It seems that we’re looking for our national icon. France has the Eiffel Tower, America has its Statue of Liberty, India has its Taj Mahal, and England has its Tower Bridge or Buckingham Palace.
Bangladesh Tourism Board has been mulling to decide on an icon through which we would be known to the world.
Many other countries also have their national icons to be recognised in the minds of the global population. Some have natural icons and some have created theirs. Nepal, for example, hasn’t created anything; they have one of the mightiest icons -- the Himalayas. On the other hand, Bhutan has come to be known as a cool, calm, and happy country surrounded by beautiful mountains.
America had several icons to be made popular across the world. They had the once-upon-a-time tallest building, they have the Grand Canyon, and many others. However, they had decided to brand themselves around the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone has reasons for shaping themselves in the ways they think would be good for them. When a country naturally acquires an icon, such as Switzerland’s Alps, it brings out all the positive aspects around it and builds its image in that direction.
Creating a character
Almost every country that had sought to establish an icon for itself has been successful. To me, they weren’t looking for maximising their national income by promoting their tourism. By attracting overseas tourists, they were also trying to build a character for themselves as a nation.
A country’s collective psychology plays a vital role in creating this character. For example, people would always feel safe in the least corrupt country in the corruption index. The global population would trust a country that would provide good products across the world.
Our board may have tourism in mind, but it’s not only about attracting tourists to the country, but also to establish a clear sense of credibility of a nation and its citizens to the international community.
Whenever I go to Sri Lanka, I have its people in mind. I, like many others, have experienced that Sri Lankans are an educated and friendly lot.
On the other hand, when I visit India, I remain extra careful throughout my stay there, as somehow I don’t feel safe or comfortable there.
The image of a nation isn’t shaped overnight; it takes quite a lot of time to evolve to a certain admirable characteristic.
It also requires the strategic vision of the leaders and their integrity towards that, in order to reach certain goals.
Again, the level of honesty among the people of a country is also another indicator for boosting the nation’s image.
Almost every country that sought to establish an icon for itself has been successful. By attracting overseas tourists, they were also trying to build a character for themselves as a nation
The more honest the people are, the more credibility their nation earns in the minds of the global population.
Humans feel safe when they come close to honest humans.
We, as a nation, have been thinking about our image for a long time since independence. We have always felt proud of our War of Liberation. The whole world knows that we have a valiant legacy of facing the grimmest occupation and despite all tortures and killings, we’ve succeeded in raising our heads as victors who believe in the spirit of freedom.
The same lot that believes in the spirit of freedom would have to respect that spirit.
Otherwise, it won’t mean anything to the world out there.
Our tourism board had also thought of selecting our national mausoleum, Jatiyo Smriti Shoudho in Savar, as our icon. The thought, indeed, is a noble one.
However, the question that pops up in my mind is: If we select the emblem of freedom as our national icon, we, as a nation, should also be able to respect all values of freedom.
So, before looking for a Statue of Liberty-like icon, we may have to learn to uphold the values of liberty.
Look at the owner-nation of Statue of Liberty. They seems to have failed miserably in respecting the values of freedom.
Going beyond tourism
Allow me to tell another tale. Recently, I went to Malaysia on an official tour.
A Malay colleague of mine asked me whether every woman has to wear a hijab when they go out and whether it is a must for her when she comes to visit Dhaka.
So you see, perceptions develop even when we don’t want to. The globe has various kinds of perceptions about us, and many are negative.
Of course, we need a physical icon. It would provide us a visible identity to the rest of the world -- at least for the sake of tourism. However, we need to go beyond the thought of mere tourism.
We may think of focusing on humans, developing a collective character for ourselves which would be unique among all countries. I think that would brand us as a nation.
I would like to end this piece with a few lines from one of my most favourite singers T J Sheppard:
There’s only one Eiffel Tower
One finest hour
One New York town
One 5th Avenue
There’s only one Mona Lisa
One Leaning Tower of Pisa
One Paris and there’s only one you.
I wish a day would come when one of our icons would find a place in the time-winning songs listened by the people in the world.
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.