Reclaiming life in times of deathby Rahnuma Ahmed
DOES the development industry in Bangladesh think for ourselves? I think not, and I now want to turn to Mr Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of Brac, the largest development organisation in the world, who was conferred knighthood by the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in early 2010. Prince Charles conferred the knighthood on behalf of his mother, known as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. Mr Abed is the first person of Bangladeshi origin since 1947 to be honoured with a knighthood. Sir Abed’s new title is Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, KMCG. I want to make it clear to everyone that my discussion of Mr Abed’s knighthood is definitely not a personal attack or judgement, but an exercise in the Kantian sense of ‘free and public examination’.
I think one of the first questions, one that is bound to occur to many is, what on earth is the British empire? For, as we all know, the sun has, fortunately, set on the British empire. Other questions can arise and I want to stimulate these by turning to what some British-ers who have turned down offers of knighthood or, damehood, in the case of women, have said.
-- The rock star David Bowie said: ‘I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.’ Bowie added, he prefers specific honours which highlight his artistic talent, as opposed to the more general titles offered by Queen Elizabeth II.
-- The British stage and film star Albert Finney rejected it saying that it was perceived as ‘snobbery’.
-- The British actress Vanessa Redgrave, who is the only British actress to have received the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, apparently prefers to remain ‘a commoner’.
-- The British physicist Stephen Hawking turned down the offer saying he ‘dislikes the whole concept.’
-- And Benjamin Zephaniah, who is a British Jamaican writer and dub poet, who was included in the Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers, said: ‘I have been fighting against the legacy of empire all my life... Anybody who has thought of giving me this OBE can’t have read my work. It does not mean anything to me. I do not write poems to win awards or to get OBEs or laureateships. I write for people. I write to connect with myself and to connect with people.’
Now, the nation’s largely-corporatised media frames events such as these into a singular story line: ‘He has placed Bangladesh on the map, we are no longer a bottomless basket’ — and this, I think, is wearing thin. I find it surprising that no one in the media has asked Mr Abed to respond to what some of those who have rejected the honour have said — ‘It’s not what I spent my life working for,’ ‘It is perceived as snobbery,’ ‘I prefer to remain a commoner,’ ‘I write for people [not for the Empire]. I write to connect with myself and to connect with people.’ Or, maybe, it is not surprising.
I also wish to express my curiosity at the thought culture which prevails in Brac and in its sister development organisations. Was there no one to point out that ‘remaining a commoner’ is not a bad idea for someone whose goal, as Mr Abed puts it, is to ‘eradicate poverty’? Mr Abed has said that he has accepted the award on ‘behalf of all Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (Brac) workers across the world.’ But did he want to know from Brac workers before accepting the honour what they thought of it? Does everyone at Brac agree that submission and deference to the Empire, is a good idea? I invite you to take a close look at the photo, for this is precisely what it signifies to me.
Now, since there isn’t any British Empire as such, instead, the British ruling class has poodled itself to the American empire-building project, maybe we need to re-contextualise our questions to make them fit into the present reality. Maybe, Mr Abed’s acceptance speaks of Brac’s willingness to work in the interests of empire-building, i.e. American empire-building?
Let me explain why I think it is not outrageous to suggest this. Brac is fighting poverty not only in Bangladesh but in eight other countries in the world, including Afghanistan (2002) which is occupied by US-led forces. Brac’s official website says its aim is to ‘catalyse lasting change, [and to] creat[e] an eco-system in which the poor have the chance to seize control of their lives.’ Now, based on our experience of fighting for freedom in 1971, seizing control of one’s life would imply, first and foremost, fighting to rid the nation of foreign occupiers. But nothing indicates that Brac supports the Afghan resistance, and it is most important to remember that those fighting against foreign rule in Afghanistan are not only the Taliban. Malalai Joya, the former Afghan member of parliament, has repeatedly stressed ‘no democratic-minded and progressive group will betray Afghans by supporting the devastating US policies in Afghanistan.’ She says the US government knows that only warlords are ready to serve US interests if money is poured into their pockets, so it ‘supports them because they are head-to-toe lackeys who agree to every command of their foreign masters.’
Brac, by working in US-occupied Afghanistan, not only lends support to the occupation, but by choosing to remain silent on atrocities that have shocked peace-loving peoples the world over, it appears to silently support war crimes. I would like to list some of the atrocities committed by US forces in Afghanistan, which, from what I know, Brac has not condemned, at least I have not come across any such press release: the use of depleted uranium weapons which cause skin lesions, sudden deaths, spontaneous abortions, as well as birth deformities and multiple cancers (its use is against US and international law); torture of Afghan prisoners which includes water-boarding; deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians caused by American and NATO bombings; scenes of US marine soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters, burning of copies of the Qur’an, Panjwai shooting spree on March 11, 2012 in which 16 civilians were killed; US marines posing with body parts of dead insurgents, some of these were collected as trophies.
Brac has not taken any position on drone attacks either.
Now, I want to draw your attention to what I call a ‘conspiratorial silence.’ Think about these two instances, the one I talked about just now, Mr Abed’s knighthood and Brac working in occupied Afghanistan, and the other incident, about academic freedom and not a peep out of either public or private universities. Well, why is it that no one talks about it? Does it mean that a group of men and women, top leaders in the development industry, in academia, the media (which is very important because that is how public opinion is formed and steered), and some of our servile intellectuals, sit in the middle of the night and plot secretly to make sure that these issues are not raised as public concerns, that so-and-so is not taken to task, is not publicly questioned about how such actions, or inactions, can be defended? No, it doesn’t work that way, it doesn’t have to, because the concerned organisations and institutions are already embedded in networks of power and obligation. They are, in most cases, the offsprings and beneficiaries of these networks of power and profit.
