Attack against freedom of speech: Bangladesh cartoon controversy update

September 20, 2007
By

[Rezwan, Germany]

The issue gets complicated as:

* The Government asks Prothom Alo publishers to suspend the publication of the newspaper’s weekly satire supplement Alpin.

* The Dhaka district magistrate asked the publishers to explain within two weeks why the publication of Alpin would not be banned and legal action would not be taken against the publisher.

* Three cases were filed Thursday with different courts against the editor, publisher and cartoonist of Bangla daily Prothom Alo.

* Religious groups postponed their planned demonstration in front of the Baitul Mukarram mosque on Friday after a meeting with the daily’s editor.

* In one of the three cases filed Thursday, officer-in-charge of Tejgaon police, Jan-e Alam brought blasphemy charge against the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman in Dhaka. A madrassah official in Chittagong brought sedition charge against editor of the daily Matiur Rahman, publisher Mahfuz Anam and the cartoonist while a lawyer in Comilla accused the three of violating emergency power rules. (The new age)

This is clearly a hypocrisy as 9 years ago, a similar cartoon was published in Bangladesh by Chattra Shibir, the Student wing of the Islamist party Jamaat-E-Islami. Where was religious feelings then? And why no case is filed against the Islami Chattro Shibir?

We saw more drama today. Rumi of In the middle of Nowhere describes this picture:

The all powerful editor of the most circulated daily in Bangladesh, Mr Motiur Rahman, is begging apology, knees bent, to the boss of the bigots and the head Islamist of Bangladesh, Khatib Obaidul Haque. Supervising the apology ceremony is none other than the information advisor (Minister) of Bangladesh, Mr Moinul Hossain.

Very worrying sign indeed.

The adviser, Barrister Mainul Hosein, has publicly and on the record stated that there is a deep conspiracy to destabilize the country with this single cartoon. Sada Kalo has this to say to him:

Mr. Hosein, if I may offer some advice: if there is a conspiracy, you don’t have to look too far. See the pictures of the people burning newspapers and protesting outside the mosques? They are the people who took a cartoon, which may be offensive to some people, and blew it out of all proportion.

Mr. Hosein, you are playing into the hand of these fundamentalists. I understand mobilizing the army or police against these kath-mollas would be counter-productive, but at least shut your mouth and don’t give them any more ammunition.

Another strong blow to freedom of speech:

Saptahik2000, a popular magazine’s Eid supplement was taken off shelves because of a memoir of exiled writer Daud Haider. The news paper report was that he compared Kaaba Shareef of Mecca with a brothel.

The Bangla blogosphere were quick to find out the truth. It was these lines of Daud Haider:

“I have come to Lukhnow, shouldn’t I visit the Baiji’s house (traditional dance hall; hat tip Mash)? What will people say if I don’t. If anybody travels to Mecca, is it befitting not to visit Kaaba Shareef?”

It seems some people can’t read the fine prints and sniff religious provocations everywhere. Rumi explains in comments section about Baiji Bari:

He looked for baiji bari (house). And he was told those old traditional baiji bari, where classic music and dance by very well trained professional musicians used to entertain the elites of the society, is no longer existent. Some brothel run here and there with the name of baiji Bari.

Daud Haider, who is renowned for his phrase “birth is my life-long sin” is a renowned poet of Bangladesh. In March 1975 poet Daud Haider published a poem in Daily Sangbad tiltled “Kalo Shurjer, Kalo Jotsnai Kalo Bonnai” which contained remarks against religious values. In independent Bangladesh the fundamentalists first showed their strength by protesting in front of Baitul Mukarrom Mosque and some fatwa was declared against him declaring him Murtad. He is on self exile till then and now living in Berlin, Germany.

