Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dhaka Tribune - style over substance?

Bangladesh's new English language paper, the Dhaka Tribune has finally rolled off the press for the first time - handed out today at its launch party.* (see the new website here)

I worked at the paper for three months but was rather unceremoniously tossed out by the owners when questions about editorial independence were raised.

You can guess, they didn't like the idea of it one bit! I am now back at the New Age - which thankfully does!

Nonetheless, I have been keenly awaiting the publication of the paper - to see what kind of competition it may give to The New Age as well as of course to the industry (English language) leader, The Daily Star.

Newspapers are I suppose a combination of content and style.

In terms of style (and here the comparison is with other Bangladesh papers), the Dhaka Tribune has done really well. A clean uncluttered design; a front page with just three stories (amazing in the context of Bangladesh); articles which finish on the same page; news on sequential pages; and a really great use of photography. There is no doubt that in terms of Bangladesh newspaper design it has knocked the ball out of the park.

In my view the design is a great contribution to Bangladesh newspapers. Lets see if it can keep this up day after day - and of course how other Bangladesh papers will react.

However, in terms of content - its a thumbs down I am afraid.

You would expect the paper to start with some thumping stories - it has had journalists (and good ones too) working there for months doing nothing much else other than look for good stories.

The front page contains a story on the 18 Bangladeshis shot in Greece, a wire story on the arrest of Pervez Musharaff and an analysis of how political unrest is hitting Bangladesh's exports, which is not linked to any story on the front page. Inside stories are also rather pedestrian - though there is a moving story about a six year old girl victim of a recent hartal (strike).

Absolutely nothing special - nothing to say to readers that - in terms of substance - this is a paper to buy rather than any one other available.

Perhaps it has something special up its sleeves that we will see in subsequent days - but I somewhat doubt that this will be the case.

The men who put the money into this venture are from two business families - Gemcom group (the three sons of Kazi Shahid Ahmad are directors) and Kazi Farms (the two sons of Kazi Zahidul and Parween Hasan) - who together have fingers in quite a few business pies. One of the families (Kazi Farms) has recently obtained a TV license which - since these licenses are given on purely political grounds - suggests a somewhat close relationship with the Awami League government (particularly since their main business until then was as poultry farmers!).

Kazi Shahid Ahmad, the father of three of the directors of the Dhaka Tribune used to own Adjkar Kagoj - a Bangla language newspaper which when it was launched in 1991 led to the resurgence in bangla newspapers, but soon quite quickly lost its popularity when other newspapers like Prothom Alo came onto the scene. By all accounts, Ahmad used to be a rather hands on editor. In 2007, it closed downs as it was draining money from the overall family business.

Apparently one of Kazi Shahid's sons (Kazi Anis Ahmad who is the Dhaka Tribune's publisher and managing director) made a speech at the launch about the fearlessness of the paper. However, I doubt this very much - knowing the owners' horror at the idea of any kind of editorial independence for their paper.

Perhaps - however - the paper will flourish on style alone. Lets hope not.

* Apparently, I have just heard, the paper handed out at the launch was a 'dummy' and not the first edition for sale. So perhaps a review of the first edition for sale will be necessary.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Shahbag v Hefajat: Where does the soul of Bangladesh lie?

This is an article of mine published on Thursday 18 April in the op-ed section of New Age looking at what two surveys say about the relative support in Bangladesh of the Shahbag and Hefajat protestors.
Shahbag v Hefajat
Where does the soul of Bangladesh lie? 
by David Bergman

WHERE does the soul of Bangladesh lie? Is it with the men and women who protested in Shahbagh in their thousands for weeks on end in March, or it is with the men in white caps who took over Motijheel on April 6? 
Or, to put it another way, do more people in Bangladesh want to live in a modern secular country, in which fundamentalist politics plays no or very limited role, where 1971 war criminals are hanged, and in which vigorous attempts are made to get woman to play an equal role? 
Or do they prefer the kind of country which Hefajat-e-Islam would like to create in which conservative Islamic values are at the fore, male-female comingling is outlawed, and which shows very limited interest in the war crimes trials. 
Perhaps, at least in the context of Bangladesh, Shahbagh on the one hand and Hefajat on the other are nearer the extremes of thinking about the role of religion in the country — with most people somewhere between the two. But, even if so, in which of the two directions is the pendulum swinging? 
At the beginning of the Shahbagh protests, with the wall-to-wall media coverage it was difficult not to imagine, particularly if living in Dhaka, that Shahbagh represented the zeitgeist of Bangladesh, and through its demands about war criminals, reflected the views of most of the country. 
This view was apparent in Sheikh Hasina’s statement suggesting that the International Crimes Tribunals should ‘take the people’s desires into account’ in relation to their main demand of hanging those on trial for war crimes.

