A recent conversation:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a service holder.”
“Where are you going?”
“Where’s your hometown?”
“Which part of Faridpur?”
“I don’t know.”
“Arreh, you were born there and you don’t know which part?”
“I wasn’t born there. I was born here. Even my grandfather was born here. No one I know is in Faridpur.”
“Alright, alright, fine, you can go.”
Some people are okay with conversations such as these when they’re returning home at night, in their CNGs or on their bikes or even in their cars, but I am not. I do not like being interrogated, my guilt assumed, as if I am another young man with extremist tendencies, a potential threat, or carrying weed and/or alcohol in my backpack.
I wonder if it’s telling of our times that one of the most touted priorities in the world is that of national security. If the nation is put at risk, then the nation -- or rather, its representatives -- has every right to retaliate by whatever means deemed necessary. If the nation is put at risk, the nation is provided a blank cheque with which to cash in their revenge: Violence, threats, torture, death, war. In no particular order, not comprehensive.
If the threat comes from outside the nation -- that is, the threat is foreign -- then the perpetrator is, if he is unlucky enough to find himself or herself on said nation’s grounds, stripped off the right to exist, in a variety of ways. His or her right to a fair trial, right to defend himself, right to have his or her voice heard, to explain, these cease to exist.
The idea of not being scared of law enforcement agencies is one that is not always feasible. The respect that the police, for example, demand is one that cannot be had unless there is fear somewhat laced within our perceptions of them
This exists because a threat to the nation is a threat almost unsurpassed. Anything in retaliation is justified.
Perhaps that’s true. Let us, for the moment, set aside the risk nationalistic tendencies such as these pose.
Let us ignore how emotional attachment to land and culture can lead to tribalism and racism, dichotomies instead of dualities, “us”-es versus “thems.”
Yes, anything in retaliation is perhaps justified if they inhabit a foreign nationality or race -- but the retaliation we imagine is an extreme one. We imagine perhaps men with Muslim-sounding names being bagged and tied up and taken away in the middle of the night, we imagine them being placed on wooden tables and water-boarded. We imagine an interrogation room in which they are questioned by a bad cop and a worse cop.
But there is a slower, subtler way in which this is done, and it is done to the people who have shown their so-called loyalty to the nation state through their services, through their opinions, and in their expressions of fealty.
This comes in the form of longer queues as you attempt to enter shopping malls, or in the way there are check-posts at every major intersection in the city, or the amount of time it takes to go through the various barriers at the airport and onwards to your flight.
This is represented in the questions we are asked and the gruff tone of the inquirer.
It comes, most alarmingly, in being scared of those who have taken on the responsibility of national security, instead of the other way round.
I admit, the idea of not being scared of law enforcement agencies is one that is not always feasible. The respect that the police, for example, demand is one that cannot be had unless there is fear somewhat laced within our perceptions of them.
It comes because we know that there is a price to be paid, a price that would result in, at the least, discomfort at its minimum, and much, much worse, in more extreme cases. This fear is what allows most societies to function.
But in the best of societies, the ones we hold in such high esteem in the West, people are less reverent of their law enforcement agencies. They speak up, they dare to be arrested. They have been privileged with a passport that allows them certain rights if they have been standing for what they believed in.
Of course, this can lead to certain sections of society with less-than-amicable belief systems to not be exterminated, and it also allows certain others to be so irreverent as to take their well chalked-out existence in their nation for granted -- I will be a nuisance but what are you going to do? I am a citizen, I have rights, and I can sue your behind from here up to Nantucket.
This becomes problematic for the government of such a country. From this position, how does the government snoop on their citizens’ private information, how does it protect nationalist interests, when these very citizens are not fearful enough to let that slide?
If they don’t fear you, find something else they do fear. Be it Jews during WWII or Muslims in the 21st century, if they’re painted in such a way that the citizens feel powerless and vulnerable, they’ll allow it to pass through.
They’ll allow longer queues at the airport, they’ll ignore the fact that their information is being shared, they’ll let those “others,” whoever the enemy of the day may be, to die some narrative-less death in the middle of Sylhet or Syria, as long as they don’t have to see it, and as long as they are safe.
And we, over here, we’re not even one of those societies. We’ve been beaten without rights by the people since our very inception, and we continue to be killed by agencies such as the RAB, gone without a trace.
What do we do, when we’re stopped in the middle of the road, going home in a CNG? Do we dare tell them “I am a citizen and I have rights. I will not be questioned like this”?
Or do we say, “yes, bhaiya, I’m from Faridpur, but don’t you know, not even my grandfather was born there”?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.