M. Aktaruzzaman (Zaman)
“Fascism denies, in democracy, the absurd conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective responsibility ….” Benito Mussolini.
Even after a decade of Mussolini’s pronouncement as to the basic reactionary tenets of fascism, the word rapidly suffered a massive interpretative inflection, that George Orwell in his 1944-essay “What is Fascism” could not come up with a good definition of what fascism is and wrote in desperation: “all one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to a level of a swearword.” In the today’s miasmic milieu of Bangladeshi Politics, in addition to the swearword “razakar”, the word “fascist” is also being thrown around in random both by BNP and its perpetual nemesis AL. It may not have poignancy right at this point, but it certainly is very important to examine the issue further for the future politics of our country. In this write up I would like expound the situation a little further.
What is Fascism?
“Fascis” (an Italian word) means bundle or unit, while “fasces” (a Latin word) is a symbol of bound sticks used as a totem of power in ancient Rome. These two roots aptly describes the basic tenets of fascism: unity and power. However, the nature of fascism espoused by Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy or Franco in Spain is not exactly the same, still there are some basic features than characterizes any fascist movement:
Authoritarian leadership: A fascist state requires a single leader with absolute authority who is all-powerful and lords over the totality of the state affairs with no limits whatsoever. There also can be a cult of personality around the leader.
Absolute power of state: “the fascist state organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question can not be the individual, but the state alone” – thus goes Mussolini to encapsulate the fact that there is no law or other power that can limit the authority of the state. This is an antithesis of liberal doctrines of individual autonomy and rights, political pluralism and representative government as espoused by the likes of Rousseau – yet it envisions broad popular support.
Strict social order: To eliminate the possibility of chaos than can undermine state authority, fascism maintains a social order in which every individual has a specific place that can not be altered. This “new order” often is in clash with traditional institution and hierarchies
Nationalism and super-patriotism: Fascism digs into the past with unreal romanticism and espouses an historic mission and national rebirth.
Jingoism: Aggression is felt to be a virtue while pacifism a cowardice. This is how Mussolini writes – “fascism ….. believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace….. war alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”
Dehumanization and scapegoating of the enemy: Typically every fascist regime seek out certain group or groups of people – ethnic or religious or ideological as enemy.
Is the Current Bangladesh Regime Fascist?
With the above features of fascism in mind, let’s see how our current regime in Bangladesh fares:
Leadership: In democratic states, power of state is kept in check by constitutional provisions whereby the stately business is run, usually, by three co-equal branches of government, namely, executive, legislative and judicial. In Bangladesh, the legislative wing is clipped by article 70 for many years. Its integrity also is jeopardized by a lack of intra-mural democracy in most of the political parties including the ruling Awami League. Coupled with the prevailing trickle-down politics, where leadership is bestowed upon as a blessing from the party chief for nonpolitical reasons that at times can be plainly nefarious, has brewed a miasma where the party chief enjoys a demi-God status. Judiciary independence, in addition, is a total sham as evidenced by open executive intervention in judicial matters. In fact, the current regime abetted by its myriad of political outfits, has shown a keen interest in using judiciary for the sole purpose of harassment, intimidation and silencing of opposing voices. Thus all the three branches of government has now morphed into a single behemoth bent to serve the wish one single person who is none but the all-powerful Prime Minister – Sheikh Hasina Wajed.
She wields extraordinary power beyond her constitutional ambit. Borrowing a certain amount of mana from her slain father, she also has cultivated a cult where, even her ministers kisses her feet with no shame whatsoever. It is widely reported that even the Awami League leadership was not in favor of the 15th. amendment, and it was not part of her election pledges in 2008, yet it happened only because of the singular wish of Sheikh Hasina. The eventual entropy that has befallen on today’s Bangladesh thus falls squarely on her shoulder. Now after a flawed election on 01/2014, even though her electoral popularity is at nadir, she continues to remain the only person whose opinion matters. With over 3/4th majority in the 10th. parliament, and with Article 70 in place, she still has the capacity to rule by further amendment in constitution, if she chooses.
Although the Prime Minister continues to chant the popular democratic slogans, actually she has become a hindrance by disenfranchising more than 50% of voting population by cunning political games.
