How Hurricane Sandy affected Bangladesh!

Yeah yeah, you read the title right. Hurricane Sandy may have ransacked the East Coast of the United States, but its effects have been widespread and felt as far away as Bangladesh.

Hurricane Sandy and its devastation

But here in Bangladesh most of the people are actually happy that the United States has had a violent death toll due to a natural catastrophe. And the reasons are as varied as the number of individuals who have given a thought to the issue.

One facebook friend put up this status:

ঘূর্ণি ঝড়ে ইউসএ র অবস্থা দেখে বেশ ভাল লাগছে! প্রাকৃতিক দুর্যোগ মানে নাকি ওরা বাংলাদেশকেই চেনে! জলোচ্ছাসের ঝাপটায় ভেসে গেছে ওদের আধুনিকতার প্রযুক্তি। এই দুর্যোগেও ওদের জনগনকে খারাপ কাজ করা থেকে বিরত থাকতে অনুরোধ করতে হয়। আমরা ওদের চেয়ে অনেক উন্নত জাতি!

which in English translates into:

I am pretty happy to see what’s happening to the US due to the hurricane! And all this time the world thought Bangladesh was the only country most victimized by natural disasters. The cyclone has swept away their ultra-modern technological prowess. But even amidst this disaster I must endeavor them to keep away from the dirtiness of their hearts. If you consider the dirtiness, we as a nation are much better than them!

While the status does echo a public sentiment against the Americans here in the East, it also designates that the East has had its fair share of natural disasters, and thus it is time for America and the West to have them as well. Cyclones are a part of growing up in a delta country like Bangladesh. Although it has been at least five years since the last time we have had a major hurricane or anything in the capital city, the coastal areas are a frequent victim of similar dangerous natural disasters. Every year, the flood water kills dozens of impoverished coastal residents, and erases the livelihood of hundreds who are directly dependant on the natural waters of rivers and lakes for food and living. And thus for us, cyclones have been a part of our growing up process.

Images of the world-famous New York subway completely submerged, cars stuck in deep waters, buildings ransacked all over New Jersey, and people fleeing for their lives——it’s been all over on the newspapers, international media outlets and local news. And thus my mom wasn’t left out of the tide either. She, however, had a different take on the issue. According to her, “It served America right. Such a war-mongering nation. Killing and raping Muslims all over the world. This is only a trailer of God’s wrath for America. Soon the entire film will be showcased.”

While anti-American sentiments have been all the rage in the Islamic world in the post-9/11 era; and have been cemented with the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; and elevated with the ongoing talks of a new war against Iran, which is treated as an elder brother in the sub-continent because of the fact that Islam was brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints; statements such as those from my mother aren’t a very abnormal one. Rather, after the release of Innocence of Muslims in the United States, this rage has been further heightened to new levels (and resulted in a blockade of youtube) and so now the political parties of the sub-continent are also politicizing this popular feeling. A Pakistani railway minister even went as far as announcing a huge monetary reward for the Pakistani Taliban if they successfully executed Sam Bacile, the maker of Innocence of Muslims. In Bangladesh however, since the government firmly follows a neutral diplomacy due to the founding father, Sheikh Mujib’s idea of turning Bangladesh into the Switzerland of the East, although there was a widespread condemnation of the movie, behavior towards America have been quite moderate in comparison to the countries of the Middle-East and other parts of South Asia.

The facebook friend who put up the happy status due to Sandy, however, was not met with assertion from the people on his friends’ list. The Bangladeshi expats in America condemned his views, and one of them even went as far as telling him that ‘life in America was beautiful, but the same could not be said for Bangladesh”. And another asked him to be a human being; after all, despite our racial and religious differences we are all human beings. It is unsure whether the friend had a change in viewpoint about hurricane Sandy and America, but regardless of everything, the issue created quite a public debate in this part of the world.

Anti-American memes on social networks are as popular as anti-Muslim ones

America got what it deserved– that isn’t actually the dominant opinion here, but a lot of loud voices like to draw attention to America’s brutalities in Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine, Vietnam and Afghanistan; and many even went as far as reminding the people of Abeer al Janabi, a 14 year old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped by US soldiers in front of her family and later on murdered and burned along with the family in their home. Several people have also recalled the Afghan girl who was mass-raped by US marines to such an extent that her genitals had become mutilated beyond repair, and the doctors could simply watch while she bled to death.

The public at the end of the day is torn between being humane and vengeful when it comes to America. An idea that is increasingly becoming evident in the progressive circles of modern-day’s politically-conscious Bangladeshi citizens.

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Innocence of Muslims—what the world refuses to see

In 1953 when the United States, realizing the modern Persian nation’s enormous geopolitical and natural wealth, overthrew the democratic government of Iran in a coup’d’etat to install the more favorable Shah as the autocrat of the ancient nation, the phenomenon gave rise to a new form of Islamic society that is largely founded on the principles of anti-American sentiments. While the despotic Shah of Iran ruled with an iron-fist and mutilated, tortured and killed all his opposition in countless concentration cells all over Iran, it was America towards whom countries of the Islamic World lay the blame on.

As the previously democratic Iran became increasingly hostile to the Americans under the Shah rule it was this belligerence, this failure of the American foreign policy that culminated in the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who, after he was banished by the Shah due to his more radical

Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

views, led the popular uprising in Iran in the year 1979. While the Islamic Revolution ousted the Shah, forcing him to flee to Cairo and then to his patron—-the United States—–following the uprising, Khomeini took the helm and turned Iran into an Islamic Republic alienated from both its neighbors and the West.

In the same year, a group of Islamic fundamentalist students stormed into the US embassy of Tehran and gave rise to the event the entire world knows as the Iranian hostage crisis, where the students held 52 US officials hostage for a total of 444 days, although females and African-Americans were all released within the first month. Having only a taciturn approval from Khomeini, the reasoning of the students behind the attack was that the embassy was conspiring again to overthrow the new regime. Jimmy Carter, the then president of the United States, later on received a Nobel Prize for Peace for the rescue mission, where he successfully rescued the Americans without having the US army invade Iran. Ever since that event, the US have had no diplomatic ties with Iran whatsoever, and have sheltered all political prisoners of the Shah’s regime whom the nascent Islamic Republic had tried to prosecute.

It was this incident that the events unfolding in the Islamic world in recent days brought to my mind over the amateur youtube clip ‘Innocence of Muslims’. While the media outlets are busy showing the world a few thousand Middle-Easterners, North Africans, South-East Asians and South Asians chanting renowned slogans like ‘Death to America’ and burning US and Israeli flags, what the world does not see about the incident are the reasons behind the hostility the people of Islamic nations feel towards the US.

These protests against the United States are definitely not just over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, as the media outlets have been doing their best to portray. Rather, they are the result of years of injustice and oppression caused by the rulers of the most powerful nation on earth. For decades, the US have supported the dictatorial and monarchal regimes of almost all of these countries. They have counted on all these autocratic rulers starting from the Saudi King to the pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to suppress all forms of dissent and crush down anything that interferes with American or Israeli interests in the region. Even seeking reconciliations with the anti-American Libyan dictator Gaddafi before his fall, America provided all forms of military and intelligence support to the dictators while in return the rulers successfully stepped down on all forms of dissent and demonstrations.