However, an unpublished national opinion poll undertaken by Org-Quest Research Ltd for a national newspaper suggests a more complex story.

On February 5, 2013, Abdul Quader Molla was convicted of five offences involving crimes against humanity and was sentenced in two of those offences for life imprisonment.

Between February 8 and 15 — 4 to 10 days after the conviction of Molla and with Shahbagh providing wall-to-wall media coverage — Org-Quest, a well-respected independent firm undertook a poll. It interviewed by phone 3,000 people in 30 districts of which 744 were urban and 2,256 were rural. The interviewees were, the firm said in its report, ‘nationally representative’. 
One of the questions the poll asked concerned people’s view on the decision by the court to sentence Molla to imprisonment and whether or not they supported the death penalty. It found that whilst 43 per cent of those questioned about the Molla verdict supported Shahbagh’s central demand for imposition of the death penalty against Molla — 55 per cent did not. 2 per cent of respondents said that they did not know or refused to respond.
The 55 per cent of people who were not in favour of the death penalty were divided between 40 per cent who were satisfied with the life-term imprisonment, 9 per cent who thought Molla should have been acquitted, and 6 per cent who thought that he should have received a sentence which was less than a life term.

This suggests that whilst the central demand from Shahbagh for hanging had significant minority support, it did not, at least at the time the poll was taken, have majority support.

The poll cannot obviously be seen as a judgement about Shahbagh’s wider set of values and demands — but it certainly represents a dent in those arguing at that time that Shahbagh was representative of the country. 
But what about Hefajat-e-Islam who on April 6 was able to fill the city area of Motijheel full of its supporters protesting in favour of its 13 demands that included its most eye-catching one — an ‘end to all alien cultural practices like immodesty, lewdness, misconduct, culture of free mixing of the sexes, candle lighting.’ 
How widely held are its views? 
Hefajat-e-Islam is primarily composed of people who went to quomi madrassahs. These are privately funded schools — perhaps more appropriately described as seminaries — which only provide an Islamic religious education.

The quomi madrassahs teach only a very small proportion of the total numbers of students in Bangladesh

A study by the World Bank in 2009 which undertook the first ever comprehensive survey on religious schools in Bangladesh found that the ‘number and share of Quomi madrasas in both the primary and secondary sector is much lower than what is portrayed in the popular press.’ 
The study found that the quomi madrassahs students only constituted 1.9 per cent of the total primary school enrolment and 2.2 per cent of the total secondary school enrolment in Bangladesh. 
Whilst the numbers going to these religious seminaries are small, the total number of madrassah students in Bangladesh is larger — 13.8 per cent at the primary level and 19 per cent at the secondary level. However, it should be noted that most of the non-quomi madrassah students go to Aliyah madrassahs which operate with the support of government funding, and follow a modern curriculum alongside their religious teaching. 
This would suggest that whilst the show of strength of the Islamists on the Saturday appeared impressive, it represents at the most a small minority segment in Bangladesh, and nothing more. 
But even if Hefajat itself is very small, what about the wider support in this country for its values? Support of religious parties in the recent general elections is an interesting guide for this. 
The biggest Islamic party in Bangladesh is Jamaat-e-Islami, but the level of support in the country is small. In June 1996, having contested 300 constituencies, the party won three seats with 8.61 per cent of the vote. In 2001, contesting only 30 seats, the party won 17 seats with 4.28 per cent of the vote and in 2008, contesting 39 seats, they won two seats with 4.7 per cent of the vote.

The national vote for Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious parties is certainly less than 10 per cent. 
Bangladesh is, therefore, far from heading for any kind of Islamic revolution; its status as a ‘moderate’ Muslim country remains very much intact.

