A Political Culture Like a Bare-Knuckle Fight – The Upcoming Bangladeshi Parliamentary Elections (Part 3 of 3)

Bangladesh until 1991 was a military regime (1). The traces of such former militarization are ever-present in society and crystallize through the need to stay in power that surges once elections take place. In 2013, a Freedom in the World report indicated that Bangladesh’s political situation was seemingly “ready to spin out of control” (1). On the one hand, issues such as corruption, lack of press freedom and poorly working checks and balances interfere with the fairness of regularly held elections (1). On the other hand, the political culture in itself is based on antagonization (2). Political conflicts are in a perpetually escalated state and are carried out not over ideological differences, but as vicious cycles of revenge and assertion (2).

While political agendas and critical topics may change, what persists is nonetheless a deep-rooted political culture that “resembles a bare-knuckle fight—bloody, vicious, without rules, and sometimes fatal.” (2)

This last of three articles (read here part 1 and part 2) on the Bangladeshi elections attempts to understand the source of this political and electoral violence by drawing on various theories of violence and reports on oppositional oppression.


Symbolic Image. The last bare-knuckle fight, Farnborough, Hampshire, 17th April 1860 (1951).


Political violence comes in various forms. One form, for instance, expresses itself in arguments on differences of opinion. Arguably, although arguments should serve the purpose of convincing one another, certain political debates at higher level are mere assertions and proclamations of opinions, meant to continue for an indefinite amount of time. Second, political violence can take the form of physical clashes. This term covers street fights, attacks on rallies, strikes, protests, sieges and others (2). Such clashes are not primarily driven by political opposition towards each other, but by internal dynamics of being united against an alienated opponent. In Bangladesh, the second form of political violence takes prominence. As Moniruzzaman observes, “institutional interaction between parties is largely overshadowed by non-institutional methods of interaction” (2). Hence, the population takes matters into its own hands, as the prospect of elites securing the country’s governance is in the stars. What follows is an assertion of persistence, often taking the form of attacking another party’s rally, which in turn is followed by a demonstration of strength by those that were attacked. To illustrate the dimensions of the physical clashes, one needs only look at the 2016 Union Parishad Election, in which electoral violence reached a record high when over one hundred people died in fights between Awami League and BNP supporters (3).


Theories of political violence rarely cover all aspects of case studies, and it is thus natural that Bangladesh is no exception. In fact, Bangladesh’s electoral violence rather conforms to its own logic. Most researchers assume that political violence is merely temporal, applied to defy general norms only until a certain goal has been reached, namely that of inclusion of deviant separate ideology. Violence by political parties in Bangladesh, however, is not a means leading to an end – it is the end itself.

In ideal constitutional regimes, according to Talcott Parsons, citizens and their political representatives come to a tacit agreement: As long as one side exercises restraint in its political demands, the other side will in return exercise restraint in oppressing and coercing (4). Take away some of the two ingredients for a more or less violence-free society, however, the situation becomes tricky: In Bangladesh, parties upon assuming office immediately marginalize and harass the opposition (5). This phenomenon is common to all major parties. “Former opposition parties [are] therefore quick to take revenge on their outgoing rivals virtually every time party governments changed through elections […]” (5). What results is a vicious cycle: without the above-mentioned promise of restraint, oppositional parties frequently cite repression by the ruling party as a legitimization of violence. The ruling party, scared of being repressed itself if it was to lose office, harshens its measures of oppression of the opposition, yet again providing the opposition with even more cause for violence (2). Another aspect worth investigating is that violence is usually interpreted as a danger signal. Political violence, as argued by Coser, can be seen as an “indicator of how serious the group is in pressing its claim” (6). But in Bangladesh, erupting violence is much more than that. It is the status quo, habituated in politics. It is the path political figures take if they want to be heard or taken seriously. Having become the language in which politics speak, political violence in Bangladesh is institutionalized.

Causes of violence are deep-rooted, and examining them fully is a major task of its own. However, some conclusions can be drawn on the origins of political violence based on the last fifty years of Bangladeshi history. Generally, the 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan is seen as a crucial development among researchers. After its independence, the whole of Bangladesh was under adrenaline, with large quantities of weapons floating around deprived of their original purpose. The newly founded Bangladesh quickly turned into a military regime; the first government introduced a policy that provided Members of Parliament with light machine guns. In turn, a party-internal policy led to arms being distributed to the student front of the ruling party in order to secure the public (2). The culture of armed violence is thus not just a remnant of the Liberation War that is still within society, but was actively introduced by the first government in order to build a nation (2). Of course, this explanation does not tackle the issue fully.

In early November at an election rally, the alliance Jatiya Oikyafront of which the BNP is a member turned to voters calling to “stand strong”, reminding voters that they “are the owner of the state” (7). Although such proclamations in theory reflect fundamental concepts of democracy, the Oikyafront’s speech threatened to intensify agitation and take to the street if its demands were not heard (7). The BNP’s Standing Committee Member Hossain warned: “Give us a solution or else get ready to face a movement” (7). Although early analyses of the upcoming 2018 elections gasped at their peaceful nature and reported that violence was unfolding slower than had been expected, expressions of violence are thus not at all absent.


