Monday, May 21, 2012

Trashing Dr. Yunus: Crossing the finer lines of decency
Daily Sun
May 19, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

I am in Washington these days.  I looked eagerly for some news in the US newspapers about the three important visits to Dhaka that for Bangladesh was a rare diplomatic event. It was days after the US Secretary had left Bangladesh that The Washington Post carried news on the visit. It was on the Finance Minister’s critical comments on the US Secretary for her praise of  Dr. Mohammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank.  

Of the three visits, that of Hillary Clinton (HC) attracted most attention in Bangladesh.  The reason was not just that the US Secretary is one of the most powerful politicians of our time. People in Bangladesh were more eager and curious  to find out whether she was visiting Bangladesh with the snubbing by the Prime Minister on Dr. Yunus or some other agenda in mind.

The way the US Secretary interacted with the Prime Minister upon her arrival in Dhaka led many to speculate that the US Secretary had forgotten the past. The warm hug between the two and the broad smiles raised false hopes in government circles. Reports in the media even went to the extent of congratulating the Government for what it said was a major triumph of its diplomacy.  

When reports came to the media later about what transpired at the Secretary’s meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, there were hints that all did not go the Government’s way. In that meeting, the US Secretary, while expressing reservations on hartal, nevertheless appeared to support the opposition’s demand for an acceptable system for the next general elections. The Secretary also expressed   concerns on extra-judicial killings and disappearances that are major demands of the opposition.  

The government’s mood changed and reality dawned upon it only after it came to know what transpired at her town hall like meeting with the youth aired by a local TV channel.  At her meeting with the youth, the Secretary did not leave anyone guessing what she thought of the Bangladesh government and what the US expected of the government in the time up to the next elections. The result of the meeting with Dr. Mohammad Yunus and Sir Fazle Hussain Abed completed the Government’s cup of disappointment. 

After that meeting, the US Secretary came back at the government for the way it dealt with her request on Dr. Yunus and the future of the Grameen Bank. She said she held the Noble Laureate in high respect and that the GB has attained positive acceptance all over the world. She asked the Government to ensure that the work of the world renowned financial institution is not hampered by its undue interference. The US Secretary also listened to Dr. Yunus and Sir Fazle about the need to hold the next general elections under a neutral caretaker government and seemed to agree.  

Nevertheless, it was only after the US Secretary had left Bangladesh did the Government wake up to the fact that her visit was a disaster; that her smiles garbed views that were critical.  In fact, it was a few days after she  was back in Washington did Ministers of this government start criticizing Dr. Yunus. The Finance Minister started the attack that made to the pages of The Washington Post. He used his favorite non-word “rubbish” in attacking Dr. Yunus and the GB. His body language was particularly noticeable that led to expression of disgust from leading members of the civil society. 

The Minister of LGED joined his colleague in trashing Dr. Yunus. He questioned his credibility for  the Noble Prize; in fact he trashed the Prize! He felt that one can win it simply by drinking white wine and cheese and making connected quarters happy. He made a number of totally unwarranted references not just trashing Dr. Yunus in words that were distasteful; he also questioned the integrity of the Noble Peace Committee. He also got his facts wrong, particularly on the Irish Noble Peace winners Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan who were founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement later named as the Community of Peace People and not Motherland Peace as he incorrectly mentioned. 

 He humiliated them by incorrectly stating that they went to Court over the Prize money so he could humiliate Dr. Yunus more. He could not care less that to humiliate Dr. Yunus, he slandered two Noble Laureates and used untruth to do so. The Minister for Industries who had no reason to poke his nose into the campaign to humiliate Dr. Yunus nevertheless attacked him in vicious language that was both ridiculous and pathetic. He called the Noble Laureate “blood sucker” of the poor.  He left no one wondering from where he picked the words. 

When the Prime Minister had asked the EU to back Dr. Yunus for the WB President’s post some time ago, many were confused whether she was serious. However when her Advisers, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Dr. Gowhar Rizvi backed the Prime Minister’s statement as official, people had thought that the Prime Minister had finally ended her quarrel with Dr. Yunus and was ready to move on. People were beginning to feel relieved that the end of the quarrel would bring rationality to the government’s treatment of the Noble Laureate that was seriously affecting the country’s interests abroad. 

In retrospect, the US Secretary said nothing to anger the Ministers. She asked for a free and fair election; expressed concerns over the disappearances; expressed faith in Dr. Yunus and backed the credibility of the GB. She also criticized the opposition’s programme of hartal and encouraged the mainstream parties to work for democracy and political stability of the country. Her views are those of the overwhelming majority of the people of Bangladesh. 

The EU made all the critical points about our politics at a media conference more pointedly than the US Secretary soon after she had left Dhaka.  In fact at the EU media meeting, the Italian Ambassador’s attacks were in direct contravention of the Vienna Convention that strictly prohibits diplomats from interfering in a host country’s internal affairs.  Yet none of the Ministers came forward to criticize the EU or the Italian Ambassador. Therefore it does not need much common sense to conclude why the Ministers spared the EU and went after Dr. Yunus, GB and the US Secretary. The Prime Minister, indeed, has not changed her mind on Dr. Yunus. HC’s remarks that she held him and GB in “high respect” only angered her more and triggered the tirade of the Ministers. 

Poor Dr. Yunus; he has now become the victim of his own fame. Unfortunately, that fame and the Prize are now jeopardizing our major foreign policy goals because in an effort to humiliate him, the government is ignoring conflicts with powerful countries and world leaders who respect and honour him and the Grameen Bank.  Had he not won the Noble Prize, he would not have angered the Prime Minister; the Ministers would not have gone after him and the GB; the Padma Bride would by now have been well into the construction stage and the visit of the US Secretary of State would have ended as the crowning glory of Bangladesh’s foreign policy initiatives! 

Well known and well respected civil society leaders have trashed those who trashed the Noble Laureate. Their views have resonated deeply in the minds of the majority people in the country. Unfortunately, we are seeing being played out before us an unbelievable drama where a Bangladeshi who has earned the unquestioned respect of the rest of the world is being humiliated by some of our Ministers as unfit and undeserving for what he has earned for Bangladesh. A country whose image abroad is pitiable is witnessing its government trash one who has given the country the only positive image internationally in recent times and has the potentials to give so much more! 

He writer is a former career Ambassador to Japan

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