State Power: Power of state is on the rise for more than a decade in Bangladesh. Although there is no declared state of emergency at over the past years, the case Limon vs Government is not only a forme fruste, but a routine daily fact of national life. State outfits like Rapid Action Battalian, Police etc. can trample individual rights with impunity. Slapping of a national pride – Shohag Gazi is a daily happenstance. State can now put political leaders behind bar even without prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing. Given the prevailing politicization of Judiciary, individual rights almost to the point of forfeiture. Benito Mussolini conceptualized the process as “all within the state, nothing outside the sate, nothing against the sate.”
Social Order: By introducing three hundred fiefdoms, each headed by a member of the parliament; by nominating non-politician businessmen and thugs for member of parliament; by decapitating the law-making power of the MPs; and by clipping the wings of the elected local governing bodies – the government has instituted a social order where the cadres of government-affiliated outfits (“leagues” and “porishods” of variegate Awami shades and colors) rule over the commoners with impunity. On top on that, there are governmental outfits like police, RAB etc. also continue to be used as enforcers of governmental whims. At the same time, traditional non-political institutions and hierarchies are being decapitated by rampant politicization (both by the ruling Awami League and by its perpetual nemesis Bangladesh Nationalist Party).
Nationalism and Superpatriotism and dehumanization and/or scapegoating of enemies: The government, instead of promoting quiet inclusive nationalism, is bent on promoting a super-patriotism at the expense of non-Bengali Bangladesh nationals. Denial of existence of indigenous ethnic population by our ex-foreign minister is just a naked example. It also is curious, how blatantly the ruling party labels every opposing voice as “rajakar-sympathizer”. It has divided the nation two camps; pro-Liberation and anti-Liberation. Even valiant and decorated heroes of liberation war are not being spared.
Jingoism: Well, militarily, Bangladesh is not powerful enough to consider military expansion, yet it’s portrayal of simple wining of a legal battle as “somudra-bijoy” talks of its mental makeup. But, yes, they are in a permanent war against those whose voice are not in sync with the ideas and ideals of the ruling Awami League.
How about BNP?
Authoritarian leadership is a staple in BNP-politics since its inception. This has now morphed into a family-owned enterprise of the “lesser Rahman” – I mean General Ziaur Rahman. Their intolerance to opposing (or even neutral) view is amply exemplified by the way the treated one of their founder member – Dr. B. Chowdhury. Despite a disastrous leadership during “2006 to 2008-debacle” Khaleda Zia continues to rule over the party with an authority that is unheard of in any any democracy sans Bangladesh. Her heir apparent, Tareq Zia, despite his reprehensible Hawa-Vobon activities during the last BNP-regime, still welds more power than the any senior party leaders. It is a widely reported story that Khaleda once forfeited all the cellular devices from her senior leadership during a meeting, is just an example of her crude power that overwhelms the collective power of the party leaders. Just like in Awami League, they also a slain leader who has become more like a cult-leader in BNP-culture.
The consolidation of the state power to the verge of tyranny, in fact, began during the previous BNP-regime by introducing the now-infamous Operation Clean Heart that rapidly degenerated into an Operation Heart Attack! And the origin of RAB and the the concept of extra-judicial execution by “cross-fire” is of BNP-origin.
Just like AL, BNP also is guilty of promoting the gradual degeneration of traditional social order by empowering parliament members at the expense of local government. Pan-politicization of every sphere of national life is also a staple of BNP.
However, BNP did not had a jingoistic attitude, however, their favorite scapegoat, under the leadership of Khaleda Zia, remained India.
Yes, definition of fascism fluid, but is definitely not democracy as its biggest proponent Mussolini once said, “democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy”. And it will not be an untrue statement if one posits that the state of democracy in Bangladesh, currently in a state of total shamble. Election occurred where voter participation was an all-time low and where more than fifty percent voters were disenfranchised to begin with. As per an eminent Bangladeshi jurist – Shahdin Malik, it was more negotiated and predetermined than was competitive.
Given the reasons and the facts in ground, it is very easy to label a regime with characteristics of the current Awami League regime as fascist. There can be arguments both pro and con, but certain facts are undeniable. BNP right now, is not in power. However, the history of BNP under the leadership of Khaleda Zia is not very kosher either.
In a previous op-ed in the daily start (December 19th, 2013) I hoped for sanity to prevail. But the leadership of our God-forsaken homeland, apparently, has a bigger saint to heed to:
“history of saints is a history of insane people”. (Benito Mussolini