But it was with the Arab Spring that America was forced to realize that people in all these countries cannot be suppressed any more. As American allies fell down in one uprising after another, people simply needed a trigger to protest and demonstrate against the ‘bully of the earth’. And it was this trigger of the gun that the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ provided.

While questions as to who funded the $100 000 for the making of the amateur film by the Egyptian-American film-maker remained largely enigmatic, with several fingers being pointed at both the state of Israel—-which is renowned for spreading anti-Islamic and anti-Arab propaganda all over the world—— and Christian fundamentalist groups in the US, last Friday after the end of the regular noon prayers the Muslim World erupted in a blaze of fire and revolt as people engaged in violent protestations in front of the US embassies in the region. Most of these protesters, make no mistake, have hardly watched the 13-minute long youtube trailer but with the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing rhetoric going on about an invasion of Iran, people do not need to think twice about how malicious Americans are when it comes to the Muslim World. While the vast resources of the oil-rich Islamic countries are maintained and consumed largely by countries like America, the rulers and politicians of these states sit on their oil-money and make people believe anything about Israel and the United States. But what amazed most of these people is America’s disregard for removing the film from youtube under the pretext of  ‘freedom and liberty of expression’ guaranteed by the United States constitution to every single American citizen. If America really wanted to ensure freedom of speech and thought, it could start out by stopping its witch-hunt against Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Rumor has it, however, that the film-producer is a rogue Coptic Egyptian-American, named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who had powerful backers from Israel and Christian fundamentalist groups in California, including the famed American pastor Terry Jones who received worldwide recognition after beginning the rite of burning copies of Qur’an to commemorate 9/11 every year. Coptic Christians in Egypt have always been among the most discriminated minority groups during the dictatorial era. But during the Arab Spring, both Coptic members and Muslims showed their love for Egypt by uniting under one banner in Tahrir Square, where Christians and Muslims guarded each other against sniper attacks by the regime during each other’s prayer times. The actors and other film-crew of the movie however claim that they were duped. The director had allegedly fooled them into thinking that this was a movie about an ancient Egyptian hero and all their dialogues had been dubbed in his studio in English and Arabic to its current form.

Bangladeshi Islamist parties burn US and Israeli flags over the anti-Islam film released in the US. The country’s Prime Minister violently condemned the film’s release on Sunday, and vowed not to allow it to propagate within Bangladeshi territories.

There is no denying that what ensued in Benghazi, Khartoum, Sana’a and Cairo after news of the film reached the mainstream media is as reprehensible as the film itself. But the big question is, what sort of bigotry and intolerance inspires people to make films like these? And by allowing these films to propagate while American drones assassinate countless civilians and alleged militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan in the name of ‘War on Terror’ and ‘establishing peace’, what better reaction do the Americans expect than crazies invading their embassies and killing their diplomats?

It is futile for America to hope to build bridges with these extremely volatile, pivotal parts of the world simply by sending donations and interest-free loans of worth billions of dollars; NATO air-strikes to kill off murderous dictators like Gaddafi; or by sending its Secretary of State or the President himself to deliver pompous speeches at schools and universities. While American funded Israeli air-strikes murder innocent Palestinians in their beds and their drones kill peace-loving Muslims continuously in eight different Islamic nations, the United States should do best to ensconce and inure themselves to more of such violent demonstrations in the foreseeable future if more triggers like that of Innocence of Muslims are pulled.

Bangladeshis demonstrate and chant anti-American slogans in front of the National Mosque of Dhaka after the Friday prayers

As an ending note I should add a recent quote I heard on the Al-Jazeera documentary Permission to Engage, which traced the rehabilitation of an Iraq war veteran of the United States army who tried to commit suicide after his unit slaughtered cars full of innocent civilians, including two children whom the personnel rescued alive from the remnants of the dead bodies left behind from the attack. It is simply one tiny example of how American foreign policy has affected the countries of the Muslim world, thus alienating and antagonizing America in this region.

“I went to Iraq to free the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis. I wanted to kill as many terrorists as possible. But when I went there I found that there were no real terrorists. We were the ones terrorizing the people there continuously. Every single day. Every week. In every weather.”

———Permission to Engage. Watch the entire documentary here.

And……….. its Food, Monsoon & Ramadan all at once in Dhaka

It’s raining cats and dogs at around 12:30 in the afternoon

As August opens up and the world settles down to  calculate and fret over its profits and losses for the first seven months of 2012, here in Dhaka Monsoon is blazing with its full force. While it is the Ramadan season, it is also that time of the year when rain is ubiquitous throughout all the regions of Bangladesh, and there has to be a flood or two in this land of rivers so that the residents can at least commemorate the season with the death tolls. If it is sunny and the Dhaka glare is switched on throughout the  day, it has to rain throughout the night and the next day as well. The dark clouds are always looming ahead, and with the state of pavements in this extremely  overcrowded city, puddles and splashes on the roads are anything but a novelty. And add all that to the extremely fast-paced lifestyle that most of us Dhakaites lead, I am sure none of the pedestrians on the streets will be able to boast of a day without having had their expensive shoes mud-ridden and made unusable for the next few days. And if you are, by any chance, a Bata-slipper lover for the daily chores like me, I am afraid your feet will never be able to spend a day without getting themselves devastatingly dirty.

Unless of course if you prefer to spend the days indoors.

But then again, the season is absolutely impresionante (I am working on my Spanish you see?) if you want to curl up with a good book in your room. That’s precisely what I am doing nowadays. You can sit back inside your home and enjoy the sounds of the wind howling and raging a war against the Thai-aluminum glassed windows in your background. And comfortably gulp down all sorts of fiction or something else that is good to read.

The days and nights  are extremely windy. But even with all the monsoon and rain, night-time brings on socialization for the city’s huge and overworked populace. Although all wedding ceremonies are shunned away in this season, being Ramadan & Monsoon at the same time, almost every Thursday—the weekday before Friday, which is the public holiday here———- is celebrated with parties and gatherings of friends and family, and good food is always on the table! But before good food, it is the fruit cocktails and squashes that dominate every home nowadays. And although everyone knows Bangladesh as the land of natural disasters and poverty, food is something that is more or less cheap and abundant everywhere. The lowland delta region is extremely arable and thus able to produce a plethora of different fruits. A day on the streets of Dhaka is enough to substantiate my aforementioned claim because as you read this, the city is repleted with street vendors and stalls selling fresh seasonal fruits(and definitely not the frozen ones) such as mangoes, pineapples, jack-fruits etc. So a cold glass of a fruit splash is offered to every guest coming into a house.

Evening-parties however, bring on different varieties of food. For those of you who don’t know, we Bangladeshis are food-loving  gluttons. Our cuisine is an eclectic concoction of South Asian, Middle-Eastern and British influences. It all has to do with the history here in this part of the world. Traditionally although the Bengali food is mainly rice and fish (with Hilsha being treated as the king of fishes), due to the fact that Bengal was ruled by the Mughals (Muslim Emperors from the Middle-East) and Afghans for a time, and by the British colonialists later on, the food culture is largely diverse and widely reminiscent of our multicultural past. And of course you have all the gourmet Chinese and Mexican restaurants flooding the streets of the major cities as well.

