Friday, 24 April 2015

Lutfur Rahman the 'Muslim Mayor' and Conclusions

 Disclaimer

I write this blog in personal capacity. It is only my opinion and not that of my employer or any other organisation I work with.

My Interest

It’s a serious time in the politics of the East End. A significant event like this will be noted in history and has changed the political arena in Tower Hamlets forever.

I am interested in this because it is the community I am part of and involves my subject of interest - politics and religion, the overlapping of these is fascinating to study.

To quickly introduce my theoretical obsessions:  John Rawls’s political liberalist assertion of overlapping consensus failing to produce stability. I will explain these theoretical matters in a separate post along with Tariq Ramadan’s concept of a universal Islam and its apparent incompatibility in the context of East London-based Islamic movements.



‘The Muslim Mayor’

This is a problematic term and used by either side of the political spectrums very naively.

Firstly, for the right and centre-right labelling on Lutfur Rahman as a Muslim mayor helps them overlook any other personal, professional and political qualities he may have. A certain audience will visualise him as the ‘Muslim’ Mayor, as though a Muslim cannot or should not be a Mayor and if they do, you must watch out for their crimes.

Secondly, the Muslims themselves become romantic and emotional that a man’s ability to serve the people is irrespective and his religious identity becomes the subject of pride and prejudice so much so that they are blinded to see any of his wrongdoing.

Both of these approaches are unhelpful and unhealthy for a democratic society. The community in Tower Hamlets is deprived of an honest debate and scrutiny of the policies and priorities the so-called Muslim Mayor was devoted to.

Therefore I think it is of immense importance that we don’t jump on the bandwagon and rather read between the debates and search for truth and facts. We should not let our prejudices, community and religious convictions or our passion for or against the national or local establishment overshadow our judgment.  Reading the 200 page judgement gives us a good place to start including the PwC report from earlier this year.

The Judgement

I would like to analyse and highlight the judgement given by Richard Mawrey QC and summarise it for the readers of this blog. Many of my friends and associates from both Lutfur ‘s camp and the Labour’s camp are also keen to know what I think about this extraordinary development.
Those who have patience and are keen to read the whole judgement instead of my blog may find the full judgement in the link below , I warn you again it is a mighty read at 200 pages!

What was the task?

Following the petitioners application, the task of the court was to determine that the candidate Lutfur Rahman has, by himself or his agents (read the definition of ‘agent’ below), are guilty of corruption or illegal electoral practices.

Who is the judge?

Richard Mawrey QC

Let me challenge the na├»ve perceptions and rumours beginning to surface on the streets Tower Hamlets and in restaurants of British Bangladeshi community that Richard Mawrey QC is of Jewish origin or has Zionist leanings and has been somehow assigned to this task by the ‘establishment’. A bizarre claim against a professional lawyer with 45 years of professional legal experience and this, mostly in cases relating to local government and electoral fraud. Please just Google it and read his biography.  His CV includes leading the election court in Birmingham City Council in 2004 and Slough Borough Council in 2007.

What needed to be proved?

A. the Mayoral election of October 2014 for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election,  that Lutfur Rahman committed any corrupt or illegal practices or illegal payments, employment or hiring

B. The illegal practices prevailed so extensively that they may be reasonably supposed to have affected the result of the election. In other words, that Lutfur Rahman won the election due to these illegal practices and payments

Who are Lutfur Rahman’s ‘Agents’?

Canvassers are agents, as are supporters who are equipped with rosettes or T-shirts and sent off to campaign outside polling stations. And, as will be seen, members of the wider community who commit themselves to the re-election campaign and work alongside Mr Rahman and his close associates and may properly assume the status of agents for electoral purposes.

The punishment

The consequences for a candidate of being found guilty by himself or his agents of corrupt or illegal practices are serious. In addition to having the election declared void, under s 160 that person is incapable of:
Being an elected MP, Mayor or Councillor in the UK and paying for all the expenses involved in the whole petition process.






What is Tower Hamlets First (THF)?

The evidence in this case all points in one direction; THF was the personal fiefdom of Mr Rahman. He directed its operations,  selected his candidates, and those candidates campaigned on the basis that their job, if elected, was to give personal support to him

    THF had no other aim, objective or ideology beyond the continuation of Mr Rahman in the office of Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

     The accusation of the petitioners that THF was a one-man band has been fully proved by the evidence, with much of that evidence itself coming from Mr Rahman and his witnesses themselves.

