Seema Amin: Shahbagh slides into old identity dichotomy

© BdNews24.com
© BdNews24.com

When a demand is de-contextualised 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.

Seema Amin analyzes the fallout of the Shahbag movement and brilliantly points out the reincarnation of the identity dichotomy that grips Bangladesh since inception.

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. 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, which the Awami League had until then almost claimed as their own property. Shahbagh claims they have allowed everyone to claim liberation, not just the Awami League. Strangely, within a few weeks, Lucky Akter was hit by an AL strongman and silenced soon after. Today she stands with her arms closed while pro-government civil society and cadres alternate slogans and the stage. Why is she not the leader of Shahbagh, instead of Imran H 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 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 that 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 contenders 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: 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 de-contextualised 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.

12 comments

  1. Ms. Seema Amin,

    Nice article, a lot of GMAT words that will help my preparation so I am starting with a big thanks.
    I believe you article is based on facts, not assumption. I hope it won’t hurt you if I inquire about sources of some information and ask few questions to clear my confusion.

    You have said “Strangely, within a few weeks, Lucky Akter was hit by an AL strongman and silenced soon after.”

    Lucky Akter’s facebook update on monday ( http://www.facebook.com/luckyakterbristy) shows she is asking people to join the movement. Do you define that as silence? Can you please give source of your information?

    “Why is she not the leader of Shahbagh, instead of Imran H Sarkar?” Well I donot know why IH Sarkar is leader or why not Lucky. But even if Luck Akter was the leader, some EDI AMIN can come and ask why Lucky Akter is leader, why not Rahim? And as far as I remember, they say, they have no formal leader, IH Sarkar is only their official spokesperson.

    “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.” I am big time confused here. Is this your words? Have you followed the movement for beginning? I was there from the very first night as a commoner and then I have been there from time to time. I went there not to show the nation a path or to unite the nation. I went there cause I felt insulted by the victory sign of Kader Molla. I believed, most gathered there wants capital punishment of war criminals. It was not about “showing off” “showing the nation a path”. You bright people are there to do that. We just want justice for those people who gave a free country, a green passport.
    You are saying they did not go against Shibir”. Wow! was I to different Shahbagh than yours. Shahbagh hates shibir, if you have missed it. Please do not write from a parallel world. Be in our world, see it, then give your valued opinion.

    By the way, “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.” what do you mean by this? Are you not echoing the propaganda of Shibir that Shahbagh is against Islam?

    I can go on with your article but before wasting that amount of time. Answer this question for me in the simplest possible form, please

    Do you want capital punishment for the war criminals those are inside the jail now? or do you think we should solve all pressing issues before moving into war criminal trial?

    Thanks

  2. Ha ha ha GMAT. Words are slippery weapons. Last question first: I think the trial institutions should be strengthened so that we can face our history without doubt, and there is no first or second– this issue is connected to several others, when we demand justice around this issue, we have to locate ourselves among all issues. . ‘…go against the state as well as Shibir’– here the emphasis was on a greater if not equal animosity against the state. Of course Shahbagh is against Shibir, I certainly was not denying that. I understand that the movement was about war crimes and punishment– I do not suggest people have to be there for a greater movement, but I am aware that Shahbagh called itself a revolution and an ‘awakening.’ The latter can be justified from a perspective but the former can not and that is why I insisted on talking about what Shahbagh Is Not. When I say they seemed to not understand what the effect of mirroring violence in words could be I meant the effect of supporting violent repression of Shibir but that may be unfair the main demands of Shahbag were banning of Jamaat and ultimate punishment for war criminals. But the language of the slogans and the eventual take over of the Moncho by the ruling party has made the demands more violent. It’s true that I should have cited a chronological list of events, starting from the ‘Jobai kor’ to the brutal murder of Rajib to the perceived Islamic and anti Islamic divide. No I don’t support Shibir propaganda, I would like to know if this is going to really harm Shibir propaganda or help it. I was questioning that. Thanks for your comment. It’s a complex movement that has been simplified from with in and without. It began as a spontaneous and humane movement, that I believe. I think you are better of studying history rather than GMAT my friend– learning not to call people EDI AMIN because you don’t understand what they’re saying requires an education that only life can give you and maybe not the life you are living at present.

  3. First of all, I am sorry to bring “EDI AMIN” in my reply. I was just thinking to write someone else, some other Amin, then EDI AMIN came to into head and I just typed it. I am neither proud of it nor defending myself. Just plain Sorry.

    Back to your article, I have still serious concern about it. But I will get back to that later.

    I even failed to understand your simple answer in full. (It shows I need to learn not only GMAT but some Basic English literature too). You said you want strengthening of the trial institution (by trial institution I believe you meant both Tribunal and Prosecution team). Unless you want to scrap the tribunal and rerun of the finished cases, I do agree with you.
    And then “we demand justice around this issue, we have to locate ourselves among all issues” confused me. Can you please name the most important issues and how “locating ourselves” process will be done?
    For example, in a lighter mode, if the issue is “Studying GMAT”, should the “locating ourselves” process go like this; we should study GMAT before, we demand justice for war criminal or the study of GMAT should go hand in hand with war criminal tribunal?

