Monday, March 26, 2012

On Our traits as a nation

As I See It Column
The Independent
24 March, 2012
M. Serajul Islam

Very few talk about where we stand today as a nation as we cross the threshold of history to move to 41st year of our independence. Why should we? Most of us are just too busy living in a make believe world of what a great country ours is. We claim we have the best culture. Our language is the best. We are the only nation to have shed blood for our mother tongue. Ours is the most beautiful, the most scenic motherland of all! Whatever we do as a nation and want to praise ourselves, we do so in superlative terms. The claims undoubtedly have solid base. The question to ask is what have we done to turn the solid base into achievements apart from loud mouthing them?    

Like for instance our Book Fair.  Over the entire month of February, the media, particularly the private TV channels were spending a good part of their time and energy covering this fair on a daily basis. It looked like that this was more a media event, a fun one at that, than serious business of giving readers the benefit of some good books worth buying.  

The private TV channels revealed particularly startling information about the Book Fair. Nearly 90% of the books in the country are released in the market through this Book Fair.  For a country with 160 million people, claiming so much on issues of culture and language, one must wonder whether this in any underscores our standing as a   serious nation when it comes to books and publishing/reading books. In fact, it reflects to the contrary. 

For those who make tall claims over the Book Fair, let me say this. A serious nation creates the right environment for all, particularly the new generation, to develop the habbit of reading by creating public libraries and libraries at the educational institutions. Such a nation takes for granted that books, reading habbits, culture and development are inextricably linked. Serious nations do hold books fairs but not as the sole basis of producing books. Our much lauded and touted Book Fair seems to be giving this impression. 

Of course, there is no reason to lessen in any way the importance of the Book Fair. The authorities must be highly recommended for their efforts. The same cannot be said of the media, particularly the private TV channels, who seem inclined to turn such a serious business as books as something of fun, a mela in the Bengali translation of the word. It was heartening to learn that publishers are printing more books than it the past. Nevertheless, there is now the need to evaluate on the quality of the books before making those big claims. 

I did not want to digress to the Book Fair but I did so to make a point; that we have this habbit of looking for a few good things in our national life and to exaggerate these beyond proportions. In doing so, we hide the stark realities in which we live. Perhaps it is because of the stark realities of our lives that we pick up the few good things and exaggerate these as an escape from reality. It is this escapism from reality through exaggerating the few of our good points as a nation that does not allow us to overcome the negative national traits we have that is not helping us in realizing the vast potentials that were ours to achieve when we became independent in 1971.  

The reality is that we now live in a society where almost every aspect of our national live has become partisan. Politics that resolves conflicts in other countries creates more conflicts in our country. When the nation hoped that the opposition would enter the parliament to create the right environment of bipartisanship, it was partisanship of the worst type to which we were treated, courtesy the private TV channels. The diatribe to which the lady BNP MP exposed us was the last thing we wanted to see. 

One understands, as the Opposition Whip explained, that the ruling party has hurled abuses at the opposition leaders in languages no better.  But then he should also understand that two wrongs do not make a right. Public speaking is no small business. It needs talents and more importantly, it needs training and dedication. It would be too much to expect from our MPs, particularly the women MPs most of who are in Parliament not on merit, a speech as the one Mark Anthony gave over Caesar’s dead body where by praising the assassins craftily, he turned  everyone against them. 

Nevertheless, we could expect from them common sense. Common sense should have dictated that this lady MP to refrain from abusing her opponents. Is she had, her speech would have had more profound impact upon everybody. It is true that her party has been subjected to lots of abuses by the Treasury bench, particularly by again two lady MPS,  where President Ziaur Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia and Tareque Zia have been abused in languages that are not worthy of print. It seems like the lady MPs are adept in the art of the foul language ahead of their mail compatriots!

The BNP lady MP could have flagged the abuses in a more civilized manner. Instead of returning those abuses in worse language, she could have spoken in the line her party has taken in national politics lately that has attracted people’s attention favourably, the path of democratic protest.  Such a course would have gone with the demonstrations and long marches of the BNP that are constitutionally permissible, instead of hartals and would have hurt the AL politically. People who were turning sympathetic to the BNP are now seriously perturbed whether they can look at the BNP positively. One expected that after the public reaction of the BNP Lady MP, sense would return in the Parliament. It did not and the Treasury and the Opposition followed the BNP Lady MP as a trend setter much to the disgust of the nation! 

The recent ruling of ITLOS is great news for Bangladesh. It opens up huge prospects for Bangladesh to the hydro-carbon and marine resources of the Bay of Bengal. Importantly, the ruling will strengthen our claims vis-à-vis India and give us another large mass in the Bay of Bengal. This is a victory for Bangladesh. Unfortunately, here too we are witnessing partisanship where the ruling party is claiming that the victory is its. The ruling party is missing another opportunity of uniting the country not realizing that bringing to shore the rich prospects that the ITLOS ruling has opened would need a united nation behind it. The ruling party seems to have decided to use a national victory as a party issue to overcome some serious political setbacks in recent times. 

Bangladesh won its independence in 1971 because 75 million people united for the cause of freedom. In the midst of this insensible lack of unity on national issues and our national trait to live in a make believe world on exaggerated claims of culture, language and the rest, we are letting precious time pass us by where we are distancing ourselves more and more from the rich prospects that the emergence of Bangladesh had brought before us in 1971. If we can achieve the illusive unity that we once showed in 1971 and set aside our national trait of self-glory, the rest of the world will tell us that we have a lot of excellent national characteristics and not we ourselves drumming these claims. But who is listening? Common sense and decency have taken leave of our politics and politicians and those who are the public face of the nation.

The writer is a retired career diplomat and a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt.

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