Coronavirus – virus of the lungs and Meme – virus of the brain

We are in throes of two strains of virus – one is the virus of lungs, called coronavirus and the other is the virus of the brain, called meme (similar to gene in biological speak). I would deal with these two viruses sequentially below and show that there are many commonalities, despite the fact that one is biological virus and the other is cultural virus.

Despite this dissimilarity, there are a lot of common traits – they both replicate, colonise or parasitize the respective organs of the human body; they both propagate through air from human body to human body and incubate within the host body for a while before they express themselves; when they express themselves, they destroy the host body and transmit the virus to other adjacent bodies; they cause tremendous damage to the society, economy, education system and all other branches of civilised society. Worst of all, there are no known cures against them at the moment. They are so vicious that either humanity will manage to eliminate them or they will eliminate humanity.

So, what is this vicious coronavirus – also called COVID-19 as a particular strain? It is a virus, which means that it is a microscopic parasite that infects living organisms. It consists of nucleic acid molecule – typically RNA but it can also be DNA – with a protein coat. It can replicate itself, like genes, within the living cells. When it invades the specific organ – the lungs – of a host body it spikes through the cells’ membranes and gets inside the cell and start replicating. It is speculated that this coronavirus jumped from animals to human species.  

Coronavirus – virus of the lungs

Obviously, the host cells do not like this invasion and their defence mechanism (generally called the immune system) is called on and put into action and a battle ensues. While this battle is raging on cellular levels in a specific organ, other organs are functioning normally and the host body is completely unaware of the vicious battle taking place within his or her body. This may take a few days, which in coronavirus case is called incubation or dormant period. After three or four days of the battle, if not won by the body’s defence mechanism, it goes into all-out war against the invading parasites. That is when the host body starts showing some symptoms, like high temperature, coughing and breathlessness etc. The fight goes on and depending on the outcome, the patient can start recovering or go progressively worse.

At the moment there is no reinforcement or vaccination that can be given to the defence mechanism. It is assumed that any vaccine that can be developed is at least 12 months away. Only assistance that is suggested is not to weaken the defence forces by allowing further incursion of parasites and hence the advice is to wash hands regularly, stay away from other infected people etc. – the so-called isolation period.

In the worst case, if the invading army is in the verge of victory and occupies the lungs creating pus in the alveoli sacs and impeding breathing, then ventilation units can be used to artificially supply oxygen to the body and keep the defence system going to fight to the last. Quite often body’s defence mechanism can beat off the invaders even at this stage and recover. This is the do or die stage. Altogether it is anticipated that it will take 14 days from initial invasion to full recovery.

The other virus – the virus of the brain which Richard Dawkins, Professor Emeritus of the University of Oxford and an evolutionary biologist, calls it a meme to resonate with gene – is equally, if not more, vicious and malicious as coronavirus. Meme is not a biological virus in the strict sense as coronavirus is. But it is a cultural virus behaving exactly like any other biological virus – replicating, propagating, colonising and eventually destroying the host body.

Memes carry a remarkable resemblance to gene. As genes propagate in the gene pool from body to body through sperm cells or egg cells, so do memes in the meme pool jumping from brain to brain of human beings through cultural imitation or peer pressure. It could sometimes be benign or not too intrusive, when there is just the cultural imitation. A new designer dress or the latest mobile phone can take a ‘must have’ label to a group of people and that may take on obsessive space in the brain. The other example can be a catchy song or rhyme or a social media movement like “Me Too” etc, which may become obsessive mimicry. These are benign memes with hardly any damaging aspect.

But the real meme with uncanny resemblance to gene or virus is the parasite that colonise the brain obsessively. It can easily propagate from brain to brain, jump over cultural barriers, jump over national barriers and last for a long period of time. Take, for example, the “belief in life after death”: it is a meme that can easily parasitize brains and propagate across all social, political, educational and cultural boundaries and there is no antidote to it. No rational argument or concrete evidence (similar to remedies against viruses) can be produced to counter the belief that there is no life after death and hence this meme would flourish almost unhindered, even without any evidence supporting that there is life after death!

