‘Culture of Fear’ in Bangladesh Politics

Md. Mizanur Rahman

Bangladesh is going through one of the worst political subjugations ever. The last parliamentary election held one-sided, highly rigged, without major political party’s participation. Although government was formed, its legality is questioned; in an interview with CNN, Ali Riaz claimed, “the government is constitutionally legal, but morally illegal”.[1] Therefore, demanding government’s step- down, and mid- term fair election, opposition party with its grand alliance, has initiated terrible street violence, resulting hundreds of deaths and leaving much more severely injured. But, government seems adamant and neutralized all resistances with iron hand. People are apprehensive; dare not raise voice even in rational issues. Sort of repressive, suffocating or can be said, the ‘culture of fear’ has gripped popular psyche. But, what does culture of fear exactly mean? And, how has it sprung up in Bangladesh?

Generally, culture of fear is generated to the popular national imagination employing coercive measures, directly or indirectly, through state’s policing actions. According to Maria Alves, three psychological components of the culture of fear are included such as silence through censorship, sense of isolation, and a generalized belief that all channels of opposition were closed. A feeling of complete hopelessness, prevailed, in addition to withdrawal from opposition activity.[2] Alves in her celebrated book State and Opposition in Military Brazil shows how military regime of Brazil in 1960s created culture of fear to subjugate resistances against authoritarian regime. Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, in context to US ‘War on Terror’ project, asserts that a culture of fear is deliberately generated because it “obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue”.[3] Similarly, Professor Ali Riaz in his recent book Culture of Fear: The Political Economy of Terror and Violence in Bangladesh defines that culture of fear is a socio- political milieu, where terrorism, violence and use of force are considered as a part of governing modality and determinant of mutual relations. Here, power is the center of all underlying associations of diverse social groups. This is not natural but a constructed psyche. Ali Riaz contends that this culture is constructed by the dominant groups to compel the subordinates in unquestionably championing their authorization.[4] Journalist Adam Curtis in his BBC documentary named The Power of Nightmares maintains that politicians use our fears to increase their power and control over society.[5] However, the culture of fear presents everywhere; it hierarchically demarcates the society into different poles such as the superior- inferior, the patron- client and so forth. This superiority does not constrain to the class supremacy only but manifested through other social issues such as ethnicity, religion and gender.

In Bangladesh, it has been observed that violence and terrorism are used as the means of demonstrating the cultural of fear. The dominant groups deliberately produce pusillanimity in popular imagination by destabilizing politics, inducting vandalism and undertaking other farcical actions. The fear is disseminated everywhere that paralyzes the people’s power of rebellion. This culture is given the ideological connotations; where people of one group addresses others as kind of demonic and unsolicited. The dominant groups institutionalize the culture of fear, where sort of privatization of institutions is prevalent, personal cult becomes vital, often idolized by the terrorists and consequently, terrorism gets patronized. Culture of fear is not only produced by coercion but also by entangling people within ideological entrapment. Ruling class generates ideology from their vantage points and enforces them on mass psyche. This is done, Riaz argues, in a kind of Foucaultdian discoursive manner, basically in two phases: first, establishing and sustaining discourses, and second, seeking people’s corroboration.[6] Being grifted by this subtlety, people unconsciously start serving the interests of the powerful; even if they can realize that, ideologically, they are victimized, and cannot revolt. It establishes the situation what new historicists define as the state’s way of “thought control”, where state constructs its ideology into every citizen’s mind. In contemporary Bangladesh, the situation has been created in a way that there is no other voice, but the dominant; there is no other truth, but the truth of what the ruling party attempts to discriminate. Citizens hardly have any right to speak on national issues. Once one raises voice, he is neutralized. Killing and enforced disappearance, political and non- political, have become an everyday affair. For example, in 2011 the case of enforced disappearance was 792, in 2012 it increased to 850 and in 2013, the number further increased to 879.[7]

