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It’s For Your Own Good

We will kill your children
Destroy your mosques
Grind to dust your citadels
With your oil, we’ll buy you food
Believe you me, it’s for your own good

Regime change, that’s what its about
Jay Garner* instead, what more could you want
You’ll have Big Macs and Coke
As we know you should
Believe you me, its for your own good

Forget your heritage, its so uncool
Face the facts, the US rules
Afghanis blew statues
They were ever so rude
We will raze Baghdad, for your own good

CNN, BBC, they report for our cause
Embedded journalists, they know the laws
Al Jazeera is not cricket
C’mon you dude
You know we care, its for your own good

US contracts, Haliburton rules
Conflict of interest? C’mon you fools
My interest in oil
That’s obscene, that’s lewd
Its Iraqis I care for, its for your own good

It’s freedom I want, get out of my way
A new Middle East map, drawn as I say
Imperialist expansion
Must you be crude
Are you not listening, its for your own good

World opinion, who gives a damn
My latest war cry, Saddam Saddam
United Nations
Step out if you would
Don’t get in the way, its for their own good

US weapons of mass destruction?
Don’t be absurd, we’re a peace-loving nation
Hiroshima Nagasaki
Why do you still brood?
As my God has said, it was for your own good.

I wish you’d believe me. I so wish you would

Shahidul Alam
30th March 2003, Dhaka.

March 30, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From Seventh Fleet to Seventh Cavalry

25th March 1971. My eldest niece had just been born the day before.
It was a premature birth. Amma had found a Mariam flower and the
flower had bloomed, heralding the birth. She had stayed behind at the
clinic. We had felt something was afoot, and Babu Bhai and I went out
to try and get mother and child back from Dr. Firoza Begum's clinic
in Dhanmondi. Our home might not have been safer, but at least we'd
be together. Friends were building roadblocks in the streets by then,
and let us through reluctantly, warning us that we had little time.
We went along the narrow road by Ramna Police station to Wireless
Mor, it being too dangerous to go along the main road. I climbed over
the barbed wires on the boundary walls to get to my sister's flat,
but my brother in law felt it was too dangerous to go out, so I
turned back. By then the tanks were on the streets.

I had fallen asleep, but woke up to the sound of gunfire. The wide
red arcs of tracer bullets had lit up the sky. The only tall building
nearby was the Hotel Intercontinental, where the meetings between
Mujib and Bhutto had taken place, and where the foreign journalists
were staying. The slum next to the Sakura Hotel and the nearby
newspaper office were ablaze. We could hear the screams. Those who
were able to escape the fire, ran into the machine gun fire waiting

Abba (my father), Babu Bhai and I watched in silence. We had argued
with Abba about Pakistan, but he had been victimised as a Muslim in
pre-partition India, and would not support what he saw as the break
up of the nation. That night he finally broke our silence by
saying, "now there is no going back."

We heard the gunshots all night, and there was a curfew the following
day. Eventually when there was a small break in the curfew the day
after, Abba went to get supplies, and Babu Bhai and I got my sister
and her daughter to Nasheman, in Eskaton where we lived. We called
her Mukti, meaning `freedom'. But relatives warned us that it was too
dangerous to use that name, even if it was a nick name to be used
only amongst ourselves. So Mukti became Mowli, and even after
independence, the name stuck.

Twenty five years later in 1996, I tried to put together a collection
of images of '71 for our 1996 calendar. I am reminded of the

[Twenty five year ago, even longer perhaps, just a camera in hand,
they had gone out to bring back a fragment of living history. Today,
those photographs join them in protest. Peering through  the crisp
pages of the newly printed  history books, they remind us, "No, that
wasn't the way it was. I know. I bear witness."

The black and white 120 negatives, carefully wrapped in flimsy
polythene, stashed away in a damp gamcha, have almost faded. The
emulsion eaten away by fungus, scratched a hundred times in their
tortuous journey, yellowed with age, bear little resemblance to the
shiny negatives in the modern archives of big name agencies. They too
are war weary, bloodied in battle.

So many have sweet talked these negatives away. The government, the
intellectuals, the publishers, so many. Some never came back. No one
offered a sheet of black and white paper in return. Few gave credits.
The ones who risked their lives to preserve the memories of our
language movement, have never been remembered in the awards given on
the 21st February, language day.

25 years ago, they fought for freedom. They didn't all carry guns,
some made bread, some gave shelter, some took photographs. This is
just to remind us, that this Bangladesh belongs to them all.]

