in all the frivolity of life.

These are depressing words. These are depressing times.

A world where brute might and violence rule over peaceful means cannot be impressively positive.

A world where a mother has to prove that the milk of her baby will not blow up an airplane must be sickening.

A world where shredded bone fragments and dense red blood of innocence barely ruffle our sensitivity is sadistic.

You may call it whatever you like. You may just keep watching daytime soaps in the afternoon, jeopardy in the evening, and entertainment news at late night. But the fact remains that the spinning of truth, stretching of reality into favorable shape and form suitable for one’s own taste and benefits, are growing, fold by fold, diameter by diameter.

Who to believe? Who to trust?

You turn on the evening news. Parade of “evil doers” marching on, dancing on in their charismatic move while the commercial advertisements of various products showing off the goodness of buying into glum. Your head feels dizzy seeing and hearing the baloney punditry. Your yearns for simplicity of candor are easily depleted by repetitive bombardments of crafted fallacy.

You feel fear is gripping hold of your senses. Your heart is pumping fast and louder. The sharpened gaze of your friends bounces back from your warmed up skin.

You dwell in ensnared trepidation.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tariq Ali: Toward A New Radical Politics

Dear Readers,

Mother Jones's interview with Tariq Ali, a prominent progressive writer, is a must read. Mr. Ali has that unique sense and sensibilities for our apparently maddening world of drunken stupor, he slices through all the calculated diversion, political fiasco, and aggrandized media bent to their knees kissing the lowest portion of neocon's shoe-soles.

Mr. Ali is not afraid to say what comes to his mind, about the opportunistic “liberals”, “seculars” in the Muslim world who are finding themselves propping up imperial agendas, by whim or force, and in many of these nations, Muslim conservatives are filling up the vacuums of showing resistance.

Here is a very interesting comment Mr. Ali made in this interview, “in many parts of the Islamic world, secular forces, where they exist, tend now to be so unsure of themselves, so lacking in self-confidence, that in many cases—not in all—they line themselves up fairly squarely behind the imperial project and that then creates a big vacuum in which the Islamists become the dominant power because they are the only ones then who are seen as resisting. And that I think has been a very, very dangerous development in the Islamic world. And when I go often I meet very, very good people—intellectuals, writers—just sitting completely despondent, trapped between the American hammer and the Islamist anvil, not knowing which way to turn.”

“Trapped between the American hammer and the Islamist anvil” – a dilemma indeed. For our world, seeing the red as red, blue as blue, black as black and white as white, saying out aloud what the realities indeed are shaping into, what these forces of imperialism and fundamentalism, not only in the Islamic world, also in the Western and the Eastern world, other fundamentalists from Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and also complete absolutism like opportunistic atheists are out in force, in various groups and shapes, seizing each other out, for their self-believed “superior ego” to become triumphant in that ultimate battle. Their complete disregards for the pain of “others”, the “enemies”, are enshrined in local nationalist or religious lore.

Some may call them insensate. But don’t make any mistake about them. They have selective love for friends, selective hatred for foes.

Hurray for selectivity! A world fragmenting into discriminatory pandemonium!

Regards,

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

August 10, 2006

http://sohel.net

Tariq Ali: Toward A New Radical Politics
A lion of the literary left on the war in Lebanon, U.S. imperialism, and the prospects for reform in the Middle East.

Paige Austin

Tariq Ali's books garner wildly emphatic reviews on Amazon.com, alternately adoring and scathing--as one might expect of the work of an avowed Trotskyist and editor of The New Left Review.

Born and raised in pre-partition Pakistan, Ali studied at Oxford, where he became a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War; later, he broadened his critique to condemn what he saw as American imperialism in much of the world, especially the Middle East and Latin America. Along the way, he faced Henry Kissinger in debate and became a lifelong friend of Edward Said.

Though a committed leftist, Ali has never been narrowly political in his work. He has published dozens of books in a nearly 40-year career, ranging from historical fiction—early Islam is his most frequent topic—to political essay. His most recent work, Bush in Babylon, took aim at the American invasion of Iraq, a war which he might call a new chapter in the intertwined histories of Western imperialism and Muslim extremism chronicled in his previous work, Clash of Fundamentalisms.

It was hardly surprising, given this background, that Ali was among several writers—including Noam Chomsky, Jose Saramago and Howard Zinn—who recently signed two letters supporting Palestinians and Lebanese in the face of what they called Israel’s campaign of “deliberate and systematic destruction.”

“Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over,” they wrote in the first, dated July 19. “But the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.”

As well as an editor of the NLR Ali is editorial director of the leftist publishing house Verso, and he's a frequent contributor to The Guardian, Counterpunch, and The London Review of Books. He recently talked with Mother Jones about his views on the war in Lebanon, the need for an Islamic Reformation, and the rise of Latin America’s new left.

Mother Jones: In the letter that you and several other writers published on July 19, you said the “liquidation of the Palestinian nation” is proceeding more rapidly these days. How long have you felt that the possibility of Palestinian statehood is gone?

Tariq Ali: I have felt that for some years, even before these latest Israeli actions. Once it became clear to the Palestinians that the Oslo accords were a farce and that no Israeli government was prepared to implement even the limited concessions they had promised in them, then it was only a matter of time. My view has always been that either the Palestinians get a fair and just state or you have a single-state solution—there is no third way in between these two. Now, curiously, the Israelis by their own action have made a single state the only possible thing.

MJ: Some of the signatories are, like yourself, both fiction writers and activists. Do you think that writers have an obligation to use their fame as platforms for activism? Even if they are venturing out of their field?

TA: I think it depends on how they feel. You know in many parts of the world, including the Arab world, the Latin American world, and even parts of the Western world, there is a tradition of writers being quite engaged. Particularly in the Arab world you have had very, very strong traditions of literature and poetry and most of the writers have been deeply committed to the cause of the Arab nation. In Latin America likewise: they’re public intellectuals. And I think this is a good thing, especially in a world where the mainstream media offers very little diversity of opinion in its pages.

MJ: How do you think the current war in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s apparent military successes, will change the equation in the Middle East?

TA: It has shaken the world, but it’s not shaken it enough to understand the root causes of this—[which is why] we have this grotesque situation where the Israelis, the United States and the French collaborate to try to push through a resolution which is so pro-Israel that even the tamest of Arab leaders can’t accept it.

But Hezbollah has changed things, there’s no doubt about that. Now even Lebanon’s Prime Minister, not known for being a particularly strong politician, has told Condoleezza Rice she shouldn’t bother visiting the country. Unheard of! And the other aspect of this of course is that there’ve been demonstrations, small but important demonstrations against the war, in Tel Aviv, in Haifa, in Jerusalem, and I think that these will grow in size as people see that this absurd and criminal war waged by the Israeli regime against Lebanon is making their lives unsafe.

MJ: Do you have the same hope for a movement demanding the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories?

TA: Yes, I think you will have within Israel a resistance, including many Jewish people who will see we can’t carry on in the same old way. And here I think the South African analogy is not so foolish: that many white South Africans finally realized that we can’t carry on in the same old way, we have to do a deal with the people we’ve been oppressing, and this is best for both communities. Maybe I’m being ultra-optimistic, but I think that before this century comes to an end something like that will emerge.

MJ: How can you support Hezbollah’s actions—or those of Hamas—given both groups’ adherence to a fundamentalist ideology that you make no secret of disliking?

TA: Well look, I don’t agree with their religious views, obviously. I’m not a believer. That’s hardly a secret: I state it in public. However when a country is invaded and attacked and people resist it’s important to speak up and to say they have the right to resist and to defend their right to resist. The whole history of the 20th century is a history of resistance groups which are either nationalist or, in large parts of the Muslim word, religious groups, including for instance in Libya and the Sudan. There, the groups resisting the Italian invasion were ones that [Europeans] couldn’t support politically—but nonetheless they defended them against attack. When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia and Albania in the name of European civilization and said he was going to wipe out these backward feudal despotisms, most people in the West defended the Ethiopians and the Albanians against the Italian onslaught and said they had the right to resist. So it’s on that principle—that when people, whoever they may be, you may not like them, but when they decide to resist, you have to defend their right to do so.

MJ: You've been writing about imperialism for decades. Do you think the current Bush administration is practicing a new form of imperialism?

TA: It’s different in the sense that the enemy has changed. It’s no longer Communism and it’s no longer nationalism but it is other movements who they feel have to be destroyed to bring the world totally under the sway of the hegemon. But here I think as I’ve been arguing since 9/11 they’ve made a big miscalculation in attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. And now even US commentators who were really sort of gung-ho for the war, like Tom Friedman, or Democrats, like Edwards, have said that it was a mistake to vote for the war and we need to discuss with the military the best way of withdrawing. The fact that some of these weasel politicians who didn’t have the nerve to oppose the war when they should’ve opposed it, are now jumping ship is an indication of how badly the war is going.