In addition, the political economy of Bangladesh directly contributes in dispersing the superiors’ ideology. In capitalist market economy, holding control of production mechanism, ruling class compels the mass not to move beyond their construction. In fact, in post- 1975 Bangladesh, hijacking socialistic notion of the country, few people overnight turned to bourgeois and grabbed state power. A kind of “patron-client” relationship found between the powerful elite class and mass people. B. K. Jahangir rightly comments that the political economy of the country is “a reciprocity of exchange based on unequal rank” with three important characteristics: economic structures of exploitation, political structures of domination and ideological structures of con-sensus and control.[8] But in the countries where capitalism has not been developed and capitalists themselves are not united enough, the rulers employ the state institutions to usurp their interests. In Bangladesh rulers apparently have been using state institutions in expanding the culture of fear. For example, Bangladesh government’s Terrorism Control Act 1992, Mass Security Act 2000 and formation of RAB and its “Operation Clean Heart” are nothing but meeting the vested interest of the powerful. Intentionally, people are kept fearful and under constant surveillance. Government has placed law enforcing agencies in unchallenged position. Killings, forced disappearance, and other political violence in Bangladesh are not accidental; rather motivative that makes the citizen helpless, apprehensive and forced to submit to the state. Different human rights organizations enlist that in 2013 only, 506 people were killed, 24176 were injured, and 3171 arrested, total 27923 people became the victim of either the violence of political parties or law enforcement agencies.[9]

Minorities in Bangladesh, particularly the ethnic groups and Hindus, are not safe from the victimization of state’s structural violence. The nationality of ethnic groups is consciously denied. Instead of giving their fair rights, they are merely sympathized. In the name of modernization, they are homogenized excluding their cultural and ecological heterogeneity. Riaz argues that they are treated as the other; viewed from the oriental framework, the way the west views the rest-traditional, violent, and non- civilized and what not. Producing fear in the popular discourse, they are transformed into subject; either through the process of assimilation or exclusion.[10] The imposition of culture of fear on the ethnic groups is done by three ways: their existence as separate nationals are constitutionally denied; the material base of their culture is destroyed; and they are colonized permanently by controlling their experiences. It can be stated that being apprehensive, Hindus no longer belong to the country as their own; they are ‘proventialized’ in their own land. No political party takes responsibility once violence occurs, rather accuses each other and consequently, the genuine perpetrators remain beyond rule of law. Minorities are always attacked by the dominant groups, particularly in post- election period. In 2001 and previous elections, they became target of the political violence. In 2012 Ramu Tragedy shocked the nation. In 2013 religious minorities in various places were attacked after the verdicts of the war crime tribunal. The statistics of repression against religious minorities shows that in the years of 2011, 2012 and 2013 the number of people affected were 183, 222 and 787.[11] As a result, minorities particularly are migrating to India, often illegally risking their lives. The marginalization of minorities is evident in the statistics of religious groups in Bangladesh. In 1941, the number of Hindus in Bangladesh was 28.3% whereas today it is roughly 8.5%.[12]

Furthermore, women are also victimized in the country. Women are persecuted basically through the unequal rights of women on property, men ideological upper hand over them in patriarch social set up, and the social institutions discriminatory treatment to women. They are deliberately embroiled in a social hierarchy where they cannot enjoy direct control on resources and remain subordinate. Religious card is deceivably employed in this regard, especially in dividing wealth. Instumentalizing different male dominated socio- economic, cultural facets, women ideology are manipulated in a way that, even women themselves are not aware of their subjugation. Moreover, if we go through the controversy regarding Sharia and Fatwa law in Bangladesh, particularly in 1990s and the government’s silence regarding the issues, it would be clear how institutions undertake gender violence. In the name of Islamic jurisdiction, still hundreds of women are victimized in the villages of Bangladesh by Mullahs, where the dubious silence of government is appalling. The matter of great concern is that although fatwa was outlawed in 2001, under the pressure of Islamists, it has been legalized in 2011 again. Moreover, Sheikh Hasina government has made a proposal of forming “Sharia Board” and governing the country in according to “Madina Shanad”, which is truly formidable. As women are still everyday perpetrated, further legalization of fatwa will further exacerbate the situation only.[13] In addition, women are victimized by the law enforcing agencies too. It is ironical to state that in 2013, among total rape conducted by security forces, 44% were by police only.[14]

Therefore, question arises, where Bangladesh is actually heading to? Riaz outlines two possibilities of the country’s future. First, due to the recurrent presence of terrorism, violence and fear, the country might turn into the fascist one. He finds all characteristics of fascist country prevalent in Bangladesh, prominently, intolerance, partiality to certain group of people, using law enforcing agencies to neutralize the ideological opponents, and irresponsibility of the political parties. Along with this fascist character of the state, the power of the mass people to revolt is put down by intimidating that leads the country towards an anarchic one.

Second possible trend of the country is the emergence of a theocratic state. He argues that by establishing discourse that creates the fear in the world as well as the after world, the basis of developing a theocratic state is foregrounded. In Bangladesh, the potent emergence of Islamic political parties, the widely propagation of fatwa and shalish and parochial reaction to modernity, kind of re- Islamization of self and society is apparent. These Islamization process teaches not to question the existing discourse. People admit the repression of the ruling class with nonchalance. Hence, there is a possibility that in the name of an Islamic country, the ruling class can emerge more oppressive and secure their interests without mettlesome confrontation. But still, the possibility of resistance against the present repressive regime cannot be ruled out. As Foucault believes that where there is power, there is resistance.[15] Although there is the culture of fear everywhere in the country, it is not the ultimate end. The identification of this culture and consent against it might change the future of the country.

(The author teaches at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Dhaka. He can be reached at mizanur.rahman@bsmrstu.edu.bd.)

End notes 
[1] See, Ali Riaz’s Interview at CNN, Was Bangladesh Election Legitimate? January 6, 2014. http://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2014/01/07/bangladesh-election-violence-ali-riaz-intv.cnn

[2] Maria Alves, (1985) State and Opposition in Military Brazil. Brazil: University of Texas Press. p. 352

[3] Zbigniew Brzezinski, ‘War on Terror’, Washingtonpost.com. March 25, 2007

[4] Ali Riaz (2014) Culture of Fear: The Political Economy of Terror and Violence in Bangladesh (in Bangla), Dhaka: Prothoma Prokashan. P. 12

[5] See The Power of Nightmares: Your comments. BBC (London). August 3, 2005

[6] Ibid. 35

[7] Kamrul Hasan (2014) The Human Security has Demolished, Prothom ALo, May 4, 2014.

[8] B.K. Jahangir (1982) Rural Society, Power Structure and Class Practice. Dhaka,Bangladesh: Centre for Social Studies, 78.

[9] See the reports of Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and Odhikar 2013

[10] Ibid

[11] Odhikar Statistics Religious Minority 2013, www.odhikar.org

[12] Cited in Riaz, Culture of Fear. P. 104

[13] See Shomokal, 2013, Not Prime Ministership, Want peace: Hasina, November 10, 2013

[14] See Law Enforcing Agencies Raped! (In Bangla), Prothom Alo, November 11, 2013

[15] Sara Mills (2003) Michel Foucault, London, New York: Routledge, p. 69


The Polit(r)ics of Silence

Quazi Mosiur Rahman

LET us start by describing two pertinent issues. First, a politically cognisant teacher frequently asks a question to a new group of students to know how many of them would like to be politically conscious beings. Most often the all pervading silence conveys a big ‘NO’ to politics. The second issue, couple of days ago we witnessed a tragic launch accident. Even the ‘submerged mass coffin’, Pinak-6, could not be traced out. Sadly, people became sympathetically silent with no drive to challenge this mass murder. In this way, every day many nerve-wrecking incidents occur, but people remain in psychopathological paralysis. Is this phenomenon of silence natural or politically induced?  In fact, one of the prominent social scientists Fredric Jameson claims, “political perspective is the absolute horizon of all reading and interpretation.” Edward Said, the great intellectual, activist and think-tank of Palestinian liberation movement, senses the same, no knowledge is apolitical. Therefore, digging deeper in to the prevalent politics of silence is in order.