Personation and voting offences

The questions were first how widespread were the offences of personation and other voting offences were and secondly, could it be shown that they had been committed by Mr Rahman or those considered by electoral law to be his agents.

False registration

‘’False registration is often the first step in vote-rigging. Ghost voters are registered which are, as said above, either fictitious names or persons who exist but who do not reside at the address concerned. The latter category comprises those who have no connection at all with the property at which they are registered and those who have a connection with the property but are not resident there in the sense that the law requires.’’


The judge then gave detailed evidence of it involving Mr Rahman’s agents and concluded: 

The false registrations are sufficiently numerous to demonstrate that false registration was not the random action of over-enthusiastic members of the public. The false registrations must have been organised.

  As the beneficiary of the organisation was THF, both Mr Rahman and his candidates in the wards, it would be wholly unrealistic to hold that the organisation of these registrations was other than in the hands of THF supporters, ‘agents’ as termed in electoral law.



Personation

‘’Anyone who votes in the name of another person who is falsely registered commits personation. Anyone who has falsely registered himself and then votes commits an offence under s 61(1) of the 1983 Act.’’

The judge gave detailed evidence and findings concludes that:

 It follows that the court is satisfied that false registration, false voting contrary to s 61(1) and personation by persons who are in law the agents of Mr Rahman has been proved to the requisite standard.’’

With regard to the unlawful completion and use of voting documents by third parties, the court was satisfied that both corrupt and illegal practices had taken place and had been committed by persons who were, in electoral law, the agents of Mr Rahman.”

To make my personal conclusion let us go back to the Judge’s intial method:
‘’HOW WIDESPREAD were the offences?’’
Were the voting offences and personation significant enough that it gave Lutfur Rahman a majority of 3252 votes!! It cannot be proved it was this high therefore inconclusive and this reflects some limitation of the legal procedures. 

In my next post I will highlight findings of the court with regards to the false statements made against Lutfur Rahman’s  rival candidate John Biggs, who was portrayed as ‘racist’ as an deliberate election strategy to mislead voters. 


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Exile Part 2: Myth of Return


Home
I would go back to my village in the north eastern corner of Bangladesh, Sunamgonj, which is full of big lakes that light up at night with moonlight and thunders in the day during monsoon season. The thunders strike while the dark grey gloomy skies make constant sounds that seem like a warning from the divine in a heavy deep voice to stay inside the house. We children would not care and come out collecting the mangoes downed by the storm.

If I go back to those days, I would be staying inside the house; looking out and contemplating, against the rhythmic sound of rain drops bursting onto the tin roofs of the house and think of my exile. Or I would probably just be in bed resting under a light blanket (katha) my mother and aunts sewed while gossiping their husband’s faults.



In our Mamar bari (maternal uncle’s house), we boys would dare to sail out to the lake (hawor) in stormy weathers and would jump from the small boat we took without uncle’s permission. All day long we would compete with each other on who could jump first to grab the shaluk (some fruits born in water).

We would annoy the fishermen all day long who were busy catching their prey and eager to get to the social capital, the bazaar,  as soon as they could, to get a good bargain. Often a bargain would come from a rich customer who lived abroad, a customer who had bargained their economic wellbeing in exchange to accepting a permanent exile in London.

I would go back to those nights when we would await with sleepy eyes for delicious dinners cooked by my aunty on a mud stove. The room we used to read and have dinner in, was barely lit with rural-electricity (Polli bidduth). The light was poorer in comparison to the lantern’s light and we would keep them both on. Electricity was a special blessing then and was provided to only a few privileged families due to their political and social connections with the local distributor.

The mud stove that my mother and aunty used to cook on would burn the wood and tree branches collected during the day from the wild. No the wilderness didn’t have any dangerous animals in it- but the stories of snakes and small tigers from the parents helped to calm our excitement with necessary fear before we slept.

There were fishes from the pond in the canal adjacent to the house that became a footpath in the dry season and there were fresh vegetables in the winter, grown in our gardens. These gardens had fences made of bamboo braches to save the fruits from the wondering cattle.
     
Hawor in Sunamganj, Bangladesh

     Outlaws

I still remember the ‘Khuarr’, a man-made jail for the cattles, made of the strongest of the bamboos, to punish the cattle that raided our neighbour’s vegetable gardens. The owner of the cattle had to pay a hasty fine to release their disobedient animal. This was often a cause of conflict between families and tribes in the village.

