Monday, April 30, 2007

(4. Back & Forth) Muslims on the Net

Special thanks to Tanzeen Doha, now living, learning and teaching in San Francisco, a fellow traveler.

The Rant: Isaac and Ishmael. Is'haq and Ismayil. A somewhat literary interpretation of the traditional Jewish version of the story is interesting. First the story: Abraham wants to leave an heir to spread God's revelation to his people. It just wasn't happening, so with his wife's permission, he marries another and has Ishmael. Then quite unexpectedly, his first wife gets pregnant and Isaac is born months later. Abraham treats them equitably and passes on the revelation, yet Ishmael and Isaac do not get along that well for a variety of worldly reasons. Both kind and responsible men, they firmly believe in the revelation as but have very different approaches. They both understand man's greater responsibility towards one's fellow man as desire for justice. Justice is love and love is what God requires to reward us with the blessings of unconditional love. Ishmael fights for a justice that is desire as sensual tremors of the soul, while Isaac fights for one that is desire as manifested in the letter of the law. Ishmael emphasizes faith, intent, the esoteric, the essence of Dharma, spontaneous difference and is therefore flexible with the established rituals. He is the ecstatic poet/philosopher artist, similar in some respects to a kind of Abrahamic Achilles and Karna. Isaac on the other hand emphasizes faith through cohesion, diligent adherence to established rituals, and other socio-cultural manifestations of the essence of Karma, much like Japanese martial artists (more Aikido and Jujitsu than Karate) who believe that repetition of the Katas lead to higher states of Ki-consciousness (consciousness of God's grace and will) and enlightenment. He is the statesman/preserver in the tradition of Hector, an Abrahamic hybrid of Hector and Arjuna. Their father Abraham represents the ideal balance as well as the symbiotic relationship between the two. The half-brothers, the primary archetypical duality of the Abrahamic tradition, our own Yin and Yang in search of balance, come together to bury their father and all is well again… bliss.

Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, the Cabalists, the Muslims, the Sufis and the Alchemists breaking the chains of man's law to submit himself to the will of God. Isaac, the father of the Jews submits himself to the will of God by embracing those very laws also embraced by his father and because his father - the ideal man blessed by God's divine revelation for his people - embraced them also. Isaac does not ponder too much whether the laws lead to that perfection, or it is the perfection leads to the construction of such laws, he simply follows, obeys, and occasionally improvises and gently transfigures the meaning of the laws when he has to, in order to preserve their sanctity and purpose. Laws that keep the peace amongst his people, fabricate happiness out of that peace, and enable him to find happiness in theirs. He is the noble King of Kings and like Sisyphus one must imagine him happy without too much difficulty. Isaac preserves while Ishmael challenges with identical goals in mind. Isaac the utopian architect (The Matrix ), utopia meaning both good place and no place in classical Greek, stabilizes while Ishmael the anti-utopian oracle destabilizes the equation that can neither be solved nor remain unsolved because it, like all manifestations of God through all of His divine creation, is in a permanent state of transformation and flux. Isaac the easily recognizable epic hero, believing that love is the way of God, is always ready to make the supreme sacrifice (like Hector and Arjuna) for all the good things he loves in a world that loves, cherishes, and honors men like him. Ishmael the anti-hero, also believing that love is the way of God but in an absurdly Godless world, sacrifices himself for a glory he knows he cannot live to see. He doesn't care about the ways of this world as the hereafter as the world to come where all is reconciled in divine unity, awaits him at the business end of God's will. Like Achilles and Karna, he embraces that divine will and becomes its instrument. A confrontation, a dance between the hero and the anti-hero locked in cosmic embrace, an eternal battle devoid of permanent victory or defeat. Siva and Vishnu conjuring Brahma out of the universe in hopeless hopes of seeing the unseen, not as an expression of arrogance or in the spirit of blasphemy, but as the apparatus of capture that only offers salvation through the very act of engagement in the struggle, the Jihaad to balance the opposite values attracted to the same field. The travels of an ultimately anti-utopian, nomadic war machine that desires neither territory nor pure adventure, but the ecstasy of God's grace by traversing the thousand plateaus of his creation, the infinite yet deliberately engineered universe within, without and beyond all things known, unknown and unknowable. I wonder why some fools like me think that the coming together of the Abrahamic traditions and all things compatible to those traditions as one, can only lead to good things?

You feel me my brother?

E-mail 01: There are some significant differences between the Judeo-Christian take and the Muslim interpretation. The Judeo-Christian take never considered Hajara (Haggar) as Ibrahim's second wife (they call her the concubine), and once Is’haq (Isaac) is born approximately 13 years after Ismayil, both Ismayil and Hajara are instructed to leave the family due to Sara's insistence and be in the desert. Also, the story of the sacrifice according to the Bible, where Ibrahim is instructed by God to sacrifice his "only" beloved son - the Judeo-Christian view this as a command to sacrifice Isaac not Ishmael. Obviously, this is vehemently debated by the Muslims, because they think the only son at the time of the dream was Ismayil because Is’haq was not born yet. Ismayil was at the time of the prophet Ibrahim's dream - the "only" son. The bible clearly says that it was Is’haq who was to be sacrificed - of course, in that case, the term 'only' son is applied to Is’haq. So, the bottom line is, after the birth of Is’haq - Ismayil becomes unimportant - he is not even Ibrahim's son anymore. Given all the similarities between Judeo-Christian thought and Islam, this remains a foundational/fundamental difference between the two traditions, and thus, in Hajj, a lot of the rituals are about establishing the Muslim story of Hajara and Ismayil.

Even though there are plenty of symbolic similarities in both the interpretations, there are some elemental textual (literal) differences, which give rise to diversity of thought, which then requires interpretive work to unearth the multiple levels of meaning. Therefore, dissolving these differences can only happen through forceful imposition.


Reply: Your take on the Judeo-Christian take on the matter is accurate. I don't claim to be a specialist/scholar, but perhaps an archaeological/linguistic/cultural (more scientific?) approach to investigating such things can shed light on less-biased facts that by definition are a bit more complex than they appear. The rabbinical view is less cut and dry anyway. I met some Reform rabbis, renegade Catholic priests, and Moroccan muftis who encourage such erudite revisionism, not only because they think such endeavors add to the scholarship, but because it helps internalize the intellectual elements of faith and subsequently can enhance the spiritual experience in oneself and eventually the community as a whole. Well, such important erudition is your passion, calling and in the near future, profession.

