Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Arrest of MP Rony is an act of politics, not an act of love of media freedom

The past week has been crawling with media gimmicks by the Awami League, topping which are these two:

1. PM Sheikh Hasina cooking for her son on his birthday. This is being repeatedly shown as a testament to her motherly qualities in a bid to woo potential voters by portraying her as a loving mother and a soft hearted personality. I shall let you ask the questions about Megh, the orphan of the murdered journalists Sagor-Runi.

2.  PM Sheikh Hasina hugs freedom fighter Roma Chowdhury in an extremely emotional manner. One might forget to ask where Hasina’s love was all these years and why it suddenly had to manifest itself now that Awami League has lost in 4 city corporation elections.

One such gimmick went too far as Shazib Wajed Joy, the son of PM Hasina was allowed to speak in front of a full house. Bumbling with self confidence and starved for attention, Sheikh Mujib junior made a startling statement saying,” I have information that the Awami League will return to power. The propagandas being run by the BNP must be tackled”. The statement has resulted in a furor and lead to speculations of a conspiracy in the upcoming polls, a hard wired conception the Awami League has had little success in debunking anyway.

Power squabble turned PR stunt:

However, that was not all. Earlier this week, Awami League strived to show its love for the freedom of the press as the state machinery orchestrated the arrest of one lawmaker for ‘serious offences’ against the said freedom.

The arrest of Golam Maula Rony, a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League, is a manifestation of the government’s respect for the country’s mass media, said a grinning information minister Hasanul Haq Inu on Thursday the 25th of July.

“The arrest of Rony, who is in the dock of the court, has demonstrated the government’s respect for the mass media. I hope that all of you (the media) will come forward to establish the rule of law in the country,” he added.

Earlier, news accounts reported that Golam Maula Rony, a member of the ruling Awami League, and several unnamed individuals present at the politician's office in Dhaka allegedly beat ImtiazMomin Sony, a reporter for Independent TV, a private news channel, and cameraman MohsinMukul. The reports said that the journalists had visited Rony's office seeking comment for a story they were covering for the station's investigative show, "Talash," on allegations of bribery against the politician.

Sony told journalists that the politician "became agitated" during the interview and began to punch and kick him and Mukul. The extent of the injuries suffered was not immediately clear. Their camera and microphone were also damaged in the attack. The channel filed a police complaint against the politician the same day. Ronyhad secured bail in the case on July 21, which was overturned on the 25th.

Rony had claimed that Independent TV co-owner Salman F Rahman put the 'Talash' team after him following his remarks on the share market scam. The MP also lodged a complaint on his official letterhead with the Shahbagh police on Saturday night, accusing Rahman of extortion, blackmailing, attempt-to-murder, and abduction.

The incident could have just faded as another instance of internal power squabbling within the Awami League. However, the AL bigwigs saw it as a chance to turn something ugly to their advantage by making one the scapegoat. In this aspect, the choice between Rony and Salman F Rahman was not a difficult one. Rony was a first time MP, young, hot headed and controversial in his loyalty to the party. Salman F Rahman, although much hated in social circles, was a financier, a seasoned veteran and a much more valuable asset.Rony was dispensable. So viola! Rony was painted as the big bad guilty crook.  

Debunking the Awami League’s love for the media:

Now back to the comments of the government. The Information minister said that the arrest of MP Golam Maula Rony has proved government's allegiance to the journalist community. Says who? I hope this recent analysis of Hasanul Haque Inu, seemingly savior of media and freedom of expression, will help.

So how true is this statement?

Let us go to the not so long ago published Odhikar Human Rights Report of 2012:

The year 2012 was a bad year for journalists. In 2012 five journalists were killed.In 2011 none were killed, in 2010 four journalists were killed and in 2009 three journalists were killed. The journalists and the media continue to be victims of attacks, physical assault, threats and intimidation from different powerful quarters, specially the government and the ruling party leaders and activists. From January to December 2012, according to Odhikar’s documented statistics, apart from the five journalists killed, 161 journalists have been injured, 63 have been threatened, 10 have been attacked and 50 have been assaulted and twojournalists were tortured by RAB and the Detective Branch (DB) of police.

1.    On February 11, 2012, Sagar Sarwar, News Editor of the private channel Maasranga TV and his wife Meherun Runi, senior reporter of private television channel ATN Bangla, were killed at their rented flat at West Rajabazar in Dhaka. Justice still eludes their only remaining child, Megh.

