Mukti

Independence Day thoughts

Posted in history, politics, society by jrahman on March 26, 2010

This blog is about: political liberty — popular democracy and freedom of expression; economic liberty and material improvement in living standards of all; and social and cultural liberty to live one’s life according to their own values.  It is not about nationalism, of any kind.  When asked, I specifically say I believe in internationalism. 

I’ve been asked, why?  Why not nationalism?  And if I don’t believe in nationalism, then why do I write about Bangladesh?  Why write on Bangladesh’s Independence Day?

This post jots down my thoughts as they stand.

The second question — why write on Bangladesh? — is easier to answer.  When Ahmad Safa, a Bangladeshi intellectual, was asked why he wrote about the Bengali Muslims, he said this:

সবদিক ভেবে আমি স্থির করেছি আমি যে সমাজ থেকে এসেছি সে বাঙালি মুসলমান সমাজটিকে যদি ন্যায়-নীতির দিকে, মানবতার দিকে, অসাম্প্রদায়িকতার দিকে এবং বিজ্ঞানদৃষ্টির দিকে আকৃষ্ট করতে চেষ্টা করি, তাহলে আমার কর্তব্য অধিকতর ভালোভাবে সম্পন্ন করতে পারবো। বাঙালি মুসলমান সমাজের বাইরে আরো একটা বৃহত্তর সমাজ রয়েছে, তার প্রতিও আমার একটা দায়িত্ব এবং অঙ্গীকারবোধ যেটি আমার পক্ষে অস্বীকার করার উপায় নেই। কিন্তু আমি ভেবে পাই না আমার আপন সমাজের কল্যাণের কথা চিন্তা না করলে বৃহত্তর বাঙালি সমাজ কিংবা অধিকতর ব্যাপক অর্থে বিশ্বসমাজের কল্যাণ কি করে আমি সম্পন্ন করতে পারি।

I write on Bangladesh because of similar reasons.  If I cannot affect change whence I came, how can I work towards a better world elsewhere? 

But does it not mean then that I am subscribing to Bangladeshi nationalism? 

No.  I don’t believe I am.  At least not in any articulation of Bangladeshi nationalism I am aware of.  I don’t believe the emergence of Bangladesh was inevitable.  I don’t believe there was an age old Bangladeshi nation until the idea was articulated in the 1970s.  There may well have been some form of Bengali nation in the making, and there may have been a Bengali Muslim sense of nationhood amongst some.  But none of these are for me.

This does not mean I am denying my identity.  I can choose to forget Bangla, or not believe in Islam, and give up my Bangladeshi citizenship.  I am sure if I spend enough money I can change the colour of my skin too.  But I have no intention of getting a skin transplant.  And Bengali-Muslim-Bangladeshi identities (and let me stress the plural, and while at it let me throw in Desi / South Asian) are at the core of my being. 

But I don’t want that identity to be at the centre of my politics.  And liberty — which is what this blog is about — is at the end political. 

I don’t deny the importance of national identity, particularly when that identity is denied.  But this is not the case for the majority in Bangladesh.  In today’s Bangladesh, the language of nationalism leads to a dialogue of the deaf where we question our political opponent’s right to participate in the debateby describing them as anti-liberation or anti-sovereignty — sadly, archives at UV are testament to the fact that our best and the brightest are not immune to this.

This is not for me.

I don’t accept that partition was historically inevitable.  But I do contend that partition has allowed Bengali Muslims to be comfortable in their own skin.  I don’t accept that the break up of Pakistan was inevitable.  But I do contend that liberty has a better chance in Bangladesh. 

And it’s liberty that interests me, not chest-thumping tribalism.  I don’t care much for the glorious Bangladeshi (or any other) nation.  I care very much for what kind of a state the People’s Republic of Bangladesh should be.

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  1. A new nationalist synthesis « Mukti said, on March 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    […] explained two years ago why I reject nationalism as a basis for my politics: In … Bangladesh, the language of […]


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