Bangladesh’s more acerbic wits often joke that the country does not need satirists as no comedian could ever outdo the daily performances of the country’s government and politicians.
Satire is one arena in which the country’s public sector surpasses anything that the private sector can hope to achieve.
This is no doubt a harsh statement, but the arrest last month of opposition leader Aslam Chowdhury for allegedly conspiring with Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to overthrow the ruling Awami League government does make one wonder.
Chowdhury, the Joint Secretary General of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is now in jail, has been charged with sedition, and is unlikely to be given bail for months, if at all.
Did this really happen or was it just a work of high satire?
The not-so-secret meeting
The allegation is that during a conference in Agra on Indo-Israel relations in March, Chowdhury held secret meetings with Mendi N Safadi – purportedly an Israeli leader whom Bangladesh officials are accusing of being a Mossad agent – where they discussed a coup to overthrow the Awami League government.
For this to be true, the world of international diplomacy, basic spycraft, and common sense in general would have to be turned upside down.
The punch line
First, it would require the Israeli government to actually care about Bangladesh.
No doubt some Israeli politicians can find Bangladesh on a map, but the idea that any part of its government – yet alone its intelligence agency – spends time contemplating Bangladesh is wishful thinking. The Israeli government thinks less about Bangladesh than Bangladesh thinks about Israel – and that is hardly ever. The two countries have no diplomatic ties and Bangladeshi citizens are banned from travelling to Israel.
Second, it would require Israel (assuming it did give some thought to Bangladesh) to prefer to have the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in power over the Awami League.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party is in alliance with the Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami – and together, in their first few years in power (they ruled from 2001 to 2006), they’re believed to have encouraged the growth of the militant Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh outfit. There is no way that Israel, if it ever put its mind to it, would prefer a more Islamic-minded party in power in Bangladesh.
Third, this would also require Israel to act against the interest of its key ally in the region, India.
Bangladesh’s neighboring country is a strong supporter of the current Awami League government, is antagonistic to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and pretty much hates the Jamaat.
When Israel's bilateral relationship with India is more important than ever before, imagining it would seek to overthrow the Awami League government, which has strong ties with India, is taking absurdity to the extreme.
Fourth, it would require Safadi to be a Mossad agent.
Apart from being an Israeli citizen – which is perhaps enough for some to make that assumption – there is no evidence that he has any links with Mossad. He is not really even a politician, or a senior Israeli government official, as Bangladesh media has reported.
He was at one time the aide to a Druze Likud deputy cabinet minister (which is not considered a particularly senior position in Israel) and now runs a think tank called the Mendi N Safadi Center for International Diplomacy and Public Relations. That is all.
Furthermore, we can be pretty certain that if Mossad suddenly became interested in Bangladesh, it would certainly not employ a person so seemingly ill-informed about politics in Bangladesh. In an article published earlier this year Safadi claimed that the policies of the Awami League government are “also those of the Muslim Brotherhood” and that it was involved in the “ethnic cleansing” of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh!
The supposed evidence against Chowdhury that led to his arrest comes from pictures of the two men posted on Facebook by Safadi.
So fifth, this theory would require a kind of espionage where a presumed Mossad agent decides to publish, on social media, pictures of a supposedly secret meeting to hatch a so-called conspiracy.
Are we to believe that having met the opposition leader to plan a supposed illegal overthrow of the Bangladesh government, Safadi then decided to post on a public platform pictures of him meeting that very same leader, thereby providing the Bangladesh government, (which they both apparently wanted to overthrow illegally) with the evidence that this is exactly what they were planning to do?
This does not seem to be the way in which Israel’s intelligence agency would go about a secret conspiracy to overthrow a government
The joke’s on us
Of course none of this happened.
Israel remains uninterested in Bangladesh. It does not want to exchange a secular for a more religious-minded government. It does not seek the overthrow of a government that is close to one of its own key allies. Safadi is not a Mossad agent involved in a secret conspiracy, and if he was, he certainly would not post pictures of himself with his co-conspirator on Facebook.
As a result, we can say with pretty much complete confidence that the claim of sedition is bunkum.
A much more likely explanation of what actually took place has been given by Safadi himself. And it is much more mundane.
Safadi said that the men happened to meet at events in Delhi and Agra to which they were both invited by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing. The two had a few minutes of "small talk". They had never met on any previous occasion and Safadi had never heard of Chowdhury prior to their meeting.
This is not sedition. This is a very typical conference networking moment, which happens thousands of times a day.
For Bangladesh’s authorities to transform what seems to be a chance meeting into a Mossad plot to overthrow the Bangladesh is to disregard all rational thought.
But in the government’s apparent quest to squeeze the opposition out of existence, rational thought is no longer a condition for arrests.
In April, it was another supposed plot – this one to kill the son of the Bangladesh prime minister in the United States – that resulted in the arrests of two pro-opposition journalists.
In the days following Chowhdury’s arrest, the absurdity of the Mossad story reached new heights.
Safadi stated in an interview that he had, earlier this year, met Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena, in Washington. Safadi claimed that Wazed had asked him to provide support to the Bangladesh government, which Safadi refused to give.
Wazed, however, denied such a meeting took place in a Facebook post.
And now, the Bangladesh government has claimed that Israel is behind the recent attacks on secular bloggers, writers and minorities. Several militant groups, including the Al Qaeda and ISIS, have previously claimed responsibility for many of these. "Bangladesh has become the target of an international conspiracy," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said on Monday. "And a foreign intelligence agency has joined the conspiracy."
By way of explanation, he said: "You must have noticed that an Israeli intelligence agent had a meeting with a politician, it does not need to be verified further, all Bangladeshi know about it."
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told the BBC that the suggestion of his country's involvement was "utter drivel".
Satirists, there is no room for you in Bangladesh yet. That is, unless you want to become politicians.