Tax-payer money should be spent on public welfare -- first and foremost
A bone of contention when it comes to the current national discourse is the disconnect between the Islamist majority and the secular minority when it comes to the issue of statues.
Now, some might take issue with my framing of the subject as a conflict between the majority and minority, but just one trip to any comment section of a news link regarding this incident would confirm my hypothesis. Now, some might argue that that the group I’ve chosen to draw my conclusions from is not a valid representation of the majority, and that would be a somewhat valid criticism.
But even outside of social media, the majority of the people do side with the Islamist mentality that this anti-statue group possesses, and while this is purely based on empirical observations, if things can be that bad within the capital itself, imagine how bad it can be outside Dhaka.
Now, a popular rhetoric against this is that the country was based on four pillars, and one of those pillars was secularism. If anyone denies this, they are denying the foundation of the birth of the nation itself. Again, this is a very narrow view of the whole affair. While there were issues with Pakistan’s overtly aggressive stance when it came to cultural elements that clashed with Islam that resulted in our liberation, that was only one of the issues, and that was an issue shared mainly by the educated urbanites and national intellectuals.
The majority of the foot soldiers in the war was made of people who came from the villages, and if you think that they were anywhere near secular or pluralistic, then you are sadly mistaken.
Yes, Bengali culture is largely secular, but culture grows and evolves with time, and Bengali culture -- and by default, South East Asian culture as a whole – has changed drastically ever since the turn of the last century. A lot of this was accelerated with the drawing of the Radcliffe line in 47, but that only means that the cultural landscape we are operating in is nowhere near the cultural landscape one would find in the books of old.
So, what do we do then? Do we wave the white flag and prepare for our version of the Irani Revolution? Not quite. While I personally believe that it is too late to do anything this late in the game, that doesn’t mean that anything can’t be done. Islamist groups like Hefazat have followed the flight path of the phoenix in the last eight or so years, and if anyone looks closely at it, they can figure out why this has happened. And once that is done, one would know all they would need to know to stop it.
But that’s the political front. What about taking the path of discourse? Well, that’s easy enough as well, in theory at least. One of the biggest arguments of the rising right is that our country is a democracy, and as the majority abhors statues, that wish should be honoured. While they are right on the surface, their concept of democracy is warped and misleading, and that is something that needs to be addressed. Democracy respects the voice of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority as well. For a proper democratic system to function, a nation needs to supply citizens that are open to the core ideals of democracy themselves. As such, there needs to be reforms in education and public communication, so that the country can produce citizens that are fit for a pluralistic democracy.
Not citizens that are dogmatic in their view, but citizens that know that coexistence means sacrifice, and respect for viewpoints that might be different from one’s own. It also means working together to find a system that is best for all, and that means that citizens have to be critical thinkers, strategists, intellectuals in their own right. This is a tall demand, but without this, I don’t see any way for a pure democracy to work.
But this is all politics and infrastructure. What about administrative action? Well, one of the arguments that the Islamists use has some serious weight to it, and that is that when there are homeless bodies littering the sewers, the building of statues by spending our tax income is unnecessary. And this is something I agree with. Tax money is supposed to be spent on public welfare, and I don’t think structures that only a certain portion of the populace can enjoy is an effective usage of our taxes.
Art is something that you can enjoy with a certain level of economic stability, not with an empty stomach. So yes, art is important, but we seriously need to take care of our people before we spend on infrastructure that is related with self-actualization.
There is another benefit here. In one of my previous articles, I’ve argued how the present neoliberal conditions contribute to the rise of extremism, and this is a view shared by experts in the major related fields here. While taxation itself is not the solution here, better social safety nets that result from the effective utilization of taxation might just be the thing we need to buy us some time. While it is not a final solution, it is something that would give us more time to get there.
The days are dark, and from the looks of it, the future isn’t looking too bright either. We live in unprecedented times, and if we don’t do anything soon, who knows? Maybe the next Persepolis will be authored by someone among us.
Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a freelance writer.