MJ: You've written that the so-called war on terror requires a political not a military solution. Aside from ending the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, what would that political solution entail?

TA: Well I think that because they’ve made war it makes a political solution much more difficult. I think the United States now and its British attack dog are not taken seriously anywhere in the world and can play no role in helping a political solution.

MJ: You've called for an Islamic Reformation. Where do you see the best prospects for such a movement?

TA: I used to hope—and I’ve still not given up on it—that a big reform movement could arise in Iran, which in some ways is one of the most cultured Islamic countries, with a very long pre-Islamic tradition as well which hasn’t been completely wiped out. But when the United States and Israel behave in the way they do, then that sets it back. So I’m quite despondent on that particular front at the moment. That’s one problem.

The second problem is that in many parts of the Islamic world, secular forces, where they exist, tend now to be so unsure of themselves, so lacking in self-confidence, that in many cases—not in all—they line themselves up fairly squarely behind the imperial project and that then creates a big vacuum in which the Islamists become the dominant power because they are the only ones then who are seen as resisting. And that I think has been a very, very dangerous development in the Islamic world. And when I go often I meet very, very good people—intellectuals, writers—just sitting completely despondent, trapped between the American hammer and the Islamist anvil, not knowing which way to turn.

MJ: Can you point to any leaders you’ve encountered in Muslim countries, Arab or otherwise, that might be a beacon of hope for religious reformation?

TA: There’s no movement as such, but you know if you look at Iran the bulk of the population—75% of the population—is under 30 years of age, and these are people who’ve grown up totally under clerical rule, and their first sort of gut instinct is to resent all the social codes which are imposed on them. I have been arguing that this is where you will probably have an upheaval in about ten years time. Currently that situation is on hold because of all the threats against Iran, which has united the country. Whatever you think about those threats or why they are made, certainly they have the effect of making the majority of people in Iran very angry with the West, and they see the Islamists as the only opposition, and the reason they see them as the only opposition is ‘cause there ain’t nobody else!

MJ: To judge from your writings you don’t appear to place much stock in the potential of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to effect change.

I don’t. In the first place, I don’t call them NGOs, I call them WGOs—Western Governmental Organizations. Some of them do decent work but by and large what they do is to buy up lots and lots of people in these countries who are not then engaged in any form of political activity or social movements, who basically pay themselves salaries, run small offices, and go on demonstrations chanting, “Another world is possible.” And I don’t think that’s particularly helpful, and I think increasingly now people are beginning to see through the NGO-ization process.

MJ: Like many on the far left, you link anti-imperialism to anti-capitalism. And you seem to discount the possibility of Islamic or other religious fundamentalisms providing a long-term basis for resistance. But capitalism and religious conservatism are quite broadly based and well entrenched. What alternate framework for resistance do you envision?

TA: I have been arguing in recent years that while what is happening in the Middle East is important in the sense that it prevents the imperial power from getting its way in whatever it wants. But in terms of offering a socio-political model for the world, it offers nothing, either to the world or to its own people. So from that point of view, the situation is grim.

Where there is a different model emerging is not in the Islamic World but in Latin America. This is a continent where you have had giant social movements from below pushing a whole range of politicians and political leaders to power through democratic elections and then putting pressure on them to fulfill their promises—and in Venezuela and Bolivia the leaders are beginning to do so. This is now creating a massive pole of attraction all over the world. When Hugo Chavez flies into an Arab country and is interviewed on Arab television, you have a phenomenal response from the Arabs, saying why can’t we have an Arab Chavez? And the reason is that he explains what he is doing in Venezuela, that they are using the oil money to build schools, to build hospitals, to build universities, to help the poor, who have never been helped, and from my point of view, this particular model, which I would describe as a left-social democratic model, is very important because it’s the only thing that challenges the neo-liberal strangle hold on the global economy.

MJ: You were in Bolivia decades ago during Che Guevara’s campaign there. Have you been since the election of Evo Morales in January?

TA: I’ve not been but I will go soon. It’s very, very heartening what’s happening there. Someone asked me the other day what I think of Bolivia and I described it as “Che’s revenge.” You have a government in power which has publicly paid homage to Che and his struggle and I said, he would’ve been so pleased by that if he’d been alive! It’s the only developments taking place in the world which one can identify with to a large extent and say, Great!

MJ: Do you see Morales potentially abandoning his promises to aid the poor now that he’s in office, as you have accused Lula of doing in Brazil?