2.   On May 10, 2012, Tuhin Sanzid, a senior reporter of the daily ‘Bhorer Dak’, was allegedly picked up by RAB and tortured, for reporting on the disappearance of Bangladesh Nationalist Party organising secretary M Ilias Ali and on extrajudicial killings.

3.   On May 14, 2012, a group of 10-12 alleged criminals led by Aminul Islam, nephew of the State Minister for Home Affairs, Advocate Shamsul Huq Tuku, attacked Abdullah Al Mamun, Regional Correspondent of the daily ‘Kaler Kantho’ at Bera Bazaar under Pabna district for publishing a report on corruption, implicating the Minister. Mamun was admitted to Pabna General Hospital in a critical condition.

4.  On July 13, 2012, Mostafizur Rahman Sumon, Crime Reporter of the online news agency ‘JustNews’, was picked up and allegedly tortured by the Detective Branch (DB) of police and detained for two days in the DB Office.

And let us not forget the incident of ruling Awami League lawmaker Kamal Ahmed Majumder assaulting a female television journalist at Monipur High School and College at Mirpur in the capital on January 3, 2012.
The incident happened when Aparna Singha, staff reporter of Rtv, along with cameraman Syed Haider and another reporter Shahin Parvez went to the school at around 11:30am to seek Kamal's comment on the school authority's decision to charge admission fees way beyond the amount fixed by the government since Kamal, elected from Dhaka-15 (Kafrul-Ibrahimpur), was also president of the school managing committee.
Television footage showed Kamal Majumder striking Aparna's hand and pushing her aside, saying, "Keep it [the microphone] away, keep it away." The lawmaker was also heard calling her "stupid" and ordering some men surrounding him to "slap her".
Later in the evening, the lawmaker at a talk show on Mohona TV, which he owns, criticised journalists for their "aggressive attitude and their conspiracy against him in the name of journalism". On the show titled "information terrorism: conspiracy of capitalist mass media," discussants, including the school principal and the assistant principal of the school, blasted the Rtv reporter for "conspiring to tarnish the image of the school".
No legal action was taken that day.
Tip of the iceberg

You may say that the above are but isolated incidents and that media in Bangladesh in reality, enjoy overwhelming freedom. You could not be farther from the truth.

All this was just the tip of the iceberg. It is with great sorrow that one will remember that action by the incumbent Awami League government has led to the closure of Channel 1(27 April, 2010 ) , Sheershanews (21 August,2011), Amardesh (twice, in conjunction with the arrest of its editor, Mahmudur Rahman, on 1 June 2010 and again, since 11 April 2013), as well as the closure of Islamic TV and Diganta TV in light of coverage of the Motijheel massacre perpetrated by government forces (both since 6th May 2013).

In this context, the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman deserves special mention. The Economist noted that Mahmudur Rahman was arrested a full four months after the main offence for which he was charged saying that the real reason for his detention might lay elsewhere.
This was the explanation they gave, “The day before he was picked up Amar Desh had advertised an upcoming series of damning American embassy cables on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding president and the father of the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The website of Amar Desh announced the forthcoming series, which was to be translated into Bengali from the WikiLeaks trove, with the headline: “Mujib: The New Mughal”. This was a clear reference to the absolute powers that “Chairman Mujib” assumed upon decreeing one-party rule in February 1975. Another cable notes that Sheikh Mujib “began to suffer the classic paranoia of the despot”, speaks of his “failure to meet their (the Bengalees’) aspirations” and “his apparent desire to hold power largely for personal aggrandisement and dynastic reasons”.
The content of the cables and the timing of Rahman’s imprisonment makes it seem that the government’s desire to control the media has a lot to do with its imperative to defend its own version of the country’s history. The press would hardly be the first Bangladeshi institution to fall crumble under such pressure. “
Let us see what the incumbent information minister had to say about this. After the closure of the two television channels and the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman, Inu, the minister of information, was visited by editors of the country’s 15 daily newspapers, who demanded the government allow the recently closed private television channels Diganta TV and Islamic Television to go on air again and the release of Amardesh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman. In a scathing reply to their collective plea, he sternly informed them that such an appeal was ‘not in the best interest of the media’ and that the editors issued their statement without knowing the “entire facts”.