    Let me explain why I was so critical of your article, usually I do not read all the articles and try to understand that. But when a certain article is shared by people who also share Basher Kella or Jamat-Shibir post, I get concerned. And another thing, when we critic our camp (assuming you are on the side of Shahbagh) should we do it in a way that benefit the Jamat-Shibir?

    • Last para of your reply is very confusing, Alisha! What’s wrong with sharing an article by Basher Kella? For your information, this article was originally posted in Newage. Newage editor is known to be a serious jamat shibir critic. and also, “And another thing, when we critic our camp (assuming you are on the side of Shahbagh) should we do it in a way that benefit the Jamat-Shibir?”

      Does critical thinking/criticism need any camps approval ? If the author is liberal minded and believes in intellectual thought process, why would she/he be careful before writing an article! I thought Shahbag people were progressive and believed in freedom of expression!

      • I have a sense I would not be able to explain it to you but I will give it a try.

        Yes there is something seriously wrong when an article is being shared by Basher Kella cause it is a Jamat-Shibir page. Something that benefits that ideology is not helpful for pro-liberation force.

        Before explaining it further, let me tell you my assumption, Jamat-shibir and Shahbagh/those who demand capital punishment for war criminals are 180 degree apart and no reconciliation between these two sides is possible.

        Now for example consider Team A and B are fighting. You are on Team A and you have certain knowledge about weakness of your team. You reported about that weakness to your leaders but they did not fix that or ignore you. Now you can share the weakness in public that might force your leaders to fix the error but it will surely expose your team’s weakness to team B. Or you can keep continue your fight without letting team B know. What would you do?

        This should give you the answers but I have a feel you still won’t understand. So here goes my blunt reply
        Does critical thinking/criticism need any camps approval ?
        >No it does not as long as it does not harm pro-liberation force or help anti-liberation force/

        If the author is liberal minded and believes in intellectual thought process, why would she/he be careful before writing an article!
        >Even the wisest person should be careful as this is liquid situation and we have seen how a certain newspaper created a mess by publishing some stupid write ups

        I thought Shahbag people were progressive and believed in freedom of expression!
        > I don’t know about all but I also believe Shahbag people are progressive and they believe in freedom of expression unless it harm pro-liberation force or help anti-liberation force.

      • Shamruh says: “What’s wrong with sharing an article by Basher Kella?”

        And yet, Thrishty wrote, on the BNP post: “I hope you guys understand that you kind of help foreigners to ‘know too much’ sometimes. This is not directed at Rumi– but in general, I was thinking this blog is can be very helpful to foreign intelligence trying to ‘glean’ our complex and strange politics.”

        https://alalodulal.org/2013/03/06/shahbag-and-the-politics-of-bnp/

  4. Ailsha I’ll try to give you a longer reply later, maybe not in a blog chain. I think those like you who first went to Shahbagh actually showed political intelligence and awareness by chanting ‘Apaser rajniti chai na’– I think the movement should have stuck to this. Yes you are right I think we need a strong prosecution and trial team and other articles in this blog have gone into length about what research and pressure is necessary to keep the trial going. What happened later in Shahbagh is it ‘fireballed’ into Words– Discourses– like a thousand balloons and that is why the govt was able to take over the moncho. I think the youth who went to Shahbagh like you have been ‘awakened’ enough to not let your fight be turned into some one else’s war. You just have to have your voices heard– you should be focusing on getting your voices heard rather than arguing with me because I am not against the core demand of Shahbagh– if just punishment of war criminals is what it is– rather, make sure no one can take your voice and use it for their purposes. And I never posted Basher Kella images so I don’t know what Edi Amin was directed at me, but I accept your rhetorical challenge. I believe the children who are brainwashed and the adults who believe in Jamaat ideology are human and it is through 1) financial 2) educational means that we can counter Jamaat, rather than a war. War is not going to help us. We have the law to arrest people who commit crimes, we have the police to protect that which is being attacked by Jamaat and we also have laws to possibly counteract financial support of Jamaat. But we can not let ourselves or the govt use ‘The One Enemy’ to blind us. Shahbagh is not about ‘sides’– in or out– at least, it should not be. It’s a new space for alternative means of communicating strongly with the powerful, it can not be turned into a ‘moncho’ to humiliate and kill the enemies of the state, it should be about specific war crimes and if the day comes that Shahbagh represents the majority in its other demands, then it can call itself a revolution. At the moment, there is almost no difference between what the govt is saying and what Shahbagh’s moncho is saying. In that case, why do we even need Shahbagh? To make the govt seem democratic? I don’t want to help Jamaat Shibir– I want my criticism to help those who are still conscious in Shahbagh, like you. Take care. Biplobi nari shuvecha 🙂

