Bangladeshis go to the polls Monday for what could be the nation’s most important election. It pits the ruling Awami League, which was at the forefront of the struggle to secede from Pakistan in the early 1970s, against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which has formed an election alliance with two Islamist groups. On Saturday, protesters in Dhaka claimed Bangladesh could become a hard-line Islamic state if the BNP coalition comes to power. The personal animosity between the two party leaders—Awami League head Sheikh Hasina’s father was Bangladesh’s first president; he was killed by army officers linked with BNP leader Khaleda Zia’s late husband Ziaur Rahman, who later governed the country as a military dictator—trickled down to party supporters.
According to the Statesman of Calcutta, as many as 300 people were killed and thousands injured in the run-up to the Oct. 1 vote, “roughly double the number of casualties during the 1996 campaign.” To prevent poll violence, more than 50,000 troops have been deployed, and according to the New Nation of Bangladesh, buses have been grounded on Election Day “so that those who wanted to cast multiple votes could be barred.” The Khaleej Times of Dubai noted that with international media outlets, election monitors, and governments distracted by the aftermath of Sept. 11, “Bangladesh’s extremist elements … stepped up their campaign to subvert the democratic process. The political objective of these forces is straightforward: to create a climate of terror so that liberal middle-class and minority community voters will not venture out of their homes on October 1.” A commentary in the Statesman said the fundamentalists want to introduce “an Islam that is not the softer, more open Islam of Bengal, but a harsher, less compromising version.” An op-ed in Dhaka’s Independent declared:
The political history of Bangladesh is a progressive evolution towards a liberal, secular and democratic society. The enemies of progress and democracy have always opposed this movement. … If not intimidated and allowed to exercise their right freely, the choice will be for consolidation and further progress towards a liberal democratic society—and not to slide into the darkness of medieval dogmatism and authoritarianism.
Explaining anti-Americanism: Writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, Mary Kenny declared that in Britain, “anti-Americanism is almost exclusively confined to the upper, or upper-middle, classes.” She continued: “The swells may denounce American ‘cultural imperialism,’ but American culture at its most imperialistic is exactly what the masses like. Leave aside the educated elites in New York, New England and parts of the West Coast, and what you get in America is a version of proletarian culture. You get the big, the brash, the glitzy, and the obvious. You get busty blondes in rhinestone-studded jeans. You get Las Vegas. You get instant gratification, Nashville music, easy manners, open hospitality and big cars. … American culture is successful because it simplifies the complicated.” Colombia’s El Tiempo published “a country-by-country list of the foreign policies that have earned [the United States] hatred.” Bizarrely, the list of U.S. exploits in 36 countries (and one entire continent) made no distinction between, for example, intervention in World War II and support for dictators from Argentina to Nicaragua. An intemperate op-ed in the Nation of Pakistan rejected President Bush’s claim that America’s enemies “hate our freedoms”:
The truth is the exact opposite. Those who hate America love its freedoms. They hate America because America’s hypocritical policies deny them those freedoms. If America cannot help Muslims win those freedoms it should at least not hinder them by supporting those who would take them away, who occupy Muslims lands, who grab power through a rigged ballot, the barrel of a gun or monarchy.
Killing press freedom: The murder of a journalist in Northern Ireland and the arrest of another in Afghanistan evoke the dangers of the job. Martin O’Hagan, an investigative reporter for the Belfast edition of Dublin’s Sunday World, was gunned down as he walked home from the pub Friday night. A Protestant paramilitary group claimed responsibility for the murder, saying it killed O’Hagan for “crimes against the loyalist people.” According to Britain’s Independent, the Sunday World is an “outspoken tabloid … never shy of unmasking paramilitary activity or that of crime bosses or drug dealers.” O’Hagan’s obituary in Monday’s Daily Telegraph described how, after taking a university degree while imprisoned for firearms possession and IRA membership, he “determined to renounce his violent past and become a journalist.” Veronica Guerin, a reporter for the Irish Independent, a sister paper of the World, was killed by a criminal gang in 1996. Guerin’s mother told the paper: “The parallels with Veronica’s murder were immediately obvious. Irrespective of his past politics or the political claims of those who took his life, this was a journalist gunned down by those who feared and resented his exposure of their evil doing. It was another blow against freedom and democracy.”
Some like it hot: In Afghanistan, Yvonne Ridley, a reporter for Britain’s Sunday Express was arrested on suspicion of spying after entering the country from Pakistan Friday in disguise and without identification. Telegraph reporter Christina Lamb described the “pressure” women journalists on assignment in Pakistan felt when word reached Peshawar that British journalist John Simpson had got into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by donning a burqa, the face- and body-covering garment that Afghan women are forced by the Taliban to wear, and disguising himself as a woman: “[I]f all 6ft 2in and 200lb of him can get in disguised as a woman, surely you as a real woman can easily slip in.” Ridley has a child whose father is a former Palestine Liberation Organization official. Her sister told the Telegraph, “I hope the Taliban realise that in the past Yvonne has written about Islamic issues quite sympathetically.”