Friday, May 10, 2013

Of 05/05, Hefajat demography and a brain-dead nation

by Mac Haque 

"Please be kind to yourself, do not get lost in hate filled pastures, for you were chosen to lead by examples and creed " Shams Monower, A shooting star leaps to Oblivion, 2006

I DO not know if this is a time to rejoice or a time to cry. I do not know if this is a time for soul searching, to introspect, or a time to sit back and take everything that is happening around us, on its ‘face value’, harden my heart, pray and say that a devastating storm has passed. I do not know if there is one sensitive or compassionate nerve left in my system to comprehend whether what has passed us by was merely an aberration or a nightmare that we escaped.
All I know is every wakeful day in Bangladesh we have to deal with deadly demons that have made murders, injuries and devastations no more than another spectator sports. Our common senses have never ever taken such a serious dip. For now, nonsense and nuisance are the only senses worth anything!
Like all sports, the last results, the last numbers, the ‘breaking news’ are more important, and we have now acquired a macabre taste of launching post mortems, discussing the ‘finer points of the game’ of deadly events around our lives as nonchalantly as we would, a game of soccer or cricket.
Chess, a brain-game, is unfashionable in a nation that has taken a new penchant for blood sports and that too with 24/7 LIVE TV coverage. Like gladiators, we are checkmated slaves to the ‘powers that be’ and we are condemned to kill to survive, simply because slaves are slaves, and have no other choice. 
We are live fodder to cater to the savagely vulgar taste buds of the status quo, where demands for corpses, outstrips those of life and living. Destruction of property of small businesses, which ultimately leads to death of thousands, and happens invisibly, without our knowing, is secondary — in fact of no consequence whatsoever. 
If there is any hero right now, they are corpses, real or imagined. If there is anything un-really real, this is it!
I am not at all surprised that we created the demon in the first place, let it linger until it became a full-blown monster. Now it has gone berserk. I suspect there is going to be no easy solution, no convincing ‘formula’ by intellectuals or the neo-barbarians among some midnight talk-show hosts and guests, which is likely to ease us out of our traumatic affliction
Bangladesh today has the classic symptoms and makings of a brain-dead nation. Those that are ‘alive and functioning’ have precious little to offer for they have willingly or unwillingly sold their brains, brawn and souls, to all interests, save those of the nation, of the people. Our fate is sealed.
We have decided to accept that sinning within our souls is an expiation exercise. Salvation for this nation is a distant mirage — and one we will be forced, much against our wishes, to chase until the end, until the final dusk, to our predictable doom. 
There is not going to be any need for wakeup calls, angry write-ups on pages of newspapers, or any attempts at self-correction, because we have lost our coordinates, our bearings, to the extent that the word incorrigible has become a misnomer, a blatant farce in our national psyche.
I have never been a bloodthirsty Awami League sycophant, or a BNP/Jamaat corpse-mongering brigand, yet after 05/05, I thought long and hard and ‘out of the box’ and I have given my think a ‘neutral’ benefit of the doubt. Knowing well that it is only infants and the insane that are capable of being neutral, this is the least I can do to be perceived as ‘credible’ in our incredibly hypocritical existence. 
We all have our respective bias, and use those biases to cloud our judgement. The balance of justice wavers when providence intervenes and human hands shiver more than they can remain firm, and in grip. That is being human, that is why none of us can claim to be perfect in an imperfect world. It is only when calamity faces us that we go ‘what iffy’ to find answers, and so did I. 
I thought ‘what if’ it was the BNP in power today. Would they have stood by and did nothing if hundreds upon thousands of mullahs and madrassah students who live on the charity of the majority, had run riots in the capital, pillaged and looted, attacked security forces and threatened the government and in turn all that is plural, all that has been our hard-fought gains as an independent nation? 
Would they have permitted a non-political entity that on surface claim to have ‘no ambitions to seize power’ to become ever so powerful that they have the luxury of our undivided attention as a nation given their frightening demeanor? Would they stand for provocations when a minority on the lunatic fringe harp hate to the extent that each citizen feels vulnerable and threatened? Any answers there? 
Then I looked at the threats to us, to our civility by sheer ‘overwhelming numbers’ who we were told would be ‘easy ammo’ to unseat not only the government, but us the citizens, from our zones of tolerance, from our rich culture, from our traditions of centuries, that has resisted bigotry in all its forms. 
Now, no one can ever say with any degree of certainty the actual numbers of ‘male only skull caps’ in Shapla Chattar on 05/05. Any estimate is good enough, and speculations ran between thousands to ‘hundreds of thousands’ to the one hundred thousand unknowns who the government has officially sued for murder mayhems, arson and much more. 
Fair enough, I will be more generous than our pauperised media or other stakeholders have ever been. Let us be ‘large-hearted’ and say it was half a million, or 5 lakh of these so-called ‘defenders/saviours of Islam’, who congregated to tell us how wrong we are as far as our understanding of religion of our forefathers is concerned. 
We were face-to-face with the ‘ultimate role models of Islam’, so salute and Salaam to the heroic jihadists, our venerated hujursalemsallamasulemas and who else do we have!
Question: nationally, what is the Hefajat demography?
Answer: put in an average of five individuals to half a million, meaning their immediate families, support base, and ‘fan club’ even among the scared, the confused, as also elite ‘neo-Muslims’ with plastic spinal columns. We are talking about 2.5 million citizens bearing this sickening and convoluted mindset, as opposed to a population of 160 million. Are our politicians joking? 