TA: Not so far. You can’t exclude any possibility, but so far no. The first thing Morales did when he was elected was very interesting: a plane was sent for him, he got into it and flew to Havana and got a two-and-a-half-hour tutorial from the old man about what to do, how to proceed. And that’s a very public gesture. Most Europeans when they’re elected go to Washington and kiss ass in the White House.

MJ: You visited Cuba last year and met with writers and intellectuals there. How would you characterize their situation? You’ve always lauded the Cuban Revolution but certainly it has meant a lot of restrictions for Cubans.

TA: I haven’t defended those restrictions. I think the big tragedy of the Cuban Revolution was that it became dependent on the Soviet Union, and it became dependent on the Soviet Union under a very reactionary bureaucratic regime led by Leonid Brezhnev. I think that adversely affected Cuban culture and Cuban politics, [and it] made the Cuban press the most dull and dreary and predictable in the whole of Latin America. Writers were persecuted. I never defended any of that.

But at the same time I refused to back those who wanted to get rid of Fidel, who sent assassins to kill him, who want Miami to move to Havana, I’m not in favor of that. I think that the Cuban Revolution has made incredibly important gains—and you can see these when you go, despite the hardships. It’s the most educated country in the continent, probably in the whole of the third world. In a population of 12 million you have between 800,000 and a million graduates produced each year. You have human capital in the shape of doctors who are helping Africa, Latin America. I remember very vividly that when the earthquake happened in Pakistan, the Cubans sent 1,100 doctors, half of them women, which were more than the doctors sent by all the Western countries put together.

But I do think the Cubans have to change some of the political structures there and allow critical voices, for their own sakes, because unless there is accountability the revolution will totally atrophy. I said this very, very publicly to people of all sorts when I was in Havana and they took it on board I think. They have a very cultivated minister of culture, Abel Prieto, who certainly understands the problem. He is re-printing all the Cuban authors who were banned during the bad times: Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Areinas, all these people are being re-printed now in Cuba. And these absurd, absurd and crazy restrictions on homosexuality have all gone: there is none of that left, which is a big leap forward.

MJ: So many movements you were once part of—from Marxists to the non-aligned camp to anti-Vietnam war activists—peter out. What has kept you on the same track, ideologically?

TA: I guess one of the thing that has kept me on the track is that I’ve worked very closely with a group of people, we have a magazine called The New Left Review, a publishing house called Verso. And we have maintained a collective intellectual identity, even in bad times. It’s not the case that The New Left Reviewhas been unaffected by the cataclysmic changes of the late 80s; many [of our former contributors] today are basically liberal war mongers or “laptop bombardiers.” So it’s not that we’ve been unaffected, it’s that the circle that actually produced the magazine and kept it going has kept going and this sort of solidarity within a small group of intellectuals has been important.

In my own case, in the 1980s I stopped being active politically in a direct sense and did lot of film work, documentaries, cinema, theatre, wrote plays, wrote scripts, produced a great deal of stuff, and wrote a lot of fiction—and that move sideways I feel was quite beneficial, in the sense that I cut myself off from dominant political trends of the time which were triumphalist and celebratory and everything was over and nothing was to be done. I just kept aloof from all that. And so when I got re-engaged after 9/11, I came to it fresh, I hadn’t been touched by some of these anti-Communist and anti-political and pro-capitalist currents that were sweeping the world.

MJ: So you’d say you are applying the same principles to conflicts today that you were decades ago?

TA: No, not exactly, because the world is very different now. The world which existed when I was young was a world in which all the European empires had collapsed; the United States had suffered a horrendous defeat in Vietnam; many, many countries of the world were asserting their rights and their sovereignties and resisting the big powers and so it was a very different world. There was a lot of space in that world for radical politics to function in. That world has gone, completely, destroyed, wrecked, gone. And so a new form of politics has to be built and how you fight, politically, becomes extremely important. And that is why, as I was saying earlier, what is happening in Latin America I think offers great hope for the 21st century.

Source Link:

http://www.motherjones.com/interview/2006/08/tariq_ali.html

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Review of "A New Hub for Terrorism?"

Dear Readers,

I haven’t read any of Mr. Selig S. Harrison’s writings before, at least not that I remember at this moment. His credentials seem quite impressive. He is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centers for Scholars, written five books on South Asia, and was the chief of The Washington Post’s South Asia bureau. His recent article on Bangladesh that the Post published today delineates a very grim image. He was antagonistic in describing Bangladesh as “A New Hub for Terrorism”, though there was a questioning mark at the end of his article’s title, but the claim that he made using some well-known facts and some ostensibly “inside knowledge”, did not have any irrefutable substantiation to back up.

