Notes from Bangladesh


[translated from Bengali by Azfar Hussein]

I am writing from a tiny yet huge country–Bangladesh. This is a country in which you continue to witness one of the most brutal spectacles of the twenty-first century: both dogs and children desperately compete for the crumbs of rotten food in the garbage. This is a country where hungry children even eat the half-digested food the rich men vomit up in the streets during their over-drunken moments of walking home. This is a country where a 14-year-old girl–who worked for several years from 8 o’clock in the morning to midnight for only $2 a week at Levi Strauss’s sub-contracting counterpart OPEX–was fired. You know why? Because one day–only one day–she could not show up at work owing to severe illness. She was sacked. And–even more–as she protested this injustice in concert with fellow workers and activists in Dhaka, she was brutally raped by the musclemen of Levi Strauss and then burned alive. This is a country that tells you–my American brothers and sisters!–that hunger is the ultimate reality and that the common enemy of all suffering humanity on this planet is CAPITALISM. Make no mistake.

Burning female child-workers and other laborers alive in mills and factories is capitalism’s common practice in Bangladesh-called the biggest ghetto of the poor in the world. And this is also a common practice almost everywhere in the third world.

Yet Bangladesh is a country of resistances and revolutions. This is a country in which countless peasant movements took shape with fire and fury against British colonialism. The Indian National Liberation Movement against British colonial rule owes most to Bengal’s poor peasants (whose ancestors were also rebellious slaves working side by side with their African brothers and sisters on Caribbean plantations), although the history of their tears, sweat, sacrifices, and deaths always remains unwritten and unacknowledged by bourgeois historians, anti-people politicians, blood-hungry dictators and military generals, chauvinist nationalists, and others who look up to the West and the US for inspiration and ideals, models and morals, manners and money. But, despite the bullets and bayonets and bombs of the Bengali fundamentalist-militarist-capitalist ruling class, always backed as it is–make no mistake, my brothers and sisters!–by US capitalism and imperialism, thousands of peasant and working-class movements are not only well and alive in our part of the world today, but are also gathering new momentum with the unshakeable conviction and belief that our current century will witness nothing short of the complete burial of capitalism and imperialism. Despite tortures, oppressions, atrocities, and, of course, continuous threats and attacks made by US capitalism and imperialism, we are not at all hopeless or demoralized. Rather we are hopeful. For we believe that the struggle of the many will eventually defeat the unjust rule of the few.

So I am writing from this country–Bangladesh–devastated as it is by centuries of colonial violence, by capitalism’s continuous terrorist onslaughts, by fundamentalism’s mindless atrocities, and by militarism’s dictatorial subjugation, yet a country animated by people’s struggle for justice and energized by their dream of a just world. In this country, the dull prose of everyday living continuously gives rise to the magnificent poetry of resistance. As the Bengali poet Qazi Nazrul Islam sang, capturing the beats and cadences of the rural proletariat’s dialect: “I’ll be quiet only that day/when the screams and cries of the oppressed will no longer pierce the world’s sky!”

And I am writing–my American brothers and sisters!–to express my solidarity with all the anti-war protesters in your country. “Rise up, ye mighty people!” as our favorite Jamaican singer Bob Marley would say again.

And I am writing–my American brothers and sisters!–to express my solidarity with the cause of the poor and the oppressed, the homeless and the hungry, in your country. We Bengalis in our own ghetto simply cannot live in peace unless our brothers and sisters in the US ghettoes, barrios, reservations, and Chinatowns–in those internal enclaves of underdevelopment, those internal “third worlds” of poverty and hunger, live in peace. But is peace possible in the belly of the monster called “Rich White America” unless you burst it asunder?

