Victory Day thoughts on freedom

Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq | Update:

A video-grab taken from the film “Muktir Gaan” shows artistes of various cultural units travel places to sing inspirational songs during the Liberation War.  Photo: Collected

We have come a long way since 16 December 1971. Given indicators of the World Bank and its associates, Bangladesh can be proud of its development. The per capita income, gross national income and economic growth are all on an upward spiral. Production is increasing and the state revenue is coming in from various sources. Roads and highways, buildings, offices, schools and colleges are sprouts up all over.

It can be quite daunting to see our development over the years since 1971. The question is, will this pace of development continue? There is a sense of satisfaction among the public over the present state of affairs. Actually, the feel is that ‘the present is good, the future is not.’ The public often resists change.

During the movement against the break-up of Bengal during 1905-11, the people were ready for change. But now all over the world, production increases, the rich get richer, the general public are against change and remain deep in slumber. From the French Revolution to Rise of the Soviet Union, people were awake, open to change and progress. But the public mindset is not the same anymore. Now those imbibed in their own self-interests are the ones who remain at peace.

If song, dance and entertainment are the components of culture, then Bangladesh has made unimaginable stride there too. There is an exponential increase in artistes and writers, TV channels and newspapers. Books are being churned out in large volumes every year. The number of students is on a steady rise from the primary level way up to university. Exam results are excellent beyond imagination. The government people are not interested in national standards of education, they look towards global standards. The students have to take public exams in grade five and grade eight. MCQ and creative examination systems have been introduced. There is a flurry of activity to go digital all the way.  The guardians and the students have become exam-oriented rather than education-oriented. There is no end to the pride and publicity of the government and its party people when it comes to developments made in the education sector.

The question is, has education and culture actually developed? What is all this about global standards? Western civilization has been degenerating ever since World War I. Where are we going as blind followers of the Anglo-American axis? Is the human race headed in the right direction under the banner of globalization? Where will this anti-change, anti-progress mindset take us? Spengler, Clive Bell, Rabindranath and other thinkers spoke of a crisis in civilization. Has that ended? Has a new civilization emerged? The enthusiasm and hope sparked by Marxism has died down. Does scientific and technological development usher in cultural development?

Is the prevailing political progress satisfactory? What has the shape and nature of political progression been since 1972? Then again, the contention now is that economic development does not come with political progress and so political progress can be reined in for the time being. Political thinking is being discouraged. The public mind is thus being moulded. People are being devoured by consumerism and greed. Of are the victims of fear and insecurity.

Where has democracy proceeded in Bangladesh over the past 45 years? What about socialism, secularism? What about the paradox of ‘secularism’ and the ‘state religion Islam’? Is the secular Awami League rapidly leaning towards religion? What about nationalism? Does being nationalist party mean you go begging for democracy to the doors of foreign diplomatic missions, to a desk at the US state department? Can we get away by merely placing blame on the army dictators and the communal forces? Do we not need self-criticism?

Are we not ourselves moving away from secularism towards ‘state religion Islam’? Are we working for the welfare of the people? We must learn to make sacrifices, to think and act in a simple and straightforward manner.

We can reach certain conclusions by assessing the national and global economy, politics, education, culture, war and peace:

1.     Bangladesh is going through a seriously critical period. We have failed to achieve true independence and to overcome our crisis. The crisis is all pervasive.

2.     The human race is going through a crisis of civilization. Marxism failed to overcome the crisis which evolved with World War I.

3.     The human race is presently asleep. Rather than taking up self-criticism and endeavouring to fight against the injustices and evils of modern times, we are immersed in an ‘anti-fundamentalist’ battle while our modernity fails. Democracy, socialism, nationalism, internationalism is all failing and we are regressing to the Middle Ages unawares.

Now 45 years since independence, the question arises in the mind, what is to be done given the prevailing circumstances?

There is need for a renaissance, an intellectual awakening. This can come not only through academic study, but also through the exercise of intellectual character. The previous renaissance was an effort to be freed of the injustices and evils of the Middle Ages and to create art and literature, science and knowledge for universal betterment. The objective of the new renaissance will be freedom from the prevailing injustices and evils of the modern-day world. It is very wrong to think that the time for Master Discourse Grand Narratives is over. The search and study for the classic and the ideal cannot be discarded.

The concept of nationalism must be understood from a historical context. Nationalism is not the same as fascism or imperialism. Nationalism and its complementary internationalism must be used to restructure the world order in such a manner that international arbitrations and cooperation can be carried out with ease. This can be used also to dispel war and the possibilities of war.

Alongside the restructure of the world order, there must be a restructure of the nation state. Rather than ‘liberal’ democracy, it is the concept of ‘universal’ democracy that must be put in place. Political parties will be given a special position here. The parties always endeavour to win public support by concentrating on nation building, state building and resolving the problems of public life. The parties will follow democratic centralization. The national parliament and cabinet will be formed on the basis of proportionate representation. There must be an international movement to restructure all government systems and the global order.

There is need for all nations to discuss and debate these ideas. These must be put into action by political parties and cultural organisations. The existing political parties and cultural organisations can take initiative in such exercise. If not, then new parties and organisations can be formed. If a mass uprising can bring out greater human qualities among the people, this will give rise to great objective and leadership in national life.

It is the public that take forward great leadership to meet the demands of the day. Great leadership is not possible without public support. On Victory Day these thoughts come to the mind. It is hoped that conscientious persons of the country take up these ideas for discussion and debate.

Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq: Educationist and political analyst   

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