Like many other parts of our world, there are radical elements in Bangladesh too, especially the ones with religious zealotry ingrained and some others who use religious fervor for their political gains, but Bangladesh is still a moderate nation, where the poetic liberal cultural, historical and social aspects have made the radical elements getting upper hand quite a formidable tasks, though perhaps not impossible in some distant future if the ongoing world violence directly propagating from American aggressive invasion of Iraq, Israel’s brutal mishandling of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians, and other regional and global injustices through economic and/or “shock and awe” punishment especially reserved for the “foes” continue and grow, additional polarization events like these may put more ammunition in the hands of the radicals around the world, including in Bangladesh.

Mr. Harrison elaborated some issues that are indeed true and are facts like the current broiling controversies regarding preparation of voter lists for the next election in January of next year, where the ruling BNP government is allegedly trying to manipulate the list so that the opposition cannot regain power. BNP’s shameful utilization of religious bigots as its partner in political scene should be condemned, though one may certainly dispute on how to define “religious bigots”, but the fact of the matter is that some of these shadowy and some quite very dashing Jamaat figures in public and underworld places are increasingly wielding ruthless power creating more social disturbances and despairs, including but not limited to minority oppressions.

What is more alarming than Mr. Harrison’s claim is that he tacitly approved U.S. complicity in backing up an undemocratic government in Pakistan lead by General Musharraf “because it needs the limited but significant support he is giving against al-Qaeda and fears what might come after him”. What a convenient but despicable notion. Support the thugs and dictators if the thugs and dictators support your every imperial ambition while keep a hostile approach toward the democratic aspirations of the civilian population if their popular demands and democratic dreams become thorny in your onslaughts. And oh yeah, don’t forget to use the magic word of our time: “Al-Qaeda”, that will surely cleanse out all war crimes.

Mr. Harrison has so much impressive credentials, and he is such a high level scholar in his South Asian field, but why didn’t he treat the issue in broader light? Does he opine that wars and more wars where innocent children, women and men are bombed to bones and splattered flesh could ever bring peace in our world? Why is Bush and his fundamentalist, oil soaked buddies stoking and inciting more violence through their continuing devastated saga in Iraq, Afghanistan, and their implicit pampering of Israel’s deliberate war crimes in Lebanon and Palestine?

A scholar is someone who has achieved mastery in his chosen subject. A scholar is someone who does not keep a blind eye to more dynamically complex issues such as the one under discussion in the depth of Mr. Harrison’s article for the apparent purpose of uplifting a not so disguised and debase agenda.

Regards,
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
August 2nd, 2006
http://sohel.net



A New Hub for Terrorism?
In Bangladesh, an Islamic Movement With Al-Qaeda Ties Is on the Rise

By Selig S. Harrison
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; A15

While the United States dithers, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies is steadily converting the strategically located nation of Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations that reach into India and Southeast Asia.

With 147 million people, largely Muslim Bangladesh has substantial Hindu and Christian minorities and is nominally a secular democracy. But the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) struck a Faustian bargain with the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami five years ago in order to win power.

In return for the votes in Parliament needed to form a coalition government, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has looked the other way as the Jamaat has systematically filled sensitive civil service, police, intelligence and military posts with its sympathizers, who have in turn looked the other way as Jamaat-sponsored guerrilla squads patterned after the Taliban have operated with increasing impunity in many rural and urban areas.

To the dismay of her business supporters, the prime minister gave the coveted post of industries minister to Matiur Rahman Nizami, a high-ranking Jamaat official who has helped promote the growth of a Jamaat economic empire that embraces banking, insurance, trucking, pharmaceutical manufacturing, department stores, newspapers and TV stations. A study last year by a leading Bangladeshi economist showed that the "fundamentalist sector of the economy" earns annual profits of some $1.2 billion.

Now the BNP-Jamaat alliance is rigging the next national elections, scheduled for January, to prevent the return of the opposition Awami League to power. Voter lists are being manipulated, and the supposedly neutral caretaker government and the commission that will run the election are being turned into puppets.

