• Sunday, December 21, 2014

Freedom in the air

CROSS TALK

Violence has become an industry

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

GEORGE Orwell once said that ordinary people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. When the detective branch of police arrested the bodyguard of Narayanganj's Nur Hussain in Faridpur on June 5, that saying turned on its head one more time. Even violent men need rough men to stand ready to do violence on their behalf. They need bodyguards so that they don't have to worry about reaping what they have sown.
It's nothing new in this country, but the luxury has turned into necessity. In the past, kings had soldiers and zemindars had lathials to protect them wherever they went. The powerful people have always enjoyed police protection provided by the state. But the rich and famous privatized that privilege like everything else. They started hiring professional security guards for their homes, offices and factories. The practice has now trickled down to the middle class, who are living in guarded apartments inside gated neighborhoods.
But more security has apparently diminished safety, escalating the game to a new height. If uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, it's hard to distinguish rulers from their citizens on that count. Everybody is worried and nobody is safe. The right to natural death has become our new Holy Grail.
Here too, the purchasing power has come into play. Those who can afford are hiring bodyguards for protection against physical peril. One real estate tycoon is giving everybody a run for their money. More bodyguards follow his grandchildren to school than a minister has policemen in his security escort. Power, money and fame are shrinking successful men into a bunch of nervous wrecks.
Ian Morris of Stanford University has analyzed 10,000 years of military history to conclude that violence in the past was more violent and killed more people. Stone Age skeletons invariably show massive injuries. Ten thousand years ago as many as one in five humans met a violent end.
The modern civilization has achieved higher living standards and economic growth amongst other things. In the long run of history, mankind has created larger, more organized societies. But what has truly civilized this civilization is the reduced risk so that people would no longer die violent deaths.
Last hundred years saw two world wars, genocides, famines, countless civil strife, riots and murders. The total casualty of these violent episodes ranges from 100 million to 200 million people. Adjusting for the number of births and deaths, roughly 10 billion people lived within the span of the last century. It means just 1 to 2 percent of the world's population has died violently.


The numbers speak for themselves. Anybody born in the 20th century was 10 times less likely to meet a violent death compared to an ancestor born in the Stone Age. The United Nations claims that since 2000, the risk of violent death has fallen even further, to 0.7 percent.
Why is that trend reversing its course in this country? Why do we then have this heightened sense of insecurity? And, why is this insecurity gradually tapering towards physical safety? In history, all territorial disputes have led to wars, ideological disputes to revolutions and material disputes to confrontations. But these things, more or less, have been true for every country in every century. It's also true that the powerful and wealthy in every country always required extra layers of security, because visibility goes hand in hand with vulnerability.
It can be said that violence in this country has emerged as a new industry, creating jobs under both demand and supply categories. A steady growth in the number of musclemen has made it necessary to create countervailing forces. Security service has already become an established business like bottled water, neither of which existed in this country a couple of decades ago. Its latest product diversification is the bodyguard business. Bodyguards are the shining armors of the Knights Templars of the evolving material order in our beloved country.
Why is this sudden anxiety, particularly over physical safety? It's because this country is at war with itself. History is rife with examples when pacification proved just as bloody as the savagery it stamped out. Yet between the Stone Age and now, that brutal process was able to create states and states made peace.
Our case rests on a paradox. The scramble for power has failed to create the state that could make peace. Land is the measure of the size of a country, people the might of a nation, and institutions the strength of a state. Violence is when these three measures fail to coordinate. That's when people ferociously turn on themselves in the manner of enzymes that once digested food begin to eat the human body within three days of its death.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email: badrul151@yahoo.com

Published: 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2014

Last modified: 11:03 pm Thursday, June 12, 2014

Leave your comments | Comment Policy
eDaily Star
BIT DEFENDER