And I am writing–my American brothers and sisters!–to tell you that millions of children from Bangladesh want President Bush to stop this unjust and immoral war against Iraq, and these children do not want to see their brothers and sisters die in Iraq again and again. Most of these Bengali children are illiterate and thus do not know how to write. Yet in the alphabet of their feelings, they are now writing a million letters to Bush, saying: “peace, not war.” War is the complete antithesis of love, as Bengali children know way better than those cruel capitalists and their class-manager–President Bush.

I am writing this–my American brothers and sisters!–to express my deep admiration for the courage, conviction, and commitment with which you have been raising your voices–from Washington, D.C to San Francisco to Seattle and across the entire country–against the unjust war Bush has been waging against Iraq and for that matter against the entire third world so as to colonize and monopolize our human, material, natural, and other resources, including our ancestral lands, our bodies, and our labor. This is monopoly capitalism–and also monopoly colonialism–with a vengeance!

And I am writing–my American brothers and sisters!–to tell you this: if you do not stop this war, this war will increasingly turn against you; it will increasingly take away your civil liberties; it will increasingly silence and suppress your voices, and finally, it will increasingly turn your own country into one big mess of horror and terror. Thus you will see more Mumia Abu-Jamals on death-rows, you will see more prisons than schools, you will see more budgetary allocations for the military and thus less and less for housing and health and education in your country.

And I am writing–my American brothers and sisters!–to tell you that the war the U.S. has been waging is primarily a war of the rich against the world’s poor while it is also a war against those who are in favor of the poor.

And I am writing–my American brothers and sisters!–to tell you that no amount of commitment, no amount of political work, no amount of networking, no amount of alliance-building, no amount of reading and writing and speaking can be reckoned sufficient and effective in the final instance unless and until the war really stops once and for all. I know your country has a rich history of resistances–and also a rich history of anti-war demonstrations. I think of the war against Vietnam. Your history witnessed one of the most massive oppositions to war during those days. Yet the war against Vietnam continued for at least ten years! Without those oppositions–which played a critical part in bringing the Vietnam War to an end–things could have been worse, surely. Yet the question remains: Why can’t the world’s most powerful dictator–namely the U.S. president–be stopped from doing things he always needs to do? It will be good to keep this question in mind, as you continue to combat your government’s plans for the war against Iraq.

As I have said, all forms and forces of oppositions notwithstanding, the U.S. government and businesses go to war hand-in-hand. Without your oppositions–you bet–they will do it even more. But what kinds of oppositions do you then need to invent and evolve so that you can make your government stop the war and so that you don’t have to think of a national program a day after, but a day before?

I have raised the above question not to provide an answer but to seek one. But, then, history itself tells us that only people’s massive and continuous, determined and committed, and increasingly united opposition–one that can bring the government to a total crisis and a total halt–can stop this war. If “solidarity means sharing the same risks,” as Che Guevara told us quite some time ago, then the ongoing American protest against the war should be a matter of life and death for the protestors themselves, as this war itself is a matter of life and death for Iraqi children, women, and men.

So, brothers and sisters, let us all–from Bangladesh to the US–organize and join demonstrations, rallies, marches, protests, strikes, even hunger strikes, sit-ins, teach-ins, poetry readings, concerts, dramatic performances, people’s theater and so on–yes, no form of protest should remain unused!–against this unjust war, and turn them all into daily events–like eating–in our lives. Let our classrooms and schools vibrate thunderously with our voices of protests and oppositions against all forms and forces of terrorism, the most urgent one being the US war against Iraq. Let our intellectuals shake off their lethargy and rub their conceptual blocs so that they catch fire and thus destroy once and for all those backward and murderous ideas and ideologies that capitalism and imperialism sell and circulate. Let our poets and musicians produce a million poems and a million songs on a daily basis against war. Let millions of people directly encounter power with an unprecedented stubbornness that says: “We will not back out even an inch unless this unjust war stops.”

Let that Iraqi child–who is just born–live in this world, and let all the children of this world continue to smile and play in a world that knows no war but peace and love. That world is possible if we know how to listen to what our children are telling us.

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