Disclaimer: The author is not an expert on political violence, and the analysis thus draws on conclusions of other authors. The opinion portrayed in this article does not promise to have covered the case study perfectly in all aspects, but hopes to have given a general overview of the problematic and an introduction to the matter.





  • Riaz, Ali. “Bangladesh’s Failed Election.” Journal of Democracy 25(2) (2014): 119-130.
  • Moniruzzaman, Mohammed. “Party Politics and Political Violence in Bangladesh: Issues, Manifestation and Consequences.” South Asian Survey 16(1) (2009): 81-99.
  • Bangladesh braces for final round of union council elections that have left over 100 dead. Bangladesh News 24.
  • Parsons, Talcott. “Some reflections on the place of force in social process.” Sociological theory and modern society (1967): 264-96.
  • Lorch, Jasmin. “Elections in Bangladesh: Political Conflict and the Problem of Credibility.” E-International Relations (2014): 1-7.
  • Coser, Lewis. Men of Ideas: a Sociologist’s View (1965). New York: Simon & Schuster (1997).
  • Movement if talks fail. The Daily Star.
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Who is Who? The Upcoming Bangladeshi Parliamentary Elections (Part 2 of 3)

The party horizon in Bangladesh can be complicated at first sight. The landscape is dominated by parties teaming up for their campaigns to secure a two-thirds majority: The United National Alliance, the Bangladesh National Alliance, the Islamic Democratic Alliance, the Jatiya Oikyafront … (7). Overall, over one hundred and fifty parties are said to exist, each with their own somewhat unique program. The alliances tend to be led by a strong party that offers seats to smaller parties in exchange for cooperation. In the following, we will take a look at some of the major players of the upcoming December 30th elections, and consider what conclusions can be drawn from statements made on social media.
Read here part 1 of this blog series

Who is who?

The Awami League (AL)

Bangladesh Awami League - Wikipedia

The name translates to “People’s League”. Its leader is Sheikh Hasina, who assumed this position in the 1980s. In the previous elections, the party won 234 seats in the parliament (79.14% of votes), and while this result was criticized, it remained uncontested.

The Awami League is historically a strong party, with five of its leaders having assumed the position of President of Bangladesh and four that of Prime Minister. Politically, it believes in the ideology of “Bengali first”, taking an ethnic stance, and officially stands in support of secularism (1).

During its current rule, on the one hand, the AL is said to have successfully furthered its development agenda, and the international community has stated that it is pleased with the way the government is handling the Rohingya crisis (2).

On the other hand, the AL is allegedly pursuing a one-party rule, and has faced allegations of corruption. Potentially the biggest flaw in its previous rule are its harsh measures in securing alleged public safety, which include imposing media bans and applying lethal force (3). Regarding the former, the government has sharpened the restrictions on media with the 2018 “Digital Security Act”, which Human Rights organisations have harshly criticized. Regarding the latter, when the road traffic situation in the capital Dhaka deteriorated culminating in the death of two students in collisions with a bus, a minister’s reaction was interpreted as his dismissal of the deaths. Ultimately, protestors effectively “took control” of Dhaka’s traffic system in a series of protests against not only insufficient infrastructure, but the legitimacy of the government itself (4).

In regards to whether the AL is likely to secure another victory in the elections, an anonymous user on the internet forum Quora wrote:

Awami League is less corrupt than BNP. […] There might be big cases on corruption by [Awami League] government entities, […] but that is in their ancestral gene. […] They might be embezzling money but no party is truly immune to this.” “[The] average Bangladeshi has seen significant improvement in their quality of life due to infrastructure projects and the big push on IT. […] Awami League’s success can also be attributed to natural advancements in technology that they just had the foresight of adopting and the long-term period they have had to rule, learn and adapt.” “[If] we just take a look at the statistics Awami league has improved Bangladesh like no other party and every time BNP comes to power the economic growth percentage of Bangladesh decreases […] (5)


Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)

Bangladesh Nationalist Party - WikipediaThe BNP holds the record of being largest opposition in the history of Bangladesh. Due to its boycott of the 2014 elections, the BNP currently holds no seats in the parliament. In the 9th parliamentary election, its popularity had already decreased from holding 193 seats to just 30 (3). Politically, the BNP pursues a nationalist policy under the geographic ideology “Bangladeshi first” (1).

The BNP’s greatest weakness is the crisis surrounding the situation of its leader, Khaleda Zia. Zia served as Prime Minister in 1991-1996, and again from 2001-2006, but due to allegations of corruption was sentenced to jail first for five years, then in a recent appeal case to a increased sentence of ten years (3). The Bangladeshi constitution itself in Article 66(2)(d) states that

A person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of Parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.

Given the focus on constitutionality of the elections, it thus seems unlikely that Zia will even be eligible to run as a candidate. Further, the violent nature of the boycott of the previous elections does not serve as a basis for a convincing election campaign.



