Activism from the air. Just received this on the flight from Tokyo to Istanbul. Power to the garment workers.
Originally posted on LightBox:
TIME LightBox presents our monthly round-up of the best books, exhibitions and ways to experience photography beyond the web—from the Steve McCurry exhibition in Colorado and the 55th Venice Biennale to Roger Ballen’s ‘Portraits from South Africa’ in Los Angeles and the Belfast Photo Festival.
‘The Guide’ on LightBox will be published monthly. If you have submissions or suggestions for upcoming round-ups of the best books and exhibitions, feel free to pass them along via email before June 15. We’ll also be updating this gallery throughout the month.
See the previous editions of The Guide:
by Rahnuma Ahmed
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies…. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.
Robin Cook, British foreign minister, 1997-2001
(in saying this, he was divulging confidential information.
Cook died a month later, in August 2005).
That al-Qaeda originated in the US-financed mujahideen guerilla war in Afghanistan, that Osama bin Laden enjoyed American support and received CIA training in `weapons, sabotage and bomb-making,’ is well-known. That Laden later fell out with the US administration over the entry of US forces into Saudi Arabia (the presence of foreign forces in the “land of the two mosques”) after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, is also well-known as is known that the resulting enmity led to al-Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11 in the US (for instance).
But this story line — once-allies-now-enemies-unto-death — seems untenable in the light of recent research conducted by British political scientist and policy analyst Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism (2005) . A Norwegian daily, more-recently, has published an article based on his research (Kristin Aalen, Terrorists Working for Western Countries, Stavanger Aftenbladet, 24.11.08 ). It is accompanied by a geo-political world map — largely true to his findings except for over-simplifiying the Pentagon’s sponsorship of al-Qaeda fighters in the Balkans — which outlines how these two forces have worked together. The Norwegian text has been substituted by its English translation, available on Nafeez’s blog. Without going into the details of what is shown on the map, I want to write instead about what he says of al-Qaeda (`Terrorism and Statecraft: Al-Qaeda and Western Covert Operations after the Cold War,’ in Paul Zarembka ed. The Hidden History of 9-11).
A vehicle of Western covert operations
Al-Qaeda is a monolithic, hierarchical organisation. Its activities are coordinated by its leader, Osama bin Laden. It is the source of contemporary international terrorism. These conventional protrayals, writes Nafeez, are false. The truth is, that al-Qaeda — a term coined not by Islamists but by the CIA — refers to the computer database that Robin Cook had pointed out. Of course, Nafeez adds, this does not mean that it is not `some sort of identifiable entity.’ It does exist, but not as `a self-directed institution in its own right,’ rather, as an amorphous association of networks.
Factually-speaking, al-Qaeda is `a post-Cold war strategic instrument.’ Although born within the realities of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, in the CIA’s vision, its operational scope was not to be restricted to Afghanistan only. According to a CIA analyst interviewed by Richard Labeviere, chief editor at Radio France International, “The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvellously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.”
According to Nafeez, al-Qaeda’s activities, during and after the Cold War, related primarily to a new doctrine of covert destabilisation, one that was, and is, being implemented in `new theatres of operation strategically close to Russian and Chinese influence,’ i.e., eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and central Asia. As such, al-Qaeda is better characterised as a `conglomerate of quasi-independent Islamic terrorist cells,’ one that spans at least 26 countries.
This conglomerate is inextricably embedded — both with regard to its raison d’etre, and its modus operandi — in another conglomerate, a `disturbing’ one, says Nafeez, of international Western diplomatic, financial, military and intelligence policies. The geo-strategic structure of al-Qaeda derives directly from western corporate interests, those particularly related to monopolising global energy resources. In all mujahideen activity, one consistently comes across the directed involvement of Western financial, military and intelligence power. This takes place through state-regional nodes in strategic regions (prime examples are Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Algeria), direct liaisons, and human nodes. US, British and Western power `routinely manipulate al-Qaeda’; in all cases, including 9-11, it generates destabilisation. This `paves the way for, and ultimately sustains the involvement of, Anglo-American interests in the monopolization of regional resources and the establishment of military-backed geopolitical power.’ Thus, al-Qaeda is not, as popular perception goes, `a foreign enemy external to Western civilization’. Rather, it is the name for `a highly developed category of Western covert operations,’ one that is designed to secure destabilization through the creation, multiplication, mobilization, and manipulation of disparate mujahideen groups.
