Thursday, May 09, 2013

Taking wrong side on Bangladesh

WOMEN DEMAND JUSTICE.  But SWP joined wrong demonstration!
THERE were cheers in the courtroom and outside today, as a Bangladesh war crimes tribunal convicted and sentenced a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to death for war crimes committed during the 197 war for independence from Pakistan.

The right-wing party's assistant secretary general, Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 59, was found guilty on charges of genocide and torture of unarmed civilians. He had previously been acquitted for two of the seven original charges. One of the charges that carried the death penalty was being a commander of a  massacre of 120 people.

Kamaruzzaman was a Jamaat e Islam student leader during the 1971 war when the Islamist party sided with Pakistan and fought as militia, killing patriots, leftists and non-Muslim minorities. He is the fourth man to be convicted for these war crimes.

Although some may see the current government's willingness to prosecute past crimes as a way of diverting people from present problems, as highlighted by the death of 700 workers in a factory collapse, others say it is justice that was long overdue. Among those in the court today welcoming the verdict and sentence were veterans from the 1971 freedom fight, while outside and in the country generally, particularly Dhaka the capital, younger people fighting for democracy and social progress see settling accounts with the war criminals as part of their broader struggle against reaction.

 There have been mass demonstrations both for an against the the war crimes trials, with Jamaat e Islami supporters claiming the trials were a politically-motivated attack on their party, and right-wing Islamists taking the opportunity to attack those they call "atheists" or just insufficiently conservative in their adherance to Islam. Jama'ata has bussed supporters from rural areas into the capital.Several people have been killed in bitter street clashes, or assassinated.

This sharp division is not confined to Bangladesh.

I don't usually trust stories in the Daily Express , which in recent years has specialised in horrified headlines about schools serving Halal meat or immigrants stealing our homes and jobs, and I am not suspending my skepticism for this one from May 4, forwarded by a friend :

 BRITAIN’S most senior policeman has ordered a security review for 10 Bangladeshi political activists after they were named in a hit list compiled by Islamic extremists.
Met Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has personally intervened following a series of death threats and sinister break-ins at the Britons’ homes.
The intimidation even includes the targeting of fundraising efforts for the victims of the Bangladesh building disaster.
“We will eliminate your entire ancestry,” one fundraiser was told in an anonymous Facebook message.
Another threat from Facebook user Islam Power reads: “We will exterminate all the atheists like you who work against Islam. Final warning.”
The 10 bloggers, singers, writers and charity workers have been denounced as “atheists”, a condemnation some worry will be taken as a cue by jihadists for assassination.
The threats are linked to the volatile politics of Bangladesh where dozens of activists have been murdered in recent weeks.
Security experts fear the violence might be exported as bloodshed on Britain’s streets.
The 10 on the hit list are leaders of the UK arm of the Shahbag campaign calling for justice against those accused of war crimes during the 1971 independence struggle with Pakistan.
The alleged war criminals, whose atrocities included genocide, rape and murder of academics and journalists, were pro-Pakistan.
Many have since become leaders of the Islamist Jamaat e Islami party, which wants an Islamic republic of Bangladesh.
They accuse the current legal process against them in Bangladesh as being politically tainted.
More than 60 people have been killed since February during clashes between Shahbag and Jamaat activists in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.
One popular Shahbag blogger was murdered by a man wielding a machete for alleged insults against Islam.
Last Sunday, dozens of riot police were on duty in case of violence in Whitechapel, east London, where there have also been regular protests.
Scotland Yard is now studying a dossier of evidence detailing the recent threats against the UK activists.
The lone woman among the 10, Ajanta Deb Roy, a 27-year-old marketing manager, has been forced to move out of her home in east London following the threats.
Police have equipped her with a panic alarm and classified her as a top security priority.
Within days of raising money for families of the 500 people killed in the Dhaka garments factory collapse, she was even accused of exploiting the tragedy for political purposes.
She said: “It’s disgusting. I feel threatened because some of the Bengali community here are really conservative.
“They strictly follow religion and they don’t really follow the details of the news, they live in their own world.
“So if they see I’ve been called an atheist they just assume I’m abusing Islam and they wouldn’t try to verify that.
“They’ll just see my name on a list and come and attack me and think they’ll go to heaven. They’re brainwashed.
“I’m not an atheist, I’m just an activist.”

The Express story went on to quote threats made on Facebook, which immediately put me in mind of the Sun 'scoop' during the Gaza war about Islamists supposedly threatening prominent British Jews, which rested on messages posted on a Muslim web list. The postings turned out to come from the same computer used by the "expert on terrorism" whom the Sun was quoting. Sir Alan Sugar, whom the paper had depicted as a possible target successfully sued the Sun.

The comments made to the Express by readers whose outlook is plainly that of the lumpen EDL are a salutary reminder of the context in which such stories appear.
Nevertheless in this case Ted Jeory, described as the paper's Home Affairs editor, does show some knowledge of the political background, and does quote genuine people. His report goes on to report  London Assembly member Murad Qureshi:: “Jihadists will think it is their duty to annihilate those listed as atheist. “Much of this is a reflection of the politics of Bangladesh being played out in London, but nonetheless it poses a real threat to British subjects.”