The Jatiya Party (Ershad)

Jatiya Party (Ershad) - Wikipedia

The Jatiya Party is currently represented by 34 seats in the parliament, having claimed 11.31% of the votes in the previous elections. It follows the BNP in its pursuit of “Bangladeshi first”. Its current leader Hussain Muhammed Ershad only assumed the position in 2013, but the party is historically known for having usurped state power in 1982 by a coup d’état, after which it ruled for the brief period of a year.


Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)

The JI is a curious case, as its loyalty is said to rotate among political orientations. Although it primarily focuses on promoting “Islam first” (1), it allied with the BNP in 2001 who pursues what is arguably a different ideology (3). In an increasingly Islamised society, the JI could indeed secure a significant amount of seats, but its history imposes serious obstacles: In Bangladesh’s Liberation War on 1971, which until day remains a topic relevant to the country’s identity, members of a militia allied with the JI fought alongside Pakistan and participated in mass atrocities involving mass murder and alleged genocide (3). The JI “continues to claim that it is innocent of any atrocities, and has never apologized”, and most ruling parties seem to have decided to ignore the issue (3).


What is the first prognosis?

Another user on the forum “Quora”, in responding to the question which party is likely to come first in the elections, posted the following statement:

Bangladeshi people have a record of voting alternately for Awami League and BNP since return to democracy in 1990. People don’t trust either party to govern for more than one term without trying to set up a one party state. Based on the above, the BNP is likely to win as it’s their ‘turn’. (6)

However, simply looking at social media might not give a representative portrayal of the situation on the ground. As social scientist Manuel Castells argues, “social media triggers some of the basic human emotions”, namely anger and fear, whereby the average user will primarily come across outrage (4).




A Tribute to Nasser Zefzafi and the Rif

Officially, Nasser Zefzafi was convicted for separatism; documents of his jailing condemn him for being a terrorist, apparently opposed to Islam and the foundation of the Moroccan state. The protestors in the streets tell a different story. They tell a story of a peaceful protest, led by a man whose primary demand is equality for an oppressed minority confined to the Rif region of northern Morocco.

The following article dwells on the people of the Rif (Riffians) and the recent nomination of Nasser Zefzafi for the European Sakharov Prize. It honours the work of the Sakharov Nasser Workgroup linked to the Hague Peace Projects in lobbying for his nomination, and hopes to spread awareness on the importance of speaking up, especially in current times.


When the fisherman Mohcine Fikri was crushed to death by a garbage truck in the Moroccan city of Al-Hoceima while trying to retrieve fish that had been confiscated, the population of the Rif area organized what has come to be known as “Hirak” (“the movement”, in Arabic), the seven-month protests between 2016 and 2017 had long been called for. In the wake of the moment, the leader of the movement, Nasser Zefzafi, raised his voice to the population of Morocco:

“What has happened to Fikri also affects us; if we keep quiet today, it will continue. That is why we must go out to stop this.”

What Zefzafi said has now turned to become essential to his own story, and communities at home as well as abroad are raising their voices to change his fate.


What are the issues in the Rif?

For a brief period in history from 1921 to 1926, the Rif exercised sovereignty over its own region – its independence, however, was harshly contested by its neighbouring Morocco as well as the colonial powers France and Spain. Arguably, the problems of the region stem from the conflict that followed: the application of poisonous gas by colonial forces, the remnants of which are by some researchers considered the cause for recurring cancer.

Through its separation from the rest of the country, the Rif is slowly dying out. The somewhat inhabitable nature of the Rif has in the past deterred investments, and hence tourism has focussed majorly on regions such as Casablanca and Marrakesh. As public interest in the Rif decreases, so do state efforts to connect the population to the rest of the country, albeit such connection is urgently needed to provide the population with viable job opportunities, cancer treatment as well as other healthcare facilities and access to state institutions. Currently, even entering or exiting the main city Al-Hoceima involves passing highly militarized checkpoints. Given the Rif is inhabited by native Berbers or Amazigh people, segregation and disparities are justified through ethnic rhetoric.


Why are prison sentences being issued against the protestors?

As an economic role model in Northern Africa with a relatively stable political situation, the Moroccan government is under pressure. It is under pressure not just to satisfy demand of economic partners such as the European Union, but also to uphold the image of an Islamic country that does everything to satisfy the needs of its population. Essentially, Morocco is afraid of its population presenting the legitimacy of the government in a bad light – the peaceful nature of the Hirak led by Nasser Zefzafi, however, served as a role model for further movements all around the country. Morocco is facing the same phenomenon that is spreading across the world: while parent generations still favour accepting the world as it is just to get by, youth is increasingly unafraid. To the government, facing the innumerable demands of the people seems an unsurmountable task – therefore, the strategy that has proven viable is framing the protests as a public risk that should not be copied across the country.

Fifty-three activists of the Hirak leaders have been sentenced to prison terms ranging between one and twenty years, with more trials ongoing. As protestors assemble in crowded spaces to voice their frustration, Nasser Zefzafi, as the voice behind Hirak, has appealed his sentence of twenty years, with the prosecution  claiming that taking his case to a higher court level will increase the likelihood of a lighter and more appropriate sentence. The appeal case was bound to launch in September 2018, but has dragged on until November.


