Interview Parvez Part 2: Freedom of Speech in Bangladesh

This is the second part of the interview with Parvez, the coordinator of our Bangladesh project, and organiser of the Freedom Book Fair. Click here for the first part of the interview.

What is the current situation in Bangladesh related to freedom of speech?

The Bangladeshi community blog tradition is in decline for some time now. I would say that the Bangla community blog as we knew it before, is dead now. There are still many Bangla blogging platforms which are well and alive, but they do not have the same kind of priorities on public engagement. So the interactive community nature is lost. Online writers who prefers more public interaction spends more time in the Social Media, especially in Facebook. Most of these bloggers write to their personal audience. However, now there are many other emerging platforms in Bangladesh. They are not exactly blogs. I mean, the original Bangladeshi community blogs were public spheres and many different kinds of people were engaged together. Now there are more specific platforms, like certain bloggers coming together and writing on one single platform and for specific audiences. There is not much engagement between the different groups.  The only form of public debate remaining in the public spheres of Bangladesh are certain discussions. In fact, there is more propaganda than discussion and it is everyone against everyone, because there are radicals in all groups. Even among the free thinkers. I would say the current trend of online engagement provokes more conflicts than solving them.

What is the best that could happen to Bangladesh?

The best that could happen is when the country would go back to a more democratic environment. When this happens democratic values like freedom of expression will get more respect. These two are very related and in my point of view and are necessary to move into a prosperous direction. As well as I think it is important to have space for dialogues for the young people from the different groups where they can discuss freely and solve their problems. I think so, because people of older generations idolizes intolerant politics more than the youth. For example, a leader who is the head of the leading party is hailed for being uncompromising by the older generation, because they consider uncompromising attitude as a political virtue.

What do you like the most about the Netherlands in general terms?

Well, one thing I like that it is also a river delta, similarly to my home country and this country is also very green. I am also from a green country and my hometown Dhaka is also surrounded by rivers.

Is there something you do not like about the Netherlands?

I come from a place, where it rains a lot too but it is too much here.

The European countries, populations and leaders are afraid of Islamic terrorists, for example in The Netherlands, France and Germany. And there are also right wing movements in rise in all these countries. What do you think, how severe is the danger posed by terrorists and right wing movements for the population of Europe?

Islamic terrorism is dangerous obviously and there are some terrorism problems in Europe, but they are not comparable to what is going on in Syria or other Muslim countries, for example. If we talk about the terrorism threat, the western countries are the least endangered. This is proved by numbers and statistics as well. Moreover, the western airplanes are bombing different parts of the world as well. Luckily that kind of atrocity is not happening here. In comparison to the deaths and killings around the world, Europe is a very peaceful place. It is an important topic to worry about, but the western politicians made it look like more intense than it actually is here in Europe. We are living in a world which is considered globalized. It is foolish to think that the war that is raging in the middle east would not affect other parts of the world at all. Especially if the other parts are somehow engaged to these conflicts in the middle east, then it’s very likely. You are not safe even if you don’t have a stake in this war. Think about Bangladesh, we have no oil business in the middle east, Yet I would say we are more affected by this war than European countries, both economically and by the terrorism threat.

Right Wing movements are often accompanied by hate speech and Islamophobic behaviour. With the recent rise of terrorism, many common people are afraid of Muslims and the western right wing groups are feeding their fear and anger. Any comment about this phenomena?

First of all, Radical Islamism is also part of the right wing movements. Islamists are the right wings in the Muslim world. Rather not forget about that. Anyway, The main thing I want to focus in connection with the far right populism in Europe, is that it’s not a new thing here. It was not considered mainstream since the 2nd world war. But it never vanished from Europe. They were simply side-lined by the mainstream politics. Now they are back. If you look at the current world situation, there are many totalitarian, populist, right wing governments coming to power and the movements are getting more and more popular. The whole world is facing it and the whole world is also moving towards a right wing direction. For example, in Europe with the Brexit, Trump in the USA and now western Europe is afraid. So nowadays we have a global crisis, the neo capitalistic global world order is in crisis. And if you look at the history, whenever capitalism is in crisis, right wing politics emerges to mix up capitalism and right wing ideals to divert people’s angers towards imaginary enemies such as ‘jew’, ‘muslim’(which is the new jew in europe), ‘communist’, ‘atheist’, ‘infidel’, ‘crusedar’(a popular enemy invented by the extremist islamists). And they turn the state more powerful, in to a totalitarian machine that fights the crisis of capitalism using hatred and brute force. Right wing populism does not focus on the real problems. Why are people losing jobs? Why is recession? Why are people afraid? How can economic inequality be solved? They tell that minorities are taking their jobs, for example. That is what right wing populism does, it names the wrong reasons and problems. It diverts people´s anger to something else. It also protects the unequal economic structure we have to the benefit of certain people. In Bangladesh, the Islamists also have this kind of populist discourses against other minorities, like Hindus.

