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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

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MUNIM Chowdhury's comments on Bangladesh and Western diplomacy (Daily Star 3/7/08) are factually correct but incomplete and out of context. It does not require much to be honest about the faults of others and to condemn them. It is far harder to be honest about our own faults and to condemn ourselves.

We need to look far more closely at ourselves and a little less closely at others. Once we can respect our own appraisal of ourselves, others may take our appraisals of them more seriously.

It is mere child's play to condemn the entirety of the civic and international life of the US simply because of its failures in Iraq, Guantanamo and its own inner cities. It is also mere child's play to condemn such condemnations.

Would we be any better than the US if we were the only superpower in the world? Just look at our politicians -- we would be far worse. We cannot even claim to have a minimum standard of intellectual ability and professional competence amongst our politicians. It is absurd to then look condemn intellectual ability and professional competence in other countries -- let alone the US.

The greatest condemnation of Bush's venture in Iraq, and the fight to fix it, comes from within the US. The greatest condemnation of Bush's venture in Guantanomo, and the fight to fix it, comes from within the US. The greatest condemnation of police violence in the US, and the fight to fix it, comes from within the US.

Winston Churchill said that you can trust America to make mistakes, but you can also trust America to do the right thing in the end. The Economist stated that America's greatest strength is its ability to correct itself.

The issue at hand is not just the prevention of the errors and crimes of mankind. Men, by their very humanity, are doomed to possible error and crime. We may safely assume that some politicians in the West and in Bangladesh will commit errors and crimes in the future, whatever cures we may invent today.

What we need to look at are the checks and balances within our civic, judicial and political systems. For it is the failure of checks and balances in Bangladesh that has contributed most to our abundant failures. In Bangladesh checks and balances are created properly to prevent crime but managed improperly in order to assist crime!

It is only natural for foreign diplomats to comment on our internal affairs. Our politicians court their favour. Our media hangs on their every word. We celebrate their arrivals. We mourn their departures. We throw grenades at them. We cannot give them any sense of the direction of our country. We confuse them with our contradictions. We baffle them with our own bewilderments. We invite them to our seminars and our symposiums. We make them adjudicators and judges as we trust no adjudicators and judges of our own.

Put yourself in their shoes. What do they see but chaos, injustice and tragedy at the expense of a tortured electorate. It would be perfectly natural for them to be sorely tempted to disobey their own policies and protocols and to try to help us sort out our mess. It is written on the faces of some Western diplomats -- a hapless, well intentioned, confused person desperate to help us in any way possible.

It's easy to pick on the flaws of the West. But we, as a nation and a people, would gladly trade our politicians and systems for theirs. The majority of their politicians do meet minimum standards of intelligence and competence. And their politicians and systems do generally serve their citizens. We can hardly say the same.

The West and donors have no choice but to think that Bangladesh is incapable of finding the best path for itself and that they have an inherent right to dictate the right direction towards democracy. It is their moral right to do so when faced with a nation like ours.

Are we to define democracy when it does not occur to our leaders to apologise to the electorate for anything, when it does not occur to our commentators to demand apologies from our politicians for anything and when it does not occur to our electorate to demand an apology from our politicians for anything?

Let the West do its worst to us. Let the West do its best for us. Whatever it does is of secondary importance. Let us first do our best for ourselves.

Ezajur Rahman writes from Kuwait.

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