Archive for the ‘Bangladesh’ Category
Paros- Sitting in here in a quiet village on a quiet island in the heart of the Cyclades, the drama seems to churn all around. The Dodecanese islands just off the coast of western Turkey and mainland Greece have been in the media spotlight for months with the massive influx of people being smuggled into the EU. It has been labeled the ‘migrant crisis’ though some would argue it should be repackaged as the ‘refugee crisis.’ Public Radio International referred to it as “the story of the summer.” Part of the problem is that the dynamic is largely driven by entirely opportunistic people smuggling networks that have existed here in the Mediterranean long before the summer of 2015 and the Syrian civil war that sparked in March 2011.
In the fall of 2009 on the island of Samos at 6am, I observed a boat of migrants and refugees all mixed together on a overloaded dinghy while I waited fro my ferry to Turkey. They were being pulled in by the Greek Coast Guard and the dock was being monitored by FRONTEX, the EU’s border agency. The frightened boat people were then frog marched through town to a holding center where they hoped to be registered so they could eventually make their way to Athens and on towards northern Europe or the UK in all likelihood. These smuggling networks from the edge of Turkey are in no way a new phenomenon that was an outgrowth of the Arab Spring or anything of the like. They are simply part of a long existing economic underground that has grown enormously this summer.
There seems to be a lot of confusion on what the crisis is about and who the migrants are or what a so-called economic migrant is. A family fleeing the Syrian civil war is not in the same migration category as throngs of young men from Bangladesh who are entering an already deeply ensconced economic migration pattern to be able to wire money home back to, say, Sylhet Division where almost all Bangladeshis in the UK originate from, for example (and much of the community in Queens, NYC). In short there is no war inside Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a deeply corrupt, incredibly impoverished state but it has not produced genuine refugees on a large scale since its liberation war of 1971 when it broke away from Pakistan. Nor is there armed conflict in the State of Eritrea where thousands are claiming to be fleeing mandatory military service to a harsh regime with no end in sight. Miserable to be sure, but the situation inside Eritrea is not comparable to that in Syria.
Pakistan does have bouts of armed conflict along its poorly demarcated western periphery with Afghanistan but that isn’t where the bulk of Pakistani men attempting to get to the EU are coming from. In other words, these men are not Pashto or Baluchi speakers. They most often hail from rural communities not far from the eastern border with India. Though politically tense at times, it is not a war zone by any means.
When I was in transit for a day in piping hot Naples, I happened upon this poignant migrant monument erected by the Fondazione Mediterraneo and the Italian Coast Guard earlier this year. Not far from it, perhaps a few hundred feet, there were South Asian and sub-Saharan African men selling cheap hats and ‘selfie sticks’ to tourists along the city’s waterfront. No one seemed to care where they came from or how they got to Naples, only that they sold things at the right price. But when I turned my camera toward them they uniformly turned their faces, hiding in broad daylight.
The Schengen Agreement and the Dublin Agreement appear to be in tatters. Somewhat like the Euro crisis, the worst case scenarios for EU integration were never fully thought out. This integration was theorized to help prevent a third world war in Europe and domination by any one hegemonic European land power (eh hmm.. Germany). But massive external factors applying great pressure from outside the EU/Schengen Area were not sufficiently gamed out.
Now here we are. Hungary’s Viktor Orban is busy building a massive fence and Germany has just announced it is imposing border checks with Austria. Are we going to go from the United States of Europe back to how things were?
New York- Three years ago today I trekked into northern Syria’s rebellious Idlib Governorate from Hatay Province in Turkey. I had to put immense trust in my fixer who was living in a Turkish Red Crescent camp at the time with his family after having fled the town of Binnish where he’d been a school teacher in peacetime. When I asked how many other journos he’d taken where we were headed, he said just one, the legendary Times correspondent Anthony Loyd. When I badgered about who else, he’d said Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director. Not bad company, I thought to myself.
These dudes were famous and if they trusted M_____d than I thought I could too. As with any of these situations though, there’s just an element of risk that cannot be subtracted. Besides the obvious dangers (and this was before Syria had become a beheading ground for the most unfortunate outsiders), there was the sheer physicality of it all. The mountain, the rain, the snow, the razor wire, the fear, the paranoia. Why was this worth doing? I was following a chain of events since early 2011 in which stultified regimes in the world’s most politically stagnant Arab-ruled states.