It may be reminded here that the Shaptahik 2000 is a publication of the Prothom Alo group. The Daily Amar Desh reports:

Shaptahik 2000 authorities apologized for the inadvertent mistake in the publication and said that it has withdrawn the issue. There was also a press note of Islamic Shashontontro andolon who said by comparing Kaaba Shareef with brothel the magazine has attacked the Iman of the whole Muslim nation. They demanded cancellation of the declaration of Prothom Alo

Now we are getting somewhere. It seems that certain quarters are targeting the Daily Prothom Alo and the Daily Star who were vocal against the fundamentalists in the past decade.

In another move today the Government has set some guidelines for TV talk shows:

* Television stations will not air more than three to four talk shows a week and edit them before put them on the air. That means there will be no live talk shows, sms or phone-ins.

* Producers will consider only businessmen, educationists and intellectuals as potential guests and the debates will focus on nothing else but cultural, economic, social and educational issues.

What is there to speak except from praising the lord in the month of Ramadan? Welcome to the Hirok Rajar Desh.

Update I: Daud Haider clears his position in an interview broadcast in Bangla TV, UK:

“I do not possess the mentality to utter derogatory remarks against Islam. I did not compare Islam or Kaaba Shareef with anything”. He also comments that the present government is running the country in consultation with the anti-independence force Jamaat-Shibir. He says if the uneducated bigot Mullahs (clerics) become judge of arts and culture then all the progressive publications will shut down. He also urged his countrymen to save the country from these fundamentalists and uneducated clerics.
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21 Responses to Attack against freedom of speech: Bangladesh cartoon controversy update

  1. September 20, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    “I have come to Lukhnow, shouldn’t I visit the brothel? What will people say if I don’t. If anybody travels to Mecca, is it befitting not to visit Kaaba Shareef?”

    Rezwan, I don’t think Brothel will be right translation here. He looked for baiji bari. And he was told those old traditional baiji bari, where classic music and dance by very well trained professional musicians used to entertain the elites of the society, is no longer existent. Some brothel run here and there with the name of baiji Bari.

  2. Rezwan
    September 21, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Thanks Rumi Bhai; changed the word. I hope people will also notice the difference.

    And thanks for the translation of the following lines. I think it will help people to understand the crux of the matter.

  3. Imran
    September 21, 2007 at 1:54 am

    This government with Moinul Hossain’s patronage is creating Khatib Obaidul Haque as the radical Moqtada Al-Sadr of Bangladesh. Recall the video posted on YOU TUBE showing Moinul Hossain attending, addressing and patronizing Jamat’s gathering? Where are we heading? General Moeen, if he really has good intentions as he claims should step in and neutralize these mollah’s before its too late. What a sad scene the picture is. Bowing down and apologising to uneducated mollahs! Very sad, very sad.

  4. September 21, 2007 at 2:27 am

    Rezwan, “baiji” were specifically kathak dancers in pre-colonial India. Lucknow was one of the centers of kathak and the “baiji” were Muslim dancing girls. The “baiji”s have declined in status and the “baiji baris” have fallen into disrepute since the British arrived. In the context of what he was told, as Rumi points out, he was referring to the famous Lucknow “baiji baris” but found that they no longer existed.

    So the “baiji bari” would translate as “traditional dance hall”.

    Here is a modern dance troupe trying to resurrect the lost art of the “baijis”.

  5. Tanoy
    September 21, 2007 at 4:00 am

    Simply this is the character of people like Motiur Rahman. Al-Khelaphot Majlish agreement has been made so much hoopla.

    I also understand this is the wromg step. But

    Mr Motiur Rahman? where is your credibility today?

  6. Tomi amake gadha mone koro
    September 21, 2007 at 4:16 am

    What a shame!!!!How our intelectual people are kept hostages by the muslim militants and hipocrats.Our nation do deserve better than this, we did not give so many lives and blood for dishonoring our independence in such a way to surrender our dignity to some religion business minded hienas.

  7. AtiqR
    September 21, 2007 at 4:26 am

    Imarn, counting on Gen Moeen is not the somution. Firstly, he is the Army Chief. He is not supposed to step in these political controversary. I consider he has already over stepped his mandate by commenting on socio-econo-political issues.