The jailing of a cow was probably my first experience of societal law and justice, and for some reason as a child I found it cruel and terrifying. My childish heart wished that the cow should have been allowed to eat and go wherever it liked. Punishing it by restricting it into a closed square was probably the first cruellest thing I observed.  This thought of mine was transformed into a silly joke later, when I observed my father slaughtering our favourite cow in the name of God and we enjoyed its meat for dinner.

In recollecting the ‘crimes’by cattle invading human space, I remember our crimes as boys. I would go back to those nights when I joined my brothers to steal coconuts from neighbouring ‘baris’ (houses) and kept on raiding the village to find every fruit they have grown in their houses wild and that we could lay our handson.

This would happen while we could hear the Imam at the mosque or some religious speaker from a distant village speaking at Jalsha (yearly event organised by a mosque or Masjid). For us boys Jalsha night were an excellent excuse to get out of the house.

The hujurs (preachers) were religiously busy shouting and screaming about the temperature of the hellfire, the importance of hating disbelievers and how many huuri’s (virgin women) you would be granted in heaven. The Jalsha  was more commonly organised in the winters following our annual school exam period..

I would like to have gone back to jump in the canal (khaal) again that remained dry most of the year but during monsoon gave us the opportunity to catch big chunks of fish with its thousands of small descendants and would make a fantastic meal. How ruthless we were. 

At night we would go and observe egoistic tribal uncles and brothers resolving issues. They loved trouble for the sake of itand gained enjoyment, ‘community trial’ kick from it, whilst sipping away tea dipped with salty biscuits made available by the one small shop in the village. The most expensive brand of cigarettes sold at this shop was ‘Gold Leaf’ and my uncles and father would smoke it religiously day and night.


      

     A Mother’s Dilemma  

I would go back to my small town Sylhet which was calm in the morning when I walked to my school. This town has now became a disorganised city, full of big buildings at the receiving end of the capitalist wave, proudly hosting KFC and Pizza Hut. I would go back to my friends who would become fathers, quarrelling husbands and to my dear mother who grows old missing my presence beside to her and tragically praying that I never return from exile.  

She does not want to me to return to her land -our land, because it does not guarantee the security of my life, liberty, progress and everyday ‘chaul (rice) and dail (lentils), the Bangladeshi version of bread and butter. 

A cruel reality that to secure my bread and butter, my mother and I slaughter our connection with my native land. I leave my country. Often I am reminded by many friends who were (un)fortunate to remain in their land that I should be appreciative of the fact that I was able to escape. That exile was better than being married to ones land for life, says friends.  

So my mother was my associate in executing this exile, like many other millions of concerned mothers in Bangladesh who urge their sons to leave, feeling compelled that the only security of life and prosperity is to leave this cursed land, go overseas and embrace exile. For some, this exile is just to jump on a never returning ship to Malaysia or to be a servant of brutal torturing rich Middle Eastern Sheikh from the Prophet’s country, Saudi Arabia, or to help building the capitalist UAE empire earning a minimum wage. 

For some, exile happened in the name of ‘education’ and taking advantage of the British immigration system. Exiles in western countries are preferable than the Middle-Eastern ones. Here, the prospects of life are good, the governments are 'liberal' and employers are probably less racist- providing a generous pay.

     Myth of Return

Edward Said lived a life on exile and no wonder he captures it perfectly in his reflection:
‘’ Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement.”

A question that I often confront nowadays is ‘Will I be able to go back?’. The impossibility frightens me and the possibility frightens me even more - the possibility to confront something that has been lost. Sometimes it is wise to not discover what you could have lost, is it not? In fact nothing is banished if you don’t discover what is there to be banished in the first place.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

Sex Crime, Public Reason, One Liton Nandi & Bangladesh



Liton Nandi
 ''There is one other group almost diminished from our public life, politics and culture. They are very few in numbers and are the last men standing. One was on display the day of the incident and broke his hand whilst defending morality and humanity. We should salute him, Liton Nandi.''

20th century’s famous moral and political philosopher John Rawls’s magnum opus was the ‘Theory of Justice’ (1971). In it he coins the term ‘public reason’-the common reason of all citizens in a pluralist society.  To take the Rawlsian definition literally, public reason involves justifying a particular position by way of reasons that people of different moral or political backgrounds could accept.

John Rawls (1921-2002)

I claim that in Bangladesh, persecuting the weak and vulnerable has reached a peak that we can say the public collectively now have accepted that inhuman, brutal and barbaric events can occur and their silence is natural and justified. The public mind in Bangladesh is coward, corrupt, abusive and opportunist.