At the same time the Shahbagh movement should appreciate that its apparent wide support in Dhaka and in the urban areas is not reflected in the rest of the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Org-Quest poll showed quite a sharp rural/urban divide. Of the 43 per cent who supported the death penalty for Molla, 63 per cent were urban, and only 37 per cent were rural.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The government and the Sangram press: Illegal and male-fide

You don't have to be a legal expert to recognise that Bangladesh police simply have no legal authority to stop the press of the Daily Sangram (a pro-Jamaat newspaper) from publishing the Amar Desh newspaper (a pro-opposition paper).

So much for the foreign minister's various protestations to the diplomatic community about the rule of law in Bangladesh - 'As a nation, we must come out of this vicious circle to allow the rule of law to prevail in all spheres of our society,' she said on 10 April 2013. Yes indeed, foreign minister.

On Saturday night, 13 April, the police turned up at the the printing press of the Daily Sangram newspaper which had agreed to publish the Amar Desh newspaper since its own printing press had been closed down earlier by the police. At the Sangram printing press, the police arrested 19 press workers employed by Amar Desh and filed cases against the editor of Sangram newspaper, and the acting chairman of the company that owns Amar Desh, Mahmuda Begum  (who happens to be the mother of the editor, himself arrested two days earlier).

The police have said that they have done this on the basis of section 10 of the 'Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act 1973'. What does section 10 state?
'If at any time after the making of a declaration under section 7, the newspaper to which the declaration relates is printed or published in a language, with a periodicity or at a place, other than the language or languages, periodicity or place shown in the declaration, the declaration shall become null and void, and any further printing and publication of the newspaper shall be unauthorised unless a fresh declaration under section 7 is made, but nothing in this section shall apply to a temporary change of the place of printing or publication for a period not exceeding thirty days at any one time, if within seventy-two hours of such temporary change the District Magistrate is informed of it in the manner prescribed.'
It is the last part of this section that is crucial. It allows a newspaper to make a 'temporary' change in its printing press as long as (a) it is for a period of not more than 30 days at any one time and (b) within 72 hours of 'the change', the district magistrate is 'informed' of it 'in the manner prescribed'

What is important to note is the following:
- there is no legal prohibition on a paper moving one's printing press 
- if a paper wants to use a different printing press it simply has to inform the district magistrate within 72 hours from the time of the 'change'. (Nb; it does not even need to get its permission)

The only uncertainty is at what point does the 'the change' take place which starts the 72 hour clock ticking. 

A common sense view would be that it would start from the first time that the newspaper starts to use a different printing press. However, even if the police were to take a very conservative view (and arguably irrational one) and decided that it started from the moment that the newspaper realised that it could not print on its existing printing press, - 72 hours had not yet passed from the time the Amar Desh press was closed till the time when the police stopped the use of the Sangram press.

In fact, I understand, thatAmar Desh newspaper says that it had already informed the District Magistrate of the change - though whether this has happened or not in the 'manner prescribed' is not known! 

But the point is, that even if they had not informed the district magistrate at all, the police had no power at all to take action to stop the printing of the newspaper.

This is an example of a total abuse of power by the police. It is unlawful, and clearly done for a male fide purpose.

The Dhaka district administrator is quoted by AFP as saying that Amar Desh doesn't 'have any declaration (authorisation) to publish the newspaper from another press."

Would it not be nice if he read the law first before arresting 19 people and filing cases against two others, one being an editor of a national daily?

Of course this is all happening in the context of the arrest on Thursday (11 April) of the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmadur Rahman - a very polarising figure in Bangladesh politics, and a difficult person to have much sympathy with after his paper used religious sentiment in such a dangerous way to define those protesting peacefully in Shahbag as 'atheists' and provoking attacks upon them from the religious right in Bangladesh politics.

But whether you like him or not, it is a very different question as to whether he should have be arrested. I will write more about this in the future, but on the charge of sedition over the publication of the Skype conversations relating to the International Crimes Tribunal, I will just refer you to what I wrote back in December when the possibility of his arrest for this offence was first muted.

And just to finish on a question about the prosecution of Rahman for the publication of the Skype conversation: if Amar Desh should be prosecuted for sedition for printing the Skype conversation - what should happen to the two men, one an acting justice, who actually had the conversation?

Foreign minister's statement to diplomats, 10 April 2013

Statement by the Foreign Minister at the Diplomatic Briefing on Wednesday, 10 April 2013 at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel at 1900 hrs

I will comment on this latter, but for those who want a read of the whole speech, here it is
Heads of International Organisations,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
I thank you for being here with us. During my last briefing, I said that I would continue to keep you apprised of the Government’s position on some of the ongoing developments around the ICT-BD trials. I have invited you today to brief you about the Government’s stance on some of the recent incidents that had grabbed the newspaper headlines during the past few days.