And what are the ‘grave issues’ here that have gone awry and out of control? If I have read right, heard right and seen right, it is no more than ‘atheist bloggers who have insulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and have denigrated the Qur’an’ and the incendiary ire is apparently so powerful that anyone who disagrees with their ‘protest’ must die? 
Without trivializing the allegations in any way, is this the first time that we have seen the same lynch mob out on the streets, burning and killing to ‘defend the honour’ of our Prophet who died 1,500 years back? Have we forgotten about the YouTube movie last year by a US filmmaker that caused unprecedented violence and death in Dhaka? 
Is there any guarantee that yet another perceived, real or imagined ‘insult’ to the Prophet somewhere in Shangri La or in Timbaktu or God knows where else will not lead to more orgies of violence and death in our streets? No, we have no answers because we have not studied the mind of the bigots, or the culture they live in, so how can we ever have a resistance strategy?
What can we ever expect from a culture where there is no space for any entertainment or recreation, not even sports? What can we expect from children who are mostly orphans, or those parents who are so poor that they are left with no other choice, but to send their children to spend time in a hell - hole, harsh prison like conditions, where there is no TV or radio, no newspaper, no Internet, and importantly no real-time interaction with any other members of society? 
Fundamentally, what can you expect of children whose ‘custodians’ themselves are abusive, who use cane and whips mercilessly on their charges? How many of our pompous human rights activists have ever investigated these allegations that have appeared in the media many times over, or have spoken to the children in question? 
When will we ever have a phenomenon called ‘children’s rights’ as an active ingredient in our culture? Or, shall we limit them to photo-opportunity dibash or days of the year, when donor doles are available?
Then pause and read the other side of the coin, the ‘custodians’ masquerading as madrassah teachers, alems and ulemas, the hate-filled people we saw at Motijheel and who for centuries, have been ‘groomed’ by misogynist Deobandi schools, brainwashed with Wahabi inspired Maududi-ite kital (slaughter) ideals and diktats and spurious Hadith influenced individuals. We also witnessed the ‘millions’ they in turn went on to ‘create’ with the same dice of convoluted imagination and ‘intellect’ as their own. And what has been our contribution?
Regardless of our ‘political affiliations’, the billions of takas we collectively donate each year just by selling cow hides in the Eid-ul-Azha festivities are supposed to be used for the upkeep of orphans and children in these Quomi madrassahs. And, what do the inmates get in return? 
We get to see the likes of Allama Shafi riding insanely expensive SUVs and helicopters, while his half-fed ‘supporters’ are coaxed and threatened to join his murderous jihad on fellow Muslims, are made to endure a ‘long march’ to Dhaka? How more corrupt and vulgar can these fake ‘god men’ be? How long shall we be in fear of these so-called ‘apolitical theologians’ that are no different from sections of our corrupt politicians? 
And after a day spent haranguing the ‘faithful’ with screams of imaner lorai (fight/resolve of faith) where they promise in public view and that of the world, never to leave their ground, never to return home if their demands are not met, to sacrifice their blood, to become immortal shaheeds (martyrs) — and all it takes is 17 minutes of security forces action, for the ‘millions’ to flee, to literally disappear into thin air.
Not to forget, the first ones to decamp leaving followers to face the overwhelming might and wrath of the state are the leaders themselves. So fragile and dithering is their iman and so huge is their arrogance fed by impunity that the tolerant citizenry, who had given them a compassionate welcome to the nation’s capital just four weeks ago, just for them to be given a democratic right to be heard, to be understood, were left aghast, dumbfounded and shell-shocked.
Even before the smell of cordite evaporated, even before we could take stock of fatalities, of the damages, we came face-to-face with a spectacle like of which we have never seen before. The first photographs of the death and destruction bypassed the horrors of burnt Qur’ans that left millions in tears all across Bangladesh. Yet the first condemnations to burning of the ‘holy book’ did not come from the ‘defenders/saviours of Islam’ but ordinary citizens, many of whom easily fit the stereotype of either secular or even ‘atheist’. 
However, I am at a loss for words, why at all this pandemonium over the Quran? 
The penultimate issue is we use the ‘holy book’ for no other purpose but to drop a quick quote to friends, or an occasional recitation of words we do not understand. And at other times, we do quite the opposite to what the book asks us to do.
Therefore, for people who only care about the Qur’an being a ‘paper book’ and not one they use for any other purpose but to appear ‘holy and religious’ and since we don’t live by the words of the Qur’an and merely use it as a political tool of oppression, if there is at all a ‘curse of Allah’, the recent state of the nation is an apt example.
And the biggest curse we took on our mantles on 05/05 is we let the Hefajat ‘supreme leader’ scot-free, back to his safe sanctuary in Hathazari, yet didn’t think twice about shaming and humiliating innocent madrassah children, forcing them to sit and twist their own ears as a ‘punishment’ while camera persons clicked away in glee. How more cruel and insensitive can we be? 
Have we forgotten that they are no older than our own children are, were per force taken to Dhaka by their ‘custodians’ with promises to ‘defend the Prophet’s honour, Islam and the Qur’an’? Have we not given the security forces that are in uniform on public money the open licence to do similar shaming and humiliation in public to our children as well? 

