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World Press On Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Me Too And Iran’s Nukes: New Age Islam's Selection, 30 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

30 November 2020

• Why Was Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Killed?

By Barbara Slavin

• Women And Girls Must Feel Safe Everywhere

By Fahmida Khatun

• Dear Joe, It’s Not About Iran’s Nukes Anymore

By Thomas L. Friedman

• Looking At The November Coups Held In Dhaka Through A Neutral Lens

By Naadir Junaid

• Churches Step In Where Politicians Will Not

By Elizabeth Bruenig


Why Was Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Killed?

By Barbara Slavin

Nov. 28, 2020


Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh


When Israel engineered the assassinations of a half-dozen Iranian nuclear scientists from 2010 to 2012, supporters of these killings argued that they would help slow a nuclear program at a time when multilateral diplomacy was showing little progress.

The killing on Friday of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, comes in a very different context.

Iran is again producing a large amount of uranium, but it is not close to the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Its actions are largely driven by the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which was intended to put a lid on Iran’s ability to amass enough highly enriched uranium for a single weapon until January 2031.

Iran has said repeatedly that it will go back into full compliance with the nuclear agreement if the Biden administration agrees to do the same, and lifts the onerous sanctions piled on by President Trump.

So why kill Mr. Fakhrizadeh now?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, with the support of President Trump, seems intent on scorching the earth to make it harder for any return to diplomacy under President-elect Joe Biden.

Israel and the Trump administration apparently fear that a Biden administration would seek a quick return to the nuclear agreement, which could revive Iran’s struggling economy and make it harder to contain its influence in the Middle East. Killing Mr. Fakhrizadeh makes that all the more difficult.

The Israeli government, as is its wont, has not taken responsibility for the assassination, but numerous published reports — and the audacious manner in which Mr. Fakhrizadeh was killed — strongly point toward agents of the Mossad. For its part, the Trump administration may or may not have known about the plot in advance, but Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was recently in Israel, and the administration has not condemned the killing so far.

The killing of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, the reputed mastermind of Iran’s past weaponization efforts, will not dent Iran’s nuclear expertise, which is considerable. According to American intelligence, Iran did have a program aimed at producing nuclear warheads that ended 17 years ago, after it was detected by the C.I.A. and revealed by an Iranian opposition group.

The latest killing may not provoke Iran to build nuclear weapons, but it will likely feed the animosity between the United States and Iran, making diplomacy that much harder. It could strengthen hard-line factions in Iran arguing against a return to diplomacy — factions seeking to complete their control of Iranian politics in presidential elections scheduled for June.

Iran’s leadership reacted angrily but cautiously to the assassination. President Hassan Rouhani has said that Iran will respond in a manner and at a time of its own choosing. He blamed Israel, adding, “This brutal assassination shows that our enemies are passing through anxious weeks, weeks that they feel their pressure era is coming to an end and the global conditions are changing.”

That statement suggests that Iran will seek revenge against Israel in some other form. Iran may increase its support for Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It will ensure that Israel remains “the lesser Satan” in Iranian propaganda for the foreseeable future, and  Israeli soft targets — such as tourists and students — could be at risk, along with Israeli officials overseas. Americans, too, may be vulnerable for their association with Israel — on top of the Trump administration’s assassination of the Iranian senior general Qassim Suleimani in January.

With temperatures running so high, the incoming Biden administration now faces a serious challenge. Mr. Biden has vowed to return to negotiations with Iran, but he and his team cannot do much more than message through the media to Iran to stay patient until the inauguration on Jan. 20 — and to the Israelis to stop their campaign of sabotage.

Meanwhile, European countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran and are still parties to the nuclear agreement can help bridge the gap until the Biden inauguration. Britain, France and Germany should seek a swift convening of the commission that monitors implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement. Their foreign ministers should act even sooner and issue a statement condemning the assassination as illegal under international law and damaging to the cause of non-proliferation. A spokesperson for the European Union’s high representative for foreign and security policy has already described the killing as a “criminal act.”