First of all, a bourgeois state does not want its citizens to be critically disposed. That is why it tries to stifle the intellectual and humane growth of its citizenry. It was historically perceived by Buddha and Confucius. According to their understanding, the true purpose of the state machineries is to make people intellectually inadequate so that they become servile and never dare to face up to the authority.

To add, the modern state, in collaboration with corporate capitalism manufactures ‘disimagination machine’, the term used by Georges Didi-Huberman, to castigate critical and intellectually vibrant human beings. At this moment, mainstream politics and collective consciousness devalue reason. People are blindly following, without any sensible and rational question, those beliefs, custom and lifestyles that they are structured to follow.

In that society collective memory is under severe grip of amnesia. People are constructed to possess, if not blank slate, only fragmented dots of history. It becomes possible mainly through a mechanism that presents history to young people as a boring subject with only clusters of some dry dates and events. That does not mean it gets itself detached from history, rather this mechanism emotionally markets historical events via advertisements. In this regard, in Bangladesh the advertisement of mobile phone companies, banks and insurance companies are of relevance. Consequently, people remain apathetic towards in-depth understanding of historical achievements. For example, throughout the world, mass movements barely carry any legacy of golden historical events. Rather they are to follow fresh starts without organized leadership and vivid vision. People are kept aloof because in history there lie dormant some potential antidotes of all kinds of oppression and exploitation.

Not only this, critical thinking which gives impetus to look deeper into any phenomenon has been brutally exiled from academic institutions. Also, studying in other than ones mother tongue, as many seminal researches have proved, reinforces the intellectual sterilization of students. The gradual sterilization leads to commoditization of education which is now so pervasive in Bangladesh. It is because this country unquestionably tries to follow the prescription of international financial institutions which work as the public relation officers of mercantile capitalism, which grounds on skilled labourer and not on freedom loving human beings. Hence, a faulty semester system and purely a GPA driven generation tends to prevail in the leadership of this country. At present, students are allured to study market motivated subjects which are sceptic about greater humane qualities like love, kindness, care, prudence, patience, selflessness etc. Likewise, teachers are encouraged to become mere facilitators or instructors, in other words, corporate executives and not ‘Gurus’ in terms of being philosopher-guides. These trends in education can be identified as an insidious ‘war against thought’.

In addition, there are also endeavours of capitalist culture to depoliticize people. Here is a widely propagated idea — ‘nasty’ politics is for ‘nasty’ people. This is why ‘good’ students should refrain from politics. Regrettably, people barely understand that politics does not refrain from entangling their lives any way. This depoliticizing appears to be dominant when ubiquitous consumer culture designs and preaches a very standardized archetype of a good citizen, to differently put, a naive consumer. Herbart Marcuse substantiates this idea by introducing necessary features of ‘One dimensional man’ of consumer society whose aptitude and ability for critical thinking withers away. Thus, an over encompassing passivity prevails. Pleasure through consumption exists to be the ultimate destination behind all initiatives.

As a consequence, political and corporate disorder perpetuates. Exploitation of the common man goes unchallenged. Equitability and justice are denied. People, for psychological relief, take refuge in fanatic belief and practices. Fatalistic outlook of life tends to determine collective consciousness. As a whole, dehumanization appears to cripple common lives.

In turn, a new Rana Plaza will collapse, hundreds of wage earners will return to the motherland in coffins, public leaders will be burnt alive, law enforcing agencies will slaughter another seven, ‘minorities’ will suffer,  and so on. Accordingly, news agencies will publish stories, authorities will torrentially pour commitments for ‘justice’, a few organizations will form human chains, and the people will wait for a more traumatic event to forget the previous one.

Quazi Mosiur Rahman teaches English at Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Dhaka. 

  • The article initially appeared in the Daily Star on September 2, 2014

China in SAARC: a Feasible Option?