The whole nation must have felt a sense of relief that the tense environment that was prevailing over the possible fall-out of the Long March programme of the Hefazat-e-Islam (HI) on 06 April, and some of the counter programmes that were announced to resist the programme, had passed off without any major incident taking place. The Government had given permission to the HI to stage their programme on the condition that it would be held in a peaceful manner without restoring to any of the violence and atrocities that we had seen being committed by the Jamaat-Shibir in recent times. Following the rally in Motijheel area, the Government indeed thanked the HI for being able to refrain from any such violence on the most part. It was however a sad affair that a large number of their activists proceeded towards the Shahbagh Gono Jagaran Manch with an intention to launch an attack against the organisers and youth involved in that Movement. It was again a matter of relief that the law enforcing agencies deployed there could resist the militant HI supporters and prevent any untoward incident on the occasion. We deplore and remain concerned over such unwarranted provocative actions, especially targeting the Shahbagh Movement that has been able to maintain its non-violent character so far to the kudos of the nation. Similarly, there have been targeted attacks against media personnel, particularly female journalists, and a procession of the Nirmul Committee as well as attacks against Awami League supporters leading to the death of one AL activist in Faridpur. The motive behind these particular groups of people being subject to the wrath of these violent mobs may tell us something about the true nature and intention of certain sections of the HI supporters and activists. On behalf of the Government, we condemn these mostly pre-planned attacks. We also remain particularly concerned over the growing incidents of violence against journalists by certain vested groups.

There has been a lot of debate and speculation on whether it was the right move for the Government to have allowed the Hefazat-e-Islam to proceed with its programmes. Our Government made it clear that it would respect the Constitutional rights of all individuals and organisations to express their views and hold peaceful assemblies, obviously within certain legal and reasonable limits for the sake of maintaining public order and security. The additional pre-cautionary measures that were taken, including the heavy deployment of the law enforcing agencies, were only intended at serving that objective and removing any threat to public life and property. Our Government is handling the overall ongoing situation with patience, determination and pragmatism.

You may have noted that the HI placed a 13-point demand to the Government, including their key rallying point to bring to justice those bloggers and online activists accused of blasphemy against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon him). The Government has been appreciative of their sentiments and has categorically reiterated its uncompromising stance on any attempt to demean or insult any religious beliefs and tenets in the public and virtual sphere. Our Hon’ble Prime Minister has made it clear on every occasion possible that her Government would not countenance any form of derogatory comments or calumny against Islam or its Prophet (PBUH), or against any religion or religious figures for that matter. In response to public sentiments, the Government had formed a high-level committee headed by an Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs to investigate into any such material being circulated through blogs, online forum or social media networks, and recommend appropriate legal actions. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had also initiated its own monitoring of the cyberspace to detect any such objectionable material and take necessary pre-emptive or prevention actions within its jurisdiction. Accordingly, the BTRC had shut down certain blogs that were found to have been engaged in propagating hurtful and malicious contents against Islam and its Prophet (PBUH). Many of these blogs had actually forged contents to ascribe such hate campaigns to some of the online activists involved with the Shahbagh Movement. Moreover, the law enforcing agencies have so far arrested four bloggers and online activists based on allegations of their involvement in blasphemous acts online. Their cases remain under investigation to ascertain whether the allegations against them are true or not, and accordingly necessary legal actions would be taken. While we respect the rights to people’s freedom of speech and thoughts, we must ensure that the bounds of freedom are respected in the public realm to avoid hurting the religious beliefs and sentiments of any group or groups of people.

I must hasten to add here that anyone accused of hurting the religious beliefs or sentiments of any community should be brought to justice under the laws of the land. As far as the Government is concerned, we do not support any individual or group taking law unto their own hands to seek retribution for any alleged wrongdoing on this account. We shall not tolerate any orchestrated and extremist form of violence and killing that we have seen in recent times against individuals alleged to have committed such offence. Our Government would continue to maintain its ‘zero tolerance’ approach to any form of extra-judicial killing, either by the law enforcing agencies or members of the public. As a nation, we must come out of this vicious circle to allow the rule of law to prevail in all spheres of our society.