For a variety of reasons, Iran’s nuclear program has been slow moving. It began in the 1950s with the gift of knowledge from the Eisenhower administration under the “Atoms for Peace” initiative. The Johnson administration gave Iran its first small nuclear research reactor a decade later.

In the more than 60 years since Iran’s nuclear efforts began, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all developed bombs. Iran has not. It still has only one functioning nuclear power plant.

It would be the ultimate tragedy if Israel’s aggression now led Iran to change its calculus and go for weapons. This could spark a nuclear arms race throughout the region and ensure that the Middle East remains dysfunctional, riven by sectarian and other conflicts, its peoples’ potential for productive work stymied and its youth vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists who have struck innocent people around the world.


Barbara Slavin (@BarbaraSlavin1) directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.


Women And Girls Must Feel Safe Everywhere

By Fahmida Khatun

November 30, 2020


Activism Against Gender-Based Violence


The significance of this year's "16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence" initiative of the United Nations is greater than ever before in view of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Activities under this initiative performed from November 25 to December 10 each year since 1991 have focused on prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls, which is becoming widespread day by day. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this in many ways that range from physical, psychological, sexual and economic.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the health crisis rapidly turned into economic and social crises. The global economy has been shattered from various fronts. Outputs have fallen, employment declined, income eroded and poverty intensified across the world. With production and supply chain disrupted, investment and exports interrupted and economic opportunities lost, countries are struggling to revive their economies.

Along with economic crisis, social problems have escalated. Evidences across countries indicate that women and girls have been affected disproportionately during this crisis. Economic insecurity coupled with social distancing have increased the likelihood of more violence against women and girls as people stay at home more than before. This has been related to the pandemic-induced household stress. Besides, as schools are closed, boys of poor families are sent for income earning activities while girls are being married off even at an early age. Parents do not want to take the burden of feeding extra mouths and girls are considired a burden to get rid on.

In Bangladesh, a telephone survey conducted by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) between January and October 2020 revealed that 1,086 women and children were raped. Among the victims, 277 were gang raped, 50 were killed and 29 committed suicide. This is an irony of the twenty-first-century, when women are increasingly involved in economic activities but are also being abused in various ways.

Women's participation in the labour force has increased over time in Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, women's participation rate in the labour force has increased to 36.3 percent compared to 23.9 percent in 2000. They are not only engaged in the agriculture sector and the readymade garments industry, but also in several other activities. Of the total female labour force, 59.7 percent are engaged in agriculture, 16.8 percent in industry, 15.4 percent in manufacturing and 23.5 percent in services sector.

Many women have joined non-traditional and emerging service sectors such as banking, insurance, telecommunications, hotel and restaurants, transport and real estate services. Higher education and skills have contributed to this rise. It is undeniable that women's economic empowerment has helped to improve their social status. Within their families, they are valued by their families, some of them can express their opinions on family issues. Their income has contributed towards improving nutritional status of their families, increasing education of their children, reducing child marriage, and lowering maternal and child mortality rates.

Indeed, Bangladesh's performance in case of achieving several targets of the Millennium Development Goals has been possible to a large extent due to women's achievements and contributions. Since Bangladesh's independence non-government organisations began working in rural areas. Their intervention has helped in improving women's economic and social status. Micro credit programmes of these organisations have provided them opportunities to earn an income through small businesses. Government policies and support measures have also helped improve women's situation. Higher education among urban women has helped them to join the formal labour market and earn better.

However, the achievements made thus far in the area of women's empowerment has been overshadowed by unstoppable violence against women. They are abused in their own homes, at their relative's and friend's place, at workplaces, at educational institutes, on transports, on the street—everywhere. No place is safe for them. Even if women are accompanied by their fathers, brothers or other male relatives, there is no guarantee of their security. The sharp claws of perverted men chase them, haunt them, and finally, kill them.

