Frantz Fanon (1925 – 1961) was a Martinique-born French-Algerian psychiatrist, intellectual and revolutionary writer who is a big name among the students of humanities and social sciences. Two of his foundational books are: Black Skin, White Masks (published in 1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (published in 1961).
In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon states and shows that the exploited and persecuted colonized people are desperate to imitate and adore their colonial masters. When I was reading this work few years ago, two particular sentences at the outset of the book struck me very much. It made me think deeper about common human tendency, especially about the propensity of the oppressed to mimic the oppressor.
The sentences read: “There are too many idiots in this world. And having said that, I have the burden of proving it.” Thus Fanon tells the reader the reason why he wrote this specific book. In other words, he wrote this book to prove that not many people in our planet are smart and that among the colonized those who follow their colonial oppressors are simply idiots. Fanon’s words are completely relevant to today’s Bangladesh that has entered a new, smooth colonial phase for the past few years. Our country has completely been colonized by a neighboring country.
Externally, our foreign policy is now dictated by that hostile country; and, internally, important government positions are distributed according to its diktat. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in command of only the pen and paper, while the content of all important appointment letters is determined by our big neighbor. To put it simply, our Prime Minister’s office provides the letter-head, the high commission of that country dictates the content of all important appointment letters and Sheikh Hasina eventually signs. If this is not colonialism, what else is?
On the basis of this observation and in the light of Fanon’s statement, I want to dissect the recent Shahbagh rally that made a maddening outcry to have Jamaat leaders executed. The licensed foolery and wholesale foolhardiness that a section of Dhaka’s youths have shown in the Shahbagh square rally sadly reminds me of Fanon’s observation on human follies. By making all these outcries at Shahbagh, are these youths not serving the interests of Bangladesh’s current colonial masters in the neighboring country? Do those youths know who are perhaps behind this rally? What vested interests are involved in orchestrating this demonstration?
What is the track record of the people who have organized it? Have they checked the patriotic credentials of those who have spoken in front of them in the rally? Do those misinformed youths know where do those speakers spend most of their drunken nights? Which foreign mission provides their weekly wine intake? Do they know that our common enemies want us to be bogged down with the past? Do they realize that vested interests want us to wrangle about the past and leave our present and future to them to determine? Do they understand that vested interests want to distract us from more pressing issues that have been plaguing our country and crippling our political culture and economy?
Do they realize that there has been a carefully-constructed plot by the intelligence agents of a neighboring country to cause a deep wedge among the people of Bangladesh? Have our youths forgotten how all colonial masters have used their divide and rule tactics to realize their colonial goals? How can these youths remain oblivious of the fact that a syndicate comprising people close to the Awami League government stole billions of takas and allegedly siphoned off that money to their bank accounts overseas?
Why did these youths not make any outcry when Awami League bigwigs used the Hallmark group to steal our money amounting to billions and billions? Why are these youths silent when the Awami League party forces and government agents kidnap and secretly kill opposition people? Why have these youths lost the courage to protest Chhatra League hooliganism around the country? Why do they remain silent when Chhatra League miscreants continuously force ordinary students at colleges and universities to attend political rallies and torture those who refuse to comply? Why do these youths not take to the street when Chhatra League sexomaniacs harass their sisters and are repeatedly involved in rape sprees around the country? Have they not seen how a particular country has been treating us in the border region? What makes these youths remain silent when the Indian BSF personnel kill poor Bangladeshis in the border region? Have they not seen the dance of death in the border region and how our compatriots are led off to their graves by a personification of death, that is, BSF? Have they not noticed how the BSF thugs have set up death camps in the border region? Have they not heard the cries for help of Felani and hundred others who have been butchered by the BSF? There can be hundreds of such questions which will only baffle and bewilder these youths and will point to their foolery and foolhardiness. After putting these down-to-earth sample questions, I want to submit humbly the following facts for those misguided youths of Shahbagh rally to consider.
1. Because of the Padma Bridge corruption scandal, the entire world now knows that Bangladesh government is nothing but a gang of thieves. People more powerful than Abul Hossain used him to pocket a large portion of World Bank money for the proposed Padma Bridge. That is the reason why the government protected Abul at the expense of the bridge only to hide the involvement of bigger people in the Padma corruption. Through the World Bank, the international community has now full knowledge of the degree of corruption in Bangladesh government. Why are these youths not shouting to have all government ministers involved in Padma corruption punished? Have these youths not lost their sense of right and wrong?
2. An amount of more than 7 million Bangladeshi takas was heading towards Suranjit Sengupta’s residence in Dhaka on the night of 9 April 2012. The money was the Minister’s share of a larger amount of bribe collected from the prospective job applicants of the railway department. After making a number of self-contradictory statements, Suranjit Sengupta finally gave in to the media reports and gave up defending his character. Despite all evidences of his corruption, Sheikh Hasina has kept him in her cabinet, as it is believed that she did not take the risk of inciting one possible whistleblower to expose her corruption records. Why are these Shahbagh youths silent about such massive corruption in the government? Is this silence about corruption and the stealth of public money a spirit of the 1971 liberation war?
3. These young men and women want the death sentence for a number of Jamaat leaders, especially Abdul Quader Molla. Let us look into this matter and see the degree of folly of these youths. The judges who passed the verdict of the life sentence for Molla were not appointed by Jamaat. The prosecution failed to provide any credible evidence to prove that Molla was involved in any sort of crimes against humanity in the 1971 war. While the defence team wanted complete acquittal of Molla, the judges gave him life sentence because of pressure from upstairs, as evidenced by the Skype revelations. How much do these youths know about Abdul Quader Molla? Do they know that in 1974-75 Awami League was in power in Bangladesh, and at that time Molla used to teach at the Udayan School of Dhaka University? Then he taught at Rifles Public School and College in 1977. Now the logical question is: If Molla were involved in war crimes in 1971, would the Awami League government or the people of Dhaka allow him to teach at Udayan or Rifles only few years after the liberation war when the public memory was full of all those horrendous experiences of 1971? How long will our youths follow the wrong leaders who only want to exploit them?
4. Many countries in the world have their momentous events like Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war. In such difficult times, a country can be divided along political lines. When such periods are over, all countries in history have buried their past and started re-building their land unitedly. Ordinary people may remember the murky past, but the leaders cannot afford to do that as they are supposed to unite their country and consider the entire population on the same scale, without taking into account each group’s partisan perceptions. But in our country, we see a totally different trend. Whose interests do Awami League leaders serve by dividing the nation on the basis of the differences of 1971? Political differences are fine; but have these youths realized how their hearts have been poisoned with the hatred of their compatriots?
5. These Shahbagh youths want the death sentence for Jamaat leaders because there has been media hype to associate Jamaat leaders with the war crimes of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. Firstly, war crimes are committed by military personnel and all these accused Jamaat leaders are civilians now as they were then. The Awami League government appointed its chosen judges to handle the accusations of war crimes against its arch-enemy Jamaat. The prosecution could not prove beyond doubt the war crimes accusation against Jamaat Abdul Quaden Molla. The defense team strongly believes that Molla should have been acquitted, as all accusations against him are fabricated or at best based on hearsay. It is believed that the judges were in a tricky situation and had to strike a compromise and awarded Molla the life sentence instead of acquittal or the death sentence. Now this gathering at Shahbagh wants the death sentence for Molla. How logical is their demand?
6. Jamaat in 1971 took a political stance of supporting a united Pakistan, which was simply a foolish political view and but had nothing to do with the war crimes committed by the Pakistani army forces. Unfortunately, the Awami and leftist intellectuals, politicians and their media machines have wrongly been associating Jamaat with all the atrocities of the Pakistani army. By doing so they are showing total disrespect to the generosity and farsightedness of the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Through an investigation he had identified 195 war criminals in 1973 and all of them were Pakistani military officers. Then he introduced the International Crimes (tribunal) Act 1973. The very name of the tribunal suggests that the war criminals were not Bangladeshi. Otherwise, the word ‘international’ would not have been used. However, after diplomatic exchanges between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the Sheikh Mujib government decided to follow a “Forgive and Forget” policy. His prudent policy of “Forgive and Forget” was applied to the native Bangladeshis also who supported a united Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted to settle this issue once and for all, as he was focused on building and uniting the country. Now, those who are shouting a war cry of punishing a section of political leaders are going against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s policy of ‘forgive and forget’. Sheikh Mujib said: “Let the world know how Bengalis can forgive.” Unfortunately, his daughter Sheikh Hasina is now showing the world how undemocratic, vindictive and murderous she is! Current Awami League ministers’ meanness complicates their love and respect for the father of the nation, as Sheikh Hasina’s hostile attitude towards Jamaat very much questions her loyalty to her father’s political view.
