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Bans and blocks and tick-tocks 

  • Published at 06:01 pm January 2nd, 2017
Bans and blocks and tick-tocks 

As nice as it would be for 2017 to wash away our sins, it seems an unlikely prospect.

Locally, the government’s rather “hardcore” ban on pornographic sites and, internationally, the rampage in a nightclub in Istanbul prove that we have inherited the dysfunctional politic of the past year. As much as we wouldn’t want it to be, the effects of the decisions made will, undoubtedly, continue to affect the way the world turns in 2017.

A clean slate would be nice, of course. But that is a paradox. If we hadn’t made these mistakes, we wouldn’t be as we are right now, and there wouldn’t be any consequences, and we wouldn’t learn from those same mistakes, and evolve.

Much of what makes living in this country bearable -- compared to other theologically and conservatively influenced nations, that is -- can be encompassed by the rather defeatist nature of the phrase: “At least, it’s not that bad.” And when this phrase is uttered, we think of countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, we think of monarchies in the Middle East, nations under the foot of autocrats and despots.

We say, as apologists for our nation: At least our women can drive. At least we don’t practice beheadings. At least we allow liberal mindsets to flourish. At least, when atheists are killed, it’s because of rogue elements, not by actors from within the government. At least, it’s not banning popular sites like Facebook and YouTube and other sites which have taboo content.

Or not. Or maybe, not anymore. While the government fights its fight against extremism, in the same vein, it finds common ground with extremists: Treat sex like the sin it is, and think that it’s ruining our society with its ugly truth.

This is a common problem: Hail freedom as the cornerstone of your democratic leadership -- except for a few things where freedom isn’t that important. After all, when has the public ever known what it wanted?

That’s logic that is difficult to argue against. When most of the people sympathise with the murders of free-thinking bloggers and are apathetic to spates of communal violence, should popular opinion be deemed worthy of any value?

When popular opinion sides with President-elect Trump (I’ve decided to the shed the ad hominem “orange-haired, mouth-flapper”), should they be heeded? When the masses root for Brexit, when they go for Le Pen, when they give in to fear over empathy, should anybody listen?

Will US intervention become a thing of the past? Will the Rohingyas finally belong to a country that is proud to call them their own? Will this be the year IS is destroyed?

If 2016 should have taught us one more thing, it should be that populism is a silent killer. It hides inside the subtextual oppression of the mainstream narrative -- a narrative that is mainstream only in pretense.

And if popular opinion is faulty, devoid of logic and derived not from education, does that not make popular opinion, for lack of a better word, “wrong”? And the rise of the -- if I may deem it thus -- wrongness of popular opinion serves us with a conundrum: What of democracy?

Democracy, which gives so much power to the people, is powerless when the people exercise that power to wreak havoc with the system. Democracy is also inherently utilitarian, meaning that it cannot, through its own making, give power to minorities, to those who are oppressed. If they must be given power, it must be through a sympathetic tug via the power that the majority already possesses.

Which means that, if 2016 should have taught us anything, it is that democracy isn’t the perfect political system that we had believed. It is not this end-point of philosophical evolution that so many had called it, and so many still do. It did not herald in an “end of history.” Democracy, to put it bluntly, is not perfect.

At least, democracy as we know it. And that is a scary prospect: If democracy as we know it is dead, what shall take its place? Thousands of years of progress to start going back to the likes of fascism? Or will we find a better system, a better way to rule over a population that is pushing the world to its limits?

Will the depletion of natural resources lead to the final revolution in renewable energy? Will America’s abstinence from the UN’s vote criticising Israeli settlements finally lead to a two-state solution?

Will US intervention become a thing of the past? Will the Rohingyas finally belong to a country that is proud to call them their own? Will this be the year IS is destroyed? Will Bangladesh finally become a middle-income nation? Will we finally achieve world peace?

The answer is simple: No. If there are high hopes to be had as we further tick-tock into 2017, it is the hope that it will be a year of transition.

It will neither be a good year nor bad. It will be the catalyst which takes us towards what could be a new era of civilisation. It will serve as the in-between for what was and what will be.

And what will be? 2017 doesn’t know. But 2018 just might.

SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.