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Naeem Mohaiemen on Tue, 4 Dec 2007 05:36:43 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> naeemogram x6 [URL, French response, A Roy, L R] Selim, Candy Man, Asterix


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"Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
     URL for Tintin In Bengal
     French Embassy says Bangladeshi concerns are "objectionable & insulting"
     Arundhati Roy on Taslima Nasreen
     Lala Rukh Selim on Musee Guimet
     Musee Guimet & The Candy Man
     Asterix & The Big Fight (Musee Guimet cont.)

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Date: Sun, 2 Dec 2007 08:29:09 +0600
From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: URL for Tintin In Bengal

The Tintin in Bengal writeup is now online, with added reference URLs at end.

Tintin in Bengal, or Musee Guimet Controversy
http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/12/01/tintin-bengal/

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Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2007 00:44:21 +0600
From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: French Embassy says Bangladeshi concerns are "objectionable & insulting"

http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/12/01/tintin-bengal/

The following references have been added to the Guimet blog entry:

1. Fact-Finding Committee Report: Pg 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

2. Protesters Battle Police As Musee Guimet Trucks Roll Out

3. Shahidul Alam: Price of Priceless Objects

4. Shahidul Alam: Missing Jigsaw Pieces

5. Letter To The French Government & Citizens

6. Anisur Rahman: Collected Media Reports

7. French Embassy:Bangladeshi Protesters are "Misleading the public again!"

8. French Ambassador: Protesters concerns are "objectionable and insulting"

9. Kwame Opoku: Musee Guimet holds "thousands of stolen objects"

10. Afrikanet: France & The Stolen Art Of Others

11. Major Robberies At French Museums

12. Louvre refuses Turkish demand for Ottoman Tiles

13. Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums

14. "Complete" documentation as per French Embassy, with missing
Accession Numbers: 1, 2

15. Contract Between Culture Ministry & French Ambassador

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Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2007 08:54:42 +0600
From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: Arundhati Roy on Taslima Nasreen

[From Shuddha/Sarai]

Transcript of Arundhati Roy interviewed on the treatment of Taslima Nasreen
by Karan Thapar on 'Devil's Advocate', broadcast this evening on CNN-IBN

The transcript was published on Sun, Dec 02, 2007 at 20:32, on the CNN IBN
website
http://www.ibnlive.com/news/if-treated-like-taslima-id-give-up-writing/5346=
4-3-single.html

To watch the video of the interview - see -
http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/53464/12_2007/devils_arundathi1/if-treated-li=
ke-taslima-id-give-up-writing.html

---------------------------------------------

Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How do India's leading authors
respond to the treatment given to Taslima Nasreen over the last 14 days?
That's the key issue I shall explore today with Booker Prize- winning
novelist Arundhati Roy.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, let me start with that question. How do you
respond to the way Taslima Nasreen has been treated for almost 14 days now?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it is actually almost 14 years but right now it is
only 14 days and I respond with dismay but not surprise because I see it as
a part of a larger script where everybody is saying their lines and
exchanging parts.

Karan Thapar: She, I believe, has been in touch with you . What has she
told you about the experience that she has been through?

Arundhati Roy:Well I have to say that I was devastated listening to what
she said because here's this woman in exile and all alone. Since August
she's been under pressure, she says, from the West Bengal police who
visit her everyday saying, "Get out of here. Go to Kerala, go to Europe
or go to Rajasthan. Do anything but get out of here. People are trying to
kill you," not offering to protect her but saying get out. On 15th
November when there was this huge march in Calcutta against Nandigram, they
said, "Now you're going to be killed so we're going to move you from
your flat to some other place" and they did it but they withdrew most of
her security which is paradoxical because on the day when she was
supposedly the most under the threat, she had no protection. A few days
later they gave her a ticket and pushed her out of the state.

Karan Thapar: Listening to the story she told you about herself, do you
believe that the West Bengal government's behaviour has been unacceptable?

Arundhati Roy: Well it has been utterly, ridiculously unacceptable. I mean,
what can I say? Here you have a situation where you're really threatening
and coercing a person.

Karan Thapar: Far from protecting her, they were threatening her?

Arundhati Roy: Absolutely.

Karan Thapar: What about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee? He is a poet, he is an
author; how does he emerge from this story?

