Winds of change have hit us. In a recent trip to the West, I missed Spring. A bitter cold wave was then sweeping all across Europe. Even Madrid had snow-capped mountains. It seemed as if the weather was all set for a change. Every flight that I took, in and out of Europe, was more turbulent with unexpected cold air hitting aircrafts with intolerable cruelty. Actually, even the political weather in Europe reeked of disappointment. Almost every country had a disappointing story of populists and ultra-nationalistic forces sweeping elections, of people's simplicity and thirst for change being taken advantage of, and of a sudden lack of regard for democracy.
The global democratic climate has indeed suffered a blow. The trailblazing shaming examples from the West of how the World is changing from democracy to autocracy is well covered in media. With 71 countries suffering net declines in political rights and civil liberties, marking 2018 as the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, we should be thinking hard. A global picture of rightists winning the elections worldwide in 2017, with the mainstream parties in Germany and the Netherlands struggling to create stability, with the humanitarian crisis of subjecting people to a food scarcity and scheming to win votes in Venezuela by Nicolás Maduro, with Catalonia being unable to find a candidate to lead the region because of most candidates being exiled, arrested or charged with high treason—all these are glaring examples of the regimes' desperate attempt to cling to power.
And strangely, in our part of the world, we too have been mirroring the madness. Instead of championing our own cause, we have ourselves set off good-for-life laws allowing governments in Asia to stay on forever along with promoting questionable judiciary, political intolerance, and media propaganda. Turkey has detained citizens, silenced media outlets, and grabbed businesses, while elsewhere in the Middle East, authoritarian rule, arbitrary arrests and aggressive moves against potential rivals have continued. And of course, Myanmar has continued with ethnic cleansing.
Yet, there was a time when we were way better. The grandeur of Chinese and Indian empires beat Europe hollow. China's Muslim-born Zhang He sailed nearly a century ahead of Columbus. A good read of Shashi Tharoor's reference to Britain's “historical amnesia” can only make us proud as a subcontinent. And yes…even culturally, when Beatles borrowed from us, we basked in our decolonised glory through “Tomorrow Never Knows,” with Beatles running full tilt into Indian music, with them borrowing Sitar from us that made people wonder what kind of “new guitar” had Beatles invented to use in their music, with “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” being all about Maya, with “Living in the Material World” by George Harrison being the one album of Beatles that was completely influenced by Indian values and ideas, with Lennon's “Instant Karma!” not being news, it was only the other day that we thought we were teaching the world better…
Yet ironically, we have now voyaged back from our decolonised selves and have forgotten to learn from what has passed us, hurt us and has left us hollow, and today we are losing no time and are learning the current lessons from the West, all over again.
Let me elaborate how though. Most recently, the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, owning more television stations than any other broadcaster in the US, forced all of its newscasters to denounce “fake news,” in order to promote the Trump Administration's agenda. The prescriptive script of the Group blasted “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories”, which were apparently plaguing the US. There has been an outpour of criticism all over the globe.
In the small and limited world of Twitter, there is one mortal who pretends to be God and often speaks the truth that most of us fail to. In recent times, one of his brilliant tweets deserves a retweet and a re-quote. God writes: “Some tweets are timelesser” and quotes Trump's recent tweet on how America now needs a president “who isn't a laughing stock to the entire World,” how America needs “a truly great leader, a genius at Strategy and winning Respect.” Indeed, America.
But this is not what worries me. What worries me is how we are following the West to complete destruction. The most recent proposal from bankers to establish an organisation promulgating a Financial Information Act under the finance ministry and Bangladesh Bank, in order to “prevent negative publication of the media” regarding the news of its directors and loans, deserves close and critical scrutiny. When the real defaulters get to reschedule their loans and escape humiliation, when the economy feeds off bad practices and encourages them in order to sustain dubious creditors, it's time for us to think all over again.
Why do we tread in ways that may kill the positive winds of change that we could capitalise on and champion? Why would we jeopardise the current phase of development, instead of attracting attention to bad turns that force bank boards to make unwise decisions and steer the country in the direction of a financial turmoil? Why would we insist on curbing press freedom when we need it the most?
As Bengalis, while we stand accused by random quarters of seeking unusual favours from the good hands that govern us, we should also seek strength in the memory of the 1968 Prague Spring and its brilliant banner sporting the following phrase: “For your freedom and ours.”
It is for all our freedom that we must strive to be the better amongst many. Hence, we cannot, and should not, mimic the mad, while winning all wars on global goals.
Rubana Huq is the managing director of Mohammadi Group.