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World Press ( 18 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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World Press on Bangabandhu, Israel’s Election and Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience: New Age Islam's Selection, 18 March 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

18 March 2021

• Bangabandhu: A Public Leader Extraordinaire

By Syed Badrul Haque

• What’s Missing in Israel’s Election? Biden.

By Shmuel Rosner

• 10 Years On, the Birds Of Prey Circle over Syria

By Tasneem Tayeb

• Can Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement Restore Democracy?

By Nicola Williams

• By Breaking the Silence about Patriarchy, Men Can Help End Violence against Women

By Harry Ferguson


Bangabandhu: A Public Leader Extraordinaire

By Syed Badrul Haque

March 18, 2021

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's date of birth is being commemorated this year with the added dimension of his birth centenary. This anniversarial date is an asterisk mark in the chronicle of our nation's history. A public leader extraordinaire, Bangabandhu suffered extended imprisonment, braved life-risking challenges and finally wrested liberation from the colonial rulers for his people.

My reminiscences about Bangabandhu date back to the late fifties when Bangabandhu took over as a minister in charge of commerce, labour and industries in the provincial cabinet of East Pakistan. On his personal selection, I, with a stint in journalism behind, joined as his press officer. This assignment was obviously the high-water mark of my service career and beyond. I was somewhat nervous initially, but then felt reassured and comfortable when he asked me to send my copies to the news media without his vetting.

The room which he occupied was located on the first floor of the Shahbag canteen (presently known as Secretarial canteen), which was rather small for ministerial accommodations. Around his secretariat table, there were four wooden chairs without any cushion and a sofa-set that would accommodate only three persons. Visitors were few and far between. His table was never cluttered with pending files. The curtains of his one-door room and two windows were of moderate variety, as was the norm in those days. It exuded a gentleness and a quiet ambience that characterised the secretariat premises at the time.

Regretfully, his room is still unmarked and unrecorded by the secretariat authorities. Also the time that he had spent at the secretariat as a minister rarely finds mention in print or electronic media, although every phase of his career was singularly important in shaping his political thought and career. His tenure as a minister had, in fact, offered him a unique opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of the exploitation of the Bengalis by the Pakistani rulers since Partition. It reinforced his conviction that liberation was the only option left for the Bengalis if they were to live honourably in the comity of nations.

Notably, the ministerial job was the only appointment that Bangabandhu had accepted under the Pakistani regime. But then, that was indeed the defining moment to chart his next political strategy. At times there were moments when he seemed austerely private, a loner—it was rather impossible to recognise the inner turmoil in his far-away look and the frozen melancholy of his features.

In one of his official tours to the Faridpur town, Bangabandhu asked me to accompany him during an inspection visit to the district jail. As he was going around the jail premises in brisk steps, he suddenly stopped in front of a cell, and remained standing there for some time. Later he told us that in his student days, he had been jailed for protesting the price hike of daily necessities by a West Pakistani district magistrate. I still vividly remember those moments when he seemed lost in nostalgia.

But before the year's end in office, Bangabandhu elected to opt out from the cosy club of ministerial comfort and authority and be with his hapless people to galvanise them to fight for freedom, albeit on a graduated scale, a role that he seemed to be preparing for all his life. Since then, much time elapsed, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became Bangabandhu and the Father of the Nation, as Bangladesh emerged on the world map from a classic war of liberation in contemporary history.

In the early days of independence, we had streams of visitors from all corners of the globe. On one occasion, I, then an information officer, accompanied a venerated German writer during her visit to Bangabandhu at Dhanmondi 32. Bangabandhu received the guest at the doorstep of his residence and took her to the drawing room. The writer complimented Bangabandhu on his unique leadership in the liberation movement that won freedom for the Bengali nation. Bangabandhu was also appreciative of the support extended by her country in building our ravaged economy.