Epilogue: Debates are currently raging in Bangladesh over the necessity of cracking down against militancy, the lack of a clear government policy, the likelihood that Islamist militant groups are regrouping for attacks, that madrasas are breeding grounds for extremists, militant attacks are aimed at destablising the government, and the need for regional anti-terror initiatives.
Are these debates, and policy proposals, totally un-connected to the policy of `guiding the evolution of Islam’ in what is now considered by some to be a new sphere of US strategic interest? Are these un-connected to the US Embassy’s growing concern to promote `respect for American values’ in Bangladesh? (see Sumit Ganguly, The Rise of Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh, report commissioned by the United States Institute of Peace, 2006 ). Those taking part in the debate, either deliberately or foolishly, feign ignorance.
by: Shahidul Alam and Rahnuma Ahmed
Rahnuma Ahmed writes
My last column had ended with these words: ‘The current regime’s voter registration list has, in all probability, lessened the likelihood of fraudulent votes. But it also has, in all likelihood, laid the groundwork for installing a new regime of surveillance, one that will be deployed against the citizens of Bangladesh‘ (National ID Cards. In the Interest of Surveillance?, New Age, 29 September 2008).
Little did I know when I wrote it that Bangladeshi bloggers had intensely debated the pros and cons of national ID cards four weeks earlier. The discussion in amarblog.com had been generated by Ashiq’s Amra O Pari post, eulogising the electronic registration of voters, a feat that was termed a ‘silent revolution.’ Ashiq wrote, at first, no organisation had expressed its willingness to complete the task within the period stipulated by the government, not even foreign companies. Sky-high figures had been quoted. But fortunately, the Bangladesh army had submitted its own proposal to the government, just like any other organisation. Its budget was also the lowest.
A person who writes under the name of Incidental Blogger had raised these questions:
– The Bangladesh army’s budget was the lowest — what is your source of information? Do you know who were the second and third bidders? Do you know why the latter failed to secure the contract?
– Who was in charge of the selection process? Who were the commitee members? Could you tell us how much freedom they had in reaching their decision, and your source of information? Was any internationally-recognised independent evaluator assigned?
– What was the criteria for selection?
Chor, another blogger, commented further down, the national ID card project is the task of the Election Commission. Of course, the EC can request the help of the army, this is not the problem. The problem is when public money is used to charge the public for services rendered.
Incidental Blogger further wrote, the ID card issue is linked to the issue of individual freedom, privacy etc., this is why western governments are finding it difficult to get their own electorates to agree. Not mincing words, he wrote, does the caretaker government in Bangladesh have the right to make a decision on something as fundamental as the national ID card, something that is a matter of state policy? Did it not happen very conveniently, almost too easily? Are you sure this information will not be shared with western intelligence agencies? He went on, you may look at it positively, but I look at it as the first step in Bangladesh turning into a fascist state.
I read and re-read the blog. It is good to know that my fears are shared by others.
While researching for my previous article, I had surfed the internet for information, and learnt that the voter roll project in Bangladesh was a “co-operative venture” between BIO-Key in the US, TigerIT in Bangladesh (their “systems integrator on the ground”), and the Bangladesh army.
I had asked Shahidul when he came home whether he knew of TigerIT Bangladesh. No, never heard of them, he said. Hmmm, I said, their webpage says, the Cofounder and Chairman is Ziaur Rahman, it lists a Joseph Fuisz, as the Cofounder. And guess what, a Daily Star Weekend magazine article on Info-Tech says, `TigerIT Bangladesh Limited is an offshore technology campus of TigerIT, USA, with its corporate headquarters located in Northern Virginia’ (March 2, 2007), but this is not mentioned in their website.
Shahidul became curious. Read what happened next, in his words.
Shahidul Alam writes
I knew about Tigers. There were the Bengal Tigers, our cricket team, even Tiger Beer. TigerIT was new. Having initiated DrikTap, the pioneering email network in Bangladesh in the early nineties, I thought I knew about the IT scene in the country. So when Rahnuma told me about this ‘cutting edge’ Bangladeshi company, I asked around amongst IT savvy peers. No one had heard of TigerIT. A quick search of the ‘who is’ database revealed that the domain tigeritbd.com had only been registered on 21st August 2007. So when on the 1st May 2007, the chief election commissioner had said the “countdown of the 18-month timeframe starts from today,” the domain www.tigeritbd.com did not even exist!
