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DHAKA TRIBUNE

Op-Ed

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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Why do we write? n Nahita Nishmin

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ave you ever faced the predicament of not being able to write? I frequently do. It is often the case that there is too much on my mind, and I do not know what to choose to write about. But it is also as often the case that too many people have written about everything I think of and there is nothing new to add. For instance, is there anything left to be said about the current political situation in the country? The pro and anti-government, pro and anti-Islamists, pro and anti-liberation voices have all had their say and so have the middle ground supporters - the people who are desperately trying to point out that it is not “us versus them,” it is all “us” and a product of the society that we have created, and so we must take responsibility for our actions. There is not much to be said about the media either. Like almost any entity in this country, it is also divided. One has to take a stance because, apparently, not being “for” or “against” is bad for the nation. Not taking a side means that you are neutral or a “chagu,” and your participation in any movement is restricted to watching the television from the comfort of your couch. And hence, we are stuck with reports-from “non-chagus” that vary from 20 deaths to 2,500 at Shapla Chottor. All this brings me back to the same question - why write on “topical” issues when they are no longer topical? Obviously there are many who have their articles printed in an extremely timely manner, for instance the week following a disaster (I wonder how they write so fast and, more importantly, what kind of linkages they must establish with newspapers that result in such timeliness). These writers contribute by bringing in a fresh topic for everyone. Many may be thinking the same thing, but only a few get to present to the world owing to their impeccable timing. Fiction writers are a whole different equation. They entertain by creating sceneries from the figment of their imagination. The constraints of reality do not matter in their works. Hence, timing is not so much of an issue for

It can be extremely difficult to truly have a ‘unique’ perspective them. For those of us who write on national issues, we are restricted by the limited number of subjects that are considered pertinent for each day. Do people write to vent out and not in the hope that it will create a stir? Repetition, after all, does not create a stir - or maybe it does, as it did in me but not really of the nature intended by the authors. It does not promote a new way of thinking and create followers. On the other hand, perhaps it does emphasise the importance of a topic by bringing it into the reader’s consciousness as often as breakfast. But should an article not seem interesting and novel, why would anyone read it? And it follows that if no one reads a piece, it does not serve its purpose of being in any consciousness; it may as well be non-existent.

So then people either write because they just want to unburden themselves or because the name on the newspapers serves as a confidence booster and/or bragging rights. I write because I like to compete with my partner (He-who-must-notbe-named-II). He writes a piece, and I aim to write a better one. How better, you should ask. That now is a tricky question. Sometimes it suffices if it is just plain funnier. But I covet “fame and glory” too so it is also a matter of how popular and well-liked my piece is as opposed to his. I am sure that there are many others like me - people who just want a little bit of “oh-my-god-three-ofmy-colleagues-talked-about-my-writing-today” or the individuals who are genuinely gifted writers and earn real acclaim. Perhaps there are some like me who resort to writing as a means to compete as well. He-who-must-not-be-named-II writes because he likes people reading it and thinking of it as substantial material (just a variation of the fame and popularity model). But he also writes to sort out all the different ideas in his head and give it some form on paper. It is his way of making his grand designs, setting them on stone (albeit fragile), and putting them out into the weird world to earn some respect. The point of all my rambling, though, is that there is so much of the same perfume everywhere that the nose does not revel in it any longer. Has writing for a newspaper become primarily a means to be in people’s consciousness - temporary or otherwise? Let us assume for a moment that that is indeed true. Is there something wrong with that? After all, people shoot and kill, make strange comments to give reasons for a building collapsing, call strikes and keep a country at a standstill in order to be in the public eye. Writing seems an extraordinary act of restraint in comparison. For the reader, however, novelty in the newspaper is great. Instead of seeing scores of articles on the Savar tragedy and who to blame, we can read about the evolution of the blogger community in Bangladesh or perhaps the impact of the foreign minister on the perception of the outside world regarding Bangladesh (if any). We can also delve on the often-astute forecasts of our metereological department or the magnificent career of one of our own - Begum Matia Chowdhury. But maybe those have already been written and talked about. Maybe the demand for topics that seem outdated to some of us persist because the titles are in fact new to a sizeable population who do not read opinion columns every day of every paper. After all, it can be extremely difficult to truly have a “unique” perspective. A Google search two minutes ago confirmed my fear. If anyone wants to read a much better version of my article, s/he only needs to type “why I write” and a most magnificent read by none other than George Orwell will appear right before your eyes. Enjoy, while I go drown in my sorrow of not adding anything exciting to the world. l Nahita Nishmin is a freelance contributor.