Help yourself to Shik Kabab and Paratha people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But most importantly, with all the religious salvation and piety involved in this season, the time is also ripe for us Dhakaites to stop fretting around over our extremely busy lifestyles and to start donating  for charity through Zakat.  Around the country scores of people are being deprived of the blessings of life. Countless are starving to death even in this blessed Ramadan season. And it is up to us to share our wealth and privileges with all those who can’t put food to their  mouths neither during  Sehri nor during Iftar.  It is imperative in order for us to be able to create a healthy society that we start coming out of our public and private spheres and start addressing the injustice and poverty that is ubiquitous throughout the many regions of Bangladesh.

Heroes of Gaza III——–Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the last of the series of three articles chronicled by Lauren Booth during her recent visit to Gaza. Although this is probably the end of the chronicles, no matter who you are, where you are or what you are doing, I strongly urge you to keep the people of Gaza in your prayers. Every drop of human blood deserves better than what the world has been able to provide for the Palestinians. Try to think of yourself in the shoes of those people in Gaza who are suffering endlessly due to the absence of a permanent solution in the region. You could easily have been in their positions—-born in desolation and poverty in one of the UN refugee camps after having your patriarchal land overtaken just because you belonged to a different sect or religion. Thanks again to My Bit For Change for sharing Lauren Booth’s enlightening experiences in the Gaza strip.

For those of you who have yet to read the first two parts of Lauren Booth’s chronicles, here they are: Heroes of Gaza I & Heroes of Gaza II .

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Photo taken in Italy

Let’s resist for Gaza in order to save humanity!

Thanks to a Manchester Masjid’s fund raising in the UK, the children now have shoes footballs, table tennis kits, new tracksuits for the boys and the father. The girls have a new abaya each. The mothers are given tapestry and sewing materials to teach the girls the beloved Palestinian artistry of sewing. The family has a hot meal during our visit and is provided with wood for cooking in the coming weeks. Israel’s illegal witholding of essential supplies such as enough gas, oil and the components to maintain the utility works here means that Gaza is being pushed back to the time before electricity existed.When the power is cut, families must cook using gas from canisters. When the gas runs out – and right now, even the smallest gas ration means an eight to ten hour wait – families scavenge for twigs and light fires inside their apartments to try and cook what food they can afford to buy. It is becoming the norm for children to miss meals entirely. In this Beit Hanoun family, I ask the youngest boy of four, what his dream is, what he wants to be; “ I want to eat’ he says. “Somehow. Somehow.” This makes all the family laugh.

Next stop, Jaffa Street, Gaza city. The smart home of Mohammed Ajur, 25. He is a handsome young man with the sweet smile of faith (emaan) on his lips. He happily greets his friend who has brought me to meet him and myself and we are seated in the family salon. Mohammed was in his uncle’s home when a rocket hit during what Israel proudly calls operation Cast Lead. He woke up in hospital in Egypt having been in a coma for four days. His family were around him weeping.

What happened?’ he asked.

Habibi, you have lost both your legs’ he is told. His eyes shine with light and he smiles (smiles!) at the memory.

What did you say?’ I ask. Although by his contentment I already know the answer.

‘I said “Thanks be to God’ he replies.

I was so grateful to Allah for saving my eyes and my hands and giving me so many chances to continue my life in a good way. Many, many others in Gaza lost their sight and their hands from the attacks. Alhamdulillah, I have those. Alhamdulillah!’

Mohammed has since completed his university degree in sports education.

He laughs at this ‘yes I know sports education right! But I can do anything and I will succeed in this life, with God’s blessing, inshaAllah. My life is only beginning. I am now looking for a wife. There is so much I have to do now and I will!

He is the kind of man that makes you smile just being around him. On the middle of the table between us is a stunning urn, in copper glaze with rose workings and Arabic lettering across it. I admire it. ‘I made it’ he says shyly. He is also a talented artisan. ‘Do you like this jug?’ He asks me. I do. ‘Take it’ he says. I offer to pay but he refuses to sell it to me. It is a gift. Because I came to see him.

One final visit must be made this evening to a man whose livelihood mattered so much to my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni; a fisherman. This father of six is in his late forties and hasn’t fished for two months. He explains that under the Oslo accord it was agreed that Gaza fisherman could sail up to 25miles from their coastline in order to fish. But Israel never honored this agreement. At first their naval forces forced the fisherman back to just six miles from the coast, then in recent years, to just three miles from the shore. There are no fish in this depth any longer due to over fishing and pollution. So, this fisherman took his boat, within his rights, to six miles and began to fish. The Israelis – as is a daily occurence for fishermen – attacked. At gunpoint he was told to strip naked and jump into the freezing February water where he was made to say for some time. Then still naked and humiliated he was handcuffed and taken to Ashdod for questioning. In the meantime the navy shot his boat so full of holes it is too damaged to repair. The livelihoods of four brothers and their thirty plus dependants – destroyed. Thanks to the same UK Masjid for donating the money to keep these families fed for the next month. After that, what will happen to them? Who knows?

As I type these words Israeli fighter jets are buzzing overhead jangling my nerves. They can be flying just for that effect or to launch yet another deadly attack on Gaza. It is 6am. The time when children are having breakfast and getting ready for school. Besides the night, this is the hour most favoured by Israel to inflict emotional terrorism on the population here. Driving through Gaza and seeing the queues of gas and petrol, I mentally titled my writing today as – Gaza’s suffering. But now the title has changed to ‘Gaza’s heroes’.

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Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well.

Heroes of Gaza II —-Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the second part of Lauren Booth‘s chronicles in Gaza. For the uninitiated, the first part has been published already. Again, thanks a lot to My Bit for Change for sharing this. The last part of the series of three will be published the next day.

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I, a stranger here in Beit Hanoun, walk down this road at dusk. Every window with a face in offers me ‘Salam.’ The doorway of the sole shop has a family sitting in it, I wave.

Assalamu Alaykum’, they shout at me – cheerily. Yes cheerily, I feel the lump in my throat that I carry inside forming again. “Peace’ they offer to the stranger in their midst, as they bathe me in smiles of instant friendship. On the corner two young guys come over and greet me as if I am a long lost cousin. There welcome is so warm that I wonder for a moment if we have met on a previous visit to Gaza.

“Okay’ says the tallest brother, after introducing himself.
‘Nice to meet you now you come to our home to spend the evening, First tea, then you stay with us. Yalla come!’..

I laugh..

‘Why you laugh?’ asks the other boy in his late teens or early twenties.

‘We don’t joking – you come for tea now, really, Fadal.’

These boys are brimming with life. Their eyes have energy and hope in them that is utterly at odds with the grim landscape they live in. They are heroes of Gaza, the next generation of hope, the ones who will not be broken.

We can’t take tea with them and are eventually allowed to leave only with sincere promises to return to their home as soon as possible.

We have come to visit, amongst this needy populace, a family in dire need.