Arundhati Roy: He emerges from the story, as far as I am concerned, as the
principal scriptwriter who managed quite cleverly to shift all the
attention from Nandigram to Taslima and Taslima is not the person who is
displacing the poor peasants of Nandigram. She is not the person who is
robbing people of their daily.

Karan Thapar: So he used her as a pawn to take the pressure off himself in
terms of Nandigram?

Arundhati Roy: I think very successfully because we are discussing her and
not Nandigram right now.

Karan Thapar: So he's failed to stand by any of the constitutional duties
that as a Chief Minister he should have upheld?

Arundhati Roy: I should say at this point that we do not have the
constitutional right to free speech. We have many caveats between us and
free speech so maybe he has upheld the constitutional rights to us not
having free speech.

Karan Thapar: On Friday, Taslima announced that three pages from her
autobiography Dwikhandito, which allegedly had given offence to critics,
are to be withdrawn. Do you see that as a sensible compromise or a mistake?

Arundhati Roy: Well, neither. She does not have any choices. She is just
like a person who has now got the protection of the mafia which is the
state in some way. She has nowhere to go. She has no protection. She just
has to blunder her way through this kind of humiliation and I really feel
for her.

Karan Thapar: You used an interesting phrase. You said she has to blunder
her way through this humiliation. Was withdrawing those three pages,
admittedly under pressure, a blunder?

Arundhati Roy: I don't know. Honestly, we can all be very brave in the
security of our lives but she has nobody to turn to and nowhere to go. I
don't know what I would have done in that situation.

Karan Thapar: She had no other choice, perhaps.

Arundhati Roy:She really is in a mess. I think it is a reflection on all of
us.

Karan Thapar: Let's come to the issues and the principle that underlie
what I call the Taslima Nasreen story. To begin with, do you view freedom
of speech as an absolute freedom, without any limitations or would you
accept that there are certain specific constraints that we all have to
accept?

Arundhati Roy: It is a complicated question and has been debated often. I
personally, do view it as something that should have no caveats for this
simple reason that in a place where there are so many contending beliefs,
so many conflicting things, only the powerful will then decide what those
caveats should be and those caveats will always be used by the powerful.

Karan Thapar: So you're saying that given the fact that many people are
vulnerable, freedom of speech for them should have no caveats, it should be
absolute and that's their only protection?

Arundhati Roy: I think so because if you look at the facts, you have
outfits like VHP or the Bajrang Dal or the CD that the BJP produced during
the UP elections, you see that they do what they want to do. The powerful
always do what they want to do. It is the powerless and the vulnerable that
need free speech.

Karan Thapar: Let's explore the position that you're taking =96 free
speech is an absolute freedom and there should be no limitations on it.
What about the view that by criticising Islam, Taslima has offended beliefs
which for tens of millions of Indians, maybe for hundreds of millions are
sacred? These are beliefs that underlie their dignity and their sense of
identity. Should freedom of speech extend that far as to threaten
people's sense of themselves?

Arundhati Roy: I don't believe that a write like Taslima Nasreen can
undermine the dignity of ten million people. Who is she? She is not a
scholar of Islam. She does not even claim that Islam is her subject. She
might have said extremely stupid things about Islam. I have no problem with
the quotations that I have heard from her book. Dwikhandito has not been
translated into English but let's just assume that what she said was
stupid and insulting to Islam but you have to be prepared to be insulted by
something that insignificant.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you some of the things that she said, not
from Dwikhandito, but from an interview she gave to Anthony McIntyre, The
Blanket in 2006. She says, "It's not true that Islam is good for
humanity. It's not at all good. Islam completely denies human rights."
Elsewhere she talks about what she calls the venomous snake of Islam. To me
that sounds as if it goes perhaps beyond a simple critique and into
deliberate provocation.

Arundhati Roy: It sounds like Donald Rumsfeld or some Christian
fundamentalist.

Karan Thapar: And you would rile at him so why not rile at her?

Arundhati Roy: Yeah, but I wouldn't say ban him or kill him. I would say
what a ridiculous person. What a ridiculous thing. How can you start
reacting to everything like that? We have an infinite number of stupidities
in the world. How can you start having your foundations rocked by every
half-wit?

Karan Thapar: Let's put it like this, does freedom of speech necessarily
include the right to offend?

Arundhati Roy: Obviously it includes the right to offend otherwise it
wouldn't be the freedom of speech.

Karan Thapar: But is that an acceptable right in India?