The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ involved far more than the ‘Arab Street’ of the early 2000s. Libya had its Tubu, Tuareg and Amazigh (Berbers), Syria had its Kurds and so forth. None of these places were ethnically homogenous. Plus there were the fleeing guest workers from Bangladesh and other forlorn states that had grown dependent on a remission economy as they bled out economic migrants. It was a broad movement that caught fire with local characteristics. Social media met kalashnikovs at dizzying rate. There were notable exceptions of course, like Algeria where it was posited that the populace had tired of the bloody war from the 1990s thus not having the stomach for a prolonged clash with the Bouteflika regime.
Returning to the Syrian border in October 2014, I wouldn’t have dared to cross it. The country had transformed from a place that welcomed foreign journalists when it was once the least covered uprising to the most feared place to work in the world. Even little Bahrain was a more fashionable topic when Syria kicked off nearly four years ago. The uprising began the day I returned to Alexandria from Benghazi on March 15, 2011 and I recall it as a minor news item. By the time I reached Syria three years ago after much of my own work in 2011 was focused on Libya, the media was still referring to the war there as a ‘crackdown.’
At the risk of sounding ultimately naive, there seemed to be an innocence about the rebel fighters I met. They welcomed me with the hospitality I remembered upon first traveling the region as a backpacker in the late 1990s. They sought to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. Yes, they were Sunni men from the countryside but they didn’t frame their struggle as a religious one when I spoke with them. I feared it might turn into a sectarian conflict with the history of the scorched earth suppression of the Ikhwan in the late 1970s, culminating with the destruction of Hama in 1982. Just as the Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996 had helped propel the Libyan war, Syria’s past would eventually come back to haunt it.
Syria’s war in 2015 is an intractable, fissiparous mess. It needn’t have been. But after decades of one man, one party style rule, even if the FSA rebels had coalesced under a properly hierarchical leadership, the country may have just morphed into a different version of chaos. We will never now. When the rebel commander asked me why the West wasn’t eager to assist his men as they had so willingly in Libya (as it appeared from a Syrian perspective), I made a cynical retort: “Look at the map. Libya borders places like Niger and Chad to its south that no one in the West gives a damn about save for energy interests. Your country borders Israel to its south (west). This makes assisting your people in an armed humanitarian intervention infinitely more complicated.”
New York-The reverberations of the misguided American policies following 9/11 paired with the continued spread of anti-authoritarian Arab salafism, South Asian Deobandism, evolving Levantine takfirism and the like amongst the global Sunni community*–both in terms of rhetoric and ground reality–are being felt today.
*Although it must be noted that actual adherents to kinetic radicalization are very few in absolute numbers relative to the global population of Islam’s principle denomination.
I recently appeared on BBC Arabic in my colleague Murad Shishani’s report on the first documented American suicide bomber in Syria, a young guy originally from West Palm Beach, Florida named Moner Mohammad Abusalha.
Clearly the only thing the Bush-era/neoconservative speak did was further polarize vulnerable communities and individuals. Suicide bombing has long since metastisized from somewhat of a curiosity among those studying war-fighting in the historical/tactical realm to such a common practice it is barely worth a mention in the news cycle unless its victim is someone of great importance.
The NYPD’s terribly clumsy spying program here on New York City’s masjids has only made immigrant communities here turn inward, wary of interlopers. Instead of developing methods of genuine inter-communal dialogue (while keeping in mind the now radioactive concept of ‘assimilation’ on which there is no longer a broadly accepted societal compact on just what that precisely means today), there seems to have only been an unfortunate increase in radicalization.
Judging by outward appearance in the outer boroughs, some hijabis are becoming niqabis and young dishdasha-clad boys in Air Jordans who hail from a lungi-wearing and shalwar kameez cultural milieu are being indoctrinated by agenda-bearing mentors. (I’m very narrowly referring to my personal observations of the minority but growing pro-Bangladesh Jamiat-e-Islami sector of the Bangladeshi Sylheti and Chittagonian community here.)
