An elegy for the news

“Health Ministry Statistics say that the incidence of abnormal births has increased 400-fold since 1991. The Iraqis also say that, all told, 1.7m children have died because of the various effects of UN sanctions.” (The Economist, September 14th 2002, p 39)

Notice the date: a full year after 9/11, the Economist decides to publish a piece of the utmost interest in a casual and disinterested manner. What has been brewing under Bill Clinton, John Major and Tony Blair between 1991 and 2001 appears as though it had been the work of the previous year. Furthermore, the article occupies only three-quarters of the page, whereas the Economist constantly prints surveys of a dozen pages and briefings of three to four pages. Why this extreme economy? The Economist was a rabid supporter of the ‘war’ against Iraq: its willful neglect of the subject wears the aspect of a fig-leaf. It seems designed to play down the awful Iraqi deaths, and play up the American ones. No tragedy could compare to the American tragedy, however greater in scale. While we hear constantly about 9/11, we never hear about ’91/’01—nine-eleven versus nine-one-oh-one.

Au contraire.

Bill Clinton, mass murderer extraordinaire, is lionized by the media: a novel is written, then a play, a concert and finally an opera!

As far as I know, only one man has pointed out the holocaust—for that is what it surely is—and he is Norman Finkelstein. “As in the Nazi holocaust, a million children have likely perished,” he observes in his book ‘The Holocaust Industry, (London : Verso, 2000, p 148): “ . . . the United States and Britain forced murderous UN sanction on that hapless country [Iraq] in an attempt to depose him [Saddam Hussein]. As in the Holocaust, a million children have likely perished. [more than a million, as The Economist tells us].” Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s lackey, went on television to say that the ‘price is worth it.’ And his partner in murder, Al Gore, has been rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize, a rapidly devaluing currency. Mass killers are anointed and beatified.

Contact with these murderers enhances one’s prestige. Take Sir Fazle Abed and Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh. They are on intimate terms with the Clintons and other assorted ruffians—and this enhances their status (one of them has even been knighted). “Former US President Bill Clinton presented the Inaugural Clinton Global Citizen Award to Fazle Abed, Founder and Chairman of BRAC Bangladesh on September 27 at Carnegie Hall, New York,” proudly announces the website of Microfinance Gateway. To receive an award from a man like Clinton must be a source of humiliation and degradation—instead it bolstered Sir Fazle Abed’s standing in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi media has never pointed out the fact of the Clintonian carnage in Iraq.

Then there’s the other Clinton stooge from Bangladesh, Mohammed Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. And how did he get the Prize? According to Wikipedia: “Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was a vocal advocate for the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Muhammed Yunus. He expressed this in Rolling Stone magazine as well as in his autobiography My Life. In a speech given at University of California, Berkeley in 2002, President Clinton described Dr. Yunus as ‘a man who long ago should have won the Nobel Prize [and] I’ll keep saying that until they finally give it to him.’” To its credit, “The Economist stated explicitly that Yunus was a poor choice for the award, stating: ‘ . . . the Nobel committee could have made a braver, more difficult, choice by declaring that there would be no recipient at all.’” But this is how careers are made: on the coat-tails of the infamous.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in America have found a hero in their hour of crisis, and have conveniently forgotten the holocaust mentioned by Norman Finkelstein. The news has been interred.

Exhuming more news

There have been four elections in Bangladesh since the toppling of the dictator, General H.M. Ershad. Only the first was fair. But the international press (the local press never tells the truth) admitted to only one case of electoral fraud: that of 2008. The Economist observed: “Ever since 2008, when the Awami League, helped by bags of Indian cash and advice, triumphed in general elections in Bangladesh, relations with India have blossomed.” In that election, turnout was 87% and in some constituencies 92%! General Ershad had passed his expert opinion (since he had rigged many an election and is close to the army) that the 2008 election was rigged.

Now, elections have to be rigged in Bangladesh: democracy must be seen to happen, even if it doesn’t actually happen; hence parties must rotate. The Western donors demand it: so they go along with the lies.

Like a gullible fool, I didn’t believe it when a bureaucrat told me that the 2001 election had ‘also’ been rigged. But the thought persisted.