Through a broken wooden gate, behind a crumbling stone wall, my friend Yassir, silent and grim faced, points me into a cement building that has no right to be standing. It was once a PLO prison. Now it is ‘home’ to a family of one father, his two wives and their seventeen children. Before the second intifada the father used to work in Israel and he had enough money for his growing family. After the blockade, it stopped. So he worked as taxi driver. And that income was just enough to get by on for his growing family. Then the siege came. Food prices have shot up to parity with those in European nations whilst incomes here are Third World low. His car began to have small problems which he couldn’t afford to repair, which led to worse ones which killed it. I pass its rotting carcass and enter a large unplastered room with a cement floor. There is no furniture, no pictures, no adornments of any kind. Besides, two plastic chairs, the freezing space is utterly empty except for a small TV, on a crate in one corner. Children with hollow eyes, mill about, expressionless, wide eyed at the surprise visit of so many unknown faces. They look (and are) shell shocked.

One of the wives makes an attempt to smile. The husband in his shame at the poverty of his family mutters ‘salam’ and looks at the ground. Their sixteen year old son has a limp, I ask what the matter is, ‘has he hurt himself playing?’.

His trouser leg is pulled up and a large plaster ripped off revealing a fresh ten inch wound with stitches. His ankle is also bandaged. Two years earlier the boy (then 14) had been collecting rubble in the wasteland, once orchards that Israel has now stolen as its ‘buffer zone.’ His job was to sell the rock for whatever he could, to scavenge then, in the hope of some money for the hungry family. An Israeli sniper at a long distant shot him in his leg, shattering the bone. He has finally after years had the pins put in his shin. It is likely he will limp for the rest of his life.

A smaller boy of around ten is brought over. His dirty tracksuit bottoms are pulled above the knee to reveal strange white patches. White phosphorous, the napalm of the 21st century was blown across this area when Israel rained it, by the ton, onto one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

Another son of around seven, shoeless and silent clings to his father’s legs.
This boy’ he tells me, ‘has developed mental problems since the attack in 2009. The soldiers came many times into our home and wake the children up, shouting. Now he doesn’t talk and doesn’t act normally. Doctors can’t help him.

Cooking is being done in the kitchen i.e. an empty cement space with a fridge that is empty except for four cauliflowers of questionable age. Due to the ‘cuts’ – twelve hour electricity blackouts – no family can chill or freeze food anymore. Fridges are just storage cupboards in Gaza. There is nothing else in the room except on the dirty floor, a single, ancient electric ring on which, now, a pan of chips is cooking. Chips that are enough for perhaps three children in the UK would here feed a family of 20.

It is Salah (prayer) time. The smaller of the wives takes me to another empty room. This one is called a bedroom because it has blankets in it. She lays out a prayer mat for me.

As I pray, I can see my own home, my own happy, educated, well fed, daughters. All the luxuries of London flood my sight and tears come. Besides me the mother makes her prayer. Behind me one of her daughters hold a torch on me as the room has no lights and no electricity anyway. It’s not the poverty that gets me it’s the evil of humanity that pours agony on almost two million Gazans, year in year out for 63 years. It is so much worse here than when I came four years ago, that words can barely describe the new cruelties Israel has designed to torture the people in this vast concentration camp.

Habeebiti’ says the mother beside me. ‘Please don’t cry.’

Her concern for me makes me sob even more. I can’t speak with the weight of my grief. ‘Oh God’, I think to myself. ‘Don’t let her be kind to me, please, I can’t take it’.

But she is. Of course she is. She is Palestinian.

‘My dear, why do you cry? Are you alright?

I…I..hate this for you...’ is all I manage to utter.

She looks into my eyes. Mother to mother.

What? Don’t cry for us, it’s okay, you can stop now, shhh’.

Then, she says the words that almost break me, words that make me feel so humble. I fear, I may never stop crying. Tears that begin as frustration and sadness -become tears of love and respect.

We are so happy. We are Muslims, we know this is our test and we must be patient. We are happy, really sister, we are. Allah will reward us if we can just be patient’.

These are the exact words I have heard in EVERY home I have entered in Gaza at this terrible time.

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Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well.

Heroes of Gaza I—-Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

Lauren Booth is a British broadcaster and journalist currently working for Iran’s 24 hour English news channel Press TV. A few months back she visited Gaza and chronicled the effects of Israel’s hegemonic policies on the people of Gaza. After reading it, I realized that it will be a sin on my part not to share with the world a message so important and powerful—–that elsewhere in the world people are constantly fighting hurdles and fighting for hope amidst all troubles. Here is the first of a series of three chronicles she has written about the visit. Thanks a lot to My Bit For Change for sharing this.

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I write this from a freezing, dark hostel room in the centre of Gaza. This area is now in a twelve hour blackout, so there will be no hot water to shower with this morning and no internet. After three days here, I feel, dirty, tired and emotionally wrung out. Yet, I know that in 48 hours, when the time comes to leave, I will not want to go. For Gaza’s incredible people have again overwhelmed a visitor with their warmth, their ability to offer friendship on a first meeting and their absolute resilience and faith in a Divine plan.

Yesterday, driving around was a stark reminder of just how serious the fuel shortage is here. At regular intervals the roadside becomes jammed with many hundreds of battered, near death, vehicles, stalled. Men sit at the wheels or smoke leaning against them, faces grim. They are locked into an 8 hour wait for just 100 shekels of fuel. Not enough for a quarter of a tank in the larger cars. When the fuel at the pumps becomes perilously low, each driver may buy just 50 shekels. As a result, cars are becoming if not quite a rarity, then certainly for a city with a population the size of Gaza – a luxury. Roads that were once jammed with the honking life typical of all major Middle Eastern cities are silent. The silence is not a blessing either; don’t think that for a moment! I remember when Diana died and cars were banned from the city centre for her funeral, what a beautiful day that was. Citizens could reclaim the streets and remember what it was to stroll in peaceful, bliss.

This is different. This silence is morbid and desperate. For alongside the near empty roads, are shops boarded up. And the pavements which you’d think would be jammed with people are empty too. There is simply no way to get to work – if you have it. Many shops simply close down due to the blackouts. This silence is the quiet of despair.

My bodyguard Mr Falafel (his nickname) and my friend Yassir, drive me to Beit Hanoun to visit a family living on the edge of one of Israel’s infamous and ever expanding buffer zones. On our way out of the main city, Yassir shouts,

Stop, Lauren let us get out and see this.’

It’s not clear what he wants me to see, As I get out there are men and boys milling everywhere, hundreds. There is shouting. Then I see them. A yellow, mountainscape of plastic containers piled four high in some places and stretching from one end of the road to the other. We follow the line of boys and are shocked to see the queue is the same length around the corner.

What is your name!?” shout boys of all ages. ‘How are you today?’
Where you come from?’

The foreign lady in the hijab provides a welcome distraction from their miserable duty and Yassir and I are quickly embroiled in a human maelstrom of faces and laughter. We squeeze away from the youngsters towards a father in his fifties who is near the front of the queue. I ask him what he needs.

Fuel for the generator. We have no light. No electricity. We can’t eat. The children are cold.

He has six children. That is a small family here. Looking at the thousands of containers waiting to be filled, each powering a generator that has become the only (ir) regular source of power for Gaza homes, I realise that each one represents a family of ten or more.

In a week, they say, even the fuel at these stations will run out. Then what?…

It is dusk, Maghrib prayer time, as we reach Beit Hanoun. An area that was, not too long ago, a place of farming. Of vast orchards stretching as far as the eye could see, where adults worked and children sheltered from the heat of the sun, playing the games that only children understand.

