Published: Monday, November 18, 2013

An enemy of the nation

BANGLADESHI politicians seem to have a visceral need for enemies. They love enemies because by bashing them, they can stir up public sentiment and distract their attention from the myriad of problems facing the nation. Recently, one of the honourable ministers of the republic identified an eminent citizen as a new enemy of the nation.
The good minister’s identification of the enemy is an epigraph of the high-intensity, high-volume drama that has been playing on Bangladesh’s political stage since 2010. In this drama, the enemy has been getting an epiphany-generating lesson on patriotism from the wimpy low-level political activists to the big guns up the hierarchy of the minister’s political party.
Before declaring this citizen an enemy of the nation, the minister’s party used numerous ancillary characters, thinly conceived and at times crudely manipulated, to launch a vicious campaign of disparaging the citizen with their inflammatory and clownish theatrics.
At a time when Bangladesh’s political discourse is reaching a feverish pitch, when the heated debate of just who should control the levers of power in the country, whether the quixotic politicians of BNP or the chauvinists of Awami League, the minister’s discovery of a new enemy makes for a savoury topic for the armchair politicians.
The new enemy, albeit an eminent citizen, is not above reproach. Admittedly, the enemy is a shrewd businessperson, a master in the art of self-promotion who loves adulation and is skillful in befriending the omnipotences of the world. However, the enemy does not steal money from the public coffer; does not plunder and pillage the wealth of the nation, nor kills innocent children and civilians. The enemy may be a Shylock, as deemed by the minister’s disciples and colleagues, yet the enemy is working relentlessly to alleviate poverty through microfinance.
Why is this citizen, who has been described by one of the omnipotent as someone working tirelessly to offer to the poor “something far more valuable than a plate of food — security in its most fundamental form,” is an enemy of the nation, while those who are pushing the country to the edge of the precipice because of their unbridled greed and insatiable lust for wealth and power are patriots? The tragicomic drama that is being staged with absurd histrionics demonstrates the psyche, animosity and hypocrisy of the people in power. It is a polemic about the tyranny of the utterly ruthless politicians and a dark satire of their mindset.
The French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine wrote: “Je plie, et ne romps pas.” In plain English — I bend but do not break. The politicians should know that a person of honour and wisdom, vision and courage is unbreakable. They should also know that only those who lack civility and self-respect could hardly respect others.
Doctor Thomas Stockmann, the people’s enemy of Ibsen’s play An enemy of the people, has so aptly remarked: “The majority has might on its side unfortunately; but right it has not.”

The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.