In conclusion,

So was the arrest of Golam Maola Rony MP really the ultimate manifestation of the government’s respect for the country’s mass media? I believe not. It was politics, pure and simple. An act put together to win sympathy. The true freedom of the press is important. Not to protect the rights of newspapers, reporters, radio and television stations and the like but to protect the right of the people to have the information they need to make informed decisions about their government. The Awami League has not just put a plug on the face of the freedom of media, they have tried to ensure that the press is just a sleazy part of their mission to defend their own version of the country’s history. What we observe, my dear friends, is media manipulation and nurturing of the yellow press. Its that simple in Bangladesh.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Shibir in Bangladesh Protest against Military Coup in Egypt

Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir in a statement has called for an immediate end to the massacre in Egypt and the reinstatement of Egypt’s democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi. Leaders of the student front called for the above at a procession held in the capital Dhaka.

The large procession, led by Central Publicity Secretary Mizanur Rahman, began at 4 pm local time starting from the Mohakhali and ended at Shaheen College end with a post rally demonstration. Also present was Shibir Central School Affairs Secretary Jakir Hossain Selim among other leaders. The Shibir leaders said that what was happening in Egypt was a state sponsored planned massacre by the military which had aggrieved Muslims worldwide this Ramadan. The martyrdom of hundreds of men, women and children had affected every human being with a conscience. Shibir leaders further said, “We on behalf of the people of Bangladesh strongly condemn this ongoing massacre. We urge the military rulers to immediately stop this massacre and reinstate and hand over power to the democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi.

The leaders said that the Islamic movement in Egypt had come so far after facing multifaceted oppression. The removal of the democratically elected and widely popular President was a part of this multifaceted oppression against the Islamic movement. Democracy and peace loving people of the world believe that Mohammad Morsi is the only legal President of Egypt. Any believer in these ideals could not welcome a government formed via a military coup.

The leaders further said that they were surprised at the two faced policy of the Western governments regarding the situation in Egypt. By such policies, they had marred their own democratic image. People wanted to know what kind of democracy they stood along with. If their commitment to democracy was true, then they ought to stand along with the pro democracy protesters in Egypt. Silently supporting a coup is never a part of democratic practices. We call towards every country in the United Nations to pressure the illegal government of Egypt to step down.

The Shibir leaders reiterated their sincere support for the pro-democracy peaceful protesters in Egypt. We extend our condolences to every mother who has lost her child and every sister who has lost her brother. The blood of martyrs will not go in vain and Egypt will turn into a bastion of the Islamic movement Insha Allah.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Egypt in the light of the massacre of the 27th of July

Calendars in Egypt will not only remember the 27th of July 2013 as the 19th day of Ramadan , they will also remember the day as the day the civilized world condoned a massacre of immense proportions; the day the world lost a little more of its humanity, with minimal fuss.

Statistics of the Coup since President Morsi was deposed in Egypt

The Guardian reports that at least 120 supporters of Egypt's ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, were shot dead on Saturday by security officials in what is being described as the worst state-led massacre in the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Ground sources have however, put the death toll at as high as 200 deaths. Aljazeera reported that Ahmed Aref, the Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson, said 66 people were killed, another 61 are "clinically dead", and a further 4,500 people were injured, 700 of which were injured by live bullets. The health ministry, meanwhile, has put the figure at 80 killed so far, based on the number of bodies received at the morgue. It said 792 people had been injured in the clashes.

The massacre took place in the small hours of Saturday morning, at a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya, east Cairo, where tens of thousands of pro-democracy supporters have camped amidst calls for his reinstatement since Morsi was deposed on 3 July. They were killed over a period of six hours during a drive by Central Security forces (CSF) flanked by  on a road near the anti military coup sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya in eastern Cairo.
The butchery only came hours after Interim President Adly Mansour announced, “the state has to impose order by all force and decisiveness.” The same day, Interior Minister Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim warned that security forces would be clearing pro-democracy sit-ins from Rabaa and Nahda squares “soon.”

It needs no reiteration that this slaughter of defenseless citizens materialized less than 24 hours after hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters gathered in Egyptian streets to give General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Morsi, their assent to crackdown on what he had on Wednesday called "terrorism".

As a verification of the media blackout in place, Egyptian media has largely remained silent. It was a testament to the deep roots of the Mubarak era regime in Egyptian media that the British newspaper, The Guardian was among the first to say this, “Sceptics say this (Sisi’s speech) is a euphemism for a violent campaign on largely peaceful Morsi supporters, who have held sit-ins and marches across several Egyptian cities since Morsi was overthrown – including at Rabaa al-Adawiya. For weeks, most Egyptian media have depicted pro-Morsi supporters as terrorists.

