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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/27/18

The Capital of Suffering: Reflections on the Exploitation of Misery

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Bengali versus Bangladeshi Nationalism

In Europe, the least educated people vote for nationalists; in Bangladesh, the most educated people vote for nationalists. The European elite have learned from history; the Bangladeshi elite are incapable of learning. A wise man learns from the mistake of others; a fool doesn't learn from his own mistake.

Before proceeding, a little background is necessary. Pakistan was created in 1947 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to give a home to the Muslims of the subcontinent. In a democracy, they would have been a disprivileged minority. The emergence of Hindu nationalism and Hindutva have more than vindicated Jinnah's vision.

Pakistan had two wings, East and West Pakistan, separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Muslims, of course, were the majority of both wings. While West Pakistan was a polyglot entity, the citizens of East Pakistan spoke Bengali. Bengali nationalism - as antithesis to the Islamic identity of Pakistan - soon reared its head in the fledgling country. Nationalism in Bangladesh is based upon language, the Bengali language; Pakistan's identity was a Muslim identity. Sheikh Mujib turned out to be the champion of Bengali nationalism, and his Awami League party its political vehicle.

To cut a long story short, the culmination of Bengali nationalism was the civil war between the two wings of Pakistan in 1971, with the West Pakistan army killing an unknown number of civilians. India invaded East Pakistan, routing the Pakistan army, and creating the new country, Bangladesh.

Sheikh Mujib, the country's first prime minister, created a personality cult, rather like the rulers of communist countries, especially North Korea. Again, as in North Korea, a famine occurred in 1974 in which an estimated 1.5 million people died. Mujib's rule degenerated into despotism, and he along with most of his family were killed by army officers on August 15, 1975.

In November 1975, Major General Ziaur Rahman came to power in a military coup. Although he had been a liberation fighter in 1971, he speedily reversed the secularism and nationalism of Mujib and gave recognition to Islam as the country's national identity. His political vehicle was the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). This was the beginning of an alternative narrative for Bangladesh, one based on Islam, not language, to be known as Bangladeshi nationalism rather than Bengali nationalism (their respective slogans would be 'Allahu Akbar' and 'Joy Bangla'). Thus, two opposed religions emerged in the country, nationalism and Islam (see The Two Religions Of Bangladesh). Zia appointed pro-Pakistan members to national office and restored democracy, which had been swept aside by Mujib who had created a one-party state called BAKSAL. Zia was assassinated in 1981. In 1982, Lieutenant General Hossain Mohammed Ershad became chief martial law administrator, and finally assumed the presidency.

General Ershad continued Zia's policy of a pivot to America and Western Europe, away from the axis of India and the Soviet Union. The programs of denationalisation and privatisation, begun under Zia who had reversed the socialism of Mujib, continued with the approval of Western countries.

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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, ├ éČ┼ŻBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL ├ éČ┼ŻTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. ├ éČ┼ŻHe (more...)
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