• Monday, Sep 28, 2020
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OP-ED: A charlatan for all seasons

  • Published at 09:10 pm July 12th, 2020
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Rampant materialism has led to the erosion of our values

Corona has taken a backseat for the time being, with virus testing related aberrations making the news. In the face of complaints about irregularities of testing, Regent Hospital has been shut down, and the law is looking for its chairman, Shahed, who, in recent times, has also been exposed as a top-notch charlatan by the media. 

It’s found that, with mathematical precision, this man developed an image of wealth, power, and influence, often presenting himself as someone close to the authorities. 

While there is a lot of debate going on over Shahed, there needs to be an in-depth look into our social creed which has decayed so much that putting up a false pretense of success or power has become an acceptable habit. 

Of course, Shahed needs to be caught and brought to justice; however, he is not the only one to blame. Over the last two decades, a rotten social phenomenon has insidiously developed, in which the core objective is to create a fake persona about oneself and optimize that to make money, get contracts, and impress others. 

Embellish the truth with titanic lies

Reportedly, Shahed’s favourite activity was to take photos with renowned and powerful people and then show them to others, either to prove his reach or to secure lucrative deals. In reality, there are countless impostors like him who pretend to have powerful connections and “influence” at the right places. 

They take photos with VIPs, casually drop names of high-ups, and often manage to find a place in some political body. If the last one is tough, then they unabashedly make up a political identity, which most will not try to investigate. Voila! The stage is set to lure victims. 

These swindlers operate from the lowest layer to the highest in society, with deception/guile as their main weapon. This means weaving tall tales of power and wealth because, by default, we do not question someone’s credibility if they appear successful.   

Fabricated images

The question is, how did this abhorrent culture get ensconced in society? What motivated Shahed to take up the role of a charlatan in the first place? 

I personally think that, to find the answer, we need to go back in time, to the beginning of the 90s, when Bangladesh society was undergoing radical changes due to the influence of satellite TV. 

Though in the decades after liberation, the country was politically turbulent, in the social sphere, there was the unmistakable presence of values and ideals. Parents instilled these into their children; thus, basic virtues were propagated. 

Then came the massive jolt of globalization, the lure of wealth, the desire to be rich, and the craving to flaunt. Under the deluge, values lost to the glitz of materialism. 

Once it became clear that those with power, money, and connections were given more importance, a significant shift took place in the mindset of those growing up in the mid-90s. 

The mantra was to present yourself far better than what you actually were  and defend that fabricated image till the end. Shahed is just an avid aficionado of that dubious culture. 

I may denounce it, though countless others who use inflated images to earn money and secure profitable deals will disagree. 

While sharing my concern about the obsession to gloss up the image to exude power plus wealth, one of my friends pointed to an interesting example: The contrived swagger of imperialism. 

The core doctrine of colonialism/imperialism was based on creating an inflated perception of military might topped with intellectual superiority. Bluffing had always been one of the major tactics of maintaining and subduing empires.  

I recalled the massive feint used by the allies during WWII (Operation Bodyguard and Operation Fortitude) under which a massive ghost army was created with inflatable tanks, planes, and artillery to divert attention from the actual D-Day landing spot in Normandy. 

The aim was to hoodwink Hitler into believing that a large military force was being mobilized to invade France from other areas. The core objective was to win at any cost. They do say: All is fair in love and war. 

Anyway, it seems that while society became more mercenary, the desire to appear socially successful and be the “winner” turned into an obsession, leading people to unceremoniously discard scruples. 

When the youth become tainted

The biggest worry is, seeing mountebanks like Shahed drive swanky cars, live in comfort, and take the moral high ground on TV talk shows, the young will enter the world with a totally tainted notion of how they should pursue success in life as adults. When they see that suave swindlers can get away using bluster, manipulation, or twisting of the truth, resorting to murky methods to make money won’t seem that unappetizing anymore. 

To be honest, I see countless youngsters desperate to get some political post, not because they believe in a particular political ideology but because they want to exploit that position for monetary or other gains. This also includes romantic relations: The love proposal of the ward general secretary is hardly turned down.  

When depravity, packaged tantalizingly with platitudes, is seen to bring social acceptance, then deep within us there is an affliction that is allowed to fester. 

Unfortunately, the tendency to create a faux identity to present a grandiose image of oneself now affects all social layers. 

Look out for these common signs to recognize the masters of bluster: They will talk about huge amounts of money, though a little search of their background will show that once, not too long ago, they could not even afford public transport; will drop names of politically linked people; make promises to secure jobs or visas; and will shamelessly lie about almost anything, especially their own financial background. 

Since Shahed’s make-believe world of power has crumbled, nabbing him and putting him behind bars is essential; otherwise, we will be led to believe that con men and women can bamboozle and get away lightly. 

That per se will be a motivation for many to choose craftily packaged vices above simple values.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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