Today, embedded photojournalists with digital cameras, give us images
of yet another aggression. This time, from the other side of the gun.
The 50 clause contract that gives them access to imperial military
units, like the unwritten rules that allow them access to
presidential pools, ensure that `free' media remains loyal to the
warmongers. Will we ever get to see the images taken by the Iraqi
photographers? Will their negatives die the same death? Will those
images, like the bombed ruins of a magnificent city, be the only
tattered remains of an aggression that the world allowed to happen?
In '71, the Seventh Fleet was stationed in the Bay of Bengal. The
Mukti's were not deterred by this show of power. They won us our
independence. Today, after 43 more US military interventions across
the globe, it is the Seventh Cavalry that bombs Iraq. And our own
government, forgetting the lessons of history, forgetting that they
tried to kill our unborn nation, turns against the will of its
people. Our own police turn against us in our anti war rallies, to
protect the biggest aggressor in history. These negatives may not
survive, but the collective memory of the people of the world will,
and our children will confront us in years to come.

Shahidul Alam
26th March 2003

* A flower from Arab deserts, used during labour to predict the time
of childbirth.
** A working man's cloth of coarse cotton, used as padding when
carrying weight, to carry food, and to wipe away sweat.

March 26, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We Did Say No

My questions are many. Why is there no UN resolution against the United States, for blatantly initiating an unprovoked genocide? Whydoes not the UN Security Council, demand that the most habitualaggressor in recent history, disarm and destroy

its weapons of mass destruction? Why is it that despite our collective strength, the most we can muster is a passive condemnation of a mass murder? Whatever may happen after the bombs have dropped, we will not be able to hide our shame. It may not have been in our name, but we sat and watched. We allowed it to happen. It is a guilt that will haunt us. While I sit in anger, wondering how, despite all our rhetoric, we watched a nation being plundered, without raising a finger to stop it, this quiet reflection from Baghdad University campus brings homethe extent of our complicity. These are the people we allowed to be destroyed. Our lives will go on, and we will face another day. They will not. And we will be content because we had said no.

Shahidul Alam
Mon Mar 17, 2003

At the College of English, it is most definitely springtime. Co-eds are chattering cheerily and they smile as we pass.  "We are intent on finishing the syllabus, war or no war," says Professor Abdul Jaafar Awad.  He tells us that during the Gulf War of 1991, he was discussing a doctoral dissertation with a student while American and British warplanes were bombing Baghdad.  Jawad's determination to carry on despite the approach of war is shared by the students at his department.

Students at a class on Shakespeare are discussing Romeo and Juliet when we interrupt them. No, they say, they don't mind answering some questions from the Asian Peace Mission. They are carrying on with Shakespeare, but their answers show that morally they are on war footing. What do they think of George Bush?  "He is like Tybalt, clumsy and ill-intentioned," says a young woman in near perfect English. What do they think about Bush's promise to liberate them? Another co-ed answers, "We've been invaded by many armies for thousands of years, and those who wanted to conquer us always said they wanted to liberate us." What if war comes, how would they feel?  Another says, "We may not be physically strong, but we have faith, and that is what will beat the Americans." A young professor tells me, "I love teaching, but I will fight if the Americans come." These are not a programmed people.  Saddam Hussein's portrait may be everywhere, but there are not programmed answers.  In fact, we have hardly encountered any programmed responses from anybody here in the last few days. Youth and spring are a heady brew on this campus, and it is sadness that we all feel as we speed away, for some of those lives will be lost in the coming war. As one passes over one of the bridges spanning the Tigris River, one remembers the question posed by Dr. Jawad:  "Why would today's most powerful industrial country wish to destroy a land that gave birth to the world's most ancient civilization?"  It is a question that no one in our delegation can really answer. Control of the world's second biggest oil reserves is a convenient answer, but it is incomplete. Strategic reasons are important but also incomplete.  A fundamentalism that grips the Bush clique is operative, too, but there is something more, and that is power that is in love with itself and seeking to express that deadly self-love.

An American journalist I meet at the press centre says the people are carrying on as usual because they are in deep denial of the power that will soon be inflicted on them.  I wish he had been with us when we visited the campus earlier in the day, to see the toughness beneath the surface of those young men and women of Baghdad University.  Like most of the Iraqi we have met over the last few days, they are prepared for the worst, but they are determined not to make the worst ruin their daily lives.

Tomorrow afternoon, March 17, the date of the American ultimatum for Iraq to disarm or face war, we in the Asian Peace Mission will be travelling by land on two vans flying the Philippine flag to the order with Syria. Dita Sari, the labour leader from Indonesia, was offered a ride to the border this evening by the Indonesian ambassador, who was very concerned about her safety.  She refused, saying she would leave only when the mission left. We are leaving late and cutting it close because all of us–Dita, Philippine legislators Etta Rosales and Husin Amin, Pakistani MP Zulfikar Gondal, Focus on the Global South associate Herbert Docena, our reporter and cameraman Jim Libiran and Ariel Fulgado, and myself–feel the same compulsion: we want to be with the Iraqi people as long as possible.

March 17, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment