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Staring down the barrel

  • Published at 07:15 pm August 9th, 2018
Nothing to see here
Nothing to see here Photo: MD MANIK

The uncomfortable truth of our times is that we are living in an atmosphere of intolerance


One of the most widely used words, according to the New York Times, is “Orwellian.” A simple Wikipedia search would find give us the definition: A societal state of affairs which is destructive to the welfare of the people and their freedoms.

Sound familiar? At this point -- regardless of how long it has been this way for -- that we live in an Orwellian society isn’t a difficult concept to grab for anyone, given the activities that have gone on since this month began.

As I sit down to write, I’m grasping at straws to pen something that hasn’t been said before, trying to manoeuver around the truth while still putting it down as words, but leave out some terms and names crucial to the movement that spiralled way out of control, way too fast. 

And I’ve come to the realization that there’s not much to say.

There’s the anger, but managing that anger is necessary, for none of us want to be on the list of names whose fate is to be whisked away in the black of the night.

Even the slightest mention of some ruling party cadre could have one’s social media accounts interfered with, as surveillance grips society by the throat tighter and tighter. 

The feeling -- and at the moment, the absolute knowledge of it -- that Big Sister is indeed watching gives us a sober and sad reminder of the dystopian novel by George Orwell and the social injustice brought on by the authoritarian government of Oceania. 

As the citizens of Bangladesh are detained and tortured, their activities and words closely monitored, and they wrestle with the truth that the current regime in power has no concern for those who supposedly voted them into such a state (we’re still a democracy, aren’t we?), I can’t help but think of Winston Smith.

The uncomfortable truth of our time is that we are all living in an atmosphere of intolerance. You want to protest the terrible state of roads and infrastructure? The state will tell you to go home. 

You want to take matters in your own hands and fix the roads? You’ve got no one to blame but yourself for being at the bloody end of the sticks and whatever else makeshift weapons the “ruling party cadres” are swarming the streets with. 

How do we take this truth into account? How do we make sense of it? And where do we as a nation, betrayed by those who chose to govern, move forward from it?

Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism assessed the phenomenon as having terror as its main tool to subjugate the masses with the purpose of expunging the “spontaneity of the human spirit” entirely. 

If the constant raids in the guise of protection, the injured students at home and in detention, the photographers and journalists still in stitches, are anything to go by, it’s that we’re living in something that feels like a totalitarian state. 

Add to the pot the impunity, with which all of this violence will be handled, the complete lack of any due process, and the joke that law has become altogether, it seems as if there’s not much hope at the end of the tunnel. 

It’s more painful to reflect on the days when students, still in their uniforms, lined up the traffic to make commuters and drivers follow some kind of a procedure and the hope with which they did all that, just to realize that Bangladesh is staring down the barrel. 

Luba Khalili is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.