Md. Mizanur Rahman

There has always been debate on the issue that whether China should be included in South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC). The debate was started, basically in the beginning of 21st century when China showed keen interest to be a part of it. Pakistan is the key proponent of inclusion of China in SAARC and urged to provide China a full fledge membership in 18th SAARC summit. Nepal also intends to bring China in the region and so does Bangladesh. Nepal’s Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai had publicly spoken the need for bringing China into SAARC and has vowed to create Nepal as a meaningful bridge between China and India. Prof. Imtiaz, the leading scholar of Bangladesh said, “China should be given full membership as it is the largest trading partner of the SAARC member-countries”. But India shows continuing reluctance to provide space to any other economic giant in the region.

It is interesting to note that the scholars engaged with the issues of regional integration are also divided among themselves on the issue of extending the membership of SAARC to China. The major opponents include Sujit Dutta, Moonis Ahmar, Smruti S. Pattanaik, and S.D. Muni, while prime proponents are Nishchal Nath Pandey, Shen Dingli, and Dr. Chintamani Mahapatra. According to Indian expert of Chinese studies Prof. Sujit Dutta, countries willing to counter- balance India want to include China at SAARC. He deems China as not being eligible to be a full member of ‘a cohesive, secure and integrated democratic political order in South Asia’. He adds that China’s membership at SAARC will jeopardize the South Asian regionalism, as China is the world’s largest authoritarian state and aids authoritarian regime thereby bars democratization. Besides, Moonis Ahmar argues that although China shares borders with South Asia, culture and historically it is alien to the region, hence, it should not be included in the region. Furthermore, S.D. Muni holds the uneasy relation between India and Pakistan has affected the SAARC’s success while Pakistan bars the development of SAARC by ‘terrorism as state policy’, and India being reluctant of SAARC established BIMSTEC excluding Pakistan. India’s reluctance is understood when it is seen that SAARC is not even mentioned in India’s grand strategy or foreign policy vision documents, policy statements of ministers, and election manifestos. Therefore, the inclusion of China into the SAARC process would further complicate the process.

In contrast to that, Smruti S. Pattanaik, one of the proponents of bringing China in SAARC provides very valid argument: “I don’t think it is prudent to call China an ‘outside power’; they are also making in-roads in South Asia just like India has begun implementing its Look East policy. China has good relations with each of the SAARC countries, and its trade volume and interactions at all levels with all countries of SAARC have been increasing. In fact, for the bilateral trade to reach $100 billion, Nepal could be developed as a transit state in between the rising economic giants of Asia. Increasing connectivity between North India and Tibet via Nepal will prove a worthwhile venture for Indian goods to make use of the Shigatse Lhasa Golmud railway straight into the Chinese mainland. India should show its strength and demonstrate confidence as regards China’s entry into SAARC instead of fear and anxiety. After all, if Afghanistan could become a member without an amendment of the SAARC charter, so can other countries such as China and Japan, with whom all countries of South Asia, including India, enjoy good relations”. Dr. Chintamani Mahapatra argues that if China is invited to join SAARC and Beijing agrees to do so, the profile of SAARC will change overnight in the international political economy. This organization will be respected for having the world’s two fastest growing economies, the two most populous countries and the two most significant players in the politics, economics and security affairs of the largest continent of the globe.

However, as per my own analysis, China’s joining in SAARC will make the organization more functional. First of all, the balance of power will be ensured. The smaller countries of SAARC often regard India as a hegemonic power in economic and political terms. The countries are suffering from an inferiority crisis because of India’s giant economy and its political engagements of neighboring countries. Already sort of balancing has been introduced, for example, when Pakistan proposed China’s name as an observer of SARRC, India, all of a sudden, to balance it, proposed USA as an observer too. Secondly, if China is included in SAARC, the region will appear as one of the important regions in the world and will able to grab the maximum benefit from the international forums and agreements. The bargaining power will enhance many folds. Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed rightly argues that if China becomes a full member, SAARC will have more bargaining capability in relation to the global trade and politically also it will help ease the rivalry between India and Pakistan.