    Even if he decides to overstep again in this case, I do not think his statement will be much different from that of (B)advisor Moinul. Remember his famous lecture (!) on politics to the political pundits at the International Political Science Association conference on 2 Apr -

    “Bangladesh will have to construct its own brand of democracy, giving due recognition to its social, historical and cultural conditions with RELIGION being one of several components of its national identity

  8. September 21, 2007 at 11:01 am

    This is ridiculous. Now, we should change all our proverbs that relate to Arab or arabic words like ‘makkar manus hajj pai na’. So are we going step backwards to the medieval age now?

  9. September 21, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Ah ha..interesting. But I doubt if public opinion will be swayed through an online posting :( Less than 15% of the whole deshi populace have internet..and amids those who do have this privilege over 12.98% knows nothing but Instant Messaging and Social Networking.

    Perhaps the good guys should’ve stayed in Bangladesh despite all odds, without fearing what might happen to them if they got caught. Perhaps that is the difference between Argentine revolutionists and Bangladeshi contemporaries…we love to run away from troubles and make a mockery of the imaginary ether through our Big Words.

  10. Tahsin Hyder
    September 21, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    well now, i see nothing here that relates to general moeen or the CTG. if it would have been a bnp lead govt. must have been seen taking immediately action against the alleged 2000, and the blames would rather go to jammat for the govt. being too conservative, and acting against the freedom of speech.

    in the case of AL, critics might have talked about some anti-jammat motive of AL or the govt, or so on.

    Well in one way or another its harmful to say the freedom of speech can uprise anything that relates to any region.

    for instance, a man teacher Bhuddism might appear in street with its traditional orange simple dress up, now if we just take a picture of the man and try to put this character comparing to ANYthing other that might bring cheers to everyones faces. its not freedom of speech, its bullying around the community.

    many journalists/reporters, especially a few youths do not really know the exact meaning of freedom of speech. i know many would rather disagree with me but its true. freedom of speech does not mean freedom to speak anything you want or you agree with. we live in more civilized society today. like the freedom of a country. even the country maybe liberated it cannot just attack another nation, inside the country people must follow some codes set by the govt. so everyone remains safe. freedom doesnot mean being reckless.

  11. September 21, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Does anybody find it odd that those moulanas had no problem with picture of a girl with bare shoulder in the Shaptahik 2000 page?

  12. Sagor
    September 21, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    A portion of Bangladeshi Muslims are fanatic. They are fanatic because they are not well educated on Islam. What I see this mawlana’s are trying to solve this crisis. Last night Khatib Baitul Makarram gave statement in BTV, requesting all not to go for any nausense activities on this issue.We must appreciate them. Same way Br Mainul also tried to people that Matiur Rahman didnot want to disgrace Islami sentiment. I think CTG took some correct step to settle this issue. We may criticise fanatic people but CTG.

  13. iconus.clustus
    September 21, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Sagor:

    If the CTG (aka Bar. Moinul) didn’t ban (Aplin and Saptahik 2000 Eid issue) and arrest the cartoonist, and Motiur Rahman didn’t sack his little-mag’s editior and complied with CTG’s pronouncements with absolutely no reservations… nothing would have happended. Some Moulana’s would have complained, as they always do… [they don't find it decent to see women with sleevelesses while we see that often on the streets of Dhaka - the first chance they get - they will try to do something about it or some other issue], but it would have remained at that level. It was the CTG that effectively fuelled it furhter, instead of letting it die out. The Khatib my friend, said what he said because all of this demands were met… he was the single winner in this battle to crush dissident voices… he has effectively done it, with the aid of none other than the CTG itself. So, what are you saying when you say that they have handled it pretty well?!?!

    And about literacy and fanaticism… well, I don’t quite agree. Real fanatics are the leaders… who are quite literate. The rest of the people, the followers, are just that – the followers. They are not really fanatics, but they are almost coerced into it… note: most of the madrasa goers are from very poor families… families give their sons and daughters to the madrasas not because they are inclined toward religious teachings, but because they are poor and cannot take care of their children themselves.

    Atunu #9,

    Do you have something against the NRBs? Do you have something against e-activism? Do you think all the people writing and sharing their points of views are all Deshi expats?

    It seems so. But, let me point this out to you

  14. Truth Hurts
    September 22, 2007 at 8:37 am

    As E-Bangladesh claims to uphold the highest levels of “holier than thou” ethics, I would humbly request them to correct the following line: Motiur Rahman, Editor of Prothom Alo and a very well regarded, conscientious and patriotic member of the civil society, was NOT knee bent, when he was seeking apology in the tripartite meeting. One wonders, what is E-BD’s intention to inaccurately claim that Mr. Rahman was apologizing knee-bent? Isn’t this an attempt at character assassination and humiliating Mr. Rahman? Mr. Rahman was merely trying to prevent anarchy and protect peace in the country for the greater objective of establishing a modern Bangladesh free from clutches of corruption, religious militancy and violence.

  15. Rezwan
    September 22, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    what is E-B

  16. September 22, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Truth Hurts, Motiur Rahman, as a respected editor of the largest Bengali language daily knows full well the value of freedom of speech, press and expression. He must also realize that bending to pressure from extremists to apologize for this cartoon will only bring Bangladesh closer to the “clutches of corruption, religious militancy and violence” that you say he was trying to prevent. This is even more alarming because PA has been such a strong progressive voice against extremism.

    The fact that the cartoonist and his sub-editor were thrown to the dogs; the fact that the cartoonist was jailed and no lawyer dared to defend him; the fact that not a single newspaper dared to speak out against the utter nonsense of the charge; and the fact that the military government itself has fueled this by declaring the cartoon as part of a “conspiracy” are all strong indications that extremists have succeeded in creating a climate of fear.

    So, E-BD is not engaging in character assasination of Motiur Rahman. I personally am lamenting his predicament, and by extension, the predicament of all of Bangladesh. You simply cannot appease Islamists by caving to their increasingly irrational demands. Their stated goal is not to have a pluralistic society. The goal of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, explicitly stated, is to do away with the constitution of Bangladesh. That, my friend, is anti-state activity – plain and simple. The question then is, while they zealously arrested university professors for “anti-state activites”, why is the military government not defending the constitution and going after these people on anti-state activities?

  17. Iconus Clustus
    September 22, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    The previous governments (ones that are serving as scapegoats now), are all blamed by the people (at least by the people who stood up for a secular democracy and still dare to speak about it and for it) for having fallen from the ideals set forth in the original constitution. SECULARISM that protected the freedom of religions [contrary to what the extremists believe and understand of the term secularism], was the very basis of that constitution, of those ideals based on which the country was born and took its first few faltering steps. But, one government after the other, slowly but surely, caved in – caved in to who they fought against!!! The nation plundered from Joy Bangla to Khodahafiz to Allah hafiz. From secularism to Bismillah in the beginning, and then entrusting all on Allah right in the constitution! From war criminals to having them run amock, do politics, and even become MPs, ministers – hell, even the Prime Minister!!!

    There was a time when people thought of BNP as the party doing all of the damage – through rehabilitation of anti-Bangladesh forces, aligning with the Islamic countries, bringing about the first hack in the constitution (Bismillahir Rahmanur Rahim in the constitution), letting the Jamaaties do politics, making Shah Aziz the PM, etc. Well, folks – we all know that is not the complete picture. AL, slowly but surely, followed the same suit. Instead of becoming stronger over the years to resist what we faught against during the pre-liberation years, Al became weaker. Though there was no change brought about within the constitution itself during Bongobondhu

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  19. sazol
    June 19, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    If you do any good work,then you will get a good prize from ALLAH.and if you do any bad work ,then you will get a bad prize from ALLAH.i think you know better what is good or bad.

    You think ,only those peoples (mollah) have duty to protest anty islamic activities.We all should do it.On the other hand we should also respect other religious´s.Its not my opinion.I have given this ouotation from holly quran.

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