What will become of Nasser Zefzafi, and what role do the people of Europe play?

In 2017, Kati Piri of the Dutch social democrats (PvdA) rallied to raise awareness for Nasser Zefzafi amidst his arrest and to nominate him for the renowned Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and Freedom of Thought. The Prize is awarded once a year, in the past to nominees such as Nelson Mandela, Denis Mukwege and Kofi Annan. In order to nominate a candidate, at least forty Members of the European Parliament must sign a nomination proposal, following which the nomination will pass through various stages of examination. Unfortunately, this first attempt by Kati Piri failed in its early stages due to little knowledge of Zefzafi’s existence by the most Members of European Parliament. In January 2018, what came to be the Workgroup Sakharov Nasser resumed the task of spreading awareness among Members of the European Parliament to bring him onto the list of nominees, and although the Prize was ultimately awarded to the Ukrainian activist Oleg Sentsov, the nomination itself has already shed light in the darkness.

The nomination is even more valuable in the light of Zefzafi’s appeal trial. As an economic partner of Morocco, the European Union enjoys a significant amount of leverage over the future of Zefzafi and the Rif community. When Moroccans living abroad communicated their outrage over the arrest of Zefzafi to Members of the European Parliament in 2017, the threat of more negative backlash contributed to courts’ decisions to hand out sentences of twenty years at most, when even longer and graver terms could have been possible. Of course, the European Union as an economic institution is neither in a position nor willing to focus all its efforts on Morocco, Zefzafi and the people of the Rif. Nor is it, despite the existence of the Prize, its primary role to engage in the promotion global human rights. In fact, the necessity of keeping Morocco a stable trade partner has led to certain groups of the European Parliament such as the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Liberals (ALDE) viewing Zefzafi’s nomination with a critical eye, warning of the consequences that could arise. However, the success of popular lobby in having Zefzafi listed as a nominee shows that with enough willpower, even sentences abroad can be mitigated – with this knowledge and in the context of the appeals case, the citizens of Europe can not miss the chance to continue rallying, lobbying and working towards the reduction of Zefzafi’s sentence. In the light of tightened security and severe restrictions of liberty in the Rif, the population of the Rif depends on the support.




The Workgroup Sakharov Nasser is composed of motivated volunteers and is loosely linked with the Hague Peace Projects. Although the Rif is largely shut off from international media, and few researchers or journalists can gain access to the area, the Workgroup through social media and personal contacts has insight into the local chaos. In January 2018, the Workgroup began establishing contacts within the European Parliament and succeeded in gathering enough signatures of Members of Parliament for Nasser Zefzafi to be one of the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize. Apart from lobbying, the Workgroup passes on information about the situation to other members of the Moroccan diaspora community and raises awareness among Dutch society for the cause. For more information on the current protests and a historical perspective, the group recommends the book Popular Hirak in the Rif.

Sadiq al-Mahdi on the future of Sudan

By Lisanne Boersma

On Friday the 16th of October, we had the honour to host an evening with the former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi about the future of Sudan. He has been elected prime minister of Sudan twice, and has been the only democratically elected leader of Sudan so far. Currently he is the leader of the Umma party, which is the largest party in Sudan. Although he is the head of Sudan Call (the organized opposition in Sudan) the Sudanese diaspora present didn’t simply accept his leadership, but presented him with pointed questions.

At times, al-Mahdi sounded like Mandela when he talked about the end of dictatorships, wars and poverty. But how do we know these aren’t simply hollow phrases? Like those of our mealy-mouthed leaders during the general assembly of the United Nations, bragging about peace, equality and prosperity, while their politics back home often show a different story. (see this video from 4:30 onwards)

Sadiq al-Mahdi believes in non-violent change and plays an active and important role in establishing the conditions for a democratic transition of Sudan. He wants to enact regime change through dialogue or peaceful protest. Regime change was a topic that popped up several times during the discussion. ‘What is needed for that?’, ‘With whom does one work together?’ etc. Another hot-button issue was of course what should happen to Al Bashir, the current president of Sudan. In March 2009, al-Bashir became the first sitting president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. Should he be extradited to the ICC in The Hague, or not?

Al-Mahdi felt that this, at least for the moment, should not be the priority of the opposition. He agreed that al Bashir had committed crimes, but what Sudan needs is a reconciliation program, much like South Africa. Some of the people in the audience opposed this standpoint by stating that in order to reach a stable situation of peace, justice needs to be done first. Are these voices too impatient and perhaps no longer well informed about the complexity of the situation on the ground, or are they righteously fed up with the same empty promises that they have been hearing for decades?