  5. I should add that I sometimes sense that youth and perhaps our people in general lack courage. We move with the wind– as one article suggests in this blog. It takes courage to stand up to Shibir– no doubt. But, it might take even more courage to stand up to the government, given the full arsenal of weapons at their charge. When people I respect such as those from a critical left perspective begin to speak of Shahbagh and Shibir as some kind of good/evil divide i start wondering if they understood social formation, cultural revolution and the material basis of inequality. It’s clear that ‘war criminals’ epitomize evil for us and that I understand. But just because there is a ‘greatest evil’ does not mean lesser evils are not evil. You can not justify ‘brush fire’ because your ’cause is just.’ That is how Shibir sees their cause– do we want to be like them– killing because we think we are right? Palestine is an example of what happens when those who suffered genocide- the Jewish people– willfully forget that even the victims of horrors can commit crimes. There is no ‘impunity’ for war criminals, and no impunity for any criminal. We are not here to save war criminals, we are not here to save any murderers– whether cadres of the govt or the killers of bloggers.

    • Thank you for your time & reply. Without even your longer reply I started to feel that our stand is closer than I thought earlier. But I will surely welcome your longer reply wherever you share it.

      Our common stand and also the core demand of Shahbag is same- punishment for war criminals. Despite your support to the core demand of Shahbag, your concern is, shahbag got captured by AL Govt. and Govt will use it for its benefit most likely to win election.

      First let me tell you as we live in a bi-polar system, it is inevitable that Shahbag would fall in some grip. A non partisan institution in current Bangladesh is unreal. But let me admit it, this is my assessment based on strategical analysis , not a fact. May be I could elaborate my assessment later in some other context.

      Second, lets assume AL is using the Shahbag movement. As long as we see demands of Shabag are fulfilled, should we be much bothered about who is taking benefit of us?

      If Govt ensure gallows for those criminal, I would be happy with them.

      Yes the one of the first slogan I remember shouting at Shahbag was “Ahtaher ray mani nah” (আঁতাতের রায় মানি না) But then Govt change the Law, make provision for appeal. And thus Govt proved that still there is no “Ahtath” on Govt part with Jamat Shibir. I believe at any point, if it is sensed, Govt is going to make a deal with Jamat Shibir, Shahbag movement will stand against that.

      As long as Govt agree to the core demand of Shahbag, both the voice might be identical. And even despite this redundancy, we need Shahbag as we are not confident that Govt will not make a deal. So we are awake to prevent that.

  6. Dear Writer,

    After reading an article in a leading Bangladeshi English news paper on web I tried to react by writing the following comment. I think this comment is also relevant if I try to react after reading your article on Shahbagh Movement.

    So please have a look at it.

    “Thanks to the writer to torch a light on this issue.

    Shahbag movement probably could have been a new era for the New Bangladesh. But as you mentioned it is utterly trying to revive the cliche Slogan of the past the “Joy Bangla”.. That Slogan was and is now Cliche in terms of its ‘inner meanings’. At first, It is now under the hand of only for Awami League’s. And it is a slogan of ‘Chauvinism’ only. The second is its deepest meaning, that accumulate to repress the other ethnic minority people in the Country, which do not give a path of access to other Nationalities in the History and Cultures of the Country. We can cite the example by focusing the recent 15th amendment of BD Constitution. In that amendment no other than Bangalee Nation is recognised, as if Bangladesh is a homogenous country of only “Bangalee’s.

    It is very much deplorable that we are hearing that cliche Slogan, Joy Bangla, from the Shahbagh Generation till now.

    I think it is a kind of scarcity of advanced cultural or ideological movement in our country, for which we don’t care what is the meaning of revolutionary importance of a Slogan in Movement or Struggle.

    Until and unless we foresee a highly advanced and fervent ideological knowledge in our Leaders, I think it is a long way to be needed for us to be confident in believing in the movement of the Shahbagh Generation or that kind of other movement.

    But, We still hope to have spread rays something good from that movement.”.

    I want to go further by saying that, Shahbagh Movement has shown more Emotional zeal or fervour in expressing the wrath. emotion, anger, hatred etc. Whereas it should have also contained the deepest and profound conscious Ideological and Social pragmatism when dealing the various issues relating from War Crimes Tribunals, the verdicts, the two party dominance to religious cohesion and etc.

    Here we, the fellow citizens or folks of the country, must warn and show our strong concern that things wouldn’t change if shahbagh, the Generation Square Movement, can’t get rid of ‘chauvinism’ ‘two party dominance circle’.

    So the leaders of Shahbagh must and should focus on it or rather it would dissolve to let the other strong valor to burst out.

    Thanks

  7. Dear Alisha:

    Thanks so much for your post! I am tired of people claiming Shahabag failed at this and that and how it is influenced and so on and so forth. Firstly, people gathered at Shahabag to demand a fair cerdict of Quader Mollah. Till that is acheived, all other criticisms of Shahabag are rendered pointless as far as I am concerned.

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