At the same time, we need to remain cautious so that no individual is falsely implicated for a wrongdoing that he or she may not have committed personally or have been framed with through forged technological means. We have been witness to a number of such incidents in recent times where falsified attributions to individuals on blogs or social networking sites had been deliberately used as a pretext to unleash large scale violence and atrocities. The local media has also revealed some glaring instances of prevarication where even international dignitaries had been falsely implicated of certain actions or pronouncements to fuel the hostile and misleading campaigns being run against the Government or the ICT-BD trials in particular. On behalf of the Government, we convey our deep regrets to the concerned dignitaries and entities for the embarrassment and inconvenience caused to them, and at the same time would plead for their understanding of how such vile and irresponsible campaigns on the cyberspace often remain outside the control and oversight of the Government.

On our part, the Government continues to urge upon the print, electronic, social and online media to act as per prescribed rules and regulations and in a responsible manner so as not to incite hatred, intolerance and violence in any form or manifestation. We have noticed to our sheer dismay that the Government’s repeated pleas have fallen on deaf ears with certain identified sections of our media, and our restraint and patience with them has been misconstrued as a sign of our weakness or policy oscillation. As a Government that firmly believes in the freedom of media, we would find it most unfortunate if a section of our media continued to stretch the limit of the freedom entitled to them to the point of being perceived as real threats to public order and safety. We hope that the right sense would prevail among these media establishments, and those involved in hate campaigns and communal propaganda would rectify their actions to uphold the established principles of journalism. In order to create the right policy environment in the broader context, our Government is also currently working on further updating the National Broadcasting Policy and the Bangladesh Press Council Act to make them more adaptive to the evolving media scene in the country.

It may be pertinent to revert to the HI’s 13-point demands since many of you may have some questions about the Government’s response to those demands. As I have already said, our Government has already made efforts to respond to the main grievances of the HI which we felt were quite justified from the perspective of religious freedom and sanctity. Our Government would stand by any legitimate demand for action against those alleged of committing blasphemy as long as such demands are made through peaceful and democratic means. The HI maintains that their demands are essentially non-political in nature and that they are not being swayed by any political pressure to take a stand to oppose the ongoing ICT-BD trials.

We have, however, noticed that the HI platform on 06 April has been used by the representatives of certain political parties affiliated with the Opposition coalition. It is perhaps evident that certain vested political groups are trying to take advantage of the so-called non-political banner of the HI to advance some of their political agenda in an undercover manner. It has been widely reported in the media how the HI leadership and other outsiders among them delivered hate speeches against the Government, including terming the Government as a “Government of Atheists” or a “Government against Islam”. There have also been repeated political calls to institute Sharia-based laws and governance in the country, which takes the discourse directly into the realm of politics. On the other hand, there has been general silence or a muted response to the ongoing violence and atrocities being committed by the Jamaat-Shibir, including their unabated cowardly attacks against the religious minorities. If the HI had decided to dissociate itself from the Jamaat-Shibir, it would have been expected that they would have made their position clear against the un-democratic, anti-State and systematic political violence perpetrated by the Jamaat-Shibir, which have nothing to do with the basic norms and precepts of Islam.

Moreover, what is particularly disturbing is the controversial nature of some of the demands in the HI’s 13-point agenda. It must be made clear that as a Government working towards building a democratic, pluralist, secular and inclusive society, we shall not allow the clocks to be turned back on the fundamental tenets of our statecraft and harbour demands that stand in clear contravention with our Constitutional principles and obligations. The fundamental principles and rights enshrined in our Constitution have emerged through an organic process of a broad-based political struggle and inclusive dialogue under colonial oppression and occupation. It amounts to the outright denial of the values and ethos that defined that long drawn struggle if we are to reopen or reinterpret the Fundamental State Principles that we had espoused during the early days of our journey as an independent nation. The Shahbagh Movement has demonstrated how the youth of this country remains attached to these principles and how they continue to draw inspiration from the values that form the bedrock of our Constitution.