7. The Awami League party had been in power in 1996-2001. At that time, the Awami League regime did not raise the issue of 1971 war crimes. Again it came to power in early 2009. Between these two tenures, BNP and Jamaat formed an alliance and ruled the country from 2001 to 2006. The Awami League considers the BNP-Jamaat pact the main hurdle for it to come to power again. Now it is using the settled issue of the 1971 atrocities for political gain. It is believed that, while victimizing Jamaat leaders Awami League government is also persuading them to stay alone and to leave the alliance with BNP. Since Jamaat has been honest in their commitment to the 18-party alliance, the government has been persecuting its leaders and affiliates in the street and in prisons. Do these Shahbag youths understand this political game?
8. Since Bangladesh was born, Jamaat people have wholeheartedly accepted it and shown complete loyalty to the country. There is not a single instance to suggest that Jamaat people have ever desired to re-join Pakistan or to discredit the liberation that Bangladeshi people proudly achieved in 1971. Any independent survey would suggest otherwise and indicate that Jamaat-Shibir affiliates are the most law-abiding group in the country. Corruption rate among them is next to zero. Two of its senior leaders were in the government in 2001-2006, and not a single case of corruption was found in the administering of their ministerial duties. If such a group of honest and sincere people can be stifled and marginalized in Bangladesh, it will benefit our international enemies who want to see our country in a perpetual corruption so that they can fish in the muddy waters of Bangladesh politics. Have these misguided youths thought about this?
9. Some media outlets have regarded the Shahbagh rally as imbued by the spirit of 1971. My understanding is that the 1971 war was inspired by people’s sense of justice and fair play. We rose up against the injustices of West Pakistan. If the Shahbagh youths were really inspired by the 1971 spirit, they would have taken to the street upon the kidnap of Maulana’s Delwar Hossain Sayeedi’s defence witness by government forces and upon the recent leakage of Skype conversations between the former Chief Judge of ICT-1 and a Brussels-based expatriate Bangladeshi. The Skype conversations unequivocally reveal the fact that the Tribunal and government of Sheikh Hasina have regularly maintained communication and that the latter wanted the former to convict detained Jamaat leaders and to pass verdicts by stipulated times.
10. Around the Shahbagh area of Dhaka, there are three mosques: Katabon mosque, PG Hospital mosque and Dhaka University mosque. On Friday 8 Feb 2013, these youths remained at the square and didn’t stop their loud singing and dancing during mid-day Jum’ah prayer. This tells us who these youths are. Once I was listening to a BBC documentary that retrospectively commented on the Orange Revolution of Ukraine. The BBC did not omit the fact that two intelligence agencies of two big powers were behind the orchestration of the Orange Revolution. Right-minded and discerning people in Bangladesh also know which foreign intelligence agency is behind the Shahbagh rally. To refer to Fanon again, this Shahbagh rally is a rally of the idiots of Bangladesh.
The participants of Shahbagh rally do not represent the decent and sensible young generation of Bangladesh at all. They are an insensible lot of misguided youths who are not serving Bangladesh’s interests. The sooner they come to sanity the better for them and for the country. It is completely wrong to associate the Shahbagh rally with the spirit of the 1971 war. If demanding the death sentence against people who did not commit crimes against humanity is the spirit of the 1971 war, if keeping silent about the widespread corruption, misrule and undemocratic practices of the current Awami League government is the spirit of our liberation war, if keeping quiet about the border killings by the BSF is the spirit of the 1971 war, and if disrespecting the Jum’ah prayer by singing and dancing using loudspeakers is the spirit of the 1971 war, then we must say that the 1971 war constituted the greatest catastrophe of Bangladesh.
Conversely, if the 1971 war was against oppression and injustices, associating the Shahbagh youths with the spirit of the 1971 war would be an unforgiveable crime. Awami League and few other political parties have already tainted the image of our liberation war. Now is the time to repair and not to cause further damage to the true spirit of 1971.