Politics of fear and a pantomimic budget

Sadeq Khan

Social order in the country is in a state of collapse. There is no governance. Law enforcement capacity and the will of the government, except for political purposes on true or false allegations, has declined to near-zero level. The Rapid Action Battalion and the Police appear of late to be at odds with one another, the latter now ruling the roast of “cross-fire” actions and blackmail of “abduction” threats.

In gang warfare over turfs of “extortion rackets”, all over the country dead bodies are falling in increasing numbers by the day. Some of the victims are hounded by contract killers in broad daylight, others abducted, murdered, mutilated, and thrown into rivers or by the roadside to be discovered by terrified commoners. Politics of fear is the message, and unquestioning loyalty is the price of some security for some citizens, that also undermined by godfather networks of the ruling party’s own making. The rich heads of business empires and their family members are seen these days moving only in the company of armed guards employed by them. Ordinary people fear for their lives every time they go out, or even at home if they hear a loud noise or unfamiliar movements in the locality.
Open support to godfather
The prime minister has publicly sided with a godfather, suspected by many of her own flock as the kingpin behind the sensational kidnap and “seven murder” case of Narayanganj. She is not bothered that her “bias” is bound to distract the course of investigation. In Feni, the Prime Minister’s name has been used to dictate the family members of a “shoot and torch-to-death’ daylight assassination victim to file f.i.r accusing a reportedly innocent political opponent as the mastermind behind the killing. The course of investigation was perverted, but overwhelming evidence found against the real killers forced it back to track.
Political rhetoric over the nightmarish situation is ‘loud’ on both sides of the mainstream divide, but pantomimic in effect. Former Prime Minister and BNP leader Khaleda Zia warned that common people are ‘wailing’ in fear under the misrule of the “illegitimate” government installed in a voter-less election; if the ruling party Awami League failed even now to seek fresh elections for a truly representative government, its leaders would have to rue the consequence and wail, praying for pardon from the people. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina retorted that it is BNP that was born of “illegitimate” military government in the seventies, and that she does not care about critics of her regime. Nor does she fear anyone; she said “no” to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and to US Secretary of Secretary of State John Kerry on their requests to withhold the execution of Jamat leader Abdul Quader Molla: “Who dared ignore the phone calls? It is I, the daughter of Bangabandhu [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman].”
Some political analysts wonder whether she was sending in advance a veiled message to Modi, the ‘shining’ new Prime Minister of India who made a ‘flying start’ in Delhi. There is no comfort, though, in Modi’s enunciated foreign policy approach: “We have never thought beyond the country’s frontiers. We are a big country, we are an old country, we are a big power. We should make the world realise it. Once we do it, the world will not shy away from giving us due respect and status.”
Huge negative budget
In this depressing climate of politics of fear, Sheikh Hasina’s Finance Minister has placed his paperwork of a hugely deficit budget, without any commitment from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for funding support to cover that deficit, and based on uncertain revenue earnings as well as expected credits from internal and external fund-raising efforts. A pantomimic feature evident about this year’s budget, without any reflection or its merits and demerits, is the lack of public interest, including that of usual stakeholders in the budgetary process. People, including businessmen as well as wage-earners and common consumers, seem to be overwhelmed by the fear of shadow tax-regime of the godfather gangs, nurtured by the ruling party, than of any taxes and duties fixed in the budget, which they could evade by protection fees payable to godfather demands.
There is no comfort from the global preoccupation either. It is Europe again, over Ukraine, and Syria, in the Middle East. U.S. President Obama, however, has told his young soldiers: “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbours terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy—drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan—to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold. Today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.”
His former Secretary of State, and possible Presidential candidate in 2016, Hillary Clinton has meanwhile candidly told the American people on Fox Television that al-Qaeda was in reality the creation of US foreign policy misguidance in the Cold War.
The politics of fear
Taking a cue from Hillary’s remark, and to relieve the reader from the depression of the situation obtaining. I am quoting below a ten-year old BBC teleplay on the genesis of the “politics of fear” for quasi-historic entertainment.
The Phantom Victory (abridged): The Rise of the Politics of Fear, aired on BBC 2, 27 October 2004, written and produced by Adam Curtis.
Voice: In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this. But their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those dreams failed. And today, people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life. But now, they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see, and the greatest danger of all is international terrorism.
Afghan Boy: (holding a gun and making gun noises): Ka-choo! Daga daga daga daga! Pum pum pum! (etc.)
Voice: In 1982, Ronald Reagan dedicated the Space Shuttle Columbia to the resistance fighters in Afghanistan.
President Ronald Reagan: Just as the Columbia represents man’s finest aspirations in the field of science and technology, so too does the struggle of the Afghan people represent man’s highest aspirations for freedom. I am dedicating, on behalf of the American people, the March 22nd launch of the Columbia to the people of Afghanistan.
Voice: Since 1979, the mujaheddin resistance had been fighting a vicious war in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. But now, a small group in the Reagan White House saw in these fighters a way of achieving their vision of transforming the world, to bring down the Soviet Union and help spread democracy around the world.
The neoconservatives, who were now in power in Reagan’s White House, had created an exaggerated and distorted vision of the Soviet Union as the source of all evil in the world. One of their main influences was the theories of the philosopher Leo Strauss. He believed that liberal societies needed simple, powerful myths to inspire and unite the people.
Richard Perle, Assistant Secretary of Defence 1981-1987: We’re closer to being revolutionaries than conservatives, in the sense that we want to change some deeply entrenched notions about the proper role of American power in the world.
Voice: And the man who was going to help the neoconservatives do this was the new head of the CIA, William Casey.
Milton Bearden, CIA Field Officer, Afghanistan, 1985-89: Casey tapped me one day, says, “I want you to go there and win. Whatever you need, you can have.” He gave me the Stinger missiles and a billion dollars.
Voice: At the very same time, another group began to arrive in Afghanistan to fight alongside the mujaheddin. Arabs from across the Middle East had been told by their religious leaders to go and free Muslim lands from the Soviet invader.
Abdullah Anas, General Commander Afghan Arabs, Northern Afghanistan, 1984-1989: I saw the fatwa, the order saying that every Muslim has a duty to help the Afghans to liberate their land.
Voice: Abdullah Azzam was a charismatic religious leader who had begun to organize the Arab volunteers in Afghanistan. He had set up in Peshawar on the Afghan border the headquarters of an international brigade of Arab fighters.
Dr. Azzam Tamimi, Institute of Islamic Political Thought: When, Abdullah Azzam became so instrumental in marketing the Afghan cause among the Arabs, he became very important. He became “the emir of the Arab mujaheddin.”
Voice: But like the neoconservatives, Azzam also saw the struggle against the Soviets as just the first step in a much wider revolution. He was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who wanted Islam to play a political role in governing Muslim societies. One of Azzam’s closest aides was a Saudi, Osama bin-Laden.
Osama came from a rich family from Saudi, and he had much, much money to spend. Sheikh Abdullah Azzam was a scholar, not a rich man. So when Osama came, he filled in this gap.
Voice: But then, in 1985, a new force began to arrive in Afghanistan, who were going to challenge Azzam’s approach.
Bearden: Very quietly, most of the governments in the Middle East, the Arab governments, began to empty their prisons of their ‘bad guys’ and send them off to the jihad with the very fondest hope that they would become martyred. Many of them were the people in Egypt that had not been executed after the murder of Sadat, but were implicated in it and had been in prison.
Voice: One of the most powerful of these newcomers was Ayman Zawahiri. Egyptian revolutionary Sayyed Qutb, had been executed in 1966. Qutb believed that the liberal ideas of Western societies corrupted the minds of Muslims, because they unleashed the most selfish aspects of human nature. Zawahiri had interpreted Qutb’s theories to mean that this corruption included the Western system of democracy. Democracy, Zawahiri believed, encouraged politicians to set themselves up as the source of all authority, and by doing this, they were rejecting the higher authority of the Quran. This meant they were no longer true Muslims, and so they, and those who supported them, could legitimately be killed. It was not only a direct challenge to the moderate ideas of Abdullah Azzam, but it also involved a militant rejection of all American influence over the jihad, because America was the source of this corruption.
Then, in 1987, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided he was going to withdraw Russian troops from Afghanistan. Gorbachev asked the Americans to help him negotiate a peace that would create a stable government in Afghanistan. But the hard-liners in Washington refused point-blank.
Richard Perle:  Well, it’s not very complicated. They arrived in a matter of days, on Christmas Eve in 1979; they could be home by Christmas Eve, (1987) if they decided to leave Afghanistan and let the Afghans decide their own future.
Bearden: I felt we won, because I was part of it; I’m sure that the Afghan Arabs thought “we won,” and then all summer long, the East Germans begin to gather—a hundred here, a thousand there, tens of thousands—until November 9th, when the wall was opened. And that’s it.
Melvin Goodman, Head of Office of Soviet Affairs CIA, 1976-1987: I think probably one of the greatest myths in America, in the political discourse now, right now, is that actions of the American government were responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed like a house of cards because it was a house of cards.
Gilles Kepel, Historian of the Islamist Movement: The Islamists were convinced that they were the key instrument in the demise of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. They just would not like to remember that without U.S. military help and training, they couldn’t have done anything. And also the Afghans were the ones who ousted the Soviets, not the Arab jihadis, who didn’t really fight, who were trained, but they were not the fighters.
Voice: Ayman Zawahiri, who saw violent revolution as the only way, seduced Osama bin-Laden—and his money—away from Azzam. He promised bin-Laden that he could become the emir, the leader of Zawahiri’s small extremist group, Islamic Jihad.
Anas: Ayman Zawahiri and another group of Egyptians, refused to pray behind Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar.
Voice: Then, at the end of 1989, Abdullah Azzam was assassinated by a huge car bomb in Peshawar. But despite his death, Azzam’s vision of a political revolution prevail. In the early ‘90s, in countries across the Arab world, Islamist parties began to gather mass support. In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front won overwhelming victories in local elections, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood began to win mass support.
Saif Al Banna, Senior member, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt: We want to build a popular base. This is the right way. We do not want a military coup; we do not want violence; we want our rights.
Voice: The governments in both Egypt and Algeria faced a terrible dilemma. At the heart of the Islamist vision was the idea that the Koran should be used as the political framework for the society. The people were about to vote in parties that might use that power to end democracy. Faced by this dilemma, in Algeria the army decided to step in, and in June 1991 they staged a coup d’état and immediately cancelled the elections. Mass protests by the Islamists were repressed violently, in Egypt, the government also clamped down. They arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, and banned the organization from any political activity.
Voice: For Ayman Zawahiri, this was a dramatic confirmation of his belief that the Western system of democracy was a corrupt sham.
Osama Bin-Laden: The only way to eradicate the humiliation and Kufr that has overcome the land of Islam is Jihad, bullets, and martyrdom operations.
Kepel: Bin-Laden and the others started, from now on, to wage their own jihad.
Source: Weekly Holiday

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