Friday, February 26, 2010

The Frankish Disease

"Your language is closer to you than your jugular vein."

From where did this piece of wisdom come to this part of the world? It wasn't always there. When the British came, we gladly relinquished our languages and learned English (and still do). Something changed between the time the English arrived and the time they left. They taught us more than 'Jolly good!" and "Old boy": they taught us nationalism.

But not all of us: only the microscopic minority of educated 'monkey-see-monkey-dos' produced by the imperial education system in South Asia.

But nationalism was not all we ingested from the superabundant harvest of western civilisation. There was Marxism, socialism, secularism, democracy….

That these contradictory ideas could lodge in a single head seems extraordinary today, but one must keep in mind the fact that we had been ruled for two hundred years, and rendered incapable of thinking for ourselves.

Take the Middle Eastern expression for nationalism: when it first arrived there, it was known (correctly) as the 'Frankish idea'. The accompanying physical malady that accompanied it was known as the 'Frankish disease'. Now, syphilis has the same effect on the brain as the Frankish and other assorted ideas. Therefore, we were able to accommodate all sorts of opposing ideologies in one diseased brain.

The climax of these intellectual developments, if lunacy can be credited with development, was the 1972 constitution of Bangladesh. Nationalism was part of it; as was nationalisation of all industry in solidarity with the workers of the world (but – heaven forbid – not the nationalisation of land). How Bengali nationalism could appeal to a Czech factory worker was beyond comprehension. The architects of the constitution wished to create a paradise on earth – but for Bengalis only. But 'Bengalis' also designated those living in West Bengal in India. So, Bengali paradise was not for West Bengalis. Yet nationalism reached across the border….In other words, the constitution was a cocktail meant for immediate inebriation.

In fact, one can't blame the pater patriae for kicking over that piece of paper as a colonial-period relic: it was really just that.

A constitution not in keeping with the culture, the 'manners', to use de Tocqueville's expression, of the people must be worth less than the paper it is printed on. Indeed, it is not worth less, but worthless.

Monday, February 22, 2010

thoughts on de Tocqueville on slavery

"The negro, who is plunged in this abyss of evils, scarcely feels his own calamitous situation. Violence made him a slave, and the habit of servitude gives him the thoughts and desires of a slave; he admires his tyrants more than he hates them, and finds his joy and his pride in the servile imitation of those who oppress him: his understanding is degraded to the level of his soul.

"The negro enters upon slavery as soon as he is born: nay, he may have been purchased in the womb, and have begun his slavery before he began his existence. Equally devoid of wants and of enjoyment, and useless to himself, he learns, with his first notions of existence, that he is the property of another, who has an interest in preserving his life, and that the care of it does not devolve upon himself; even the power of thought appears to him a useless gift of Providence, and he quietly enjoys the privileges of his debasement. If he becomes free, independence is often felt by him to be a heavier burden than slavery; for having learned, in the course of his life, to submit to everything except reason, he is too much unacquainted with her dictates to obey them. A thousand new desires beset him, and he is destitute of the knowledge and energy necessary to resist them: these are masters which it is necessary to contend with, and he has learnt only to submit and obey. In short, he sinks to such a depth of wretchedness, that while servitude brutalizes, liberty destroys him."

Thus observed Alexis de Tocqueville during his stay in America. Yet reading the lines, I felt myself inserted into the pathetic tale of mental servitude.

Since infancy, I have been brought up on the notion of the absolute and unqualified superiority of the White Race. This deep impression – like all impressions made upon the childish intellect – remained with me; and I am ashamed to admit, remained with me till my thirtieth year.

I was woken from this dream of inferiority by the study of comparative history. I recoiled with horror at the object of my prolonged infatuation. Was this the beast that I had embraced as a beauty?

Looking around, I found a nation incapable of reason, unable and unwilling to govern itself, incapable of original thought, and without a pulse of authentic emotion. And the more I studied this animal, the more I discovered the rot to lie in the head rather than in the body. In short, I refer to the thinking part of our society – the so-called intellectuals ("Have you heard? Jihadis blew off the head of a Bangladeshi intellectual, and spattered the place with faeces. What a pong! They've sworn never to go for the head again.")

It has been observed that a slave has only one master, but that a man of ambition has many. This is true of our intelligentsia, who fawn before their European masters as well as their domestic ones – for since their careers straddle two realms, the local and the foreign, they needs must keep two sorts of masters happy.

I have never yet met any educated person in this country: experts, yes, but not men or women of education, what the Persians would call 'elm'. This is not surprising: the profound disgust for knowledge that carries no reward comes naturally to those used to calculating their whole lives on the benefits to be derived or the losses to be sustained from certain courses of action. It is always the main chance, the master's blessing for a job 'well done'. That something can be a good-in-itself is beyond the imagination of a servant.

Naturally, from this parochial view of knowledge arises the other vices: the indifference to immorality ('what's in it for me?'), the apathy towards the suffering of others, the lack of indignation at evil done or goodness withheld.

When was the last time that we were shocked by a murder in this country? Imagine: the premature and unnatural death of a human being solicits no interest simply because 'there's nothing in it for me', because the victim was not related to me in any way.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Real Stigma

"Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous."
- Exodus 16:19

They say that the stigma that attached to Bangladesh has been removed with the trial and hanging of the assassins of Sheikh Mujib, supposedly the pater patriae.


The real stigma has been permanently reinforced.

And the real stigma is the fact that you have to be a very powerful person to exact revenge in the guise of justice in Bangladesh. You have to get hold of the entire state power and get the press and the flunkeys of the so-called civil society on your side, undermine the judiciary, and secure the lynching you desire.

And if you are a poor man whose daughter has been raped and murdered by student politicians, then there is no way in this world that you are going to get justice. In the next world, yes, but not in this diabolical den of despair; for here every injunction from the book of Exodus above has been violated: yet seven righteous men refused to hear the case.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Rats and the People

The Daily Star is caught between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, it has to make the right noises about the killers of Sheikh Mujib to please the ruling party and its thugs. Besides, the editor and his cohorts are sympathetic to the Awami League, if not actually Awami Leaguers themselves.

On the other hand, Mahfuz Anam and his wife have to please the European donors as well, and Europe is against the death penalty. The Star dare not say openly that the death penalty should have been commuted to life imprisonment. The office will be raided the next day by armed thugs of the ruling party and by every intellectual in Bangladesh.

This example clearly shows the hypocrisy of our ruling elite: they seek the approval of foreigners, but subscribe to local prejudices. They pretend to be liberal, when they are anything but. They support two tyrannies, the House of Mujib and the House of Zia, all in the name of democracy and the people.
All they want is to advance their careers and make their moolah, and sound a bit like their European masters.

They are like those rats that were given contradictory pleasure-pain stimuli simultaneously: they showed clear neurotic symptoms. Our scatophagous elite receive double stimuli, one from abroad and one from here; only they are not neurotic. They are perfectly sane: totally unscrupulous, but perfectly sane.

However, it has been a pathetic – or perhaps ennobling - spectacle that the execution of the assassins of the beloved 'Father of the Nation", Bangabandhu, has been greeted by not an atom of enthusiasm on the part of the people who are supposed to love him so: all excitement and anticipation have been concentrated in the bloodthirsty, intellectual elite. As Lawrence Ziring pointed out, Bangladesh will never represent Bangladeshis. The former have no affinity with the latter, and no more apodictic display has been in evidence than the apathy of the people to the 'celebrated' and 'long-awaited' executions, celebrated and long-awaited by a bigoted microscopic minority we miscall 'the nation'.

Monday, February 8, 2010

5th Amendment

The Supreme Court has declared the 5th Amendment illegal based on one case, that of Moon Cinema Hall.

Logically, therefore, every law and public contract ever passed or made in that period stands null and void. But this is not the view of the learned judges. According to them, some transactions are illegal, some are legal.

Now, we, the public, frequently, and deservedly, furnish the spectacle of a bunch of asses; however, we are not always asinine. Sometimes, at rare intervals, we recognise incoherence when we see it: as when it is stated that a woman is slightly pregnant or a man partly dead.

Thus the status of the 5th amendment seems to commit the same logical solecism: it is both partly pregnant and slightly dead.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Let me never forget

Evil returns, recurs and rises anew. How could I forget?

Five jihadis have been executed in Bangladesh for their bravery in 1975. I was paralysed by this injustice until I realised that this is how jihadis are meant to die. Islam is clear on the subject of evil: "If you find evil, fight it; if you can't fight it, speak against it; if you can't speak against it, hate it". This is jihad.

We must accept that evil endures, but we must not let it prevail. Evil has returned after 30 years, and, no doubt, it too will cease in the fullness of time. But there will be new evils to conquer, for the soul of men and women is darker than the darkest subterranean grotto.

Throughout the world today, jihadis are being killed, tortured, maimed….But they never relent. Millions of children have died in Iraq, yet their murderers are respected and our NGO people take awards from them and feel honoured to be honoured by them. Thus they sanction evil: but they will not prevail. The baubles of the world are worth less than a child's trinket: yet these are the things men and women seek: the honour of the dishonourable, the esteem of the contemptible, the recognition of the infamous, the adulation of the atrocious.

Evil is our daily companion, our constant adversary. I hope I never forget.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

nine-eleven versus nine-one-o-one

"Health Ministry Statistics say that the incidence of abnormal births has increased 400-fold since 1991. The Iraqis also say that, all told, 1.7m children have died because of the various effects of UN sanctions."
- The Economist, September 14th 2002, p 39

Notice the date: a year after 9/11, the Economist decides to publish a piece of the utmost interest in a casual and disinterested manner. What has been brewing under Bill Clinton, John Major and Tony Blair between 1991 and 2001 appears as though it had been the work of the previous year. Furthermore, the article occupies only three-quarters of the page, whereas the Economist constantly prints surveys of a dozen pages and briefings of three to four pages. Why this extreme economy? The Economist was a rabid supporter of the 'war' against Iraq: its willful neglect of the subject wears the aspect of a fig-leaf. Moreover, by placing the article in an issue before 9/11 in a style suitable to the gravity of the subject, the newspaper would have thrown light on why 9/11 occurred: 2,700 Americans died because nearly 2 million Iraqi children were killed. While we hear constantly about 9/11, we never hear about '91/'01 – nine-eleven versus nine-one-o-one.