I think that the liberal democratic values in politics and the liberal economy are not interdependent. Even if we feel that they are interdependent, they are not. In fact, you can have a brutal regime of medieval proportion with successful capitalistic economy, like Saudi-Arabia. We can see it in the recent development in Bangladesh too. The rise of Islamists and the economic development goes together as well.

Because of the worsening situation of writers and freedom of speech in Bangladesh you organised the Freedom Book Fair. Any news about the next edition?

We have organised two Book Fairs in The Hague, but in 2018 we want to expand it more. We would like to have a book fair for seven days from the 21st February until the 27th February to cover the national mother language day and the death of Avijit Roy at the 26th February 2015. The international mother language day at the 21th February was introduced from the mother language movement in Bangladesh. We just want a bigger international book fair with more publishers of different languages bringing their books to the event. It is important to continue some discussions we started this year, for example on the situation in Turkey. In the future we also want to include more countries in the discussion.

So Avijit Roy is a very important person in connection with the event?

Yes, he is. He was a popular writer, also a popular thinker, who encouraged many young people in Bangladesh. He also encouraged me when I was younger. Also his project ‘Muktomona’ (free thinkers) encouraged many young Bangladeshi people to have a critical mind.

In connection with the book fair I want to ask what can you tell about the Bangladeshi working group of HPP?

It is still in a developed process. We are connecting to more Bangladeshi people. Moreover, the book fair helped to make connections that might lead to a South Asia working group.

To finalize this interview, lets come back to your person. What are your personal future perspectives?

I want to continue and grow as a writer. Also as an activist by being involved in organisations like HPP. I am a political animal. That’s why I like to be engaged in peace building. Politics is not always about being ready to go to war, as some would say. But the opposite, I think. Human are political animals. It’s natural for human to be political, as Aristotle would put it. Politics is a matter of living in a family, in a tribe or a city. It’s about living with others in peace. Peace building and politics are the same thing for me. And that’s why I am with the HPP.

If you want to learn more about Parvez, checkout part 1 of the interview.

Miriam Reinhardt

19.08.2017, Den Haag

 

 

Freedom Book Fair Report 2017

From 24 February to 27 February 2017, The Hague Freedom Book Fair took place in Het Nutshuis in The Hague. With the participation of 15 publishing houses and book shops from Netherlands, Bangladesh, Turkey and Somalia, the book fair attracted hundreds of people. The book fair showcased censored books from Bangladesh and Turkey, books on censorship in different countries written by persecuted and censored writers themselves, and other regular books. Click here to read the report of the Freedom Book Fair 2017.

During the four days of the book fair, we also held four different panel discussions related to freedom of expression, one Somali and one Bengali poetry night. On 26 February, we also commemorated Avijit Roy (it was the anniversary of his death), along with other Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and publishers who were murdered in recent years. The panel discussions were about freedom of expression in Bangladesh and Turkey, the contemporary debate regarding freedom of expression and hate speech and LGBT freedom in religious societies. Experts from
Bangladesh, Turkey, Netherlands, UK and USA were present as panelists in these discussions. More than 500 people physically attended the discussions, and we were able to reach an audience of more than 90 thousand people via Facebook livestream.

The book fair successfully brought together diverse group of individuals, publishers and organizations to address the recent global crisis of freedom of expression. The event can be considered as laying down the foundation of a crucial network that can uphold and promote a dialogical method in solving the crisis of freedom of expression in the current world.

Our new project: Sudan


1 – Who are you? 
The Sudan Working group is the result of the collaboration between Stichting Phanaar and The Hague Peace Projects with the common objective to promote the voices of the Sudanese diaspora and engage in the dialogue for peace and justice in Sudan.

2 – What is the team’s mission? 
The mission of the team is to enable the Sudanese community in the Netherlands to actively engage in finding solutions for peace and justice in Sudan and raising awareness about the situation in the country by sharing experiences, knowledge, and concerns that transcend into concrete agendas and actions. 

3 – What are the goals and objectives of the team?
The objective of the team is to create spaces of dialogue that encompass the Sudanese diversity and the different perspectives of the conflict. By doing so, the Sudan working group aims to tackle issues of justice, victims participation, gender, freedom of expression,​ social enterprises, family disintegration and other related subjects in relation to Sudan and to the role of the Sudanese diaspora in an unbiased manner.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Parvez Alam – Part 1

Dear Parvez, could you first introduce yourself to the audience?

