Unhappy the land that needs heroes
A culture is known by its heroes, and we have many heroes. Our language martyrs are our heroes. The martyrs of the Liberation War are our heroes. We're unfortunately divided on them, but both Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman are our heroes. If we broaden the horizon, all of those who died for this country must be our heroes. Then again, heroes don't always have to be dead people. Language activists and freedom fighters living amongst us also belong to the pantheon of heroes.
Nathaniel Hawthorne writes that heroes cannot become heroes unless they live in a heroic world. If we have so many heroes from the past, it must be because back then we lived in a heroic world. In that world people fought for their country. In that world people laid down their lives for others. Heroes used to make the culture.
When the concept of heroism was born, it had to do with the great benefactors of mankind. Hercules had killed the monsters. Asclepius was the first doctor. Dionysus was the creator of Greek fraternities.
Afterwards, heroism underwent transformation. People committing crimes were also called heroes. Oedipus killed his father to marry his mother. Medea avenged her husband's betrayal by slaying their children. Both received divine worship after their deaths.
Further down, heroes were not only the good people but also the extraordinary people. In a more complex and competitive world, heroes became those who pushed the horizon and expanded it by going beyond what was humanly possible. That explains the fascination with the first-timers. The first man on the moon, the first black US president, the first female prime minister, the first female speaker, and the first anybody in first anything proved exceptional because they expanded the horizon.
But after all the monsters had been slain, all the mountains climbed and all the frontiers explored, courage, as an integral element of heroic character,has been re-geared. One still needs courage to take business risks. One still needs courage to swindle banks. It's adventurous to indulge in corruption, to lie and cheat and live on the edge. It takes a lot of nerves to live in the fear of getting caught throughout one's life.
That change in courage also changed the world. Modern heroes aren't conquerors, explorers, prophets, inventors, revolutionaries or radical thinkers but entrepreneurs, commission agents, swindlers, tax dodgers, musclemen and imposters. Today's heroes are no longer the benefactors but factors in selfish acts to benefit themselves.
Ironically, cowardice is now the pillar of heroic success. Heroes hide from the world. They hide their wealth, academic qualifications and bank accounts. They steal, snatch and suppress. Politicians talk about abolishing the requirement of affidavits for candidates in national elections. Law-enforcement bodies kill people in the guise of alleged crossfires. The trajectory of clandestine mischief is common to all.
One can argue why do we have to call them heroes? The response to this question begs another question. Who are our heroes then? If we leave out those men and women who fought for our country and language, who are the new heroes this country has produced?
True, heroes can't be confined to any specific sphere because they can come from all walks of life. The most liberal definition says that a hero is a person who is greatly admired.Who are the people admired amongst us?
We have shunted the lone Nobel Prize winner of the country into near oblivion. Honest minds are heading for extinction. Noble professions like teaching and medical practice have been ravished by money with the horror of a violated woman. We still have got people winning national recognition, which hardly draws the national attention.
It works like a pulley in a well. One bucket goes down so that the other comes up. While others went down, those who have come up in this country are depraved politicians, decadent businessmen, degenerate bureaucrats and disoriented intellectuals.
In Bertolt Brecht's play Life of Galileo, one of Galileo's students, Andrea, says: “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.” Galileo replies: “No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.” Both are somewhat true for this land, which is trapped in the twilight.Where are its heroes? Does it need them?
This land has many accomplished men and women,who have translated their fame into fortune and fortune into fame. We have no dearth of celebrities, who can't be heroes for the same reason all that glitters isn't gold. Celebrities are when a culture fails to produce heroes and settles for their cheap substitutes.
Unhappy the land where heroes don't make the culture, but the culture makes the heroes. This country wallows in despair, because the heroes we have had their fights and the fights we have don't have heroes. Our preference for charm over character has undermined both.
The writer is the Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.