LAST week was full of challenges without being challenging. Our prime minister challenged the High Court on the arrest of three Rab officers. A human rights organization challenged the legality of presidential clemency. A noted academician of the country challenged the Education Ministry on the ground of leaking question papers. It was good to hear so many dissenting voices resenting over so many things. Sadly, they were one-sided instead of being reciprocal.
Reciprocal is when both sides get involved, when one side attacks and another side retorts. The prime minister probably would have been held for contempt for criticizing the court, were she not who she is. The lawsuit filed against the president's privilege to pardon convicts is a judicial matter, but one could expect to hear something from the president's office even if it had to be in the most subliminal manner. The Education Ministry has neither confirmed nor denied the accusations leveled against it. Everything is quiet on the other fronts.
None of the concerns from last week found legs afterwards, and three bombshells turned out to be duds. The prime minister dropped a fourth one in the parliament when she vowed to protect a particular family. Even that instance of distance from the public opinion failed to create a controversy.
It's an alarming sign for the same reason misuse of antibiotics increases the number of drug-resistant germs. The issues in focus last week should have stirred national outrage. Newspaper headlines should have screamed scandals. The talking heads on television should have gone through the roof on the pros and cons of damaging accusations. Corridors, living rooms, tea-stalls and market places should have been abuzz with boisterous arguments. In reality, none of those things happened. None of the contentions provoked anything more than storm in a few teacups.
Instead those issues fizzled out mostly because the common people of this country have grown inured to shocks. And, the uncommon minds, like always, have been cautious. They treaded with utmost care in their characteristic anxiety over which side of the bread to butter. They're also privileged to know how this country is trapped in the Hobbesian dilemma: When the ruler has enough power to prevent or end war, he or she also has the power to start war in his or her own interests.
The tension of that dilemma resonated in the prime minister's voice when she said Rab couldn't be disbanded. The reason she gave for it is that the elite force has turned into an institution. One of the many definitions of the word says that an institution is something or someone firmly associated with a thing or place. Whether Rab fits into that description is anybody's guess.
One may or may not agree with the prime minister. But Rab has indeed become a Catch-22 for this nation. We're damned if we keep it, damned if we don't. If the force is suddenly dissolved in its present condition, its members will go back to their respective barracks. What about the misguided ones amongst them? Will those who have learned to cultivate their greed disabuse themselves of this ruinous addiction? So even if anybody ever thinks of doing away with Rab, the first priority must be to filter the bad elements so that they don't get to pollute others.
Which brings us to the prime minister's other postulation. She has urged everyone not to make too much fuss about the gold that went missing from the crests given to our foreign friends. She argued that it would only soil the country's image abroad, which is an example of reductio ad absurdum.
Because when the body fights against disease, it's the sign of a healthy immune system. Likewise, when a nation criticizes itself for its own failures it earns the respect of others. The Americans didn't hide the Watergate Conspiracy or the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Chinese didn't hesitate to sentence one of its top party bosses, Bo Xilai. The Indians never tried to suppress publicity around the Bofors and 3g scandals.
Every country has its share of scandals, which should get its head hung low in shame. But hushing them up only encourages the wrongdoers, who hold the country hostage to its inordinate fear of embarrassment. If we heed the prime minister's advice, the academician should think twice. Because if the examination system is undermined it will hurt the credibility of our academic standards abroad. The human rights organization should also withdraw its prayer against the presidency lest it belittles the highest office of the country in the eyes of the world.
This is the difference between democracy and dictatorship. Democracy emphasizes disclosure whereas dictatorship emphasizes denial. A nation cannot rise to its challenges when it has to cringe in the fear of facing itself and facing others.
The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org