Pakistani flood and our casual bigotry
Unless you’ve spent the past weeks in Mars, you’d have heard about the flood in Pakistan. I’ve heard it described as worse than the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004 in terms of the number of people affected, worse than Haiti’s earthquake in terms of intensity, and more crucial than Iraq in terms of geopolitical implications.
Make no mistake, this is bad.
And yet, when I look around in Bangladeshi discourse — mainstream media or blogs and facebook, government or NGOs, or even in private conversations — barring a few exceptions, I see nothing about this massive calamity.
Of course, part of this because Pakistan government itself was too late in recognising the severity of the crisis, causing a delay in the crisis affecting the global consciousness.
But we have known about the disaster for a while now. So there is probably more to it than the ineptitude of Pakistani state — after all, western (and even Indian) discourse has been debating about how to help Pakistan.
I suspect our silence has a lot to do with the sense of ultra-nationalism that pervades many of our minds. This ultra-nationalism produces a casual hatred that can create a hatred-infused casual bigotry which is no less dangerous than the violence that was visited upon us by Pakistan army in 1971.
Here is an example of the casual racism. Can you imagine such a piece about the English, whose imperialism and war policy led to the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, which also killed millions? Or how would we react if a piece like this was written about the Bengali Muslims by Hindus who had to leave this land over the past six decade? Will we ever allow such a piece in any self-styled progressive outlet about the slaughter of Muslims in Calcutta or Bihar in 1946?
I suspect this casual bigotry, this sheer hatred that is a betrayal of the humanist values of our freedom struggle, has a lot to do with our indifference towards the humanitarian disaster in Pakistan. We are so blinded by this hatred that we only see ‘hated Paki’, not the millions who are victims of the very same military oligarchy that wronged us in 1971.
And this failure to recognise the real enemy and the real danger has fallouts that our self-styled progressives should think calmly about.
First, as we embark on the trial of those who committed crimes against humanity in 1971, our ultimate aim must include holding the ringleaders of the genocide into account. Our ultimate aim, may be not achievable today, or tomorrow, but someday and for eternity, must be something along this line:
For me, justice means something like Berlin’s Holocaust Museum is constructed in Islamabad. I want to see signs where they say that such an event took place, and it was our fault, because we did it, and we are sorry. You can’t ask the daughter to forgive the murderer of her father. Revenge doesn’t make sense, either. Just because my father died doesn’t mean yours has to die. But recognition, that something took place, and the fact that it should not take place again— that’s justice. The Holocaust museum says it happened, therefore it can happen again.
As long as we only see ‘hated Pakis’, we will never be able to achieve any of this. Is it really so hard for our progressives — from the late Humayun Azad to the average netizen of Bangla blogosphere — to understant this?
Second, abstracting from 1971, Pakistan is in a crossroad now. Its military oligarchy has failed its people repeatedly. Its feudal aristocratic civilian leaders have proved to be no better. Its under siege from religious fanatics.
And yet, it has a liberal democratic force with people like Hamid Mir and Ayesha Jalal that is heir to the poetry of Faiz Ahmed and the prose of Sadat Hasan Manto. And this force looks to us as role model and potential ally.
Any progressive politics worth its name has to have an element of internationalism. We have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistani democrats for both ideological and pragmatic reasons. If Pakistan falls, the ripple effects will be felt in Bangladesh too — let’s be absolutely clear about that fact.
Bangladesh army is world’s best in distributing relief in flood conditions. Our NGOs are the world’s best in terms of dealing with post-flood public health crisis.
Just imagine what could happen if the villagers along the Indus were rescued by our men and women.
(Updated 28 Aug, 7.20am BDT)