Yes, it is a crude generalisation and the least I will argue is that the falsehood, unfairness and injustice is dominant in Bangladesh because of the public mind guilty of accepting or performing it. Though, it is totally contrary to the spirit John Rawls tried to define public reason. John Rawls’s public reason was the common agreement from between different moral and political corners of society for public good. Yes for public good.




Public Reason in Bangladesh

In the light of the recent sex assault in Dhaka University during celebrations for Bangla New Year, I see a proof in support to my claim.

Let us analyse the event. The actors were the general mass involved, the idle witnesses, the state authority represented by the police and the official of the public university. What roles were played by the public from different spectrums of society letting this inhumane act happen in  broad daylight? The answer complements my claim that the dominant public reason of Bangladesh is relatively immoral.  

There were  three main types of people involved in this event with different levels of moral standard.

Firstly, the group that committed the assault. Secondly, the ones who let this happen without condemning it and thirdly, the one whose job it was to protect the member of the public and prevent such incidents from happening.

These three entire groups shared something in common, a common public reasoning justifying  or at least accepting the sexual assault of a woman who came out in a crowd to celebrate a national event. The moral stance of all three groups differed very little. Their action or inaction can be defined as public reason in Bangladesh where sexual assault is an accepted public norm and a huge outcry about it is not expected. None of the student organisations such as the BCL, JCD or Islami Chatro Shibir has condemned the attack. That’s just the student’s political front. You are also unlikely to hear condemnation from the cultural front because they do not have their preferred enemy here. If Avijit’s murder was an attack on free speech these attacks were an attack on the freedom of movement, women’s rights and human rights.


The first group of public are the young criminals who possess low morality born out of our anti-value education system. They were probably brought up in a physically, intellectually and morally abusive society and from similar age groups. They are brought up perceiving sexuality as the biggest taboo topic not to be discussed. For them sex is an illicit act performed with certain guilt and ironically sex for them is at the core of entertainment and excitement in their lives.

These individuals are living in an immensely sexualised culture where the former porn star from the neighbouring country is the biggest sensation. Well you may argue so what? Western culture doesn’t seem to have similar incidents where a group of people will sexually assault women in public. The answer is that western culture doesn’t have the pull effect that Eastern culture have. Sexual behaviour in a country like Bangladesh and India still confronts a huge religious and cultural challenge in how sex is manifested in public culture and society as a whole. I am not talking about the clubs in Gulshan or Mumbai, please exclude them from the mainstream, my point is with general mass.

Our society is transforming rapidly with technological and information revolutions flooding youths with choices of entertainment that are sexualised on a commercial level. Bangladesh is at the receiving end of this wave, typical for a developing economy. Middle class urban society is at the centre of this wave. If you let a short skirt woman pass by  in a rural village, the villagers would probably offer them tea, biscuits and directions. The same woman is very likely to be raped and assaulted in urban areas.

So once an opportunity arises for these disturbed and culturally conflicted youth, they become dogs unleashed from chains in events where they can exercise sexual behaviour, and enjoy flesh which up until then  they could only fantasise. If you study closely, you will find the same young criminals enjoying raunchy Hindi cinema returning from Jummah prayers and probably beating up their sister’s boyfriend defending honour.

This group justified sexual assault in public, and it was a public act.. This group of men ‘enjoyed’ the act while the second and third public group watched. Another major reason to note on the causes of this crime isis the confidence of the criminals that their crime will go unpunished and nothing will come of it. They knew that the law enforcement agency and state is too busy with other work to be able to persecute them. As Rumi Ahmed said whilst sharing Liton Nondi’s description of the event, this is the ‘State of the republic.’   

What is unfortunate is that a sexualised cultural explosion since the late 90’s through mass media, is rapidly replacing and diminishing the very fabric of our society and the values we have inhabited  from it in the last hundreds of years. There were shared values or ‘public reason’ derived from the religious values of Hinduism and Islam, the old and the young, from men and women. Respecting women and protecting them where they are  vulnerable were part of the lessons I learnt in the society I was living in. 

That public reason is changing or has changed.Now, enjoying women and exploiting them is the fashion for men, and for women, to make themselves pretty and enjoyable to man is the fashion. The capitalist corporate culture with its growing use of social media is perfectly suited to host such a culture.  



The second group of public in the incident  are those hundreds of inactive witnesses present there, enjoying it as spectators I should add. They do not possess the moral value to recognise the sexual assaultt as wrong, unlawful and unjust. They are the coward public who gave silent consent to the first group to commit their crimes. They did not intervene and condemn the crime rather their moral distance shows an almost justification of it.