A similar conspiratorial silence exists over 9/11, and this is the last issue that I want to talk about today.
First, let’s take a quick look at what we have been told about 9/11:
-- 19 terrorists from the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger jets on the morning of September 11, 2001; two were piloted into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre complex in New York City, both towers collapsed within two hours. A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia, the fourth, intended for the United States Capitol Building, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks including 227 civilians and 19 hijackers aboard the four planes.
-- President George Bush Jr called on all civilised nations to band together and fight terrorism. Osama bin Laden was declared the main suspect. The US-led NATO/ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 because the Taliban government refused to hand him over.
What the media war, which was launched almost immediately as the planes crashed into the Twin Tower buildings, and has continued since, has either sidelined or chosen to blackout, or, brush off as conspiracy theories, are facts so significant that one can almost understand why the western mainstream media, which dominates the world media, and are propagandists of war, is behaving as it does.
-- 7 of the 19 suicide hijackers turned up alive. They claimed that they were not hijackers, that they lived elsewhere, had not been on any of those domestic flights, had neither armed themselves with box-cutters, nor flown hijacked aeroplanes headlong into tall buildings. One of them even said he had never been to the United States. The FBI did not investigate why suicide hijackers were alive and not dead, nor did it alter its list of 9/11 hijackers.
-- mind-boggling coincidences occurred: (a) the standard operating procedures of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, the defence shield which normally protects the United States against all forms of airborne attack, including by hijacked aircraft, was apparently suspended, because vice-president Dick Cheney was running several war games in the north-eastern side of the US. These had been scheduled for later in the year but Cheney brought them ahead, on September 11, all on the same day, leaving the American skies totally defenceless, which is ‘unprecedented.’ (b) The day before 9/11 occurred, US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld in a speech to Pentagon employees disclosed that 2.3 trillion dollars could not be accounted for, but because of the attacks the next day, this was hardly mentioned in the major world newspapers. Imagine what the western media would have made of the story if it had happened in a Third World country!
-- Initially, president Bush had opposed an independent investigation into the 9/11 incident. The 9/11 Commission was created only after intense Congressional lobbying on the part of 9/11 family members; respectable researchers and analysts have cast serious doubts on the report’s credibility.
-- Serious doubts have been raised over Building 7, also known as WTC 7, a 47-story skyscraper, and part of the World Trade Centre complex. It collapsed at 5:20pm on September 11, 2001. It was not hit by a plane. It had suffered minimal damage compared to other buildings closer to the Twin Towers, Buildings 3, 4, 5 and 6, which were severely damaged by falling debris, and fires that burned for hours. But none of them collapsed. At the time of its destruction, Building 7 exclusively housed government agencies and financial institutions (IRS, US Secret Service, Securities and Exchange Commission). According to official explanations, it collapsed because of fires, if so, then it is the first and only steel skyscraper in the world to have collapsed because of fire. 9/11 family members along with architects and engineers who doubt the government's version, and want to create public pressure to compel the New York City Council and Manhattan District Attorney to open a new investigation, launched a public campaign on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Let us watch their ad.
-- what the western mainstream media quickly glosses over as well is that the Libyan opposition on the ground which was helped by NATO bombing to topple Gaddafi, includes al-Qaeda. What the media also glosses over is that al-Qaeda forces are now in Syria, part of the opposition which NATO supports, to remove president Bashar al-Assad from power.
Former high-ranking western leaders have not only cast serious doubts on the official narrative, they have explained why it cannot be true.
-- Michael Meacher, former environment minister, UK says: ‘The 9/11 attacks allowed the US to press the “go” button for a strategy in accordance with the PNAC [Project for a New American Century] agenda which it would otherwise have been politically impossible to implement. The overriding motivation for this political smokescreen is that the US and the UK are beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy supplies. By 2010 the Muslim world will control as much as 60% of the world’s oil production and, even more importantly, 95% of remaining global oil export capacity. As demand is increasing, so supply is decreasing, continually since the 1960s.’ Meacher mentions that the PNAC document had suggested that false flag operations, i.e. covert operations designed to deceive the public, such as the famous Pearl Harbour incident, which president Roosevelt’s government had made use of to drag the US into World War 2, would be helpful to get public support.
-- Former Italian president Francesco Cossiga, famous for his honesty and outspokenness, who had revealed the existence of, and his own part in setting up the false flag operation, Gladio, thinks that the 9/11 attacks were run by the CIA and Mossad (Israeli intelligence service). Cossiga says it is common knowledge among global intelligence agencies that 911 was an inside job. The reason? To put the blame on the Arab countries. To induce western powers to take control of Iraq and Afghanistan.
-- Andreas von Bulow, former German defence minister (in Helmut Schmidt’s government), says he finds the official account ‘totally incredible’. ‘The planning of the attacks was technically and organizationally a master achievement. To hijack four huge airplanes within a few minutes, and within one hour to drive them into their targets with complicated flight maneuvers! This is unthinkable without years-long support from secret apparatuses of the state and industry.’ Von Bulow knows what he is talking about for, as Bundestag member he served on the parliamentary commission which oversaw the three branches of the German secret service. He insists that Mossad was behind 9/11. The reasons? To influence and brainwash the American people into a ‘long, long, ongoing conflict with the Muslim world,’ to get ‘the last oil reserves which we need for the next decades before the oil age’ goes out.
When asked, how could a government, one that leads the world’s most powerful democracy, entertain the idea, let alone carry it out, of doing something as heinous, as immoral, and well, outright murderous? Bulow’s words are chillingly clear, ‘It’s a form of war. In war, it’s acceptable for people to die, even on your own side.’
But, despite a mass of evidence staring us in the face, we refuse to connect the dots. We refuse to think for ourselves, even though it could mean, in the eyes of Martin Luther King, that we are not fit to live.
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