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Jeddah: An Exile’s Champs-Elysées

April 23, 2007

From our new guest blogger, Hussain: 

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Jeddah: An Exile’s Champs-Elysées

By Hussain

Shahid Moinul Hossain Road in Dhaka Cantonment to 810 Mutawwa Avenue in Jeddah, H.E Fakhruddin (no, not the biryani house, the CA of course silly!) has managed to do what post independence turmoil, oppressive martial law regimes, and electoral victories and losses have failed to do. What can’t this man do?

And although Riyadh’s Mutawwa Avenue is no Hickory Lane, it is no stranger to Begums in exile, and of course- the occasional Janab. Their permanent residence too began as many other’s did, with the ominous “Umrah Trip”. Ironically, such religious pilgrimage when done with sincerity cleanses the servant and wipes the slate clean in the Lord Almighty’s court. Something tells me, our immediate past Prime Minister hopes the CA feels the same way, optimism is always a good thing. My sources report that ( almost as credible, or incredible for some, as Jon Stewart’s Daily Show) in a rare glimpse of dry and arid Saudi humor, the authorities may put her up in a house between archrivals and former Pakistani premiers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto; and across the street from the former residence of once celebrated and now despised Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. For once, I don’t mind losing territory to the Pakistanis.

All this, while our other Madam is holed up at her sister’s residence in London, deciding on “future decisions”. No reason why we cant spring for another private jet and accompanying residence in this glamorous zip code of who’s who in the world of oppressive rulers and dictators; after the “Umrah Trip” of course. Being home to many leaders in exile must be a lot of work for the public diplomacy department at the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Kingdom seems to attract the covetous eye of reformists in many ways as the Cayman Islands attract international citizenry tired of paying taxes or worse yet, Cuba’s Mariel boatlift in 1980 which landed degenerates and delinquents of all stripes stateside. Pardon me, I didn’t mean to liken our former Prime Minister to the likes of Tony Montana.

Much is being said and even more written, regarding due process and the transparency of our CA’s initiatives. I personally, don’t see this as a black and white issue, but as most things in Bangladesh ( or so the bureaucracy will have you believe )- this too seems to squarely land in the proverbial “gray area”. Regardless of the credibility and viability of the cases the SOE government has against both leaders, one possible message the government has sent clearly with it’s minus 2 scheme is “we are not ready for another national scandal, nor to compromise the image of our former Heads of Government” ( what image you ask? The image of the office, not the bearers my cheeky friend). On a side note, and I don’t mean to go all Paul Begala on you, but if Sheikh Hasina manages some intelligent politicking (think Sonia Gandhi, i.e. outside the box) , the 2008 elections are for the taking. Whatever political maneuverings the next couple of weeks reveal, I for one, am too busy to sympathize with the plight of our fallen leaders.

I remember reading an article early last year, about a group of BNP activists seeking retribution from their AL counterparts ( for their years in opposition, which the AL cronies no doubt took full advantage of). After beating one of the activist’s senseless, they proceeded to rape and assault the victim’s pregnant wife. She and her unborn baby, died later that week, leaving him to live with that reality. In a show of grandstanding and support ( or perhaps just a good photo op), Sheikh Hasina stood next to his bedside and demanded justice (from 96′- 00′, Khaleda Zia too, stood next to many victims and did the same thing).

That day, I remember reflecting on the betrayal of the blood many before these “activists” had shed, so that the latter, didn’t have to. Annals of history testify to our silent protests against Pakistani soldiers meting out the same treatment to our women and children in the pre-Independence era. I suppose it’s true what they say of revolutions that forget their revolutionaries- each promising a better tomorrow, only proving worse than yesterday.

While it is all important, that we keep in this path of reform with increased transparency, I think its high time the government took a moment to rally it’s people (or vice-versa) to collectively engage in a rare moment of honesty, introspection, and admission of guilt. To admit, that we went wrong, we began valuing the helms of power more than life itself. That the only thing worse than what our leadership did, was our turning a blind eye to it. When they were guilty of inciting violence, we were guilty of connivance. It is a telling matter that from all of Islamic law (Hanafi Madhab), only a quarter deals with worship, i.e. the interaction between the Lord and His servant, and the remaining three quarters, deals with interactions between people. The caution and grace the Shariah emphasizes when people deal with people, is unabashedly apparent. And if its not religious code that we identify with, then let it be moral and humanitarian ethos.

Whatever our motivations or convictions, it can’t be too bold to declare that we as a nation will no longer compromise life and the integrity of life, for political gain. Perhaps, we will not find poverty alleviation tomorrow, nor will we find alleviation from hunger, or alleviation from any of the myriad of other national nightmares we suffer from. But surely, as our leaders in exile begin their process of denial, depression, acceptance and eventual healing- in their self attained realities; we too, as a nation can accept our mistakes and eventually some day, find forgiveness from our innocent sister and her unborn baby.

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