Before seeing the visitor off, much to my surprise, Bangabandhu called me by my first name. He remembered it even after so many years had elapsed. I was close to tears—it was the most unforgettable moment that remained etched in my mind. Like me, so many people have had fond memories of being pleasantly surprised when Bangabandhu called them by their first names, a gesture that showed how deeply he cared about his people.

Presently, as the nation commemorates the centenary of Bangabandhu's birth, let us recommit ourselves to fulfil his dream of Sonar Bangla. The attainment of the status as a developing nation under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a luminous tribute to his birth centenary on behalf of the nation.


Syed Badrul Haque is a contributor to The Daily Star.


What’s missing in Israel’s Election? Biden

By Shmuel Rosner

March 17, 2021

American president, Joe Biden


On March 23, Israel will go to the polls for its fourth national election in two years. The worst part is that this depressing Election Day may just be a prelude to yet another: Opinion polling suggests that Israel’s political blocs will struggle to elect and form a stable parliamentary majority. Our politics, it seems, are stuck on a repetitive doom loop.

At least one thing is different: This time, the American president is a nonentity.

Consider two election cycles of the last decade. In 2015, just days before Israelis voted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington and spoke before Congress about the threat of Iran. Mr. Netanyahu made his fierce opposition to President Barack Obama and his Iran deal central to his campaign. Four years later, when Israel entered its current long cycle of repeated elections, Mr. Netanyahu posted his image alongside that of President Donald Trump on a high-rise overlooking Tel Aviv’s main highway. This time his goal was making America a central feature of his campaign, by highlighting his closeness to the president. In both cases, the political messaging was spot-on.

Mr. Netanyahu was hardly the first Israeli politician to make America’s president an electoral issue. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was helped by President George W. Bush. Prime Minister Ehud Barak was elected with the backing of President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Why are American presidents so central to elections in a country so far away from Washington? First, because Israelis see the United States as a cornerstone of their country’s security. And while Israelis’ confidence in the alliance has somewhat eroded in recent years, the ability of their leaders to understand, debate and confront the leaders in Washington is still important. Second, what happens in Israel matters to America, too; Israeli politics are also part of Washington’s strategy for the Middle East.

But in the lead-up to this month’s election, there has been neither an embrace of President Biden nor a repudiation of him. And that’s not for a lack of opportunity. Nearly four weeks passed between Mr. Biden’s inauguration and his first call to Israel’s prime minister. That was viewed by many as a snub. But when Mr. Netanyahu was asked this month why Mr. Biden was so late to call him, the prime minister didn’t try to convince the voters that in fact, Mr. Biden was his best friend; nor did he try to claim that Mr. Biden was a great foe who threatened Israel’s security. He dismissed the question with a few generalities and moved on.

Mr. Netanyahu’s main rivals, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Gideon Saar, have also been hesitant to seize on the issue, or on early signs of disagreement between Washington and Israel over Iran as proof that the prime minister is not fit to keep Israel secure.

There’s a simple explanation, and a more complicated one, for this unusual absence. First, the simple: Israelis do not yet know whether Mr. Biden will prove to be a friend, like his predecessor, or a thorn in their side, like the president he previously served under. Mr. Netanyahu cannot yet oppose him because so far he has done nothing objectionable, and alienating the White House for no good reason is beyond the pale even for a cynic like Mr. Netanyahu. The opposite is also true: Mr. Biden has not yet proved himself to be Israel’s friend as president, and so the prime minister’s rivals must be careful not to portray themselves as his admirers.

The more complicated explanation concerns America’s interest in the Middle East and the country’s relative irrelevance to much that is happening in the region. The United States was unsuccessful in its halfhearted quest to contain Iranian expansion; it was missing in action in the Syrian civil war; it bet on wrong horses during the so-called Arab Spring; it has alienated the Saudis, let Russia take over Libya and did nothing of value to resolve the Palestinian issue. The list goes on.

