Fundamental principles in a perpetual state of exception

Oliur Sun | Published: 00:00, Dec 16,2018 | Updated: 22:57, Dec 15,2018

 
 

Freedom fighters at the Central Shaheed Minar after the war of liberation. — Internet/Rashid Talukder

The exception is more interesting than the rule. The rule proves nothing; the exception proves everything. In the exception the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.
– Carl Schmitt

AS WALTER Benjamin observes that ‘the state of exception… has become the rule’, the supersedence and rejection of constitutional rights become imperative through the increased or, extended power of the government. Through the extension of power or, suspension of laws the government starts to operate outside the law with the claim of an emergency — an exception which is then perpetuated with the government being all powerful. Because the government acquires political power over others as a regulatory entity, it is, in a sense, always in a state of emergency since the government seeks to secure power which is constantly being confronted by the voices of conscience to negotiate with the regulation by state power as Michel Foucault said, ‘Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.’
This very resistance is not desired by the totalitarian power and therefore it is considered as an exception — an emergency that possesses a potential threat to the state power. As a result with the claim of saving the state from descending into anarchy (i.e. a state of exception) the rights of citizens are suspended vis-à-vis the citizens being denied of their political agency get reduced to ‘bare life’. Therefore Giorgio Agamben defined modern totalitarianism ‘as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system.’ The introduction of a wartime allows the government to suspend the ‘constitutional norms that protect individual liberties’ whether it is a war against drugs where Akramul Haques become ‘homo sacer’ or, a legal war to secure the power of the government through Section 57 or, Digital Security Act in which Shahidul Alams are deemed as ‘enemy actors.’
‘Pledging that the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism, which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in, the national liberation struggle, shall be the fundamental principles of the Constitution’ — The principles of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism though fundamental to the constitution are subjected to interpretation and state of exception/s that can suspend the realisation of the constitutional principles. The constitution itself being subjected to amendments becomes subjugated to the power of the government or the political ideology of the ruling party — a problematic that haunts all modern states. As the constitution is not a scripture rather a compilation of constitutive ideals through the materialisation of which a state becomes functional, the principles of constitution become a point of reference — a signifier with an ever changing signified with the turnout of political events starting from the military rule to Shahbagh movement. Since the very process of materialisation of the principles of constitution itself counterfeits the principles as the power of its materialisation is given to the government or, a ruling political ideology that seeks to interpret the principles within the terrains of its ideology, the fundamentality of the principles becomes extrinsic. And as the exterior experiences an extension of the power of the government in a perpetual state of exception the fundamental principles being auxiliary get trivialised. This trivialisation of the fundamental principles that secure individual liberties (though in some cases through exclusivity) renders the principles obsolete in realisation.
And therefore, ‘a socialist economic system … ensuring the attainment of a just and egalitarian society’ is materialised as an unjust and capitalist economic system with bourgeoisies like wealthy businessmen gaining both economic and political power. ‘The elimination of — (a) communalism in all its forms; (b) the granting by the State of political status in favour of any religion; (c) the abuse of religion for political purposes;’ gets translated into the articulation of the prominence of religion of the majority, the granting of the religion of the majority as the state-religion and the use of majoritarian religious pressure groups to gain political popularity. ‘The unity and solidarity of the Bangalee nation, which, deriving its identity from its language and culture’— a unity based on singularity as well as homogeneity itself becomes problematic as the other languages and cultures get excluded from the solidarity of the nation and are subjected to militarisation in regions like Chittagong Hill Tracts where a perpetual state of exception is the most concretised.
‘A democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed… and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured’ is iterated as a political utopia with the representatives in administration being selected through a fraudulent election in 2014 and ‘worth of the human person’ being translated into ‘bare life’ stripped off its rights as a citizen as the state remains in a perpetual state of exception — a perpetual political violence institutionalised vis-à-vis materialised through the public administration that appears to be independent of the ruling political ideology. Therefore, according to Foucault, ‘the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.’ And only by fighting against the masking of the political violence — the perpetual state of exception, the fundamental principles can be rendered meanings — meanings that are not solidified but meanings that mobilise the rights of the citizen.

Oliur Sun is a student of Jahangirnagar University.

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