WHAT is the thread on which the last straw stands? ‘Sanity’ under our fascism is held by a thin rope, a noose, and those who tolerate the most suffocating mental pollution barely blinking a mad eye deserve praise for being so — ‘well-adjusted to a sick society (attributed to philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti), ours having disappeared whole beings, six hundred and one since September 2009 (Ain o Salish Kendro had it at 601) and killed more than 3071 through extrajudicial means during the same time period, what is left to erase? Our words, even the last few sounds of a person mad with pain. The people’s jesters, inexorably replaced by the grotesques of the king, cartoonists and writers by prison wardens and the wardens of the word, of history, of who has the right to curse and who doesn’t (the Digital Security Act pretends to not differentiate, but we all know there are rights and then there are rights — in a state of systematic human rights violations — double standards become state policy). For those who feign to not know where he or she stands in the monster’s banquet, the message from the banging at the door is clear: get out of the way.
Acts of erasure begin with history, move on to bodies, then surely into poetry — logically, since Caliban will curse, eventually, like a grime-rapping Akala, dangerously. The best poets under dictatorship swore, in this country certainly with Rafiq Azad under Ershad, and almost anywhere else, from Chile to El Salvador, to Egypt or Syria, or the Ivory Coast. No matter what your mumbling justification of dictatorships or fascism, a lesser evil, etc, it becomes harder, doesn’t it, to justify this any longer even beneath the liberal umbrella or development utopia of such token imagination. That terrain, like so much else, has become finely conquered and stood on its head — claiming, at present, politicians as poet-royalty, Machiavellians of the word. This is perhaps why there was a veritable pageant for becoming a new kind of court-poetess over the last suffocating decade. It’s not enough to infiltrate almost every other office, supposed gender- ceiling, sign and cultural trope of significance, one has to, finally and absolutely, gain control of the word.
As its death knoll rings, guests at the monster’s banquet feel the tactics of fascism boomerang. This is why slogans chanted recently in the streets have more resonance, edge and truth, than any poetry produced in the last decade — language starts to mean again, in every vein, rajpath and ganapath where blood and courage has flowed; while the marionette’s moves, do no more than claim space. Yet how has all this come to play out? One may wonder why the present regime’s (self-righteous) discourse on rights has had and has such a narrow scope (the legitimacy, rendering invocation of the war crimes tribunal in its earlier 2008 election platform long eroded by the transgression of all kinds of rights — from life, speech to assembly — since its demonstration-election of 2018). No surprise that the idiom of this latter voter-less election is mimicked in the reality of ‘getting away with murder’— a trickle-down phenomena of unchecked power. Since 2011, according to the International Federation for Human Rights FIHR, that passive refusal has transformed into an ‘active policy of state disappearances.’ We could look across the border: the proverbial blind seeking the advice of the deaf— our ‘Friend with Benefits’ next door, makes our madness look sane. We need look no further than India — our proverbial standard for all empty categories of polity and ‘culture’; we can look for comfort in that encounter. In terms of pure discourse, though, the ability of our language to self-deaden wins the day in competition for ‘developing’ economy fascist rhetoric; theirs is crass, ours is incredible (taller than a tale was ever). You should hear this stuff. That’s why it had to be gagged — the two-way street of language, closed forever, dead-ended by Digital Bangladesh. They have an on-line mob toeing the line; we have cyborgs and acts. Also, mobs; but they come out periodically, in person. We depend on language; or at least its emptiness.
Such that now, students, teachers, people, even kokils, I am told, are risking the DSA’s wrath (i.e. arrest and torture, behind our new private and public prisons) by seeking its ban, and so — seeking the ‘impossible’ according to another English daily, in a world where (some but thankfully few) professors’ Facebook posts consist of advocating for the DSA without nuance or responsibility, their fanboy and fangirl students uttering the garbage of artificial intelligence for security, garbage that is weaponised for unapologetic chauvinism. Apart from the intellectual backbone of fascism built on cultural doublethink — the strata of ‘professors’ and advisers — there are those in ‘civil society’ and the literati who remain stuck on their fatuous theories of relativity. They are the last guards of purgatory, and so penultimate collaborators who use the degradation of all currency — language, bank notes, rhetoric — to keep the devil’s bargain. I am interested in these members of the Monster’s banquet — for they hold our sanity on a thin thread, by their apparent immovable limbo. They will fall, regardless; yet they stood firm in their hypocrisy and obfuscation till the last, as the protesters on the street have categorically called them out recently. But who are these masters of wool? The proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing?