It was just a few days earlier that the Guardian outlined the dangerous consequences of a failed 'Islamist' experiment in Egypt, emphasizing on repercussions that could affect regions far outside Egypt. As if to test the Guardian perspective, the security forces carried out a bone chilling massacre. In the early hours of 8 July, 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters camped outside the Republican Guard club in Cairo were killed by security forces. Egypt's military claimed the protesters had attempted to break into the compound with the aid of armed motorcyclists. However, after examining video evidence and speaking to witnesses, medics and protesters, the Guardian uncovered a chilling story of a cold blooded massacre. The Rabaa massacre on the 27th is indicative of a situation that is fast deteriorating towards a point of no return.

Statement of Human Rights Watch:

“The use of deadly fire on such a scale so soon after the interim president announced the need to impose order by force suggests a shocking willingness by the police and by certain politicians to ratchet up violence against pro-Morsy protesters,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It is almost impossible to imagine that so many killings would take place without an intention to kill, or at least a criminal disregard for people’s lives.”

This is the detailed statement on the Rabaa massacre by the New York based human rights organization.

Verifcation of the massacre:

These are on-site video certifications of the massacre in Nasr City, at Rabba's podium on the road leading to Rab'aa Sq. which started on Jul 27th, after 1:00 a.m. and took place on the grounds of the authorization that General Sisi requested from his advocates, to cleanse the country from what he labeled as " possible terrorism."

The result was attacking peaceful, unarmed demonstrators with live bullets, cartouche, and heavy tear gases that turned out poisonous because they have expired; not excluding children or women. The military's armored vehicles joined hands with security forces and thugs against the peaceful marching civilians, in an effort to break in to Rab'aa Sq. to attack the in-sitters there. The demonstrators, however, built human shields with their bare chests to block their way and save the peaceful in-sitters at Rab'aa.

Here are video links:

1- Thugs and security forces attack demonstrators with cartouche, live bullets, and tear gases:
2- Security-forces bullets at Rab'aa Massacre
3- Martyrs and casualties at Rab'aa Massacre.. All by Security-forces snipers aiming at the head and the heart
4- The first 4 martyrs in Al-Manassa Massacre, with the blessings and care of the military
6- Scenes from the field hospital at Rab'aa Massacre
7- A demonstrator turns dumb after serious break in the skull during the massacre.. He draws signs in the air meaning "I testify that there is no God but Allah"
8- Urgent: cries and appeal for aid from Rab'aa field hospital 
9- Doctor Hisham Ibraheem, field-hospital coordinator
10- Appeal for aid from the head of the field hospital : we need doctors in all specializations
11- An eye-witness, Dr. Rabab Mohammad, cries for help after witnessing security forces in masks
12- Another eye-witness who lost an eye in the attack
13- A fiery message to Al-Azhar Sheikh
14- Urgent: Mohammad El-Beltagy cries and appeals to UN and Human Rights Organizations
15- Rab'aa Masacre: police vehicles attacks the demonstrators

Here are links to photo galleries of the massacre:

1-Andalou Agency photo gallery: http://www.aa.com.tr/en/mod/photo-gallery
2-One of the most clear and graphic sets of the massacre by Mosa’ab AlShamy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mosaaberising/sets/72157634814310842/

Message from the MOI:

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim hailed Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and said "he responded to the nation's call" and put the country's best interest above all. Speaking in a graduation ceremony  of police academy on Sunday, he congratulated the "Great Egyptian people" for achieving 'miracles' on June 30 and July 26 when they united with the military and police forces and gave them the mandate to deal firmly and strongly with those who try to destabilize the nation with what they described as "terrorist acts." He said that the police forces were adamant on achieving security and stability and proved that they only had the people's and the nation's security at heart.
Gehad al Haddad’s predicament:
Gehad Al Haddad, English spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood , when asked about what precautions the Muslim Brotherhood was taking to avoid further bloodshed in light of the massacre, said,
” There are not many precautions that one can take. These are peaceful protesters, they carry nothing in their hands but their own chants and their own pictures. There's nothing more that they can do except to appeal to the humanity of the one's attacking them, if there's any left in that, or to that of the rest of the world, that are allowing such massacres to continue. But I think that this military coup leadership has already crossed all red lines that it can cross. They killed men, women and children. They arrested thousands of people. The death toll now since the start of this coup is bigger than the entire Egyptian transition period of three years since the January 25 revolution.
Reactions in light of the massacre:

First it was all silence.

