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Culture war, who is it good for?

  • Published at 06:35 pm May 20th, 2017
  • Last updated at 07:06 pm May 20th, 2017
Culture war, who is it  good for?

For those about to rock, we salute your patience.

It can’t be much fun for heavy metal fans in Dhaka if concerts they look forward to keep getting cancelled at the last minute.

The recent detention of two Brazilian bands as their sold out event was nixed for unexplained “security concerns” is not the first time authorities have seemingly conspired against metal-heads.

Racism, the pursuit of bribery, rabid Argentina fans in customs -- they all appear amid a motley crew of internet theories about how and why airport staff detained the innocent band members.

That the Home Ministry had the wit to confirm all necessary security and tax clearances had been properly obtained by organisers and nobody was formally arrested only makes the episode more of a disgrace.

Anyone with experience of Dhaka airport will sympathise with the band’s statement that they were victims “of a great misunderstanding and experienced more than 10 hours of pure prejudice and misinformation.”

Inevitably, there was an eruption of outrage across social media.

Quite right too. Bangladeshis are no strangers to metal, or musicians from overseas.

Sadly, the only apologies proffered to the bands seem to have come from embarrassed local fans.

But, at least, metal fans are of a type to revel in outlaw status anyway, despite the great Venn diagram of rock ’n’ roll pointing to a crossover or three.

After all, even in the heyday of Aurora, Donnington, and San Dimas -- when it was the single best-selling genre around the world -- heavy metal was still mostly an acquired taste.

Thankfully, for the Brazilians, their detention was only a temporary inconvenience.

Private lives

Just imagine, however, what it must be like for gay people in Bangladesh.

Discriminatory laws literally make them outlaws.

Every day.

Even though when it comes to the private lives of other adults, “live and let live” and “looking the other way” come naturally to most people, homosexuals in Bangladesh are still prey to prejudice and arbitrary arrests. No surprise so many live in the closet.

The coverage of RAB’s detention of dozens of people at “a homosexual party” in Keraniganj amplifies fears aroused by last year’s brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the gay magazine Roopbaan,

Official statements may now refer more to possession of drugs and complaints from locals, but no big drug dealer was discovered in the raid.

More to the point, if RAB’s spokesperson says: “They usually get together once every two months,” then, as responses go, it was hardly Usain Bolt was it?

No, what looks like harassment of people primarily because of their sexual orientation is just that. And probably politically motivated to boot.

RAB has far too many violent criminals to catch to be interested in turning into the sex police.

Including finding Xulhaz’s murderers for a start. But instead, these arrests do the exact opposite.

They send a message that the state would rather portray itself as standing on the side of the prejudiced rather than working to protect citizens by fighting homophobia and catching brutal killers.

Wow, that got serious quickly. Get back to the music.

Fact: Heavy metal only appeals to a minority of people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It is, of course, ludicrous and unfair that airport officials harassed some Brazilian musicians and elite law enforcers are tracking and crashing homosexual parties. A waste of time and common sense all round.

A nagging undercurrent

Having a party or putting on a concert is not a crime.

Just as no means no, rape is wrong, blaming the victim even more so, what matters about any rape case, it ought to be self-evident civil servants should not be interfering with people’s private lives or acting as self-appointed guardians of the public’s musical tastes.

Basic principles, simple enough to be instinctively understood by all.

But a nagging undercurrent remains. Religious fanatics of the type who actually do want to fight against the right to party are at large (and to varying extents always have been).    

Pandering to the prejudices of such types is sometimes perceived to be politically popular.

That’s why it is sometimes allowed to happen with impunity.

And each time authorities mistreat, ignore or connive in attacks on minorities of any type -- or in the case of women, the majority -- and get away with it -- a precedent is set for extremists to demand even more the next time round.

And the next.

The means are murky but the direction this path can lead to is not a happy one.

Regardless of class, disability, gender, ethnic heritage, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, how much you earn, what you own, and where and how you live -- nothing good can come of compromise with forces of hate.

Guardians of morality

Abuses of power by the greedy, ignorant, and sanctimonious are bad enough.

Throw in hypocrisy and politicians posturing as guardians of morality and they become gateway drugs which only end up strengthening religious extremists that want to exert control over the lives of others.

Unjust laws which enable law enforcers to harass or persecute minorities need to be removed from the statute books urgently. Otherwise, they will be used and misused again and again.

Cultural divides and differing tastes are an inevitable part of life. Beware of letting inevitable debates about culture -- which changes and adapts all the time -- turn prejudice into conflict and division. Wars demand winners. And losers.

Agreeing to disagree peacefully is the key to diversity and freedom. Without freedom, all in society lose the game. Only fools and fanatics want everybody to be and think the same way.

Asif Baul is an occasional compere and stand-up comedian.

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