POLITICAL discourse in Bangladesh has never been as fractious and uncivil as it is today. Political landscape at every level of national life is permeated with hostility and hatred, malice and meanness. Because of growing incivility, political polarisation has increased exponentially during the past decade.
There is a total lack of decorum and civility in the parliament. Instead of impassioned debates on issues of national interest, politicians on both sides of the aisle breathe venom and disdain. The hallowed chambers of the parliament have become the podium for demonising the opponents. Swear words and profanity have become part of the parliamentary language, truth and civility have been damned and name-calling has become a political pastime.
It is a great paradox that “supreme” leaders of the major political parties have made personal animosity the tenor of national politics. It is often the party high-ups who are the most uncharitable in the use of innuendos to assassinate the character of their opponents. The opponents are equally uncharitable in their choice of words and below-the-belt tactics. Simply stated, contempt, disrespect, ultimatum and xenophobia are the staple of Bangladeshi politics these days.
Even in the rough-and-tumble world of political rivalry, there are limits to how uncivil politicians should be. Unfortunately, Bangladeshi politicians have crossed all boundaries of decency. Incivility reached its lowest ebb when threat of physical harm was issued by an influential lawmaker of the ruling party.
Politics is an art of compromise, not a show of incivility. And civility in politics is the art of tolerating dissent and reconciling differences amicably. Civility requires a willingness to consider respectfully the views of others and try to make compromise. However, compromise does not necessarily imply total agreement. It means putting personal animosity aside, placing the country ahead of the party and discussing the real issues with an open mind.
The tone of basic civility in politics was set by Senator John McCain, the Republican Party candidate in the 2008 US presidential election, when he chose the high road to defend his Democratic Party rival Barack Obama from the “lynch mob” of his party. In a town hall meeting in Minnesota less than a month before the election, a woman said: “I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not, he's not uh -- he's an Arab.” McCain immediately took the microphone from the woman, shook his head and said: “No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab].” He further added: “Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States.”
In sharp contrast, in Bangladesh Awami Leaguers are branded as agents of India, BNP members as surrogates of Pakistan, Jamaatis as followers of al-Qaeda and Jatiya Party members as opportunity seekers. Where on Earth can one find politicians who are genuine Bangladeshi?
If the politicians become civil in their behaviour, tolerate dissent and reconcile conflicts, there will be a revival of vibrant and healthy politics in Bangladesh. Otherwise, politics will move towards the path to paralysis and democracy will become Proudhon's “Tyranny of Majorities, the most abominable tyranny of all.”
The writer is Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.