Then there are other more gripping memes: the idea of God or Yahweh or Allah. This meme had been digging in human brains for almost 4,000 years through various religions, cultures, art and literature, music and social encounters. The existence of God is now taken as absolute, without any shred of evidence supporting it. This is the most durable primary meme supporting other subsidiary memes like “life after death” or “heaven and hell” or “hell-fire for the sinners” etc. Each of these memes supports the other meme and together they stand strong, invincible, absolute and incontrovertible.

When a meme gets a strong foothold in the brain through continuous reinforcement, it comes as vivid as a gene or even stronger. In Islam, the first sound a newly born child in any culture is supposed to get is the prayer call for Allah. Admittedly, it is symbolic, but it is the symbol that will become real throughout the whole life. The first lesson a child gets is how to read Arabic and Quran. A practicing Muslim is supposed to have prayers five times a day in a mosque and each time he is reminded of the existence of God and his supreme power with the rhetorical question, “Who created the Earth”? With such persistent messages and unquestionable submission to God’s authority by fellow Muslims, it is quite normal that God and his divine messages become as vivid a meme in the brain as gene is in the cell.

Although memes are cultural imitation and analogues of biological genes, they are no less real and damaging than other viruses. In fact, when fanatic Muslims happily sacrifice their lives (i.e. their gene pool) for the messages carried through their memes (i.e. guaranteed place in heaven who give up lives on Earth for God), then one must wonder what is more vivid and real: gene or meme?

Cure for coronavirus in the form of vaccines can possibly be found in 12 to 18 months, but it is highly unlikely that any cure against religious memes can be found in 10 or even 100 years. One can call an embedded religious meme a prejudice, but to the man who holds that prejudice, it is as real as the Sun and the Moon in the sky. No wonder, even Albert Einstein had to say nearly a century ago, “What a sad era, when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.”

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist    


Significance of 1.5 degree and 2.0 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature

Today, we are witnessing a lively, sometimes acrimonious, debate over global warming. Science, economics and politics are all mixed up in this debate. One of the outcomes of the debate was the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, where 195 nations agreed to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5-degree Celsius by the end of this century. Although lauded by some, many scientists have criticised the Paris Agreement because it understates the actual amount of warming predicted by mainstream climate change models. Furthermore, the agreement falls short on addressing the effects of the potency of green house gases and those that are already in the atmosphere.

Any person with a modicum of intelligence knows that even if emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped immediately, the ones that are already present in the atmosphere would continue to raise the global temperature for hundreds of years. That is because, aside from water vapour, the other four principal greenhouse gases―carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons(CFCs/HFCs) can remain in the atmosphere from months to millennia. Consequently, they become well mixed, meaning that their concentration in the atmosphere is roughly the same all over the world, regardless of the source of the emissions.

The potency of a greenhouse gas is determined by what is called the Global Warming Potential (GWP)—a measure of the total energy a gas absorbs over a period of 100 years. The larger the GWP, the more warming the gas causes. With a value of one, carbon dioxide serves as a baseline for GWP of other greenhouse gases. As noted in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), GWP of methane is 28, which means methane will cause 28 times as much warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide has a GWP of 265, while GWP of most of the HFCs, used as refrigerants, is over 1,000.

Another powerful greenhouse gas, sulphur hexafluoride, emitted from a variety of industrial establishments, has a GWP of a whopping 23,500 and an atmospheric lifetime of about 3,200 years. Its atmospheric concentration has increased by two orders of magnitude since industrial production started in 1953.

In view of the long lifetime and large GWP-values of the greenhouse gases, the overwhelming consensus among scientists is that global warming is unstoppable unless drastic measures are taken sooner rather than later. Moreover, as long as carbon based energy consumption continues, global temperature would keep onrising unabated. In a report released in October 2018, IPCC essentially corroborates this assertion by noting that planetary warming is happening faster than the panel’s scientists predicted and the goal of 1.5 degree rise in temperature would happen much earlier than 2100, unless burning fossil fuels is cut by half by 2030. Most climate models, however, predict a rise of 2-degreeor more by 2100.

The difference between 1.5 degree and 2.0 degree may not sound like much, but changes in average temperature of even a degree or less can have big effects on the climate. As we know, a sub-one degree rise in temperature since 1880 has inflicted significant damage to the environment. A 1.5 degree rise will cause even more damage, while a 2.0 degree rise will push our planet into a new, more dangerous climate domain.