I just saw a purely creative way to draw parallels that can be drawn, perhaps out of an instinctive urge to draw our stories together. Such musings are nothing but additional insights into the "mythologies" our common origin as sentient beings attempting to describe experiences in order to harness their power for the common good, and further disciplined intellectual forays. The nature of the discipline is bound to change as our fundamental perception of how things work, what things are, how those "organic" multiplicities relate to the simpler, more binary way we investigate those questions through mathematics and language, how we measure the necessary margin of error when we arrive at temporarily answers, and develop systematic discourse as a strategic toolkit rather than yet another "truth" more intellectually interesting and valuable as the object of genealogical inquest. I think that after the advent of post-Newtonian perception of the universe, and in light of Einstein's the Special Theory of Relativity, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Bohr's Quantum Mechanics leading to Chaos Theory, the Human Genome Project, and evidence of the genetic trail left behind by our ancestors from Africa, traditional ontology needs to be more attentive to the spiritual/poetic/elliptical free associations and elements of its less popular methods, rather than the stoic/Platonist/Newtonian parallels that have influenced those methods in the western (except Nietzsche, Emerson and Kierkegaard from my limited readings), non-Cabalist, non-Islamic, non-Buddhist world of modern thought. Don't get me wrong, I love the symmetrical intelligence of Hegel and Heidegger, and acknowledge that Bach’s immersion into reason can produce the musical inducement of the purely ecstatic - but still find verses from the Qur-aan, and transcendental notes from Gnawa music more accessible to the heart and soul, and more annihilating of the false truths and distinctions that distort the fundamental oneness, unity of life and existence. My musings come from that place. I don't expect them to be taken seriously, just understood, and if I’m lucky, experienced similar to the way I’ve experienced them in the same ball park.


E-mail 02: I think I agree with you on everything you just wrote about the revisionist view. We were coming from two different perspectives. We were essentially talking about two different things - while you were describing the symbolic/allegorical textual as well as spiritual hermeneutic of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic self, and its relation to the Deen (way), I was speaking of the political divide, which is an important difference given the contemporary sense of revivalism in the Islamic front. At the end of the day, you and I have a lot to share with each other. Your valuable thoughts constantly make me think... ponder, and I get to retake my Shahadah (oath) every time and emphasize - why! For me the ‘why' is answered through a constant decentering of the self, but ultimately, building coherence through a serious indulgence in Salaat (prayer). In the end, it is a matter of just being a believer, where 'thinking deeply' is not a choice but a requirement.

For us - thinking and using the intellect is pre-determined.

Sorry for re-emphasizing the disorder of universe, but it is this disorder, Jahiliya that makes the ethical and the aesthetic all the more important. After all, all children are born perfect as believers, and it is their "human nature" (not in the western Platonist sense) to be Muslims (broad definition of 'Muslim' applicable here). Duniya (the world of man) ruptures that perfection, and therefore, when the adult finds Islam (broad definition again) he reverts back to that original state, where he is one with nature (the world) again.

End... for now.

PS: Islam is to Al-Quaeda what Christianity is to the KKK... the lamest possible cover to conceal one's debasement of himself in a world alienated by hatred, because he allows cruelty to destroy the love that leads to salvation.

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 30, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

(3. Cricket) Case for the Possible Ashraful Captaincy

Common objections to a possible Muhammad Ashraful Matin ODI Captaincy are all too well known: too inconsistent, too emotionally charged, too young, too inexperienced to be Captain. Hmm... I'm not as sure about the prospect. His captaincy in domestic cricket showed a lot of passion, vision, flair and instinctive innovation that will mature over time. NO, I don’t think he’ll attack the likes of Alim Dar if he doesn’t like the call. Being the most exciting match-winner in the team along with Mashrafe, he has the talent, ability and charisma to inspire the best in others. He is an effective communicator and the players listen to him. Consistency-wise, I think he has turned a corner in the World Cup and will give us great things between his 100th and 250th ODI.

Why must we wait so long for talent to blossom into regular performance? Well, domestic cricket in Bangladesh is not exactly up to par when compared to cricket in Sri Lanka, even India and Pakistan where young players learn to harness their talent with better consistency. So, until BCB starts to put its money where its mouth has been, talented kids like Ashraful have to learn on the job. Ah the T-word again! I’d say the word talent for a cricketer primarily indicates superior hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to match desire with appropriate biomechanics. For a bowler hand-eye-mind coordination specifically refers to the ability to gauge the right line and length, and to accurately deliver the ball there with appropriate torsion. Good Captaincy utilizes that talent for victory with innovation, appropriate aggression, and killer instinct. Given the current state of our domestic cricket, we, in all honesty, should not expect any one of our young talents to deliver on their potential with desired consistency before they play at least a hundred or so games. They should be appraised on the basis of small, but substantial improvements and not dropped as easily as they have been in the past by selectors who themselves never had that kind of talent. Being young, time is on their side. I don't think cutting appropriate slack to supremely gifted guys like Ashraful, Alok Kapali, now Tamim Iqbal, and Junaid Siddique in a year or so, can do us much harm in the long run. Purile banter, thoughtless impatience and the insatiable urge to gratify one's ego as instantly as possible, hallmarks of the politicized BCB of old, as well as some in the overly emotional elements media where excessive adulation and vilification are too easily interchangeable, can and will continue to stagnate growth of meaningful cricket and cricket culture in Bangladesh. I mean really, why did Alok Kapali not play when other non-performers with neither his talent nor his youth kept getting rewarded for reasons beyond the grasp of reason? Such real OPOSHONGSHKRITI or harmful culture is not beneficial in any way, shape or form for the steady development of Bangladesh cricket. Think process not event, I say. If anyone has SMART, meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-phased alternatives, HUGE emphasis on Realistic in the BCB context, I’m sure we’d be thrilled to hear about it. Anyway, back to the captaincy issue: Mashrafe and Sakib bring their own cards to the table, and perhaps even Nafees Iqbal at some point in time. Maybe I'm getting carried away here, but I see Ashraful as potentially the Ponting-type, Mashrafe the Imran-type, Sakib the Flemming-type, and Nafees Iqbal as the Atherton-type captain if all goes according to our pipe dreams in the future. They can all make good Captains despite different leadership styles, and new coach like Steve Waugh can further mentor those leadership skills and take us into the next World Cup with better chances of winning the games we should’ve won in the last one. We’d like to be more optimistic about the speed of their development, as well as the overall development of the inevitably bright future of Bangladesh cricket, if the current momentum of national change catches up to the BCB… and speaking of pipe dreams, maybe Mashraful Hassan Ponting is the answer to all our prayers! Oh well...

