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Facts exist

  • Published at 05:09 pm May 21st, 2018
  • Last updated at 05:29 pm May 21st, 2018
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Empowering the next generations with the ability of fact-based thinking

Since March of this year, a wave of protest in the Gaza Strip, near the Israeli border has come under the spotlight. The resulting violence claimed the lives of over 45 and wounded more than five thousand people, all of whom unarmed protesters. 

All of the killings have been by the Israeli military and many of them were done using sniper-fire, indicating without a doubt that these were assassinations, and not crowd control. Yet, the prevailing discourse allows for ‘debates’ about who are the aggressors. Because, as everyone seems to accept, there are no ‘facts’; only different ‘narratives’.

Similar ‘debates’ exist in all countries, across all political landscapes, including in Bangladesh. While discussions and debates are essential elements of a democratic society, they can completely fail if the citizens aren’t equipped with the basic skills for separating facts from unreliable information. And without developing that capability, debates are as futile as a torch in a blind person’s hand, except perhaps for hitting someone over the head with it, which is often what the debates become.

There is a general understanding, mostly in the public political discourse, that facts can be partisan, like people. There are ‘BNP’s facts’ and then there are ‘Awami League’s facts’. But what is the truth? The truth is that it is possible to know if a trial was fair, for example. 

Existence of conflicting claims does not mean that facts are unknowable. A regular and careful reader of news will have the ability to understand, for instance, the significance of independent human rights organizations reporting the same findings on one incident. They will also know the limits or power of, say, a UN fact finding committee by simply reading about who support it and who oppose it. These are powerful tools for understanding reality.

Legitimate concerns can be held and valid doubts can exist, without having to conflate facts with personal convictions. An Israeli person may want Israel’s borders to extend beyond where they are now, a Palestinian may believe that Israel belongs to native Arabs. Regardless of who has the higher moral ground, the fact remains that the 1967-borders were finalized as the internationally accepted borders and therefore, it is a fact that the borders are not ‘disputed’. 

Politicians and intellectuals foam at the mouth expressing their belief in and support for democracy. But little concern is reserved for the more vital question of how to ensure awareness of current affairs among the educated population of the country. Democracy is meaningless if citizens do not possess the rudimentary understanding of the present world. Most importantly, it warrants no explanation as to why an informed society is essential for a progressive and functioning democratic state. 

To create a culture where reading the news is widely practiced and to equip citizens with the necessary tools for distinguishing between reliable and unreliable reporting, news reading could be included in the school syllabi. The government is unlikely to incorporate this into the national curriculum. But private schools might seriously consider this, because it has a business case, as it creates more value for their clients, i.e. the parents.

Exposure to quality journalism from national and international media outlets from an early age can transform, almost magically, a whole generation into a powerful collective that aren’t just in touch with what’s going on, but are able to separate facts from propaganda. 

Saqib Saker is Deputy Magazine Editor, Dhaka Tribune