The effects on the climate due to the extra half-degree won’t be uniform across the planet. Some regions will heat up faster than other regions. The tropics would experience the biggest increase in the number of unusually hot days. Deserts will become bigger, hotter and drier. Crop yields would be lower, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa, South east Asia, and Central and South America.

Frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events―wildfires, storms, floods, drought and heat waves due to half-degree differential would increase exponentially, as stated in the IPCC report. Additionally, more water would evaporate from the oceans, which in turn would make the heaviest rains and snowfalls even heavier in many parts of the world.

An additional half-degree of warming could mean more melting of ice sheets, resulting in greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals, sea birds and other polar animals. Loss of ice would produce a bigger rise of sea levels.Thus, an extra half-degree of warming could be significant for small island nations, which are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Another victim will be the coral reefs, which act as nurseries for many fishes. Almost all tropical coral reefs will be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching.

According to the latest IPCC report, without aggressive action, many effects noted above and expected only several decades into the future will now arrive by 2040. Hence, the difference between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius is a big deal!

So, what should we do now? “Do what science demands before it is too late.” This ishow the United Nations secretary General António Guterres admonished world leaders after poring over a recent report prepared by a group of scientists at the request of several small island nations. The report paints a grim portrait of how quickly the Earth is heating up and how serious the consequences would be.

We can reverse, or at least forestall, some of the adverse effects of climate change by appealing to geo-engineering methods. It encompasses two different approaches using a variety of cutting-edge technologies. They are removal and sequestration of carbon dioxide to lower its concentration in the atmosphere and offsetting global warming by blocking some of the solar radiation from everreaching the Earth’s surface via a space-based programme called Solar Radiation Management.

Until geo-engineering technology are fully developed, their environmental impacts tested and subsequently deployed, we have no choice but to use the available technology for non-polluting, renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, geothermal and fuel cells using hydrogen. Many more clean technologies, such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and Hydrokinetic Energy, will become available in the future. In addition, we have to make a clean break with burning fossil fuels. Changing our lifestyle, albeit painful, is a must, too.

Unfortunately, no alarm seems loud enough to penetrate the ears of the world leaders. While nations argue how to implement the flawed Paris Agreement, the United States and Western Europe are still producing carbon dioxide. However, the highest per capita production of carbon dioxide is in the newly industrialised countries. In the present geopolitical environment, it is, therefore, difficult to transform scientific observations into executable policy.

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Editor’s Note: Sir David Attenborough, the renowned environmentalist, in his speech at the United Nations climate talks in Katowice, Poland in 2018 said, “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years is the climate change. If we do not take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”


Bangladesh, International, Religious, Uncategorized

The ISI’s perilous chess game with the Bengalis: Is it almost over?


By Jamal Hasan

The fallout of political events after the Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner Irfan Raja fiasco is too numerous to mention in this article.  Nevertheless, Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina showed enough courage putting her political life into jeopardy by kicking out the shameless member of a military regime’s diplomatic corps from Bangladesh soil.  She should be given due credit for that.  But the story does not end here.

Last weekend I attended a social gathering in a Maryland town.  Most of the guests I talked to were appreciative of Hasina’s bold political gesture. Interestingly, all the folks were found to be staunchly anti-Awami League and anti-Hasina.  I was amazed to see they came out of their long tenure of indifference toward our spirit of liberation.  I take it as a good development in the right direction.  I felt when the chips were down, the apathetic Bengalis always gathered under the fold of Bengali nationalistic camaraderie.  It was no different this time.

Bangabandhu had a history of sacrifice and uncompromising role in most of his time of political activism during Pakistan Raj.  When he was rotting in jails during much of the period of Ayub era, he did not have a crystal ball that could predict that someday he would be the chief architect of a struggling nation.  He never allowed him to sell himself to the interests of Punjabi oligarchy.  Nevertheless, there is a great probability that an objective account of history will not portray him bigger than what he was. Some of the historical mistakes he committed will be a topic of continuous debate among secular nationalist historians in the days ahead.  One thing was quite apparent that Bangabandhu was the unchallenged leader of the seventy five-million souls during the days of our blood and tears.  But an important segment of history did not get the due exposure that it deserved. That is the Bengali leader’s unfortunate failure in the diabolical chess game that he was playing with the Yahya junta and their cohort the Lord of Larkana, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the month of March of 1971.

