Foreign Policy Blogs

Signs of the Way We Are, or Signals of Things to Come?

I look at the news of the day as either a sign or a signal.  A sign is a piece or stream of data that serve as declarative propositions about the world. Signs describe the world contemporaneously, as true or false through argument, news, video, photographs or–for that matter– blog posts.  Signs carry no prescriptions about the world; they are, finally, symbols of the world we already know.  After all signs tell us exactly, to the foot and meter, where we are in relation to it.

Signals, on the other hand, convey novel information.  They carry prescriptions about the world, prescriptions that are not abundantly clear to us, precisely because the information they carry are, to us, novel and still unchallenged.  It is this novel and, sometimes, predictive information, that often alerts us to new possibilities and new ways of thinking, that makes signals the kind of things we actively seek.

Nevertheless, the search for a new signal is never a fool’s waiting game.  It is one of parsing out fat from meat, though the fat be succulent.  And it is performing this act of separation, served by this distinction, that will be the active pursuit of this blog.

Bangladesh creeps under the radar of many South Asia analysts.  This most densely populated country of Muslims often goes unnoticed but for its annual Monsoon season; though, Nicholas Kristof is paying attention.  I’d like to suggest that politics and political developments in Bangladesh are signals of things to come in South Asia.  We, in America, and other leading countries, would do well to be a bit more like Kristof and pay attention.

Consider the following short breaking news article from the “Daily Star” on the arrest of three men in Chittagong, the second largest city in Bangladesh:

“[The] Detective branch of police Wednesday night arrested three suspected Lashkar-e-Taiyeba (LeT) leaders from a madrasa in Chittagong in connection with a plot to attack the US embassy in Dhaka.  The detained are identified as Mufti Harun Izahar, 33, son of Mufti Izaharul Islam who is the ameer of a faction of Islami Oikya Jote, Shahidul Islam, 26, and Al Amin alias Saiful.  They have reportedly worked also for Harkatul Jihad al Islam (Huji), another banned Islamic outfit.”

Lashkar -e- Taiyeba, a militant organization based in Pakistan, has been suspected of master-minding the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 163 people dead.  Even though, charges against Lashkar’s founder Hafiz Muhammed Saeed were dropped, nevertheless, much more than blood and guilt hangs suspended in the air.  Claims of an abiding desire to establish an Islamic caliphate in Central and South Asia, notwithstanding, Lashkar does not have a estimable presence in Bangladesh.

This is not the case for the other group cited in the brief article, Harkatal Jihad al Islami.  Harkatal Jihad al Islam, Bangladesh (Huji) is a militant organization that sprang up in the Af/Pak border in the 1980’s and enjoyed strong ties with the leading Islamist party in Bangladesh, the Jamaat-e-Islami during the right leaning Bangladesh National Party’s term in office from 2001 until 2006.  In 2000, they were implicated in an assassination attempt on the current incumbent Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. Only in 2005, under international pressure to proscribe all such groups, the BNP finally outlawed Huji.

This news is a sign, if and only if we can take these arrests at face value and suppose the deed done, the attack forestalled.  I think this is too quick a move.  These men are only the three caught of thousands of men training in madrassa’s all over the country.  In fact, though Huji-Bangladesh is an independent operation, its Pakistan based mother organization is a powerful corporate entity that, though considered a major organizing force in Kashmir has deep and extended international connections.  For example, the leader of the 7/7 London bombings is thought  to have had contact with members of the Huji in Pakistan.

Rather, it is the case that this news is a signal of things to come.  International media attention on the problem of home grown and international terrorism in Bangladesh–sowed from the seeds of domestic political grievance–focused  as it is on Bangladesh’s neighbors, is terribly lacking.  News outlets like The Daily Star and the Daily Ittefaq, a Bengali language newspaper, and blogs such as Unheard Voice and E-Bangladesh are doing a creditable job in communicating the news in, and about, Bangladesh to an international readership.  It is my hope that this blog will travel some distance in bridging that gap between unheard voices and international awareness of those voices.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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