Arundhati Roy: One person's offence is another person's freedom.

Karan Thapar: That maybe so in England and America where Western levels of
education have allowed people to hear something offensive without reacting
violently. In India, where the education levels are so disparate, where
religion is so emotionally and passionately held, then if you have the
freedom of speech merging into the right to offend, you end up provoking
people often to violence, sometimes to death.

Arundhati Roy: First of all, I think we have to understand that education
is a very loaded term because modernity is what is creating some of this
kind of radical fundamentalism. And it's not like traditional India
anymore. In fact, if you look at any studies that have been done, actually
communal riots have increased.

Karan Thapar: Aren't you evading my point? You're questioning what is
meant by modernity and education but you and I know that the levels of
sophistication in terms of being able to handle offence to your religion or
criticism of your God vary hugely.

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying is that level of sophistication is far
better in rural areas than urban areas.

Karan Thapar: You mean that rural Indians are better able to take criticism
of Ram or Allah?

Arundhati Roy: If you look at the kind of riots in rural and urban areas,
you'll see that, historically.

Karan Thapar: Let me give you a specific example. If criticism of Islam by
Taslima Nasreen leads to a situation where people come out and riot on the
streets and there is a real genuine threat that innocent people could end
up killed, what in that circumstance should be the government's priority
=97 to defend freedom of speech or prevent the loss of human lives?

Arundhati Roy: I don't think that's a choice. I think they have to
protect freedom of speech and do everything that they can to prevent the
loss of human life because here what is happening is that this kind of
right to offend or 'my sentiments have been hurt' have become a
business in democratic politics. Let's say the political parties are
engineering these situations which lead to a loss of life otherwise why
should it be that Dwikhandito has been on the bestseller list for four
years in West Bengal and nothing has happened and suddenly when there's a
massive march and a massive mobilisation against the CPM, the book suddenly
reappears as insulting people's faith?

Karan Thapar: So you're saying mischief makers, manipulators whipped up
sentiments four or five years after the book was published, to deliberately
try and corner Taslima and to create an atmosphere that perhaps worked in
some peculiar way to the advantage of the West Bengal government?

Arundhati Roy: Look at who's benefiting from it. All the anger about
Nandigram has now suddenly turned to us asking the same state that
criminally killed people in Nandigram to now protect Taslima Nasreen.

Karan Thapar: Are you trying to suggest that perhaps that the West Bengal
government was in some way involved in engineering this incident to deflect
attention from Nandigram to Taslima?

Arundhati Roy: I would say that it would have had a lot to do with it and I
am saying that it is so easy to do these things.

Karan Thapar: When the situation happened, it would have perhaps been
judged as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's dilemma. Perhaps as a poet and author
he felt a need to defend or desire to protect the freedom of speech. As a
Chief Minister, undoubtedly he knew that he had the duty to stop and
prevent the loss of human life. If therefore, by putting pressure on
Taslima Nasreen to leave the state for a while, he was able to save ten or
fifteen lives that would have otherwise been lost on the streets of
Calcutta, did he not do the right thing?

Arundhati Roy: No, I don't think so. I think that's the game that they
would like us to play. 'I did it in order to defend innocent lives.'
But I think there's a deeper script in the understanding of what is known
as the deep state. I think that this was a provocation that actually could
have ended up creating a loss of lives because, I want to go back to it,
why should it be that for four years that book was on the market and no
lives were lost. Everything is in the timing.

Karan Thapar: So you really do believe, when you use phrases like the deep
state that there was a conspiracy, even though we don't fully understand
it, to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima and to perhaps put her
in a position where under pressure she was forced to leave and the
government didn't actually have to physically throw her out?

Arundhati Roy: I wouldn't use the word conspiracy because that sounds
like an intelligence operation and I don't think that something like this
needs to go as far as a conspiracy but I would certainly say that you need
to examine the timing of this because that's all we are ever left in
India. No one ever gets to the bottom of anything. It is always like, who
benefits, why did this happen now. I would like to know, why it happened
now.

Karan Thapar: So you're saying something that's pretty fundamental.
You're saying that far more simple =97as you did at the beginning=97 that
the West Bengal government behaved unacceptably. Now you're saying that
there was almost Machiavellian intent, not a conspiracy but a Machiavellian
intent behind the way they have played this game out?

Arundhati Roy: You are making it sound like I have a very deep insight.

