Somewhere along the way, we've lost the plot

Ayesha Kabir | Update:

It's time for us to wake up and smell the coffee, instead of the acrid fumes in the aftermath of a petrol bomb. It's time for us to hear the birds sing, instead of the staccato of crossfire, followed by the dull thud of death. Instead, we are caught up in a callous complacence, where we wistfully wish cocktails still meant the clink of crystal, not shards of metal embedded in hapless bodies writhing in pain.

It's hard to define humanity any longer. Does handing over a ten taka note to the lame beggar in the street make us any more human, while we shut our eyes to the death and gore all around us? Are human chains in any way a manifestation of humanity, or just a means to salve our cosmopolitan consciences? We can generate funds for the burn unit patients and be smug in our self-righteousness, but the problems and the pain are so much more deep-rooted.

And it is not just restricted to Bangladesh. Hearts have hardened globally.

We condemn our politicians, on both ends of the spectrum, and rightly so. If we are for the Awami League government, we brush aside international condemnation as "interference". If we are of the BNP-led opposition ilk, we smirk in satisfaction at the international community's condemnation of crossfire and the government's stubborn stand. Somewhere along the way, we've lost the plot.

If it's any comfort, we're not the only ones who've lost the plot.

When an agent in a faraway developed nation presses a button (or do they tap on a screen?) and a drone attack kills innocent children in Central or South Asia, is the agent any less a monster than the man who hurls a petrol bomb at a bus in Barguna, on a Bangladesh highway? The little girl who lies burnt in a Kabul hospital cries the same tears as a boy lying in the Dhaka Medical College burn unit. But somehow or the other, we are portrayed as the brutal barbarians, while thousands of miles away the more 'sophisticated' predator is protected by the Anglo-Saxon facade of humanity and integrity. The hypocrisy of it all is well covered up by the veneer painted by media-wallas like us.

If we are being so professional in calling a spade a spade, when it comes to the western world, why do we have a propensity to use the term "collateral damage" rather than "brutal inhuman barbaric murder"? Is this some sort of colonial hangover we have, where we wouldn't want to offend the white sahib? We are still so eager to reach out for Nobels and knighthoods, just as did our "illustrious" ancestors for the Khan Bahadur label.

It's neither a matter of nationalism nor of xenophobia. It is just a matter of restoring sanity to this world.

When farmers in poverty stricken states of India commit suicide, unable to feed themselves and their families, it makes one think. The one who produces the crops to feed the masses, cannot feed his own children, yet a sexy "item number" on the Bollywood big screen rakes in the big bucks. Something is rotten and not just in the state of Denmark.

We don't need to use Mother Theresa as a symbol of humanity. Closer home, down the road in Savar, we have Valerie Taylor who has devoted her life to tending to the disabled at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP). Why would she give up the comforts of life in her homeland Britain and live in Bangladesh, that too in the mofussil town of Savar? It's just a matter of heart, of humanity. She is an exception to the rule, but she should be the rule. She hasn't lost the plot.

But what do we do to retrieve the plot, to get back on track? That's a million dollar question. Or is it?

Is it that hard to wake up our inbuilt consciences? But even if we do care, what is to be done? That's perhaps the billion dollar question. We don't want to be like Quixote tilting at the windmills. We have more real evils to face.

It is time to go back to the basics. Down the centuries we have been brainwashed by various vested quarters. Narrow self-interests have been magnified, fed to us in the garb of 'nationalism' and other lofty terms we have come to relish and revere. In a world where one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, it is certainly an uphill task to arrive at a common ground of humanity.

Have we gone too far down the line to retrieve our lost sense of right and wrong, of universal love (however clichéd it may sound), of caring, of humanity?

Not too long ago, the victims of political violence had a name. Asad Gate in Mohammedpur stands for Asad who was killed in the uprising against the Ayub regime when Bangladesh was East Pakistan. Then there was Dr. Milon killed in the anti-autocracy movement in Bangladesh's nineties. There was Nur Hossain, killed around the same time, who remains a symbol of democracy. We remember by name. But since then, the deaths have become figures, faceless and nameless numbers.

It's like surfing the channels on TV. We watch aghast as a white policeman in the US beats a black man to pulp, but the next moment, on a different channel, we are caught up with a gunman on a firing spree at a school in another state. Before we can soak that in, we are gasping at the ghastly beheading on a Libyan beach. Switch to the Afghan-Pakistan border and we see annihilation of innocent families caught up in a war they never asked for.

Come to Bangladesh, where the hospitals pile up with bodies charred and disfigured beyond recognition. Yes, it's a gruesome world out there and we can hardly be blamed if we encase ourselves in an unfeeling shell of insensitivity. But surely we can't surrender and succumb to what every fibre of our bodies tells us is wrong.

Rather than being carried along in the tide of terror that has been loosened upon us, let us rise from the nadir of degeneration and find the plot that we have lost along the way.

Ayesha Kabir is Consultant (Content) at Prothom Alo English portal

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