A few months ago, a notable Bengali media person in the Washington region gave me startling information.  He told me that he had a chance to see the veteran journalist K. G. Mustafa on the evening of March 25, 1971, at the premises of Dhaka Press Club.  K.G. Mustafa had strong rapport with Bangabandhu and as an insider he gave his scoop to his acquaintances at the Press Club.  And that was, according to Mr. Mustafa, “Bangabandhu is optimistic about the talks with Yahya and Bhutto and some positive resolution is going to come out tonight.” During this conversation another person was present and he was Mazhar Ali Khan, a liberal and left-leaning Punjabi journalist of Lahore Times.  He gave a completely opposite picture. According to the Lahore Times journalist, the talks failed and Yahya Junta was planning a brutal crackdown on the Bengalis.  When I heard the interesting newsworthy history from the Washington media person, I first could not believe my ears.  As I read the recently published Brigadier Majumdar’s oral history on the web, I had no other way but to digest the bitter truth. I felt probably the Press Club incidence had some credibility.  I am now quoting from Brigadier Majumdar’s memoir published in “Tormenting 1971″‘s web edition [http://e-bangla.net/torment/]. “….I waited tensely in the evening for the phone call.  At 8 pm, Osmani rang me and said, “Mujib is now reached a settlement with Yahiya.  He has asked you to be patient.”   It seemed Bangabandhu was naive enough by giving the brutal Pakistani military brass the benefit of doubt.  In other words, it was quite possible that Bangabandhu had failed the first chess game against the most notorious clique of the Indian subcontinent, the military junta under the command of General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan.

Bangabandhu, being the founding father of the nascent nation of Bangladesh had  too big an aura.  Average citizens of the war ravaged nation expected more from him than he could deliver.  Nobody took notice of the limitation of the leader, though.  His primary weakness was trusting people close to him.   Also, he became engulfed with the sweet talks of the sycophants and political operatives who were very aware of the leader’s idiosyncrasies. For example, the collaborator issue put him in such a moral dilemma that he would have been “damned if he became hard on them or not damned if he did not.”   Mind you, I am borrowing this from the famous quotation of US Attorney General Janet Reno after the 2000 Presidential election controversy.

The 16th of December of 1971 gave Pakistan a limited setback.  They did not lose heart so easily.  Pakistani oligarchy knew that they had their first line of defense hiding among the right wingers of Awami League under anything like Khundkar Moshtaque, Shah Moazzem and Taher Thakur. They also had some liking for the old time Awami Leaguers who were nationalists but not as radical as they would desire to see East Pakistan secedes from the union.  And there was no dearth of such Awami Leaguers.  The founding father was hardly uncomfortable when he intermingled with such characters. Sometimes his partisan and big brotherly attitude led him to protect the chickens that were waiting in the wings to kill him.  Second lines of Pakistani fans were found in the different cantonments of Bangladesh where a good number of repatriated army brasses had a negligible passion for Bengali nationalism.  General H.M. Ershad is the symbol of such a constituency. Col. (Ret’d) Shafat Jamil’s thought provoking book depicts this dictator as another Fifth Columnist working for the brutal regime of Yahya Khan during Bangladesh liberation war.

The birth of Bangladesh occurred at a time of heightened Cold War rivalry. As many policy makers of USA saw it in a plain black and white parameter, the struggle of a nation against an oppressive regime was not a factor in formulating US foreign policy direction.  Also, before President Carter’s crusade against human rights abuses the Executive Branches of USA hardly showed any sympathy toward suffering souls where genocide was perpetrated hardly five years ago.   In the eyes of Nixon Administration, the emergence of Bangladesh appeared to be a victory of Soviet Lobby in the South Asian region.  And as the founding father of Bangladesh embraced the pro-Moscow communists to form BKSAL, the alarm bell was raising high in parts of the Pennsylvania Avenue and the Pentagon.

