• Thursday, Sep 20, 2018
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A UK minister’s visit and endless banality

  • Published at 06:56 pm September 2nd, 2018
Western powers have been ineffective in repatriating the Rohingya
Western powers have been ineffective in repatriating the Rohingya Photo: MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Seeking the opinions of outsiders on local issues is a fool’s errand


With one year gone, and the Rohingya issue sill in stagnation, Alistair Burt, UK’s minister of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FCO, and Department for International Development, DFID, came to Bangladesh for a visit. It’s not the first time he has visited. If memory serves, Burt was here soon after the Rohingya entered Bangladesh, faced with an army-engineered pogrom in Myanmar.

Nothing wrong with British ministers coming to Bangladesh as they are providing aid to the Rohingyas, though what is irksome is the banal rhetoric that is given to the local media every time there is a visit.

In fact, the FCO schtick has lost its appeal. There may be some problems on the side of our media too, who attend the press conference and ask questions which have been asked to death. 

Spare us the platitudes

After one year of the Rohingya crisis, we certainly do not need someone from outside telling us that Bangladesh has done a brilliant job in upholding the virtues of compassion. The proof is right before us. Scores of people are living within Bangladesh, large swathes of forestry have been cleared, despite caution from ecologists, academic operation in Cox’s Bazaar schools have reportedly been hampered and efforts are underway to build accommodation in Bhashanchar for the Rohingya. 

So, at this moment, even if there is praise for Bangladesh, it has to be followed up by what other countries are planning to help us with the Rohingya crisis. Coming to Bangladesh, visiting the camp, and then vomiting a few memorized lines on generosity and altruism won’t do. 

A British minister coming to tell us that this country has done a superb job is hardly anything new. This line has been uttered countless times before. Say something new, for a change. 

The minister reportedly said: “The UK’s main concern is that the people should be repatriated; the Rohingya people want to go home. But, they won’t go home unless they feel secure and their identities are recognized. The UK supports that.”

Sorry to sound harsh, this is again, a set of meaningless platitudes. We all know this, there is no need to repeat what is already public knowledge. What we would have liked to hear is if the UK’s solicitous rhetoric is backed by steps to pressure Myanmar into accepting the Annan recommendations and admit to using disproportionate force against their won people. 

Not once has any visiting British politician pointed fingers at the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi, who maintains the face of what many Western countries vehemently try to prove as nascent democracy. 

What is with this infatuation with a charlatan? 

While it’s evident that the civilian face of administration, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is a travesty, we never hear any condemnation from Western government representatives alluding to the impotence of the civilian façade. 

The UK should answer why on the one hand they maintain a benevolent stance, while on the other refuse to take any concrete steps that would compel Myanmar to actually make concessions.

Someone should ask: Is it in the UK’s interest to sustain the crisis?

Maybe prolonging this crisis will prove to be grand development sector bonanza.

Alistair Burt did not, reportedly, say anything that would help the Rohingya issue move forward. He delivered a set of very well crafted lines which have been said too many times before. These utterances have now become vacuous rhetoric, if nothing else. 

It’s agreed by most that without biting sanctions on Myanmar, the Rohingya imbroglio will not see an inch of progress. Instead of the hollow lines, tell us if the UK will or will not get strict. 

If the answer is “yes” then specify when, and if it’s “no” then please clarify. Pulling the wool over our eyes is a bit difficult now since this Bangladesh is not made of the malleable and the gullible. 

Stop asking election related advice from foreigners

I am appalled to find that foreigners are being asked about how our elections should be held. This is not a country of imbeciles. The people know the importance of inclusive elections.

The masses understand that and so do the government and the opposition.

Honestly speaking, a British minister talking about how polls should be held in Bangladesh while the UK is sucked into a vortex of Brexit-triggered strife, division, and shenanigans, is simply hilarious. The stuff Monty Python is made of.

Tell me, when a Bangladeshi minister or a VIP goes to the UK, are they ever asked to give their opinions on the rise of moped hijackers terrorizing people in London? Does the media go up to them and ask if their country is caught in a morass with the Brexit albatross hanging around their neck?

The point is, Bangladesh is not run by others and so it’s silly to ask advice or opinion from visitors when we already know what is required for acceptable polls. 

Bangladesh is not the war-ravaged country without a rudder, faced with millions of hungry mouths and a beleaguered government it once was.

Reading the newspaper reports on Alistair Burt’s visit, a quote from 16th century English poet Ben Jonson came to me: “To speak and speak well are two different things; a fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.” 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.