Finally, I strongly argue that Chinese inclusion in SAARC will be helpful in ensuring stability in the functioning of the organisation, the Chinese plan of promoting economic development, peace, stability and cooperation can certainly be useful for SAARC. Most importantly, the issue of China’s admission to SAARC should not be held hostage to Indo-Pak rivalry.

In conclusion, from the arguments raised above, it can be rational to state that bringing China in SAARC as a full fledge member, rather than the present observatory state which is passive in a sense, will be beneficial for the region, particularly for the small states. It will bring political balance, economic stability and above all, it provides a comparative advantage in bargaining that the region will achieve in different international treaties and agreements. In other words, the region will emerge, as one of the important and powerful regions in the world and SAARC will be more functional.

Md. Mizanur Rahman Teaches at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Dhaka.

South Asia Needs Better Non-traditional Security Governance

Md. Shariful Islam  
South Asia, which consists of eight states of different size and capabilities, is characterized by high levels of insecurity in interstate, intrastate, and human dimensions. The growing importance of non-traditional security threats is already apparent in South Asian countries. Despite this, the region has not developed a regional mechanism to tackle these security challenges.
Furthermore, the region is the most vulnerable to non-traditional security challenges. South Asia’s immediate neighbouring region to the east, Southeast Asia, has been much more successful in creating a regional institutional mechanism that has helped prevent conflict at interstate level.
Although they have high levels of intra-state insecurity, the original ASEAN states (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand) have abstained from interstate war since 1960s, and the new members (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar) also currently refrain from interstate violence.
The demise of the Cold War created an opportunity to reconsider the definition of security including non-traditional security aspects like environmental degradation, climate change, resource scarcity etc. In the 21st century, on the one hand there is increased demand for water, energy, food for the growing population, and on the other the absence of holistic management of natural resources which points to the governance of non-traditional security at the regional level.
Furthermore, South Asia is vulnerable to the impact of global warming and climate change, which requires greater attention. Time has come to pay special emphasis on non-traditional security governance in South Asia.
In 2009, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program tracked zero interstate conflicts, while 29 interstate conflicts (e.g., Sudan), and five internationalized internal conflicts (e.g., Congo) that occurred in just 25 countries. Many of these internal conflicts involve substantial groups vying for political influence and economic resources, particularly where the distribution of resources is skewed.
Furthermore, according to a 2009 UN study on water resources, by 2030 nearly half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress. Therefore, one can claim that non-traditional security threats merit more attention.
South Asia needs a holistic non-traditional security governance to avert future conflicts whether inter or intrastate. Against this backdrop, Mahin Karim of The National Bureau of Asian Research, rightly says, “The non-traditional security threats of tomorrow could themselves become sources of future traditional conflict if they’re not effectively addressed today. The nature of non-traditional security challenges faced by South Asia may offer opportunities to change the security agenda, perhaps even subsuming traditional security concerns in the region.”
Non-traditional security governance will bring betterment for all in South Asia. The region has a growing economy which requires more energy, oil and water. Everywhere there is a growing demand of natural resources. Asia for instance accounts for 66 percent of the rise in global oil demand over the past two decades, which is projected to increase to 85 percent over the next 20 years. Thus the issue of governance comes to the forefront.
Some examples of how governance of non-traditional security will bring betterment for everyone. While Nepal’s hydro-power production capacity is about 83,000 MW, the production is less than 700 MW, and the result is Nepal suffers from 14 hours power cut during the winter. Take the case of Bhutan, which has surplus potential capacity of 23,000 MW while they need maximum 700 MW. India already has an agreement with Bhutan for acquiring 10,000 MW, and the rest is wanted by Bangladesh. And thus, a new regional architecture of energy is needed in South Asia. Therefore, governance of energy security is a must.
In order to meet the growing water demand of an increased population in South Asia, governance of water security requires more attention now, as well as policy interventions. Inefficient water use, poor water governance leads to scarcity of water. In ominous portent, without new policy interventions, by 2050 freshwater availability will be further strained with 2.3 billion more people than today –  over 40 percent of the global population – projected to be living in river basins experiencing severe water stress, especially in North and South Africa, and South and Central Asia.
From the above analysis, it can easily be claimed that for the betterment and a secured, prosperous life of one-fourth of humanity of South Asia non-traditional security governance is a demand of time. So, it’s time to turn these concerns from paper into reality.