The intent here is to provoke lively, thoughtful debate on the very important issue of ODI Captaincy against a team we can beat consistently with better leadership, as our cricket finds itself at a critical juncture where a bold new generation in the field has taken us where we have never been before. That better leadership must come from one of their own with the next World Cup at home in mind. I nominate Ash. I know that many people have jumped on the Ashraful bandwagon and later called for his head when he couldn’t deliver. Some of us however, never came down since his phenomenal debut in Sri Lanka. We stayed on not only because how rare such a debut was, especially given the general context of BD-cricket, but also because the exasperation of failure, though understandable, is seldom thought all the way through, and therefore can only be as it has been - counter-productive for our nascent cricket culture at this level. Ash’s individual accomplishments, their impact on team performance and positive PR for Bangladesh cricket, and the sheer joy slash the deeply resonating pride those deft, eloquent performances generate in our hearts as Bangladeshis, are simply head and shoulders above all other individual performances as they should be. He is by far the most talented and accomplished batsman we have produced to date despite the niggling inconsistencies he has demonstrated in the past. Inconsistencies, in my opinion, that could be fairly chalked-up to his youth, and the quality of the domestic first class cricket in Bangladesh. I’d like to know which other Bangladeshi batsman has been more consistent than Muhammad Ashraful Matin over similar number of games that he has played? No one. I’d like to know how much more experience did Habibul Bashar have when he was made Captain? Duh… Not a rocket science to figure out why. Skip back to the newness of our cricket culture at this level, and skip back to the discrepancy between BCB’s insinuations and deeds when it comes to developing a real cricket infrastructure as opposed to the half-assed system based on talent and talent alone. A real structure provides real opportunities to develop the talent before facing the real music, so to speak. Sure a lot has been said about that and Ash’s time and place in the way things stand now, and a lot more need to be said until things change as times and situations do and produce new opportunities for meaningful discussion. Think and speak-out my cricket-loving brothers and sisters!

Test Captaincy? I'm not as comfortable yet. Ideally someone needs rolemodel the young guys into an altogether different set of leadership and tactical criteria, I too am searching for the Caretaker slash Interim Captain until Ash, Mash, Saks, Nafs or even Mushi can take over in a few years and lead the team on a slightly longer road ahead. The trouble is we're still too new at this and finding that someone. That someone - all DESHI emotionalism notwithstanding - should not be Hablu. Maybe that'll put a short leash on some of his customary compulsions and give us a few more 50s without the pressure of being the type of meek, unimaginative, and the play-not-to-lose nihilistic Captain he was. Maybe he has nothing else to give. He's a better writer anyway. Bringing back Pilot, despite the fact that he's the better keeper, will create problems in the dressing room again. His alleged people skills were legendary enough to get him into all kinds of trouble. So, by process of elimination: Muhammad Rafique, anyone? Intelligent, experienced and young at heart... nah, I'd go for Ash, he's got youth on his side.

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 25, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

(2. Cricket) Bangladesh Cricket after the World Cup: What Now?

It seems our very own kokhono bagh, kokhono bilai boys in the Caribbean just can't seem to turn that proverbial corner of winning two in a row after whipping one of the big boys of world cricket. The less said about the self-destructive, peculiarly dismal, for lack of a better word batting display against England, Ireland and the West Indies, the better. What an appalling way to needlessly dissipate the linger of the India slash South Africa high brought into our lives as Bangladeshis! Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Maybe they need a full time shrink, or maybe they need a less nattering, negative, ethereal Captain who can at least lead from the front with whatever he was expected to do, and better selectors who can select such a leader for the upcoming India visit. Better captaincy and selectors, elements that should have been foregone conclusions a while ago but were not. Now the fat lady’s finally singing loudly enough for Habibul Bashar and his patron saints in the BCB, and higher cricketing powers that be need to hear that falsetto with the rest of us.

Habibul can't-bat-no-more Bashar and his stoned stiff brand of lethargic and close-to-zero charisma cannot lead anybody anywhere good. Lack of talent, form, athleticism and vision notwithstanding, the complete lack of aggression in his consistently bland and unimaginative field setting, decidedly when the so-called killer instinct was called for, has finally become exasperating to all. His mysterious mind always seems to wandering places other than the ground he’s standing on with a weirdly clerical, insecure, and clueless air. The smiling automaton needs to prove that he has been doing more than just appease the big bosses in order to ride the success of others in recent Bangladesh victories.

He won't because he can't.

His contribution to those remarkable victories, with the exception of the freakishly unusual, typically rare performances once in a long, long while, is not much more than just occupying space at the right time. That is just about as significant as well, you fill in the blank. If repeatedly sending Aftab Ahmed at 3 and 4, a talented and hopeless swashbuckler better suited to bat at 6 or 7, before gathering up the courage to drag himself, the supposedly more responsible top order batsman, to face the music is nothing short of absurd – then sending Muhammad Ashraful, by far the most talented batsman we have produced to date, to bat at 6 and 7 is nothing short of imbecilic. Dropping Bashar for good is the obvious and perhaps the much needed slap across the back of his nihilistic head to kick start a cricketing evolution he can write about full time, preferably far way from our young, fearless and more often than not, can-do boys. Bad apples are a luxury we cannot afford anymore, because our passionate young Tigers have come to symbolize the best of what we as a nation can achieve, and transformed cricket into the indisputable national past time it has become. Gone are the days of celebrating victory against the likes of Zimbabwe and Kenya with a lap of honor. Gone are the days of trying to swallow the loss to an associate team of amateur and semi-professional cricketers without real repercussions. We must no longer lose to the likes of Ireland without the type of cold, hard introspection to rectify such shame in the future with appropriate action. It is safe to say that Bangladesh is ready for consistent, back-to-back performances our young guys have demonstrated the talent to deliver against the big boys world cricket. Bashar must go if only to spare all Bangladeshis the beijjoti of being lumped together with the same kind of gutless apologist for mediocrity. His revolting performance coupled with the passionless, sterile brooding cannot possibly do our cricketing PR any good anymore. Alok Kapali and Nafis Iqbal deserve to be back in the team on the basis of recent performance, talent, youth, and/or the fact that they can't do any worse than our once known as Mr. Fifty. Khaled Masud is still the better man behind the wickets, and his batting seems no less productive as the prematurely selected Mushfiqur Rahim’s. A couple of more years in the Bangladesh A-side can only help this young prospect develop the wicket-keeping skills to match that remarkable temperament and enthusiasm. Shahriar Nafees can accompany him there, and come back to where he belongs when he’s capable of delivering his very best against better teams.