For the world was shocked.

As the condemnations and reactions of millions around the world poured it, a disturbing phenomenon was observed. The governments of the world were mostly quiet.

The state apparatus of Egypt remained mum too. It was the Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei who strongly condemned the "excessive use of force" in Egypt and the resultant deaths after the deadly massacre in light of the attacks by the security forces against the supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. However, it was limited to one simple tweet from his twitter account. It suffices to say that he was largely ignored due to his inconsequential standing in Egypt’s politics at the present moment.

The sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, who heads the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, said in a statement that he deplored and condemned the deaths of a number of martyrs who were victims of the day’s events. The grand imam called for an "urgent judicial investigation" and punishment of those responsible "regardless of their affiliation".

In stark contrast, the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, sent a thank you tweet to the army, which read:  “Thanks thanks thanks ... For all of the open doors of hope for all of us: Egypt's great army, the police, the people of Egypt inherent;”.

The April 6 national Movement called for removal of the interior minister while the main ex-opposition, the National Salvation Front released a statement, expressing "deep sadness" for the deaths of Egyptian citizens in the clashes while ultimately going on to blame the Brotherhood for organizing the protests in the first place, raising questions as to how much aggrieved they really were.

The U.S. and the EU mouthed eloquently worded statements that reeked of complicity with the new regime in Egypt, as they diplomatically showed shock at the deaths on the streets, while being limited to scolding the military to be a mite more careful in doling out human rights to the supporters of the deposed democratically elected President Morsi. The flow of aid to the Egyptian military still continues unabated to this minute.

The only voice of dissent was the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who actively condemned the violence, saying "In Egypt, democracy was massacred, national aspirations were massacred, and now the nation is being massacred."

"Those who remain silent in the face of this massacre have blood on their hands and on their faces," 

As self professed progressives turned secularists of the world unite in finding thousands upon thousands of excuses of the how the Brotherhood was responsible for it all, I shall finish with a quote by Gehad Haddad: “This is the beginning of a new military [dictatorship] in Egypt, even if a few civilian faces are slapped on top of it”

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Odhikar has every reason not to trust the government of Bangladesh

On the 10th of July, the Ministry of Information sent a letter to the human rights organization Odhikar requesting a copy of fact finding report carried out by Odhikar on ‘Assembly of Hefazate Islam Bangladesh and Human Rights Violations’, citing the enthusiasm of the  government to make public the ‘real facts and actual number of deaths’. The government further said that it was conducting a further in-depth investigation as there has been ‘confusion’ regarding the death toll during the clash between Hefazate Islam and law enforcement agencies. To implement this successfully, it requested a copy of the report including “the detailed list of the 61 deceased persons along with the names of their fathers, mothers and their addresses.”

   Odhikar’s fitting reply:
   The main facets of the reply were as follows,
1.      Odhikar underlines the importance of the government compiling its own list of casualties.
2.   Despite the evidence of human rights violations perpetrated by the government, security forces have repeatedly denied any casualties. At a press conference on May 8, 2013, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Benazir Ahmed said that “no one was killed during the operation that flushed out Hefazate Islam men from Shapla Square in the capital. No lethal weapons were used in the operation.” (Source: New Age, 09/05/2013)
3.   Furthermore, leading Parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party have time and again claimed in Parliament that no one was killed in the assembly of Hefazat-e-Islam on the night of 6th May and that not one bullet was fired (?). The tally includes leading figures such as Awami League Presidium member and MP Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim along with PM Hasina herself.
4.      From the above, it can be deduced that the claim that nobody was killed that night by the government proves that it actually wants to refute its responsibility; and that it is absolutely not interested to conduct any fair, unbiased investigation, forget making any figures public.
5.      The true fact is that the family members of the deceased are living in insecurity and fear. The government filed 23 cases at different police stations accusing at least 133,500 unnamed persons over the Shapla Square incident. The families of the victims fear that the government will harass them further and are afraid to speak out in public.
6.    This is because there is no victim and witness protection law in Bangladesh. Being a human rights organisation, it is Odhikar’s duty to ensure the safety and security of the victims.
7.      A few suggestions that the government will most likely lose interest in while reading up to this point.