They will probably talk amongst friends of witnessing a ‘funny’ act as if it was another drama serial being played out live at Dhaka University. The difference between the first and second group of people is the latter group would avoid molesting girls in public but would be just as cruel and barbaric in seclusion or in a private space.

The Third group of people are the police officers in duty and the university authority. You could probably just divide them into groups one and  two already mentioned. This group, ultimately facilitate crimes such as sexual assaults with their inaction and do not suffer from any guilt for that, though their very purpose is to protect the citizens. Their crime is twofold, they failed as a human being and they also failed as officer’s n duty.

Like the university proctor responded to Liton Nondi’s plea when found playing chess on his computer, he said he could not have done anything even had he been there. In essence, he actually gave institutional consent to justify the sexual assault just like the police did with their inaction.

There is one other group almost diminished from our public life, politics and culture. They are very few in numbers and are the last men standing. One was on display the day of the incident and broke his hand whilst defending morality and humanity. We should salute him, Liton Nandi.

One should be alarmed at my claim. What I mean is that these incidents are apparent in the way our society is transforming and many more will follow through. Our public mind needs to be educated with universal values and teachings to be able to live with dignity and let others have dignity. Neither our state is capable of doing protecting our dignity nor our judiciary. Our religious foundation is weak in its interpretation and has lost its credibility by failing to adjust with changing contexts in 21st century. So we are out of spirit and our culture is diminishing in front of our very eye.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

On Exile : Part one


My understanding of the word ‘exile’ was restricted to political leader’s exclusion or expulsion from their country of origin. I was brought up in Bangladesh reading news stories on South Asian leaders’ exile to Western countries for various reasons. 

Recently I realised the word ‘exile’ is not exclusively reserved to explain privileged politicians who enjoy an elite life away from their country to take a break or to survive from adverse political realities. They often exercise the option of exile voluntarily or involuntarily with the grace of a host country who would register them as bargaining chips for future diplomatic manoeuvres. Exile is a luxury for them.

In contrast, we, the hundreds and thousands of us common Bangladeshi’s are exiled and separated from our motherland for a very different reason; a state failing to provide us physical and economic security. We are away from our country not by choice but by compulsion of our circumstances. Like many other Bangladeshis a decade ago I had to embrace exile.
 
 Sylhet, Bangladesh
Amongst the definitions of ‘exile’  the ones which apply to me most are ‘a person banished from his or her native land’,  ‘a prolonged separation from one's country or home, as by force of circumstances’ and even ‘anyone separated from his or her country or home voluntarily or by force of circumstances’.

Banished

The most striking of the definitions of exile is ‘a person banished from his native land’. The word ‘banished’ made me realise the ultimate significance of exile. Let me explain this.

An event of exile can never be retracted, no matter how sincerely one wishes to return to his or her native land. The impact an exile imposes on reality can never be compensated with anything. As the time moves on the exiled and the native land both move on. So an exiled is never able to return as the same person or to the same land he left behind. There is a permanent loss of something that is mystically unexplained unless discovered and better remain undiscovered unless one is reflective enough to realise and endure the pain.

It is all banished, the natural nativity, and the very contrast between you and your soil; all is banished. The sense of belonging is strained severely. There is a terrible grief and the grief is greater for those who fail to find some solace in the place they are exiled to and for those who realise a return is impractical.

Jagannathpur, Sunamganj, Bangladesh

I felt that grief when I returned to my nativity for in my first visit following exile. Almost everything was there but something had changed forever. Some people who I expected to remain there had either embraced exile or changed as an individual. They were not there and they will not be there ever again. We will not be there ever again together like we were for those days, months and years.

Returning home for the first time I had realised that the ones who remained in the land had resolved something about me in their perception. They thought, ‘You have moved on and you are not native anymore’.

My friends and associates were there, those playing fields, broken roads, tea gardens, restaurants, rickshaws and motorcycled youth – all were there. And there were our occasional journeys within the small town to thrillingly pass by former lovers’ houses not knowing if she would be there or not. We roamed the town again and we smoked slightly expensive Benson & Hedges cigarettes and cursed freely in obscene language at everything we disliked in our life.

Still it was not enough. There was something missing. There was a compulsion to accept the reality that, ‘He will go back to his exile’. In our subconscious I have become a stranger to my own place, the very place that made me who I am, the place that I would always want to go back to. Something had banished. I would have to return to my new home to resume my exile. That reality dictated our being and I had to mournfully return back to my exile promising, yet again, that I will go back. I will go back to where I belong. 

Part two: Myth of Return (hope to upload soon).