IN HINDSIGHT, I think I should have written this letter ten years back, days after you became the international affairs adviser to the prime minister of Bangladesh. I am sorry, I failed miserably to perform my duty as a friend towards a very good old friend on time. I should have advised you what I thought and still think would be a good piece of advice to someone who was going in the wrong direction. I know, it’s too late to write this letter when you have already reached that undesirable place and, not only that, you are also enjoying the place and everything about it. You have virtually become inseparable from the place and your associates who live there.
However, I strongly believe that your associates — I won’t call them your friends, because friends are selfless well-wishers, which they are not. They are simply fortune-diggers, delusional, power-drunk people, who can do anything — actually they are doing everything — to remain in their paradise. I am so sad to tell this bluntly on your face, your presence has actually emboldened them to remain there in the main alley of power. They are possibly telling themselves: ‘If Dr Rizvi can do it, we all should do it with greater vigour and determination’!
Why I think I should have written this letter soon after you stepped on the stairs of the fake citadel of glory, as I believe what Umar bin-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam, said about one good quality of a good friend: ‘Whosoever shows you your faults is your friend. Those that pay you lip service in praise are your executioners!’ Sorry, I was delusional as I thought soon you would regret with utmost remorse about what you were going to do! Sorry for my naiveté and stupidity!
Before I spell out the purpose of this letter — which in no way is an attempt to take you out from the place which has become your permanent abode and haven, where the bartender offers the best of drinks, apparently free of any charges! However, there is a cost, not-so-hidden one, one pays even to enter the bar, let alone enjoying the colour, smell, and taste of liquid in the Bohemian crystal goblet! I write this for our old time’s sake. More precisely, I write this as I saw you making some blatantly stupid things, full of lies and half-truths in front of a TV camera at a debate or seminar at the Oxford Union, justifying the arrest and torture of Dr Shahidul Alam who is also a very good old friend of yours, which you have spelt out a couple of times during your interview. I write this because it was the last straw for me, I couldn’t take it any more!
You know telling some unpleasant truth bluntly on someone’s face is sometimes like banging your door shut to a very near and dear one. It hurts both who tells the bitter truth to a near and dear one, and also the receiver of the blunt words from an old friend and admirer. Gowher, you know this good old obscure mediocre friend of yours is simply overwhelmed by your kindness and deep love for him, for all these years! While some forget and even worse, deny getting any favour from friends, I’m not one of them. You were instrumental in inviting me to give a lecture at St Anthony’s College at Oxford, way back in 1991. Then you were the one who asked me to apply for the one-year-long prestigious fellowship at the Centre for International Affairs at the Queen Elizabeth House, at Oxford. You, as the director of the centre, played a decisive role in my selection as a visiting fellow at the QEH. Without this fellowship, I wouldn’t have been able to write my second major book, and several other journal articles and book chapters. And you did this as a parting gift to this old friend of yours before leaving Oxford to join the Asia Society, in 1994. My turn of getting favours from you didn’t stop there. You also inducted me in as a member of the editorial board of your journal, Contemporary South Asia, which I held for 16 years. Your strong references landed me to some very good jobs in the US. While referees, in general, write three paragraphs for candidates they support, each time I asked for a reference from you, you always wrote at least three pages, which were full of superlatives in my praise, which I don’t think I was really entitled to!
Last but not least, you wrote a very strong endorsement to my last book, Global Jihad and America, which I believe attracts many to my book. I can go on and on to write more about your qualities, and what you have done to the realms of academia, at Oxford, Harvard, and Virginia. The way you metamorphosed yourself from a world-class historian to a world-class professor, scholar, and analyst of international affairs, public policy, and other areas of research and development has very few parallels. And you know, I don’t get anything by writing all these in your praise. I just call a spade a spade.
I hope you would take this letter gracefully. My criticism of your association with something, which I consider abhorrently stinky is not a criticism of your persona, but your wrong choice. Then again, we may agree to disagree on this. Your defence of the present government in Bangladesh — which some people, including me, love to call ‘regime’ — shocks and surprises me; what’s most surprising is, however, your telling things which are ‘not true’ — hope you won’t mind my calling them ‘blatant lies’!
The way you defended the present government confused me a lot. You denied there was no one-party government in Bangladesh. Well, it all depends on how you call a one-party tamasha a multi-party democracy, while ruling and opposition party MPs are sitting on both sides of the aisle. It’s like Theresa May and Jerome Corbyn sitting side-by-side in the British oarliament!
At a recent Oxford Union debate, telecast by Al Jazeera’s Head to Head programme, what you told the savvy and smart host Mehdi Hussein was least convincing, to put it mildly. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw your handsome face on my computer monitor and heard your soothing voice that there had been some irregularities in less than twenty polling centres out of the total 40,000 on the last election day in Bangladesh. By the way, none of my close friends and relatives in Bangladesh could cast their vote. They found polling centres’ doors unopen till midday. And international media outlets, including the BBC and some Indian TV channels, showed stuffed ballot boxes minutes after the polls, which officially began at 8:00am.
Interestingly, these media outlets also showed there were no voters inside the polling centres, but some outsiders busy stuffing papers (I assume, sealed ballot papers) to make the impossible possible. At the end of the day, the ruling party got around 96 per cent of votes! I am sure, one opposition candidate, one Mr Rumi, didn’t get a single vote in his constituency in Chittagong? And yet at another constituency in Khulna, the number of vote cast exceeded the total number of voters.
It’s noteworthy, the way the ruling party again came to power day after the ‘elections’ on December 30 (or the night before!) even irritated president Donald Trump. The whole exercise was as farcical as what regularly happens in countries like North Korea, and Egypt! Your other good friend retired US ambassador William Milam has called the worst election that ever took place anywhere in the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I hope you would be still in talking terms with him!
The last straw for me was your unfazed and nonchalant assertion that your ‘good friend’ Shahidul Alam was not arrested for giving an interview to Al Jazeera, he was arrested for ‘spreading misinformation that incited violence’, and that ‘freedom of speech has nothing to do with it.’ You also manufactured some ‘facts’ to misled the audience at the Oxford Union debate, and tens of thousands of others who later watched the show on TV or computer monitors. You said Shahidul Alam had told his Al Jazeera interviewer on August 6, 2018 that there were dead bodies at the Awami League office at Dhanmondi (a suburb in Dhaka) and that Awami Leaguers had raped many women at that office. This is what Sahhidul Alam didn’t tell his interviewer. I think an unconditional apology by you to Dr Shahidul Alam, and to the Bangladeshis at home and abroad, is overdue now.
With warm wishes and kind regards! No hard feelings my friend!
Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice
Austin Peay State University, Tennessee
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