Last week Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s presidential campaign convoy was attacked by suicide bombers outside the Ariana Hotel in Kabul just before this weekend’s runoff election that will hopefully finally signify an end to the stultified malaise of the Karzai era. And this morning we learned that ISIL had gained control of large swaths of Mosul in Ninewa Governorate in a post-America Iraq that seems to be falling apart save for Basra and parts of the deep south.
The world as a whole cannot seem to move beyond impudent, self-destructive polemical tracts with the vitriolic terminology they entail. As we are presently witnessing in Ukraine, there is apparently a fight between ‘fascists’ and ‘terrorists’ there. The language being employed by all sides in that conflict spans from Stalingrad to the Chechen wars.
These unhelpful, reductive terms obscure reality and inflame conflict.
Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
New York- I have a new story out in today’s Asia Times Online about an alleged Chinese spy who was detained and deported from India in what seems to be a very curious case that has received no attention in the Western media that I know of. I came across the story while working on the new issue of Militant Leadership Monitor and decided that it was worth devoting a full article in and of itself.
A lot has happened in the world since I have been pecking away at my laptop. The Finest supermarket in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood was suicide bombed last Friday that killed at least eight (or nine). While covering Afghan politics in 2009, I survived on provisions from the Finest Shahr-e-Nau location which often had the only working ATM in the city and was walking distance along dust-choked streets to the places I was holed up while filing stories. The Finest stores are owned by Sayyed Mansoor Nadiri, the head of Afghanistan’s Ismaili community and cater to Westerners in the city, making them an obvious target of Deobandi suicide attackers. I met and photographed Nadiri briefly while he cast his vote for Karzai on election day in Kabul and instructed all of his followers to vote for Karzai as well in one of Karzai’s many back room palace deals he cut with warlords and religious leaders to guarantee his “reelection.” I used often drive by the Wazir Akbar Khan location coming back into the city center from Jalalabad road and sit by the traffic circle nearby and observe Western mercenaries mingling in the parking lot after a hard day of tooling around the city intimidating Afghans and looked upon them with disdain. In any war zone, mercenaries are the bottom of the barrel in the hierarchy of “war tourists” and are a favorite target for insurgents. A deadly conflation appears when mercenaries, as fellow Westerners, consume the same goods and services as journalists, diplomats and aid workers and the wished for, supposed distinction of identity washes away and one target becomes indistinguishable from another in a highly chaotic environment. Kaboom!
Then al-Qahira (a.k.a. Cairo) where a day of rage has turned into days of rage and the Obama administration has consistently been “not out in front of this thing” to use my favorite political cliche of late. Mubarak has been the tallest hypocritical cornerstone in America’s bogus democracy promotion agenda for a long time. The last time I was in Egypt was after traveling there via Jordan after the American invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003. Iraq was singled out by neoconservative ideologues as an unpalatable dictatorship that had to be overthrown by force and at once, largely because it was a dictatorship or so the world’s public was told (depending on the day and which way the wind was blowing). Egypt and Jordan, an authoritarian presidential patronage state and a constitutional monarchy respectively, are dictatorships that are stood up by the U.S. taxpayer due to their pliable leadership and peace treaties with Israel, another highly unegalitarian state. Here in the United States, every Zionist, anti-Arab pundit is desperately scrambling to play the Muslim Brotherhood card to confuse and frighten an unfortunately, largely naive public. These pundits views are as out of date as the Brotherhood’s. They only believe in democracy promotion so long as it fits their very narrow idea of democracy, an impossible fantasy in most of the world. Throughout the Cold War, we were told that the Arab world was not ready for democratic and open society because it would create a dangerous vacuum filled by the then boogey man de jour, communism. Now plenty of such Cold War-reared pundits are having a field day warning that the American public should not cheer on a liberation revolution on the streets of Egypt’s cities because surely nefarious Islamists will fill the dangerous void if Mubarak flees, say, to Saudi Arabia, another dictatorship. Then there are those that say things like “well we don’t know if Arabs are ready for democracy” which is akin to those who asked in 2008 whether American voters were “ready” for a black president. Basically, soft racism. The revolution in the Arab states of North Africa and the Middle East is being televised and it is nearly irrelevant what a White House press secretary says in a reactive rather than proactive statement at this point.
