Seuty Sabur: It is the state who needs the holy trinity of nation-nationality-nationalism and a common enemy

It is the state who needs the holy trinity of nation-nationality-nationalism and a common enemy
by Seuty Sabur

It has been nine years since I have stopped watching TV daily. I always find it unsettling, especially the talk shows. For me it seems more logical to follow the news online, check people’s reaction on social media. I can’t handle the TV for more than 10 minutes, even in the time of national/international ‘crises’. I avoided TV as much as I could yesterday. I never had my faith in Secular media to say the least. At 10 pm, I had to turn it on as I was talking to my mother who lives in Bijoynagar, and could hear the gunshots and slogans inthe background.  What I saw on TV was ‘Mayhem’.

As I assumed, journalists were fully geared to cover the action.They were telecasting the skirmish live in the middle of gunshots and the huge fire at Paltan. This restored my faith in the media once again. I am not at all surprised to witness our media contributing to ‘war porn’ full of actions. But it was disappointing after a while, when all the TV channels stopped telecasting live news and filled the time with reruns. I knew then, that it would be managed by the state, like always. My cold meds were at work and I had to return to bed, assuring my beloved Facebook enthusiasts that it would be a ‘perfect day’ tomorrow.

Wonderful rainy morning it was! Traffic seems perfectly manageable at 10 am whilst going to my office. Thankfully, there was downpour all night, washing away the blood and ashes. Now, we have an aesthetically pleasant Dhaka city without a trace of white payjama-panjabi clad Hefazatis. Our eager middle class audience could have their sigh of relief after cheering for the government the whole night on Facebook for a successful crack down on Hefazatis. They are probably nodding their heads thinking Islamists won’t be able to turn this country into another Afghanistan/Pakistan because of the secular majority. And probably by now, they are resorted to buying the latest Paki designer brand ‘Sana Safina’s/‘Zibaish’, lawns.

This is exactly what the State wanted from her citizen–faceless, indifferent individuals. My orthodox secular father assured me last night; things will be fine by the morning as government has stepped into the scene and managed to clear up Paltan, chasing ‘them’ to Motijheel. When I asked him, “are you assured that things will be fine in the long run?” he changed the topic and asked about my son who was suffering from a bad cold. With utter frustration I could feel that he doesn’t see any hope at the age of 72, but was not ready to give in either. I hope he at least acknowledges that he is as culpable of creating such antagonistic forces, as we all are.

I have been quoting Talal Asad, who asked a pertinent question as to whether ‘secular provocation—“fighting words”—lead to violent conflict?’ in my article ‘Post Card from Shahabag’. I am still bogged by the same question. And my answer was and is ‘it does’. The so called astik (believer)-nastic (atheist) divide was necessary to tame Shahabag “GonoJagoronMoncho’. One can blame Mahmudur Rahman, the editor of ‘Amar desh’ for such a construction but he wouldn’t be the only beneficiary for sure. Hefazat-e-Islami was single handedly manufactured to counter Shahabag. To counter Hefazat, we witness Ahle Sunnah emerge with its grandeur. Whose purpose do these birthing processes serve? That should be our question. Why is it necessary for the secular ruling party and opposition to pander to Islamist forces in the time of their own crisis? Who is stepping on whose shoulder to achieve his/her political goal?Isn’t it only natural that in being a believer,one will lose the moral ground before the battle even starts with Hefazat – especially when one needs saving grace from Islamists governing the state?

People, who are suffering from fear of being marked as ‘Taleban’, please do remember you are advancing the script of ‘war on terror’ callously with your beloved secular virtue, by pushing the Islamic forces to the fringe. When Ramu was burning, all we saw were Islamic forces, not the puppet master/mistress who provoked the incident. Are we that naïve to believe that the Phatik Chari massacre couldn’t be managed locally? Do we really think the government had to deploy the army at Bagura to control the masses?I firmly believe that if the ruling party and the opposition had a strong hold in local politics (not because of their patron-client relationship with the grass root worker), these issues could be resolved politically at the local level. State didn’t have to intervene into any of these. State forces were called upon to legitimize their political weaknesses, time and again.

Before pointing fingers at Islamists, one must take stock of one’s culpability. One cannot just indiscriminately go on saying that ‘these are the illiterate madrassah students who are following their leaders mindlessly’. Or say, ‘They can go and plunder and spend their days blocking roads just because they don’t have any better things to do’. Or for that matter ‘they don’t have to worry about money as their patronized by Saudi oil money’. Before accusing the madrassah and yatimkhanas, please look at yourself. These rhetoric may hold some truth to it, but it is the government who gives the permission for the establishment of such institutions. It is us who build mosques andmadrassahs in the village in the name of benevolence. It is people like us who need madrassa/mosque to grab illegal plot of land. We want to be benevolent, help the orphan, poor villagers. Our charity makes us saviors of the ‘poor’, provides us the distinction of affluent/middle class keeping ‘them’ away in the villages or slums. That is exactly what state wants you to do:manage the poor on its behalf. Keep the class distinction alive; keep the antagonistic forces alive, while it flirts with your uncritical mediocre secular values and allegiance to nation.

It is the state who plants homeless plain land Muslims in the middle of Jummas in the Hill tracts, providing rations. It is the state who puts army camps in the hills. It is the state that needs to host insurgents of other countries to keep geopolitical condition under control. It is the state who needs the holy trinity of nation-nationality-nationalism and a common enemy, “Islam” in this case, to have our allegiance. Our uncritical Islamophobia is necessary for the state to function. As I said earlier, Islamic politics is our geopolitical reality. But having said that, I need to reassert that our neighbors cannot afford to have an unstable nation-state next to them, that too disfigured by ‘fundamentalist’ (read Islamic) force. However, one can’t escape the state even if it becomes the most oppressive institution. So, as a citizen, one needs to keep questioning the forces that be. Or else we will be succumbed to the fascist forces, whether we appreciate that or not. We will end up counting corpse as our hobby, be it BNP’s, BAL’s, Shahbagi’s, Hefazati’s, or garments workers’.

Seuty Sabur is Assistant Professor of Department of Economics and Social Sciences at BRAC University, Dhaka. She graduated in anthropology from Dhaka University and attained her doctoral degree in sociology at the National University of Singapore. 

3 thoughts on “Seuty Sabur: It is the state who needs the holy trinity of nation-nationality-nationalism and a common enemy

  1. Was there really a cover up / news black out ? Where is the evidence of that ? The picture depicted too orwellian to accept. But then, mass denial was part of public’s coping strategy in 1984.

  2. Your article drew light on the mystery of the mid night mayhem in the name of quelling rebels and I agree on the deductions compiled by you. The hardliner government made its intentions clear, and it seems they are determined to hold onto power by hook or by crook. The opposition is shocked by the overwhelming use of force. But the repercussions of those actions by the law enforcers can be deadly suicide bombings in Bangladesh. Has Shaikh Hasina made a fatal mistake? Only future can reveal that answer….

  3. I really like your article, but I think it was important to identify that the hoax of hundreds of dead bodies were really overplayed. Being a reporter I feel amazed how everybody has a number to give in hundreds and thousands, while completely ignoring the numbers given by the a large number of television and print media. Just to clarify, the media was there. Way too many of them. the 4-5 hours long video footage are available on each television channels. It was a bloody scary situation, but it was not a massacre.

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