What are the reasons for violence against women? This answer is not a straightforward one. Clearly, economic empowerment is not enough to stop violence against women. Violence is performed due to an imbalanced power relation between women and men. This is a bigger structural issue. There are social, cultural, phycological, economic and political reasons behind such violence.

The cultural circumstances within which we live in are all about displaying money and power, and undermining others. This also determines the social status. Money gives the license to ignore rules. The powerful ones feel that they have the right to harm the weaker ones. No one can protest if the powerful people torture the weak and vulnerable ones—both men and women. Poor men and women are in the same boat in many ways. Power relations determine the behaviour and attitude towards people in the society. That is why we read about innocent poor boys and men being tortured and beaten to death brutally in front of onlookers. Violence against women is done from similar mentality. Besides, men violate women and girls, if they want to shut them off or punish their families. Men believe if a woman is violated, the whole family is demolished forever in the eyes of the society.

Political factors play the most important role in shaping the whole power relations among people. In the absence of the rule of law in a society where perpetrators are not punished, all types of crimes will continue to increase. Rapist or murderers tend to take shelter in political parties. They find safety in political leaders after committing crimes. The law enforcing agencies cannot take any action against them unless it is instructed by the supreme authority. Even those who do not have any connections with the powerful people, also commit violence against women and men. They believe that they can get away with crimes. The culture of lawlessness encourages men to torture and violate women.

If women do not feel safe, they will be hesitant to work outside. Their families will not allow them to go out. This will be a backward move. The achievements made during the last five decades by Bangladeshi women will be lost if corrective measures are not taken. If the growth momentum of Bangladesh is to continue, women must take part in the labour market at an increasing rate. They will have to have opportunities. This will require education, appropriate training and technological knowledge. In case of education, gender parity at the primary school level has been achieved. The number of girl students has also increased at the secondary level. However, at the tertiary level, female students' participation rate is much lower than male students. This is reflected in the type of work women are engaged in. Their participation in administrative, managerial, technical and professional jobs is low. Most women work in low paying jobs. About 91 percent women work in the informal sector. Those who are entrepreneurs, lack adequate finance, training, marketing opportunities and information to scale up their business and also survive during crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic.

However, no matter what measures are taken to improve women's economic situation, violence against them must be stopped. They have to feel safe both at home and outside home.


Dr Fahmida Khatun is the Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of her organisation.


Dear Joe, It’s Not About Iran’s Nukes Anymore

By Thomas L. Friedman

Nov. 29, 2020

With the assassination by Israel of Iran’s top nuclear warhead designer, the Middle East is promising to complicate Joe Biden’s job from day one. President-elect Biden knows the region well, but if I had one piece of advice for him, it would be this: This is not the Middle East you left four years ago.

The best way for Biden to appreciate the new Middle East is to study what happened in the early hours of Sept. 14, 2019 — when the Iranian Air Force launched 20 drones and precision-guided cruise missiles at Abqaiq, one of Saudi Arabia’s most important oil fields and processing centers, causing huge damage. It was a seminal event.

The Iranian drones and cruise missiles flew so low and with such stealth that neither their takeoff nor their impending attack was detected in time by Saudi or U.S. radar. Israeli military analysts, who were stunned by the capabilities the Iranians displayed, argued that this surprise attack was the Middle East’s “Pearl Harbor.”

They were right. The Middle East was reshaped by this Iranian precision missile strike, by President Trump’s response and by the response of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to Trump’s response.

A lot of people missed it, so let’s go to the videotape.

First, how did President Trump react? He did nothing. He did not launch a retaliatory strike on behalf of Saudi Arabia — even though Iran, unprovoked, had attacked the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.

A few weeks later Trump did send 3,000 U.S. troops and some antimissile batteries to Saudi Arabia to bolster its defense — but with this message on Oct. 11, 2019: “We are sending troops and other things to the Middle East to help Saudi Arabia. But — are you ready? Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing. That’s a first.”

It sure was a first. I’m not here to criticize Trump, though. He was reflecting a deep change in the American public. His message: Dear Saudis, America is now the world’s biggest oil producer; we’re getting out of the Middle East; happy to sell you as many weapons as you can pay cash for, but don’t count on us to fight your battles. You want U.S. troops? Show me the money.