The BNP argues that coalition rule helps moderates in the Jamaat to combat Islamic extremist factions. But the reality is that Jamaat inroads in the government security machinery at all levels, starting with Home Secretary Muhammad Omar Farooq, widely regarded as close to the Jamaat, have opened the way for suicide bombings, political assassinations, harassment of the Hindu minority, and an unchecked influx of funds from Islamic charities in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf to Jamaat-oriented madrassas (religious schools) that in some cases are fronts for terrorist activity.

With some 15,000 hard-core fighters operating out of 19 known base camps, guerrilla groups sponsored by the Jamaat and its allies were able to paralyze the country last Aug. 17 by staging 459 closely synchronized explosions in all but one of the country's administrative districts. When the key leaders of these groups were captured, they were kept by the police in a comfortable apartment, where they were free to receive visitors. A cartoon in the Daily Star of Dhaka on July 24 showed them lounging on a rug, conducting classes in bombmaking. Their fate and present place of confinement is uncertain, and all of the major guerrilla groups are back to business as usual.

The bitterness of Bangladeshi politics is often attributed to a personal vendetta between two strong women, Prime Minister Zia and the Awami League leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. But the roots of the current struggle go back to 1971, when Bengali East Pakistan, led by the Awami League, broke away from Punjabi-dominated West Pakistan to form the nation of Bangladesh. The Jamaat, which originated in the western wing, opposed the independence movement and fought side by side with Pakistani forces against both fellow Bengalis and the Indian troops who intervened in the decisive final phase of the conflict.

For Pakistan's intelligence agencies, especially Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the legacy of the independence war has been a built-in network of agents within the Jamaat and its affiliates who can be utilized to harass India along its 2,500-mile border with Bangladesh. In addition to supporting tribal separatist groups in northeast India, the ISI uses Bangladesh as a base for helping Islamic extremists inside India. After the July 11 train bombings in Bombay, a top Indian police official, K.P. Raghuvanshi, said that his key suspects "have connections with groups in Nepal and Bangladesh, which are directly or indirectly connected to Pakistan."

A State Department report cited evidence that one of the Jamaat's main allies, the Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami, also headquartered in Pakistan, "maintains contact with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan." Bangladesh Harakat leader Fazlul Rahman was one of the six signatories of Osama bin Laden's first declaration of holy war against the United States, on Feb. 23, 1998. Since the October 2002 Bali bombings led to repression of al-Qaeda, some of its Indonesian and Malaysian cells have shifted their operations to Bangladesh.

What makes future prospects in Bangladesh especially alarming is that the Jamaat and its allies appear to be penetrating the higher ranks of the armed forces. Among many examples, informed journalists in Dhaka attribute Jamaat sympathies to Maj. Gen. Mohammed Aminul Karim, recently appointed as military secretary to President Iajuddin Ahmed, and to Brig. Gen. A.T.M. Amin, director of the Armed Forces Intelligence anti-terrorism bureau.

The respected journalists in question cannot write freely about the Jamaat without facing death threats or assassination attempts. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists has published extensive dossiers documenting 68 death threats and dozens of bombing attacks that have injured at least eight journalists. "We are alarmed by the growing pattern of intimidation of journalists by Islamic groups in Bangladesh," the committee said recently. "As a result of its alliance with the Jamaat-Islamiyah, the government appears to lack the ability or will to protect journalists from this new and grave threat."

The Bush administration has yet to speak with comparable candor. The latest State Department annual report on terrorism mentioned only one of the three Jamaat militias as a terrorist group and avoided direct criticism of the BNP for its coalition with the Jamaat, referring only to the "serious political constraints" that explain the government's "limited success" in countering "escalating" terrorist violence. On July 13 the U.S. ambassador called Bangladesh "an exceptional moderate Muslim state."

The United States and other donors gave Bangladesh $1.4 billion in aid last year. There is still time for the administration to use aid leverage and trade concessions to promote a fair election by calling openly and forcefully for nonpartisan control of the Election Commission and the caretaker government. In addition to implicitly threatening an aid cutoff if it is rebuffed, the administration should offer the powerful incentive of duty-free textile imports from Bangladesh if Prime Minister Zia cooperates.

In Pakistan, the United States has been gingerly pushing Gen. Pervez Musharraf for democratic elections because it needs the limited but significant support he is giving against al-Qaeda and fears what might come after him. But what is the excuse for inaction in Bangladesh, where the incumbent government coddles Islamic extremists and a strong secular party is ready to govern?

The writer, a former South Asia bureau chief of The Post and the author of five books on South Asia, has covered Bangladesh since 1951. He is the director of the Asia program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Source Link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/01/AR2006080101118.html