Shahbagh After Week Two

Those still sitting on the fence are not really relevant at this moment unless the rightfully committed have plenty of time to waste, which they ought not in light of Rajib’s tragic martyrdom and the real threat of Jamaati terror on the ground. Those who again find themselves on the wrong side of history are facing popular resistance and inevitable defeat at the hands of increasingly proactive “ordinary” Bangladeshis. The days of misguidance and perversion surrounding so much of our history have finally begun to come to foreseeable end while Bangladeshis rapidly unite around the truth of what we are and how we got here.

Shahbagh after week two
By Sohel Nadeem Rahman

As we approach February 21st in and around Shahbagh, we find the country more pleasantly polarized around its core values than it has been since our heroic War of Independence in 1971. Two opposing sides of the proverbial fence have clearly emerged since Shahbagh started a couple of weeks ago: the pro-independence and therefore pro-Bangladesh side, and the anti-independence and therefore anti-Bangladesh side.

Those on this side of the fence possibly consist of the overwhelming majority of our people from all walks of life with a diverse array of viewpoints. This majority is firmly united around the historically more accurate narrative of Bangladesh. Those on the other side believe in a narrative that is not only anti-historical but also inconsistent with the Spirit of 1971 and the codification of its core values in the 1972 Constitution. They are significantly smaller in number.

Those still sitting on the fence are not really relevant at this moment unless the rightfully committed have plenty of time to waste, which they ought not in light of Rajib’s tragic martyrdom and the real threat of Jamaati terror on the ground. Those who again find themselves on the wrong side of history are facing popular resistance and inevitable defeat at the hands of increasingly proactive “ordinary” Bangladeshis. The days of misguidance and perversion surrounding so much of our history have finally begun to come to foreseeable end while Bangladeshis rapidly unite around the truth of what we are and how we got here.

Political parties being political parties are vying for advantage and much to their surprise, being co-opted by Shahbagh at the grassroots level. Naturally the ruling party and their allies are enjoying a major tactical advantage simply because they made the ICT possible after decades of shameful inaction. They always pay a great deal of lip service to the Spirit of 1971 because of their undisputed leadership role back then, and obviously there’s no better time to try and get serious about that spirit.

However, this timely convenience in no way means that people have forgotten or have chosen to overlook their failures as incumbents. To claim that would be to lie, and a single trip to Shahbagh would prove it. The reluctant parties of military usurpers, including the one in the ruling alliance, are doing themselves no favor by sitting on the fence while many of their young members are at Shahbagh.

Convoluted conjecture and conspiracy theories, unwarranted cynicism, and outright misguidance through the conflation and similarization of issues by a wide variety of outsiders are simply adding to the damage they’ve already done to their own credibility. As they continue to marginalize themselves politically, different perspectives within Shahbagh are being more closely and reasonably discussed without demonizing the less popular views as counterproductive and poorly timed.

That’s because despite ongoing and concerted efforts to the contrary, Shahbagh isn’t likely to lose sight of its original and deeply resonating demands anytime soon. The popular demand for capital punishment for convicted war criminals currently indicted by the ICT, and outlawing Jamaat-e-Islami because of its criminal role in 1971 and criminal activities since its rehabilitation in 1979, tends to be gathering even more momentum around the country with each passing day.

The Shahbagh movement remains non-violent regardless of most of its slogans, and closely united in its genuine political diversity within the pro-Bangladesh narrative in spite of its still narrow focus. But that doesn’t mean that the movement as a whole is unaware of its own immense potential to exercise organized people power to force positive democratic change when it comes to other pressing issues from endemic corruption to unequal treatment under the law suffered by Bangladeshis without financial, social and political clout. They are choosing not to “multitask” at this point because they have wisely prioritized their initial demands. Those are uniting people despite some critical but constructive reservations voiced by some within the general group.

Those demands will remain a priority until they are met, as the movement will continue to mature InshAllah as a sustainable, refreshing and important political force capable of bringing people together. The world will simply have to wait and see how this movement evolves into the powerful representation of people power it needs to be, and then is able to drive positive change once its initial demands are met. These are the facts so far from where I’m standing, far more optimistic than I was in the beginning.

Joy Bangla!

10 thoughts on “Shahbagh After Week Two

  1. I feel that the previous post from week 1 by Sohel Nadeem Rahman (“greaterboka”) was more nuanced and complex in its analysis. This post reads more like a hagiograpy of the movement, full of predictive certainty (“inevitable”) which we know from history often does not play out. Better to be vigilant and flexible and adaptive, rather than resting on laurels, which this piece has an air of.

    Also, I do not agree with the assessment that diversity of demands would weaken the movement.