Watching our boys finish their World Cup the way they did, was an act of unbridled masochism I shared with millions of other Bangladeshis. Before the rant however, we must yet again, take our hats off to Mashrafe Bin-Murtaza and Sakib Al-Hassan for their gumption throughout the tournament when the chips were down, and they were down quite a bit. I fail to why we’re not looking at our own, taller Chaminda Vaas and shorter Daniel Vettori if they get the investment and structural support they deserve during this particular stage of their promising careers. On a less optimistic note, Tamim’s inability to learn from recent mistakes, and Ashraful’s less frequent but still bizarre relapse into well-noted compulsions, especially in the last match, can still be sighed away and chalked up as youthful slipups of genuinely talented youth, things time and structural support can take care of without too much difficulty. Really, without the quality first class structure we have been promised for over half-a-decade now, they do need about a hundred or so games to learn to be their best with any palpable degree of consistency. Without that consistency, Muhammad Ashraful and Tamim Iqbal will never be the Arvinda De Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya-grade batsmen they certainly have the talent to blossom into. They have talent and time on their side, but them veteran batsman? I was at a loss as to what was more painful, watching Habibul Bashar prolong our agony by clinging on to a salary he hasn’t deserved for awhile, or watching him share the crease with a shakier and even less talented Javed Omar Belim trying to chase down a moderate West Indian target in yet another game we could have, should have won? Maybe talent cannot be the word to describe these has beens of Bangladeshi cricket who are still playing not to lose and stagnating the overall team effort move forward to the next level. Such wretched ineptitude, now gleefully presented to a much-baffled cricket world, cannot be allowed go unchecked just because of a few runs awkwardly edged out of the bat here and there. Sadly, our current batch of selectors probably will as they have since landing the job.

We need paid professional selectors who tolerate neither traditional bias, nor an unhealthy fetish for their own complete lack of accountability for making awful selections. No, we haven’t forgotten the Al-Shahriar, Mushfiq Babu, Hannan Sarkar and Mehrab Juniors from our not too distant past, and Farhad Reza from the present. We need Australian-type selectors who are either professionally trained, or were talented enough cricketers to spot real talent at this level and not give up on the talented, impressionable young men without providing real structural support for improved performance in the near future. Talented former cricketers like Raquibul Hassan, Minhazul Abedin Nannu and Aminul Islam Bulbul should be sent to Australia to learn how the Aussies do it so well. Such professional selectors can dramatically increase the odds of selecting a better team that can grow into the championship side we know they can be, maybe by the next World Cup at home. Until the money is actually spent on developing a real first-class, well-compensated, better-merchandized professional teams with age-based Senior, A, Under-23 and Under-17 selections playing on a wide variety of wickets, we'll have to depend on our young Tigers from the HP program selected on the basis of talent, technique and temperament who have no choice other than to learn on the job.

BCB must do its best in setting them up for success and allow them to learn from their mistakes by investing in solid structural support. They’ll do the rest, led by an inspirational young Captain who can inspire them with his performance, growing wisdom, and positive body language. Sakib Al-Hassan, Muhammad Ashraful and Mashrafe Bin-Murtaza, they all have that infectious quality and the spark that can ignite a hundred and fifty million fires to show the way to that inevitable future.

Oh, and Dav Whatmore? We must all thank him for helping our young tigers achieve what they have, and send him off to more lucrative pastures he’s looking at elsewhere. A little verifiable self-esteem every now and then can’t hurt us all that much, can it?

Sohel N. Rahman, Dhaka, April 20, 2007.

(1. Essay) Letter from Dhaka, Bangladesh

A personal matter. I’m sure that’s how I responded five plus years ago, or used words to that effect. I gauged the crowd with passable accuracy, and decided not to explain why I came back to perhaps the only place where I shouldn’t be asked such questions. I didn’t need a visa to get here, so why ask a question that you don’t really want the answer to? Hence the use of a typical phrase without playing too many notes not too many people have the time for. At least not with the casual verve of dinner party chitchat before the so-called conversation waltzes over to better, less demanding pastures across the room a couple of awkwardly stretched minutes later. Conversations certainly easier on the fashionably inattentive mind, minds perhaps also a little on the tipsy side, are always on menu around here and a real answer to the question, let’s just say, will complicate matters a little.

Strangely, that’s what I’m still saying five years after moving back to Dhaka. Ambiguous enough to be a good answer, and loaded enough to be a conversation stopper in a pleasant, gentle, uncomplicated sort way of course. That’s important, now even more so, because there seems so be something different in the air around us nowadays, and nobody thinks that they’re just making all this up anymore. Something much anticipated yet somehow a little unexpected now that it’s finally here. Something that tells us that the time has finally come for the input to match the expectation, meaning what’s in the local news these days may actually be the beginning of the much anticipated reversal of our misfortune. The misfortune of being led by the iniquitous and the wretchedly shortsighted for the past twentysomething years. These are exciting times because the proverbial chicken of our collective discontent has finally come home to roost.