That clear shift in American posture gave birth to the first new element that Biden will confront in this new Middle East — the peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and between Israel and Bahrain — and a whole new level of secret security cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which will likely flower into more formal relations soon. (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel reportedly visited Saudi Arabia last week.)

In effect, Trump forced Israel and the key Sunni Arab states to become less reliant on the United States and to think about how they must cooperate among themselves over new threats — like Iran — rather than fighting over old causes — like Palestine. This may enable America to secure its interests in the region with much less blood and treasure of its own. It could be Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement.

But a key result is that as Biden considers reopening negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal — which Trump abandoned in 2018 — he can expect to find Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates operating as a loose anti-Iran coalition. This will almost certainly complicate things for Biden, owing to the second huge fallout from the Iranian attack on Abqaiq: The impact it had on Israel.

After Trump scrapped the nuclear deal, Iran abandoned its commitments to restrict its enrichment of uranium that could be used for a nuclear bomb. But since Biden’s election, Iran has said it would “automatically” return to its nuclear commitments if Biden lifts the crippling sanctions imposed by Trump. Only after those sanctions are lifted, said Tehran, might it discuss regional issues, like curbs on Iran’s precision missile exports and capabilities.

This is where the problems will start for Biden. Yes, Israel and the Sunni Arab states want to make sure that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. But some Israeli military experts will tell you today that the prospect of Iran having a nuke is not what keeps them up at night — because they don’t see Tehran using it. That would be suicide and Iran’s clerical leaders are not suicidal.

They are, though, homicidal.

And Iran’s new preferred weapons for homicide are the precision-guided missiles, that it used on Saudi Arabia and that it keeps trying to export to its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, which pose an immediate homicidal threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and U.S. forces in the region. (Iran has a network of factories manufacturing its own precision-guided missiles.)

If Biden tries to just resume the Iran nuclear deal as it was — and gives up the leverage of extreme economic sanctions on Iran, before reaching some understanding on its export of precision-guided missiles — I suspect that he’ll meet a lot of resistance from Israel, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia.

Why? It’s all in the word “precision.” In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Iran’s proxy militia, Hezbollah, had to fire some 20 dumb, unguided, surface-to-surface rockets of limited range in the hope of damaging a single Israeli target. With precision-guided missiles manufactured in Iran, Hezbollah — in theory — just needs to fire one rocket each at 20 different targets in Israel with a high probability of damaging each one. We’re talking about Israel’s nuclear plant, airport, ports, power plants, high-tech factories and military bases.

That is why Israel has been fighting a shadow war with Iran for the past five years to prevent Tehran from reaching its goal of virtually encircling Israel with proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, all armed with precision-guided missiles. The Saudis have been trying to do the same versus Iran’s proxies in Yemen, who have fired on its airports. These missiles are so much more lethal.

“Think of the difference in versatility between dumb phones and smartphones,’’ observed Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. “For the past two decades we have been consumed by preventing Iran’s big weapon, but it is the thousands of small smart weapons Iran has been proliferating that have become the real and immediate threat to its neighbours.’’

That is why Israel and its Gulf Arab allies are not going to want to see the United States give up its leverage on Iran to curb its nuclear program before it also uses that leverage — all those oil sanctions — to secure some commitment to end Iran’s export of these missiles.

And that is going to be very, very difficult to negotiate.

So, if you were planning a party to celebrate the restoration of the Iran-U. S. nuclear deal soon after Biden’s inauguration, keep the champagne in the fridge. It’s complicated.