A quick search on Joseph Fuisz the co-founder of the company revealed that he was based in Washington DC. Since I was scheduled to give a presentation at the National Geographic in DC, I dropped Mr. Fuisz a line asking if I could interview him. The “out of office” response was followed by a mail saying he was away on a family holiday in Miami. It just so turned out, that I was presenting at Miami University on 30th September. I suggested we meet in Miami and provided my itinerary. Upon arrival at Miami, I received the following mail, “Unfortunately, I have been tied up in meetings all day today. Thus, I am sorry that it does not appear I will get to see you in Miami.” This was the man who was away on a family holiday for a week. I offered to meet papa Fuisz (Richard C Fuisz, MD), in Washington DC. I should have anticipated the response: “I am so sorry — your prior email did not come through (I just found it) and so I did not forward it to my Dad’s assistant. I think it is too late to schedule now. Please accept my apologies. I will email you some things about Tiger and hope to meet in you Bangladesh some day — very best, Joe Fuisz.”
I’ve had no further correspondence from Fuisz.
Rahnuma Ahmed writes
If you had met him, what would you have wanted to know, I ask Shahidul. His list of questions was ready:
(1) What were the factors leading to a newly formed company, TigerIT BD, being able to obtain such a prestigious and lucrative contract?
(2) What are the implications of having a biometric database for Bangladesh? Who might benefit from this data, nationally and internationally?
(3) Does your company TigerIT (the parent company of TigerIT BD) have any previous experience of working in Bangladesh or the region?
(4) Why did you choose to work with relatively inexperienced people in Bangladesh and set up a new company rather than teaming up with existing IT companies with a track record?
(5) Who are the main clients of your company TigerIT (the parent company)?
(6) What is your equity in TigerIT BD?
He grinned and added, but of course, I sent him a very general note saying we were fascinated by the news of what they had done and wanted to do a feature on the company for DrikNews.
So, why are western citizens concerned? As Peter Boyle asks, what’s the fuss behind another little piece of plastic? What is dangerous is not the card itself, he says, but “the mother of all databases that is behind a compulsory national ID card system.” Chris Puplick, a former Liberal Senator who was a member of the joint select committee on the Australia Card, speaking of his `fear’ of national ID card systems wrote, “Should 20 million Australians have their liberties trashed so that we might — I repeat might — detect the two or three mad jihadists in our midst? Will files now be created on the basis that people belong to a certain religion, attend particular places of worship or hold specific political opinions?”
Does the national ID card system help to combat terrorism? Privacy International (PI), a global human rights group, in a 2004 study on the relationship between national ID cards and the prevention of terrorism was unable to “uncover any instance where the presence of an identity card system” was a significant deterrent to terrorist activity. I remember coming across a blog comment somewhere: `Want to be rid of terrorism? Pull troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq.’ Another blogger had said, ‘Governments quite often frighten me more than terrorists.’
Some Bangladeshis — still carried away by the present military-backed caretaker government’s drive against corruption — may think that it will help clean up corruption. As a blogger had commented in drishtipat: `Like driver’s license renewal or getting cars inspection every year, the national ID card… will have huge impact on and spectacular change in the society.’ Those pro ID cards probably don’t know that computer disks containing detailed personal information on 25 million individuals, and 7.25 million families in Britain, went missing last year. Personal information included names, addresses, national insurance numbers, and data on almost every child under 16. According to experts, the information “could allow crimes beyond identity theft,” since some people use a child’s name or part of their address as password on their bank account. In other words, a combination of these details could allow criminals to break their code. Another critic says, if a government or criminal wanted to frame someone, amending, erasing, or adding to the details on one’s medical records, employment history, could be easily done, since all information would be stored on a single device.
Khushi Kabir had left a comment on my column at Shahidul’s blog, speaking of her own disturbing experiences: `What was also worrying was the religious and other profiling done, albeit arbitrarily in majority of cases, despite that this information was not asked for in the form filled up prior to getting photographed or finger printed. My big teep must have confused them, so they asked for my religion, which I did not find necessary to provide them, or any other information that was not on the form. Others were not asked but religion was put on the basis of their ‘assumption’. When challenged as to why they needed my religion or to keep it blank they stated that they were required by the ‘authorities’ to profile it. Shireen Huq had a similar experience. They informed her there was only space for four religions in the database ie Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian. No scope for others. This kind of information can be potentially frightening.’