Let’s begin with the particular mutation of a common virus — the anonymous bureaucrat of security, who has withstood every truth by torturing it (as in the title of Rahnuma Ahmed’s book, Tortured Truths, 2013), blindsiding new media with cyber surveillance and intervention, creating a digital-prison wall as thick as the puss of a few thousand men, and some women, who could not have the truth beaten out of them. These are interchangeable with the group of petty, petite bourgeoisie whose sycophancy and propaganda, repeated ad nauseam for the benefit of no one but their newfound powers, largely financial but maintained through political and social capital, functions through pure ceaselessness in the same way as the mind control program of the sixties, MK Ultra, in filling the airwaves with mindless drone testing the limits of our sanity. And those who would rather go with the theory of relativism, all is well if half is well, rather than flex a quiet shuddering conscience to even imagine the possibility of a deliberative democracy, one where they might take part in their so called ‘no choice choice’ by choosing. By what unconscionable tyranny do they think they can force their oxymorons down the throat of those they have no right to speak for, excuse the language — ahem, the majority? For university professors who turn in students for not being regime-friendly enough at Dhaka University, as VP Nur recently referred, for those who ‘teach’ critical-thinking in private universities or schools but defend the DSA to curtail the ‘swearing of others’: for these, freedom of speech, any time it is the freedom to merely observe reality with another pair of glasses, is a curse word. And there is the rub. Others. The Other. Etc. Hold on, though, there’s more. There’s the group that makes it through every dictatorial regime barely hiccupping, as though inoculated against even seeing outrage, though even their numbers have dwindled, and there is no guarantee even they will make it, in spite of indifference, or their theories of relativity (a lesser evil, ours, a greater evil, theirs — a formula that erodes before the totalising evil of an endless present). Then there are the ‘self-interest groups’ who are supposedly protected (this notion balks under the monster’s absolute blindness in its choice of random and vulnerable victims, inevitably including all kinds of minorities and their rights) — we are all victims, as they say, if only some of us were not desensitised to gag reflex. It’ like the manipulation of the age-old genocidal metaphor of killing ‘cockroaches’ (alias ‘Islamic terrorists’, Rohingya, the opposition, etc., etc., whichever scapegoat fits the bill) in the pseudo-nationalistic narrative of ‘saving people.’ The psychopathic sadism of such a narrative hardly needs debunking, but since all is myth in this ‘sane security’ here I am, with my o-gape of disgust, a symptom of lack of ‘adjustment’ surely. All I have to do for my ‘well-being’ is take my place in the banquet, then shall I surely heal.
Those who say people want (and they wouldn’t be above implying they ‘need’) this peculiar kind of ‘secularism’ and ‘nationalism,’ development and ‘normalcy/peace’ have not gone to the villages and neighborhoods — whose men have vacated their homes at night under the constant terror of local police and security searches (i.e. recently reported in Sirajganj but not an isolated event, rather a symptom of systematic abuse), regardless of class, affiliation or creed). Or they did not notice that rape has been systematically used on women and men, not to mention girls and boys, to make a point, during elections, during protests, randomly as part of the spoils of ‘peace’ and the ransom of those invited to the banquet table. The question is who is to be Master, that is all (attributed to Lewis Carol’s Humpty Dumpty). Those who say there is no better option have not once turned the newspaper page to think about how a ‘liberated, alias free country’ has turned into an imploding prison-corporation, how a nation overrun by sycophants and thieves, torturers and happy go lucky businessmen are moving us closer to not one, but many civil wars, fractions, segmented like parts of an axed centipede with nether creed nor culture, or any unifying factor to hold onto but diabolical self-interest, and toxic pleasures as myriad as our bacteria. They say it’s our dirt that saved us from a COVID catastrophe — but that’s an urban legend, of course, and demeaning. Much nicer to think we did it ourselves, in spite of the incredible loss of doctors’ lives, among others. But we have not been successfully divided, in spite of the relativists and overstuffed guests at the banquet. One man’s death and a thousand others’ torture and death have stopped that train, on its tracks. This record of the people’s horror, is testimony against, not only those who could not stomach a shudder, a sigh, the laughter, in short, ‘curses’ and criticism; this is for those masters of wool who were seemingly indifferent, sheep gathered in echoing blood-darkness, always on the wolf’s side. Our youth, and the people more than technically alive, have spoken: get out of the way.
Seema Amin is a writer and lecturer.
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