Looking for common grounds or common interests?
When so much talk of national unity is making the air heavy in Bangladesh, the political leaders are sending discordant signals. The prime minister is claiming that those who need to unite are united already, while the BNP chairperson insists the umbrella needs to open wider. United to divide or divided to unite, the two sides are drifting further apart instead of coming closer.
A yawning gap already exists between the two halves of our political terrain, and neither side is ready to negotiate. So the idea of unity sounds absurd in the midst of persistent hostility as the idea of fresh air does in an airtight facility. Some of us are even asking why unity is so important when terrorism doesn't spare countries, where people are knit tighter than us.
To answer that question, those advanced countries probably have a better chance of braving this escalating crisis. Most of those countries suffered economic, religious, territorial, and racial tensions that divided them in the course of history. These countries are still in one piece because they successfully managed to overcome their divisions and stay united. The countries, which failed, got their maps redrawn and renamed.
Between 1642 and 1646, England was torn apart by a bloody civil war between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians fighting over the power of monarchy. The American civil war was fought between 1861 and 1865 when the North and the South couldn't agree on slavery. In the 19th century, foreign imperialism had divided China into spheres of influence. History will vouch that many more countries struggled with internal and external demons that threatened to unravel them.
Thus every nation on Earth had its circumstances that served to unite and divide its people. In 1971, Pakistan was dismantled after it failed to reconcile its differences. But the miniscule opposition to the creation of Bangladesh continued to erode the gigantic unity amongst its people. A handful of divisive collaborators consolidated their position, while the unity of the united splintered into factions.
If national unity is an issue today, it also was an issue before. Our leaders didn't want to recognise it then, and they don't want to recognise it now. Meanwhile, a crack has grown into a giant hole.
The civil war in England effectively ended with the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The Boxer Rebellion between 1899 and 1901 started the reversal of foreign domination in China. The American civil war ended after the North defeated the South in a decisive war.
Each of these events had a higher call. The Parliamentarian victory reduced the power of monarchy in England and ended the monopoly of the Church of England. The uprising in China was motivated by proto-nationalist sentiments and opposition to imperialist expansion. The victory of the North enforced emancipation and abolished slavery throughout the United States. Nations are often divided to forge stronger unions.
The higher call for our divided nation is the triumph of the spirit of the liberation war over those who are undermining its influence. And, the transition from smoldering to flaming has taken many years. The question is how long it's going to take for the conflagration to run its course.
Historians believe that a factor that helped unite the United States during the 19th century was the concept of Manifest Destiny. This was the idea that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent, while promoting America's democratic way of life to other nations. It was this national aspiration that congealed the American spirit like rennet coagulates milk.
What's our Manifest Destiny? At this point in time, we neither wish to expand our territory nor promote an ideology to other countries. Stripped to basics, the spirit of the liberation war means eternal vigilance against subjugation. Our people simply cherish a homeland where they can enjoy their freedom to live in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
In his famous "House Divided" speech in 1858, Abraham Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Yet, nations often come to the crossroads where they look shaky and lost. National unity saves a nation in crisis like the immune system of a body fights infection.
But an exaggerated and desperate immune reaction can lead to sepsis. Scientists compare this medical condition with a military situation. Let's say an army is sent to expel the enemy from the land. If it employs too much force, then it ends up destroying the very population it set out to defend.
It's bad that this nation is divided, even worse it can't get united. When birds of the same feather stick together, it's at best a brotherhood or cartel. National unity is something more. It's not so much about looking for common interests but finding common grounds.
The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
Email: [email protected]