Photo credit Baki Billah

Photo credit Baki Billah

I am from Bangladesh. I am a writer and activist. In Bangladesh, I have been writing regularly in different blogs, newspapers, magazines and I wrote a few books. Most of them are about history of knowledge and more specifically about the intellectual history of Islam and also the political history of Islam. I have been working with several non-governmental organisations and activist groups in Bangladesh. We had a community library there, where I worked for 9 years. As well I was working with several human right groups focussing on minority rights mostly. I came to the Netherlands during 2015.; I had to flee my country because I was seriously threatened because of my writings, like many other critical thinkers from Bangladesh.

How did you get involved in The Hague Peace Projects?

When I came here I came into a project of the NGO Justice and Peace. A friend of mine worked for the NGO and for HPP at this time and we have spent a lot of time together because she was really interested in Bangladeshi bloggers in exile in Europe. So, I connect her with some Bangladeshi bloggers and together we developed the idea of the book fair for HPP and I was involved for the first time in a HPP project in February 2016 when the first book fair took place. In Bangladesh, there is an annual book fair in February as well, but many writers and publishers can´t be there as now they are in exile. In 2016 there was the chance that Avijit Roy’s (who was murdered a year before in front of the book fair) book so we wanted to do a symbolic book fair in The Hague. It was kind of a protest against the attacks, censorship, book bans and exile of publishers or writers. Another intention was to bring the exile writers of Bangladesh together. And from September 2016 I am working more intensively together with the HPP.

How would you describe the development from the first book fair in 2016 to the second in 2017?

When I look back I can say that the development was enormous. In 2016 we have had a half day of book fair without selling any books. Only couple of publishing house was officially involved, and we just displayed some banned books and also books written by Avijit. We had one panel discussion. It was a start and this year we planned everything for months. The result was a book fair with several publishers being present, from and for different countries like Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Netherlands. Moreover, we had several events, books were sold and it lasted for 4 days.

Did you promote the opening for other countries where writers are banned as well?

Yes, I did. The expansion was one of the first things we decided during the planning process, because the situation in Bangladesh is not unique. It is connected to developments in other countries as well. The rise of censorship and the decline of freedom of expression are similar to many other parts of the world. We thought we should bring more countries, more publishers together and have discussions about freedom of expression. Maybe this can be the foundation concept for future book fairs in The Hague, city of Peace and Justice.

The Interview is continued in Part 2 with some more information about the coming book fair and Parvez´s political opinions.

Parvez was interviewed by Miriam Reinhardt.

16-8 Film & Discussion: Rampal Coal plant: a deception of development

Join us on Wednesday 16 August for a film and discussion about Bangladesh at Nutshuis from 6:30 till 8:30.

The world’s largest mangrove forest is under treat of coal mining. The Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC), an energy partnership between India and Bangladesh, is building a massive coal fired power plant called ‘The Rampal Rampal Power Plant’ just 14km from this UNESCO world heritage site – a home to the last populations of critically endangered Royal Bengal Tigers. By damaging the Sundurbans with a coal plant, not only would this take away their livelihoods, and the natural resilience that millions of people in Bangladesh depend on, but it would mean burning more fossil fuels and creating more carbon emissions. This is exactly when the world should be leaving fossil fuels in the ground and be getting behind renewable energy alternatives.

Discussion:
Pro-environment activists group in Bangladesh have been protesting the coal power plant since its inception. Activists from India and other parts of the world also have joined in protest and solidarity. UNESCO also expressed its concern and asked the Government of Bangladesh to halt the project. However, despite nationwide protests and international outcry, the Bangladeshi government is hellbent on going through the project. Police brutality and arrest have become part and parcel of the anti-Rampal Power Plant movement in Bangladesh, and leading activists have faced death threats.

Anu Muhammad, the member-secretary of NCBD (the organization leading the anti-rampal protests in Banlgadesh) will join us in a discussion in ‘Het Nutshuis’ in The Hague. Anu Muhammad is a prominent Bangladeshi economist, public intellectual and political acticvist who has been in the forefront of the green energy movement in Bangladesh for years. He had faced arrest, police violance and several death threats along the way. Also activists and experts from both Bangladesh and Netherlands will join this discussion.