So, why did you move back? was the question and it continues to be despite the five plus years since the first time I heard those exact words. Five plus years in a wild place where you have to tame the beast yourself before daring to ride him off into that picturesque tomorrow. Definitely not a place for those wish to simply walk into an air-conditioned showroom with a bag full of credit – deserved, ill-gotten or inherited, doesn’t matter as long as that bag is full – and drive off in a comfortable vehicle of their choice. I knew that when I decided to come back. After ten plus years of surviving in the American corporate jungle, spending money after work and waiting to spend more on the weekends, and feeling hurried into savoring the last few drops of squeezed-out freedom on Sunday afternoons before plunging into the next workweek just around the corner – I felt ready for the new frontier that I owed to myself to come back to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing my career there. I learnt a lot about the job, about myself, and my ability to like, even feel passionate about the job in order to keep my sanity not too far from where it should be. I felt it was time for me to try and apply my professional skills here, where they can make more of a difference. I watched a couple of decades pass by in suburban DC, Paris and Northern California, and it was time to come home. In retrospect, I was not entirely delusional despite some setbacks, now chalked-up as a weird sort of culture shock you overcome easily ­– it’s your original culture after all. Good things also happened, and an unbreakable optimism, quite common amongst my fellow Bangladeshis, kept re-igniting hope whenever that hope seemed extinguished, blown away by the wide variety of unexpected gusts of the local wind that no longer surprise me as much as they used to in the beginning. It still does with the promise that this optimism will always accompany reasoned faith in God, and willful submission to God’s will. No, like most Bangladeshis, thank God, I’m not one of those guys who wants to silence other voices in Islam, or deny non-Muslims, a tricky concept indeed, justice and equal treatment under the law. Playing the intermediary between God and man’s salvation, exercising unilateral power over others without the possibility of a role reversal, not understanding the inherent indignity in speaking for someone else, and using religion as cover to avoid treatment of neurological disorders – definitely not my cup of tea. Just wanted to clear that up.

If anything, those unexpected moments and easy deceptions ultimately led me to that honest look in the mirror of one’s own limitations. A little detour, though unwanted at the time, I’m glad I took the time to take. The hustle, the bustle and not a single dull moment since, I’d say. Maybe not too many sweet moments in there either. At least not the kind of sweet moments that fall on your lap on their own, the kind that don’t require peeling, plucking and more often than not – decoding and deciphering. I’m not really bitching about life here in the Dhaka Metropolitan Area. Far from it, I like living with the extreme contrasts teeming with people everywhere, each one of us with a story to tell. I’m talking about a question that continues to find new life in small talk whenever I, or other returnees like myself are around. The question, much to my annoyance, doesn’t seem to get old. That’s rare in my neck of the woods right here in the Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara ghetto for the obscenely privileged and sadly, the equally irresponsible to nation, community, and ultimately to one’s own existential essence. Five plus years and still not old in a place where trends and the average attention span fluctuate with greater frequency than electricity in less affluent neighborhoods in Dhaka. Now that’s really something.

Dusty, clogged up streets overdressed with gas-guzzling SUVs and posh European, or European-type, Luxury Sedans and turbo-charged Sports Cars with nowhere to go and flex their muscle, more often concealed than exposed nowadays – fear rather than a moral epiphany at work here – among other gloating, grotesque examples of personal inadequacy and blissful ignorance of fundamental social graces. Not a bad first impression of the mean streets that don’t take too much time to render things passé, or God forbid, uncool before they invariably make their comeback in the not-too-distant future as something new and improved. The mantra seems simple: what we don’t know can’t hurt us, and what we do know we can simply ignore until we believe that it’s getting bored, and will soon fade away and out of our busy-being-busy lives. Besides, why think when you’re local cable operator is taking care of that little function rather affordably? So why did you move back? is perhaps a more polite way of asking, how come you’re still here when we don’t wanna be?

Interesting, I can’t see them living in such deskbound, careless, and easy black money-steeped lap of luxury anywhere else. Definitely not in the US, being as far removed as we non-WASPs are from the Mayflower elite discreetly tucked away in pretty little resort towns named after their ancestors, or people their ancestors knew intimately before killing them off after Thanksgiving dinner. Relegated to a second-class, minority status no matter how White you train yourself to be, or how carefully you try to paint and breed that Whiteness into your own life. US of A – a place like most places where, with the colossal exception of the Junior Bush, you still need minimal qualification to take over the family business, including running the country.

Fact: no other place will be as hospitable to the spoilt-rotten party crowd returning to Dhaka with nothing other than an inexplicable air of superiority to show for their academic hiatus abroad – perfectly termed in Bangla as FUTANI – as our good old Dhaka. Mind you, FUTANI has nothing to do with the comical zeal of the Romanized barbarian back to enlighten the hordes. It is the air of shallow superiority for its own sake, displayed more often than not, to conceal the ugly truth about oneself buried not too deep inside a riot of attitude and flash. Often entertaining once you’re in a good mood, irritating when you’re not.

I suppose it doesn’t matter when you’ve got the job no matter what. Blood is thicker than, well, anything else when it comes to inheriting the sins and accomplishments of one’s father. The story is simple enough: he’ll learn on the job, thinks the father who, to his credit, remains entrepreneurial despite the darker alleys he must now navigate across, again by trampling over his own moral, ethical and civic sensibilities. Our boy, however, has different priorities before learning to do the bare minimum in order to keep his nose above water. His credo: party as hard and as often as you can, come back to a place where the dishes are done for you, and lord over a low glass ceiling keeping men and women more qualified than you at bay. Men and women who even without having had the chance to squander great opportunities to study abroad, are still better suited to take the Company to the next level if what daddy built for me was in fact a Company, and not just yet another family fiefdom slash soap-opera masquerading as one. I guess it’s easier not to care too much whose money it is or where it is coming from as long as you’re the one signing the cheques now, and from a variety of accounts with more money than you know what to do with. Brave new habits like hard currency gambling and other types of upscale debauchery beckon, as always, just on the other side of the workday’s tedium filled with deftly executed spacing-out, paper pushing, and the occasional micromanagement of a crisis that real corporate accountability could prevent without too much trouble. This is the life, you think – I have arrived. Easy thoughts as long as you’ve trained yourself not to think too much. Easy thoughts as long as you can hide behind a wall of Deshi-style Corporate Culture of suits, ties, magnetized nametags and somewhat embarrassing, for the rest of us that is, adulation for the crown prince runnin' daddy’s little store. A store now big enough to warrant arrogantly managed scams that fatten those Caribbean, Swiss or Southeast Asian bank accounts where money is hoarded for the sake of hoarding and hoarding alone. Before long, our boy too easily fits into the moody non-chalance that casually blurts out: to hell with the country’s foreign currency reserve, let the Bangladeshi Taka perish where it has been around the bottom of the foreign-exchange pond while we swim around in five-star waters both here and abroad. Let the twenty million or so at the cusp of the middle-class stay behind that carrot, and let our annual growth stagnate at five and a half percent when it can easily be eight plus. We don’t care because we’re getting ours. Crypto-feudal moods light years away from bourgeois refinement of everyday life, and the enlightened cultivation of those refinements because we don’t gotta farm no more, we don’t gotta row that boat, or cast that heavy net.