From the legacy of a war-ravaged country, we have marked out our territory in the comity of nations for our singular achievements over the years in our inclusive and participatory women’s empowerment, our progressive and liberal education policy, our cultural vibrancy and diversity, our secular outlook and tolerance-based approach to piety and religion, our resilience in the face of natural adversities, and overall our democratic aspirations that continue to expand the room for accommodation for different groups and communities, irrespective of their beliefs or practices. We cannot afford to bow down to pressure to undermine those achievements and narrow down the space for accommodation and tolerance for the sake of political expediency. We remain confident that the youth of this country would continue to reject all forms of bigotry, hatred and obscurantism that tend to pull us backward as a nation. I believe that our friends in the international community would also not expect Bangladesh to move in the reverse direction from the Vision 2021 that we have charted for ourselves.

The recent incidents of violence and intolerance have been a clear signal that we need to scale up our work as a Government to see to it that a certain section of our society, including youth, does not remain susceptible to such bigotry and gets radicalized in turn. We need to continue to understand and address the root causes that may be responsible for such propensity amongst them. It is going to be a long haul, but persevere we must. We have already started some tangible and constructive action in that direction; there is no way we can slow down the gathering momentum.

At the same time, we would need to be firm with the political or politicized elements that continue to disrupt our socio-political fabric with their hate campaigns and instigation to violence against the state machinery, public property and vulnerable segments of the populations. We would continue to do so within a democratic framework, with due respect to the rule of law and human rights, and where necessary, with the minimum use of force to save public life and property. We would expect the international community to remain sensitized to the exigencies faced by the Government that may require us to take such legal actions against different quarters responsible for such ongoing confrontations. It is rather unfortunate that we often hear international outcry over issues or incidents without really having an appreciation for the undercurrents, difficulties or challenges faced on the ground. It is, therefore, all the more expected of you, for staying closer to the ground, to develop a real understanding of the sensitivities and nuances to help your respective audiences and constituencies acknowledge the gravity of the situation and refrain from making a sweeping or knee-jerk reaction to the events. You must be acutely aware by now how any words or omissions from our friends in the international community can be used or twisted by certain vested groups to serve their narrow political gains. I would also invite your suggestions on which part of your respective constituencies that you would think we should engage further, and how, to explain the ongoing realities in Bangladesh.

Excellencies, friends,

The next general elections will be a critical threshold for Bangladesh’s journey onwards. It is often said that the nation is divided along some ideological fault lines that remain difficult to bridge. While there may be some truth in it, I believe that the nation is now faced with two clear options ahead of it: one is to build on the conclusions that we had reached as a nation at our birth in 1971 and forge ahead on the course of progress and prosperity that is our destiny, and the other is to dig deeper the battle lines around the fundamental questions of our statehood and plunge the nation into a state of chaos and polarization for narrow political gains. If we choose the latter, I do not think history will forgive us ever. Let our people decide which option they prefer.

I thank you once again and open the floor for your comments and questions."

The rise, fall ... and rise of bangladesh bloggers

This is my second blog on Bangladesh.

The first one was on the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh and provides detailed accounts and analysis of the prosecutions of those alleged to have committed international crimes during the 1971 war of Bangladesh. To read about the tribunal do look at the website

This blog will be much wider in its content and will provide an opportunity for me to write on wider Bangladesh political issues - when space or time or subject matter does not allow me to publish in the newspaper for which I work, New Age.

There are already some excellent blogs on Bangladesh in the English language - in particular Alal-o-Dulal - but I hope that this one will add to the variety of analysis that already exists in the blogosphere.

Of course, these days in Bangladesh, to be a 'blogger' comes with some very particular baggage. 

It was 'bloggers' who were said to have initiated the Shahbag movement (with its demand for the death penalty of 1971 war criminals), and whilst the bloggers were initially lauded, they soon became the object of derision as Amar Desh and other papers came to describe them as 'atheists' as a way to attack the shahbag movement. 

Soon, rather bizarrely, the concept of 'atheist bloggers' became a term of art in Bangladesh journalism as well as in political analysis as the Islamic right captured the new discourse, placing the Shahbag movement on the defensive and facilitating the rise of relatively new movements like Hefazet Islam and their 13 point demands for an Islamic Bangladesh. This resulted in the government deciding to arrest a number of bloggers who they alleged had written material that 'hurt religious sentiment.'

Shahbag's  discourse about 1971 war crimes has now been eclipsed by a dangerous discourse on the role of religion in the country - with every political leader falling over themselves to prove how religious they really are. 

And yes, this all happened in a few short months in Bangladesh. It has been a roller coaster ride.

It goes without saying, of course, that there will be nothing in this blog that will touch on religion!