Shahbagh in New York Times

© Rashin Kheiriyeh
© Rashin Kheiriyeh

Shahbagh has finally reached prominent placement in New York Times, with this lead op-ed by Shahidul Alam, and illustration by Rashin Kheiriyeh.

Key excerpts:

“Bangladesh’s original Constitution had four basic principles: nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism. Military dictators replaced that with “absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah as the basis of all actions” in 1977, and made another change in 1988 that led to our once-secular nation’s being redefined as an Islamist one. Martial law, amnesty and political deals allowed the collaborators to go free and Jamaat-e-Islami to gradually rejoin the political mainstream.”

“There is widespread fear that if a new government comes to power in approaching parliamentary elections, it will pardon Mr. Mollah, Mr. Azad and other Jamaat members still facing trial — allowing the collaborators of 1971 go free once again. The current government has set a dangerous precedent: Since 2009, Ms. Hasina has pardoned some 20 death-row convicts, including hardened criminals charged with grisly murders.”

“The demonstrators suspect that the life sentence is part of a secret deal the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed (a daughter of the nation’s assassinated founder) has made with Islamist leaders to preserve her power.”

“The protests swelled with anger and grief, but Shahbagh did not erupt into a frenzy of revenge. There were those who felt we were being naïve, that an eye for an eye was the only answer. But this was a gentle crowd — prepared to resist, but not to imitate.”

“Young kids baying for blood will make many justifiably uncomfortable. And no court should be forced to alter a verdict because of popular pressure. But the protests in Shahbagh must be seen as more than a demand for blanket death sentences. They are also a democratic outcry, demanding that justice finally be done — and an attempt by a nation to wrest control from failed leaders who have consistently put personal profit over national interest.”

Full article here: A 40-Year Quest for Justice

Shahidul Alam’s photos: Winter of discontent


  1. Shahbagh is in the news all over the world now. Everyone must be happy. We can place a check in the box now. Does it bring a closure?

  2. sweetening the sickening cries of the shahbag executioneers with his secular self image. as one would expect.

    • Yes, fugstar. For someone who has worked his whole life for cultural and political consciousness, I have never read anything so depoliticized my whole life.

  3. Generation 13 claims that a structural shift in the mindset of the general populace may well be the most positive outcome of the Shahbagh movement. The long-term impact of the Shahbagh movement can only be predicted by the political position in which it ultimately found itself. At the moment when the ‘spontaneous’ movement began, the present government’s popularity seemed to be drowning in corruption scandals, mysterious murders, fanatical overuse of the police on everyone from teachers to the left. Until Shahbagh, almost every serious protest in the country was contained or violently attacked, except for a few Jamaat protests that occurred just weeks before the sentencing of the Butcher of Mirpur. As the Shahbagh movement gained steam, the protestors spoke with the national rhetoric of liberation, recycling old slogans and creating a few new ones, that the AL had until then almost claimed as their own property. Shahbagh claims they have allowed everyone to claim liberation, not just the AL. Strangely, with in a few weeks, Lucky Aktar was hit by an AL strongman and silenced soon after. Today she stands with her arms closed while pro-govt civil society and cadres alternate slogans and the stage. Why is she not the leader of Shahbagh and not Imran K. Sarkar? Those who were critical of the government’s four years of rule have moved into the background, willingly, and the movement can barely be distinguished from what is being said in the parliament. What seemed like a great mirroring act by Shahbagh (showing that the emperor is naked) turned out to be an even greater imitation act by the government. But beyond all this, the movement shows the lack of political acumen, courage and historical knowledge on the part of protesters. They seemed unable to understand with what language a country of so many Muslim believers, living in a global moment of political Islam and oppression of that phenomenon, could be identified. Seeming to lack any understanding of dealing with Shibir, they moved into a full-scale attack, mirroring their violence in words. Seeming to lack any understanding of the class and pulse of this largely rural country, that had also watched four years of misrule camouflaged in this same rhetoric, they began an onslaught that will have fatal consequences for this poor, tragic country. The question is, could the movement have gone another way? Knowing the narrow cultural identity and limited political generosity ( I make this statement knowing they would not have come out in these numbers to protest eviction of the poor, the killing of hundreds in garments fires or border killings and bilateral treaties that negotiate away our ecological rights) of the middle classes who ran to Shahbagh, I can say that without any leader in sight– young or old– who would push this movement that way, it was inevitable that this movement would hand over the energy of youth to the vultures of state domination and possibly, enough violence for a ‘third force’ to come in with the excuse of keeping order. One can ask the question, but what else could they have done as a response to such a sentence and compromise that was a negation of the government’s electoral pledge? They could have spoken in a different language, danced in a different form, reminded us of a longer history of collective consciousness stretching to class consciousness and reaching toward every political crime committed by successive governments and their choice of domination and greed. Would this have diluted the demand? It would have prevented the movement from denigrating into a demand for a hanging–something that at best would assuage the ghosts of victims of crimes against humanity. When a demand is decontextualized from the power forces at play, it risks this occupation by those forces. Now the ultimate effect of Shahbagh has been dividing the nation even more dangerously, rather than uniting us or showing us a path forward– for at the end of the day they did not risk enough to go against the state as well as Shibir, and thus, fell into an old identity dichotomy rather than creating a new synthesis for a new identity.

  4. But those principles were massacred by the marauders in 1975 and they mutilated the constituion, made it non secular. That was the beginning of a long 21 year Dark Age in Bangladesh. Many like me left the land and others suffered in silence. The forces of evil and communalism gained strength and they ;preached their gospel with uncanny effectiveness. Syllabi in schools and colleges were changed, history of the liberation war totally mutated and lies of Himalayan heights were spread against Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party. Thank heavens we have at least partially restored the 1972 constitution. Ou thanks are to the Muktijuddho Jadughar, Sector Commanders’ Forum, Sammilito Sangskritik Jote, Nagorik Andolan, the leading liberal intellectuals of the country and the citizens as a whole for the gains made since 1996 and beyond.

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