What Coal Doesn’t Remind Me Of – Asif Hassan

If I have to convince you that we don’t need coal power plants, I probably have to debunk the myth surrounding their importance and critically analyze why we apparently feel the need to burn finite resources.

Bangladesh, on paper, has lower energy consumption and, consequently, contributes to Global Warming less than her neighbors – equivalent to 160 kilograms per capita as opposed to the Asian average of 640, and the staggering 530 kilogram per capita of India. On top of that, a limited supply of electricity places a heavy blow. Roughly 60% of the whole Bangladeshi population receives power from the national grid. Others have to rely on different sources, ranging from government to non-government solar power initiatives, innovative experiments with water turbines in some ultra-rural areas, to the ever-so-handy kerosene to pump the lamp so that the patriarch can see his food every night when he sits out on the porch for dinner.

On the other hand, the inefficient ministry structures which deserve some accolade in impeccably designing a “planning disaster”, has been forecasting growth in electricity demand as low as half of what the actual growth is in Bangladesh – a predicted 7% as opposed to the actual 14% – culminating in an investment bonanza that incessantly failed to solve the problem. What does all of this mean? Simple – less electricity for a rapidly developing country, one where social and financial status in rural areas is measured by the number of bulbs you can afford to light every night, one where the oblivious sleep with the aircon on because that’s what they deserve after a hard day’s work, and the one that’s myopic, failing to look beyond the one yardstick of development and think long-term.

Bangladesh’s race to the middle income class of 2017 seems to be based on improving GDP per capita in whatever way possible. This has given rise to the age old Economic Development vs Environment Preservation debate, one that many Bangladeshis may not be aware of. The impacts of global warming are already hitting like salty realizations as floods in the coastal areas are becoming commonplace during monsoon. The melting Himalayas usher her beauty through the Ganges for what is shaping up to be an uncontrollable Himalayan wrath. Farmers are increasingly getting concerned about crops being covered with layers of salt, damaging the potential harvest and calling for greater innovation to tackle Climate Change effects on food security. Bangladesh has been at the forefront of agribusiness for quite a while, and I am not even talking about our household staple – rice, of course. At this rate, Climate Change scientists predict that production will be lower than predicted demand by 2050, creating a nationwide food shortage which will probably have no immediate solution. All of these are consequences Bangladesh is, and will be, bearing because the Orange gun in a seemingly empty white house still believes in the power of coal.

However, The Government of Bangladesh turned out to be a firm believer of coal themselves when they decided to build two coal-driven power plants just 15kms away from the Sundarbans and achieve the middle-income status. The proposed Rampal and Orion projects, which will generate 1,320MW and 565MW of energy respectively, seem to be well-underway despite mass protests by environmental activists, but this also means that coal will have to be shipped to the Sundarbans every day. An ecosystem that’s fragile enough to be defeated by a 75,000 gallon oil spill last year will have to pray on its knees just so it can live to see another year. What’s worse is the administrations’ acknowledgement of the impacts on the Sundarbans but an oblivious attitude towards combating possible climate degradation – while innocent men and women fought the oil spills day and night with household pots and pans can now rejoice at their promised modern technology savior which is yet to see the light of day. This comes as an addition to the Boropukuriya coal mine in Dinajpur, which is already responsible for destroying agriculturally fertile soil and fresh river water. A significant proportion of Bangladeshi agricultural production comes from Dinajpur and the surrounding regions, which is constantly under threat as fertile land is running out. Fresh water is being destroyed with waste and in many cases, extreme usage of water to wash out the mines are resulting in lower reservoir levels underground and in the rivers, making it extremely difficult for farmers to keep up with the game and solve the food insecurity that 1/4th of the population is plagued by right now.

What’s the most important takeaway from all of this? Unplanned chaos. Simultaneous economic and environmental development requires years of observation, oversight and planning. Bangladesh was left to fend for itself through one natural disaster after another. As soon as the floods subside and the rainbow welcomes the sun, everyone rushes to earn a living. A country that is authoritatively dictated by the red, blue and green banknotes got busy trying to be rich and show the jewels off to the world – “We can do it too!” Colonials paved the way of our development, and though we refused to let them stay, we embraced their path to economic freedom with open arms. And in this pursuit of an unnamed and intangible happiness, we were fooled into believing that protecting our environment is not a collective responsibility.

Somewhere down the line, protecting mother nature became the next guys’ responsibility while I am allowed to chomp on the fish I earned for myself and get myself stuck in traffic every morning because I am in the cool kids club with my newly bought status-symbol of a car. The problem is simple – we were made to believe that if Europe and the Americas achieved economic stability first, that is exactly what we need to do. Ergo, we got stuck in a modified Maslow’s hierarchy where moving up the social ladder by earning a lot of money became the primary need for us in the materialistic world we have imagined for themselves – protecting climate comes later, or not at all.

It is a never-ending cycle of development, which seeks more energy consumption to employ more people, while more people want more energy, greater electricity coverage from the national grid, etc. The biggest reason for energy shortage in Bangladesh is her high dependency on natural gas that’s running out real fast, which is also the reason why focus has been shifted to coal power plants (even though both resources are finite). Bangladesh is fiscally finding itself in a very tight spot with almost zero room to maneuver around and make some solid changes for the better. Public demand for energy is stronger than most other countervailing forces, to a point where even overall local politics has taken a stance against Climate Change awareness. The myopic reasoning of the general public has forced the Government to take a step back on all the intended environmental development and green funds, ultimately hurting itself in the process.

What Bangladesh needs now is good economics – power trade with India will not do much to further economic incentives. If Mamta Banerjee has to open the Farakka dam gates and let the floods in, she will do that. But investing in hydropower trade with Bhutan is a much better option for building a sustainable framework which generates power and affects Climate the least, taking care of Bangladesh’s concerning comparative disadvantage within South Asia. There should be a greater emphasis on using biofuels in ultra-rural areas. This calls for effective campaigns with NGOs and INGOs who work specifically to improve the health, sanitation and lifestyle of rural Bangladeshis. Moreover, the way forward should involve aggressive policies encouraging solar power and a pledge against using finite, polluting resources.

However, the biggest and most necessary change involves altering perceptions. It is never easy for a 50 year old man to learn that he needs much more than just money. But if we are to leave a better world for our kids, we better start teaching them the meaning of life, Mother Nature, and the integrity that they need to protect as soon as possible. We need to alter their Maslow’s hierarchy and tap really deep into their psyches so as to imprint the need to protect the environment and cut back on the effects of Climate Change through productive initiatives of adaptation, and leave a better world for their kids. It’s not easy changing school curricula and teaching kids the right things from scratch, but it’s a change we have to believe in, and have to see it with our own eyes before we leave the Earth in their firm hands.

Asif Hassan

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Rape – Fragmented thoughts

1

If I’m driving a car without seat-belts on and I get hit, am I to blame for my death? Even if it could be proven without a shadow of a doubt that I would not have died if I had had seat-belts on, the most people would accuse me of is stupidity or negligence. Hardly anyone, I think, would say that it was my fault that I died.

None of the passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane would have died if they had not decided to take that precise flight. Presumably, most of them decided to do so on their own, without any kind of coercion. But can they be accused of suicide?

Both driving and flying increase the chances of injury/death (driving more so), and yet I have not heard a lot of people saying that people should just not drive or take flights if they want to be alive.

As I have said before somewhere, a woman getting mugged and killed is unlikely to be held responsible for her own death, no matter how avoidable.

Why, then, is rape different?

2

Perhaps we use a very different kind of causal metaphor when thinking about sexual assault. Perhaps the biological dimension makes it easier to associate it with self-inflicted harm? Certainly, if I were to drink my liver to cirrhosis, nobody would be to blame but myself (unless I were a minor). The same is true for all kinds of self-destructive behaviour. We may wonder about whether there was a “deeper” cause, but that would not absolve us of the responsibility.

But any self-destructive habit is chosen (however un-free the choice may be), which implies that one can choose differently and thus avoid the harm. We can choose to give up drink, choose not to smoke, choose not to eat junk, choose to work out regularly, choose to sleep well, choose to respect ourselves more, choose to let go, choose to control our temper, choose to be optimistic.

Certainly, victim-blamers (i.e. woman-haters) do think that a woman can choose not to get raped by dressing and behaving appropriately. Perhaps they are, in fact, thinking in biological terms.