Karan Thapar: No, you have a deep distrust and a huge suspicion.

Arundhati Roy: That's true but I also know that this is the word on the
street. You don't need a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is
something that we have seen happening over and over again. It is nothing
new or amazing that's happening.

Karan Thapar: Let's turn to the Central Government's response to
Taslima Nasreen. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Pranab Mukherjee said
that India would continue extend protection and sanctuary to Taslima
Nasreen and then he added that it is also expected that guests will refrain
from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people.
How do you respond to that?

Arundhati Roy: It is like being sentenced to good behaviour for the rest of
your life which is a death sentence for a writer. If I had to live
somewhere in those conditions, I would become a yoga instructor or
something. I would give up writing because this is such a nasty thing to
do. Here is a woman who is a Bengali writer. She can't function outside.
It's a question of principle anyway. It is not about her, it is about us.
What kind of society are we creating? Sure it's tough to take the kind of
things she said about Islam but she should be put in her place,
intellectually and otherwise. Not like this where she will become a martyr
to somebody else.

Karan Thapar: When Pranab Mukherjee says that it is expected that guests
will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments
of our people, is he in a very real sense giving Muslim fundamentalists a
veto, both over what Taslima can write and say and therefore whether she
can stay in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:Who does he mean when he says 'our people'? Am I included
for example? Because by saying this he certainly hurt my sentiments. You
can't really match people's sentiments.

Karan Thapar: You are quite right. 'Our people' includes the whole
range of people but I suspect that when he says our people he had those who
we were protesting against Taslima on the streets of Calcutta in mind. Has
he, therefore, given them a veto over what she can write and say, and
therefore a veto over whether she can continue to live in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:It is not her. He has taken a veto over all of us. I mean I
have also been told by the Supreme Court that you will behave yourself and
you will write how we ask you to write. I will not. I hope that is extended
to everybody here.

Karan Thapar: Given that Taslima's case is not a unique case, you've
suffered as you said at the hands of the Supreme Court, M F Hussain has
suffered, art students in Baroda have suffered, even people doing cartoons
and satires of Gandhi on YouTube have suffered, are we an intolerant people=
?

Arundhati Roy: We're just messy people. Either we have the principle of
free speech or you have caveats that will fill up this whole room and we
will all just be silenced. There will be no art, there will be no music and
there will be no cinema.

Karan Thapar: Are you moving in that direction where caveats to free speech
are becoming so many that there is no freedom to be artistic?

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying here does not matter. I might believe in
this but I know that tomorrow I have to deal with the thugs of the
government, courts of the fundamentalist and everybody else. In order to
live here you have to think that you are living in the midst of a gang war.
So what I believe in or don't believe in is only theoretical. However,
how I practice is a separate matter. How I survive here is like surviving
amongst thugs.

Karan Thapar: But then the corollary to what you're saying is very
important. You're saying that artists, particularly those who see things
differently, particularly those who are stretching out and wanting to be
new and avant-garde, have to contend with the thugs, as you call them, with
the government and the majority that's trying to push them back.

Arundhati Roy: We do and we will. The thing is that I also don't expect
to be mollycoddled. I know that we have a fight on our hands and how do we
survive in this gang war. The state is just another gang, as far as I am
concerned.

Karan Thapar: So you're saying that it is not easy to be different in
India?

Arundhati Roy:Well, it's challenging and we accept that challenge.

Karan Thapar: What's your advice to Taslima Nasreen?

Arundhati Roy: I really don't have any advice. I feel very bad for her
because, let me say this, her's is actually the tragedy of displacement.
Once, she has been displaced from her home. She has no rights. She is a
guest and she is being treated very badly. She is being humiliated.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, it was a pleasure talking to you on Devil's
Advocate.

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Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2007 19:46:24 +0600
From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: Lala Rukh Selim on Musee Guimet

Link to this op-ed is at:
http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/12/01/tintin-bengal/

