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In a league of their own

  • Published at 05:10 pm October 12th, 2019
You don’t always need to conform
You don’t always need to conform BIGSTOCK

The problem in our campuses runs much deeper than a few bad apples

The German prophet Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “Madness is something rare in individuals -- but in groups, parties, people, and ages it is the rule.”

There is no point anymore, given all that we have seen and all that we know, to pretend that a few bad apples are giving a bad name to the otherwise noble practice of what is known as student politics. In particular, there is no point in pretending that Chhatra League is something that is essentially a force for good which has been ruined in recent times by intruders.

To put it plainly, BCL has been doing terrible things, not just on university campuses but all over town, for quite some time, and the culprit that needs to be dealt with is the groupthink which exists in the organization -- the kind of groupthink that moulds young people into violent killers. 

You can take action against one, two, or 12 supposed bad apples, but in the long run it won’t make a difference, because you will be neglecting the source of this violent culture.

Young people in sane, supportive, nurturing environments do not behave like this. A university-going young man with his future ahead of him doesn’t just wake up one morning and think it’s a great day for some bloodshed.

But put him in the company of a dozen other men who see violence as routine, as acceptable, in fact, as a requirement for belonging to the group, and any impressionable fellow on the fence about it all is likely to turn. Such is the awesome, irresistible power of groupthink. It’s human nature: People, especially vulnerable and mentally stunted young people, want nothing more than to just belong. 

Sometimes, belonging to a group can elevate us, it can lift us up. In study groups, people push each other to do better, working out in a gym with partners can encourage us to do more reps than we did yesterday, and seeing others march for a good cause can give us the fuel to take action on all kinds of things, from toppling dictatorial governments, to forwarding civil rights, to bringing awareness to climate change.

But belong to the wrong group, the wrong company, and you’re doomed. BCL is the wrong company, and anyone who still tries to shift the focus away from them is part of the problem.

The cure for getting out of the bad kind of groupthink is a good sound education in a healthy environment, which, ironically, has become nearly impossible in Bangladesh, because campuses are lorded over by petty thugs.

Their activities are euphemistically labelled as student politics, but student politics exists in many developed countries of the world, and they bear no resemblance to this grotesque farce we see here in Bangladesh.

Civic engagement on the part of students is good, but it begins with taking little steps to improving your own surroundings, your own institution, or empowering those around you. Student politics should be about representing student voices, organizing activities around campus, or taking a stand against violence and sexual harassment.

Asking BCL to take a stand against violence, of course, is like asking the queen of England to protest the monarchy. So the whole idea of student politics in Bangladesh is fundamentally broken -- the force that is supposed to fix things or make progress is the main problem, and most commentators are too afraid to take an uncompromising stance, making lame apologies instead.

Psychologists have confirmed, with study after study, that human beings are capable of horrible, extreme things when their actions are validated by a group or a higher authority. From Pakistani soldiers who tortured and killed our people with no remorse, to ordinary German citizens caught up in a frenzy of hate towards a whole race, to throngs of Chinese students during Mao’s Cultural Revolution who joined the Red Guard and inflicted violence and humiliation upon their once-respected elders, the power of the group to multiply the force of evil, and stoke it in individual hearts, is obvious to anyone who studies history.

The madness we are witnessing right now will only escalate if we bury our heads in the sand, until dead bodies on campus start to feel as normal as final exams and bad cafeteria food. 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.

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