Such moods are not entirely unexpected once you think about it. Quite the contrary, they should be anticipated in a community where class is something to be simply purchased, rather than the refined practice of kindness in everyday life that defines it. Purchased, among other outrageously priced places, in sub-standard English medium schools where the better than thou environment of thoughtless style thrash the substance out of our real roots with its the grass must be greener on the other side lure, right out of a hip new lifestyle channel broadcasting from the emptiest recesses of the easily malleable mind. Those roots are buried under other things we are conditioned to hate about ourselves without understanding what they really are in our own terms. Therefore, before an alarmingly obese, rudely class-conscious and sulky little Bangladeshi child, often seen gorging on imported and outrageously priced junk food, has had the time to consider whether the ability to speak English and Bollywood Hindi as first languages in a culture where they traditionally are not really makes him the better, more modern human being that his complex-driven parents so desperately covet – he develops a distaste for most things Bangladeshi. Can’t blame him much when his parents, oblivious to the effect of MSG, mono saturated fats, and self-contempt will have in the life of their little BABU, cannot quite connect the dots between driving ultra-luxurious gas-guzzlers – in an unemployment slash underemployment saturated, road and space-challenged city like Dhaka – and being simply vulgar. Talking consumer rights with a pocketful of money from highly questionable sources of income in an economically polarized society, in order to somehow justify those choices is the type of dodgy, lame, delusional, macabre excuse that needs to be treated with serious anti-psychotics, not the Y by any other name being passed around like candy in the weekend P'RDEE. A lie, semantics and deep philosophy notwithstanding, doesn’t become the truth just because you’ve managed to get yourself and others to believe in it. SHALINOTA is a great Bangla word that can be roughly transliterated as the ability to demonstrate good taste reflective of a kind soul. So much for SHALINOTA and good traditional values.

Such infuriating moods in fact should be quite expected in a community where class is not the gentle cultivation of time-tested ethics and social behavior, but the ability to get away with whatever ethical two-step one finds himself dancing by pretending that the ever-convenient exception to the rule is indeed something other than the bullshit we all know it to be deep down. A community of appearances where this class can be sipped from outrageously priced goblets in smoke-filled rooms, or from inside duty-free bottles filled with socially more acceptable chemicals before sending one’s once spoilt, now rude and hormonally charged child off to one those classy, and outrageously expensive rehab-joints abroad for trying to find a similar kind of class and misguided physiological solace in socially not-yet openly acceptable kicks. More often than not, we reap what we sow no matter how unpalatable the fruits of our efforts – and that goes for everyone irrespective of intent. Another story for another time.

You know who you are. Show a little gratitude I say, and not only because your ass is finally on the line. In no other city of twenty million miraculously packed inside this city built for perhaps less than two, can your mind stay so blissfully uncluttered of justifiable mob violence and the wrath of the chronically exploited. Be thankful that the don’t have a lot in our city convey a nobility in their desire for peace that is perhaps beyond your grasp. Maybe you just don’t get it because the it is not a pill to be popped, or an outrageously-priced choice to be purchased to instantly gratify your avid need to escape the truth about your otherwise empty self, filled only with the pursuit of overcoming self-induced boredom, and a mundane life scheduled around banal shopping trips to overcome that boredom while the so-called excitement of a new purchase lasts. An arrested existence keeling over with the boredom of passing time generally devoid of moral and social responsibility. Making way through the daily torrent of smiling garment workers, and clusters of homeless children lost in their own joyous laughter should inspire you to rediscover what you’ve lost, and realize that Dhaka is not boring after all, maybe you are. A town without glitzy casinos and glitzier brothels sucks only to those who’ve never been ashamed to show-off in a culture where showing-off, by all reasonable accounts, is not a virtue. Because showing off, like vanity in general, is nothing but a rather unbecoming glorification of an inflated ego born of deeply buried inadequacies, and a pathetically low, leg-shaking, accent-faking self-esteem.

You know who you are. God gave you wealth, power, opportunity, and in some cases, even talent. What you do with those wonderful things is what you give back to God. You can break the pattern and do the right thing not because of state induced fear – but because you want freedom from such fears in your heart and mind. Keep your profit margin on a short leash, and you can actively invest in meaningful national development and socio-economic empowerment of our people through education, wealth creation and equal opportunity without waiting for executive directives, or tax subsidies and other incentives to do so. You can fix those roads and build those schools with quality teachers, and give our marginalized working compatriots profit-and-loss-share based interest-free loans to supplement their income through small and mid-sized enterprises of their own. Be proactive in the success of those enterprises by providing your business expertise, rather than waiting for them to fail so that you can put away the targeted equity. Give those who work for you a fair wage and the training that gives them the chance to move forward. Do the right things, go public, and make your overnight millions when you’re listed in the Dhaka Stock Exchange. Give your employees performance-based stock options and a real sense of ownership, so that they’re as committed and productive as an owner should be. You can stabilize and enhance the value of the DSE by increasing people’s participation in it, and let that stable DSE and not banking scams be the primary source of capital for Bangladeshi business. Bring ordinary Bangladeshis into the stock market by creating and managing small portfolios at a price the average Bangladeshi can afford – a great business to get into instead of robber-baron private banking – and start building a marketplace of hundred and fifty million, about half the population of the US, densely packed in a place the size of just one of their smaller states, and watch them line up to invest in our future. You can bring your money back to Bangladesh where it belongs and dramatically increase the power of the Bangladeshi Taka. You can invest in our culture and traditional values that have stood the test of time, and make them evolve by having everyone freely participate in that deeply enriching new dynamic, instead of rejecting and being ashamed of what you never tried to understand like a moron – because your spiritual dysfunction, despite all the spectacles to the contrary, comes from that rejection and apathy alone. In the immortal words of a great American President known more for his potential than actual accomplishments, start fulfilling your potential by asking not what your country can do for you, but by asking what you can do for your country. You’ll be wealthier than you possibly can be now, and sleep better without those pills and misguided prayers devoid of faith. Without Autobahns or the wannabe X-gamer’s death wish for actual off road adventure, SUVs and other such penis-mobiles are the eyesore they should be in a country like ours. So wake up and lead from the front by driving a fuel-efficient, eco-friendly vehicle. Come clean and grab that opportunity to leave a legacy hoarded money cannot buy even if you’re buried with it. Come clean and give yourself the opportunity to die with a clear conscience.