In fact, the only true achievement of the United States in the region in recent years is the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreement between Israel and the Gulf Arab countries, which was orchestrated by the Trump administration. But this significant move was achieved not as a triumph of the traditional American policy but because American diplomacy was on leave — temporarily occupied by the revolutionary troops of the Trump administration.

If America’s leaders are just tired of being involved in Israel’s never-ending political process, I can’t fully blame them. We Israelis are all tired of it, too. We would all wish for a little break. And yet an Israeli election with no America as background noise is disturbingly strange. Is this another proof that America is less interested in the country that much depends on its support? Are we being demoted?

In more than one way, the policy of the Biden administration seems to be moving along a trajectory that assumes a less central role for Middle East affairs in America’s foreign policy. So it’s quite possible that Israel’s needs are becoming less urgent and that who leads Israel matters less in the eyes of the United States. In such case, the proper election question for Israelis is no longer “Which leader could better deal with America?” but “Which leader can better manage without America?”


Shmuel Rosner is the editor of the Israeli data-journalism site, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and a contributing opinion writer.


10 Years On, the Birds Of Prey Circle over Syria

By Tasneem Tayeb

March 18, 2021

Torture, forced disappearance, displacement, chemical attacks, butchery, loss of lives and limbs, death of family and friends, mass murder: the Syrian people have been through it all in the last 10 years.

It all started with protests on March 15, 2011 triggered by a graffiti on a school wall in the southern province of Deraa, which read: "It's your turn now, doctor!" It was written by some students who were clearly not happy with the state of affairs under the leadership of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The doctor in the graffiti referred to the president, who had served as a doctor in the Syrian Army. His specialisation was ophthalmology.

The graffiti was a manifestation of the elephant in the room, and the common people started to rise up to voice their dissatisfaction. Set against the backdrop of the newly-lit flames of the Arab Spring, the protests soon gained momentum and spread like wildfire from one province to another, and eventually throughout the country.

The crackdown on protesters by the Assad regime had been swift and brutal, and soon the protests turned into a civil war, with the people fighting for or against the government. The Syrian political landscape—already rife with factional divisions among the Kurds, the Salafi jihadists, the Sunni groups, and other factions trying to leverage the people's anti-government sentiment to serve their vested interests—splintered into many rebel groups. This is where Syria fell apart.

Foreign powers, regional and global, soon joined in the mad dash for geopolitical power, siding with one party or another. The US, Russia, France, the UK, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, along with other countries, got involved in the war in some way or another. While Iran backed the Hezbollah fighters in support of the Assad regime, Qatar and Saudi Arabia facilitated the rise of various predominantly Sunni militant factions. Turkey's tussle with Syrian Democratic Forces—engaged in the fight against terrorist groups, specifically the ISIS—across the northeastern border of Syria played a role in strengthening the base of the terrorist group.

The swift emergence of militant outfits in the war-torn country, facilitated by the power vacuum in leadership, turned Syria into a lucrative spot for foreign intervention. Under the pretext of fighting international terrorism, many western powers including the US intervened with military measures, all vying for greater control in this resource-rich region. And of course, many of these countries engaged in profitable arms trade thanks to the perpetual state of war in the country.

The result: 387,118 casualties till December 2020, more than one-third of them civilians (116,911 civilians, to be more precise). This data was published by the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

In addition, around 205,300 people remain traceless—either dead or just missing—including more than 88,000 civilians who are "believed to have died of torture in government-run prisons", as reported by the BBC.

But the worst sufferers have perhaps been the children. "Almost 12,000 children were killed or injured in the past decade, according to verified data—an average of more than three children a day," reported the Unicef on March 10 this year.

Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, children were not only killed in Syria, but also recruited to fight in the war. According to Unicef data, more than 5,700 children have fallen victim to the bloodthirsty predators. Some of the recruits were as young as seven. And no one knows how many have died in the line of fire.

