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Rising above the banning culture

  • Published at 04:43 pm January 26th, 2018
  • Last updated at 12:24 pm January 27th, 2018
Rising above the banning culture

When I heard that our Education Ministry was asking to shut down Facebook during the Secondary School Certificate exams, my heart almost missed a beat.

But when I saw columnist Afsan Chowdhury commenting on this worrying statement, saying that “shutting down Facebook to prevent exam cheating is like shutting down the toilet to prevent diarrhoea,” I had a good laugh, and that reduced the level of my cortisol to a great extent.

But the unhappiness didn’t go away altogether, since it’s not the officials of the Education Ministry alone who consider chopping off the head when there’s a headache. We, as a nation, have several times thought about taking such measures when we didn’t know what to do to mitigate any crisis.

As if there wasn’t any question of paper leakage in Bangladesh during the pre-Facebook era.

Question paper leakage and cheating in the exams have always been there.

We have seen this throughout our school, college, and university days.

Now, a five-year-old child can also understand that the problem doesn’t lie in social media, but among some criminals whom the law enforcers are finding hard to identify.

It was quite naïve for the education minister to issue such a statement. You don’t really want us to believe that the police don’t know who are responsible for the leakages, do you? In an era when every IP address is traceable, the police are finding it difficult to identify the leakers?

Banning social media for security reasons may be understandable, but for the leakage of question papers?

Again, in this digital era, we should be mature enough to realize that we cannot prevent people from logging on to social media sites, even if we block them from our central servers.

We had experienced it many times in the history of the internet. If you want to prevent us from logging on to social media, you might as well ban the internet from Bangladesh.

Why do we, as a nation, always resort to short-term solutions?

We also blocked YouTube twice in the last decade: Once in 2009 and again in 2013.

In 2013, we blocked the site for preventing Bangladeshis to watch a supposedly anti-Islamic movie available on the site.

I didn’t watch the movie, but I’ve read various reviews of it by non-Muslim film critics; they said the movie was pure trash.

Banning a video-sharing site like YouTube just for trash? You must be joking.

Now, what would have happened if we, Bengalis, watched it? Would we have a different opinion about Islam and its prophet after watching the movie? Would the movie have compelled us to become non-Muslims?

Would there be unrest due to the movie? Yes, there could be unrest fanned by the zealots. This is where a government’s responsibility lies; it should take action during such moments so that zealots don’t become too zealous.

You may try shutting down Facebook during exams, but the question papers are most likely to still be leaked

A society of ostriches

I believe the problem doesn’t lie in someone making an anti-Islam movie, but in us, the Bengali Muslims, in the need to become more mature about the religion we follow. If we’re following the religion in the true sense, we might as well be more tolerant, as the Prophet had recommended centuries ago.

We have banned books by the author Taslima Nasreen; we have also banned the writer altogether from entering her own country. She has been in exile for a long time.

Her Lajja, Amar Meyebela, etc were banned in Bangladesh. We have cited religious sentiments as the reason for banning her works.

My question: Is our faith so superficial that a few books are enough to shatter it?

What she has written regarding male chauvinism clearly showed that she was a writer who had seen the future.

We males may not agree, but she was ahead of her time. Back then, Nasrin was the only one talking about the taboos, but now, there are hundreds who are highlighting what she started. She saw it coming.

Remember Aldous Huxley? Huxley’s Brave New World, written in 1931, was banned at various times for allegedly being “anti-family,” “anti-religion,” and “extremely blasphemous.” His novel features a futuristic society completely controlled by the government, and portrays a version of our planet full of brainwashed citizens who have given up their freedom in exchange for world peace.

Aren’t Huxley’s insights set to be true when the internet of things start guiding our lives?

Modern-day experts have predicted that the all-connected civilisation is going to be what Huxley had written about.

So, there’s reason to conclude that Huxley was way ahead of his time; he, too, could see the future, which perhaps, the then governments didn’t want the people to see.

We need to realize that this is an era of disruption, an era of finding alternatives to the traditional beliefs, tools, and measures. The traditional measures may not work in this age.

The banning culture has never worked and it will also not work in the future.

You may try shutting down Facebook during exams, but the question papers are most likely to still be leaked if we bury our faces in the sand.

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.