Mahfuz Anam


The PM blames Khaleda, the BNP chief blames Hasina, the killers continue to kill, the victims’ families live in fear, people remain confused and angry, friends of Bangladesh watch in disbelief and the smile of our enemies grow wider. So what more needs to happen to wake us up to the challenges we now face in our ’Sonar Bangla’?


Citizens are killed all over the world. It also appears easy, especially if they are targeted individually. It is also almost impossible to stop such incidents especially if it is carried out by a determined group, driven by misconstrued belief, nurtured by internal misgovernance, and encouraged by a global rise in extremism.


However, nobody is blaming Bangladesh or its government for such occurrences. In fact the whole world is willing to help to find the culprits.


What, however, everybody is criticizing, especially the public at large including the victims’ families is the utter failure of investigations so far and the way the whole process is being vitiated by politicization. In a confusing atmosphere like this, investigators might be misdirected and the whole process might go the wrong way.


Our leaders are quick to cite examples of killings in other parts of the world to prove that it is not uncommon for whatever is happening here. But nowhere in the world do leaders, in power and outside, start pointing fingers from the word “go” and identify the perpetrators — almost invariably belonging to the other side—long before the investigation is complete, sometimes before it even starts. The fact is, except in a few cases, most of the investigations into the recent murders by extremists have seen no headway. The culture of finger pointing is corroding all credibility of our investigative process.


Except for making claims of progress, which in many cases prove to be inaccurate, there is nothing our ministers have done to create a sense of confidence among the people who are totally perplexed and passing their days in considerable anxiety.


As our leaders play the Blame Game, the fundamentals of Bangladesh as a state, Bengali as a culture and Bengalis as a people with a long tradition of multiculturalism and tolerance, are being chipped away by a group out to destroy the country created through our Liberation War.


As a freedom fighter, as a journalist and as a proud citizen of the country, I have never considered that “freethinking” will ever be deemed a “crime” by anybody in independent Bangladesh, however fanatical or extreme his thoughts might be. Yes, we had killing due to communalism, we even had freedom fighters massacred by the Pakistanis in 1971 just for wanting freedom for our homeland. Even then nobody was killed just for “freethinking”.


Our politicians are so blinded by their own narrow worldview that they fail to see the real meaning and the wider implications of these killings. If the ability to “think” distinguishes humans from all others animals, then it is that unique ability that is being destroyed. Anybody with the slightest notion of what our civilisation has been and what it is all about, must know that thought and creativity lies at the root of all achievements big or small. It has been the ability for thoughtful creativity that has been singularly responsible for all human achievements.


The rights to question, to differ, to dissent, to protest, are the foundational RIGHTS that civilisation stands on. The right to question was the key to all new inventions. The right to differ led to the building of new institutions, the right to dissent led to the establishment of individual and collective rights and the right to protest led to the creation of independent nations and states. All these rights became possible only when the right to “think freely” was established as a philosophical concept. All great men of history, including all prophets of all religions, rose above others by “thinking” differently than the rest and led humanity towards greater advancements in every field.


If the ultimate slavery is that of the mind then it is such enslavement that these killers want for us. They are finding us “guilty” of exercising the very quality that makes human existence such a beautiful experience — our capacity to be creative. This is an assault on everything that we have cherished and spent our whole life trying to achieve. And so they must be challenged and destroyed before they are able to destroy us.


The fundamental truth here is that religious doctrines have been horribly distorted to a point where death is prescribed for those who differ from that dogma. The obvious action here is to bring out the true meaning of religion and expose the distortions that are proving to be so lethal. This is the task that now lies before us.


For those of us who support the government, finding no faults within and blaming everything on the “other” and on conspirators both internal and external, may give us some sense of momentary satisfaction but that could very well be a pyrrhic victory at best. The danger is that it distracts us from looking into other causes closer at home and where the real causes for the malaise may lie in wait.


And anybody who might find satisfaction at the obvious discomfiture in which the government now finds itself and blame it for everything that has gone wrong, will make the fatal mistake of considering the present threat to our way of life as trivial and suffer from the false belief that once power comes their way they will be able to fix things and drive extremism back. Things don’t usually happen that way. Extremism, when allowed to grow beyond a point, becomes the many-headed monster that devours everything in its path, including those who might have coddled it once. The bell also tolls for thee.


If there ever was a moment to take a step back and reflect on where we are, what has brought us to this pass, what are the mistakes we made in the past, what wrong turns did we take and what has caused the sudden change of circumstances, that moment is now. The recent killings are not that of individuals but of ideals, of values, and of a way of life that embraces diversity and dissent. It is the way for which millions of martyrs laid down their lives.


Only looking the truth in the eyes will help us overcome this situation. We have to search for that truth together. Otherwise, the blame game will devour us all.


The Daily Star – 4 November 2015

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