Thousands of children have been separated from their families or just orphaned with nowhere to go or turn for support. What of those children born of the fighters? Hundreds and thousands of them are living miserable lives in the various camps across Syria. Case in point: camps across northeast Syria, including the infamous Al-Hol camp, which house around "27,500 children of at least 60 nationalities and thousands of Syrian children associated with armed groups," as reported by Unicef.

The Unicef report further added that more than half a million Syrian children under the age of five suffer from stunting due to chronic malnutrition. The prices of food went up by 230 percent in 2020 alone. The Syrian economy has crumbled under the pressure of the war.

Al Jazeera cited a UN report saying that more than 80 percent of the Syrian population is now living below the poverty line. The Syrian pound has plummeted to 4,000 against one US dollar in the black market. The economic cost of the war over the last decade has been north of USD 1.2 trillion, according to World Vision.

"Even if the war ended today, its cost will continue to accumulate to the tune of an additional USD 1.7 trillion in today's money through to 2035", the World Vision report added.  

Yet, those who have been lucky to survive amidst the massacre and the mayhem live on the charity of donors, at times the same ones who had sold arms at lucrative prices to fuel the war. And many have been forced to flee, often multiple times, to survive the carnage of the warring parties.

In the last decade, more than 12.3 million people have been displaced. While 5.6 million Syrians have been registered as refugees outside the country, around 6.7 million have been internally displaced. The total number of displaced is more than half of the pre-war Syrian population of around 22 million.

While efforts have been made, especially in recent years, to diffuse tensions in Syria, many of the refugees do not ever want to return to Syria. They just want peace and a life as normal as it can get.

And with the Assad regime still wielding strong political power and control over the majority of the land, one can only wonder why the refugees are unwilling to return to their motherland. Assad's ruthlessness in dealing with dissent is known to the world—156,329 of all the casualties are attributed to the Syrian government—and fear of repercussions remains high among the anti-establishment population.

The protests in Syria, along with the spirit of change that sparked those protests in the first place, have died down, and the country has been crushed by the decade-long conflict. The country has gained nothing in the last 10 years; if anything, it has lost its people, its resources, its infrastructure, its control over itself.

One of the main reasons why this has happened is the inability of the various factions to unite for one single cause: democracy and change. Except for the common people, who had solely taken to the streets imbued with the inspiration of the Araba Spring, all the actors in the Syrian war had been only interested in serving their individual political gains, and it is this failure of the actors to unite behind one cause that has been self-defeating for the common Syrians.

In fact, most of the actors had not been fighting for democracy; they just capitalised on the pro-democracy movement of the people to push for their own control over the land. And this is where the movement died and turned into a bloody mess. 

Ten years on, Syria is a country nearly destroyed. Ten years on, efforts to rebuild the nation are meagre. The involvement of the foreign powers—especially those that had been fuelling this crisis—in these rebuilding measures has little visibility. And one only wonders how long it would take for the country to come out of the mess that the political ambitions of the warring parties has created.

With the birds of prey pecking on the carcass of a defeated nation, the future for the Syrians looks grim, if there is a future at all.


Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem


Can Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement Restore Democracy?

By Nicola Williams

March 18, 2021

Since Myanmar's military coup on February 1, the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, General Min Aung Hlaing, has been working to remake the country's political landscape by removing the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, detaining its leadership and installing a military junta. But the success of the coup is not guaranteed, given the junta's lack of control over parts of the state apparatus, population and the spiralling economy.

The civil disobedience movement is spreading across key ministries. Staff from the Central Bank of Myanmar and from commercial banks are striking and limitations placed on withdrawals indicate a looming liquidity crisis. Foreign trade is frozen, with exports down by 90 percent. Medical professionals are striking and two-thirds of the country's hospitals are not functioning properly during a pandemic. Some members of the police have also joined protests, refusing to do the "dirty work" of the military.