Looking At The November Coups Held In Dhaka Through A Neutral Lens

By Naadir Junaid

November 30, 2020

Newspaper articles published on the military coups held in Dhaka in November 1975 are often coloured by the authors' political standpoints and ideologies. Instead of making an unbiased and objective assessment of historical events, attempts are made in such articles to highlight particular facts and extol certain individuals. In her 1967 essay Truth and Politics, the German political philosopher Hannah Arendt notes that historical reality is sometimes distorted in order to attain specific political objectives or to support certain people. For her, through the purposeful omission and denial of facts known to everyone, an alternative reality is often constructed that remains far from being factual. It would be a shame to see similar tendencies in our country that may lead to the creation of a substitute reality. Critical and impartial analysis is of utmost importance in articles dealing with historical facts in order to keep people informed of the whole truth about particular events of the past.

Ziaur Rahman, Khaled Mosharraf, and Abu Taher—three military officers became key figures in the coups of November 1975. All of them were decorated freedom fighters. In 1971, they fought valiantly for the independence of Bangladesh. But, after four years they came up against each other and the country witnessed the tragic consequences of their conflicts. After August 15, 1975 Majors Farook and Rashid and a few other junior officers involved in the killings of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members and close associates, attained power through their close association with the new President Khondakar Mostaq Ahmad. These junior officers started showing a total disregard for the army chain of command. New Army Chief Ziaur Rahman did not force them to return to the cantonment.[1]

On November 3, then Chief of General Staff of the army Khaled Mosharraf and his loyal officers took measures to bring these junior officers under control. The Khaled-led coup began by placing Zia under house arrest. The battle-seasoned infantry regiments and the fighter jets of the Air Force were ready to help Khaled against 1st Bengal Lancers, the sole tank regiment of the Bangladesh Army and 2nd Field Artillery Regiment, the two units that took part in the killing of Bangabandhu and were loyal to Farook and Rashid. In the following few days, the junior officers departed the country, and the president and the army chief offered their resignations. Khaled Mosharraf became the new army chief. However, the success of Khaled Mosharraf's coup was short-lived.

After taking an early retirement from the army in 1972, Abu Taher started working in a government organisation. He also joined the left-wing political party Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) secretly and became the head of the party's combat wing named Gono Bahini.[2] A secret branch of Gono Bahini named Biplobi Sainik Shongstha (Revolutionary Soldiers' Organisation) was formed in the army.[3] Abu Taher instructed the soldiers of this outfit to start an ordinary soldiers' revolution on November 7 with a view to transforming the armed forces into a people's army committed to safeguarding the interests of the underprivileged class. He also instructed them to free Ziaur Rahman on November 7.[4] Leaflets conveying 12-point demands of Biplobi Sainik Shongstha were distributed among the soldiers in Dhaka Cantonment.[5] They demanded that the differences between officers and soldiers should be abolished, and the officers could not be recruited separately.[6] When soldiers loyal to Taher staged a revolt on November 7 by chanting slogans seeking unity of ordinary soldiers, the infantry battalions loyal to Khaled became confused and did not try to suppress the counter-coup.[7] Khaled Mosharraf took shelter in an infantry battalion which came from Rangpur Brigade to support him. But, Khaled was ruthlessly murdered in this battalion.[8]

The soldiers freed Ziaur Rahman and he was reinstated as the army chief. Much to Taher's dissatisfaction, Zia did not show any interest in abiding by most of the demands of Biplobi Sainik Shongstha.[9] Within a few weeks Taher was arrested. Biplobi Sainik Shongstha could not offer any resistance to this decision. Mainly the JCOs, NCOs and soldiers of the supporting arms such as Signals and different army services such as Ordnance, Supply, EME, AMC, etc. and some airmen were members of Biplobi Sainik Shongstha.[10] Although they organised the revolt against Khaled Mosharraf, Bengal Lancers and 2nd Field Artillery played the pivotal role in making the counter-coup successful. Fearing that they would be severely punished for their involvement in August 15 killings, the members of these two units became desperate to depose Khaled Mosharraf. Thus, they actively joined the action on November 7.[11] They had no loyalty to Taher whatsoever.[12] In 1976, through a controversial trial, Abu Taher was hanged. Although Ziaur Rahman triumphed over adverse circumstances and his rivals for the time being, he was assassinated by some military officers in 1981.

