[Originally published in the Op-Ed of The Daily Observer on 1st February, 2018]
Back when I was in school, I used to tutor this kid somewhere in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur. A month into the tenure, with both of us warming up enough to have conversations beyond his academics, I realized, to my horror, that I was devoting my time and effort to a teenager with an extremely intolerant and spiteful outlook on society, religion and culture.
Perhaps what baffled me most was the realization that he was nowhere close to being the sole possessor of such a mindset; he was merely a specimen of a whole new breed. The kids took this so far that once, I remember him proudly recounting, how he and his buddies ganged up on their school’s Art teacher when he tried teaching them to draw portraits because, and you can probably see where this is going, “imitating life forms is illegal in the religion”.
Another time, he told me of his entire neighbourhood’s distaste towards the local pharmacist’s wife. Her sin? She watches over the shop, which by the way is adjacent to their household, wearing her sleeveless gowns, her hair cut short and uncovered.
Let that sink in. A 13 year-old, who doesn’t even know how an acid neutralises an alkali, let alone how the world works. This kid himself however, does not come remotely close to being pious, let alone immaculate. Neither does his friends, or their seniors who kindle inspiration in them — who, being the role models, give them the impression that the sins for all the booze and all the powder throughout the week can be wiped clean immediately if they simply assemble outside the local mosque on Fridays in their hot rides, donning a toupee and panjabi.
Understand that these people are mature enough, however, to realize the contradiction, their hypocrisy. Understand that at one point of their search for justification, they will find one, and it’ll be one that attaches superiority and immunity to their kind — whether it’s the religion, the gender, or perhaps the political agency they identify with.
At this point in time, very few holding moral authority will bother to stop, or rectify them. Understand that in 2018, religious agencies too, have sold themselves out to the power of money, allowed themselves to be capitalized, exploited, perverted, used according to individual preferences.
When a moral authority buckles at the prospect of seductive instruments such as money, the system automatically rearranges itself to be in favour of the ones holding the bone. Of course, nobody can ever have enough in the 21st century, if not anything at all; and it is this void, this necessity, this wound — that is egregiously exploited. That, right there, is the utter horror and shamelessness of late capitalism.
Meanwhile, a similar wave of ultra-conservative, reactionary attitudes sweeps through the rest of the country, and the world as well; and caught in the crosshairs of this chaos are the millennials.
It’s 2018 now. Things are very different from 2013, the glory days of the Shahbag protests, when my generation first began to grow conscious of their politics, and the politics of the region we were growing up in. It was perhaps the first time, and the last, I had seen my generation rise up for a cause. Everyone had an opinion; everyone had something to add to the conversation.
It’s not that this generation is completely detached from politics, though. But is mainstream millennial politics really going anywhere? More often than not, millennials find themselves crossing swords with each other, defending their improvised incarnations of different ideologies.
And it’s not just that they’re just causing more and more tears in the fabric that holds them together — most of these new schools of thought hardly know the implications of their own messages. The loss of all and any collective consciousness whatsoever has become so severe that as of right now, the whole thing is just one spiralling descent towards an imminent catastrophe.
The only place, perhaps, where the two ends of the spectrum intersect is in their mutual features of a subtle craving for what we know as fascism, and the irresponsible loopholes within their system that could end up facilitating its establishment.
In the end, it’s the authorities who benefit from these growing divisions — it makes their work so much easier. Like in chemical equilibriums, the two sides rise and fall to balance any abnormal change in the system, playing it out between themselves while the authorities stand on the sidelines and watch, backing both parties whenever and however the situation arises.
This allows it to further its own interests without drawing any attention or opposition from the people. Meanwhile, conservative fanaticism thrives lavishly in the remote corners of the country, far from the courts in the capital that facilitate it, give it a green-card, a “last chance” like a sympathetic school principal; far from those holding office, who give it a seat at the table in return for their political allegiance.