To combat communism, some of the US agencies had allowed having strange bed partners.  That included unsavory characters like Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan as well.  During much of the 1970’s Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus had a good honeymooning.  When Al-Badr operatives slaughtered the Bengali intellectuals in the heat of the night they knew very well who their guardians were.  Be mindful that Osama bin Laden was being groomed during this time with the blessing of this alignment.

According to the assessment of the Inter-services Intelligence of Pakistan (the notorious military intelligence agency of that country) and the nexus that I mentioned, the formation of BKSAL may bring the Soviets to the doorstep of the Bay of Bengal.  The ISI was more concerned to bring Bangladesh to Pakistan’s fold and the nexus wanted to de-Sovietize Bangladesh polity.  Some of the right wing dictators in the world amassed more wealth and made more terrible human rights abuses than the Awami Leaguers of 1972-1975.  Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran, Somoza of Nicaragua, Batista of Cuba are a few in the list.  In the eyes of US policy makers, Mujib’s sin was not being soft on the corrupt Awami Leaguers, nor his Rakkhi Bahini’s excesses against the armed cadres of Sarbahara Party or Jatiya Samjtantrik Dal.  The danger perceived by many analysts in the land of freedom was Mujib’s coziness with the Kremlin leaders that could allow the Red Bear to a new frontier. So the 15th August seemed to be a historical necessity for quite a few methodical planners.

The 15th of August 1975 was a big victory for the Punjabi clique. They won yet another chess game against the Bengalis.  In Bangladesh, some new faces were emerging who would not mind to be the pawns of Islamabad. Ziaur Rahman was notable in this case.  Although his wife was captive at the hands of the brutal Pakistani machinery during much of 1971, he cared less for his personal predicament.  He very shrewdly worked to enhance the ISI’s agenda in Bangladesh.  As a renowned freedom fighter, he used his Muktijoddha garb and his Podobi, whenever necessary, only to fool the gullible Bengali masses.  But slowly, did he stab the back of the spirit of liberation.   Zia could fool millions of Bengalis but he could hardly masquerade his true identity in front of sensible Bengali nationalists.

You don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to figure out that Pakistani ruling elite got back their lost colony after mid 1975.  They understood as long as subservient Bengali army rulers would serve their purpose the idea of a reunification would not arise.  They were fully aware the wound from a bloody war was still fresh in the memory of millions of Bengalis.  Zia scrapped the 1972 Constitution that included secularism as one of the founding principles of the emerging nation. Zia followed his Fouzi leadership style from the textbooks of his role model Ayub Khan.  During national days of mourning or remembrance, he did not allow the state owned media to utter the taboo word, “Pakistani army.”  He embraced the most heinous Jamaati killers and gave them a new lease of life; he allowed them to organize politically.  He brought a notorious collaborator like Shah Azizur Rahman to a high echelon of state power.  He broke many freedom loving peoples’ heart but gave the Pakistani masters a sigh of relief.  The successors of Yahya regime in Islamabad understood the lost colony had been won again.

During the late 1970’s, as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan the Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus got a big boost up. This was the time when General Ziaul Huq of Pakistan and General Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh became blood brothers.  The Bengali Zia might have been ashamed to remember his freedom fighting days.  He provided the necessary platform to ISI for conducting its business in Bangladesh.  The Pakistanis got total upper hand in the chess game.  General Ziaur Rahman became the ultimate Trojan Horse of the Punjabi ruling elite.  The ISI had two-tier objectives in Bangladesh. Primarily, in order to give India a good lesson, the shipments of arms under the guidance of the military ruler in Bangladesh were destined to insurgency movements in the northeastern corridor of India.  It goes without saying that Indian rebels got a guaranteed sanctuary on the soil of Bangladesh.   Secondly, the infusion of political Islamic ideology would help diminish the hatred against the Pakistani rapists and killers of 1971.  They were successful in both the fronts.  On the other hand, India did not stay quiet either.  As a tit for tatting, India reciprocated by further fomenting the Chittagong Hill Tracts insurgency.  That did not bring a positive feedback from the Bangladesh citizenry.  Rather, India’s approach backfired and Pakistani clandestine activity got the desired outcome.  The shrewd and power hungry Zia made Bangladesh a hotbed of tussles between India and Pakistan, which went on unabated without public knowledge.  General Ershad simply took the mantle from his predecessor and ran with it for almost a decade.