Most of the army and air force officers actively taking part in the Khaled-led coup were freedom fighters. But, some freedom fighter officers of the infantry battalions were close to Zia.[13] They did not directly express discontent at Khaled's coup, but they also did not give Khaled their total allegiance. In order to keep a tight grip on the situation it was necessary for Khaled to communicate with the officers and soldiers throughout the country and keep them informed of his aims. But, despite the request from the other officers, Khaled did not give a speech on the radio.[14] As no speech was given on the radio for three days, the civilians as well as the military units remained confused about the incidents happening inside Dhaka Cantonment. Khaled's detachment from the rank and file made it easier for Biplobi Sainik Shongstha to stimulate the ordinary soldiers to take part in a rebellion against the officers.

Khaled's coup was important because it neutralised the tank and artillery regiments involved in the killing of Bangabandhu. Khaled and his companions compelled the mutinous troops of Bengal Lancers to return to cantonment with their tanks. But on November 7, those tanks came out of the cantonment again and jubilant Lancers soldiers rejoiced on the roads carrying photos of Mostaq.[15] In a meeting on November 6, Taher and the leaders of Biplobi Sainik Shongstha finalised their plans for the uprising. They did not prevent the right-wing soldiers of Bengal Lancers from participating in that meeting.[16] How could Taher and the JSD leaders expect that the right-wing soldiers totally devoted to the killers of Bangabandhu would wholeheartedly support a left-wing revolution?

In the early hours of November 7, Major Mohiuddin, an artillery officer involved in the killing of Bangabandhu took Ziaur Rahman to the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment.[17] Both freedom fighter and repatriated officers close to Zia gathered in 2nd Field Artillery office and started cooperating with Zia. Within a short time it became clear that neither Zia nor the other officers had any intention of changing the traditional structure of the army. Some soldiers remained unruly for a few days, but soon they were made to obey the chain of command. The majority soldiers of the armed forces did not insist on implementing the demands of Biplobi Sainik Shongstha. As most of the soldiers were not eager to see revolutionary changes in the army, such an endeavour was bound to end in failure.

Khaled and his fellow officers did not try to free four national leaders immediately after commencing their coup. But, as soon as the killers of Bangabandhu became aware of an imminent offensive against them, they sent a small group of soldiers to the central jail to eliminate the national leaders. It is known that Khondakar Mostaq telephoned the IG Prison and ordered him to allow the armed soldiers to enter the jail.[18] The soldiers went to the cell where the four leaders were kept and brutally killed them. Khaled and his companions were busy negotiating with the junior officers and Mostaq in order to find a solution. They did not think of the necessity to tighten security of four leaders in that precarious situation and did not even hear that the leaders had been slain.[19] They heard about the heinous assassination only after the departure of Farook-Rashid and their cohorts from the country. Khaled's coup removed the killers of Bangabandhu from the position of power but it was a major failure of Khaled and his companions that they could not save the four national leaders.

On November 7, Khaled Mosharraf and two other eminent freedom fighter officers, Colonel Najmul Huda and Lt Colonel ATM Haider, were killed in 10 Bengal Regiment. During the Liberation War, K Force was formed under the leadership of Khaled Mosharraf and 10 Bengal Regiment was one of the units of K Force.[20] Thus, it was likely that the officers and troops of this regiment would protect their wartime commander from danger. But Khaled, Huda, and Haider were brutally killed in this regiment by a few officers and soldiers.[21] It is still unknown who instigated or ordered them to kill these renowned freedom fighter officers. A thorough investigation is necessary to identify the person or people responsible for the murder of the three war heroes on November 7, 1975.


Dr Naadir Junaid is professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.

