Bangladesh: A Bit of Moderate Muslim Torture

Article excerpt

One of my closest friends, Mohammad Abdur Rob, has been arrested in Bangladesh and charged with treason. He is one of many thousands who have been detained during a little-reported government crackdown.

Rob, who fought for Bangladesh during its war of liberation in 1971, is head of the cultural department for Proshika, an internationally financed NGO. Culture in Bangladesh has a special resonance, because ever since independence, the country has been engaged in a low-intensity (though sometimes violent) cultural war. Broadly, those who see themselves primarily as Bengalis are at odds with those who see themselves as Muslim first and only then as Bengalis. Proshika stands with the first group and, for that reason, the coalition government of Bangladeshi nationalists and Islamists, which came to power in October 2001, has frozen its accounts for the past two years.

The Islamists were given the government's welfare portfolio, and with good reason. The government is hostile to western funding, particularly if it is dedicated to secularism and the social and economic independence of women. The long-term plan is to replace western donors with Saudi and Gulf money--with all that that implies for the fate of liberal, pluralist values. …