This evening the sun sets over what’s left; a sealed off scrubland of weeds and thorns.

We get out of the car. “Israel sent bulldozers and destroyed everything, all the trees; old trees, old orchards.’ I learnt.

Such is the sight to my right. To my left across the pot holed ‘road’ is Gaza’s frontline with Israel. The enemy that it fears so much are families in roughshod apartment blocks. No frills here. No trips to Ikea for little home touches. Here ‘home’ is a cement block low rise, half finished, slum. There are so many children here it’s hard to fathom for the first time visitor. Large families are the norm in Palestine and in Gaza, a pride. Each window of the hundreds I pass can represent easily five children within. Beside each and every window are dozens of Israeli bullet holes or the larger impact damage from shells of all variety. Hard to imagine the international reaction if a family suburb in Tel Aviv were attacked like Beit Hanoun is attacked by the IOF, over not just days, not even months – but years.

I remember once asking a very poor mother in Gaza why she had so many children.

We need atleast seven children to each family here’, she said

Why? Because atleast two will be killed by Israel. Two more, Israeli will take to prison for a long time or cripple with rockets. Two may (may) have a chance to get educated and they will leave Palestine and never return, which leaves just one child to look after us in our old age...

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Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well. The last two parts of her chronicles will also be published here on this blog.

The Stoning Of Soraya M.—a review of a modern classical movie

Don’t act like the hypocrite
Who thinks he can conceal his wiles
While loudly quoting the Qur’an
                       ————-Hafez, a 14th century Iranian poet.

A Scene from the Movie

Once a decade, there comes a film that truly redefines the cinematic experience of any non-connoisseur movie-lover. A film that symbolizes art, pain and truth. A film that is able to draw wonders from absolute nothingness.

Persian film-makers are masters at creating such ground-breaking movies. With Separation, Children of Heaven and many other glistening jewels in the world’s film industry, Iran has always been a focal point for extraordinary culture, art and literature. The depth involved in the movies from the land of Omar Khayyam, Maulana Rumi and Hafez really are different from all the other successful movie-industries.

And the Stoning of Soraya M., based on a true incident and a book of the same name, is another work of masterful art and extraordinary depth. Although having an Iranian-American lead actress, an Iranian-American director and a cast ensemble of local Iranians, the film is shot completely in Farsi as per the author and director’s wish. It was filmed within six weeks in a mountainous village of Jordan far from the cities. Based on the true story of Soraya Manutchehri of the Kuhpayeh village in Iran, the film revolves around one scene only—-the final scene of the act of stoning wrongfully—towards which the events in the film go on to designate and portray.

The film starts with an old woman chasing away a dog picking up at bones beside a stream at the break of dawn while simultaneously a car breaks down in her village. The car belongs to a French-Iranian journalist who was passing by the area to get into the borders of a neighboring country. The old woman successfully grabs the attention of the journalist and tells him a story that terrifies each and every one who continues to follow her narration.

Although it is absolutely irrefutable that the film is another modern classic, there are major goofs and errors in the movie. The demonization of Muslims is a characteristic that every form of Western media outlet thrives on, and this film does in fact stereotype Islam negatively to various extents. For example, adultery is an extremely tough crime to punish in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence and Sha’ria Law unless and until the adulterer and adulteress self-proclaims their offence. A minimum of four direct witnesses are required to confirm the act making it an almost near to impossible task to provide full-proof evidence. After all, I am sure no one will commit adultery with open doors in a house full of acquaintances.

It is also mandated that the adulterer,along with the adulteress herself has to be stoned accordingly. The film only shows the female sex stereotyped—-maybe in the real incident only the woman was stoned in accordance with the local, corrupt mullah’s wishes— while the accused adulterer was granted immunity by confessing to the crime and claiming that he was lured into it. It was similar to the case of Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a 13 year old Somali girl who was stoned to death by Al-Shabab for confessing that she was gang-raped by three Al-Shabab (a notorious Somali terrorist group) militants.

But the theme of the story is that it all happens under the veil of falsehood. Under the patriarchal society that the mullahs are so keen on building up. Under a tyrannous, delinquent husband who is keen to remarry a younger bride but not willing to pay back his wife’s dowry or provide for her and their daughters. Under the veiled society where justice is the most easiest to manipulate and humanity takes a back fold. Under an impression that everything can be justified by saying ‘God is Great’ while in fact God is surely weeping after seeing what his creations are doing in His name. The façade of thought enters the viewer’s mind as soon as he or she starts following the movie and after the violently graphic and extraordinarily filmed stoning scene ends, only the hardest of the hearts could fail to be moved to tears.

It is impossible to deny the claims that stoning in the Islamic world is misused and considered a loophole of the very theocratic justice system that was planned by an Upper Body of Existence. But apparently, the issue of stoning, despite the Western media’s continued portrayal as a barbaric act of a ‘terrorist religion’, is not a part of Islamic heritage only. According to the Torah, Judaism also asks for stoning to death for various offenses such as adultery, cursing God, engaging in idolatry, practicing sorcery and rebellion against parents although it is not practiced by the Jews anymore.
Overall, The Stoning of Soraya M. is one of the best movies from the last decade. Although it is questionable how true the incident upon which the film is based is—since no one actually knows whether the 35 year old Soraya Manutchehri was actually guilty or not and Western reporters who name unnamed sources and continue to demonize Muslims all over the world can hardly be trusted—-the film itself is a pleasure to watch. Although yours truly only managed to have glistening sparks in his eyes, most of the viewers of the movie actually ended up crying after watching it. It really is a powerhouse of a cinema, and even with fully covered woman, little or no background score (no, a serious film like this does not deserve Bollywood-style singing and dancing shots) and an extraordinarily simple story to tell, it gives one more reason to claim that cinema can still be one of the most wonderful forms of art even without the glitz or body-building action figures and sultry heroines.
For those of you who want to check out the movie, here is a torrent link.

The Jeddah Jazz

As the countless Japanese cars snaked through the many flyovers of Jeddah, my Bangladeshi driver cum guide drove his new Sonata with an ease I had never before seen present in any of his counterparts back in Dhaka.

It is around 11 o’clock in the morning. But since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sleeps by the day and works at night in order to adapt to the high temperatures throughout the day, the offices and shops were mostly closed.

“There are so many cars here. But the traffic is always on the move. Unlike in Dhaka, where the traffic is mostly gridlocked into a standstill.” I mused more to myself rather than saying anything to him. But immediately, I was forced to regret.

“Huh, Dhaka. What a horrible city filled with the worst of humankind in this world,” came his embittered, callous response. “I would rather drive here in the 44 degrees Celsius desert than go back to that hell-hole of a place.”

With my pride of being me disheveled by one of my very own countrymen, I stopped pondering out loud and looked out through my closed windows to grasp in the concreteness of Jeddah.

But for my driver, silence happened to be one of the lowest issues in his agenda. As he drove past the countless air-conditioned cars and transited from the desert to the roads beside the beach bordering the Red Sea, he pointed to me Egypt.

“There’s Cairo, the land of the pharaohs. Only a few hours from Jeddah by the sea, but possessing none of the wealth and glitter of the city. Full of beggars and pricks, I tell you. And mini-skirted females as well.”