News of the rigged election of 1996 and 2001 was buried deep in an inaccessible article in the science and technology section of the Economist (February 24 2007, p 82): “One example concerns an analysis of the last three elections in Bangladesh. The 1991 election showed no strange results. For the 1996 election, some 2% of results were problematic. And fully 9% of the results in 2001 failed the test. The 2001 election was fiercely contested. Yet monitors from the Carter Centre and the European Union found the election to be acceptably, if not entirely, free and fair. Tests like Dr. Mebane’s one could provide monitors with quantitative estimates of exactly how free and fair an election has been. . . .” The report was a citation of work by Walter Mebane and his team at Cornell. Never again has the Economist adverted to this piece of information. The news has been interred.

And to think so many people died in political violence for rigged elections. Yet it all makes sense: Western donors and our bureaucrats have taken it upon themselves to give Buggins his (or her) turn. It’s all eyewash, for the consumption of the US and EU domestic audience, and our masses as well as our intelligentsia (except the bureaucrats, who are past masters at manipulation).

Et tu, Fisk?

I have always been intrigued by the accuracy of reports on unreachable, obscure places. One such was a report on honour killing by Robert Fisk. .

“A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for ‘honor.’” . . . (italics added)”

Yet the article does not cite a single case of a man being killed for honour: all the victims are women. This makes the attentive reader immediately suspicious. But there’s worse to come.

“Many women’s groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year.”

“But lest these acts—and the names of the victims, when we are able to discover them—be forgotten, here are the sufferings of a mere handful of women over the past decade, selected at random, country by country, crime after crime.”

“British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of ‘honor’ in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone—350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions.” Well, she might believe that, but why should the reader? What’s her evidence? What are her sources? After all, almost by definition, these crimes are well-concealed.

“In Jordan, women’s organizations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more ‘honor’ killings than Muslims—often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims. Their stories are wearily and sickeningly familiar.”

Since the Christians are ‘loath’ to discuss their honour crimes, and the Muslims presumably very happy to do so, we get not a single report on Christian honour killings—a curious omission, since Jordanian women’s organizations make a very accurate claim.

“According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women—20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25—were killed in ‘honor’ crimes and feuds. “ Feuds? Where did that come from? Feuds are a totally different matter from honour crimes. In feuds, men are as often killed, surely? And feuds are a sign of tribal society, not male oppression.

But this line takes the biscuit: “But the contagion of ‘honor’ crimes has spread across the globe. . . .”

First, it’s a contagion—presumably from Muslim countries to erstwhile innocent Christians and Hindus (two Hindu cases are mentioned). Second, it has ‘spread’—presumably from those nasty Middle Eastern societies.

Third, it has even spread to Bangladesh (a Muslim country). And are parents and brothers in Bangladesh killing their daughters and sisters for having strange phone numbers in their cell phones? No, it’s taken a different turn:

“But the contagion of ‘honor’ crimes has spread across the globe, including acid attacks on women in Bangladesh for refusing marriages.”

The (Western) reader would tend to think that the acid attack is made by parents and brothers when a girl refuses to marry the man of their choice.

Robert Fisk clearly knows almost nothing about Bangladesh. Acid attacks in Bangladesh are not authored by the family, but by criminal youths (they were almost unknown before our democratic transition of 1990). And the reason is only sometimes frustrated romance—land disputes have played a significant part, and men are also victims.

The subject surely deserved to be treated with respect, considering its seriousness.

Iftekhar Sayeed was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he currently resides. He teaches English as well as economics. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in Postcolonial Text (on-line); Altar Magazine, Online Journal, Left Curve (2004,2005) and The Whirligig in the United States; in Britain: Mouseion, Erbacce, The Journal, Poetry Monthly, Envoi, Orbis, Acumen and Panurge; and in Asiaweek in Hong Kong; Chandrabhaga and the Journal OF Indian Writing in English in India; and Himal in Nepal. He is also a freelance journalist. He and his wife love to tour Bangladesh.

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One Response to An elegy for the news

  1. Hi,

    Nice writing on An elegy for the news.