Returning to the matter at hand, we therefore see the necessity of probing why there’s such a steep increase in the popularity of backward thought processes. Extensive promotion, of course, but extensive promotion with the consent of the authorities — in combination with the tendency of 21st century-Bangladesh’s conscious citizens to be shamelessly selective regarding their choice of issues to speak up about.
An easy example of the last two points is the craze regarding a blasphemous video that made the rounds throughout social media a couple of weeks back. Looking back, we recognize the features discussed earlier sticking out in this scenario like sore thumbs — a) the abominable zeal of a significant portion of millennials in promoting the message of the video and b) the emergence of the other group to counter it, despite however positive that obviously is.
The first bit has already been pondered upon — who would have imagined that teenage boys vastly detached from religion would twist that very thing to feed their masculine egos?
The second point, however controversial this may sound, is quite problematic as well. Where we grew up cheering the characters Meena, Raju and Mithu on as they shamed a lanky guy with a huge stereo for demanding dowry from the bride’s family, we now look away when news of a housewife being lashed in Thakurgaon arises.
In 2011, the country’s highest court overturned the 2001 ban on fatwa. We should’ve known by then what we were inviting into our lives. In December 2017, we heard of the fatwa issued by a cleric in Kumarkhali, banning women from working in the fields. It brings us back to the talk about selective dissent, and the implications that the ordinary people in the role of spectators may draw from that.
Would they not wonder if this, then, is the only thing that Bangladeshi feminism stands for? Already, enough damage has been done to distort the average Bangladeshi’s perception of feminism, thanks to trigger-happy alt-right “men’s right activists” and our very own fundamentalist propagandists — which has been in circulation in social media for a very long time now in the form of wisdom from supposed clerics; it was only a matter of time before they found a spokesperson in young people to give their beliefs the branding that they needed to have a place in the 21st century.
If the progressive end of the spectrum does not stand up for the other multitude of atrocities that don’t concern itself, victory for their counterparts is almost certain, aided by the lack of support from the common man who’ll fail to see its relevance and importance. The absence of counter-misinformation campaigns results in nothing short of their own doom.
It’s surreal how as of right now, there seems to be only two kinds of people left, two kinds of conversations, two kinds of gatherings. As a people, we seem to have grown totally immune to all violations of our rights. Like zombies, we have grown accustomed to trauma and tragedy, normalizing them while we were at it. We accept the reality that “speaking out gets you killed; and if you get killed, well, you were asking for it.”
The system as we know it, has morphed into one big synthetic, soulless loop. Failing to conform to the current societal dynamics, in our desperate search for meaning and motivation, we’re resorting to abominable individual expressions — fake laughs, fake adrenaline rushes, fake smiles, fake vanity, fake power, abuse, drugs, and absolute detachment from any binding ethical structures — peak decadence.
To justify our positions, we take to associating ourselves with an array of labels — from postmodern nihilism to the far reaches of religion-driven extremism.
All of this boils down to the simplest of things, yet somehow the hardest for people to grasp. Bangladeshis didn’t become such void, hollow beings overnight. None of this happened accidentally. Blame whoever you want — the bourgeoisie, the patriarchy, the Left, the Right, your government, a foreign state, the Illuminati, whoever. When a strong, free generation of people loses the ability to articulate itself and establish itself without selling out to serve the lucrative structures promoted on the bright screens, it becomes, certainly and immediately, cows for slaughter. Welcome to the machine. The most divided society is the least difficult to control.
Perhaps all isn’t lost yet. Perhaps, we’ll come to see that the only way out of this Armageddon is a mass overhaul, a deconstruction process — revising and revisiting the doctrines that we cling to as our guiding light, promoting the practice of possessing informed opinions and learning to identify propaganda, locate the part(s) of the socio-political spectrum that advocate for, and endorse intolerance and spite. The scenario stands such, that the realization of our common struggles, the deception to thwart the growth of that consciousness, learning and practising solidarity — is more vital than ever.
Perhaps the most important measure available for us right now, despite how naive it may seem, is asking people to learn to love again; for love, perhaps, is the only thing left in this dystopia that cannot possibly be harnessed, capitalized, and made use of by any singular entity to serve itself.