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The World Cup and flag wars in Dhaka

  • Published at 01:18 pm June 30th, 2018
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A flag to call your own / SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

South Asian people need another state -- a winner state

If one were visiting Dhaka now, a foreigner would be slightly confused about whether she was in Brazil or Argentina. 

There are millions of flags of various shapes and sizes flying belonging to either of the two countries. 

Welcome to Bangladesh, where its flags don’t fly much and no such support is ever declared, nor passion displayed. But this is World Cup time.  

Of course, it’s an innocent expression of identity, as fans gather around flags to root for teams. 

But in Bangladesh and other poor countries, particularly in South Asia, the passion is incredible and the stakes are high.  

It’s obvious that the Cup is one of the greatest moments of their public life, and not just sports. It’s so overwhelming that everything else matters less. 

Perhaps that is why the passion deserves a little more attention to understand. 

Sports is always where the ancient memories of hunting are rekindled in our minds. But what happens when we are screaming for a tribe that is not our own?

End of state mono-loyalty?

There was a time when one could only live happily ever after in a single country. Travel was difficult and making livelihood in another was even more so. 

Migration of the kind we see was not there, and technology was absent. TV, computers, and mobile screens have ended distance and space. The physical world is still apart, but in the virtual world, all are one. In such situations, can a single-state loyalty exist?

In this age of globalization, it’s difficult to decode where and when one state ends and another begins. In fact, it can sometimes be even worth asking if there is such a thing as a mono-state identity. The problem could be that while globalization is a reality, all are not equally globalized. 

Some are running the process, and the rest are following it, sometimes even when not liking the whole of it. It’s a bit of a one-sided process with one globalizing with no intent of changing their identity, and the rest searching and finding one identity after another, as their own shrinks.  

The wealth and poverty of nations 

The once popular first, second, and third world concept does convey the reality of class categories of wealth and resources by nations of the world.  

The rich, middle, and poor countries all remain. Thus, we see an echo of the globe within the countries and the disparity within countries reflected in the world. Essentially, privileges remain limited to a smaller group both at the national and global level.

It’s the smaller, poorer countries who seem to be bearing new national flag identities. In the rich countries, it happens much, much less.   

Although Asian countries are represented in the Cup, loyalties are not expressed by regions, and no Japanese or Korean flags fly in Dhaka. 

The fact that the situation is the same in India where it has been named the “Doosra country” -- other country -- because the passion is so high, is significant. The identity with the flag country is near total, and as it always happens in passion, murder, suicide, and brawls are common as are declarations of undying love.

Fans are quick to point out that it’s all very innocent, and nothing to do with political identity, which is of course true, but probably partly. 

What would have been the public and official reaction if all the flags flying belonged to India or Pakistan? 

People miss being a winner state

Such a phenomenon would not happen in any European country at the scale we see it happening in the third world, the poorer world. 

In these days, when the US Supreme Court has upheld the ban on visitors from several countries, and economic war with China and even the EU has begun, what chances would flags of another land have to survive flying? 

The enemy’s flag can’t be flown, and that is final. There may be some confusion in identifying who the enemy is, but a stricter code is inevitable, because quite simply put, the aspiration to belong to another flag, however vicarious, is absent in the developed world. There is no need. 

And if another flag was flown in China, some people may be jailed, or worse.

But South Asian people in general, and Bangladesh as part of that, need another state, a winner state. 

That state is not in the region and that state has no faith or cultural identity. It has a much bigger and significant one, and it’s called the identity of the winner. 

In a world where victories are in such short supply, one wants to be with the winning side. And fight with passion to win. 

The flags by themselves mean little. It’s in the understanding of the aspirations of the people, and falling short of achieving that, that we need to pay some more attention. 

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.