Md. Shariful Islam is Lecturer of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi. He can be reached at shariful.shuvo.duir@gmail.com.  

Too Used to Violence

Md. Mizanur Rahman

Recently, during a discussion on war crimes trials and the subsequent hartals, some of my colleagues urged for more capital punishment, therefore more hartals, and more holidays. They were not concerned about who was given a death sentence, or why. Their main concern was enjoying a holiday!

Similarly, there are people who are careless about the casualties of fire outbreaks in garment factories, road accidents, hartals, and so on, which routinely claim hundreds of lives in Bangladesh. Does their conscience not bother them when faced with such human deaths?

While seeking for the answer, I recalled the term “collective unconscious,” coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. He defined collective unconscious as the innate disposition to experience. It represents basic human behaviour and situations. To him, it “belongs to the class of ideas that people at first find strange, but soon come to possess and use as familiar conceptions.”

How did this originate? Jung asserts: “It seems to me that their origins can only be explained from assuming them to be deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity. One of the commonest, and at the same time most impressive experiences, is the apparent movement of the sun every day.”

In line with Jung’s theory, I observe that we Bangladeshis, in our collective unconscious, are getting nonchalant to the events happening around us. Gradually, the sense of humanity is decaying from our national imagination. We are becoming narrowly self-centred; we don’t hesitate to gratify our desires, even by means of the life of a fellow human being.

Why is this national transformation happening? The repeated incidences of atrocity, persecution, and other catastrophic events appear shocking to us initially, but gradually become banal. We see everything, but remain motionless, collectively unconscious.

It has two major appalling consequences on our social landscape. First, the culture of protest against oppressions is diminishing, and therefore the number of persecutions is alarmingly rising. For example, hundreds have died in political violence last year, but many people don’t feel outraged because they were “political activists.”

But, in reality, they were real people with real connections, and their deaths were felt, and had impacts on certain people. We have noticed indignation among people initially when a college student, Limon, was maimed by RAB, or when journalists Sagar and Runi were brutality killed. But that did not persist for long. After these incidents, so many other killings, disappearances, and mass deaths took place, but people were silent.

Nevertheless, in the history of Bangladesh, particularly since 1947, we have noticed the culture of immense protests to safeguard humanity, and to preserve our rights. How many people were killed in 1952 or 1991? Was the death toll more than that of 2013? No, but today, we are silent and “unconscious” to the deaths.

Children subconsciously legitimise these immoral practices and gradually adopt them as their cultural belongings. In this respect, I remember an experience of philosopher Tariq Ramadan, which he has shared in a lecture recently.

He narrated that while teaching in a secondary school in Geneva, he had a student who loved conflict, and expressed his feelings through violence. Once Ramadan was called from his house and on his arrival, Ramadan found that the student brutally beat his mother.

He was shocked, and when searched for the reason behind this, he discovered that beatings were a common practice in that student’s family. The student’s father would often beat them. Ramadan explained that frequent experiences of violence made his student’s actions justified to him, and therefore he found beating his mother natural.

I fear that frequent incidents of violence and persecution might establish them as a justified means for children in Bangladesh. They might regard violence as morally legitimate. The day might not be far when a child would say after killing another: “I have done nothing wrong!”

Therefore, to escape the situation, we have to develop a culture of empathy. We have to develop the art of compassion in our national imagination. In Buddhist tradition, it is maintained that compassion starts from the self. We ourselves have to generate compassion, and teach our children to do the same.

Md. Mizanur Rahman Teaches at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Dhaka.


Integrating South Asia