Of course yes, Khushi. As Jim Fussell of Prevent Genocide International points out, ethnic classification on ID cards in Rwanda, instituted by the Belgian colonial government and retained after independence, spelled a death sentence for Tutsis at any roadblock. No other factor, says Fussell, was more significant in facilitating the speed and magnitude of the 100 days of mass killing in Rwanda, that left 800,000 dead.
The near-deafening silence of Bangladeshi human rights organisations and activists on the national ID card issue, is remarkable. I wonder why? Are their campaigns waged aganist ‘locals’ only — the neighbourhood bully, the local rapist, the village acid-thrower? Do they shy away when human rights violations are caused by ‘big’ actors? Does speaking out against Big Brother’s `war on terror’ fall outside the prescribed terms of reference?
Do not misunderstand me, fighting against local power structures has not always been easy or convenient, as their own records of struggle show. But it is a global world, and we should learn from the African feminist who had said, I am oppressed not only by my patriarchal village headman, but equally so by the IMF and the World Bank. And I add, by western regimes who are waging terrorist wars against the world’s peoples.
Their fear of items being stolen, or not being returned, was considered preposterous. When the Honorable Adviser and his excellency the Charge d’Affaires had themselves, guaranteed the safety of Bangladesh’s most prized artefacts, surely the protesters could have no reason to oppose this arrangement. News of the missing crate, and the priceless statues it contained, had been suppressed, but the information leaked out. Could the guarantors please explain?
Mr. Jean Romnicianu, Charges d’Affaires, Ambassade de France à Dacca, met with Bangladeshi journalists at the French Embassy in the first week of December 2007. In response to questions about the possibility of goods being damaged, stolen, or not being returned, he stated emphatically, “What I am saying is that for at least 30 years, it has never, not once, happened within the framework of an international exhibition. This is an international exhibition with a signed agreement between governments, there is no scope whatsoever of that kind of thing.” “We will take care of the artefacts, until they are returned to the museum. All the insurance and everything is what is called nail to nail,” elaborating that it implied protection from the moment the artefacts left their original position in the museum, to the time it was returned to their original position.
Today we hear him on television saying “The responsibility of the French Goverment begins from the point where the items are in French cargo.”
“We are not going to put the artefacts at risk by unpacking them,” was also something the Charge d’Affaires had said that day. Today (Dec 24th 2007), the BBC quoted that the remaining crates had all been checked at the airport. So airport officials who have no knowledge of archaeology are permitted to open the crates, while neither members of the expert committee nor the people who are legally required to inspect the artefacts, are allowed to do so. These officials had also signed documents stating they had verified the contents of the crates, which they had obviously not been allowed to do, even though it made the documents presented, technically false.
“The Museee Guimet and our authorities in France have worked rather hard, I must say, even though it resulted in one mistake, in keeping all the controversies outside of the French papers, of the European papers,” the Charge d’Affaires had also said that day. So the cover up was taking place at both the Bangladeshi and the French end. Presumably it continues.
(Audio recordings of these statements are available and will be uploaded as soon as they have been digitised)
From Pukur Churi (stealing a pond) to Pukur Pare Churi (stealing by a pond). Search party looking for stolen artefacts by the pond at Zia International Airport. © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
The empty crate. We had been told these were special crates that could not be opened, as they were very special. A 300 year old French company had been especially commissioned to pack the crates. The government and the French embassy decided to show improper documents rather than risk opening these special crates for proper inspection and documentation. Looks like a pretty ordinary crate to me. © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
This was a story the state owned BTV had chosen to completely ignore. The rest of the media however, despite government efforts continued to report this important story. Despite the widespread protests and the media attention, the shipment was to go ahead. Both the Cultural Adviser and the French Charge d’Affaires, emphatically promised there was no question of items going missing or not being returned. © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
One of the arrested security officers. What of the big fish that masterminded this theft? Or the people who authorised this shipment despite the proven irregularities? © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
It was the letter from Shanika, the girl I had found during the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, that reminded me of how we had forgotten all the other things that were going on. It was now Boxing Day. The Day the Tsunami had struck. Bodies are still being discovered after the Sidr cyclone. Demand for the trial of war criminals has moved off the headlines. Bodies of workers remain buried in the Rangs building rubble. It reminds me of how classed our struggles are. While we had united in protest when our archaeological heritage was being threatened, no such protest had taken place in solidarity with the workers.
