The British MP’s understanding of Bangladesh’s history calls for serious scrutiny
Back in 2015, in the run-up to Britain’s general election, Rupa Huq, the Bangladeshi-origin Labourite seeking the party nomination for the election, confronted Boris Johnson as he campaigned for his party nominee Angie Bray in Ealing Central and Acton constituency in London.
It was an ambush by Huq, a scene that did not go down well with people who watched it on television. She was pushy. She shouted her questions at Johnson. She had to be restrained by one of the men in Johnson’s security detail.
Rupa Huq, as the Labour candidate, won the election. She was re-elected at the last election and is, therefore, a vocal MP in the House of Commons today -- one of four with ancestral roots in Bangladesh.
Of late, though, Rupa Huq appears to have turned rather abrasive, especially in relation to Bangladesh. At a recent seminar organized by the Labour Campaign for Human Rights in London, she expressed her clear distress at conditions in Bangladesh, which of course she had a right to.
But had she stopped at a point, perhaps at the human rights question or even at her perception of politics as she perceives it in the country of her ancestors, she would have done a wise thing. There are a whole lot of areas where Bangladesh has fallen behind, agreed -- gaps that need to be filled to public satisfaction.
Ironically, at this point, it is Huq’s understanding of Bangladesh’s history which calls for serious scrutiny. The gaps in her comprehension of our history require serious handling.
Her entire address at that human rights meeting on February 4, simply dwindled into a diatribe on her part. Observe: “They have renamed the airport, all these sinister things like they are erasing out their previous history.”
That was Rupa Huq, with her less-than-polite language and her patently flawed understanding of history. One wonders if she has had the opportunity or the inclination to study Bangladesh’s history.
One wonders if she is aware that the “erasing out” of history in Bangladesh was a chapter that covered the 21 years between the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his family, and the four leaders of the Mujibnagar government in August 1975, and the rise of Sheikh Hasina in June 1996.
One wonders if this British lawmaker has the slightest comprehension of the periods of the military and quasi-military rule that sought to erase out Bangladesh’s previous and proper history.
One expects politicians, be they in Bangladesh or abroad but especially abroad, to be well-informed about the world, indeed about the countries they mean to dwell on. Rupa Huq has not met that standard.
Her reference to Bangladesh as a rogue state not only flies in the face of reality, but is a shining example of the abysmal ignorance that political personalities in the West often demonstrate about the world beyond their frontiers.
Huq should have gone for a study of the contemporary history of the globe in order to arrive at a proper definition of a rogue state.
Someone ought to have informed her that there is no tribal warfare in Bangladesh, that people are not dying on the streets in the crossfire between rival gangs, that the economy is progressing remarkably well, that Bengalis are educated, sophisticated, cultured people with a powerful sense of their heritage and destiny, that they lose themselves in music and prayers every livelong day.
Politicians who do not do their homework before passing judgment on people and societies commit grievous, unpardonable wrongs. Worse, it is their judgment which comes into question.
Rupa Huq -- one does not quite know what class of people has been briefing her on conditions in Bangladesh -- does not think ours is a normal country. Now, that is a statement darkly steeped in the abnormal. Should one dignify it with a response? Perhaps not, but observe the grotesqueness of Huq’s approach to Bangladesh.
She gives no hint of any knowledge of Bangladesh’s legacy; she is not sure of the constitutional background of the state that emerged after a strenuous guerrilla war in 1971. Here she is, again: “I think it had secularism and even the word socialism in there.”
She thinks. She is not sure.
She does not know the fundamentals of Bangladesh’s constitution as it was formulated and adopted within a year of the liberation of the country. And she is part of the foremost legislative body in the history of the world.
She obviously either has scanty or no knowledge of Bangladesh’s founding father or is determined to undermine his place in history. Not that it matters when she explodes in angry denunciation: “This father of the nation thing slightly freaked me out.”
There are hardly any political men and women who have freaked out at thoughts of political realities in other nations. Rupa Huq, with her Bangladeshi background, ought to have known who Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is. A little consultation within her family could perhaps have removed the mist for her.
An analyst or scholar or politician is not one whose political opinions are or should be underpinned by ignorance. In Huq’s case, her own party ought to inform her of the place of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in history.
Someone ought to enlighten her on the abiding respect in which such political giants in her party as Harold Wilson and Peter Shore held Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She could be advised to re-read history, to arrive at the knowledge that Edward Heath welcomed Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation at 10 Downing Street on January 8, 1972. Heath did not freak out. Neither did Wilson and Shore.
Pathological hate for the government of Sheikh Hasina defines Rupa Huq’s prejudiced view of Bangladesh.
One can understand a foreign politician coming down hard on Bangladesh’s leadership over certain issues, but one knows too that when a politician’s angry denunciations of a foreign government or society verge on the abnormal or hateful or plain ignorance, it is sheer bad politics she/he indulges in.
Rupa Huq tells us: “I don’t accept your narrative of events that this man is the Father of the Nation.”
Does it matter? Does the mountain care? And where have we heard this before? Where do we hear it today? Ah, yes! The “Bangladeshi nationalists” have held on to this tattered, spurious version of Bangladesh’s history.
Rupa Huq has spoken their language and cheered them to no end. She has endorsed their flawed notions of Bangladesh’s historical tradition. She has successfully informed us that they are notions she identifies with. A pity.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.