Hungry and tired, traumatized by events, abandoned to fate by their ‘custodians’, these children didn’t even know the location of the nearest bus stations, didn’t have a poisha in their pockets when it all ended, and as ‘non-lethal’ as the security forces operations may have been, if there is a hell on earth, they had the first taste of it LIVE and brutal, with cameras rolling, one that will live on in our memories too, for as long as we live.

Those images left none of us who have been fighting the bigots for decades any elated. Indeed, we have been left asking ourselves: ’what if the tables turn, how more sensitively will they deal with us?’
And then came the ‘missing corpses’ drama and the less said the better. To imagine that 2,500 corpses disappeared into thin air is like the Bermuda Triangle ‘miraculously’ shifting its global coordinates and making a ‘rare appearance’ at Motijheel. The other possibilities are the ‘millions’ we saw thronging Shapla Square were not humans but djinns!
To end, a rewind to the first line, I do not know if this is a time to rejoice or a time to cry. I do not know if I am dead, or ‘practically dead’ as a New Age report on the May 8 quoted doctors as saying of some ‘victims’, or am I completely dead? 
I let the question float on Facebook and this answer from a friend sums it up in totality:
"DEAD are those who have left the world forever, “Practically dead” are those imagined to be dead by the BNP and the like, “Completely Dead” are those who walked away alive from Motijheel and the leader who was given “jamai ador” (son-in-law affection) and flown off to Chittagong."

I do not know if this is a good time for black humour.
New Age Op-Ed Friday, 10th May 2013


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