Deception of Development:
Bangladesh has entered a critical stage of its development in which the vocabulary around the understanding of development has gone seriously problematic. The Bangladesh state and the media both have gradually separated the idea of social and environmental equity from the vision of development, just like many other parts of the world. While the state continues to be obsessed with high-profile big development projects, farmers, laborers, poor communities, rivers, trees, forests, cultivable fertile land in this process, are perceived to be mere bunch of collateral damage that is expected to be ‘sacrificed’ in this very process towards ‘progress’. The state and the media has been displaying an one track obsession over high GDP growth as the standard of progress. The health of people, cleanness of water, fertility of soil, the quality of food and air are not considered to be worthy enough to be a part of the index of development. In the backdrop of such flawed understanding of development and such disregard towards preservation of environmental resources, it has become necessary to challenge the so called idea of development that does not perceive it necessary to preserve environmental and human integrity. ‘Deception of Development’ is an attempt of as such.

Marokkaanse werkgroep

De Marokkaanse gemeenschap is een van de grootste migrantengemeenschappen van Nederland en heeft vele succesvolle Marokkaanse-Nederlanders voortgebracht. Echter staat de huidige beeldvorming haaks op de successen en capaciteiten van die gemeenschap. De negatieve beeldvorming over de Marokkaanse gemeenschap in de media en de politiek draagt steeds meer bij aan een eenzijdig en onvolledig beeld van de gemeenschap. De Marokkaanse gemeenschap wordt als gevolg van de negatieve berichtgeving gezien als een maatschappelijk probleem.  Daar moet een kentering in komen vinden veel Marokkaanse Nederlanders. Daarom is afgelopen april vanuit The Hague Peace Projects het project Moroccans United opgericht.

Op dit moment bestaat het project uit een select groepje Marokkaans Nederlandse professionals die door middel van o.a. dialoog, workshops en trainingen belangrijke vraagstukken wenst te bespreken die de Marokkaanse gemeenschap bezig houden. Het doel van dit project is om vanuit de eigen kracht te werken aan politieke en maatschappelijke awareness, zelf -emancipatie, dekolonisering en daarmee het positief versterken van de Marokkaanse identiteit.

Wij vs Zij? Breaking News – 4 oktober Pakhuis de Zwijger

vector van rambleron via Vecteezy.com

vector van rambleron via Vecteezy.com

De voorpagina met ‘Wij zijn hier de baas’ van de Telegraaf na de rellen in Rotterdam bracht veel ophef binnen de gemeenschap in Nederland én in Turkije. Dit overdreven voorbeeld is slechts een van de vele mediaberichten die tot polarisatie en ophef hebben geleid tussen groepen in Nederland. De verschillende dialooggroepen van The Hague Peace Projects, Su-Shi en Argan hebben ervaring met het bespreken van gevoelige onderwerpen tussen ‘gepolariseerde’ groepen. Zij delen hun inzichten en tools met jullie.

Turk of Koerd, Sunni of Shia, moslim of joods of christelijk; het zijn allemaal scheidslijnen waarlangs de media en de politiek onze beeldvorming beïnvloeden. Het is geen nieuws dat de media een bias hebben. Met experts gaan we in discussie over de invloed van die beeldvorming. Daarna horen we vanuit verschillende groepen hoe zij omgaan met gevoelige nieuwsberichten. Hoe creëer je een veilige omgeving om dit soort onderwerpen te bespreken? Welke tools moet je vooral wel en niet gebruiken?

Praat met ons en andere experts mee over dit onderwerp. Deze avond wordt geoirganiseerd door The Hague Peace Projects, Su-Shi, Argan en Pakhuis de Zwijger.

Wanneer: 4 Oktober
Waar: Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam
Hoe laat: 20:00
Gratis ticker: Reserveer hier

 

Blog: Great Lakes King of dictators

Wanna know more about dictatorships in the Great Lakes Region? Join us during the ‘Night of the Dictatorship‘. This article, written by Ugandan blogger and activist Moses, gives you some insight of the situation in the Great Lakes Region and life under dictatorship.

A dictator is a political leader who wields absolute power and equally a state ruled by a dictator is called a dictatorship. The usage of the term “dictator” is generally used to describe a leader who holds and abuses an extraordinary amount of personal power, especially the power to make laws without effective checks by legislative assembly.

In contrast to the traditional dictator, the modern day dictator has definitely transformed and modernized from a rule by decree dictatorship to a constitution-manipulating dictator to conform to the demands of free space demanded by their strategic development partners or allies if you may want to say so.

They bare this sense of conviction in superiority to lead; they believe they are invincible, invulnerable, immune and divine. The narcissist dictator holds human edicts, rules and regulations in disdain and human penalties in disdain. He regards human needs and emotions as weaknesses to be exploited.

They cling to power through a tool of fear mongering, killings and brutal use of violence to instill fear on the population, to prevent any uprising or revolution against his rule. The fear-factor and scaremongering techniques are habitually applied to tame and silence anti-regime activists.

