Beyond grief and conspiracy theories, there is a real crisis

Posted in politics by jrahman on March 9, 2009
(This piece contains reference to violent material that may offend.  Also, the tone may come across as callous to those who have lost near and dear.  Apologies.)
A random message from facebook about the Pilkhana tragedy: KILL EM ALL … i can only say that and i am totally for blood.  I am abstaining from fecebook because I don’t want to lose friends over messages like this.  Maybe I should stop calling home, because I don’t want to listen to absurd conspiracy theories: why didn’t the PM attend the BDR dinner, where was the opposition leader for
two days, you get the idea. 


But I don’t want to give into escapism.  To paraphrase Edmund Burke, evil wins when good people do nothing.  I will make two points here: 

  1. ours is a very violent society, and tragic as these events were, they were not all that uncommon ­— it’s time we put our own monsters to sleep; and 
  2.  beyond the human tragedy, we have a national security crisis that is not being addressed because of the crazy conspiracy theories going around.

Public discourse is overwhelmingly focussed on the human tragedy.  And when we are not talking about how tragic the events were, we are speculating about who was really behind this?  In our ever-divided nation, there seems to be one agreement across the left/right, jolpai/aatel, Awami/jatiyatabadi divides: there was a conspiracy.  Of course there is no unanimity over who plotted it.  Everyone has their suspect, no one has any evidence or analysis. 

Even those without any suspect of their own would say that a tragedy like this cannot be explained without some outside connection, because ‘we’ are incapable of this.

Are we?  Really?   

After the December election, we saw violent attacks on the activists of BNP and Jamaat.  Of course, much worse violence befell AL activists and supporters across the country in the weeks after the October 2001 election.  It will be two years soon that Choles Ritchil was brutally murdered.  How many people died in various hartals and andolons in the past 38 years?

Forget about political, politicised, violence.  This appeared in the Prothom Alo on 25 Feb.  News like that can be found in the newspaper on any given day in any given year.  And this is true whether it is AL in power or BNP or the army. 

And how do we react to this violence?  Does anyone remember the incidence depicted left?  Has anyone kept count of how many garment workers have been killed in preventible fires?  Has there been any facebook group for them? 

How do we react to violence?  We applaud the government for extrajudicial state sponsored murders.  And why should this surprise us?  Do we not beat to death suspected pick pockets in broad daylight?  Do we not pick the eyes out of suspected bandits with the whole village cheering on?

Let’s face it.  We Bangladeshis are a very violent people.  Ours is a cruel, violent society.  We are capable of cruelty that ought to be condemned by all civilised people. 

The people who committed the atrocities in Pilkhana were not Martians, they are Bangladeshis, like the rest of us.  Tragic as the losses are, they are far from unique in our country.  The fact that we mourn some tragedies a lot more than others say a lot about ourselves. 

So, there need not have been any conspiracies at all.  The violent Bangladeshi men is very capable of all that happened.  A fellow blogger expressed it this way in a private conversation. 

I don’t know if there was a plan, and if there was one, if it will ever be found out. But let me offer an analogy. A majority of police departments in the US now forbid the same officer who was involved in a car chase from arresting the susect of that car chase. They are supposed to wait until backup arrives and let them arrest the suspect, if reasonably possible.
The reason for this is that adrenaline rushes produce such an effect in police officers, that it overrides the ingrained warning maneuvers taught to them, like the Miranda warnings, and leads the police officers into the use of deadly force. It is almost inevitable, and it happened time and again and again until human rights advocates forced PDs across the US to recognize the problem and address it.
Imagine being able to kill the men, at whose words you jumped, with impunity. Imagine being able to go into their nice white-washed houses and tear them up. The reptile side of the brain cannot resist these impulses.

Leaving the human tragedy and the conspiracy theories aside, let’s think about the ‘security’ ramifications.  We have lost scores of trained mid-level officers.  Our border is essentially undefended.  We have discussed mid-ranking officers’ emotions extensively.  Have we thought about how hard it will be to send a 25 year old captain to the border in charge of 50 BDRs? 

The best case scenario is that we are talking about overhauling our border security.  We need to screen the BDR rank and file.  And at the same time, we need to ensure that thousands of innocent BDR jawans who had nothing to do with this, men who shed their blood regularly defending our border, are not tarnished.

That is a huge task.  That is the security crisis that we are not talking about because we keep arguing about whether the tanks should have been sent in.  That security crisis won’t be solved by banning youtube.  

Now, who gains from this crisis?  Who gains if our border is undefended?  It’s not India.  They have as much to lose from an unguarded border as we do, perhaps more than we do.  An unsecured border will be used by smugglers of drugs, arms, and people.  It will be used by violent jihadis, Naxalites, or separatists in the Indian northeast. 

These are the real beneficiaries of our crisis. 

Could they have plotted something?  Perhaps.  No atrocity was necessary plotted.  Something along the line of a mutiny-murder-army attack-bloodbath would have achieved the desired end of a security breakdown.  The first two stages of such a plot came to pass, but the second stage hadn’t because of decisions taken by the government, and adhered to by the army.  Unfortunately, the atrocities may have created the same effects that any putative plotters would have sought.

And even if there were no conspiracy, extremists of various types or multinational organised crime pose a threat to our national security as a result of this crisis.  Wild accusations against political opponents or childish reactions like banning youtube only detract us from this very difficult task. 

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  2. Robin said, on March 12, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Jyoti – you are absolutely right on! I agree absolutely with you.

    One would think after all this crazyness in our past we would be able to take a differnt Our acquired tendency for sectarian gets in our way! We have become monsters.

    I think we have to find a way out. I wish I had a solution to offer! I have none! It breaks my heart to read this.

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