Murad Qureshi, a Labour member of the London Assembly, is of Bangladeshi parentage, and he was in Bangladesh for the 2008 election. The other day he was at Westbourne Park with trades unionists protesting blacklisting outside the Crossrail site. If Murad says the threat is real that is good enough for me.

It is over a decade in fact that I heard from some Bangladeshi socialists their concern that the British government had connived at the entry to Britain of men who were wanted for war crimes in Bangladesh. They named at least three who had slipped into positions in the East London mosque. Their fear was that with most Bangladeshi immigrants in Tower Hamlets having come from Sylhet province before the 1971 war from which Bngladesh emerged, they might be unable to counteract the miseducation which these men could impart to the young.

Their suspicion, and mine, was that some people in the British state might see conservative, even reactionary, religious dominance as a welcome ally in combatting left-wing influences fed by the struggle for better social conditons and against racism.

Back in the 1930s it was the Left which succeeded in uniting East End Jewish and non-Jewish workers in the fight against slum landlords as well as Mosley's fascists. In 1945 the Mile End division of Stepney returned a Communist MP, Phil Piratin. Our enemies can learn from our history even if we don't.

Over the years, the Jama'at e Islami has extended its influence in Tower Hamlets politics as much as in Bangladesh. It has learned how to play the system, whether in getting councillors elected under whatever party label or raising funds. It has been assisted by the opportunism of British politicians like Galloway and Livingstone, among those who don't ask too many questions. And it seems they are not alone.  

Here is Socialist Worker reporting a march by Bangladeshis against the war crimes trials:

   "Around 1,000 people protested in central London last Sunday in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Bangladesh. The protest marched from Hyde Park to the Bangladeshi Embassy.
    Muhammad Ayyub is part of the Feb28 Justice for Bangladesh group that organised the protest. “We stand with the people of Bangladesh against the government,” he told Socialist Worker.
    “Police are killing protesters there and opposition supporters have been unlawfully arrested.”    The protest coincided with a deepening political crisis in Bangladesh.    “Ordinary people in Bangladesh don’t matter,” said Rashid. “Many live on less than a dollar a day. But when the rich people came here for the Olympics they booked a whole floor of a five-star hotel.”
    Protesters chanted, “We want peace. We want justice,” at a rally outside the embassy.  Speakers who talked about the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt won loud cheers. Charlie Kimber, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, told the crowd, “The tide of revolution has swept through Tunisia and Egypt.“Now the tide of revolution must sweep through Gaza, Syria and Bangladesh.”

 A tide of hogwash from so-called socialists who purport to educate the working class but can't even be trusted to know their left from right! 

On May 4, there was another kind of demonstration. On May 4, 1978 a young Bengali clothing worker called Altab Ali was stabbed to death by racists on Whitechapel Road. People gathered in the park which now bears his name, to mark the 35th anniversary of his death, which helped stimulate the big fightback in the area to drive the racists and fascists out. It was also inevitably an occasion to think about the hundreds of clothing workers killed in Bangladesh.  

The SWP must often have boasted, with whatever justification, of the part played by the Anti-Nazi League which it led in the fight against the fascists in the East End. Surprisingly, while getting carried away over taking part in a Jamaati march, Socialist Worker quite forgot to notice the Altab Ali event. 

It might be tempting to put this dalliance down to simple ignorance. We all make mistakes. But the SWP, even after its recent loss of members, has no shortage of educated people, professors and 'experts' on this or that country, even if it sometimes uses their dubious expertise only to explain why members should not get involved in say, solidarity with Bosnia, where people really were being persecuted as 'Muslim's, regardless of whether they were religious, or Darfur, where it explained that both sides were Muslim, as though this meant that massacres did not count.

I suspect some of the SWP's ordinary Asian members could tell it why it is wrong to support Jamaat e Islami, if it bothered to listen. As it is, with thousands of Bangladeshi workers having taken to the streets over the deaths in the factory collapse, Socialist Worker has had an article by someone in Bangladesh dealing with the isues of capitalist exploitation involved, and it has had a comment saying that if socialists there take up such issues they might win over people influenced by the religious right.

Very helpful advice, I am sure, like it used to tend to workers in Bosnia (though without actually speaking to any) that all would be well if only the workers could unite.  After all, you can't expect these people to work out these brilliant ideas for themselves.

And if you did, they might ask how it was that the advanced comrades in Britain could take their place on the same platform as people who cover for war crimes, including rape, demand a place for Allah restored in the constitution, and advocate the segregation of sexes, and denial of rights to Ahmadi Muslims, as well as the death penalty for atheists and 'blasphemers'.

But we must not be sectarians by reading the small print. It's tactics comrades!  Besides, there's not that many places willing to give the 'comrades' a platform these days.    

Jamata leader sentenced to death

Threats to Bangladeshi activists

Profiteers behind factory collapse

"London protest in solidarity with Bangladesh"

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