Hefazat’s May 5 rally resulted in serious casualties when police stormed their gathering at Motijheel 

Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Collateral lessons

Is vandalism and a non-democratic intervention the only political language left? arresting their general secretary, the so high to start with. Similarly, while doesn’t have the strength or the will n Nazim Farhan Choudhury stick. Hefazat’s movement is broken Hefazat’s April shomabesh saw fairly power to mount a sustained cam-

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ince when is “only” 22 dead a good thing? Somewhere along the way, life, it seems, has become disposable. The warmongers even have a politically correct word for it: “collateral damage.” We spent a lot of energy, the last few weeks, talking about these numbers – 0, 4, 22, 40, 1,000s! When did we forget that these numbers also represent many hearts, smiles, feelings, and relations? Did we need these collaterals on the night of May 5 at Shapla Chattar, or days before or after? What is the end game we are planning? It seems clear that the boogieman of Hefazat is dead/ gone. The best way to disarm a bully is to confront him. And our government and the AL had done just that. That is not to say that they were justified in their actions, but there was little else they could do. The problem has been nipped in the bud, with a precision military-like engagement; the police, Rab and BGB ended what could have been a long protracted sit-in. The gonojagoran-esque ideologically polar-opposite to the Shahbagh movement. Various recent polls show less than 25% support for the Gonojagoran campaign, a number that is dropping fast from what was surprisingly not

decent approval ratings, by May 7, those numbers had plummeted. I would put the support to be at the same level as that for Shahbagh. So we have the majority of our population sitting between the devil and the deep

– so much so that they even called off the much-hyped hartal programme. Second, the government showed Jamaat and other Islamic radicals that Hefazat isn’t that great a disguise to wear.

Any way you look at it, this is not a situation that is desirable or in the long run beneficial. I, for one, think this was not a proud moment for the nation even though this may very well have been the only logical course they could have taken. However much I disagree, I see what compelled them to do so blue sea. Your call on who is who. The AL government’s handling of Shahbagh was a blunder. They didn’t need to co-opt the movement in such a blatant manner; didn’t need to let it to go on for so long, and they failed to turn this Dhaka movement into a national one. But most of all they didn’t need to arrest bloggers or brand them as atheists, which just proved the detractors right. It is to their credit that they didn’t make the same mistake with Shapla Chattar. Acting decisively and effectively, the government sent out a number of messages. First, it has the might and the resolve to confront issues it opposes. Sending back Hefazat’s leader to Chittagong showed the carrot and

But frankly, Hefazat didn’t help its own cause either. To start with, its 13-point demand is far removed from the reality of modern Bangladesh. Not only in Dhaka, but even throughout the rest of the country, these are not demands that will resonate with the common man and less so with women. I bet BNP in its heart of hearts knows this. Why, if it agreed to the charter, how could their own chairperson meet with rest of their leadership? We can’t allow free mixing of men and women! The aftermath of May 6 showed Hefazat as a collection of rag-tag madrasa teachers who herded their unknowing wards off to Dhaka, almost like a school trip to the capital. In spite of all its declarations, it

paign. And in spite of its claim that it is apolitical, it does have a very strong political agenda. And lastly, by setting fire to small shops and acts of vandalism, it has alienated the “mehnoti” – the hard working man on the street – and burning Qurans put the nail in its coffin. While we can breathe a sigh of a relief that the Hefazat incident is all but over, we should sit and ask ourselves the question – is the only trick up the opposition’s safari suit to create a situation so divisive that it will need a non-democratic intervention? And is the ace in the Mujib coat, the power and brutality of the impressively efficient police force? Any way you look at it, this is not a situation that is desirable or in the long run beneficial. I, for one, think this was not a proud moment for the nation even though this may very well have been the only logical course they could have taken. However much I disagree, I see what compelled them to do so. We need to start realising it, owning up to it, and call out against it – lives lost are not only statistics. They are faces and names. May Allah help us all. l Nazim Farhan Choudhury is managing director, ADCOMM Ltd.

The Pakistani people raise their voices n Akmal Hussain

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n this, the first election held at the end of a full term by a democratic government, the people have spoken. They have given a resounding no to militant extremism and affirmed that they seek a future of freedom and development. In the weeks preceding Election Day, the militants publicly

declared their objective of disrupting the elections to destroy the emerging democracy, which they called an infidel system (kufr) and those who dared to vote would be considered infidels. They followed up this ultimatum with daily bombings of corner meetings and killing over a hundred people including some candidates. On the day of the election itself over a dozen citizens were killed.

In the face of this terror the people showed a quiet resolve as they flocked to the polling stations in record numbers. In so doing they defied the threat to society and state that the militants posed with a courage that is perhaps unmatched in the history of democratic societies. What are the messages the people of Pakistan have sent to the world by expressing their collective will? The fact that the voter turn-out ratio was sixty percent - the highest in Pakistan’s history - signifies that the people of Pakistan have given legitimacy to a democratic state.

In the face of this terror the people showed a quiet resolve as they flocked the polling stations in record numbers By legitimacy we mean the right to rule within a particular polity and state. As Rousseau in his Geneva manuscripts has argued, in the very act of granting legitimacy, people constitute themselves into a nation. This is because legitimacy is

granted on the basis of what Rousseau calls a “social contract,” whereby the state guarantees certain rights to the nation in return for receiving the right to rule. So the granting of legitimacy involves the apprehension by a group of people of certain shared values that underlie the specification of rights that the state is required to ensure in terms of the social contract. Thus the people of Pakistan in risking their lives to vote have re-experienced their nationhood - a nation that was originally conceived by Pakistan’s founding fathers, Jinnah and Iqbal, as being sustained by a democratic state. It would be a state, which ensured the right to practice one’s religion; and where, through love and freedom, humans could reach transcendent heights of self actualisation. The fact that the PML-N, with a manifesto aimed at economic development and a record of reasonably good governance in the Punjab province, won with a majority in the National Assembly, suggests that the people want an improvement in their material conditions. Given the misery of load shedding, inflation and unemployment, they chose not to risk a newcomer to governance, in spite of

Imran Khan’s considerable potential and charisma. That he has emerged as a major

If he manages to bring peace to Pakhtunkhwa, fulfills his promise of eliminating corruption and achieves an improvement in economic welfare in that province, then he would be able to lay claims to captaincy in Islamabad political force, powered by the hopes and energy of the youth, indicates that the people have created a future political alternative for themselves in the centre. That Imran Khan’s PTI has enough provincial assembly seats to form a government in Pakhtunkhwa means that he has been given a chance to prove himself through effective governance in a province that is the hotbed of extremism. If he manages to bring peace to Pakhtunkhwa, fulfills his promise of eliminating corruption and achieves an improvement in economic welfare in that province, then he would be able to lay claims to captaincy in Islamabad.

Such a claim then would be based on measurable performance, just as the PML-N did on the basis of its earlier record in the Punjab. Even at this early stage it is clear that despite the fact that the religious narrative has gained ground in the political argument, the people have once again marginalised parties which use exclusively religious rhetoric as an instrument of gaining political power. The conduct of the elections also manifests the fissures in society and the state. The allegations of substantial rigging in Karachi through force show that criminal gangs are allied to politicians. Armed wings of political parties also exercise power. Similarly the extremely low voter turnout in Baluchistan shows the lingering sense of alienation of Baloch nationalists from the state. But at the end of the day the people have placed their hopes in democracy. l Dr Akmal Hussain is distinguished professor of economics, Forman Christian College University, and a member of the governing board, South Asia Centre for Policy Studies. This article was printed in The Express Tribune and is reprinted through special arrangement.

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