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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 151 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 23, 2004

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Shame, Shame

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

No matter how much Bangladeshis complain about the state of our people and country, reading an article about how corrupt we are in TIME Magazine -- "Asia's most dysfunctional country" the exact quote that the writer used -- is a jagged pill for us to swallow. Being human, which implies being able to dish out criticism, but not being able to take it, I started reading the article with a completely closed mind, looking for loopholes and arguments in my country's defense.

I was ecstatic when I found my first bone of contention in the introductory paragraph, in which the author writes, "Kawran Bazaar, a sprawling complex of wholesale markets and retail shops near the heart of the capital, is a hunting ground for gun-wielding extortionists who don't hesitate to kill if they are refused their protection money." How could the writer use a general phenomenon as his first example? Since when are extortion and Mafioso activities limited solely to Bangladesh -- to the extent that we are being globally criticised as the worst of the lot?

Nobody will claim that Bangladesh is a safe place for anyone. Violence rages in all parts of the country and poverty seems like a never-ending problem, while the privileged class seems only to get richer. Minority groups such as Hindus, Ahmadiyyas and indigenous peoples living in different parts of the country are either neglected or subjected to violence and alienation. My question to the writer is that while we know all of this is true, isn't the same true for countries all over the world -- both developing and developed? How many Muslims in America lost their jobs after September 11th, or even worse, were victims of religious intolerance? And what of countries where the consensus of the people made no difference whatsoever, as is the case with Romania, where a dictator reigned for over a decade, starving his people in order to spend all the nation's finances on grandiose palaces and his own needs and wants?

In the first paragraph the writer hinted that the shop owners in Kawran Bazaar as being afraid to talk about the problems they face. In the same breath, he then quotes a man who claims that no matter what he says or does, he is "dead anyway." In how many so-called oppressive countries do you find that people are able to speak out against injustice? Is this why people have spoken out against all the social grievances that we encounter every day? Is this why newspapers still have the freedom to openly criticise the situation of the country?

Being very happy I continued reading, not realising that in my indignation, I showed the symptoms of someone being in complete denial. It was towards the end of the article, when I read "how can you have intellectual freedom when you don't know you will come home safely in the evening," a quote by economist Abul Barkat, in reference to the attack on Humayun Azad and similar incidents happening around the country, that I stopped to think. Slowly I turned back to the first page and started again -- this time, with what I hoped to be a more open mind. The result was overall very unpleasant.

It is not that the article gave me any new insight or information, of which I had not been aware of before. It was more that on the glossy paper of TIME Magazine it just seemed a whole lot worse -- with its photographs of corruption and violence on every social level and embarrassing quotes from political leaders that either refuse to accept that the nation is in trouble, or make trite statements about how sad it all is, never making an active effort to change anything.

No matter how much I disagree and come up with small comforts such as the ones above to prove to myself that Bangladesh should not be labeled as the world's most corrupt country, the truth is that there is no fire without a spark. Whether or not we are the worst, we are spiraling downwards. It is sad to think that we are the same people that fought so hard for our freedom. One oppressive force has been replaced by another, which ironically happens to be our own people. The age-old story repeats itself.

At the end of the day we are all aware of the problems that our country face, denial or no denial. We do not claim that we are corruption free and that our government provides us with a safe and stable environment. However, one must also acknowledge that it is our never-ending race to catch up to the world economy that further intensifies the corruption, and the violence is both an aftermath of our greed, as well as a reaction to the outside world. It is unfair to claim that a country is corrupt and dysfunctional without recognising that we are a young developing country, in which imperialism, colonialism and globalisation have played a huge role in the steps towards our so-called "state of disgrace.

 

 
         

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