Why risk invaluable heritage for vague 'cultural benefits'?
By Lala Rukh Selim
Dated 29.11.2007
In response to the French, Embassy's reply entitled "Int'l show will
bring cultural benefits to Bangladesh" (published in The Daily Star of
27 November 2007) to the statement of four citizens, we would again
take this opportunity to voice our confusion as to what exactly are
the 'cultural benefits' that are being alluded to? We as Bangladeshis
are very secure of the cultural heritage that we have. We are proud of
it as it reflects a past of assimilation, integration and syncretism.
Any person in the world may learn of our culture spanning thousands of
years from many sources and are always welcome to visit our land to
study our culture. Why should an exhibition in France benefit
Bangladesh, especially an exhibition where the priceless treasures of
our country have been selected without involving Bangladeshi experts,
where the cataloguing is inaccurate and unprofessional, where the
insurance is laughable? Such an exhibition may benefit the French, but
how it will benefit Bangladesh is not conceivable. We may have been
able to consider the tangible benefits if the French government had
agreed to send Bangladesh an exchange exhibition of its own priceless
treasures. As there is no mention of any such exchange exhibition, the
vague 'benefits' only succeeds in baffling us.

 It makes us very curious as to why the French Government is so keen
on the exhibition when we have learnt from reliable sources that the
Expert Committee constituted by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of
Bangladesh has noted various points of serious concern regarding it.
This has made the exhibition considerably controversial and much
debated.

Firstly, the citizens of Bangladesh were completely in the dark while
the French and Bangladeshi governments were planning, organizing and
implementing various stages of activities relating to the exhibition
for nearly past four years. The people whose patrimony is to be
transported to a foreign country were not informed of this impending
fact. There was no media coverage, which would ensure the transparency
of an event of such immense cultural magnitude. Would the Monalisa
leave the Louvre without the people of France knowing of it?

Gradually, with constant prodding and litigation from citizens from
various levels of society it came to light that there are gaping holes
in the contract that has been signed between the two nations. Perhaps
most horrifying and barbaric is the fact that even the exact number of
artifacts packed to leave for France is unknown while some pieces lack
identification, they do not have the counter signature of the
concerned authorities or a listing of the museum accession numbers in
the contract. The visual documentation is faulty and incomplete. The
identification and documentation of the objects are obscure,
inadequate and, in some cases, absent. The list of items have been
wavering between 168 to 189 which may have been acceptable for a
consignment of eggs or apples (though that too is questionable!) but
for a priceless collection of artifacts this is unheard of. For
example, the total number of coins is stated, but no details supplied
as to their dating, material and description. The two invaluable Pala
palm leaf manuscripts which are awaiting transport are so fragile that
the number of pages cannot be counted. In view of the enormous value
of these items, it looks like sheer lunacy to subject them to travel.
Let it suffice to say that even a single sheet is enough to represent
the refined achievement of that period.

More horrors were revealed when   it came to be known that the Musee
Guimet was given permission to restore the artifacts prior to the
exhibition in the Guimet laboratory. These artifacts were mostly taken
from display cases so the need for restoration does not seem to be
relevant and the ones that need restoration should not travel at all.
It is learnt that the Expert Committee is of the opinion that they
should not be allowed to be restored after they leave the territory of
Bangladesh because the contract is flawed by bad documentation and a
very low insurance value.

Who will know if pages of the Prajnaparamita manuscript or a Maurya
coin is missing if we do not know what and how many is going in the
first place? What if some of them are missing when and if they are
returned? What if they are damaged in transport or the transport
destroyed? The "what ifs" are cause for deep anxiety for all concerned
citizens of Bangladesh. What is also causing more dismay is the rather
paternal and colonial psyche expressed by the French when they
repeatedly remind Bangladeshis about the 'cultural benefits' to
Bangladesh. Are the Bangladeshis less able to understand and judge
what is good for themselves than the French? Do we need the
patronizing attitude of the French who pretend to know better what is
good for us? Bangladesh has a glowing history. It has not colonized
any nation. Imperialism is not part of its past. It has always
assimilated and embraced the cultural influences that have entered
from the outside world. It has only resorted to violence when faced
with oppression and exploitation. It has stood up against the colonial
power of the British, the Language Movement took place when its
culture was challenged and the Liberation War against Pakistan was
again a fight against oppression and colonialism. If anything,
Bangladesh has a wonderful cultural image, which can in no way be
bettered by any exhibition anywhere in the world. If the French
government is bent on wresting our heritage from us by sheer force,
let it be known that it will prove once more that history repeats
itself and morals and ethics, law and justice plays into the hands of
those who possess power. The French government is going against all
codes of ethical conduct when they disregard our opinions and the laws
of our land. We, the people of Bangladesh protest and will protest
against this outrage and misuse of power. We want proper
documentation, we want the due involvement of the professionals of our
country and we want the just insurance value of our artifacts. Let it
also be clear that the artifacts in question are the creation of the
cumulative genius of our ancestors, creations inspired by the spirit
and soul of our people, not the whim of nature, as are the mineral or
natural resources of our country. We, the people of Bangladesh, demand
respect and justice for our cultural heritage and we will not rest or
hold our peace in the face of force.

