Tuesday, February 20

Bangladesh: The Way Forward

Okay, I admit it: I'm no expert on Bangladeshi politics. I do know that elections have been postponed, that there is a military coup going on, and today I read that that Nobel Peace Prize winner (I forget his name) has thrown his hat into the ring currently occupied by both Islamic and secular "extremists". But other than that I don't really have an interest; I was here to support a friend who was chairing this debate between "Secular Fundamentalism and Political Islam". On the panel were Asif Saleh (founder of Drishtipat), Omar Faruk, Niaz Alam and some other guy I forget the name of (and hopefully someone will fill me in).

That's not to say that it didn't turn out to be interesting anyway. Quite a bit washed over my head as names and events specific to the situation were being discussed, and the Question Time format meant that the debate started off in a timid fashion as the audience warmed up. But things soon turned more interesting once the debate was, quite deliberately, turned into one about Theocracy vs Democracy.

It was these abstract bits, which were more about Islamic rather than Bangladeshi politics, that I was able to relate to. Sure, most of it went down the same well trodden and predictable route ("Theocracies repress women", "Democracy has clearly failed" etc), but there were some constructive (if a bit patronising) ideas being floated too: Bangladesh was young and these were just teething problems, Jamaat-e-Islami was perhaps the most democratic party over there and possibly how the current leadership was all Bangladesh deserved.

The panel was pretty good, if a bit agreeable and polite. I suspect it was the audience that let the debate down; the QT format expects much more than we managed to give, and so the people up there may not have been as exploited as they could have been.

I think that given another hour this event would have become much more exciting and constructive. Still, as it stood it was pretty good and I ended up staying till the end; which was longer than I had planned to anyway.