Joe Biden and the selfie

US president Joe Biden, prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Saima Wazed at the G20 Summit venue in New Delhi on 9 September 2023 .
Collected from Facebook

It is quite natural to praise one’s country, nothing wrong in that. But in a colony or a post-colonial society, emotion drives people to worship the country. The people have a fear of being shackled and dominated once again, they see new shackles lurking in the shadows all over again. That is why we go to the extreme narrative of everything being good in our country, and everything that is foreign being bad and to be shunned.

There’s a poem, ‘Swadesh’, (My Country) by the 19th century poet Iswarchandra Gupta (1912-1859) which, roughly translated, reads:

With brotherly love in the heart

Look, people of this land,

Look with eyes of love.

In how many ways we love

Even a cur of the country,

Rather than a deity overseas.

In other words, even a dog of one’s own country is dearer than a deity or leader from overseas. There is a sense of remorse here because we actually don’t respect the deserving people of our own land.

Such ultra nationalism is no longer acceptable in today’s global village. In this digital age, the world is in our hand. No country can stand alone. There is need for interaction and cooperation between nations for the sake of survival, for the sake of growth. That is why we rush to become members of various global and international forums. That is why today we rush to Johannesburg, tomorrow to New Delhi.

Remember in the early sixties, Indonesia’s ‘Father of the Nation’ Sukarno declared himself life president. He was one of the main founders of the non-aligned movement in 1954, created outside the influence of the superpowers. It was in Bandung of Indonesia that this bloc was created. The communist propensities of his policies created tension with the countries of the West. He walked out of the United Nations in anger. He arranged a ‘conference of the newly emerging countries.’

The country was almost ostracized. After being president for a 22-year stretch, Sukarno was toppled from power in a military coup. Indonesia reapplied for UN membership which was granted after quite a few years. But in these few years, this natural resource-rich highly populated country fell far behind.

Indonesia is now a weak country of the ASEAN grouping. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines overtook it economically long ago. Indonesia is an example of the shocking consequences a country can face simply due to the personal ego of a leader of state. No prudent leader will want to lead a country to isolation. This was demonstrated by China when it joined the United Nations in 1972 at the US’ behest.

For quite some time now our ruling quarters have been irate and alarmed at the words of the US and a few other western countries, while the opposition camp have been pleased and relieved

The Bengalis may be an old nation, but as a state Bangladesh is relatively new. It is taking time to grasp the ABC of diplomacy. Sometimes ego and common sense get mixed up. And it takes no time for friend to turn foe. Sometimes we give more priority to individual and crony interests rather than that of the state or the citizens. This creates chaos. Things eventually get messed up. Then it is hard to get things in control.

The G-20 summit was recently held in New Delhi. It is a forum of the most powerful countries in terms of economy, military and politics. Seven non-member countries including Bangladesh were invited there as observers. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended, along with a number of members of her government and of her family. But everything else was overshadowed by the grand selfie with the American president Joe Biden. It was the cherry on top.

If any foreign leader or media says Bangladesh is a global world model or Sheikh Hasina is one of the 50 most powerful persons in the world, we gloat in glee. Then again, if anyone says that human rights are being violated in Bangladesh or that the elections are being rigged, then we get into a huff. The bottom line is, if their words go in our favour, they are sweet as honey. And if they criticise us in anyway, then we accuse them of interference. This has been going on quite a lot in recent times.

And then there has been a slew statements – sometimes kudos, sometimes allegations of interference. The main focus is on what the foreigners are saying. To the minds of the people in our country, a certificate from foreign quarters is of much value.

Amid all this, there are those who blurt out the bitter truth. At an event on Thursday commemorating the 25th anniversary of Chittagong University’s mass communications and journalism department, planning minister MA Mannan said, “We are always searching for role models. We have to search for role models in our own country. We sidestep our own great persons and rather admire foreign dogs. Our role models, our scientists, our leaders, are all here in our country. First look in our country, then outside.”

For quite some time now our ruling quarters have been irate and alarmed at the words of the US and a few other western countries, while the opposition camp have been pleased and relieved. And the divided civil society has taken up opposing stances over the issue. But then, they often change position with the changing direction of the wind. In recent months the US visa policy or sanctions have caused a stir in a certain quarter. Even the prime minister sounded rather distraught when she said, “So what if we don’t make a 20-hour cross Atlantic journey?” But the scenario did a volte-face over the Biden selfie the other day in Delhi. That created quite a commotion in the political circles.

Addressing the BNP secretary general, Awami League’s general secretary Obaidul Quader said, “There’s news today. What’s happening in Delhi? G-20. All these days BNP was looking over the Atlantic towards White House for Biden to impose sanctions, remove Awami League and place them in power, isn’t that so? Now Biden himself took a selfie with Sheikh Hasina. Didn’t he? Along with Putul (Sayema Wazed) too…. Now everything has gone dark before the eyes of BNP leaders, they have packed up their processions and have lain down flat. But none of them will be able to sleep. They are wondering, what had we heard and what are we seeing?”

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In response, BNP’s secretary general addressed the Awami League general secretary, saying, “Obaidul Quader has been asking, what will Fakhrul say now? I say, take my advice. Frame the picture (the selfie taken by Joe Biden) and hang it around your neck. That will help you a lot. Use it to try and convince the people that Biden is now on your side.” (Prothom Alo, 11 September 2023)

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Is Joe Biden the trump card now? It looks like both sides are losing sleep over which side he leans or has leaned.

* Mohiuddin Ahmed is a writer and researcher

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir