This country last week looked like a deer in the headlights. Truth and falsehood lit up in full glare over the shocking death of a young man who was guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The media insisted that the killers were members of the student wing of the ruling party. The home minister denied, other party leaders protested and the Prime Minister's Office sanctioned that nothing could be farther from the truth. An entire nation watched in dazed stupor as the authorities behaved like an ostrich in their state of denial and buried their heads in the sand.
What happened next was even more bewildering. The post-mortem report turned a mountain into a molehill. It worked the victim's body like the mechanical drawing toy Etch A Sketch. By the time it reached the hospital, the tossing and turning of the body had auto-erased many of his wounds! The doctors could find fewer wounds than the number of times we saw the victim was struck with cleaver and rod. Next time, turn a victim upside down and shake his body. You might actually get him thoroughly healed.
In fact, that poor body has been emblematic of our national politics, having immense capacity to absorb lies, deceptions and cover-ups. This broad-daylight killing had its unique features. It was the country's first live telecast of how killers killed, their hands wielding murder weapons and their faces reflecting changing shades of rage and rancor.
The whole country witnessed it, yet there were frantic efforts to hide the truth as if what we saw was an illusion. Those who have read murder mysteries would know how hard investigators look for motives to identify the killers. Here the authorities were looking for motives long after the killers were identified.
And, we heard the meticulous stories of how the killers came from families with ties to opposition political parties. Some of them had their fathers and others had their brothers who had political links with either Jamaat or BNP. The overriding conclusion of those underlying assumptions was that the killers were wolves in sheep's clothing: they killed for the opposition to implicate the ruling party. If that were true, how could the police simply stand there and do nothing?
While conspiracy in politics is always a possibility, family ties cannot be a red herring. There are many illustrious sons and brothers in this country, who have divided national politics like a family task, each shouldering the responsibility of one political party to ensure they can be in power through eternity. The background of the killers may be a necessary proof, but it cannot be a sufficient proof of why they killed.
The important question is whether these killers belonged to the student wing of the ruling party. If their background has to be an issue, it should have been an issue at the time of their recruitment. That is when it should have been considered if the young men raised in questionable homes could be trusted with their party roles.
Adolph Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is known for his doctrine that a lie repeated often enough becomes truth. Goebbels was one of the highest educated members of the Nazi leadership, who was accused of dragging German culture to the level of mere propaganda. He responded by saying that the purpose of both art and propaganda was to bring about a spiritual mobilisation of the German people.
That response screamed through the noise of artful propaganda last week. It was scary because our national politics looked ominously bankrupt where truth was no longer an antithesis to lie but its synthesis. It was similar noise that had mobilised the spirit of the war criminals in 1971, who were convinced that nothing was wrong with slaughtering their own people and betraying their own country.
Forty-two years ago this country was created on the basis of rational hypothesis. It was rational that the majority should form the government. It was rational that the land that has greater resources should have its fair share of economic prosperity. When an aggressive army cracked down in the middle of the night, the people of this country had to fight for their freedom.
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton University, argues that we are not nearly as rational as we like to believe. But last week was confusion, because we didn't know what to believe anymore. It was shocking to watch a man being cut up in clear view, but more so when it was being cluttered to puzzle ourselves that what we saw wasn't what happened indeed.
It has been always true for politicians in power in this country. They can't stop digging when they are already in a hole.
The writer is, Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.