A time to write 2

Posted in activism, blogging by jrahman on October 16, 2019

It’s a time to write because, to put it bluntly, there is a moral imperative to write while we still can, before it’s too late.  But even if we accept that as a self-evident, axiomatic truth, questions still remain about what to write, for whom, and where?  There are, of course, many possible answers — let a hundred flowers bloom I say!

Let’s start with a bit of self-reflection.

Way back at the dawn of time, before there was Facebook, or even blogs, debates in various online forums were really adda by a different mean.  Some of us took a bit further than others.  But for many, if not most, of us, writing was essentially a glorified hobby.  And that’s perfectly fine.  At the end, we wrote, no, we write because it makes us feel better — and that can come through in a variety of ways: writing simply exercises our mind, or we ramble on just to express ourselves, or we get our kicks from calling it right, or by making fun of this crazy world.

I have never been accused of having a sense of humour — so Facebook sarcasm a la Nayel Rahman is not for me.  And my vocation in the dismal science means I seldom get the joy of calling anything right.  Rather, I have always approached writing as first and foremost a way to make sense of the world.  To analyse.  To interpret.  To understand what’s going on.  And maybe in the process, to explain.

But, to paraphrase Marx, the point is to change the world.  That is, the moral imperative is not just to explain, but also to persuade.  Not just to tell, but also to listen.  And this is where things get murky.

A decade ago, I used to think platforms such as the Unheard Voices or the Daily Star Forum were great places to write a couple of thousand words or more to argue a certain point of view or provide evidence for a particular case.  Those platforms don’t exist anymore.  More importantly, it’s not just Bangladesh where politics has stopped being about facts.  So, even accepting the moral imperative, in 2019 Bangladesh, is there any point of writing pieces like this (mental note: must retrieve and archive the back catalogue)?

I can think of two reasons why longish form writing is still worthwhile.

First, facts still matter when it comes to governance, even in 2019 Bangladesh.  And this isn’t just an abstract point.  I am aware of at least one concrete example.  Zia Hassan has been writing for a while — in Facebook, but also presenting at seminars or workshops — on the economy.  Apparently, his analysis of the financial sector has been noted by the Bangladeshi policymakers, and somewhere in the officialdom, econocrats have been poring through his numbers.  Perhaps nothing will come of this exercise under the current regime.  But one day things will change, and these fact-based analysis will be of tremendous value then.

And when things change, long form analysis will matter more on the ideas front.  To use the famous words of Keynes:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

Bangladesh is a land of dead ideas, where new concepts are throttled at birth — Zia Haider Rahman infamously said in 2015, and things have gotten worse since.  It’s about time that changes.  What exactly do we wish to replace the current regime with?  Intellectual leadership in Bangladesh is an empty theatre crying out for players.

The question is not so much as what to write and for whom.  Where to write, however, is a harder question to answer.

Considering the draconian censorship, there is no editor in Bangladesh brave enough to publish anything worth reading.  Indeed, an editor friend told me in December 2018 to write in Facebook — you’ll get many more readers there!  Of course, Abrar Fahad was killed for a Facebook post.

What then are the options?

A bit of caution and judiciousness — or self-censorship by a different name — seems to be the only possibility.  To use Jed Bartlet‘s words — We don’t need martyrs right now. We need heroes. A hero would die for his country, but he’d much rather live for it.


One Response

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  1. dhakacitybookclub said, on October 20, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Beautifully written! There are still forums where you can connect with like-minded individuals or illuminate those who are confused about controversial topics. Unfortunately, freedom of the press is a construct only available in the West. Hopefully, there will be new outlets for the next generation of writers to allow people to free their minds, even if that means bringing back guerilla journalism, which I see as the only way out of the corner we have found ourselves in inside this country!

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