Peace Polls 2018- What We Read In The Polls

By Yoanna Daskalova


The 2018 Peace Perceptions Poll was conducted at a time of rampant global conflicts rendering millions of people traumatized, injured, killed or displaced. It is a context of international great power rivalry and incessant downgrading of global norms such as human rights protection and adequate provision of humanitarian aid. The Poll inquired into the views on peace and conflict of more than 100,000 people from 15 countries. It spanned countries with active and virulent crisis such as Nigeria, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo- DRC, to states that enjoy relative peace and stability such as the UK, Hungary and the US. Among the multiplicity of questions, were perceptions and experiences of violence, visions of security and peace and ideas for governmental policies on conflict resolution. Overall, the respondents share a concern for the inefficient but growing global trend towards short-term crisis response. They emphasize on the pressing need to invest in long-term conflict resolution, or sustainable peacebuilding. The latter strategy is firmly based on eradicating the undergirding causes of conflict whilst equipping societies with the tools to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner. Importantly, whilst the findings demonstrate the diversity of experiences when it comes to various conflicts in diverging circumstances, it illustrates the common aspirations and ideas that people have on building and maintaining peace (Peace Perception Polls 2018).


            Specifically, the way peace and conflict were conceived of in the eyes of people living in relatively stable versus conflict-ridden areas, tended to diverge significantly. Whereas those living in some of the most dangerous environments, such as the DRC, Syria or Nigeria shared a common optimism about the future prospects of peace, their counterparts in mostly peaceful UK, Brazil, the US or Hungary felt way more pessimistic about peace and security. Among the most prevailing concerns were terrorism, harassment by state authorities, criminal violence, religious, ethnic and tribal conflict, and domestic violence. Moreover, among the many factors underpinning ideas on positive peace or the general absence of violence, were resolution of disputes without violence, the presence of less amounts of crime and violence, the ability to vote in national elections and the possibility to earn enough money as to support a family. However, the respondent indicated few necessary conditions for the realization of the aforementioned factors. Within these, political and economic inclusion were ranked the highest. Herein, particularly in South Africa and the DRC political exclusion was perceived at highest levels. Additionally, political corruption was another cause for the lack of political agency, and as such was felt mostly among respondents from Nigeria, Ukraine and South Africa. Notwithstanding the amounts of fake news and propaganda prompting violence and discrimination that permeate social media and the internet, both of them were ascribed a central role when it comes to growing levels of exerted political influence. Finally, concerning governmental policies on promoting peace and conflict resolution, the most common responses spanned resolving the primary reasons for eruption of conflicts, increased educational tools on peacebuilding, tolerance and conflict resolution in schools, rebuilding infrastructure damaged by war and deploying diplomatic and dispute mediation instruments (Peace Perception Polls 2018).


If you want to delve into the details of responses and statistics discovered in the Poll, read the full report here: https://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Organisation_PeacePerceptionsPoll_Ed2_EN_2018.pdf



Wind of Change? The Upcoming Bangladeshi Parliamentary Elections (Part 1 of 3)

by Alena Kahle


“There is a wind of change is blowing in the country’s politics.” Thus Daily Star quotes Professor Al Masud Hasanuzzaman (1). On the 30th of December 2018, Bangladesh will be voting on the 11th consecutive Parliamentary Elections of the country, and thereby determine its Prime Minister (7). The incumbent holder of that position, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League (AL), has led the country’s Executive since 2008. But while in previous elections the months leading up to the elections have been tainted by violent political clashes, those protests that have occurred so far are not so much linked to the elections themselves. In fact, “the state of politics in the run up to the upcoming parliamentary polls looks quite different from what prevailed in 2006 and 2013” (1). In this first article on the elections, we will first consider why these elections are promising, but also why there is doubt about their constitutionality.


Why are these elections promising?

At least the three previous parliamentary elections are said to have been open only to the ruling party and its allies (2). The ever-deteriorating state of democracy culminated in the 10th parliamentary elections of the 5th of January 2014, in which the Awami League secured a tremendous portion of seats. During the polls, observers reported violent clashes between opposition and police, with eighteen people dying in the wake of the polls alone (2). What makes the previous elections so relevant for the current political context is, however, not its electoral violence. Rather, “[as] the largely uncontested elections drew closer, the opposition began a campaign to suppress turnout, hoping it would pressure the government to scrap the results and prepare for new elections under conditions that the [opposition] would accept” (3). In his analysis of the situation, Riaz argues that “even an AL sympathizer” would consider the victory “hollow” (2).

With the 2018 elections approaching, and although their official date has not been determined yet, it can already be observed that violent street agitation is largely absent, and that opposition parties are instead turning to dialogue with the ruling party (1). However, a first round of talks on the 1st of November on how to proceed with the elections lasted just three hours, and neither party claims to have experienced any progress. While some argue that the offer to talk “broke the ice”, others call to exercise caution in drawing conclusions, highlighting that the AL “may very well be buying time in guise of talks [or] might have agreed to a dialogue just to avoid being seen as the one closing the door on the talks.” (4).


Why is there doubt about the constitutionality of the elections?

As is implied in the description of the previous elections, certain rules apply considering party participation in parliamentary elections. While the exact legal provisions are quite complex, the issue can be broken down to the following: Leading up to elections, an existing government establishes an interim poll-time cabinet. As the current opposition does not have representation in the parliament due to its boycott of the previous elections, it argues that it will also be excluded from the cabinet. The opposition is thus urging the government to dissolve the government – this would lead to the establishment of a representative part-time government that would then set up an equally representative cabinet. According to the BNP, this would be the “only way” to create inclusive elections. On the other hand, the ruling Awami League argues that such measures are not necessary, but that other constitutional means can allow the cabinet to be representative (5). Overall, it is advisable for the government “to hold an inclusive general election to form the next Parliament [as] otherwise the political situation may assume the worse shape [sic]” (5).  The government is thus noticeable placing huge emphasis on the constitutionality of the elections, which political analyst Ataur Rahman sees as a move to secure public approval, as constitutionality arguably provides actors with legitimacy (5).