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Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2007 00:42:46 +0600
From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: Musee Guimet & The Candy Man

Shahidul Alam's report on today's Bangladesh government press
conference to address Musee Guimet controversy is below and also
linked here:
http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/12/01/tintin-bengal/

Also, courtesy of Shahidul, I have updated the documentation examples

Lack of documentation
a) set of coins catalogued as "coins", with no specifics
b) inconsistent numbers ("50 silver coins, and 8 gold coins" at Dec 3
Bangladesh government press conference, "50 punchmarked coins" in one
set of court records, "gold and silver coins" in another record, "93
punch marked coins" in the French inventory)
b) missing accession numbers (no accession number for large and
extremely rare bronze statue the Vajrasattva, insured at 200,000 Euro)
c) mismatch between number of pieces documented by the French
photographer who catalogued the show, the number given in French
embassy contract, and the number in Embassy's press release
d) incomplete descriptions, missing descriptions
e) insurance value of 4 million Euros, for a collection that dates
back to 4th century BC. An international archaeological expert has
since called this appraisal "financial fraud".
f) insurance value of 4 million Euro as per French press release of
25th September, 2.6 million Euro as per Dec 3 Bangladesh government
press conference
g) no response to protesters demand for name of artefact packer

#####################

The Candy Man
Shahidul Alam

He was charming, witty, and took blame upon himself. Adviser Ayub
Quadri, was the Minister of Education, Minister of Primary and Mass
Education and Minister of Cultural Affairs, Government of the People's
Republic of Bangladesh. He was the perfect guy to rely upon for damage
control. The public school background showed, as did the many years as
a top bureaucrat. He had been a member of the elite Civil Service of
Pakistan (CSP). An old boys network that still holds clout in the
subcontinent.

The Press Information Department (PID) auditorium on the 3rd floor of
Building 9, in the Bangladesh Secretariat was packed. Unlike many
other Bangladeshi events it started on time. Squeezing through the
footpaths, crossing fences, lifting my bicycle over rickshaws stuck in
traffic, I had panted my way to the secretariat. The police at gate 2
had been too perplexed by a bicycle going through the gate to even
stop me for papers. I arrived just as the first question was raised.
It was a packed hall, and while I thought I would stay at the back, I
realised that I needed to get up there to stand any chance of getting
a question in. I sat on the floor in between the video tripods.

The journalists had done their homework. And while there were a few
questions that were repetitive, by and large, they knew what they
wanted. In response to a question about the alleged corruption charges
against one of the government officials involved in the transaction,
the adviser joked. "Well I am the person in overall charge. The police
don't seem to be after me for corruption." Pretty answer. Pity it
didn't answer the question.

The large table with the adviser in the middle was imposing. The
Secretary of Culture on the left and another officer on the right
played a largely ornamental role. So did the entire row of officials
in the back. They did however lean forward to whisper in the adviser's
ear from time to time. The question came up of the alleged
transportation of the bronze casket in 1959 to France, which Mr.
Zakaria, the ex Secretary of Culture had mentioned in a press
conference on the 1st December. The adviser let the question slip,
saying he'd heard of such accusations and was looking into it. A
member of the back row broke ranks and retorted, "There is no such
record." Mr. Zakaria, also an ex director of the department of
archaeology, had mentioned a 49 year fight to get back this prized
possession, without success. A journalist mentioned the case of the 30
paintings of Mohammad Younus. They had been sent to Yugoslavia, on a
government to government exchange.  None had ever come back. Quadri
again said he didn't know. "Don't know" was quite a common response to
questions. Candid perhaps, but not particularly useful.

In answer to the questions about the irregularities regarding the loan
inventory, the adviser did provide figures, but no documents he could
back them up with. Questions from the floor pointed to the disjoint
between the figures he quoted and the ones given in the government
documents submitted to the court. That they didn't correspond to the
inventory produced by the French themselves. He promised to provide
updated documents this very evening. Tomorrow morning at the latest.
Why the government had provided documents to the court which did not
tally with the shipment, was a question that never got asked, and was
certainly not clarified. Neither was the mystery regarding calling a
press conference, but not having these documents at hand ever solved
by the guests.

