I’m glad I stayed home last Friday because riots broke out yesterday in Dhaka City and dozens were injured. There hasn’t been riots for a while in Bangladesh. The last time this happened was around when I first started this blog. Unfortunately, unlike the previous riots, these ones were religious in nature. Religious extremists were (violently) protesting plans to give women equal rights in regards to inheritance (equal rights for women? For shame! /sarcasm).
The simple fact is – especially when it comes to Islamic extremists – such protests are nothing but an exercise in hypocrisy. Because there is supposed to be “no compulsion in Islam”. If these religious extremists were truly following their religion – they should not have been trying to forcibly impose their particular interpretation of Islam on others. God gave us all free will and I – for one – will be damned if I accept the attempts of some of his more extreme followers to try and take away that gift.
As disturbing as these developments are this is proof of what Dr. Jeffrey Sachs has been arguing. There is a connection between religious extremism, terrorism, and poverty. It should be no surprise that these religious extremists were able to mobilize during a time of severely rising food prices. These food prices have already caused a lot of people to protest and riot. It’s very easy to redirect one’s anger when they are hungry – and that’s what the extremists have been doing.
To fight Islamic – hypocritical – extremism we need to fight poverty. It’s just that simple.
After my latest video got featured on the YouTube homepage, there were so many people leaving comments about how fat I was, how I talked, or just leaving racial epithets, that I was resigned to the fact that my message had been lost among all the hateful messages. Then, something really amazing happened. A group of well-spoken, intelligent, and considerate group of commenters appeared. And, for the first time since being featured, a real conversation emerged.
Of course, as with any discussion, we didn’t all end up agreeing. But at least we addressed some important issues. Here is a summary of some of the topics that were touched upon:
Belinda Meggitt is someone I met here in Bangladesh through Mikey Leung. In one of her recent blog posts, Belinda asks the question if candid photographs of third world suffering constitutes a form of voyeurism. One thing I’ve learned since going to the cyclone disaster area is that, when it comes to cameras, the poor are often be treated like zoo animals.
There is a right way and a wrong way of taking photographs. If you want to be respectful of those you are photographing or filming, you sometimes have to risk coming back with horrible shots or horrible footage. Filming and photographing should come second – being respectful should come first. This was exactly what my experience was with Save the Children. When I was handing out my blankets, filming was done in a corner away from the kids. A lot of the footage didn’t turn out that well – but all of it was gathered in a unobtrusive and respectful manner.
Unfortunately, not every cameraman is that respectful.
A lot of people gathering footage and photos would sometimes setup their shots – asking aid recipients to stand, pose, and look at the camera. Sometimes this can be unobtrusive and just a simple request. Other times – and I’ve actually seen this – people would be tugged at, pulled, and placed into position. One time I saw a kid who was hiding her face by tightly hugging her mother. Staff members from a charity wanted to take a photo of her – so an aid worker came and stuck his hand under the kid’s chin and lifted her head so that her face could be visible.
But even if you aren’t manhandling your subject – there are other concerns as well.
As someone rich enough to have four walls around me and a roof over my head – if I want privacy, I close the door. What about those too poor to own a home? Or, as with Cyclone Sidr, have recently lost their home? Their private moments are made public by the simple fact they have no place to call their own. As someone who is behind the lens, I can tell you it’s a very tough call. There is always this feeling that if you are able to take a good photo or get good footage – it just might be what inspires others back home to start giving a damn. I think a lot of charities which gather footage and photos feel the same way.
Whether or not someone receives your charity – they always deserve your respect.
Coming to Bangladesh has given me a greater appreciation for all the freedoms we enjoy in America and elsewhere in the Western World. Sometimes I think we forget just how free things are over there. In the United States, if my cellphone wasn’t working and if I couldn’t get online with my computer, I would just assume that I wasn’t getting any reception and that I had a bad internet connection. I could never imagine, as did actually happen here in Bangladesh, that the government would order the shutdown of cellphone networks and internet access gateways.
In America, when I watch 24-hour news programs like CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, I know they can each have their own bias – but they are allowed to say what they want. I could never imagine that the government would forcibly shut down any one of these stations because one of them said something the government didn’t like. But that’s exactly what happened to CSB – Bangladesh’s only 24-hour news network. After airing footage of anti-government protests, the government shut down the station. (I am linking to the CSB entry in Wikipedia because the government not only took the station off the air, but also shutdown their website as well)
Eventually, I’m sad to say, this kind of censorship changes how you react. So, when I and others were consistently unable to access many Bangladeshi blogs hosted on Blogspot – my first reaction was to assume that this was a new form of government censorship. Blocking blogs is not something new – Pakistan and Turkey do it presently for WordPress.com (and, previously, were also blocking Blogspot.com). But, sometimes – as it seems to be in this case – this was just a technical glitch that affected multiple users on multiple ISPs. Unfortunately, governments that choose to limit free speech usually don’t make press releases stating that they are going to be doing so.
Life would be much easier if every government that wanted to censor or limit free speech would make a press release saying “Oh hai! Im in ur internetz – censorinz ur speech” (and if the press release was worded like that, life would also be much cuter).
[This post has been updated – see below after the jump] Bangladesh seems to be apparently blocking access to Google and its related web properties. I noticed this on my own connection about 48 to 72 hours ago. Since then I have been able to get independent confirmation from those using different internet connections. This problem seems to affect Bangladeshis trying to access Google’s services via EDGE, GPRS, and landline based internet connections in both Dhaka and other locations in the country.
More details after the jump along with a way to bypass this blocking. Continue reading ‘BREAKING: Bangladesh Censoring/Blocking Access to Google’
I am probably the last person in the world who should be trying to do a project in Bangladesh.
I realized this from talking to Mikey Leung – a fellow Canadian in Bangladesh. Like me, Mikey is here to try and make a difference in Bangladesh. He works for a charity, raises money for flood victims, and is working as an IT professional in Bangladesh. But, unlike me, he has no extended family in Bangladesh. For me, having family has made this project feasible – I don’t have to worry about spending money for a place to stay, I get great home cooked meals, and I can even bum a ride most of the time. But, more often than not – it means I’m restricted in where I can go and what I can do.
As a kid, I used to resent this overprotectiveness. As an adult, I now realize that this overprotectiveness comes from a family traumatized by their experience in Bangladesh…. Continue reading ‘A Family Traumatized By Bangladesh’
“We can’t discuss this over the phone” is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately while in Bangladesh. Whether it’s openly talking about the military government, the curfew they have imposed, or the riots that instigated the curfew – people are scared to even talk. I’ve been to Bangladesh many times before – but I’ve never seen people this scared before.
There have been riots, strikes, and curfews in the country before – but there are a few things which make this time different. First, there is no longer a democratically elected government. In the past, one political party topples another (either by force or political pressure) – elections usually follow. But what happens when you topple a military government? No one is really sure.
This time is also different because journalists and foreigners are being targeted. Typically, democratic political parties would want cameras rolling – hoping that the media will sympathize with them and vilify the enemy instead. But, now even the BBC isn’t even safe from being caught by the army. Local journalists haven’t been as lucky – with many being detained and reporting beatings (source).
No one seems to be safe from the government’s eye here. The government’s have accused democratic politicians, foreigners, NGOs, or simply “evil forces” as being responsible for the riots and as justification for continued curfews.
It’s times like this that I’d rather be in South Bend. Aren’t we playing against Georgia Tech this weekend?