Dertig jaar onderzoek naar berichtgeving over moslims in Nederlandse media.

Door Ewoud Butter op 18-11-2018 | 11:30

Sinds eind jaren ’80 wordt er met regelmaat onderzoek gedaan naar de wijze waarop Nederlandse media berichten over moslims. Ewoud Butter maakte een overzicht. Deel I.

Tot aan het begin van de jaren ’90 was de Turkse Nederlander Mehmet Pamuk ongetwijfeld de bekendste Nederlandse moslim. De immer in archaïsch Nederlands formulerende Pamuk was geen bestaand persoon, maar een van de vele typetjes van Kees van Kooten in de programma’s die hij jarenlang samen met Wim de Bie voor de VPRO maakte. Behalve ‘Mehmet Pamuk’ verschenen er in die jaren zelden moslims in de Nederlandse media. Wanneer er destijds werd geschreven over bijvoorbeeld Turkse en Marokkaanse ‘gastarbeiders’ in Nederland, samen de grootste groep Nederlandse moslims, dan ging het zelden over hun geloof. Over moslims werd zo nu en dan vooral geschreven op de buitenlandpagina’s van de kranten of, in een verder verleden, op de pagina’s over de ‘overzeesche gebieden’.

De wijze waarop in Nederland moslims al eeuwenlang werden afgebeeld, was amper onderwerp van onderzoek of debat. De internationale discussie die naar aanleiding van Edward Saids boek Oriëntalism (1978) was losgebarsten over de vaak karikaturale wijze waarop in het Westen ‘moslims’ en ‘de Arabische wereld werden afgebeeld als ‘de inferieure Ander’, drong nauwelijks door tot de Nederlandse media, ondanks inspanningen van bijvoorbeeld de werkgroep Media en Racisme (later Media en Migranten) van de Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten.

Het veranderde definitief eind jaren ’80 tijdens ‘de Rushdie-affaire’. Deze affaire was niet alleen exemplarisch voor de wijze waarop in Nederland door media, opiniemakers en politici sindsdien over islam en moslims wordt gesproken, maar zorgde ook voor toenemende aandacht van de pers voor Nederlandse moslims.

Rushdie-affaire en reacties

Op 14 februari 1989 vaardigde ayatollah Khomeini, politiek en geestelijk leider van Iran, een fatwa uit tegen de schrijver Salman Rushdie naar aanleiding van zijn roman The Satanic Verses. In verschillende landen leidde dit tot demonstraties tegen Rushdie.

In Nederland werd naar aanleiding van de Rushdie affaire het Islamitisch Landelijk Comité (ILC) opgericht, een van de eerste samenwerkingsverbanden van islamitische koepelorganisaties. Het ILC liet in eerste instantie weten het boek van Rushdie niet te willen verbieden, maar besloot later toch te willen voorkomen dat het boek in Nederland zou worden verspreid. Dat mislukte al snel, vooral tot ongenoegen van vooral Pakistaanse moslims die demonstraties in Den Haag en Rotterdam organiseerden, waarbij een pop werd verbrand en een spandoek ‘Dood aan Rushdie’ zichtbaar was. Minister van Binnenlandse Zaken Van Dijk nodigde hierop moslimsorganisaties uit om te laten  weten dat kreten als “Rushdie moet dood” en popverbrandingen in Nederland echt niet kunnen.

De Rushdie affaire vormde voor de Nederlandse pers aanleiding vrij massaal aandacht te besteden aan moslims in Nederland. Staatrechtsgeleerde Couwenberg waarschuwde in NRC-Handelsblad voor de ‘vijfde colonne van de grote leider van het islamisch extremisme Komeiny’ (NRC, 21/3/89) en Gerrit Komrij schreef in zijn column in dezelfde krant:

“Als één ding duidelijk wordt, nu duizenden mohammedanen schreeuwend en tierend de straat op gaan, dan is het wel het volkomen echec van het multiraciaal, multicultureel beleid dat door de politiek altijd zo werd aangeprezen. (…) De moslim-gemeenschap trekt en masse langs de straten, met woeste kreten als ‘Rushdie dood, Allah groot’ en met spandoeken waarop wordt opgeroepen tot wraak; een paar zelfgekozen voorgangers roepen schuimbekkend en in het kromst denkbare Nederlands dreigementen in de microfoon die, als je op de klanken afgaat, wat primitieve bloeddorstigheid en gehoorzaamheid aan de Opperderwisj betreft, niets te raden overlaten en in het hart van onze steden woeden, onder politiebegeleiding, krachten die alles tarten wat ons heilig is of althans behoorde te zijn. (..) ’We hebben ze als stakkers verwend, en we krijgen ze als wolven terug.” (NRC 8/3/89)

Journalist Bart Top schreef hierover later in zijn studie Moslims en Media-effecten: “Het is wellicht voor het eerst dat in een Nederlands kwaliteitsmedium zo heftig het perspectief van ‘wij-Nederlanders’ tegenover dat van ‘zij-moslims’ neergezet wordt.”