Whether or not the regular and always beautifully metrosexualized people of the hood, as opposed to the now on the run and burnt extra crispy people of yesterday’s bravado, choose to see it that way is not the point. The point is that cosmetic upgrades and scratching the ultimately interminable itch to gratify oneself as instantly as possible, are not sufficient to bring about peace and real joy in one’s life, even in a world defined by appearances and surface values more than they perhaps should be. I, along with I’m sure, many others – whichever little bubble they may be residing in at this moment – have been trying for years without anything other than an unhealthy fetish for the futile act of trying for its own sake to show for it. Why? Simple because we were raised that way by men and women who never made that deal with the devil no matter how temping the offer was. We are grateful not to have fallen too far from the tree.

As flawed as we may be, and as readily accepting of those flaws as we are, we have their example to guide us through difficult times, and give us the wisdom to learn from our mistakes and accept expiation without shortcuts. The current government, we pray, is made of the same right stuff.

We pray that they’ll include the disenfranchised, give voice to the silent, give opportunity to the victims of greed, and start building a future in our lifetime where everybody can dream of a better day because everybody has a fair shot at bringing his or her aspirations to life in a Bangladesh we want Bangladesh to be. We want them to ensure that the producer and the consumer, not the middlemen, benefit from fair commerce, meaning a maximum 30 rather than a minimum 300% profit margin. We want them to take a firm, proactive, biased position on public housing, utilities, and meaningful education for the poor and the middle classes. We want them to firmly deal with the unholy trinity of corruption, involving corrupt lawyers, Sub-Inspectors, and Magistrates in the lower echelons of law and order so that they can move on to bigger and better things, and leave a legacy for all the generations to come in the future. Easier said than done, but looks like we may have the right people in charge since 1971, give of take a few years here and there before 1981.

As proud citizens of Bangladesh, we want this government of brave men and women to do away with our political culture of pathological liars and run-of-the-mill, disposable heroes, all too often stewing in the type of intellectual mediocrity that flatters no one, and lead us to a vibrant and unassuming new culture of genuine democratic practices in all levels of national politics through an innovative structure born of our own historical realities and cultural fabric. We want leaders who ask for solutions from those who actually face the problems, and make those solutions more feasible with their genuine leadership abilities. We want politicians who represent their constituency at the national level by actually having their lives inside the borders of that constituency, as opposed to the usual suspects in Dhaka and Chittagong, venture capitalists waiting to get theirs in the business of politics. We want internally democratic political parties of community activists who run sustainable community development projects – not the thugs, goons and opportunists posing as political activists in order to extort the limited resources of those communities like Soprano-styled, or the crass FDC version thereof, Mafia earners who want to be made into media kingpins, bank directors and land development supremos in the not too distant future. We want our education institutions to be cleared of machinations of “traditional” politics that make a mockery of those institutions. A student can always join the youth wing of a political party – an additional student wing, as clearly demonstrated by the Bangladeshi experience of the last three decades, is a perversion whose time has come to be shelved and preserved for posterity inside the glass cage with other such painfully terrible ideas.

We want runoff elections so that nobody can win with 35% of the vote anymore. We want local governments to be genuinely empowered by establishing them as a separate and equal branch of our government. We want the nomination and the recall process of the local government representatives to be petition-based for grassroots development of authentic democratic culture and public accountability. We want to see them further empowered by directly giving them, not Parliamentarians, the responsibility to manage the resources allocated for the development of everyday life in our communities.

We want Parliamentarians who advocate and legislate what they were elected to bring into national focus. We want nationally televised, multi-party Parliamentary Committees that scrutinize all government functions not in the spirit of adversity, but in order to bring public transparency and accountability to those functions without compromising operational efficiency. We want Parliamentarians courageous enough to speak out against the anti-democratic Section 70 of the Constitution, so that as elected representatives of their constituency rather than the shameless, ass-kissing financiers of particular families, they can vote their individual conscience on particular issues.

We want a Government of real checks and balances where additional and necessary separation of powers is a reality. We want the future President to be a permanent extension of the Chief Advisor during the Caretaker, now Caretaker slash Interim government. Like the CA, he or she must be an impartial person of good repute as determined by the elected representatives of the people, and exercise executive power over revamped and modernized civil, defense, and law-enforcement services so that those essential services, along with the Anti-Corruption and the Election Commission, can never again become the tools of corruption or the means to that end. How about a well-trained, well-paid, all-officer National Police Force that can publicly police itself? How about National Civil Servants who can stand tall with the best of them all over the world because that’s how they’ve been set up for success? How about a National Defense Force that is allowed to participate in our lives as proactively it does around the world for the UN? We want a charismatic President who can lead such endeavors in the future, and we still have many such qualified persons in the ranks of the Civil and Defense Services, the Civil Society and amongst Social and Community activists to assume that important responsibility. We need to continue to develop more such leaders in the future not by osmosis or personal charisma, but through institutions and value-added, compulsory national education and other development services that manufacture the traits, attributes and skills necessary to do the job right. Institutions created perhaps away from the seat of traditional money and power, and in small towns and rural areas where our parents grew up being proud of who they were and never let ephemeral trends, or greed dictate what they should become. A hundred and fifty million is an amazingly large number that once empowered, can only bring amazing benefits.

We want a Prime Minister leading all other government operations with the right number of ministers who are strictly technocrats and professionals motivated to do the right thing because it is the right thing, rather than because it may be the politically expedient thing to do in order to get re-elected. We are tired of being driven by the moral flexibility of political expediency so aptly demonstrated by our politicians over the past fifteen years of transgression, or the so-called good ones tolerating that transgression for the sake of a rather more dubious political expediency not entirely lost on those of us on this side of the divide. These merchants of our national infamy must not be allowed to chuckle, charm, spin, wink and wiggle their way out of their betrayal of the public trust, and escape indignation of the law. The long-overdue wrath of the humiliated people of this country must be allowed to bear-down upon those who believed themselves to be above the law, within the bounds of that law.