As Pakistani dark shadow engulfed the whole nation after 1975, Zia’s calculated oratory could appease two patrons.  Off and on, he articulated his stand against “foreign isms.”  Some of the US State Department officials might have perceived Zia as a crusader devoted to thwart socialism or communism. The Pakistani policy makers could have considered it a crusade against secularism.  The ISI operatives did have a serious distaste for secularism, not to say their hatred for left leaning politics.  Ziaur Rahman had a vendetta against Awami League, and the Bangabandhu in particular.  Was it merely because of Awami League’s corrupt politicians’ wrongdoing or its non-democratic formation of BKSAL?  His track record shows otherwise.  Some critics may argue that Zia had shown his grudge against that party for breaking up Pakistan. He methodically transplanted pro-BNP and pro-Jamaati Judges thus making the country’s judiciary subservient to his political philosophy with a slant toward Pakistani interest. No wonder, even today Bangladeshi Judges are too  “embarrassed” to try Mujib killers and they show split decision on Bangabandhu Murder Case.

After the demise of the Soviet empire a positive outcome came into the periphery.  The Saudi-Pakistan-US nexus lost its important component the USA.  Once upon a time, the US policy makers found reliable friends in Islamic fundamentalists but they also realized the need for them was no more.  A direct attack on citadels of secular democracy opened their eyes. Bombing of the World Trade Center or the Embassies in Africa gave them the chill of their life.  In a hurry they realized that pan-Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists were the ultimate enemies of secular West.  This realization, albeit late, came as a blessing in disguise for the secular Bengali nationalists.  The tide has turned and today the common enemy of the Bengalis and USA is the Islamist movement emanating from the hornet’s nest in Pakistan.

During 1975 to 1991, Bangladesh has been governed by the shadow of ISI backed Bengali army dictators. They did not attempt to make the sovereign nation a confederation of Pakistan overnight.  But they proceeded to go in a manner that can be equated with a situation of slow poisoning.  During Zia’s time any questionable artistic endeavor critical to the regime or Pakistani values was surreptitiously suppressed. I can give the example of film director M.A. Samad’s “Surjo Grohon.”   Without any explanation, this film was banned in the country. Also, Zia’s ruthlessness occurred behind the iron curtains of Dhaka cantonment.  After quelling a coup in 1977, he randomly arrested hundreds of noncommissioned officers of Bangladesh Air force.  Many of them were sent to different jails where they were hanged after the verdicts from Zia installed Kangaroo Courts.  Many officers perished from the face of the earth. Their main offense-they were suspected to be a threat to the regime.  Under Zia’s rule, a pattern of purge in the country’s defense services was getting crystal clear to political analysts. In a good number of cases only freedom fighters in various branches of the armed services were singled out to be punished.  During the time of Zia’s gross account of human rights violation, the Amnesty International or any other human rights organizations were noticeably silent.  Was it because of the Cold War legacy, who knows?

Let us now delve into the tidbits of the dynamics of Bangladesh politics after seventeen years rule of the ISI- virus infected Bengali generals. After the ouster of dictator Ershad from the power, the ISI had to be apprehensive. This was more so as Bengali nationalist party Awami League allied with Bangladesh Nationalist Party to kick out the army despot from power. Although Khaleda Zia was no friend of pro-liberation forces of the country, she did not systematically purge Muktijoddhas (freedom fighters) from the defense forces.  I recall notable writer and commentator Hasan Ferdous once pointed out about one interesting aspect of Khaleda Zia administration. According to Ferdous, Khaleda gave four or five key and strategic positions to army officers who happened to be freedom fighters. Tarek Masud, an aspiring Bengali film buff told me in 1995 about the fait accompli of his remarkable documentary, “The Songs of Freedom.”  He revealed to me that at the outset  the Khaleda Zia administration made conspicuous attempt to obstruct the release of this historical documentary.  This powerful camera work depicted the plight of the Bengali refugees and a group of singers’ motivational songs in various refugee camps through out the liberation war period. After a good fight the film maker was successful in releasing the film, which drew big crowd in theaters all across the nation. I have serious doubt if this was ever possible during one time freedom fighter General Ziaur Rahman’ rule.   During Khaleda Zia’s regime, the grass root movement of the Ekatturer Ghatok Dalal Nirmul Committee [Committee to annihilate killers and collaborators of 1971] had the opportunity to mobilize into a formidable movement that left an indelible mark on the national political landscape.  In this case, I would like to hypothesize a comparative scenario.  If Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam had endeavored to start the anti-killer and collaborator movement in Ziaur Rahman era, she could hardly finish her goal.  Freedom fighter Ziaur Rahman, who sold his soul to the war criminals of 1971 was barely in a position to let the movement flourish.  He would have crushed  the grassroots mass movement by hook or by crook.  I am afraid he would have succeeded in his dubious design not because he was a heartless despot, but he was out there to please his Pakistani bosses.

