THERE is no reason to imagine that a single Facebook post usually carries possibilities of raising any question on the quota mobilization — students demanding reforms in quota system in government jobs, which with its long preparatory phase has been going on for weeks in Bangladesh.
But the Facebook post carries the possibility — questions and serious questions, meanings and serious meanings, implications and serious implications. The reasons: the Facebook post was from, as has been claimed in a number of media reports, the US embassy in Dhaka; and, the developments are in Bangladesh, the country passing through an important phase in its history of inter-state relations.
A New Age report by the daily’s diplomatic correspondent said: ‘The United States on Monday criticised attacks on peaceful demonstrations of university students and observed that such attacks were against founding principles of Bangladesh.
‘ “The outrageous attacks on peaceful demonstrations by university students, the future leaders of Bangladesh’s proud democracy, is counter to the founding principles upon which our countries are established”, the US embassy said in a statement published on its Facebook page.
‘The US government “stands together in solidarity with those exercising their fundamental democratic rights — freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to engage in peaceful protest”, it said.’ (‘US expresses solidarity with peaceful student movement’, July 10, 2018, p 1, Dhaka)
The Asian Age, the Daily Ittefaq, and other Dhaka dailies, and Bdnews24.com, a Dhaka-based news portal, also carried report on the US embassy Facebook post.
The news portal said in an earlier report by its senior correspondent: ‘The Embassy of Germany in Dhaka has said that it has with “great concern” followed the “brutal attacks” on peaceful protesters during the last few days.
‘“Freedom of speech and freedom of opinion are constitutional rights of the citizens in this country’, it said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
‘“Attacks and repression aimed at denying these rights undermine the rule of law and run counter to the founding principles of Bangladesh”, it added.’ (Bdnews24.com, ‘German Embassy in Dhaka concerned over attacks on quota protesters’, July 5, 2018)
The Facebook posts, one type of voice in the sphere of public diplomacy, are related to an ongoing mobilisation by a part of society and the mobilization is related to greater society, public life, public policy and government. Consequently, political parties from different positions have got involved with varying extent or have expressed respective positions on the issue. The issue is stirring debate among at least a part, large or small, of society. The state machine has so far dealt and is dealing with the issue and the mobilisation in its way. The way of dealing is also an issue of debate.
There are the need and scope to continue with the debates on the issue and the way of dealing with the issue. Moreover, there are need and scope to express reaction to the issue and the way of dealing with the issue.
But the reactions or expressions of opinion of diplomatic missions add an element to the perspective of the entire development. The added element is vital. It is vital from the stand point of the mobilisation, from the stand point of the other related parties, and from the stand point of countries getting involved in their way.
There is no doubt that the countries’ reactions or expressions of opinion are a product of a deep observation, review of all related questions, assessment of an entire situation and all relations, and relating these to the concerned country’s policy, geopolitical strategy, etc.
Words, and even punctuation marks do not go without weighing in diplomacy. Style, mode and timing of expression do not go without examination and re-examination in diplomacy. The process begins prior to expressions and is continued with in its post-phase.
Similarly, other countries do not keep their eyes and ears closed to the expressions already made by others. In this Bangladesh case, it is normal that especially the Russian, Chinese, Indian, UK, EU and Pakistan press and other officers will take the expressions/reactions into notice. The Bangladesh offices concerned will also take into consideration the reactions/expressions.
At the same time, quarters in Bangladesh — political parties, student organisations, organisations concerned with and related to society and economy will review the reactions/expressions. This will help these organisations review respective positions, identify relations and characters related to the issue. Any or all of them have the liberty to look at the issue from a narrow angle or with a wider perspective, to have an isolated view or a view with all its connections.
Considering these aspects, it can be claimed that the Facebook posts have helped take away a few confusions, have helped identify a few positions, have provided an opportunity to review respective positions. Thence, in one way, these were like friends or teachers — positive or negative.
One can compare the reactions to other incidents, can relate these to other developments within society and outside the border of the country — in a few other capital cities. One can relate these to other diplomatic developments related to Bangladesh.
Even, one can compare these with incidents in other countries — adjacent, near or far away. The incidents may be similar or dissimilar. The countries may be Afghanistan or Syria, India or Venezuela, Pakistan or some other country.
If one likes, a look-back — leaf through related history — can be done. The history may be of this land — Bangladesh since August 14, 1947. This land witnessed many student movements. Most of those were democratic in all senses, not in a fake form. Most of the Bangladesh student movements were anti-imperialist; and they never cajoled imperialism; they never denied, discarded, satirised and humiliated sacrifices made for the country, for the people.
One can recall the students protesting imperialism’s Vietnam bombing —sorties and sorties of B-52s dropping Napalm Bombs, carpet bombing crop lands and communities in North Vietnam. Martyrs arose from that protest. Memories of those martyrs are alive to many, and have faded from some.
The Facebook posts thus carry many messages and signals much.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion