Selective Conscience | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 11, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:23 AM, April 11, 2018

Selective Conscience

In a discussion of inclusive growth two days ago, someone across the table brought up the topic relating to new employers coming into the F-commerce (Facebook commerce) and asked if they would be subjected to labour standards as well. I laughed in faith. Somewhere deep down inside, I know the new entrepreneurs using virtual platforms go by a higher code of conduct. I sense more empathy in all of them, much more than I ever sensed in our generation in business. Youth has always been better and as the secretary general of the ruling party has just said, the PM has never underestimated youth. She was there once and she knows how youth can yield change in society. Youth has always impacted our landscape. And that is why we have always viewed youth as an agent of change.

Years ago, when Google adopted “Don't Be Evil”, people knew that the young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs won't subscribe to unfair practices and would never do the wrong thing. After all, data was holy and Cambridge Analytica was the farthest nightmare. But that was yesterday. Today, data is manipulated, gathered and today, Zuckerberg appears before Congress, to defend himself and to “Fix Facebook”. Then, has wealth been able to soil the incorruptible youth? Does wealth really give birth to murky fears of insecurity and promote greed? Perhaps.

Or is it just strategic power that silences the call for justice? Perhaps.

Today, bleeding from issues wrapped in doubt, I am caught between writing an op-ed on two images that have touched me the most. One of a photograph from a young journalist capturing a young man standing with a flag of Bangladesh. Two, an image of painter Shahabuddin's Rohingya (2017). The first one captures the essence of being fearless. Unlike many of us, he is standing with the flag, amidst a haze of tear gas, fearless of the consequences that he might face. Unlike many of us he will not have to measure his words or temper his angst. But that's being fearless when one has nothing to lose.

And then, there's the second image of the painting, covered on a publication of Cosmos under the title of “Art against Genocide”. That makes me think doubly hard about those who are devoid of any fear of being derided or couldn't care less about being judged while the world also turns blind due to the favours they reap from the aggressor's misdeeds. Really, what about the Burmese authorities who force their own to be homeless?

Come to think of the 1.1 million Rohingyas who we have just given shelter to. And then, come to think of the 1,134 lives that we lost in Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013. And now compare the international responses we received to these two. While Rana Plaza ushered in a host of bad press, censure and prescriptive corrective action plans with our business being threatened, Rohingyas fleeing to our territory just meant the international community urging Myanmar to take them back, albeit calling it a genocide and yet imposing no sanctions and not being half as generous as they ought to be. What is it that prompts discrimination of coverage? And who gains while we are treated with indifference?

With Turkey hosting 1.83 million refugees and Pakistan following with 1.54 million and Lebanon with a 1.1 million, Bangladesh too joins the rank of the top hosts for refugees in the world by hosting 1.1 million. Yet strangely the data on refugee dates back to a few years. While any disaster in Bangladesh attracts big headlines, the generous positives take a while to make press waves.

Truth is, power and wealth both create illusions of absolute control. While the Burmese army stash their wealth beyond their own habitat, while the international community still continues to trade with Myanmar in the most favoured manner, while we all sit back and watch the innocent being driven to despair and death, the world will still move on and opt for a selective agenda and decide on tomorrow's headline. Meantime, Bangladesh will still be pushed to do more and we will never be perceived as being good enough for glory.

Since I began with a reference to a roundtable in the first para, I will end with the same discussion thread. In that meeting, Sultan bhai of Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies pointed out that exactly a month ago, at least 10 people were killed and 20 others injured in two separate road accidents on Dhaka-Rangpur highway in Palashbari upazila of Gaibandha. Exactly around the same time, a US Bangla Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 twin turboprop caught fire after careening off the runway, killing almost 50 passengers. Out of the two cases, US Bangla passengers received 1 crore taka as compensation, while the Gaibandha victims were paid nothing.

We have a choice. Either we, within our own territories, can be more attentive, diligent and fare better than the rest of the world. Or, we can all pretend to be good and at one point, try to fool God. Perhaps the second option is easier? Then let's just close our eyes to bias, selective headlines and hurt. Let's stand for unexamined lives. Let's all read history, read and weep and forget it the next hour. Let's not preach anymore, and let's daydream about God. Let's just accept that whatever is served as justice and whatever that's chosen as headlines, these are disappointments to which little or no remedy exists. Thus, every time we feel being let down by the injustices all around us, every time we sense disapp-ointment, let's not get caught up between laughter and tears, like I often do. Let's just choose laughter as it's a lot less-messier and doesn't require any cleaning up. Tears are much harder to manage, aren't they?


Rubana Huq is the managing director of Mohammadi Group.

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