Top citeert ook het Parool dat in die tijd het verdwijnen van een taboe signaleeerde: ‘De Rushdie-affaire heeft in Nederland heel wat losgemaakt. Opeens wordt er hardop gekankerd op ‘de islamieten’ en niet alleen in extreem-rechtse kring. Een taboe op kwaadspreken lijkt gesneuveld.’ (Het Parool, 18/3/89)

Ilhan Akel, destijds voorlichter van het Nederlands Centrum Buitenlanders (NCB) concludeerde in maart 1989 in een interview in De Waarheid:

“Het is toch frappant dat de brief die de islamitische organisaties aan Lubbers hadden gestuurd – waarin zij de oproep tot moord veroordeelden, evenals de boekverbranding – noch vóór de demonstratie, noch erna een rol in de berichtgeving heeft gespeeld. De media waren alleen geïnteresseerd in extremisten, zonder zich de vraag te stellen wat hun plaats is binnen de islamitische gemeenschap. (..)  Als je een willekeurige voorbijganger een extreem standpunt hoort verkondigen, dan zeg je toch ook niet dat dat dé mening van het Nederlandse volk is. In de delicate situatie die rond het boek van Rushdie was ontstaan, werd een beeld opgeroepen als zou de islam met het zwaard aan de grens klaar staan om het Nederlandse cultuurgoed te vernietigen.”

Na de Rushdie-affaire toonden Nederlandse media meer belangstelling voor in Nederland woonachtige moslims. Dat gebeurde bijvoorbeeld tijdens de Eerste Golfoorlog, na het verschijnen van het boekje De ondergang van Nederland – land van naïeve dwazen van Mohamed Rasoel (pseudoniem van de variétéartiest (Mansoor) Zoka Fatah) of nadat toenmalig VVD-leider Bolkestein in Luzern had gesteld dat de Europese beschaving hoger staat dan de islamitische.

Onderzoek naar beeldvorming van moslims in de media

De Rushdie-affaire in 1989 is ook het startpunt van onderzoeken naar de wijze waarop over Nederlandse moslims in de media werd gesproken.

Dat begon met een doctoraalscriptie over de media ten tijde van de Rushdie-affaire van Fokko Minnema. Deze kwam volgens Bart Top onder andere tot de conclusie dat er sprake was van ‘morele paniek’. Hij onderscheidde zes verschillende fases waarin een groepje ‘fanatieke en schuimbekkende’ moslims op straat worden vereenzelvigd met ‘de’ islam die tegenover ‘de Nederlandse samenleving’ wordt gesteld. Uiteindelijk gaat de overheid met ‘de’ moslims praten, waardoor de gehele moslimgemeenschap ‘verantwoordelijk gesteld’ wordt voor de ongeregeldheden. Het patroon dat Minnema 30 jaar geleden signaleerde, zou zich in de jaren daarna nog vaak herhalen.

De journalisten Kross, Lahaise en Joseph schreven voor de Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten in 1991 het rapport De vijfde colonne in grillrooms en koffiehuizen over de berichtgeving over moslims tijdens de Eerste Golfoorlog en trokken de volgende conclusie:

Uit ons dosier is onder andere gebleken dat veel journalisten over migranten schreven zonder zich in voldoende mate rekenschap te – kunnen – geven van de effecten van hun berichtgeving. Wellicht trapten zij soms in dezelfde valkuilen waar zij hun lezers voor wilden waarschuwen: stigmatisering van islamitische bevolkingsgroepen in ons land onder druk van een irrationeel vijandsbeeld…Wie sommige blunders in ogenschaouw neemt, ontkomt niet aan de indruk dat het met name in de eindredactie nogal eens aan de nodige expertise of verantwoordelijkheid ontbreekt.”

De islamologen Shadid en Van Koningsveld publiceerden een jaar later het boek De mythe van het islamitisch gevaar; hindernissen bij integratie waarin ze uitgebreid ingingen op het opkomend anti-islamisme naar aanleiding van de discussies die ontstonden na de publicatie van het boekje van Rasoel en de uitspraken van Bolkestein. De beeldvorming van moslims in het debat was volgens de auteurs eenzijdig, karikaturaal en anti-islamitisch.  Ze verwezen hierbij ook naar de historische bronnen van het anti-islamisme, beginnend bij de eerste christelijke polemieken tegen de islam in de 8een 9eeeuw, de kruistochten en het koloniale tijdperk waarin het Nabije Oosten steeds als primitief en inferieur werd voorgesteld. Ook het beschouwen van moslims als ‘5e colonne’ was volgens de auteurs al zichtbaar in de tijden na de val van Granada in 1492 toen islamitische minderheden met vergelijkbare bewoordingen werden omschreven.

