Closing of the Red sea | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 12, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 12, 2007

Cross Talk

Closing of the Red sea

Those who have seen the movie Ten Command-ments will remember that breathtaking scene when Charlton Heston playing Moses parted the waves and led the Israelites across the Red sea. The entire sequence consisted of three major events. First the sea parted, and then the God's people journeyed through the parted sea followed by the enemy army. Finally, the sea closed over the pursuing enemy and drowned them.
If we take the same sequence and extrapolate the events back and forth, it gives an idea as to what would happen should the sea of change, which started parting good from evil on January 11, abruptly close. The enemy may cross the sea and the God's people may be drowned. The reason I fear this is because there is a growing clamor to seal the waters. Enough is enough, say the politicians. They want the emergency to be lifted as of yesterday.
So it looks that in nine months, the reform process is suffering from fatigue. The government is ready to make concession, the businessmen are asking for exception and the people are changing their perception. The whole thing may have lost its thunder, and what started with a bang might end with a whimper.
If that happens, the rest is easy. The elections will be held, politicians will return to saddle and, dollar to doughnut, the same old rodeo show will begin all over again. Most, if not all, of those who have been taken to jail, will walk free. All the charges brought against them will be proved as harassment, everything confiscated will be returned to them.
If it does, the Red sea will close just like that, and the forces of good will be wiped out by the forces of evil. Since the prospect of political reform looks remote, it is going to be at best the same old liquor in a new bottle. Again, the country will seethe with corruption. The bad guys will advance and the good guys will retreat.
That should remind of the Bourbons of France who were stubborn kings. They ruled until the French Revolution sent one of them to the guillotine and brought down the dynasty. And it was Talleyrand, a French statesman of that time, who made an observation about them, which is worth repeating. The Bourbons were peculiar people, he said, who never learned anything, and who never forgot anything.
It speaks of an emotional stasis that also characterises our mental state. It seems there is a growing debate over the reform process, which is increasingly arriving at an emotional deadlock. There are people who believe the reform process is making good progress.
Then there are those who aren't so convinced. Going at this rate we are going to have a divided nation. One side will not learn anything from what has been accomplished so far. The other side will not forget that the reform was not taken to its logical conclusion.
Things right now stands at the tactical equinox. It's as far from failure as it's from success. In other words, it will take very little to tip the balance towards failure and whole lot to pull it towards success. Basically, whether anyone recognises it or not, the center of gravity of the reform initiative has already shifted.
Thus the concern isn't who is going to be arrested. The concern is whether they will stay in jail. The concern is no longer whether a free and fair election can be held. The concern is rather if honest and qualified candidates will want to contest. The concern isn't whether the political parties will be reformed. The concern is whether the personality cult in politics is going to be strengthened.
This is something to worry for the leaders of reform, if they as a collective body, haven't started already. What will happen if the emergency is lifted? What will happen if the elections are held? How will it be different after December 2008 compared to what it was before October 2007? What has been achieved so that the political parties will be constrained to behave themselves?
These are critical points to ponder, because the change is beginning to look like a constant. In the end it may seem like a delusion, when a man rowing all night finds in the morning that his boat had never left the dock.
Now one can love or hate Machiavelli, but the man saw it in the 15th century that one would play with fire if one failed to sincerely carry out a reform. In the "struggle between the custom of the ancient faith and the miracle of the new, the gravest tumults and discords were generated amongst men," was his conclusion.
Then he recounted the story of Girolamo Savornarola, a Dominican preacher, whose forceful preaching influenced the people of Florence to institute his reforms. One of Savonarola's many reforms involved trial for treasons. The reforms allowed those convicted of treason to appeal the judgment.
But shortly after the law was passed, five men were convicted of treason and weren't allowed to appeal. When Savornarola failed to condemn the violation of this new law, it turned the people against him. Ironically, he was convicted of treason by the very government, which he had created and it ended in his execution.
The need for reform arises firstly because missing links of justice and fairness crumbles an old and decadent system. The fall of the Roman Empire, the atrocities of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, wars, revolutions, holocausts and massacres shed the blood of men, women and children because mankind never relented in its search for those missing links, which either didn't exist or degenerated from abuse.
Where is that search heading for us? The sea, which was successfully parted may be in a hurry to close. Intolerance, impatience and indifference are swelling the waters. But then who knows? The sea might overflow and inundate.
Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker.

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