Simple thoughts supporting Odhikar’s stance:
Hasanul Haque Inu, the minister of Information, is no friend of the media or justice. His single handed fat headedness in dealing with the issue of the media blackout on the 6th of May should still be fresh in the minds of many.

PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is no believer in justice. On June 19, 2013, during the speech on point of order before the Parliament, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that “there was no shooting on Hefazat activists on May 5, rather Hefazat activists acted dead by using red dye. They were sleeping in the streets wearing red dye. Later they ran away in fear of the police” (Source: Newsevent24.com, 19/06/2013).

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the 18th of July said her government will make sure that those who were engaged in vandalism demanding cancellation of quota system in public service recruitment will not get government job in future. “We’ve the pictures, we’ll place them before the PSC before the viva-voce examinations so that these notorious elements can’t get government jobs,” she said in her introductory speech at the Awami League Central Working Committee (ALCWC) meeting at her official residence Ganobhaban.

With the presence of such biased personalities in offices of power, it is hardly surprising that human rights organizations such as Odhikar find no common working space for that important entity called trust.

Although the government has tried hard to keep major human rights organizations in its pocket, and has succeeded in quite many instances (bootlickers such as Ain o Salish Kendro, the Bangladesh chapters of HRW and Transparency International, and the ever oozing National Human Rights Commission spearheaded by the well known government stooge Mizanur Rahman), the human rights situation on the ground has remained largely such that few can ignore its frightful nature. Odhikar as a champion of human rights has succeeded in many instances in filling the voids that the others have so conveniently and intentionally left glaring open. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Debunking the Propaganda: Allama Shafi 'viral' video

I was inspired to write this article in response to a campaign that has surfaced recently in social media that has sought to target Hefazat chief Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi. The centre of all this furor is a video clip which various media describe as being “a recent YouTube video clip of Hefazat-e-Islam chief Shah Ahmed Shafi” which they say has created “much outrage in social networking sites.

Before I continue, let me give you my opinion on this video.

That could be summed up into one word, “ PROPAGANDA”.

Let me explain why.

Sneak peek: Shahbag versus Allama Shafi,
Let us start by looking at this video that was shot on the 14th of February 2013.

The contents of the video are clear to anyone who will care to listen. The crowds are chanting, “Ekta ekta Shibir dhor, dhoira dhoira jobai kor”. Translated into English, that means, “Catch (Bangladesh Islami Chatro) Shibir (activists) one by one; catch them and slaughter them”.

So what do you understand by this?   

At the first look, one will decry the slogans and term them as barbaric and out of sync with the ideals of any modern nation. What barbaric people would call for the slaughter of their fellow human beings? Typical.

Let us then add that this video was shot at Shahbag on the 14th of February 2013 when the crowds were calling for the hanging of the war criminals of 1971. On the mention of such information, many readers will jump up and proclaim that these slogans are just part of the wide movement and will vociferously proclaim the glorious nature of these protests and rant on about the democratic, nationalistic and secular nature of such public demonstrations.

In short, it will eventually be labeled as a ‘misrepresentation’ of the original context

Now let us look at the ‘miracle’ video that our ‘progressive’ friends have unearthed!

This is the video that Dhaka Tribune has kindly consented to host on its website for everyone to see: http://video.dhakatribune.com/h3L6/hefazat-e-islam-chief-shah-ahmed-shafi-addresses-his-followers/

The explanation provided is as follows, “In the video, he told to his followers not to educate girls after the primary level, to keep them at home and not to let women become financially independent.” Further explaining the scenario, the Tribune continues, “It has not yet been identified when and where the Hefazat leader delivered the sermon. One Akash Malik uploaded the video on July 6. According to the scroll information, it was distributed by Al-Arab Enterprise of 46 Madrasa Market, Hathazari in Chittagong.”

Debunking the fallacy:
It seems that the furor about the video began after July the 6th, 2013. One of the earliest articles to be written on the topic was on dnewsbd.com on the 8th of July. The content was based on the clip exclusively, but neither the origin nor the date was mentioned while quoting from the clip. By then the 25 minute 30 second (so carefully cut!) video had supposedly gone viral on various social networks. Aiding in its propagation was an English translation that ‘progressives’ used to further the spreading of the video. Then it spread onto the media outlets and it finally made it big on a talk show at Ekattor TV when a talk show host used the clips to quiz a member of the Hefazat inner circle.