I chuckle and coerce myself against roaring into laughter. I had yet to see a Jeddah female without a veil, and the contrasting sight of Cairo only a few hours away but possessing mini-skirted females made me giggle.

“What happens on the roads at night? I mean if people here sleep during the day to work at night, but still the avenues and flyovers somehow manage to be flooded with luxury cars even at this hour it must be quite gridlocked in the dark.” I enquired after him, trying to make him see that Dhaka wasn’t as bad as he felt.

“At night all those jewelers’ markets open up,” he tells me pointing to the monstrous elegant shopping malls located inside the buzz of Jeddah, “and makes life harder for us drivers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter. The traffic jams are always under the control of the police and you never have all those filthy public buses and rickshaws and CNGs loitering around.” Clearly, he had anticipated my lucid trials to uphold Dhaka in his eyes. “Oh and look at that”—- he cuts in all of a sudden.

I grasped in the direction to which he was pointing. And what I beheld made me feel like the smallest being of existence present in this universe.

“Behold: the KingdomTower under construction. The first 1 km long tower in the world. Built by Prince Waleed’s Kingdom Holdings and the Saudi Binladen Group, it will surpass Dubai’s mediocre Burj-al-Khalifa.”

Truly representing the oil wealth of this indolently luxurious Middle-Eastern city, the majestic skyscraper rose up into the sky symbolizing power and riches, and obstructing the views of the horizone. Any outsider who has never paid a visit to Jeddah is bound to think that the city is still sitting in the Middle-Ages. Thanks to all those stereotypes by the Western media. But nothing could be further from the truth. And the gigantic Apple adverts substantiated my aforementioned claim. Although it is true that Jeddah is a remnant of an Arab civilization that has been extant since the 600 AD, the grossly metropolitan city is a violent concoction of Western modernity and Eastern identity.

In a way, it can be justified by the fact that Jeddah sits in between the East and the West.

But then again, I had yet to find all those traditional Middle-Eastern bazaars here that I had seen in ‘World Café Middle-East’ on TLC where they regularly showed Syria, Turkey, Palestine and many other states in this region. Here the bazaars have all been replaced by vast chain super-stores like Bin Dawoud (which of course is the Saudi Binladen Group’s version of Walmart) selling every brand of European chocolates and designer dresses and outfits for both males and females.

As I reached my destination, my driver dropped me off. In the ancient civilizations and the tales from the Arabian Nights I am sure anyone would have referred to Jeddah as an oasis because of the huge amount of life it can support. But due to the heat and the invention of air-conditioners which is ubiquitous everywhere in oil-rich Middle-East, what my eyes were affronted to was definitely not life.

It was buildings and cars everywhere. No sign of life. All locked up in their air-conditioned homes, offices and cars.

But as I strode off, I felt secured to find a middle-aged man sweeping off the grounds in front of an office with his broom.

I chuckled again as I noticed his brown skin.

A Bangladeshi again! I told myself, jubilant. My driver had previously told me that even if you are lost inside one of the worst desert-regions in Saudi Arabia you will surely find a Bangladeshi nearby. Three million expatriate Bangladeshis are living here and toiling under the glaring sun in broad daylight and struggling amidst desert-storms at night, while the Arabs slept soundly inside their air-conditioned rooms during the day and went to the posh shopping malls at night; with their Arab kids being taken care of by the Indonesian servants employed by these families. And in case you didn’t know, most of their expenses are paid by the government as well.

I inquired the Bangladeshi man for my address in Bengali. He smiled and gave me back the directions and then returned piously to his sweeping. I wondered for how long he will have to do that with the afternoon heat switched on with its full blow.

After my chore is done, as I come out of my destination I was greeted by a gust of extremely hot desert wind. My loose trousers and cotton T-shirt gave in to the dust-breeze and fluttered back and forth.

For the first time that day, I saw a Jeddah woman around two yards ahead of me; trying to get into the front-passenger seat of her car before the wind assaulted her.

Never before having seen women here dressing up without the burkha, I was quite taken aback on this particular occasion as the damsel in distress was fighting hard to prevent her veil from being flown off, because I noticed that she is dressed up like any normal European or American women with skin-hugging, above-the-waist T-shirt and jeans beneath her veil.

I chuckled once again. I had no idea what the woman was thinking of me as I had not lowered my gaze—-a custom followed by everyone in this extremely religious part of the world—-but under her niqab I thought I could discern a contempt for me.

By then the horizon had already been darkened by the shroud of darkness, and as the malls and offices began to open up, the streets began to be filed with men and women and cars—–a lot of cars. I noticed more women coming out on the streets dressed in European low-cuts and all forms of Western outfits, some of them having iPod earphones plugged into their ears. A large portion even without the niqab. I noticed men donning the traditional long Middle-Eastern shirt and the turban.

Conflicted with the fact that the Saudis had only recently allowed their women to work outside their homes in gender-segregated offices; the notion that women here aren’t allowed to drive legally; and weird laws that permitted an 80 year old man to marry a 12 year old girl, I got into my car and enquired my verbose driver about the traditional Jeddah culture.

“Jeddah is the Kingdom’s most liberal and modernized city. The Saudi families have big homes equipped with swimming pools, segregated discos and bars—-“

“Bars?” I cut in disbelievingly, knowing that alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia.

“Alcohol-free bars obviously. The population here is extremely Westernized. Half the women here on the streets wear low-cut European dresses and mini-skirts under their veil.”

With that he pushed on the ignition and drove off into the city of lights. By then, night had settled in and Jeddah was fully illuminated.

“If you feel hungry, there’s Al-Baik nearby. I will stop and you can have something inside your stomach.” My driver had somehow understood that I was feeling starved and dehydrated.

“Al-Baik? Is it good?” I asked ostentatiously, knowing about the quality of Al-Baik back in Dhaka.

“It’s the best in the country,” he returned confidently, “much better than KFC.”

So as he led me into a one-storied posh shopping center, I cashed out some money from the ATM booth nearby using my father’s international debit card and strode off into Al-Baik.

Standing in a queue, and worrying over how I will be able to converse in Arabic, I was absolutely ecstatic to find out that even the salesmen here are all Bangladeshis; thus sparing me the trouble of a language barrier.

I sat alone at a nearby table and picked at the delicious-looking chicken drumsticks. My driver was right. Al-Baik produces the best chicken here and their produce is also much better than the sprawling chicken stores back in Dhaka.

I was reminded of a few online articles about how Saudi Arabia is still stuck in the Middle-Ages like Morocco, while its regional enemies sitting in Tehran & Tel-Aviv are enjoying rapid boons and developments in terms of military, science, art and economics.

“What a farce!” I muttered out so loud that the people sitting around began to stare at me disapprovingly.

 

The rising dissent—–Bangladesh’s divulging ‘labor-spring’

As the world celebrates another Labor Day, here in Bangladesh, laborers have a hard time grappling with their family and professional lives. Due to the availability of cheap labor and a huge population of 160 million people cramped together in a very small state, in this part of the world labor-intensive industries have been thriving continuously since the early 1990s—the period when a democratic and investment-friendly economy was formed for the first time. This liberalization of the economy has introduced work for millions of impoverished Bangladeshis with little or no training. But on the other hand the privatization has also created an extremely capitalistic society.