New York- The BBC is reporting yet another round of violence against the stateless Rohingya being perpetrated by the Bangladeshi authorities. One of the most violently persecuted people in the world today, the Rohingya cannot seem to find safe quarter anywhere. Every so often, the Bangladesh Rifles and border police seem to like to go into one of their ad hoc refugee settlements and give them a good thrashing to put them in their place. Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and does not feel the need to adhere to people’s most basic human rights. The Rohingya have not feared much better upon landing ashore in Thailand where many of them have been pushed back out to sea by the Thai armed forces to drown. Two years ago I reported on the plight of the Rohingya for the Huffington Post; first on the underground migrant scene in Karachi, Pakistan, and then on the squalid refugee camps of Bangladesh’s deep southeast. Apparently nothing has improved for these immensely desperate people and nothing looks to change in the near term. After coming back to New York from South Asia in the spring of 2008, I just happened to meet Ismat Jahan, who was then the Bangladeshi ambassador to the UN and politely but firmly asked her to assist these people in what I termed a South Asian Darfur. She demurred saying that the UN was sending her on a good governance junket to Sierra Leone while her own country festered. Isn’t the international system just fabulous!
I went to another taping of Real Time with Bill Maher down the street at CBS’s Television City primarily to hear Nobel Prize winning economist Muhammad Yunus. After scoring the tickets, I saw that MIA had been added to the lineup I assumed to talk about the devastation of Tamil Eelam in northern Sri Lanka. Indeed Bill had MIA sit down for the first segment but he wasted the first few minutes asking her frivolous questions regarding her appearance at the Oscars. MIA, who is normally very confident, some would say even strident, actually appeared quite uneasy talking about the war in her ancestral land and seemed to have virtually no talking points prepared. Having recently written about the crisis myself I thought her appearance would be a continuation of her somewhat infamous Tavis Smiley segment in February. Bill then made an awkward analogy comparing Sri Lanka with 1994 Rwanda not comprehending that in Colombo, the government is run by the Sinhalese majority whereas in Kigali, it was precisely the opposite scenario with a Tutsi-led minority government. Bill may have been thinking of pre-1948 colonial Ceylon when it was considered that the British favored the Tamils in their divide et impera strategy? Not bloody likely. As usual, the context gets lost in the noise. Rwanda and Sri Lanka took very different post-colonial paths. When Ceylon became independent, it was by a Sinhalese-speaking majority thereby breaking the chain of British minority favoritism. Rwanda’s inherited divide and rule format was absorbed as policy upon independence. Both ways were paved paths to disaster. One a short outburst of hyper violence and the other a long war of attrition with a climatic ending.
The banker from Bangladesh, however, did not disappoint. Muhammad Yunus railed against overt materialism and capitalism devoid of a social context. While he was likely preaching to the converted, his message of banking with a conscience seems to resonate in a recession to a Western audience in a way that it may have otherwise not. He briefly mentioned bringing his Grameen Bank to New York which would account for the Grameen America office I spotted in Jackson Heights, Queens several months ago. Jon Meacham of Newsweek and economist Simon Johnson of MIT seemed to agree. Meacham cited the unifying qualities of the Great Depression and World War II taking Yunus’s point a line further in the notion that with great crises comes great opportunity. Within this shattered economy, there is a chance to reevaluate the descent of American virtue into the abyss. In Yunus’s Bangladesh, the quintessential global basket case, micro finance has brought a thousand points of light across a socio-region that otherwise may have taken generations to adapt by poor people traditionally being stifled in a politically and culturally top-down hierarchical society with an insular familial power structure. Meacham commented that Wall Street was also a top-down system that has failed us. A mix of a faltering, headless financial core with people in poverty whether in the United States or South Asia, is where micro finance can fill much more than what was originally considered by many to be a niche. The Grameen concept is an attempt to create an economic land bridge between traditional markets and what is referred to by Indian economists as the “Unorganized sector” which is a fanciful way of saying “People who do not pay into the taxation system nor receive anything from it.” Many Americans are forming a new unorganized sector here in the United States and they are doing it not by choice.
I’ve got a new piece out with the folks at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington on a seemingly obscure insurgent movement in Northeast India that has been active for three decades and shows few signs of dying out anytime soon. Not all militant movements are Islamist nor are they confined to operating in nations outside the G-20 and/or failing states. Take a look at the article here…