However, a bit of investigation revealed a world of information. The writer discovered the complete, unabridged and uncut version of the sermon of Allama Shafi which had acted as the source of the ‘viral’ video.

Features of the video include,
a) The length of the actual video is 1 hour, 13 minutes and 38 seconds. 
b)The video was uploaded on the 13th of July 2011, i.e. exactly two years ago. This debunks the myth of                                                  a ‘recent’ event by Allama Shafi.
c)The ‘viral’ video is a cut and edited version from about 30 minutes into the original source video which did not contain any location or timeframe.

Explaining the video,
To do justice on his speech, the whole video needs to be viewed and not quote out of context. The theme of his speech was mainly to do with Quranic and Shariah injunctions relating to Purdah/niqab or veiling of women. Those giving statements about Allama Shafi in the media are mainly associated with secular or liberal movements which in turn are associated in some way or the other to the ruling Awami League and its allies in the left. Either they have not viewed the whole video or are intentionally on a mission to smear him. Barring that they are ignorant of the context in which he advised women to stay indoors and compared them with tamarinds.

The Quran clearly has commanded us to lower our gaze. Mufti Shafi quoted the Quranic verse which underscores the need for women to dress modestly and not appear in public without adhering to the Islamic dress code. He pointed out some of the human desires and nature of the human weakness. And it is true that men are attracted to the opposite sex; especially if the women wear revealing clothing, display their beauty, and freely mix with the opposite sex. This characteristic is universal to every human being, whether a saint or a sinner. So the desire of human beings for the opposite sex is universal and natural. Allah (SWT), knowing this weakness, instructed men to lower their gazes and women to dress modestly in order to avoid being tempted or fall in to the trap of the Shaytan (Devil).

Mufti Shafi, while explaining the above concept, simply gave the example of a tamarind so as to make people better understand him. This association should be used comparatively, not as an instrument for personal attack.

As for his advice to women working in garments factories, this also needs to be viewed in context. Anybody viewing the former part of the full sermon will notice the definition of adultery (zinaa) by Allama Shafi as being one explained in the light of the Quran and Hadith. This includes the adultery by eyesight and does not necessarily absolutely allude to adultery as in a physical act; for in the eyes of Islam both are grave sins. I shall not back down from repeating that the key to understanding the sermon of Allama Shafi is to view it in the light of Islam.

Another attempt to divert thy attention?
Now that we have gained insight into the backdrop of the sermon, let us look at the backdrop of the furor that is being created in context of much discussed propaganda spewing ‘viral’ video. As of late, Allama Shafi was branded as a misguided soul by various media outlets. Shomoy TV on the 13th of July, 2013, ran a handful of news items and has included a number of ‘testimonies’ that indicate that probable legal action is on the way.

In other news, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday came down heavily on Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi for his ‘derogatory and indecent remarks’ about women. This seems to have come out of nowhere in light of,
a.       A rising tide of public opinion which manifest itself in the loss of the ruling Awami League in all the 5 city corporation elections held in the last couple of months.
b.      The spread of the anti-government anti-quota protests in all notable educational institutions in the country. A looming student movement ahead.  
c.       A highly negative image of the Awami League and its rogue student arm, the Chhatra League in light of its unpopular stand against established Islamic organizations and movements, namely the Hefazat-e-Islam.
d.      Widespread state sponsored oppression of the opposition in Bangladesh.
e.       Highly prevalent rampant corruption and a severe shortage of civic amenities such as gas and drinkable water.

The people of Bangladesh voted the Awami League into power in the parliamentary elections of 2008 after the party promised sweeping changes. An example of the rhetoric the incumbent PM had used at that time included promises such as making rice available as cheap as 10 taka, something she has terrible failed in.

Those days have long gone, and promises such as these seem something of a bygone era. People in Bangladesh have become more focused on simple survival than ever as family fortunes dry up, sources of income trickle down, price of essential commodities shoot up, civic amenities become less accessible and the gaps between the various strata of society widen.

However, drama is something that the people of Bangladesh always tend to fall for and the dramatic turn of events surrounding Allama Shafi is sure to interest even the most nonchalant of observers. Perhaps that is why a full-fledged Prime Minister is more interested in playing along with the turn of events than get to the task of doing the thing that matters most- running the country.