One of the features inseparable from a dictator from within the context of the great lakes region in Africa, is most certainly that they have a military background therefore assuming power through undemocratic means and while in office, they will employ the similar principle of command and control used in the military to consolidate power.

One such dictator is President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda; he came to power in 1986 following a destructive war in which many lives were lost. His history of war goes back to the early 70’s when he led an ill prepared ill-fated expedition against another infamous dictator general Idi Amin that was to result in the loss of many young lives.

Since then, he has ruled with iron fist for 32 years, in which he continued to order more young men who had to pay with their lives in wars in Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Somalia as well as within their own country. The police and troops, some led by his son, have put down protests with maximum prejudice.

After leading a rebel insurgency that took over Uganda in 1986, Museveni declared: “No African head of state should be in power for more than 10 years.” However, 32 years later, he is still here, winning one after another in a spree of “coconut election” in which other political parties are technically legal for the purposes of escorting him to the state house and the main challenger who won him pants down is detained for 68 days in his own residence to deny him legal redress.

He uses the state to monopolize violence and cruelty. During war in the north parts of Uganda the people of the region were inhumanely herded into camps of displaced people. The camps were some sort of concentration camps at the height of the forced confinement in the most horrible conditions. More than 1000 people were dying every week. Watch this and/or this video to get an idea of the situations in the camp.

The system he leads thrives and survives on corruption and nepotism and all manner of bad governance, at the apex of it sits a new leadership style model around the military the structure, which is constructed along the lines that every order comes from above to the bottom, hence the saying in Uganda “order from above”. The dictator is mostly ruthless to his former comrades because they detest betrayal from within its ranks. He uses the tool of depriving to impoverish the citizenry into poverty and disempower them economically, socially and politically so that they do not have the means to oppose him. Meanwhile he lavishly spend money like there is no tomorrow. In Uganda the dictator spends $ 300.000 dollars for his daily errands, he moves with a fleet of 40 armored powerful vehicles when he travels in land.

He periodically holds some cosmetic elections to legitimize his rule, these elections are often been nakedly a fraudulent processes marred with illegalities and incapable of being free or fair.

The elections are “already rigged” because of the fraudulent processes denying many Ugandans citizens without any reason, through unacceptable practices of bribing some sections of the electorate, and the wanton misuse and abuse of state resources and institutions to ensure a Museveni victory, not to mention the absolute determination the police and the security services employ to escort him and his ruling party to statehouse.

Museveni is not alone in coveting life presidency in the Great Lakes region. Inspired by him, Nkurunziza of Burundi recently pushed his country to the brink of war in order to get himself a third term after serving the constitutionally mandated two terms. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame who did a “Medvedev” in reverse having been the man behind the throne before he became president is well on his way to doing away with the two term limit in the Rwandese constitution in order to perpetuate his own rule! President Joseph Kabila of Democratic Republic of Congo has been grappling with amending the constitution to allow him contest for the record 3rd time.

A liberator who saved the Tutsis from complete extermination in 1994, Kagame now practices the same ethnic apartheid he sought to end. His Rwandan Patriotic Front dominates all levels of power: the security forces, the civil service, the judiciary, banks, universities, and state-owned corporations. Those who challenge the president are accused of being a ‘hatemonger’ or ‘divisionist’ and eventually arrested. Recently, to embarrass him, the opposition in Rwanda decided to endorse him as their candidate and the drama did not stop there. His intelligence services had the nude photos of a female challenger leaked to the press; He is cruising to 18 years power.

All the Great Lakes dictators think similarly in one dimension egotistical believe that a country could not do without  them. In the Great lakes region Museveni leads the pack with 32 years in power, Kagame second with 24 years, Kabila third with 17 years and still counting. The level they personalize the state and all of its institutions and resources to keep themselves perpetually in power, even if it threatens the economy or to risk bringing his country to the brink of war even if it go down the drain in the process just so that he can rule for the rest of his natural life. Unfortunately, these are the undemocratic caliber of the leaders we have in the Great Lakes Region and the world powers seem to be equally stuck with them.

When a Dictatorship makes a decision; be it efficient, effective, straightforward, or divine revelation, it has no mechanism to balance the consequences of the result. What happen is, even if the dictator makes one or two sound decisions, it will leave the possibilities for all the false decisions to come to have no room for accountability.

Wanna know more about dictatorships in the Great Lakes Region? Join us during the ‘Night of the Dictatorship‘.

Article was written by, Moses Atocon.

A Ugandan Digital Political Media Activist and a Blogger, using internet technologies to organize campaigns.