And last but not least, we want an independent and qualified Judiciary that protects individuals from the tyranny of the majority by upholding their fundamental rights as human beings and citizens. We want a system where the law is neither subverted nor undermined by the frivolity of money, influence or hearsay without probable cause in order to settle personal scores, and thereby further plundering the public’s faith in a system already in desperate need of restoration – but a system that is characterized only by diligent adherence to the letter, the spirit, and the due process of the law that attract the best, the brightest and the most public service-minded to its duly modernized institutions. The law must guarantee freedom from those who wish to deny us of what is not theirs to give, and not take that freedom away for a few bucks here and there.

Quite a wish list. We should be ready to do our part.

You can beat ‘em, or join ’em if you can’t. We can always choose to survive trying to beat them and die trying, because that’s what we owe to the silent and the unseen, without whose generosity of spirit, we’d be busy trying to crawl out of the dark, deep well of being held to a higher standard, perpetually being dug deeper by the pre-1971 Punjabi cultural arrogance and the ruthless military violence that sprung from that arrogance. Being a sideshow of a sideshow would not have presented the opportunities we have been blessed with. We must play our part and give something back. If we don’t, we’d never be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and like what we see, because we’ve turned our back on the people whose supreme sacrifices have given us the choice between doing the right thing and floating aimlessly upon the murky waters of ethical relativity and moral bankruptcy. If we don’t do the right thing, we’ll live with the knowledge of bailing out when the going got tough, and the illusion that the selfish time away from that responsibility is anything but borrowed time ticking, before it explodes as the kind of unhappiness that no matter how skillfully glossed over it may be, will haunt us in our nightmares. The shock of being rudely awakened to a justifiable indignity no extra sessions of purely ritualistic, faithless prayer sessions can possibly mitigate – is desirable by no one. Those nightmares are always increasingly more difficult to live with, so why on earth should we want to?

So, people still asking that question with a freshness-coated mock surprise totally undeserved by something with five years of soot on it – makes one think how annoying something like that should be but somehow isn’t. Maybe I should go back and miss this incredible drama unfolding right before our eyes, and along with the show, miss the opportunity to be a part of our nation’s history at such a critical juncture.

Perhaps it’s genuine concern I’m simply not seeing. Perhaps my predictable setbacks are things that need to be dusted off like unsightly specks scattered across an otherwise perfectly solved puzzle, with no pieces of the jigsaw missing. Perhaps I should go back to Northern California for the next 20 years of feeling like living in someone else’s house. I’m grateful that I don’t pay more rent there than I have to, but that’s only because the landlord’s a really swell guy, like a foster parent who decides to adopt you after a while. The trouble is you didn’t think you were up for adoption, yet now find yourself having to make a choice that is only as difficult as you make it to be.

Sure I can go back and tune myself back into the American Dream and the daily, remarkable human decency that nurtures that dream. I can go back and hangout with my dearest friends and bask in their genuinely multicultural human warmth once more – not too difficult for an inbetweener such as myself – while knowing that there is a path to deeper intimacy we can never be on together, and we would want to. Knowing that Lalon’s transcendental words and grooves coming alive in Farida Parveen’s layered, soulful, deeply nuanced vocals can never stir them the way it stirs the best I have to offer to my fellow man, and that the descriptive magnificence of Tagore can never enrich their breath quite the way that breath can add to the meaning of my life, and the ever-present potential of a Mohammad Ashraful century in the Cricket World Cup, or Mashrafe Bin Murtaza rampaging through the opposition’s batting order, and the endless possibilities in Ornob’s music and Sahana’s poetry can never intoxicate them the way they can gently spray priceless blessings into our lives simply because we are Bangladeshi, and cannot be, do not want to be anything else. Knowing that is a burden I don’t want to be strong enough to bear anywhere except here. Those things that make us Bangladeshi and make Bangladesh the best of what we have to give, bring us closer to our God from the depths of our collective soul.

Being a global citizen, other things move me too, but not like this. Sure they strike different cords inside and reverberate just about as deeply, but the sound of Bangla and the timeless comfort of belonging to certain ancient moods and everyday gestures because we speak Bangla, our language – is in the blood. Our people’s at times absurd refusal to give up on a national triumph, any national triumph, despite having nothing but hope renewed from an indomitable spirit to hold on to, and the easy ability to be gracious, kind, not at all in a hurry, and make noble sacrifices for their families with a smile that battles back all that is unfair in life, and laughter rising wholeheartedly from the margins of despair – are things I could no longer pretend didn’t matter, because they do. They do because it, the very thing that makes us Bangladeshi, also makes Bangladesh what we are and what we want to be. It makes us whole, and that mattered to me personally more than anything my gracious, but nevertheless adoptive community in Northern California could ever offer.

Off course I miss the places where I grew to become who I am now. Jazz, the easy availability of meaningful conversation and great music and books, the great education, the doomed youthful first marriage to a native, the great Fortune 500 career, the trophy girlfriend at the back of my KZ1000 snaking along Highway 1, tearing across the muffled ferocity of the sound of Pacific waves lashing against the ancient rocky cliffs of Big Sur, the unconditional love of friends, and the agile, effortless grace of my trio of cats who loved me just the way I was – were hard moments to leave behind and store as only memories, however cherished they may be. But never an economic refugee, I couldn’t simply morph into a spiritual one by turning my back on something that continues to give more than what it’s capable of taking away. I came back not to brood over what has been left behind, but to embrace what is to come. Besides, if we really want all the good things that the world outside has to offer, shouldn’t we at least make the effort to start building our own visions of those things right here, if only to look ourselves in the mirror without the uncertain comforts of the mask that conceals the truth of our wrongdoing and slack?

Like most of the Bangladeshis I’ve met since I’ve been back, all too often outside my ghetto where I pray things black can no longer turn white with the simple stroke of the pen, I like myself here, and this is where I want to pursue happiness not at the expense of my fellow Bangladeshis I can effortlessly share those experiences with, but with them. Like them, I am here because this is home, and this is where my heart has always been. So, why did I come back? Like I said before, it was a personal matter.

Sohel N Rahman, Dhaka, April 2, 2007.