A groundswell of protests has swept across the country, with Myanmar's tech-savvy youth proving to be a creative, mobilising force that the old guard has not faced before. As Min Aung Hlaing sports bulletproof vests in rare outings and uses state media to blast the civil disobedience movement and protesters, the junta's own propaganda machine suggests the resistance is having an impact. Can the military maintain internal cohesion facing off against a nation and multiple crises?  Based on 2020 election results, there may even be hints of support for the NLD within the military.

A number of possible scenarios are emerging with different enabling factors, not least of which is the Myanmar people's sheer determination to achieve democracy.

One scenario is a return to absolute military rule. The junta would use the crises, violence and coercion to remove any semblance of social order, and then present a false dichotomy to the population: anarchy or dictatorship. A delay in holding elections for several years would be justified under the guise of restoring stability.

A second scenario follows the path set by General Hlaing: hold elections within a year and reinstall a semi-elected parliament. The military has likely realised by now that the political system they had designed under the constitution does not guarantee its political victory. The military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) has been unable to secure enough seats to outnumber the NLD, even with the advantage of a quarter of parliamentary seats being assigned to the military.

In such a scenario, the junta may attempt to redesign the electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation, framing this as an opportunity for ethnic and other political parties to gain more seats in a new election. A sham election could then take place with the NLD removed from the electoral map.

While ASEAN countries initially seemed tempted by this track, it does not provide a pathway to de-escalate resistance. A rigged military-run election would fail to transfer the electoral legitimacy that voters bestowed on 2020-elected officials, some of whom have formed the Committee Representing the Union Parliament in opposition to the junta.

In a third scenario, the coup neither clearly fails nor succeeds, creating a protracted crisis. For over 70 years, the Myanmar military has failed to win a number of asymmetric internal armed conflicts. The battle for state control would become another front line of drawn-out crises, where the use of state-based violence breeds further resistance and new support for the civil disobedience movement.

A protracted crisis could also materialise if there is significant reorganising of power within the military, leading to unforeseen contests. Potential stalemates due to the military and civilian blocs not recognising each other for negotiations, as called for by several ASEAN countries, could also prolong events.

In scenario four, the coup fails and there is a return to the hybrid government under the 2008 constitution, with NLD members released and the 2020 election results honoured, as called for by the United Nations and much of the international community. For the coup to fail, the civil disobedience movement would need to sustain popular and financial support, and continue to impact the junta's control over the economy and administration. This scenario hinges on the possibility of support for Min Aung Hlaing's leadership waning as multiple crises hit regular military families and businesses.

But scenario four is unlikely with Min Aung Hlaing at the helm of the armed forces. It would also require Western countries to hold off on normalising relations with the junta, and ASEAN countries pursuing negotiations between the elected government bloc and the military, not just with military-appointed officials.

In a final, fifth scenario, the coup fails and the civilian government leads a new transition. Many protesters and groups are calling for a new political arrangement through the removal of the military from political life and the military-drafted 2008 constitution. Rather than exclusively supporting the NLD or Aung San Suu Kyi, many in Myanmar are marching for democratic federalism—a system ethnic minorities have been striving for since 1947.

For this last scenario to take hold, a counter-coup within the military may be needed to deliver a new leadership willing to work under the civilian government—a tall order indeed. Elected officials would take up their positions and an inclusive constitutional committee could be established (including armed groups, civil society and ethnic political parties) to draft a new constitution. While Nepal provides an example of a federal transition following civil war and a people's movement, this process is complex and loaded with challenges.

Ultimately, the people of Myanmar must choose their system of government—and thus, their fate—for it to be legitimate. A prolonged return to military rule or an illegitimate government will only perpetuate continued suffering and instability.


Nicola S Williams is a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.


By Breaking the Silence about Patriarchy, Men Can Help End Violence against Women

By Harry Ferguson

17 Mar 2021

The issue of violence against women and girls is being widely discussed following the death of Sarah Everard: women are expressing exhaustion at feeling afraid, and anger and frustration at the same old conversations and being told to change their behaviour. Yet while it is men who perpetrate most of the violence, many have generally maintained a public silence.

