Saturday, September 15, 2007

An Open Letter from a Bangladeshi Scholar

An Open Letter to the Civil-Military Authorities of Bangladesh
Taj Hashmi
Source: Mukto-mona

Dear Sirs / Madams:

Since we have been getting mixed and ambivalent, hence confusing statements, from several top members of the civil-military administration of Bangladesh, including the Chief Adviser, Law Adviser and the Army Chief, about the nature of the present government (whether it is “military-backed”, a “civilian”, a quasi-military, or a purely military regime with a civilian façade), I am addressing both the civil and military authorities to draw their attention to a very important matter. This is about the deteriorating civil-military relations in Bangladesh , with special reference to the ongoing harassment and manhandling of several university teachers and students by the police and not-so-surprising, by members of the armed forces.

As an expatriate Bangladeshi (and a former faculty member of Dhaka University ) I just cannot accept this unwarranted, wantonly uncivil and barbaric behaviour of law-enforcers and defenders of the country. You have not only flagrantly violated all norms of civility, decency and the rule of law by arresting (and torturing under unlawful custody) several university professors and students on specious grounds, misleading information and fallaciously deceptive arguments, implicating them in “anti-state activities”, but you have also tarnished the image of Bangladesh, which is now (thanks to your rash acts) not that different from a country under civil / military dictatorship. By arresting university teachers for their alleged incitement of students to go against military rule you have simply followed the inglorious precedents of Ne Win, Suharto, Marcos, Saddam Hussein, the last Shah of Iran and Yahya Khan. Even the military regime of Ayub Khan was much more liberal, benign and civil in comparison to your civil-military oligarchy, especially with regard to what you have done so far to several university teachers and students (and are planning to do more in the near future).

Without being an apologist, I can say a score of not-so-pleasant things about my former colleagues at Bangladeshi universities. Surely, they are not the epitomes of glory, virtue, honesty and scholarship. But MOST DEFINITELY they represent the most educated, most enlightened, most patriotic, most civilized, most conscientious and most honest sections of the population in the country. Had university (college and school) teachers and students been apathetic, conformist or even indifferent to the right causes at the right time, there would not have been any Bangladesh .

So, what I would like this civil-military, quasi-military or whatever / whoever is running the country to take some lesson from history, from our not-so-ancient history. Please never ever forget that whoever persecuted university teachers and students (especially of Dhaka University ), never ever achieved anything better for themselves or for their regimes. One may in this regard mention the names of two dictators, one Pakistani and one Bangladeshi, Yahya and Ershad, respectively.

I would request you for the sake of Bangladesh to contemplate and mull over as to why thousands of college and university students came out on the street protesting the mal-treatment of a few Dhaka University students by members of the armed forces. Even if your allegations are not totally baseless, that some Dhaka University teachers had instigated their students and colleagues at the DU and other universities to demonstrate against the covert presence of the military in running the country, you should try to figure out what has gone wrong that thousands of students can be mobilized against your government despite your doing so many good things to restore the rule of law in Bangladesh.

I personally believe that your government has achieved so many good things in a short span of time, such as arresting some big and powerful absolutely corrupt people. I do not think any other government would have been able to demolish the illegally built Rangs Tower . But at the same time, I have difficulties in believing that your government could be that mindless to arrest, persecute and harass university teachers and students, only because they do not accept you as legitimate or desirable. I do not think these teachers and students represent the majority of their peers. Even if they do not carry the majority support, your going against them out of sheer vengeance is neither civil nor in consonance with your avowed promise to restore democracy in the country.

I hope that good sense would prevail and the military (and police) would learn to understand and respect university teachers, students and everybody else, without undermining their patriotism, honesty and integrity. I want you to get rid of the colonial and Pakistani hangover that university teachers’ direct involvement in politics is detrimental to the best interests of the country. I believe some members of this government are aware that university teachers throughout the civilized world take active role in politics. In Singapore , some of my former colleagues at the National University simultaneously held their university jobs and worked as elected members of the parliament. There is nothing abhorrent about politics; it is not another four-letter word. A de-politicized society is not that different from a de-humanized human being.

You should appreciate university teachers’ direct and indirect involvement in country’s politics as a positive sign of progress and development, especially because most of our politicians are not as educated as university teachers. What you should be rather doing, instead of arresting university professors for indulging in politics, is prohibiting any political role for active members of the military, police and civil bureaucracy, with immediate effect.

Nothing could be more disastrous than considering the military and police as the only efficient and patriotic institutions by undermining intellectuals and members of the civil society as unpatriotic and uncivil. This sort of anti- and pseudo-intellectual attitude only smacks of one’s inferiority complex, arrogance and ignorance. I hope and pray this government would not suffer from this sort of debilitating, self-glorifying narcissism.

Finally, I would request you to release all the teacher and student arrested in the recent past in the wake of a silly scuffle between some soldiers and DU students at a soccer match. Further arrests of university teachers and students and issuance of warrants of arrest would be simply disastrous for both the country and government in the long-run. Meanwhile, you should publicly apologize to the nation for arresting and harassing university teachers and students and punish those responsible for this heinous crime.

I wish you good luck and hope decent civil-military relations will prevail in the country for a smooth transition to good governance and democracy.


Taj Hashmi, Ph.D., F.R.A.S.
Honolulu , Hawaii

No comments: