Why we don't know enough about Motijheel? Why can't it be simple?

Last month an estimated 10 000 police and paramilitaries fired upon a crowds of up an estimated 100 000 unarmed and sleeping religious protesters in Motijheel, a heavily built up business district in Dhaka Bangladesh. They had come to challenge the religious defamation, denigration and abuse of religious figures by a number of increasingly powerful elements of society and government.

A government cover-up was undertaken, bodies cleared away, mass arrests, follow up operations and misinformation campaigns were waged. Censorship was no only ipmosed, but willingly supported by much of the national media and NGO crowd. Most of the dissenting media had already been silenced in preceding months and weeks. The channels that tried to cover events live were summarily shut down.

Here are some heart searing videos.  Attack on Rally on 5th (day)  Massacre on 6th (early morning) 

The terrible events of 5th and 6th May in Dhaka game changing, but their causal relations with  1) the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunals,  2) the Shahbag Movement and 3) the politics of election year haunt any attempt to establish the facts, raise the alarm and invoke a community of justice.

These relationships make finding the truth of the Motijheel Massacre fearful ground to tread, as this is hard to work though without challenging the formative national narrative,  contemporary urban pop culture and its associated peer pressure and political distortion.

With such a lot of turmoil going on why should we try to make sense out of yet more trouble in Bangladesh? Isn't that the job of the media and investigative journalism?

But the gauntlet is that we must walk towards the clues and facts, pick them up, look at them and listen to the thousands of stories they tell us. Its not easy

1, 2, 3 Easy as ABC ?

In a recent ABC (Australia) radio programme some progress is made in explaining the tribunals, if just at least to register the, probably consensual absence of Bengali Muslims from telling the story and the Bangladeshi establishment positions of Meghna Guhatakurta, a Dhaka academic whose father was killed by pak forces in operation searchlight, who says that 'victims are satisfied with the tribunal process', and Australia based Bina D'Costa, who pronounces Pakistan is a very peculiar way, who says that the independent government drew on soviet sources for the 3 million (multidimensional bollocks).

Listen here, its rare to hear both sides in the same programme because the seculib block maintains a total non engagement with the substance of their increasingly coherent and articulate companion's discourse. Dr Guhatakurta complains that the victim's don't have the international resources and connections that those accused of war crimes have. I think this is odd, given that a third of the educated bangladeshis int he world talk about little else than 1971 and that their discourse dominates the establishment literature and media's bias against non secular people.

Toby Cadman, London-based barrister assisting the accused in the tribunals, and Sarmila Bose, Oxford-based researcher whose 'Dead Reckoning' book the Bangladeshi establishment has been discriminating against and avoiding the substance of for 2 years, also feature in the edited programme. I think radio/sound is a good medium of integrating contesting voices from around the globe. As a multipolar learning exchange with the truth as the objective is nigh on impossible without descending to a cat-fight or a massacre, the indignity of playing this out over the airwaves of whitey seems inevitable.

I remember when Brick Lane Circles hosted Sarmila Bose in London, (watch it on Vimeo here) the Awami League establishment tried to institute a boycott against the platform by scaring the curious away from it. One competing west Bengali researcher, Nayanika Mukherjee made an ass of herself at the event and is on record blowing her top of.

It is interesting that the official gatekeepers of the victims of 1971 should suggest 'you are marginalising our voice', with the symbolically unassailable identity of being orphaned by this carnage, part of the present knowledge producing establishment, urban, academic, female and not of the majority religion. On the contrary, I think the 1971 establishment narrative has the greatest global soft power projection and have spoken about the Double Standards of Evidence in relation to the Motijheel incident recently. Take the comparative coverage of yesterdays police brutality in Istanbul and last month's massacre of protesters in Motijheel.


In Turkey yesterday the AKP government's urban development thinking  (bismillah capitalism) and use of police came in for attack as they cracked down violently on Occupygezi protesters, killing one. Hardcore ultra-nationalist CHP and global occupy infrastructure then became one and the global media jumped up and down, not out of interest for public spaces, but because of the opportunity to give a non-secular government a good kicking. The constructive alignment of interests show that its not killing that's a problem, but who you kill, and the reporting interests and relay infrastructure around them.

The corporate media has its weakness written into its business model.
By contrast, there was very little national or international interest in the Motijheel massacre, which killed many many people. Here the secular liberal Bangladeshi establishment, with its people well embedded in the international media ( Sabir Mustafa at BBC Bengali, Anushay Hussain at Al Jazeera the Stream for a start) has confused, blocked scrutiny and toed the government line.

The #Occupy phenomena has been thoroughly captured by neoliberalism and bled of meaning for partisan national politicking.  Frame your spectacle with occupy branding and range it against any political islam for easy digestibility and travel along the global left. Here we have Turkey' very own Shahbag movment, but with open alcohol, kissing (last week) and  irresponsible (ab)use of mosque facilities.

Both government brutalities in Dhaka and Istanbul had equipment in common, the Otokar Kobra, a Turkish manufactured riot car. In the still captured here, a Dhaka Metropolitan Policeman is caught mid-fire in vehicle serial number 26. This is sad because Turkish Muslim political and civil society has done much for justice in Bangladesh and for the Rohingya. Chillingly, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police have been busy hobnobbing with the US Embassy over "Special Event Management"

A young Dhaka Metropolitan Police officer fires into an unarmed crowd of what looks like a Otokar Kobra vehicle in the early hours of 6th Feb. 
The Epistemic Politics of Knowing Killing

The reporting infrastructure around the Martyrs of Motihjeel has been poor and largely ignored. With the main human rights NGO, Sultana Kamal's 300 strong Ain-o-Salish Kendra taking the side of the government generally on annihilation of opposition, and specifically Motijheel and Tribunals issues, the role of alternatives, like the smaller Odhikar organisation have become more important. They were amongst the first to press release strongly on it after the killings and provide some good data in their monthly review document which can be read online, and ends in their own 13 points.

There are other resources, like the group blog Kaagoj, the indomitable Basherkella Facebook group phenomenon ( get an editor and watch your backs guys), the committed February 28 Info initiative (whose image library and analysis is worth soaking in) and the analytical Khichuri .

I'm not sure that Odhikar accessed them, and feel that there is a great deal of parallel work going on on discovering the truth behind the Motijheel incident, but for various, but ultimately inexcusable, reasons, the important questions, data and spadework is not being done.

In the meantime the Bangladesh government, led for now by the Awami League, has been able to clean the scene, deceive the public and turn this into a fundamentalist/militancy issue. The main opposition BNP is not interested in establishing the facts, Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh are still running for their lives and I really do not know how to describe the (non) function of Hefazot e Islam at present. As the primary oppressed party, condolences and counselling should be offered, not derision and parasitical questioning.

This leaves the knowledge gap quite huge, but it is out there, some of it is digital and accessible to us, some of it human and scared and politically muted, a lot of it physical, think of all the damage to the urban fabric of dhaka that tell stories, bullet holes, broken glass and general detritus. This has not been properly dealt with, people on the ground who have not taken the initiative.

So we must, warts and all.

Looking through the Diganta coverage of the day and the night is useful to get a feel for progression of violence during the day, but what we really need to piece together are the reflected experiences from the day,
  • from Lalbagh Madrassa where Hefazot seniors were headquartered, and surrendered.
  • through the events around the National Mosque in which police and Awami Aligned thugs attacked protesters from early afternoon,
  • and Motijheel where the government violence centred, 
  • as well as Kachpur (12km away from Motijheel, where there are rumours of hindi speakers being involved) and Hathazari (near chittagong) madrasas where community's resisted government attacks after the . 
Humans not numbers
I recently came to know of an undergraduate engineering student killed, or shaheed depending of your persuasion, in the government attack on Motijheel. His Facebook account tells us of a young man very much of the middle class, educated in Government Laboratory School and Dhaka City College before gaining entry to the county's most (only remaining?) prestigious institution. His avatar was a cartoon of two young muslim men hugging each other, he liked Lord of the Rings, used to tutor kids and volunteered as part of the youth wing of the Lion's club. He liked Arundhati Roy and The God of Small things. He last posted on 20th April and I wish I could to right by his parents. Many of the other victims of that day and night will not have had such digital presences as the much vaunted 'Digital Bangladesh' is an unequal techno joke. Today (Monday) the New Age of Dhaka even misspelled his names in a report that at least proved the Governments account of non lethal force, a death toll of 11 to be false.

Lord raise you Rehan Ahsan and protect your family from the terror of state abuse. Help truth and justice be made from these despicable events.

What should be done now?
The task for us at this point is not a matter of producing and consuming media but of demonstrating a new kind of, often quite remote, collaborative citizen science and humanity.

Corporate media has its biasing built into its very business model, and so its no surprise that Al Jazeera has steadily got worse in its Bangladesh coverage over the past months as it tries to break into the US market.  What happened in Bangladesh on 5th / 6th May is bigger than any one party or social group, and therefore it is vital that a solid chunk of diverse people work on this issue in an effective manner which carries the scent of the way of things to come.

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