This does not mean that men are not saddened and repulsed by sexual and domestic violence. A minority have expressed their disgust about misogyny on social media, or shown support for the women close to them, but this is alongside those whose reaction is defensive, insisting #NotAllMen are violent or are dismissive or hostile, claiming that men are being demonised.

All men, whether we like it or not, have become symbols of danger to women. This is not the same as saying that all men are potential rapists, murderers or abusers. It means rather that individual men’s violence keeps all women in a state of fear and self-monitoring because women can never be sure that it will not be this man who will stalk, rape, attack or attempt murder. Women are rendered cautious and subordinated by patriarchy, which gives men the social power and legitimacy to make the rules and to police them.

The patriarchy ties violence and gender relations firmly to issues of power, and it is crucial to the struggle for solutions that we see this larger picture. Men gain a dividend from patriarchy in terms of honour, prestige, the right to command, as well as a material dividend. The global average of women’s income is about half of what men are paid, while just 11.9% of the world’s 2,825 billionaires are women.

As RW Connell, a leading sociologist of masculinity, has argued, given these inequalities, violence is inherent to a gender order which constitutes men as an interest group concerned with defence, and women as an interest group concerned with change.

The radical feminist Andrea Dworkin once suggested that a productive step towards eliminating violence against women would be for men to declare a 24-hour ceasefire. It isn’t nearly long enough, but like those recent calls for a curfew on men it would make women feel safer and could force men to think critically about themselves and how it is men not women who need to change their behaviour.

However, men overwhelmingly avoid talking about men’s violence, never mind really taking on the issue. There is something in the shared unspoken bonds that unite men that leads us to stay silent and not challenge one another. That “something” is what Connell terms the “patriarchal dividend” – the advantages men in general gain from the overall subordination of women.

Reproducing masculinity means repudiating supposedly feminine characteristics such as talking openly about feelings, crying, relationships, vulnerability and providing care. Boys and men learn that maintaining control and silence about their internal lives, and as a result their gender, is crucial to acceptance (and not being humiliated or beaten up) by other men. Masculine ideals differ from culture to culture, but in a British context it’s more often than not framed as heterosexual, white, strong, rational and self-contained.

Indeed, some men do badly out of patriarchy because it not only gives men collective power over women, but over some groups of men, such as gay men who suffer homophobic violence, black and ethnic minority men who experience racist violence and men living in poverty.

Although a majority of men are not criminally violent, research and intervention work with those who are, such as domestic abusers, shows that they feel justified by misogyny and an ideology of dominance over women. If we were to carry out a ceasefire among men, as Dworkin suggested, it would have to include not just stopping all acts of violence, but challenging the attitudes and the sense of entitlement at large that play into the decisions some individual men take to abuse women.

This means men have to visibly move beyond a complicity with the patriarchal project to speak out and act, demonstrating that we are taking the issue of women’s safety very seriously by, for instance, not walking close to women, challenging men when they make sexist comments and harass women – in person or online. The White Ribbon organisation is a good example of a men’s campaign that is working to do this. It asks men to promise “never to commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women”, and it takes its public education work into schools and other organisations and workplaces.

This kind of public education work is not about demonising boys and men, but engaging them in a process where they are able to learn how to listen and think and talk about gender, relationships and power, that recognises their fears and their capacity to love and care, and helps them to channel it and be accountable in ways that can help keep women safe.

The benefits of men struggling collectively to break the silence, reject the patriarchal dividend, and promote justice and true personal safety are potentially great, not only for women and children, but for men too, advancing the conditions for safe, trustworthy and loving gender relationships. But first the ceasefire among men must be announced and peace talks allowed to begin.


Harry Ferguson is professor of social work at the University of Birmingham



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