    1. Dear Khujeci,

      While I will never compromise my views on capital punishment and democracy but will not abandon Shahbagh either because I also believe in constructive engagement. Regardless of how I feel about the diversity of demands, most of the folks that I’ve spoken to seem committed to the much narrower focus at this stage. I do have certainty when it comes to certain things. Other things I try to work on despite the current odds of being seriously heard. 🙂

      1. I am not asking you to “abandon” anything. I wrote “nuanced and complex” and “vigilant and flexible and adaptive.”

        That is not a path of abandonment. If you want to help the movement, you also have to give them gentle critique.

  2. I wasn’t trying to say or imply that you’re asking me to abandon anything. In fact, that idea never even occurred to me when I used that word. I used that word simply to point out where I’am at right now. 🙂

    Public security has been major concern ever since Rajib’s martyrdom, and some of us have prioritized that aspect of the movement at this moment.

    I do have conversations with people I meet whenever I’m in and around Shahbagh and often my critique is less than gentle. Yet most folks tolerate me and some even listen. I was yelled at by less than six people in the beginning, but not anymore. May be continued presence has its reward even when you don’t and can’t say “pha(n)shi chai” or call for a ban on free speech. The folks at ground zero are far more tolerant and peaceful than some of the trigger happy righteous indignation and rudeness online, once they see you just as committed to their right to safely assemble and demand what they feel to be justice. They feel the excitement we all share about the incredible potential of such a gathering to affect more positive change in due time.

    I tell people that we have enough laws to decisively respond to criminal behavior under the guise of politics. Vigilantly enforcing those laws is the challenge, not creating a new law in contravention to one of our core values, and spawning an underground terrorist organization 3 million Bangladeshis regularly vote for.

    This blog is more of a personal report than anything else.

  3. Is Shahbag really ready to broaden its horizons?
    I for one think it is too soon – as the movement is nascent.
    The milestones achieved so far are intermediate:
    1. The passing of the appeal law

    The first two deliverables are not there yet – but one group of forward looking people is sitting down – as you say – to chart out the track amongst the stars. There has to be a road-map – but that is not usually for public scrutiny. Is it? It is not a corporation, nor a party, not a government organ. It has a charter – the oath that was published.

    If you look at the opinion: you will find that there are instigations (yes, I shall call them that) to take this movement to a higher layer. These are tough questions for any country – and I am afraid it is bandwaggoneering – if I may use that word. I call it instigation – because you guys started something good – and the west (yes the west) and other sectors just want this to become so broad that you lose critical mass per deliverable. You have critical mass for the demands you seek – take care of it.

    You have an obligation to see it through – granted some small group of forward looking people may look at a road map – as any organization must – but that road-map must remain secret in this case. You guys never tried to appease people – and now is not the time to start – unless you feel that it is valid to do so. In my opinion, it is too early even to divulge the existence of a roadmap.

    You, as a thought leader, your responsibility is to the people in Shahbag. People like to know the future – there is a fine balance between charting a course through the stars and giving people hope.

    Hope is fine – appeasing the people on the fence is not – they are irrelevant.

    I only wish you well, Your station gives you added responsibility. I am sure you will be circumspect in your next steps. The momentum is good, the environment ripe. Take it.

  4. The author is generalizing many of the events and speaking out of emotions rather than reasoning.

    1. “Martyrdom of Rajib” – the murderers have not yet been identified. so far its only speculation that jamat did this. But the author have reached his own conclusion and using the death for emotional gains. The PM also said its time to ban Shibir even without identifying murderers. Where was she when Bishawjit was murdered and the killers in mass media next day. Bishwajit is a victim of BCL brutality and not a word from PM. Rajib at his best was a radical journalist/blogger whose ideas were extreme.

    Rajib reminds of Marat who was a political theorist and scientist best known for his career in France as a radical journalist and politician during the French Revolution. His journalism was renowned for its fiery character and uncompromising stance toward “enemies of the revolution” and basic reforms for the poorest members of society. Rajib’s radical thinking would not helped the movement but his death have stoked passion and emotions.

    2. Two sides – either pro or anti-Bangladeshi

    The author repeatedly mentions pro-Bangladeshi narrative. There isn’t any pro-BD/pro-Pakistani/pro-indian narrative. There is only one historical true narrative. Bongobondhu won the election and West Pakistan denied it. The Bangalees got together after years of ignorance and revenue embezzlement from East to West and tired of being a colony, tired of being treated as an inferior race, tired of being with people with whom we share nothing but common religion. Bangladesh rightfully gained its independence through a bloody struggle after years of persecution from west Pakistan. Not a single Bangladesh born after 1971 regrets the war and is proud Bangladeshi. But to the author, anyone who is not in Shahbagh, is anti-Bangladeshi.

    Forget about other issues when there isn’t one particular demand from Shahbagh — is it trial and punishment? (ICT already exists), banning of jamat, banning of religion based politics, boycott of jamat based business? Author says he is against capital punishment. Then why he is in Shahbagh where the majority cry is “Razakar der fashi chai”?