"I have full confidence that the items will come back." He said,
taking the weight of the world on his shoulders. As to why
Bangladeshis should have confidence in him, was one that was never
clarified.

"The company that had packed the crates have been doing so for 300
years," he mentioned. The doubters have been asking for the packers to
be named ever since the beginning, but have not been given an answer.
Those who had thought the press conference would enlighten them were
disappointed.

Since only government members of the committee were present, there was
no one to question the claim that everything had done to please the
committee. That the committee had been fully satisfied with the
proceedings. The fact that the official letter by the committee, in
the hands of the press, said something entirely different was a mere
technicality.

The problem was the inconsistencies. We still don't know exactly how
many items are being sent. Neither do we know exactly what is being
sent. The few specifics the advisor provided, that there were "50
silver coins, and 8 gold coins," might have helped in purchasing
supplies for an Everest expedition, but didn't help much in evaluating
either the value, or the specifics of a museum item. Especially when
the court record states "50 punchmarked coins" in one entry and an
unspecified number of "gold and silver coins" in another. Assuming the
number of silver coins in the latter entry is non-zero, and that the
punchmarked coins are all silver, we still have a problem. The French
inventory specifies "93 punch marked coins." Are the "gold and silver
coins" non-punchmarked? Do they add up to the "8 gold coins" the
adviser was referring to? 50 + non-zero number =3D 50 and 50 + 8 =3D 93 in
Ayub Quadri's arithmetic.

There are bigger issues. He generally accepted that the insurance
value was low, but claimed that it was an academic issue in the case
of priceless items. Especially since he was confident that they were
all coming back. However the French press release, issued on the 25th
September 2007, stated that the insurance value was 4 million euro.
The adviser today clearly stated 2.6 million euro. So who are we to
believe? We are after all talking of the most prized possessions of a
nation. Consistent statements help remove doubt. The adviser's
"confidence" might work on a poker table, but does little to put a
worried population at ease.

He brushed off the accusation about whisking off the items in a hurry,
or that there was any question of impropriety or stealth in terms of
going against court directives. When asked why such an important
event, which was covered by all major independent media, was
completely unreported on state television, he smiled. The gentleman on
the right did speak up this time. He pointed out that the question was
"irrelevant."

Other questions remain. In the documents presented to the court by the
government, even one of the most valued items, the large (and
extremely rare) bronze statue the Vajrasattva does include an
insurance value (not always the case) of 200,000 euro. The item does
not have an accession number.

Quadri was unruffled throughout, never losing cool. Always extremely
pleasant. His only admission to some concern was in answer to a
question about when the items would come back. He said in no uncertain
terms, "April." He added, "Until then, I will stay worried, and
looking at the mood in the room, I can tell that you too will not
rest."

As a child, we would watch the candy floss man take a tiny spoonful of
sugar, a dollop of colouring and would watch with amazement as the
machine spun out a pink web, which he would twirl around a stick. One
portion was only dui poisha (two paisa). A figure which we could
realistically save up. The large pink fluff, folded on contact, and
melted in the mouth, but did give a sense of attainment. We called it
hawai mithai, sweet made of air. This candy floss press conference
too, had little substance but plenty of form.

Whether the media kids will feel they got value for their dui poisha
is something we'll see in tomorrow's headlines.

=97=97=97

Previous governments have killed farmers when they demanded
fertilisers and seeds. Villagers have been killed when they had the
audacity to demand electricity, resist open pit mining. Yesterday 14
cyclone affected people were detained for trying to present a
memorandum in protest of irregularities in relief efforts. We wonder
what demands for saving our heritage will bring.

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Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2007 03:27:56 +0600
From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: Asterix & The Big Fight (Musee Guimet cont.)

Apologies for inundating this list, the Guimet debate grows by hour.

Most of the posts about Guimet have been from one side. Finally, an
"Anonymous" supporter of the exhibition has written from the "other
side":

Astrerix & The Big Fight
http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/12/03/guimet-the-other-side/

[I responded to Anon in comment # 2]

The original 'Tintin in Bengal' post has been updated with
feedback/critique from bloggers, in these sections:

2. Precedent for Art Anxiety
3. Guimet as a Signifier
4. The Robbery Jitters

http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/12/01/tintin-bengal/

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