Are the Dhaka war tribunal protests morphing into a wider ‘Bengali Spring’?


Guest post by Rashad Ullah

News reports on the mass demonstrations in the heart of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, now in their fourth full day, dutifully report that Bangladeshis are protesting the verdict of a war crimes tribunal, but they may be missing the larger story — the genesis of a wider social protest movement in the world’s eighth-most populous country.bangladesh flag icon

At face value, the demonstrators are protesting the lighter-than-expected life sentence delivered earlier this week to Abdul Quader Mollah, an alleged war criminal — protestors who favor the death penalty held up signs of “ফাঁসি চাই (“Hanging Wanted”).

The verdict came as a result of a war crimes tribunal prosecuted by the Bangladesh government to bring to justice atrocities committed during the country’s independence war in 1971.  Quader Mollah, a leader of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (বাংলাদেশ জামায়াতে ইসলামী), the country’s largest Islamist party, which opposed the liberation of what was then East Pakistan in 1971 from Islamabad’s control, and Quader Mollah has been accused of masterminding killings against pro-independence intellectuals and perpetrating institutional violence against women.

In recent years, Jamaat-e-Islami has joined a government coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (বাংলাদেশ জাতীয়তাবাদী দল), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, from 2001 to 2006, and serves in opposition to the current government headed by the more progressive, secular, and historically pro-Indian Bangladesh Awami League (বাংলাদেশ আওয়ামী লীগ), which promised a war crimes tribunal during its victorious 2008 election campaign.

Although the demonstrations were initially organized on Tuesday by a group called the Bloggers and Online Activist Network, thousands of people have joined the protests at the Shahbagh intersection (the area separates “Old Dhaka” and “New Dhaka” and historically a site of major demonstrations). By now, it has become clear that the demonstrations are no longer simply about this particular verdict in this particular tribunal.

Moreover, the quickly congealing Shahbagh movement is as much a national soul-searching as anything else.

The vast majority of participants in the social media-fueled protests are young people who weren’t even alive in 1971, and the energy of the protests over the past four days has made for some odd contrasts — the demands for Quader Mollah’s execution (including mock nooses) are suffused into a carnival-like atmosphere complete with face paint,continuous singing,  and even a monument of paper flowers.  Although outside observers may find the death imagery a somewhat abhorrent reaction of a bloodthirsty mob, it’s important to keep in mind that the protests go directly to the heart of the events that brought the Bangladeshi state into being.

Continue reading Are the Dhaka war tribunal protests morphing into a wider ‘Bengali Spring’?

Photo(s) of the day: Bush 43 takes to painting


So, it’s not everyday that The Smoking Gun obtains hacked e-mails from the former president of the United States that showcase his self-portraits.USflag

While I don’t necessarily condone hacking — some of the e-mails detail incredibly sensitive information about the medical condition of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush and other family details, and it seems especially cruel to publish those — they did contain a couple of images I found totally fascinating.  It’s also astounding (or maybe not so much, two months after a Gmail account featured prominently ending the career of former CIA director David Petraeus), that a hacker could access so much from a former U.S. president.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush has taken up painting in the years since leaving the White House, and that’s fine (so did former U.S. president and supreme commander of the Allied Forces in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower).

But these paintings are bizarre — self-portraits of the former president in the tub and in the shower that he allegedly thereupon sent to his sister.

It’s a Freudian’s dream — is Bush washing away the sins of his foreign policy decisions on Guantánamo, Iraq and Afghanistan?  The running water symbolizing 43’s own private waterboarding?

There’s obviously a limit to what we can learn from the amateur paintings of a former president.

But in a world where leaders from Russian president Vladimir Putin to former UK prime minister Tony Blair bare all in photos and candid memoirs, these self-portraits similarly remind us that world leaders are, after all, human like the rest of us — and it underscores that their decisions while in power are equally influenced by all-too-human convictions, human passions and human errors.  Continue reading Photo(s) of the day: Bush 43 takes to painting

First Past the Post: February 8


East and South Asia

Quartz catalogues China’s accounting scandals.

Myanmar catches on to the central bank independence trend.

The European Union is softening its position on Gujarati chief minister Narendra Modi, who will likely be the BJP candidate for prime minister in 2014.

South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye announces her second pick for prime minister, former prosecutor Chung Hong-won.

Nepal’s Maoist leaders go for a facelift.

North America

The U.S. Senate interrogates CIA director nominee John Brennan on drone strikes.

On our continuing series of stories on the German language in the United States.

Things don’t end well when you step into a boxing ring with Justin Trudeau.

Latin America / Caribbean

‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier (pictured above), who returned to Haiti in 2011 after 25 year in exile failed to show for a hearing on possible human rights abuse charges.

Miranda state governor and opposition leader Henrique Capriles lashes out against charges of corruption from the chavista government.

The Economist considers the reelection of Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa.

The Rios Montt trial in Guatemala will begin in August.  [Spanish]

Trinidad gets ready for its annual Carnival this weekend. Get your fete on!


The Nigerian opposition forms the All Progressive Congress to challenge president Goodluck Jonathan.

The two major Kenyan presidential candidates face internal strife.


London mayor Boris Johnson is haranguing deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

One-time Labour leader challenger David Miliband speaks out on the UK’s role in Europe in an interview with Spiegel.

SYRIZA narrowly leads New Democracy in Greece, neo-nazi Golden Dawn remains in third.

Not the most auspicious start to the EU budget talks.

Leftist Puglia regional president Nichi Vendola is not happy about a potential Bersani-Monti coalition.  [Italian]

Middle East

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold his first post-election meeting next week with Natfali Bennett, Bayit Yehudi leader (and onetime Netanyahu chief of staff).

Things are not going so well in Tunisia.

If it’s Friday, more mass protests in Cairo.


Although budgeted to collect $2 billion in revenue, Australia’s new mining tax has raised just $126 million in its maiden year.

An interview with New Zealand prime minister John Key.