How to be a hypocrite: Courtesy of the West
When 12 members of Charlie Hebdo were shot dead for their alleged blasphemous depiction of Prophet Muhammad, the freedom-loving mass all over the world, particularly in the West, rushed quickly to identify themselves with the French satirical magazine. An attack on Hebdo was presented as an attack on the freedom of expression, although the magazine was stigmatised even in France for its "resolutely provocative" insistence on the right to be controversial, despite the risk of fanning racial tension. We did not see any such mad rush for championing the freedom of expression when Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while covering Israeli army actions in the occupied West Bank, or when her pallbearers were attacked, causing the casket bearing the slain journalist to be dropped during her funeral. The contrast can be construed as a lesson in realpolitik—that the rules are different for the strong and powerful. It is also a lesson in the hypocrisy of which there is no short supply.
Any act of defiance is not taken lightly by the "custodians" of world order. A determined aggressor can see a flurry of wrenches thrown at their development works. In extreme cases, there can be military actions.
At the India Today Conclave, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar exposed the hypocrisy of the West, saying, "You use the dichotomy of democracy and autocracy… You want the truthful answer—it is hypocrisy. Because you have a set of self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval." The recently ousted prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, unsuccessfully tried to echo a similar sentiment, but unfortunately for Khan, his country did not have the democratic infrastructure and authoritative voice of its cousin across the border to assert itself. His miscalculated trip to Moscow threw his story at the wrong side of history. Sri Lanka made a similar mistake by aligning too much with the China bloc—now it must return to the IMF fold for a bailout.
Will Durant, the American philosopher who authored The Story of Civilization, aptly puts it, "History reports that the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all." Let me give an example of managing men with money, which is pertinent to this piece on hypocrisy.
The UK government has recently signed a controversial 120-million-pound pact with Rwanda to send asylum seekers 4,000 miles from their country. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has a track record of silencing political opponents and violating human rights, allegedly agreed to the proposal to pose himself as an ally to the West. Bangladesh, too, received a similar offer. A World Bank report earmarked a USD 2 billion fund for integrating the Rohingya refugees into their host countries. Bangladesh said no to the suggestion of "extending (the) Rohingyas the right to own land, property, businesses, rights of election and mobility and equal rights in employment as exercised by Bangladeshi citizens as part of the integration process," according to our foreign minister (Anadolu Agency). Earlier, we heard of Saudi Arabia pressuring Bangladesh to give passports to 54,000 stateless Rohingya refugees living in the kingdom.
Again, Bangladesh said no.
But usually, there is a blend of hard diplomacy and soft power that characterises the non-military acts of coercion. The capillary nature of power ensures that some of these acts are enacted by their regional or local actors. The onrush of Rohingya refugees, for instance, has been used to manufacture China's connectivity to the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar. The idea of religious intolerance has been used to cause a butterfly effect on the other side of the border to argue a case for pushback. History is being rewritten to justify the settlement and resettlement of migrants. The dominant discourse in West Bank finds its uncanny echo in Assam or Arakan.
As the Russia-Ukraine war enforces a realignment of the West and its allies in global politics, we are seeing an orchestrated rift between democracy and development. Sanctions are imposed on West-created machinery that was created to curb radical terrorism. One of our security forces has come under Western sanction for their misuse of power in throttling human rights. I am not condoning their actions, but I am merely sharing my observations on the consequences. The trained cats have caught the mice for their masters; now there is a new rule for the fat cats as there is a new demand from the dogs. Apparently, as part of the sanction, their foreign assets will be frozen and their travels will be restricted. Fair enough. But where were you when money was laundered? Why offer lucrative visa schemes or second home options to entice the corrupt mass to sing to your tunes?
The West needed the cash inflow from the developing world to help its economy—the Russian oligarchs, the corrupt businessmen, politicians, and civil and military bureaucrats from the developing world to siphon money to their "swift" accounts. Then faced with an internal crisis, they will not lose a moment to throw these imported fortune-hunters under the bus.
The West will sing your praise as long as you serve their purpose. There is little comfort in the indexes that are presented to us on a daily basis to give us a false sense of comfort. The proverbial wily fox will praise the crow's singing prowess to coax it to drop off its cheese from its beak. Only in our case, the cheese is our natural resources such as gas, access to our port or our maritime and road routes for regional connectivity, or our generosity to accommodate a displaced population. And the slingshots aimed at the crow, in case the cajoling does not work, may include a ban on food items, currency manipulation, leaked documents, immigrant workers or export items.
With Pakistan and Sri Lanka providing examples of consequences of "determined aggressor," we need national unity more than ever. We need to know who our friends are. A true friend will praise to encourage, while a false friend will flatter to deceive. We need to learn how to present ourselves to protect against false flattery. We need to equip ourselves with the language to offer a true and multidimensional view of Bangladesh. This is something that has been done by both the major regional actors: India and China. If we aspire to join the next league, we need strategic investment in international communication that will see through realpolitik.
Dr Shamsad Mortuza is the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).