[1] Shafaat Jamil, Ekattorer Muktijuddho, Roktakto Moddho-August o Shorojontromoy November (Dhaka: Sahittya Prakash, 1998), 130, 132.       [2] Altaf Parvez (edited), Ashamapto Muktijuddho, Colonel Taher o Jasad Raajniti (Dhaka: Pathak Shamabesh, 1995), 101; Hafiz Uddin Ahmad Bir Bikrom, Sainik Jibon: Gowraber Ekattor, Roktakto Pochattor (Dhaka: Prothoma Prokashon, 2020), 211.       [3] Ibid, 100.      [4] Dr. M. Anwar Hossain, Mahan Muktijuddho o 7 November Obbhutthan e Colonel Taher (Dhaka: Agami Prokashoni, 2012), 88-90; Altaf Parvez, 135.       [5] Dr. M. Anwar Hossain, 89.      [6] Altaf Parvez, 135.       [7] Shafaat Jamil, 145-46; Major Nasir Uddin, Gonotontrer Biponno Dharai Bangladesh er Shosotro Bahini (Dhaka: Agami Prokashoni, 1997), 148.      [8] Major Nasir Uddin, 151;       [9] Ibid., 148-49; Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 227-28.       [10] Altaf Parvez, 135; Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 228.       [11] Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 228; Altaf Parvez, 144.      [12] Ibid.       [13] Major Nasir Uddin, 125.      [14] Major Nasir Uddin, 136; Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 207-08, 225.      [15] Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 228; Altaf Parvez, 144.      [16] Dr. M. Anwar Hossain, 99-100.      [17] Shafaat Jamil, 144; Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 221.      [18] Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 198; Mohiuddin Ahmad, Bela Obela: Bangladesh 1972-1975 (Dhaka: Baatighar, 2020), 293.      [19] Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 198; Shafaat Jamil, 136.      [20] Jafar Imam Bir Bikrom, Dam Diye Kinechi Ai Bangla (Dhaka: Oitijjhya, 2016), 65.      [21] Shafaat Jamil, 144-45; Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, 223.


Churches Step In Where Politicians Will Not

By Elizabeth Bruenig

Nov. 27, 2020

Vanessa Matos couldn’t believe what she was reading. “I was like, OK, this is a scam,” she recalled of the letter she received in February. Her husband, she said, had the same reaction: “Yeah, this isn’t real.”

But it was. Ms. Matos’s medical debt — more than $900 owed because of complications from surgery at the Massachusetts hospital where she had worked as a nurse — had been forgiven by strangers at a church she had never been to.

Adam Mabry, the lead pastor of that congregation, Aletheia Church, a multiethnic, 1,400-member Boston-area Christian community, doesn’t know Ms. Matos, and she doesn’t know him; the two have never spoken. But he told me: “It doesn’t take a theologian to connect the dots. Jesus paid my debt at unbelievable cost to himself, so it probably makes sense for me to pay another person’s debt at some degree of cost to myself.”

Aletheia worked through RIP Medical Debt, a charitable organization founded in 2014 by two former debt collection executives, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton. It uses donations to buy portfolios of medical debt at a fraction of their value — and then forgives it.

Debt is a particularly destructive consequence of an American health care system that treats medical care as a consumer good. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in 2018 found that 67 percent of Americans worry about paying for unexpected medical bills. By way of comparison, only 43 percent expressed similar concern about paying monthly utility bills, and just 41 percent cited rent or mortgage payments.

In 2019, the foundation found that 26 percent of adults have either struggled to pay medical bills or live with someone who has. Unpaid medical bills become medical debt, which destroys credit ratings, attracts harassment from collections agencies and postpones or precludes important purchases, including additional care.

In just societies, these debts do not exist. But in our society, charity must stand in for justice so long as the latter is in short supply.

One of RIP Medical Debt’s early fund-raising partners was NBC Universal, which ran a segment about the company’s campaign on its Dallas station in February 2018. The story caught the attention of Covenant Church, an enormous network based in North Texas. That Easter, Covenant donated $100,000 to relieve local families’ medical debt. RIP Medical Debt said since then it has worked with 465 congregations and religious groups to relieve about $820 million in medical debt across the country.

Partners of RIP Medical Debt need not raise the actual amount of money they intend to relieve in debt, because the price of debt reflects what collectors could recover — far less than is owed. That means a buyer can eliminate the debt for much less money than the debtor could.

RIP Medical Debt estimates that just one dollar can purchase, and relieve, $100 in medical debt. So with a series of relatively moderate fund-raising efforts and donations from corporations, nonprofit and religious groups, and individuals, RIP Medical Debt said, it has been able to eliminate almost $2.7 billion in medical debt.

Some religious congregations have donated money from cash reserves, and others from fund-raising drives. But all of them grasp what our legislators can’t: The cost of survival in this country is unconscionable, and we all share a moral obligation to do something about it.

And yet there is still something remarkable — almost miraculous — about this faith-driven debt relief. Although American Christianity is as malformed by the harsh tug of political poles as any other realm, forgiving medical debt has managed to ally very different Christians behind the same cause.

Mr. Mabry, for example, cheekily described his theological stance as “historically boring and orthodox,” even evangelical. Most people “would associate social concern with progressivism and maybe theological liberalism,” he said, but “the great majority of actual social programs are funded and executed by really frustratingly conservative, boring, historic, orthodox people, I think we would find.”

The Rev. Traci Blackmon is associate general minister of justice and local church ministries for the United Church of Christ, a fairly liberal denomination. “The U.C.C. has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures,” the church’s website says. “Its overarching creed is love.”

A recent campaign led by the church abolished more than $26 million in medical debt throughout New England, and the church plans to expand efforts to include the entire country.

Ms. Blackmon, like her denomination, is committed to social justice, having organized protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the police killed Michael Brown, and led an interfaith worship service in Charlottesville, Va., to oppose the 2017 Unite the Right rally. She sees this work as a natural extension of the U.C.C.’s interest in justice. “We’re buying somewhere close to $100 worth of debt for a dollar,” she told me, “and when you think about how many people’s credit is being ruined, how much access is being denied people because they can’t pay that bill, and I can come and pay your $5,000 bill with $12 — that’s not just.”

Mr. Mabry said a similar thing in our conversation. But if Christians so different in creed can agree on the necessity of relieving medical debt, why can’t Democrats?

The trouble with medical debt is that it is a consequence of the way our health care system is structured, with individuals owing, even in the best case, some out-of-pocket costs for their care. Debt may be eliminated today, but more will begin accumulating tomorrow unless drastic changes are made.

Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that while 45 percent of the uninsured have medical bills they can’t pay, one in five people in employer-sponsored coverage do, too.

In 2018, Kaiser asked people with high-deductible employer-sponsored insurance plans how they would pay if a medical procedure cost as much as their full deductible. Only 33 percent felt confident they could pay in full; the rest mentioned credit cards, payment plans, borrowing money — incurring medical debt, in other words.

It’s a reality many may soon face. Covid-19 can be an expensive illness to survive. Health System Tracker, a partnership between Kaiser and the Peterson Center on Healthcare, estimates that out-of-pocket costs for patients with private health insurance hospitalized for Covid-19 treatment can average about $1,300; those who require ventilator support or particularly long hospital stays can face even higher costs.

During his 2020 presidential bid, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed eliminating medical debt and then instituting a universal health care system that would prevent similar costs from building up again.

But President-elect Joe Biden’s record on helping Americans survive crushing debt is not promising. As a senator, he declined to vote for or he voted against measures that would have offered some protection to people suffering from medical debt. And he enthusiastically championed the 2005 bankruptcy bill that made it more difficult for families deep in debt to seek relief through the courts, touching off a feud with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

So far, his health care plan consists of protecting the Affordable Care Act and expanding tax credits and insurance options — better than nothing, but far less than needed.

There is an apocryphal statement often attributed to Saint Augustine, who helped lay the foundations of modern Christian theology: “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Augustine was a proponent of both justice and charity, each with its place in the order of things. It is unfortunate that in the United States — a country so rich, so suffuse with every possible luxury — so many people receive justice only in the form of charity, and only after they have lost so much.


Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) is an Opinion writer.



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