Published: Friday, March 8, 2013

Musings

Smell the Coffee, Taste the Blood

Photo: Prabir Das

Photo: Prabir Das

I have always loved social media, particularly Facebook. People complain about friend requests from strangers, relationships they have left behind coming back to haunt them, and so on. But for me, Facebook has been an enjoyable place. Until now.
These days, whenever I sign in, I brace myself for the rush of blood to my head that inevitably comes from reading some of the posts on my newsfeed. From people whom I respected, people whom I thought well of, people whom I liked, yet so many of them seem to be talking absolute rubbish. Rubbish is perhaps too unkind a way to put it. But some of the posts range from misguided to mad, or so it seems to me.
The offerings that Facebook brings nowadays too often leave me feeling frustrated and angry.
The first category consists of posts from friends who are really against the death penalty. I do respect their view, I do. But death penalty is still part of the law of the land. Hardly is it asking for something completely alien to our culture, let alone something illegal. Furthermore, some of these well-meaning people don’t seem to understand that we live in an imperfect world. One where war criminals who are given life imprisonment will serve at best a few years, if that.
Also, no matter how strong your opposition to the death penalty, there is such a thing as sorting out your priorities. At this moment in time, when Bangladesh faces such a real and present threat from fundamentalist forces, is the battle against the death penalty the most important thing to fight for? If you really believe it is, then you must be living in some utopian fantasy, not in Bangladesh.
The second category consists of posts from friends who are worried about the lack of fairness of the war crimes trials. It is doubtless true that there have been real concerns about some procedural elements of the trials. But the men under trial are almost certainly guilty. They are a handful among thousands, against whom the cases are particularly strong. We know this by virtue of the amount of witness testimony and information we have about their deeds. Do the admitted irregularities in the trials mean that those raising objections actually believe that the men under trial are innocent? Does anyone really believe that?
So again I ask, is it the best use of our energies to go on shouting about the “unfairness” of the trials when the criminals and their henchmen are doing everything they can to intimidate witnesses and thwart the judicial process? I cannot understand why people who are worried about fairness are not worried about the unfairness of what was done to the victims of the collaborators during the war, and about the vengeance and intimidation of those victims that is taking place today.
The third category consists of liberals who are blaming those who have called for the banning of the Jamaat and the death penalty for war criminals, for the recent spate of violence unleashed by the Jamaat cadres and the Shibir. Are you trying to say that if people had not called for a ban on the Jamaat or if they had not called for the death penalty, none of this would have happened? Are you so naive?
The truth is, on any occasion when the Jamaat-Shibir has faced any form of opposition, their response has been brutal and murderous. It is not for nothing that they have actually created a new category of political violence known as rog-kata rajniti. The only way you can avoid violence at their hands is by total submission to their twisted philosophy. Don’t fool yourselves any longer about this please, for all of our sakes.
The shameful and heinous attack on minority communities including the recent atrocities against Hindu villagers, are part and parcel of their terror tactics. Even if the Jamaat came to power by so-called peaceful means, they would never let minority people live normal lives. Those belonging in that category of Bangladeshi citizens would always have to live in fear.
Fourthly, there are those despicable individuals who post misinformation about how defenceless citizens are being subjected to ‘genocide’ and crimes worse than what happened in this country in 1971. That kind of propaganda is too disgusting to bother commenting on, so I have just begun to remove such people from my friends list. A side-aspect of this is posting about how so-and-so’s father, grandfather, sixth grand-uncle on the mother’s side and so on was a razakar. How is this relevant, even if it had been true, which ninety per cent of the time it isn’t? A man’s measure is taken by what he does, by who he is, not who his forefathers were or weren’t!
I would like to see the same or preferably greater outrage over the current targeting of minorities and innocents by the fundamentalist forces, as I see in these questions about death penalty and fair trials. What the government and the people of Bangladesh must do now is to stand by their neighbours from other communities, not argue that somehow the protesters at Shahbag are responsible for the behaviour of the Jamaat. Stop blaming the victims, including the victims who are tired of putting up with this terrorism and have spoken out at Shahbag, for the actions of the attackers. By doing this you play into the hands of the fundamentalists.
Finally, this endless stream of Facebook posts which talk about how terrible violence is, how we should never resort to violence, how violence never solves anything, seems to be from people who forget that fighting back during the war in 1971 also involved violence. Nobody in their right mind wants violence, so do not think you are the only ones who abhor it, or that voicing such sentiments give you the right to capture the moral high ground. The truth is that fighting back against fundamentalist forces cannot be done successfully through pacifism or passivity. To suggest this is profoundly unrealistic. You have to be willing to stand on the frontline to defend your stance, not only to sit at home and write long treatises on the internet.
Finally, I wish that my Facebook friends would remember one thing. While the “liberals and progressives” category that I also belong to are spending all their energy on arguing about death penalty and fair trials, those on the other side are not divided by such concerns. The bloodthirstiness that some liberals accuse the Shahbag protesters of is in fact clearly visible in the actions of their opponents. And their bloodlust is single-minded, not hindered by concerns about fairness, rule of law or even basic human decency.
I am not one of those who believe that ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’. But I believe that those of us who want to see a peaceful, secular Bangladesh where all citizens live free from fear do not have the luxury of this kind of endless internal debate. It is actually self-sabotage. Please take a good look around you and try to understand who the real enemy is. Otherwise we risk losing the war in the midst of fighting our petty battles about who is right about what.