Sajidah Abdus Sattar wees in een opiniestuk in de Volkskrant in 1992 op het gegeven dat in de Nederlandse berichtgeving over de islam moslims zelf amper aan het woord kwamen en dat er bij Nederlandse journalisten sprake was van een gebrek aan kennis over de islam. In een onderzoek dat zij in 1995 voor de Nederlandse Moslimraad en de Nederlandse Moslim Omroep deed naar de berichtgeving over moslims in Nederlandse kranten in 1993 en 1994, concludeerde ze onder andere:”Uit de berichtgeving, de selectie en weergave van nieuwsitems en uit opiniestukken in kranten blijkt dat de islam en moslims overwegend in negatieve zin in de aandacht komen.” En:

“Het zijn niet alleen haat-opwekkende uitlatingen die gevaarlijk zijn. Ook onjuiste eenzijdige en onvolledige berichtgeving kunnen het maatschappelijk klimaat zo verzieken dat de ontwikkeling van het echte, harde anti-islamisme wordt vergemakkelijkt. Vooral wanneer respectabele politici en kwaliteitskranten zich hieraan schuldig maken, kunnen racisme en haat tegen moslims daarmee worden gelegitimeerd.” (S. Abdus Sattar, Onderzoek naar anti-islamitische tendensen in de Nederlandse pers).

K. Nijhoff en J. Trompetter, beiden verbonden aan de Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, presenteerden in 1995 het onderzoek ‘Hoofddoekjes en soepjurken’ in opdracht van het Samenwerkingsverband Marokkanen en Tunesiërs (SMT) en concludeerden onder andere dat in de Nederlandse pers de islam vooral wordt geassocieerd met agressie en terrorisme. De beeldvorming over moslims is volgens hen ongenuanceerd en wordt gedomineerd door een hang naar sensatie van de pers die weinig oog heeft voor de diversiteit aan stromingen binnen de islam. Veel problemen die zich voordoen met migranten, worden teruggevoerd naar een moslimcultuur, die de oorzaak zou zijn. Zo vindt volgens het rapport een stigmatisering plaats van moslims ‘die vooroordelen in leven houdt en/of versterkt.

In hetzelfde jaar ten slotte verscheen Islam als stigma van Karin Huigh en Ineke van der Valk in de bundel Dialoog; joden, christenen, moslims en humanisten leveren gespreksstof. Huigh en Van der Valk bieden hierin een uitgebreid theoretisch kader met aandacht voor de rol die onder andere racisme, oriëntalisme, etnocentrisme en machtsverhoudingen spelen bij de totstandkoming van het nieuws. Aan de hand van mediaberichten, waaronder een kerstbijlage van de Volkskrant over de islam, concluderen de auteurs:

“Het toenemende racisme weerspiegelt zich in en wordt gevoed door de media. De berichtgeving in de media impliceert een interpretatie van de werkelijkheid, die bestaande machtsstructuren objectiveert, legitimeert en mede in stand houdt. Dit betekent onder meer de reproductie van racisme middels de media. Hierbij speelt een eenzijdig, monolitisch en stereotype beeld van de ‘islam’ – en van de Arabische wereld- een belangrijke rol.”

En dit was nog allemaal voordat de berichtgeving over moslims werd gedomineerd door de opkomst van Fortuyn en Wilders, de aanslagen van 11 september, de moord op Theo van Gogh, Syriëgangers. Wat die ontwikkelingen voor een effect hadden op berichtgeving over moslims, wordt in een volgend artikel verkend.

Dit artikel vormt een onderdeel van artikelen die op Republiek Allochtonië en Nieuwwij zullen verschijnen in het kader van de verkenning Hoe worden moslims in de vier grootste Nederlandse kranten geportretteerd? Dit is een initiatief van The Hague Peace Projects. Meer hier.

Turks in New-West

Little is know about the journey of the Turks in the Netherlands  and what they have had to put up with to integrate into the Dutch society. It is not just the little known story of a group of immigrants that left their country in search of work in the Netherlands and thereafter had children.

Research led by several experts on loneliness investigating the phenomena amongst the Turks in Amsterdam points out that they are an isolated lot. Language barrier and discrimination, tell the tale often of a bitter pill and their own personal sores that are being licked.

Tayfun Balcik, the Turkish and Kurdish Dialogue work group leader at The Hague Peace Projects is leading a healing journey that rubs on to the senses  of a people in need of a conversation centered on bringing them together. He couples his discussions with music and often food and perhaps this is the start of breaking the ice.

Join the Turks in the New West series on the 13th November, 2018 at 7:30 PM – 10 PM at the New Metropolis, Burgemeester Rendorpstraat 1-3, 1064 EL Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Toerkoes in Nieuw-West #3: Turkse eenzaamheid in de stad


16 oktober 2018 / Toerkoes in Nieuw-West #2


Turkish vegetarian meatballs in waiting -16 oktober 2018 / Toerkoes in Nieuw-West #2


The delicious mix in set! 16 oktober 2018 / Toerkoes in Nieuw-West #2


Toerkoes in Nieuw-West #1. Terug in Nederland.


Toerkoes in Nieuw-West #1. Terug in Nederland.