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OP-ED: The princes of pretense

  • Published at 02:57 am February 1st, 2021
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Representational photo BIGSTOCK

We have a culture that rewards deceit

When TV channels ran reports on the young con man, Ashraful Islam, Oscar Wilde came to mind: Knaves nowadays look so honest that good people are forced to look like knaves so as to appear different.

In mercenary times, what matters most is wealth, name, and position. The origin of the money is rarely a matter of concern because, as the old saying goes: No one asks any questions when someone arrives in a Bentley! Well, 20-year-old Asharaful Islam may not be moving in a Bentley but he is reported to have been seen going to meetings in high-end SUVs and cars, which are the playthings of the wealthy.

Exploiting the carefully manufactured image, Ashraful allegedly laid down his web of deceit. Sometimes he posed as a commercially important person with links at the office of the highest administration of the country, often presenting himself as a rich expatriate; and then there is the identity of the political leader, which always gets the work done. The last one is possibly the easiest: Drop a few names, wear the right clothes, look aloof, drive a swanky SUV, and voila, you can easily pass as a top politico.

But Ashraful has to be given credit because at this age, he is reported to have made crores by hoodwinking people with false hopes of jobs, contracts, and visas. But people like Ashraful are all around us now; the predatory social creed governing society spawns scamsters like him.

Exploiting the innocence of youth

When I saw the TV report, what struck me was his disarming smile. A person at the crossroads of youth is hardly someone who we expect to be an expert swindler. That is what common knowledge states, though we are living in a time when firmly held beliefs appear meaningless.

This young man is reported to have embezzled money, collected in the name of a humanitarian organization. For people like him, corona came as a blessing as Ashraful reportedly opened a web operation under the name “Manobik Team” to take donations from expatriates. 

Unsurprisingly, most of the money collected went to his pocket. 

We need to look at Ashraful’s case from two angles. The first has to deal with the predilection towards con jobs from an early age. In the last one year, several impostors have been caught by the police, although all of them were adults. Here we have a person who is just out of his teenage years and already on top of several dubious schemes. It won’t be an exaggeration to state that his case is a sad indictment of a society obsessed with the visible projection of success.

Bling blinds reason

For most con artists, the first strategy is to look successful. From the top swindler to the small time fraudster, the projection of wealth as per their social status is the main trick. Add the necessary rodomontade with it to create an aura which is then perfected over time. Ashraful is no different; he used to hire expensive vehicles, met victims at five star hotels, and thus, the picture of “success” was created. 

However, what is curious is that no one actually took the trouble to dig deeper and find out if his claims were true or just bluster. Now that he has been caught, we are getting a whiff of his misdeeds, but why didn’t anyone ask how such a young lad could be what he claims to be? 

It’s common sense that unless one is a supremely talented sportsman, actor, singer, or a tech junkie, such success at an early age is unusual. Even for those who are rich and young, the world knows how they came to be famous because their stories of rags to riches are in the public domain.

Strangely, no one bothered to investigate, which proves the unwillingness of the human mind to accept something as fraud. Nietzsche once said: Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth because we don’t want our illusions shattered. The moral of the story is that faced with material items that ooze money, common sense takes flight.

Glorifying con in celluloid

The paradox is that movies about con jobs are usually blockbusters. Enjoyable as they are, these movies subtly inject a sense of admiration in our minds for persons who swindle others. 

However, if in real life we find that someone has cloned our debit card using a micro camera to pick up the password while we were in the ATM, the feeling is hardly that of excitement. 

These movies can be termed as harmless fun, although they do inspire others to take up fraud as a way to quick riches. To use a Bangladeshi example: Ghuddi (1980) depicts a young smooth-talker called Mohabbat Ali who weaves a fake world of wealth and comfort to woo a young girl from an affluent family. In the end, the truth comes out, but since it’s a movie, Mohabbat Ali is repentant and the girl forgives him because she has fallen in love with him.

The film celebrates love but fails to denounce the application of guile to make the girl fall in love. Its plot is just a projection of the real world where romantic impostors, both men and women, continue to deceive their victims. 

I don’t know what will come of Ashraful, but people like him only succeed because no one takes the trouble to do background checks. Perhaps it’s time that meetings at plush hotels and the flaunting of wealth triggered an inner alarm bell. Let’s not be blinded by bling!

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

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