It was Christmas day, and it is the wedding season in Bangladesh. People had gathered outside the musuem, as word had spread that the remaining artefacts were being returned. It was a very different mood, and the local flower shop was using the wide road to decorate a wedding car. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Media professionals outside museum gate watching the return of remaining 12 crates. © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
It was the vigilance of Nisar Hossain (teacher at the college of fine arts, affectionately dubbed, ‘Sector Commander’ by fellow campaigners) and his friends that led to many of the irregularities being unearthed. Nisar being interviewed on the ATN channel. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The media played an important role in keeping the issue in the public eye. Munni Saha interviewing Nisar Hossain for a programme in the ATN channel. The discussions included a clear condemnation of the French Charge d’Affaires’ statement blaming the protestors for the theft. The programme will air at 11:00 am Dhaka time on the 26th December 2007. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
During an assignment for Help The Aged in Sri Lanka last month, I had sneaked a visit to Totagumuwa, in Hikkaduwa to see Shanika. The Tsunami had taken away her mother and her three sisters (including her twin sister). Photo: © Priantha (Shanika’s dad).
27th December 2007
Sylvie Rebbot, the picture editor of Geo Magazine in France, just sent me this press release last night. It was issued yesterday (the 26th December 2007) by the French Ministry of Culture. While it talks about the theft of the two statues, from Zia International Airport, there is no mention of the 10 crates that are already in Paris at the Guimet Museum.
Press Release by French Ministry of Culture (26th Dec 2007)
It was a bad day for cows
But the Bangladesh government had a supreme sacrifice in mind. When the most prized of your possessions needed to be sacrificed, and when the gods have changed to western powers, the four-legged creatures simply wouldn’t do. The nation’s most prized archaeological possessions were therefore bundled away in Homebound chariots to distant museums. The door to heaven’s gate might not have opened, but a Schengen visa and perhaps a few trips to Paris for some, had surely been assured.
It was well timed. The Eid holidays meant there would be no newspapers for two days. Most reporters would be away. The streets of Dhaka would be empty. Holidays meant there was no rush. No pesky public to worry about at opening hours. Still one needed to be sure. Bus no Dhaka Jo 11 1767, was on standby with riot police. The police jeep Dhaka Jo 11 4364 followed behind. Then the media that got in the way. With so many Eid events to cover, why had they gathered round the national museum? The sanctity of sacrifice should surely have been respected. Reinforcements in the form of another busload of riot police came in via bus number Dhaka Jo 14 1799.
Aisha had come with her parents to visit the museum. Like many others they were turned away. The museum was closed, at least to the public. The Eid holidays of museum officials had however been cancelled. The shippers were working overtime.
Police and plainclothes intelligence officials were present in abundance, their riot gear jarring with the bright new clothes of Dhakaites. Then it took another turn. Spitting and booing had failed to stop the Homebound trucks earlier. This time the protesters changed tack. Chains were put on the gate of the national museum. Visions of the Chipko Resistance
sprang to mind. In place of burglars breaking in, the comic view of government officials breaking their way out of the national museum to escape with museum valuables would have brought laughter in a trirotno drama (popular Bangladeshi sitcom). In the theatre of Bangladeshi governance, it was yet another tragedy.
“The benefits, for both countries, are cultural: it is a win-win situation where France gains a better knowledge of Bangladeshi heritage and Bangladesh gains a better image on the international cultural scene,” the French embassy handout had clarified.
The partially demolished Rangs building continues to be a grave for the buried Bangladeshi workers far down the priority chain. Presumably, that is a ‘Bangladeshi heritage’ the Parisians will not get to see.
The last time round, they had been playing one of my favourite Bhupen Hajarika songs. This time there was no music, and no one was smiling. Even the Bangladeshi flag failed to flutter on this Eid day.
Bangladeshi flag refuses to flutter as prized Bangladeshi objects are taken out of museum. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World