As before, US policy makers and think tankers are divided on the issue of supporting the current Pakistani military regime.  But the promising sign is, unlike in 1971, the majority of them are not sympathetic to the army brass.   It is mention worthy that ISI’s dark claws have spread to USA and the US capital in particular.  The operatives of the shadowy group are playing game, steadfastly.  They now realize that the offspring of Sheikh Mujib is a bad news for them.  Sheikh Hasina’s temporary tactical alliance with the Jamaatis during the past general election of Bangladesh proved she is a lot more shrewder political element than her deceased father.  In politics, skillfully dealing with the dirty dealers could be a plus point.  Hasina must have been aware of the emerging global movement among expatriate Bengalis who are relentlessly working to put the killers and collaborators of 1971 to justice.  She definitely felt its significance whenever she went out of the country.  These expatriate Bengalis are constantly networking and winning new friends among policy makers and conscientious opinion leaders of many countries that includes Pakistan as well. But she dares not expect unconditional support from the pro-liberation lobbies.
Respect for a civil society and rule of law will be conducive to tightening the bond  between different pro-liberation forces.  There is light behind the tunnel.   In the long run, the Bengali nationalists will be the victors by checkmating the most unsavory coterie of the South Asian region- the military regime of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  Their influence in Bangladesh is on the wane.  Irfan Raza fiasco is a living testament of that.  Shall I be more discreet?
This essay was published in the Editorial & Commentary section of NEWS FROM BANGLADESH on December 19, 2000.


Blog Posts

Frankenstein on the march

Victor Frankenstein’s creation of a human monster, known simply as Frankenstein, in the 19th century novel Frankensteinor The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley may be pure fiction, but there is an analogue of that in the modern-day world. However, that fictional monster had been made to disappear in the icy wilderness of the north; but the modern-day monster is firmly embedded with present-day technology and is going nowhere. This newly produced monster is so powerful and ubiquitous that it threatens to take over the human mind, relegate human beings into pawns and control lives. If God is viewed as an all-powerful, all knowledgeable, all embracing entity, then this is it; it is the de facto God.

What is this all-powerful, all knowledgeable entity that overrules human beings? It is, in fact, a human invention of ethereal dimensions. It exists in ethernet – something like fictitious ether which pervades the whole world, the whole universe, but nobody has actually identified it; it exists in cyberspace, but nobody can nail it down to cyberspace; it exists somewhere up in the cloud, in the sky. Doesn’t it sound like a God of some sort? But there is a sharp distinction. It does not go into heaven and hell dimensions. It is quite happy controlling human minds, treating human beings as subjugated animals.

It is the world wide web, abbreviated as www, where information – documents, images, audio and video clips and links, etc – can be accessed by internet by millions and billions of users worldwide. With the astounding progress in computer technology, where miniaturisation and speed of data processing have gone up exponentially higher year after year over the last decade or so, computers have become indispensable tools for human beings. And this computer technology has spawned laptops, palmtops, mobile phones or cell phones and all other gadgets of indescribable variety. All these gadgets are woven together in the internet so that people can do all sorts of hitherto unimaginable things.

