It is said that when a drunk loses something, he wants to find it under a streetlight. On September 29 this country had a rare glimpse of that absurd moment when 25,000 rioters descended on fifteen Buddhist villages in Ramu and
terrorised their inhabitants. Going by press reports, it seems the ruling party cadres led rallies, BNP men supplied petrol and kerosene, and a Jamaat leader arranged vehicles to bring in the frenzied mob. If this country has been looking for the long lost unity amongst the politicians, its apparition flickered in the glow of fire when homes and temples went up in flames.
For centuries religious hatred has divided the world, but it united those politicians on that fateful night. Charred houses, defiled statues, and wounded victims left behind spine chilling trails of their devious connivance. Our national leaders are engaged in their characteristic shouting match to blame each other. The newly-minted home minister fumbled in his comments like a blind man groping in the dark. But there is an uncanny silence in Ramu where local party bosses have sealed their lips. Like the three monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi, they are seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil.
Which alone is a tell-tale sign that what happened in Ramu was collaboration in crimes. It was an all-party teamwork, which is why despite so much clamour at the national level, the local leaders haven't opened their mouths. If not, we should have heard the national discourse replicated on the local stage. Local leaders should have been naming names by now, each to undermine his political opponent. Instead, they appear to be purportedly shushed into an orchestrated silence.
Omertà is an Italian expression for the popular honour code amongst the Mafia-type criminal organisations, which maintain silence, do not cooperate with the authorities and avoid interference in illegal actions of others for overall protection. Ramu has been the latest playground for collective guilt in this country in strict adherence to what looks like an outlaw version of Rousseau's social contract. Everyone is safe so long as all forfeit the same amount of right to speak and impose the same duties on all to cover up.
Indian restaurant cooking is jokingly described as the same sauce on different dishes. Our politics is the opposite of it, which is the same dish underneath different sauces, be it the spirit of Liberation War, Bangladeshi nationalism or religious fundamentalism. Oppression of the weak, disrespect for law, selfish greed and self-serving motives make the seething, throbbing muck of our collective instinct, politics appearing to be an euphemism for organised crime.
It is sad when the prime minister has to identify the local BNP lawmaker as the mastermind of the Ramu tragedy. The local politicians, the local administration, the local intelligence agencies and even the home minister couldn't come up with a definitive name. The only people who spoke up before the prime minister were a truck driver and a couple of police constables present at the crime scene.
It raises more questions about the hewers and drawers of hatred that turned the quiet Buddhist hamlets into living hell. How could an opposition lawmaker act alone to turn his constituency into an open house for madness? What did the local police boss say when he addressed the crowd already straining at the leash?
More questions. Who is to blame for the attack if it happened after the police asked the vigilant Buddhist youths to go home? Where was the district commissioner of Cox's Bazar? How much did the home minister know about the attack? The prime minister is curious about what the BNP lawmaker must have said at 11:30 that night to provoke the crowd. The rest of the country is eager to find what the government was doing before and after that particular hour.
Some people and political parties smell a foreign conspiracy rat in Ramu. According to them, a certain foreign diplomat had visited the area before the incident followed by a government minister. While conspiracy theories have always been the scapegoat for goof-ups, only thing foreign that is apparent right now is the persecution of the Buddhist religion. It never happened before in the history of independent Bangladesh. So, how did it happen now and where did it come from?
Looking for an answer brings us to what I call the Mollah Nasiruddin moment of truth. When his wife asked one day about a sound that came from their bedroom, the Turkish-born court jester replied that it was the sound of his shirt that had fallen on the floor. Then he quickly confessed that he was also inside that shirt when it dropped.
Every time scams, scandals, bungles and fumbles hit us, the government tells us the shirt has dropped. Because, we soon forget to ask who was inside that shirt.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.