    All agree with razakars punishment, some agree with banning of jamat, some on boycott, and that’s why some are not actively in shahbagh, but to author he/she would be anti-Bangladesh. Once again, author is against capital punishment. Then why he is in Shahbagh where the majority cry is “Razakar der fashi chai”?

  5. “It is a practice of our justice to condemn some as a warning to others. To condemn then because they have done wrong would be stupidity, as Plato says; for what is done can not be undone. But they are condemned so that they may not do the same wrong again, or so that others may avoid the examples of their wrongdoing” – Michelle de Montaigne

    In few weeks to few months Shahbag again shall revert back to its bustling original. The parliament amended a few rules and will amend a few more. There will be an appeal and the prosecutors shall do the best to obtain the harshest sentence. Rightfully, the players are going to be the legal players and not the people at large. Given the history of executive influence on judiciary, there can be some extraneous imposition too. Things shall proceed on its own course as it should. The “Fasi Chai” voice of Shahbag gradually shall pass to the backdrop, in fact, for the sake of justice, it should.

    However, this apparently unpleasing call for “fashi” irrespective of the outcome legal proceedings is only one of the facets of this very complex phenomenon:

    # Fasi or no fashi
    Despite my emotional and whole-hearted agreement with the slogan “Fasi Chai”, the logical and deeper spirit of my inner self does crouch for I am against capital punishment of any sort. It is very personal and sacred: I just can’t take away what I can not give! I, however, also am a social being and I have seen the history of our liberation war unfold firsthand and hence I understand the feeling at Shahbag. I am in sink. I am in unison.

    I believe the victims of Qader Molla did not get the justice either due to the poor presentation by the prosecution or due to mid-night tryst in the backdrop. It also is possible that tribunal rendered their judgment as they saw it with no extraneous influence.

    Yes, the verdict is pronounced and it went against the prevailing zeitgeist and rightfully the aggrieved expressed their dissatisfaction with the verdict. But the crux of the matter is: how far one can go and how to handle the unbridled outburst with logical restraint.

    If we say that the spirit of Shahbag asks for certain person to be hanged no matter what the outcome of legal proceedings is, then we are doing a disservice to the sanctity of rule of law. We really should clamor for justice and not for a judicial outcome. We should insist that the prosecution does its home work right. We should let the tribunal decide on the merits of each case. And we should make sure that presidential pardon in future follows a due procedure.

    # Fasi and its morality:
    While blogosphere is clamoring for “fashi”, there is a group, though smaller, is raising the issue of the morality of capital punishment as a whole. Naeem Mohaimeen and some others are raising serious moral concerns, while Asif Saleh and others are taking the safer approach by hiding under the umbrella of “existing law of the land”; the motto being, let’s follow the law and fight the morality-fight at a later and convenient day.

    # Changing rules of game while games is on:
    Is this going to be seen as kosher by the world?

    # How about Limon and Biswajit:
    Yes, where was our honorable PM when time was calling?

    But to me, the spirit of Shahbag is bigger than Qader Molla. Shahbag is a reincarnation of the spirit of Ekattor (1971) – the spirit of non-communal, secular, Bangalee nationalism; the spirit of equality, hope and justice!

    Shahbag can be a springboard where our new generation of youth shall sing their voice to its falsetto. May be, this is where the nation shall get a new generation of leaders – smart, bright and forward looking….

  6. Childish post. but it think we are politically children so its representative of that.

    I do rather love all this wrong side of history rhetoric.

    A lot of what im hearing from people who read history like me yet still support this regressive spectacle is that there is nothing else so they might as well as there is no other way.

    But there is another way.

  7. Is this the “other way”?

    On 9 February, local supporters of the uprising demonstrated in Altab Ali Park, a rare patch of green space off the Whitechapel Road in London’s East End. They were met by Jamaatis. “They attacked our men with stones,” one of the protest’s organisers told me. “There were old people and women and children there, but they still attacked us.”

    The redoubtable organiser is undeterred. She and her fellow activists are going back to the park tomorrow for another demonstration. Her friends are worried, however. They asked me not to name her after unknown assailants murdered Ahmed Rajib Haider Shuvo, one of the leaders of the Dhaka rallies, on Friday.

  8. I must confess that I am amazed at the naïveté of our “awakened youth”!
    Being simple is a boon, but to be a simpleton is a bane.

    Where our “awakened youth” are seem crying hoarse for atrocities 40 years old, they are deafeningly silent on current / contemporary atrocities and outrageous actions of the not so revered Joy Bangla crowd.

    A cockeyed media that has been materially advised by the high and mighty shovelling a load of ****, a naive “awakened youth” is gulping it down as gospel. Even gullibility has limits !

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