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OP-ED: Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold

  • Published at 09:08 pm August 12th, 2020
No dreams anymore REUTERS

When an entire cabinet steps down in the aftermath of a tragedy

In his poem “The Second Coming,” Irish poet William Butler Yeats gave voice to the exasperation that he saw in society. 

It mirrored all that was striking at the heart of harmony in nature and society -- thereby heading for theinevitable destruction of order. Megalomania and tyrannical rule, at times spurred by self-glorification, at others by systematic corruption both financial and driven by isms, at other times the collateral outcome of insensible urge for power and its retention have stirred deep pain in the hearts of poets and writers. 

Politicians, despots, and the powers that be often quote from the works of these thinkers to justify their existence or their means. Rulers forced out of power after their efforts to cajole, persuade, bribe, and muscle look more to the words that they believe suit the electorate than those of wisdom in times of exits.

If exasperation is a fuse that leads to a conflagration of thought, the explosion in Beirut was one that was the trigger to an outpouring of rage among Lebanese. The loss of more than 200 lives and 5,000-odd injured has been tragic, but such tragedies have happened before in other countries, none of which led to a downfall of government. For once it wasn’t a minister that stepped down, the entire cabinet did.

From that perspective, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab has lifted the carefully woven veil in his as well as many other countries of “an apparatus of corruption bigger than the state.” Having hardly been in power for six months with an ensemble of technocrat ministers, his harsh but necessary measures to revive an ailing economy plagued by corruption were frustrated by the ruling class. 

This included the visible siphoning off of billions of dollars and the not-so-visible machinations to frustrate the assault on their raison d’etre. Diab didn’t mince his words as he pointed the finger at upper-echelon society that opposed reform all the way, and was unsympathetic to the tough decisions that needed to be taken.

Lebanon’s is an ailing economy with alarming debt. French President Emmanuel Macron moved swiftly to mobilize 300 million euros as urgent assistance. While this will be welcome, the relief is temporary. Unfortunately, as is sadly the case in all societies. the tentacles of corruption, mismanagement, and inefficiency cause further burden on the general public. 

New taxes in times of crunching distress never work unless there is combined societal support behind the moves. The people of Lebanon have lived through trying times of war, unwarranted attacks and bombings, and internecine strife. Each time they scrambled their way out but corona has left them without hope and the means. As a shop-keeper commented to the BBC: “We don’t have dreams anymore.”

Governments give in to the exorbitant demands of big business and informal trade, to the mafia and syndicates, thereby compromising with whatever the promises made to the electorate. They do so to stay in power, enjoy the trappings, exhilarate in complexes that come with it, benefit from the lure of corruption, and satiate the appetites of the few that care for country and countrymen. 

Their best efforts used to be striking a balance that allowed them to govern. The uncontrollables allowed that to happen. The situation is one that resonates with most countries and societies. 

A combination of camouflage diverts the attention of some people. Credit card culture that provokes debt, selling sex in all possible ways, a false sense of security through brandishing arms and armaments, and endless streams of debate on “what can and should be done” without providing clues as to how the “can” and “should” be achieved. 

Nationalism and patriotism have become convoluted oxymorons of crass capitalism so much so that they are faded memories of what mass struggles and sacrifices intended to achieve. Others are overwhelmed under a barrage of doctored culture that creates values that seek to steer societal changes towards all that is negative. Hidden under the debris of all this is another explosion just waiting to happen. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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