 

Today within two decades, Bangladesh has already become one of the leading suppliers of the global cloth manufacturing industry, frozen foods and leather. It is also predicted that with the current boost in the export of high quality, cheap pharmaceuticals to the European Union countries and the Middle-East, the pharmaceutical industry will soon begin to dominate as well. In addition, along with India, the poverty-stricken country has always been a top producer of jute and jute-based products, although this sector has surpassed through many upheavals and hindrances in the past few years.

 

But the conditions of workers in all these industries who help to amass huge amounts of foreign income each year for the country are far from good. Not only do they have to go through extremely dangerous and poor working conditions, but are also forced to lead lives with  low wages as a result of which almost all the industrial workers live much under the international poverty line. This is the very reason why the country is always abuzz and making international headlines with workers’ strikes and protests. And the government also has always been under intense domestic and international pressure for securing the rights of the workers.

 

A shimmering example to demonstrate the inhumane conditions of the industrial workers in Bangladeshi factories is the ready-made garments industry. As the highest export income-earner for the economy and as the world’s second highest global supplier, the industry employs around 3.6 million workers, around 95% of which are females. Recently the international think-tank Mckinsey has also predicted that by the year 2015, the Bangladeshi cloth industry will have overtaken its Chinese counterpart to become the leading cloth supplier and also the first choice for international investors and importers to invest in this sector. During the last fiscal year, the industry has exported $18 billion worth of apparels to the global market.

 

But the naked truth is that this rise has been achieved on the saddles of exploitation of the impoverished workers in these industries. It is their hands and the investors’ money that produce high-quality, cheap clothes for global superstores like Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger and H & M. An eminent local economist has recently calculated that for every $100 worth of ‘Made in Bangladesh’ apparel sold in Walmart in America, $25 is taken by the US government; $35 by the factory-owners, shareholders and the other investors; around $38 by Walmart; while the worker whose arduous work and dexterity produced the item has to remain content with barely a small fraction of a dollar.

And so, due to this unequal division of the money, the country has always been rife with workers’ rights issues and dissent. Violence is not uncommon between protesting and demonstrating worker groups and the policemen. And several workers have even been killed in clashes with the police forces and other owner-sponsored agencies. However, most of the time the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), one of the most powerful lobby groups in the National parliament, has always succeeded in crushing down the trade union groups and any call for riots.

 

With the set-up of the government-sponsored Industrial Police—-an elite police force specialized in monitoring, gathering intelligence and quenching any demonstrations by the workers——trade unions have been thrown into silence by repeated torturing of trade union activists. The current government has increased the minimum wage rate of garments’ workers from around $20 to $36 in terms of the current exchange rate. Yet, the price is far from enough. The workers, most of them living in slums and closed quarters in cities, barely manage to survive with the 10% inflation rate currently in the country. The Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity, a prominent trade union in the country, has demanded that the minimum rate be raised to at least around $58 but the government, with the strength of the BGMEA lobby, has firmly quelled all forms of opposition and has strictly claimed that after the increase, even though it is meager, no forms of protestations or indiscipline will be tolerated in the aforementioned sector.

 

Although most of the industrial workers live in slums, some get the privilege(!) of dwelling in cramped, shabby little quarters and buildings in the narrowest alley-ways of the cities

During the last big uprising of garments’ workers back in 2010, activists from several trade unions were even arrested by law enforcement officers and brutally tortured to preempt them from going against the owner associations and to stop them from demanding a greater minimum wage rate.

 

As if the wages weren’t enough, the garments’ workers have to deal with a lot of other issues as well. One of the most important concerns is safety. The factories which house thousands of male and female workers are equipped with little or almost no security. With lax safety standards, fires have erupted in many factories quite frequently in the past decade, killing many workers on the spot due to the absence of any emergency or fire exits. While the owners of these factories are among the highest tax-payers of the country with their kids being sent to American schools that charge fees up to $11000 annually, and while

Garments workers clashing with the industrial police

they themselves reside in posh apartments in the wealthy neighborhoods and drive luxurious cars, the laborers work arduously throughout the day with small lunch and prayer breaks risking their lives constantly to be able to feed their families. Although due to the assistance of welfare organizations like BRAC they are sending their kids to schools, they know perfectly well that in the near future their children will also have to embrace the same fate as them because of the enormous class difference.

A fire in a luxurious-looking factory of the locally owned Hameem Group killed 20 workers and injured a further 100.

 

There is also the severe case of gender discrimination in these factories. Women are allowed to work side by side with their male compatriots, although most factories have segregated the sexes in the clothing lines. But the wages offered to females is almost half as that offered to males for the same job. The majority of the workers in the garments trade are females who have come to the cities in search of jobs to feed themselves and help run their families. But with the money they earn they can hardly run their own self. Also, since they have absolutely no guarantee of maternal leave or pregnancy leave or any other feminine facility, life becomes harder and more and more stressful for them at work everyday. While the government, the Western leaders and the religious mullahs of the country, along with the fiercely Islamic elite, champion the state of women empowerment in an extremely conservative, religious state like Bangladesh and never fail to underscore that women in this country are much better off than our mightier neighbors like India and Pakistan, the growing exploitation of the female populace has taken a toll with the rapid growth of the garments’ trade.

 

With the next Olympic Games under the red carpet, big brands like Nike, Puma and Adidas, are already active with the manufacture of sports’ clothing throughout the world. And a big chunk of these outfits are being made in this small state of the 160 million, where these high profile brands are constantly underpaying the workers and maintaining their solidarity with the government and the industry owners. International allegations against many of the factories supplying these global sporting brands have been brought about  but even with the repeated calls for better wages and conditions, the lives of the average worker remains virtually unchanged.

 

Last month, the deepening divide and the growing dissent have escalated all of a sudden. Aminul Islam (39), a former garment worker and one of the presidents of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers’ Solidarity, went missing on 4th April. On 5th April his tortured and murdered body was discovered on the sides of a road around 61 miles from Dhaka, in an area with a high concentration of garments’ industries. Previously he had been arrested several times along with many others for organizing protests and demonstrations. Recently he had also been working hard to organize a mass protest for better working conditions and improved wages in several garments factories of the Dhaka-based Shanta Group, which supplies clothes to global companies like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike.

 

It is evident that the murder was carried out with a political motivation. Several

Aminul Islam, 39, a labor activist who was found dead just outside Dhaka on 5th April

international and domestic human rights and workers’ rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Worker Rights Consortium, Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers’ Federation have all asked for a transparent and carefully monitored investigation into the matter.

 

It is mainly due to the hard-work of these industrial workers and their struggle for better lives for themselves and for upcoming generations that the country is earning huge amounts in foreign income. With the rapid industrialization and inflow of foreign money, economic growth and poverty alleviation throughout the country has been robust throughout the last decade. A burgeoning middle-class and upper class population has been created in Dhaka, Chittagong and the rest of the cities and villages due to the ubiquitous growth of these industries.