Gone are the days when pen and paper were essential items for human beings. Whereas previously people needed to be literate to require pen and paper, now people can use this internet facility without much of a literate background. One can express one’s opinion, such as liking an idea by just clicking into the ‘like’ button. One can express one’s strongly held conviction in 140 characters in Twitter. One can upload images from mobile/cell phones straight into the internet and share them with friends, relations or a wider public right across the world. The opportunities (and pitfalls) are simply boundless.

When all of these processes and activities are put together, they can be described in modern-day terminology as ‘social media’. Social media are the computer based social networks for communicating, sharing and exchanging information between members of virtual communities round the world. There has been an unprecedented proliferation of various types of social media — Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest and many more — each vying for the customs of the general public offered completely free of charge. The more people use their platforms, criss-crossing messages across the world, the happier and richer they become. It is like an open house — come and feast yourself to your heart’s content, given all free!

So, how do these deceptively most generous and charitable organisations employing hundreds of people, if not thousands,across the globe survive without charging users a single penny or a dime? That is the trick of the trade. That is where the Frankenstein simile comes in.

The Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who established the free network in the 1990s, had the stated purpose to connect people with each other, to empower them, to give them voice, to make them count. Other platform owners also expressed similar sentiments such that people might mistakenly think that they are modern-day angels. But there is nothing called a free lunch.

But these supposedly ‘charitable’ social media organisations are ‘data’ traders. They make you, me and everybody else come and exchange views using their facilities. People are free to talk about anything and everything on earth, as long as it is not racially loaded, terrorist related, brazenly threatening to others, etc. This restrictive clause effectively makes users liable for the propriety of information that is exchanged, not the platform owner. But the platform owner effectively owns the proprietary rights of data, although all of it has been in the public domain. The underlying reason is that the data had been recorded and stored in the owner’s machines and so the owner can do whatever he likes, as long as it does not violate the Data Protection Act 1998 in the UK or EU Data Protection Directive 1995 in the European Union.

When someone clicks ‘like’ on a certain item, when someone puts a small cryptic comment, when someone uploads an image, all these stray items can be put together and a comprehensive picture or profile of that person can be built up. As an example, recently a reporter investigating Donald Trump’s use of psychographics in his presidential election campaign, went to see Cambridge Analytica in London, which devised the methodology of psychographics for the population and applied it to the American population. The head of Cambridge Analytica (CA) told him that by using totally innocuous data, which are all in the public domain, they can create a very good personal profile of a group of people or an individual through using their highly sophisticated algorithm. To show the validity of the CA algorithm, he said that he had produced a personal profile of the reporter – all from data in the public domain. He told him that the journalist was a history graduate from a certain university (he even told him his grade), his family background, his political affiliation, his religious background, his atheistic leaning, his foreign tours, his eating habits, his liking of French wines, Italian shoes, etc. The reporter was literally shocked to bits to see that his life was such an open book. CA knows almost everything about him – his mind, his thinking, his affiliations, etc. And worst of all, he was totally unaware that he had himself given out so much information about himself!

Cambridge Analytica had just collected all stray data and processed them. It is all done by electronic means on an industrial scale. Individual profiles can lead to psychographics and people with similar psychographics can be banded together for political, economic and social purposes. Once CA had completed psychographics, the information on the Trump camp was passed on to publicity and campaign groups and they literally targeted individuals with appropriate pitch, knowing very well their minds, their liking and disliking, their mode of thinking, etc.

These ‘data traders’ are literally sitting on gold mines. Each one of these supposedly ‘charitable’ social media organisations is worth billions, if not tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Money literally comes falling down on them from the sky or spurts out of the ground.

They are the modern-day Gods – they know the hearts and minds of people, more than people know of themselves. With the knowledge of people’s minds, they can control their behaviour, aspirations, lifestyles, etc, and that is where the power of these Gods lies.

However, I would like to call them Frankensteins. Human beings have created www and www has spawned data collection opportunities through various platforms. Cambridge Analytica is just putting souls into the bodies and thereby becoming Gods. Now these Gods/Frankensteins know more about us than we know about ourselves. They can manipulate our minds, our thinking, our aspirations in such a way that we never thought was possible. We have become their subordinate entities. The Frankensteins have made Britain leave the EU, have produced the most unthinkable and unsuitable American president. Who knows what Frankenstein will do next? Frankenstein is on the march.

A Rahman is an author and a columnist.