It has been nine years since I stopped watching TV daily news. I always find it unsettling, especially the talk shows. For me it seems more logical to follow the news online and check people’s reaction on social media.
I can’t handle TV for more than 10 minutes, even in times of national or international "crises." I avoided TV as much as I could on May 5 of this year. I never had much faith in Secular media to say the least. At 10pm, I had to turn it on as I was talking to my mother who lives in Bijoynagar, and could hear gunshots and slogans in the background. What I saw on TV was mayhem.
As I expected, journalists were fully geared to cover the action. They were telecasting the skirmish live in the middle of gunshots and the huge fire at Paltan. This restored my faith in the media once again.
I was not at all surprised to witness our media contributing to "war porn." But it was disappointing after a while, when all the TV channels stopped telecasting live news and filled the time with reruns. I knew then, that it would be managed by the state, like always. My cold meds were at work and I had to return to bed, assuring my beloved Facebook enthusiasts that it would be a "perfect day" tomorrow.
Wonderful rainy morning it was! Traffic seemed perfectly manageable at 10am when I was going to my office. Thankfully, there was rain all night, washing away the blood and ashes. That morning we had returned to an aesthetically pleasant Dhaka city without a trace of white panjabi clad Hefazatis.
Our eager middle class audience could breathe a sigh of relief after cheering for the government the whole night on Facebook, for a successful crack down on Hefazatis.
They were probably nodding their heads thinking – Islamists won’t be able to turn this country into another Afghanistan/Pakistan because of the secular majority. And probably by now, they have resorted to buying the latest Paki designer brand "Sana Safina’s/Zibaish," lawns.
This is exactly what the State wanted from her citizens – faceless, indifferent individuals. My orthodox secular father assured me last night; things will be fine by the morning as the government has stepped into the scene and managed to clear up Paltan, chasing "them" to Motijheel.
When I asked him: “Are you assured that things will be fine in the long run?” he changed the topic and asked about my son who was suffering from a bad cold. With utter frustration I could feel that he doesn’t see any hope at the age of 72, but was not ready to give in either. I hope he at least acknowledges that he is as culpable of creating such antagonistic forces, as we all are.
I have been quoting Talal Asad, who asked a pertinent question as to whether "secular provocation — fighting words — lead to violent conflict?" in my article "Post Card from Shahbagh." I am still bogged down by the same question. And my answer was and is – it does. The so-called astik (believer)-nastic (atheist) divide was necessary to tame Shahbagh's “Gonojagoron Moncho." One can blame Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of Amar Desh for such a construction but he wouldn’t be the only beneficiary. Hefazat-e-Islami was single-handedly manufactured to counter Shahbagh. To counter Hefazat, we witness Ahle Sunnah emerge with its grandeur. Whose purpose do these birthing processes serve? That should be our question.
Why is it necessary for the secular ruling party and opposition to pander to Islamist forces in the time of their own crisis? Who is stepping on whose shoulder to achieve his/her political goal? Isn’t it only natural that in being a believer, one will lose the moral ground before the battle even starts with Hefazat – especially when one needs a saving grace from Islamists governing the state?
People, who are suffering from fear of being marked as "Taliban," please remember you are advancing the script of the "war on terror" callously with your beloved secular virtues, by pushing Islamic forces to the fringe. When Ramu was burning, all we saw were Islamic forces, not the puppet master/mistress who provoked the incident. Are we that naïve to believe that the Fatikchhari massacre couldn’t have been managed locally? Do we really think the government had to deploy the army at Bagura to control the masses?
I firmly believe that if the ruling party and the opposition had a strong hold in local politics (not because of their patron-client relationship with the grass root worker), these issues could be resolved politically at the local level. State didn’t have to intervene in any of these. State forces were called upon to legitimise their political weaknesses, as has been done time and again.
Before pointing fingers at Islamists, one must take stock of one’s own culpability. One cannot just indiscriminately go on saying, "these are the illiterate madrasa students who are following their leaders mindlessly." Or say: ‘They can go and plunder and spend their days blocking roads just because they don’t have any better things to do." Or for that matter "they don’t have to worry about money as they are patronised by Saudi oil money."
Before accusing the madrasas and yatimkhanas, please look at yourself. While this rhetoric may hold some truth, it is the government who gives the permission for the establishment of such institutions. It is us who build mosques and madrasas in villages in the name of benevolence. We want to be benevolent; we want to help the orphans and poor villagers. Our charity makes us saviours of the poor, provides us the distinction of affluent/middle class keeping "them" away in villages or slums.
That is exactly what state wants you to do – manage the poor on its behalf. Keep the class distinction alive; keep the antagonistic forces alive, while it flirts with your uncritical mediocre secular values and allegiance to nation.
It is the state that plants homeless plain land Muslims in the middle of Jummas in the Hill tracts, by providing rations. It is the state that puts army camps in the hills. It is the state that needs to host insurgents of other countries to keep the geopolitical condition under control. It is the state that needs the holy trinity of nation-nationality-nationalism and a common enemy, “Islam” in this case, to have our allegiance. Our uncritical Islamophobia is necessary for the state to function. As I said earlier, Islamic politics is our geopolitical reality.
But having said that, I need to reassert that our neighbours cannot afford to have an unstable nation-state next to them, that too disfigured by "fundamentalist" (read Islamic) forces. However, one can’t escape the state even if it becomes the most oppressive institution. So, as a citizen, one needs to keep questioning the forces that be. Or else we will succumb to fascist forces, whether we appreciate that or not. We will end up counting corpses, as is our hobby, be it BNP’s, AL’s, Shahbaghi’s, Hefazati’s, or garment workers’.
Seuty Sabur is Assistant Professor of Department of Economics andSocial Sciences at BRAC University. An abbreviated version of thisessay was first published at alalodulal.org.