Meet Tahmima Anam, budding novelist and daughter of the Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam. Self described anthropologist and writer. Ms Anam has left the world of literary fiction to comment on current affairs in Bangladesh, writing for the Guardian of London and the New York Times. She recently seen at an event hosted by the Mayor of Hackney, a north London Borough, together with Tulip Siddiq, the Labour Party candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, the daughter of Sheikh Rehana and niece of Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh via a controversial election.
Meet Joe Carroll, fictional character in the Fox TV series, ‘The Following’. A former professor of English literature at Winslow University. Carroll’s teaching emphasizes the romantic period. He initially began to make “art” by disemboweling his female students. He ultimately killed fourteen of them before he was caught. While serving out his sentence at prison, Carroll gathers a cult-like collection of followers, who are willing to murder, kidnap, and even sacrifice themselves in order to execute his plan of revenge. Carroll’s only published novel, The Gothic Sea, was inspired by Poe’s The Light-House, but was a commercial and critical failure.
Once upon a time from New York….
Both Tahmima Anam and Joe Carroll collided into my reality the other evening. After a long day at the office I decided to wind down by watching the latest episode of the ‘The Following’. As I was watching Joe Carroll confess to a priest (his next victim) about how he was suffering from self pity as a failed author, husband and father, I received an alert on a posting of Anam’s latest article in the New York Times.
In her article Ms Anam seems to have extended her historical fiction writing to the present day. She carries on with the make believe story of bearded and skull cap wearing men burning the homes of Hindus, with all the perpetrators being members of Jamaat. This conveniently ignores the facts that members of the ruling Awami League have been involved in such attacks around the recent ‘elections’, as well as during the tenure of the Awami League government
Ms Anam rounds off her recent piece with a fairy tale ending of happily ever after, stating:
‘There has been no major public outcry yet over this lopsided election. Children are going back to school. The roads in the capital are reassuringly clogged with traffic again. Butter has returned to the supermarket shelves.’
She shamefully neglects the massive crackdown of state security forces on political opposition, and the dead bodies of political activists turning up all over the country. While Anam is free to express her opinions in the foreign press, journalists in Bangladesh have been imprisoned for publishing stories critical of the government.
Do as I say not as I do: Life and Death Matters
The similarities between Anam and Carroll extend beyond their confluence that evening to their largely self-centred notions of humanity. Carroll’s victim appealed to him to reciprocate the humanity they had shown to him, yet Carroll ignored such pleading and proceeded by stabbing the priest in the heart. The scene reminded me of a promotional interview given by Anam where she relates the inspiration for her book with an anecdote of how an appeal to humanity can cut across political ideologies and fraught circumstances. It was August 1971 and her grandmother’s home, a known safe house for (then) rebel fighters was visited and searched by the Pakistan’s Army, the day after her uncle blew up a power plant. At the end of this encounter, the army officer left her grandmother along with her children. As Anam puts it,
“I suppose it’s one of those things that happens between two humans…. and maybe he ..um… just took pity on her… or she became real to him… she wasn’t just the enemy”
Like Carroll, Anam is happy to benefit from the humanity of her opponents, but is unwilling to reciprocate it towards people who politically differ from her. This is evident from the sugar-coating of the current political crisis in the New York Times, to making libellous, and baseless accusations in the London based Guardian newspaper earlier last year. In her article in the Guardian, Anam culturally ‘translated’ the case for a retrospective death sentence of Abdul Quader Mollah. Thus Anam became a chief spokesperson for a growing, intolerant hypernationalism unknown in Bangladesh, since its creation in 1971.
Mollah was executed in December on the basis of the hearsay of a single testimony (inadmissible as evidence in a normal court of law), during controversial and highly politicised war crimes trials which have garnered international and national criticism. Anam supported the government sponsored crowds in the street, marketed as The Shahbag Movement, demanding the enactment of retrospective legislation to raise his life sentence to death. Just this December, Mollah’s hanging was hurried through without applying the jail code procedures, but in time for the national Victory Day, thus providing the ruling Awami League with a pyrrhic victory and a blood sacrifice, before the one sided elections on the 5th of January.
In order to explain and justify the bloodlust at Shahbag square to her western liberal audience in the Guardian, Anam has once again collapsed the boundary between fact and fiction. She regurgitated the unproven accusations that Mollah was the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’, and had personally slit the throat of a poet.
Fortunately for Anam, the dead cannot sue for libel in the English courts.
Resurrection of the Ubermensch
And yet Tahmima Anam and Joe Carroll have another thing in common, their self-image. Both authors provide a priest-like legitimacy, and intellectual fig leaves for the cult-like violence of their respective followers. Just like the law enforcement agencies held Joe Carroll responsible for the actions of his fellow ideological bedfellows, so should Anam and her fellow ‘Shahbag Stormtroopers’ be held to account for covering up and giving succour to an oppressive regime in Bangladesh.
While Joe Carroll followers stabbed and killed commuters in the New York subway, shouting, ‘Resurrection! Resurrection! Joe Carroll lives!’ Anam’s fellow travellers, the Joy Bangla Brigade of the Awami League, are attacking and murdering those who politically differ from them, inviting their audiences, and investors, to a retro 1975 themed one party state.
Resurrection! Resurrection! BAKSAL lives!!