 

Dhaka, the city I grew up and live in, is currently a heavily industrialized urban city. Everywhere you go—except in the wealthier and the middle class residential areas—you will come across factories on both sides of the roads. I am, in fact, a direct product of that industrial revolution in Bangladesh. My

The growth of the industrial and urbanized Dhaka has brought about a sky-scraper boon for the burgeoning middle & upper class to live in

father is a raw materials supplier to garments factories and although his is the sole income for the family of four, we are quite a thriving middle class family with me and my other sibling sent to English schools to read Shakespeare and to get ourselves mesmerized by the natural sciences.

 

But what about those children of industrial workers who know that they will also have to work hard and live with injustice for the rest of their lives just like their parents? Will their be more killings of the Aminuls then?

With the garments owned by Korean or local investors, or even a joint venture, with the cotton from neighboring India and equipments from China, it is the hands of these workers that assemble the final product in garment factories and stick the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ brand label on it. The product is then packed up and sent across the seas, deserts, mountains and oceans to Europe and the United States, the Middle-East, Japan, Korea, Russia and Australia. It maybe a shirt, skirt or a trouser. Or simply a mass-produced Western dress. Due to the assembly line mass-production in this age of globalization, the prices of these Western and global clothing in the domestic market have actually become much lower than the traditional Bengali clothes for the middle-class citizens. But when the price at which the foreigners are buying the item is considered, it will surely be far beyond any worker’s total monthly income. Yet these workers have a hard time grappling with their life and overcoming the hindrances of discordant prospects and a grim future for themselves. They lead a life with extreme discomfort and risk just to be able to live. Time and again they are forced to confront to the fact that their succeeding generations will also have to lead the same lives. Yet, they move on. Shoving away their tears, they go to work each day to the factories, where discipline is stringent and no latecomers are ever tolerated. They work towards a bleak future, yet continue to serve the global community at whatever price that is available to them for survival.

While the workers live and work in extremely hostile conditions, the industrialists, merchants and businessmen enjoy the air-conditioned, safer & well-ventilated modern commercial buildings of Kawran Bazar, Motijheel, Gulshan & Dhanmondi.

 

Save Childhood

The scene is a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. 12 o’clock midnight.

The entire village is asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight,when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be successfully married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.

The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage. And thus there was no other way………………..……………..

Child marriage in Afghanistan

A couple of months back while reading the Reader’s Digest Asia I came across an article on child marriage in Yemen. The subject of the article was Nujood Ali,a hapless second-grader whose parents had married her off to a man in his 30s. Although her poverty-stricken father had requested her husband not to touch her before she had her first menstrual period, for two months the young Nujood had had to endure physical tortures and rapes by her husband when she refused to commit sexual intercourse with him. And then when she could take it no more she escaped to her father’s house where her stepmother, who did not hold the matter with much gravity since such incidents were not uncommon in that part of the world, playfully asked her to go to the court to seek a divorce. Young Nujood, then did what she was told. She went to the court and spoke with the judge Mohammed al-għadha who, submitting to humanity, took her to provide a

Nujood Ali & her lawyer Shada Nasser

temporary refuge and had both her father and husband taken into custody. Renowned Yemeni women’s rights lawyer Shada Nasser then took up the case for a divorce and finally on April 15 of the same year she was granted the much-needed divorce.

Child marriage in Muslim countries and certain other conservative nations like Niger, Chad and the Caribbean is not at all an uncommon incident. But the link between child marriages is with something different: poverty. Families in the less-developed countries marry off their young daughters to ease their economic burden since after all, one family member deducted means one less person to feed or clothe and particularly if it is a female, who typically remains dormant in these conservative societies, the sooner she is got rid off the better for the family. And perhaps more importantly these families tend to be big, like really big. According to Muslim traditions you are not allowed to undertake sex during menstrual periods so there is actually a high possibility of giving birth to a large number of offspring. You are not allowed to use birth-control methods either since these things promote Fawahish (illegal sexual intercourse). And with the shortage of jobs and repression of women the prime bread-winners of these families are limited to one or two males. There is also the matter of dowry. I do not know whether dowries are given in the Middle-East or Africa but in countries like Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan they are an extremely pervasive issue in the rural communities. The more aged an unmarried bride is the higher her parents will have to count for dowry. Our society is also a big problem because it looks down on older females who have not yet secured a marriage for themselves and perceives them as having sexual difficulties.

With all these monstrous social and ethical issues child marriage has grown into a significant headache for human rights’ activists all over the world. It is not only about a female who is deprived of a proper childhood but also the perfectly-productive society that we all dream about. One daughter sent off for good might be a blessing for a financially-troubled family but for the economy as a whole it has profound consequences. It limits the literacy rate of the country and does not allow a productive working population. And especially for all these developing countries these nationals represent exorbitant sums of foreign income through machine-oriented industries, remittance, hand-loom enterprises etc. It is imperative that the government closely monitor this issue if it wants to edge ahead in the economic race.

I must mention something here. The fact that only the poor-class families adopt child-marriages is actually not the entire picture. In Dhaka I have come across an extremely wealthy family with one daughter and no other children. Although it might make you feel uncomfortable, this well-to-do family got their only daughter married off at the tender age of 16, when the girl had barely passed her tenth-grade! The reason you ask? The bridegroom was wealthier than them!

But I must also acknowledge that in the past few years Bangladesh has made major strides in combating child marriages not only in the cities but also in the rural areas. It is not uncommon to open the newspapers and read how the local police arrested a bride’s father and husband for being associated with child marriage after being tipped off by the local councilor. Even if it is in the middle of the night inside the deepest part of the village the local magistrates and the police departments are always aware to bring down the number of child marriages or marriages with dowries. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh, after its partition from Pakistan in 1971, has successfully brought about a decrease in this brutal treatment of children through increased awareness programs all over the country.

Perhaps the success of Bangladesh in fighting against child marriages has more to do with the fact that every single government, despite all its cons, has always given women’s education the topmost priority. And the result has been beneficial as well. Not only has this brought down the number of child marriages significantly but it has also allowed the women population more self subservience and a more productive role in the country’s rapidly growing economy. In fact the country’s renowned textile industry, the second-largest

Women workers in a garments factory in Dhaka.

cloth-manufacturing industry in the world market as of 2011 and also the country’s primary source of foreign income, employs more women than men. For the factually dependant, 9 out of 10 workers in this thriving industry of 2 million workers (2005) are women.

As an ending note I should like to reiterate the story I wrote in the beginning but this time I will change the ending.

The scene is again a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. It is again12 o’clock midnight.

The entire village is again asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight, when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be secretly married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.

The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his own life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage.

And then all of a sudden the roaring engines of a Police jeep were heard and policemen poured out of it in numbers. Behind them came the college-going village councilor, who had been appointed by the local authorities. All the relatives and the guests in the marriage ceremony fled immediately for fear of a police scam. The bridegroom was handcuffed and the bride’s father was shoved into the police van. At the Police station the father was made to sign a document stating that he will not get his daughter married off before she was at least of age, i.e. in the Bengali tradition the age of 18. The bride was kept arrested. The local magistrate will give him a jail sentence and a small fine. Perhaps one day child marriage will be successfully eradicated from this society…………….

[The above story is entirely fabricated but incidents like this happen all the time in Bangladesh]

For those of you who want to check out the ebook version of Nujood Ali’s autobiography ‘ I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’ click here. You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to download via a torrent client