Sadly, they are wrong. For the simple reason that there is absolutely NO evidence that “covering” yourself, not associating with many men, or not staying out late at night significantly reduces a woman’s chances of being raped. If that were the case, parts of the world where female behaviour is strictly monitored and regulated would experience far lower cases of sexual assault. But that is simply not the case. Let alone the fact that most of this “advice” does not apply to sexual assault by close relatives and others who have access to a woman’s house, which makes up the bulk of all cases (to my knowledge).

Besides, 6-year-old girls do not, for the most part, dress “immodestly” or hang out with a lot of guys late at night. But they do get raped.

3

While talking to a friend today I commented on how curiously we have historically treated female sexuality. Historical literature would suggest that we have always considered women to have an insatiable, voracious sexual appetite, perpetually trying to tempt some hapless man. And yet when talking about rape the roles seem to get reversed – we have all heard some version of “Sheep cannot complain of being eaten if they stick their heads into a lion’s mouth”. Which is it, then?

4

Any incident of violence that receives a lot of media attention brings with it a refrain that has become very common on social media – “Everybody cares about so and so, but nobody said a word about this and that”. Of course, one cannot deny that the police must have been spurred on by the immense media coverage the Banani rape case received, and that this is not true for most cases of sexual assault throughout the country. It is important to point out the pervasiveness of the problem, but expecting the general public to care about the thousands of cases where no one of wealth and status is involved will surely lead to disappointment. And yet, we have to try. Sexual assault within the household receives, in comparison, almost no attention, despite being a veritable epidemic.

5

It is often the brutality of such cases that draws our attention. If asked to imagine a victim of sexual assault, we immediately form a picture of a physically battered woman (yes I know that men get raped too; there is no need to remind me). But in some cases obvious signs of physical harm are missing. This can happen if the woman is incapacitated in some way or decides not to put up a fight at all. I have heard first-hand accounts of both. In fact, it seems that many self-defense instructors actually recommend not putting up a fight if there is absolutely no way to escape. Regardless of whether this actually helps, it should at least tell us something – rape is rape, with or without a beating.

6

Are there false accusations sometimes? Yes. But here I have to make two points.

First – such “false” cases when they appear are so trumped up by the media that they appear to be more common than they actually are. They are, in reality, a truly small minority.

Second – given the complete social ostracization that rape victims go through here, even at the hands of their “loved ones”, the chances of anyone choosing that life just to win some cash are very, very low, though existent.

7

Finally, let us not treat these as monstrous aberrations. Rape is an extreme expression of what is taken to be “normal” gender relations by most of us, most of the time. Castrate rapists all you want – if we allow men to take advantage of women everyday in a thousand different ways, subtle or brazen, it becomes very difficult to stop a few of these men from taking what they know to be normal and right to extreme conclusions. The fight against rape is also the fight for gender equality. If we do not want our sons to become rapists, we cannot bring them up to be patriarchs.

Fight

​BY MARJIYA BAKTYER AHMED

Does this begin with hope? No. It begins with the knowledge that we are complacent, weak and we lack luster. 
Yet another rape case. Two girls this time. Will we let it slip through the cracks again? Will we sit by idly and twiddle our thumbs, then cluck our tongues in disapproval when the authorities decide to not bring the perpetrators to justice? We have our lives to lead. What lives? One where we go on thinking “nothing could be done”? Do your memes, the never-ending smorgasbord of series keep you distracted enough to not even spare a shred of thought to the injustices that prevail so heavily in our lives? Yes, our lives! Mine. Yours. Ours. I don’t have to sit here and tell you “it could have been anyone”. We know it well. 

It goes on and on and on, and all it gets out of us is a mere shrug and a meh? How have we become so desensitized? How have we stopped empathizing? When did we stop reacting? My mind dreams that one day something will shock us out of our stupefied stupor. Something that will bring us together and raise our voice loud enough to shake the foundations of impunity. 

Rape. Read that word three times, and notice how sour your tongue turns, and pay attention to the images your mind conjures. Rape. Rape. Rape. Can you? Do you feel the imposition? The absolute lack of consent? The decimation of the victims? I don’t like the word “victim”, because the connotations behind this word have shifted and become synonymous with “shame” and “dishonor”. For the love of love, don’t imagine “sex”, because that’s not what happened. It’s rape. Remember this as you read. Picture it. Let me paint it for you. 

Imagine two girls, decked out, excited they have been invited to a party. I am sure we have all been to a party. They trusted the men who invited them. How is trust gained? You think about this in relation to your life okay? Now imagine they are there in the hotel room, excited to finally be at the scene. The air in the room shifts, it’s palpable with malice as they realize something’s wrong, the men seem different than the ones who invited them. The girls can see it in their eyes, roaming any which way they please, as their actions slowly lose any humanness they might have ever possessed, as they drag them off into separate rooms threatening and coercive. 

We are in the room now. What do you see? Need I draw you this scene too? I will if you can stomach it. If your mind can see it. If you can really allow the image to burn into your brain and into the back of eyelids so you lose sleep from the weight of the oppression in the room, I will paint you this picture too. Held at gunpoint, a camera aimed, forced to be unrobed, pinned down and assaulted over and over, for probably what must have felt like an unending night. Can you not see it? Does it not hurt you?

Mind you, you may not dare to shift the burden of this crime. We are not allowed to think that we were not there, that we were not participating in what happened to them. We are culpable with our indifference, with our non-committal shrugs, with our godforsaken existential dread, with our passive silence. Ask yourself, if it is worth it to remain quiet. Ask yourself, if you have really done enough to exact justice. Kindly ask yourself, what will be enough, if anything? 

When will an example be set? When will the ones committing these crimes be held accountable? For how long are we going to just sit back and remain as immobile spectators? When do we decide it’s time? I decide it’s now. And I don’t hope for others to decide it, I demand that they do, I expect that they will. I have not lost faith in the mobilizing power of unity, of the unison call for justice. For punishment to be given to the rapists.

Personally, I vote for castration. Remove from them what they hold most dear, their pride.

Fuck you, ISIS. And fuck you too, America.

Yesterday afternoon, I was talking with a colleague about where the world was headed. We concluded that the emergence of far-right violence, whether in the East or the West, was to be expected.

On the global stage, Europe is disintegrating under the boot heels of a resurgent Fascism, the US is about to elect either a warmongering neocon or an openly racist and sexist buffoon. Islamophobia is at an all time high, and ISIS is continuing to wreak havoc. Under the combined onslaught of militant Islam and NATO intervention, the Middle East is fast becoming a wasteland.

In our own small corner of the world, a group or groups unknown, that may or may not be working under the directions of, let’s call it Big Jihad, are systematically targeting religious minorities, activists, intellectuals, bloggers, and dissidents in general. Law enforcement has responded with what can only be called a tidal wave of arrests, the effectiveness of which it is still too early to comment on.

So far, it seems that all we are feeling are the stray mosquitoes – we are still not in the middle of the swamp.

Then last night happened.

Once upon a time, Big Jihad was satisfied with its “small” targets; and when it wanted to make a splash, its rage would normally be targeted at the artist in us (remember the Ramna Pohela Boishakh attack). And yet something was different about last night. In the middle of a conversation, my friend commented on how “Western” this attack felt.

That’s it, isn’t it? Yes, there are echoes of Mumbai, but this was an attack on…a bakery? A coffee shop? A restaurant? That’s the kind of thing we are used to seeing in a European capital, not a Southern megalopolis. Who is the target now? In place of the artist, is it the consumer? The well-heeled? The white under our brown?

Is it meant to scare us? Or our guests from around the world? Is it meant to destabilize? To slowly slip the country away from the flailing hands of our government?

Or is it meant to set the scene for a new imperial adventure? Far fetched, perhaps, but the amount of screen time devoted by CNN does not bode well.

What it is, I do not know. But I do know what we don’t need right now.

We do not need a surveillance state. We do not need a police state. That has never worked. And it never will.

We do not need the red, white and blue. We do not need a US base here. We do not need Dhaka to become Baghdad.

Yes, we know that this is not Islam. But that isn’t, and never has been, the point.

What we need is to answer a (evidently not so) simple question: who is killing our brothers and sisters; our guests?

Is it the destitute, with nothing to live for but the promise of a better life after death? Is it the desperate, heart raging against those who have? Give them some rice to eat. Give them work, and the promise of a better life in this world, not the next.

Is it the lost, the empty, those who have the material, but not the immaterial? Those who yearn for a center, an idea? Meaning? Show them that meaning can be found, even in a world without a center. Show them that the world is beautiful.

Or is it the puppet masters, those who would kill their country men for foreign gold and oil? Cut off the money, and you will cut off their heads. In fact, cut off their heads too.

But in all of this, let us not forget who we are. We are musicians and singers, dancers and painters. Scientists and writers, thinkers and leaders. Architects and builders, designers and dreamers. Fighters, healers, protectors and martyrs. This is who we are. This is who we will always be. You cannot take that away from us.

So fuck you ISIS. And fuck you too, America. We will deal with this. On our own, in our own way. Without letting go of what makes us, us. We will fight, and we will win. Singing. And dancing.

The Red Pill – Some thoughts on a resurgent Left

If one is looking for evidence that reactionary right-wing romanticism is always an establishment tool, notice how white supremacy on the one hand and militant Islamism on the other can take the exact same steps as their intellectual ancestors took, and all you can hear is cries of xenophobia or fundamentalism.

Only those on the fringe, who can have no impact on grand politics, are calling it what it is – the rise of Fascism. It never happens any other way – economic stagnation, empty promises and hatred of the Other, until the charade is revealed when it’s too late.

But hear one whisper of regulation, social spending, progressive legislation, anything that can substantially improve the lot of the poor and the working class beyond charity and hand outs, and it is as if the entire establishment starts violently convulsing, thrashing its global supply chain arms, screaming STALIN!!! at the top of its voice.

Many are talking about the need for a resurgent Left. It begs the question – how can the right keep resurfacing so easily, and the Left cannot? Because the Left is not allowed to make empty promises. The right is never reminded of the historical consequences of its actions en masse – the Left cannot lift a finger without constantly apologizing for its history.

The reason that the Left cannot resurface any time soon is that global capital has convinced its subjects that they could not possibly stomach the logical consequences of a new socialism, while doing its best to keep them busy, distracted and desensitized with jobs, TV, Amazon and credit cards. Because they have co-opted history, co-opted the very idea of “freedom”, and reduced socialism to a pathetic spectre, so that most of those who still invoke the progressive promise will instinctively add a “but” after every demand. Sure we can fight inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia. We can fight poverty and hunger, war and destruction…BUT. Beyond that “but” lies the fear of what “freedom”, “equality” and “justice” actually mean when they stop being slogans and start becoming realities.

Unless we are collectively and democratically willing to pursue those words to wherever they may take us, the Left can only be those countless many who toil away their entire lives for a smidgen of real change, a drop of revolution – in grassroots activism, in hard core policy making, and in the realm of ideas, trying to give voice and improve lives one painful step at a time. Monumental, indispensable and inspiring as their efforts are, they cannot be more than tiny thorns in the foot of Leviathan.

The Left is the Red Pill; until we swallow it whole, we can never see the bottom of the rabbit hole.

Random quote of the day – France, 1894

“Gentlemen, in a few minutes you are to deal your blow, but in receiving your verdict I shall at least have the satisfaction of having injured the existing society, this cursed society in which one may see a single man uselessly spending enough to feed thousands of families; an infamous society that permits a few individuals to monopolize all social wealth, while there are hundreds of thousands of unfortunates who have not even the bread that is not refused to dogs, and while entire families are committing suicide for want of the necessities of life. Ah, gentlemen, if the governing classes could go down among the unfortunates! But no, they prefer to remain deaf to their appeals. It seems that a fatality impels them, like the royalty of the eighteenth century, toward the precipice that will engulf them, for woe on those who remain deaf to the cries of the starving, woe on those who, believing themselves of superior essence, assume the right to exploit those beneath them! There comes a time when the people no longer reason; they rise like a hurricane, and pass away like a torrent. Then we see bleeding heads impaled on pikes” – Auguste Vaillant, 1894; excerpt from the speech before the French Chamber of Deputies, prior to receiving sentence of death for a political crime. Emphasis my own.