Mr. Shah Abdul Hannan’s Interview with the
Daily Prothom Alo on 13th April 2003.

Mr Shah Abdul Hannan was interviewed by the Prothom Alo, a premier Bengali daily of Bangladesh, on 13 April 2003. This interview is significant for a number reasons, one of them being the aspects of his moderation and optimism. In the interview he appears to be one of the few thinkers who believe that, in the wake of the Iraq War, rather than terrorism and extremist, persuasive rediscovery of our own selves and intellectual regeneration would follow within the Muslim Ummah. Here is a summary of the interview.

Mr Hannan in his interview touches mainly upon four broad issues: question of legality of US action in Iraq; state of the UN in the context of the War; impact of the War on the economy of the vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and predicaments and prospect for the Ummah as a whole.

On the question of legality, Mr Hannan observes that the US, drawing from the grave consequences of resolution no.1441 of the UN, claimed that it possessed the right to attack Iraq. But he notes that legal experts of the world, global popular opinion and 99 per cent of the journalists do not think that there was any logic or legal coverage behind the attack. In this connection he points out that the US did take the same illegal course of action in Afghanistan where for the first time in modern history a de facto government was dethroned and replaced by another one. He remarks that people don’t know whether the Taliban government was bad or good, nor do they know whether Osama bin Laden was bad or good; at least no criminal charge against him was proved and there was no warrant issued against him. But the US muscled in on Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government. The same thing happened with Iraq when the US attacked the country ignoring the central message of the UN resolution no. 1441.

On the question of the governance of post-war Iraq, Mr Hannan says that he does not think that the American Generals have any right to govern Iraq. If there should be any interim government, it is the Arab League which should get the first priority. The Secretary General of the Arab League should be the right person to lead the interim government. If that does not come through, the Secretary General of the OIC should take the lead. Even if that is not possible, the UN Secretary General with his representatives should run the country for three, six or twelve months. During this time, he would consult all political groups and take initiative to create environment for an election. At any rate, the Anglo-American army should be withdrawn immediately and various Arab forces, including Egyptian, Sudanese, Algerian and even Saudi Arabian, should be deployed.

In the context of the War, the death-blow, according to Mr Hannan, was meted out not only to Iraq but also to the UN. He observes that the UN is no more there as a viable institution. He points out that the UN is good only when it approves the wishes and whims of America. Whether by pressure, or by law or by any other influences, the US gets the UN resolutions passed in its favour. Where it fails, it uses veto or dubious words in order to exploit the vagueness. For instance, in the Resolution which was passed after the Arab-Israel war of 1967 by the pressure of the US, it was stated that Israel needed to be within a ‘safe and secured border’. Since it cannot be said definitely what does this ‘safe and secured border’ means, no political solution to the Israel-Palestine problem could follow. Mr Hannan therefore suggests that a new alternative UN should be established. This can be done by the members of the NAM. The new UN should be free from veto power and there should be votes from four-fifth of the members in order to reach an important decision.

On the prospects of political and economic vulnerability of the poorer and weaker countries, for instance Bangladesh, in an age when US spectre looms large, Mr Shah Abdul Hannan categorically notes that the small states have to be self-dependent and self-sufficient by coming out of the trap of foreign aid. According to him, the shackles of foreign aid denote shackles of slavery which has been in place through the Britton Woods institutions for the last fifty years. Replying to the observation that such process of reorganization of the economy of the weaker states was not easy, Mr Hannan says that Bangladesh’s dependence on foreign aid is only ten per cent. If we want we can come out of the net of foreign aid in next ten years time. It’s a matter of decision on our part. For that, our civil servants, political leadership and military personnel have to be sacrificing-minded. We have to forget about the chances of our getting foreign consultancy, foreign training and foreign currency and foreign scholarship for our children. Referring to question whether weaker countries even after being economically self-sufficient could thwart the military and political threat from the powerful states, Mr Hannan says that along with attempt at economic well being, a nation has to go through scientific and technological development. Military development should also be encouraged since the UN can no more extend shelter against aggression of the mighty. On the question of development aid, Mr Hannan points out that of 8-billion dollar budget of Bangladesh, 1 billion or 15 per cent comes from outside. We could get at least 10 per cent of the amount from Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France and Korea.

Mr Shah Abdul Hannan concludes his interview by expressing enormous optimism about political and intellectual development within the Ummah. He thinks that whether they say openly or not, the statesmen of the Muslim world have realized by heart and soul that they can no longer depend on the US. An atmosphere for the unity of the Muslim world has been created within our deeper conscience. This unity in mind would reflect in the material world, Mr Hannan believes. He doubts the soundness of the popular prediction that hundreds of Osama Bin Laden would emerge in the wake of the War in Iraq. He instead hopes that the people of the Muslim world are becoming more and more realistic. They want Islam, not extremism, which has proved harmful to Islam. What follows therefore is that there will be a rise of Islamic consciousness which will lead them to try to come out of the influence of the US. This consciousness would be reflected in the field of politics, economy, and intellectual exercises. The tendency to think that the US is our friend and it will take care of us would fade away. Mr Shah Abdul Hannan thinks that this realization is a positive turn and this could be the biggest achievement in the context of the contemporary situation.