via Naeem Mohaiemen, shobak email list:
New York. September 12th, 2001. We had gone there to put up signs for
the Bangladeshi waiters killed in the Windows Of The World restaurant.
The Bangladesh embassy was asleep at the wheel, so a small group of us
had gone out to collect names. I looked at that other sign and
thought, isn't that obvious? Grief is mourning. Surely no one will try
to turn this into a war cry. But I hadn't been watching enough
television. The next eight years many people bent mourning into rage
and war. And the world isn't any safer, in fact it's worse.
I'm thinking of that sign again as I think of Mumbai. Visiting India
last month, I commented to a friend that coming from Bangladesh gets
you a varied welcome at airports. Sometimes, warmth and chitchat (the
renegade cricket team of "Dhaka Warriors" creating a splash in India).
Recently, after Jaipur blasts, nervousness about "illegal Bangladeshi
migrants". On the balance though, a welcoming tenor so far.
Two weeks ago, in Intelligent Pune newspaper, there was a full page
white cover: "India under attack from Pakistan and Bangladesh". Turn
the page and it's a news spoof. The reverse of that cover is a huge
poster for the Cricket Leagues: India vs Pakistan vs Bangladesh vs
Australia. Oh! Sports as a war metaphor. I chuckled at the time. But
now, I get nervous thinking of that ad.
After the Mumbai attack, tones have changed-- as the attackers
intended. Angry mailing lists, angry blogs, angry SMS. But in a sign
of how things have changed for positive since '01, there are calm
voices as well-- even within the first days. We have learned to guard
against retaliation and skapegoating.
Archana Hande, who curated a show at World Social Forum/Nairobi, keeps
me posted on Indian TV coverage. One channel claiming some of the
attackers are "Bangladeshi". A day later she pings me-- they are now
reported to all be "Pakistani". I am relieved? Relieved that the cycle
of anger will not engulf my own city as well? We pause to mourn the
dead and immediately fear collective retaliation.
I email and read friends/allies in India, and feel there is hope.
On Kafila, Shuddhabrata Sengupta talks about the long-term damage: "No
redemptive, just, honourable or worthwhile politically transformatory
objectives can be met, or even invoked, by attacking a mass transit
railway station, a restaurant, a hotel or a hospital. The holding of
hostages in a centre of worship and comfort for travellers cannot and
does not challenge any form of the state oppression anywhere. The
terrorists (I unhesitatingly call them 'terrorists', a word which I am
normally reluctant to use, because their objective was nothing other
than the terror itself) who undertook these operations did not deal a
single blow to the edifice of oppression in this country, or in any
other country. On the other hand, they strengthened it."
Aarti Sethi (Kafila), thinks of an example that seems unfashionable
but is so essential: "Maybe there are lessons to learn, as others have
said, from an old man who died, attempting to transform the rules of
engagement. He learned that if you attempt to confront the system with
an equality of violence, you will always be outmatched."
Delhi based curator Deeksha Nath talks about the need to break out of
"art that deals with political critique, but never attains the effect
of discourse. It seems that people would much rather not be
emotionally and intellectually affected. There is an apathy, as if to
question the very purpose of dialogue. But it seems now more then ever
we need to hear a variety of voices, not merely the angry ones, the
uninformed or the fundamental (all these of course defined from where
While India's tragedy and aftermath fold out, in Dhaka, a group of
"Islamists" attacked the Balaka statues in Motijheel near midnight. A
sequel to last month's attack on Baul statues at the airport. Balaka
are several storks. Poor birds, what did they do? We headed to
Motijheel thinking to avert another travesty. Not this statue too! If
only we were fond of the artwork, but free speech is also about
defending unpopular speech. But later, when it turned out that after
all they hadn't broken it, we veered uneasily into gallows humor. That
the rod in the stork legs were not Chinese, mojbut maal, not 2 number.
That it was a band of irritated art critics. That it was a stunt by
people who hated the 1971 installation at the Dhaka Biennial, that
most despised art event.
At midnight I photographed the spooky fragments of broken plaster,
while an Al Jazeera crew asked "who do you think did it?" (that
insistence on rapid, bite-size answers). As soon as we start snapping,
a crowd gathers. The camera makes the event or just brings it into
focus I don't know. The police ask which paper we are with. We're not
with anyone. Ah, he says nodding, that's why you're late.
Balaka Statues (Photos+Text)
Balaka Statues Dodge Bullet (Same text as above, but scroll down for
Smash Palace (last month's statue attack)
Don't Talk, Don't Vote (the missing minority in Bangladesh)