Antorjatik O Jatio Angoney Biborton, Muhammad Zamir, Aloghar Prakashana, 2017.
Muhammad Zamir is a prolific writer, notably for the national newspapers of Bangladesh, and writes proficiently in both Bengali and English on a variety of subjects. Befitting a former career diplomat in the service of the government of Bangladesh, not surprisingly, many of his writings deal with diplomacy and international relations, but they are not restricted to just that broad area. He writes knowledgeably on other topics, too, as may be gleaned from Antorjatik O Jatio Angoney Biborton, a collection of 62 articles written at different times in various newspapers of the country. Being op-ed pieces, it is not surprising that several topics are repeated across time to essentially highlight a pressing issue of national or international interest at any particular point in time. Sometimes it feels like Zamir is covering every topic under the sun!
Again, not surprisingly given the constraints of space in the op-ed pages of the print media, the author's articles indicate at, rather than delve deeply into, the subject matters. The ponderous efforts required to explore the topics deeply and extensively result in tomes, voluminous, slim, and everything in between, and are primarily read by the aficionado or those with special interest in the topics. Those wishing to gain a more general idea on the subject will resort to the op-ed piece, and Zamir usually offers quality in his write-ups. As the book's title indicates, he writes on the changes that have taken place in the international and domestic arenas. Changes do keep occurring in these spheres (a society, local or global, cannot remain static and still hope to survive in any meaningful fashion in a transforming world system), and people might be expected to desire having a complete comprehension of their implications for them and the society/country they belong to.
The very first essay deals with the easy to state, but difficult to implement, issue of poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. Zamir states the obvious truism in this context: that every country in the world follows its own path towards realizing this objective. In Bangladesh's case he suggests inclusive development, which can be realized if, first, the country can be rid of corruption. Poverty is pretty much endemic in South Asia. The author draws attention to the alarming statistic that, as of 2015 (when this essay was written), of the 1.5 billion inhabitants in this region, 400 million, or a little over 25% of the population, live below the poverty line. He identifies the generally known culprits: poor management, rampant politicization, indiscipline, and suggests the equally familiar panaceas: education, healthcare, and other activities aimed at uplifting the quality of human life. These are stating the obvious, and several essays are, to reiterate, repetitive in content, and also, expectedly, in identifying flaws in governance, policies and their implementation, and in bringing about satisfactory outcomes.
One of the topics that is touched upon on more than one occasion deals with stopping the degradation of climate and environment. As Zamir states, developing countries like Bangladesh are being adversely affected by rising water levels, floods and cyclones. He suggests that those affected by such disasters should be given financial aid rather than loan, claiming that such a measure will be better for disaster management. He also touches more than once on the issue of the judiciary and the rule of law. He emphasizes that, if justice can be meted out in an impartial manner (really an oxymoron, since justice automatically connotes fairness), then good governance can come about. Other factors will also have to be ensured for that to happen, but the point is well taken. Zamir's essays, besides following contemporary events, also deal with appropriate occasions. Therefore, it stands to reason that, in 2017, he wrote with sadness on the sorrow-ridden month of August, when Bangabandhu and many in his immediate and extended family, as well as others, were killed.
Zamir, who was once the Chief Information Commissioner of Bangladesh, has written on the Internet and its manifold applications, implications, and associations. He has touched on the subject of the Janus-like quality of the symbol of the post-industrial age. While there are so many positives associated with online communication, there exists at least as many negatives, which have more to do with human nature rather than the technology per se. In a separate essay he has written on the possible measures that could be taken to tame the Wild Wild Web. That would involve limiting peoples' right to free expression over the Internet, something that would be contrary to the very principle of the online medium. Zamir discusses just that in the piece (written in 2017) on China's and Russia's active consideration to control the Internet.
Ambassador Zamir was a career diplomat, and, expectedly, writes extensively on international politics and diplomacy. He has noted with apprehension the rise of populism across the globe and its potential threat to the essence of liberal democracy. H e is concerned about the rise of the ultra-right adherents in Germany and the growing number of like-minded people in that country which once had spawned the Nazi Party (although, it must be kept in mind, historical parallelism might be far-fetched and erroneous). This is an unwanted phenomenon, but, by no means, unexpected. The cycle of history theory, which has no specific time span to pinpoint and predict the periodical onset, tries to show that a period of liberalism is followed by one of conservatism, and so on. If we follow this line of thinking, then we are to plumb in an era of conservatism, with populism, ultra-nationalism, and racism/xenophobia being driving forces in societies. We can see manifestations of these phenomena across the globe, noticeably in the affluent democracies, with some notable exceptions. My own view is that the Internet may have exacerbated the situation, with the global connection giving rise to the concept of familiarity breeding contempt and bringing out more differences than commonalities in the minds of different nationalities and ethnicities.
Zamir takes up the populist, xenophobic factor closer to home when he discusses the Rohingya tragedy. In an article written in 2017 he expresses his anxiety regarding the fate of the Rohingyas. He hopes that the Western powers would look seriously into the issue and redress the plight of the Rohingyas. The irony here is that, in 2016, he had written that the Rohingyas had found hope in the coming to power of the NLD party (led by Aung San Suu Kyi) and a civilian government, and that 25, 000 of them had returned to their villages and had started rebuilding their lives and homes. What a difference has a year made! Suu Kyi is as much responsible as anyone in Myanmar, notably the military and hard-line Buddhist monks, for the Rohingyas' plight. Any suggestion to her being held hostage to the military and its wishes is pure drivel. Zamir has provided support to this contention in his 2016 piece. When Mishal Husain, BBC's Muslim presenter, went to interview Su Kyi and wanted to know her take on how the civilian government would treat the minority Rohingyas, the Nobel Laureate flew into a rage and blurted out, “No one told me that I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim!” Finally, it can be said that Muhammad Zamir offers quite a few nuggets of information and wisdom in Antorjatik O Jatio Angoney Biborton.
Shahid Alam is an actor, thespian and Professor, Department of Media and Communications, IUB. He is a regular contributor to The Daily Star Literature and Review Pages.