By Seema Amin
BLOODSTAINS ON THE FLAG,
FLAGSTAINS ON THE SKY,
SKYSTAINS ON THE EYE LATER ON
YOU’LL HAVE TO DREDGE WITH THE CORNER OF YOUR HANDKERCHIEF.
- Roque Dalton, Tavern
The degradation of Bangladesh is at its zenith. A perverse, almost psycho-sexual arousal at the humiliation and degradation of one’s chosen victim-slash-enemy and the callous force-feeding of a ‘Law’ that is standing on its head (the upside down world of 2015 post January Fifth that surpasses the combined absurdities and doublethink of both 1984 and Animal Farm), makes me look beyond the genre of satire à la Orwell or Tagore’s oft-cited Hirok Rajar deshe, to the experimental science fiction of J. G. Ballard. In J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition montage newsreels of Presidents and Generals were substituted for actual newsreels of torture of the Viet Cong; sexual arousal of viewers was measured so that an optimum sexual arousal sequence could be created, i.e. repeated violation of an eight year old Vietnamese girl, specifically of her perennial wounds, elicited the most thrills. Ballard’s condensed novel has been said to exemplify the pervasive, irrational violence of the present world, connecting psycho-sexuality with the gratifications of ‘perverse’ politics. But the psychology of the violent orgy, if we are to see the connections with our new year, does not exist in a social or economic vacuum; it was German psychologist Reich (Dialectical Materialism, 1970) who wrote on the ‘psycho sexual’ gratification of a particular class’s particular fantasies/repressions/needs. Reich suspected the ideological realization of the petit bourgeoisie in the organized mobs of fascist Nazi Germany as being located in this psycho-social lack.
Fast-forward to a particularly Bangladeshi kind of fascism. Joy Bangla! chanted with sticks and arms in one’s hands; I can hardly distinguish this slogan from Allahuwakbar before murdering Kafirs in ’71, or Hail Hitler. Hysterical Bangladesh. Thirteen trucks, not enough. Pepper spray. Not enough. Call a freedom fighter a razakar: Joy Bangla! Jouissance! Everyone breathes easier when the cartoons merely signify reality. Throw some Light on the Lion’s Face, Tim Van Dyke:
“the absolute need to be believed, to disperse all other belief
in an hysterical combination of passion and assimilation —
The hysteric has no intimacy, emotion, no secrecy—
The lion’s face succeeds in making its own body a barrier
a seductress paralyzed
who seeks to petrify others in turn—“
Udvot o Odvot. Unmadonna. Let’s turn the man on his head again.
January Fifth came and went. Democracy ‘was victorious.’ It was Democracy Victory Day; the sacred Constitution decreed, the men with sticks and guns ensured. Maya, whose son led RAB-11 in the 7 Narayanganj murders, true to his word, sat smugly, in a pure white lungi, ready to ‘Give them some’ if they dared hold a rally, in the morning. By night, a few more trucks had been sent to ‘dig a grave’ in the opposite side of town at the (actual) opposition’s Gulshan office; a case was filed against Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir that night, just in case such a thing is even needed when those pretending to be Projonmo are Ready! Set! Go! In the morrow, the dogs of ‘courage’, Goliath’s ‘petua bahini’( the ones that had forced him to leave the public auditorium for the Club itself the evening before), zoomed in on an unarmed and alone David in Press Club. Bangladesh’s Second Most Wanted Man. Bon Courage, Bangladesh!
There is something too spectacular about soap (Shaban) entering the press club, purportedly trying to clean up the messiness of partisanship, while the very dirt came like a fascist flood over the gates. Perhaps he was trying to clean up a murder, ‘democracy dead’, that one; it gets messy, murder. And so the premises was cordoned, for all but those with gloves and the right slogan. My question is, though, who is that class nursing bludgeons inside the velvet gloves of power, today? We call them latial, goonda, the ones who will create ‘ganopitani.’ Who scream Action! Action! Dressed up with a banner that was never questioned (Muktijoddher Projonmo League, which projonomo?), they were never arrested for coming armed into the Press Club.
‘Chele khela holleo hoto, kintu aita vidguthe’—we are suffocating, cries an artist, for whom perhaps it would be easier to throw the awful burden of feelings into a manhole. The Chetona Nazis are here to stay. But it isn’t enough or even sufficient to throw light on this lion’s face. For the Bangladesh that the Nazis hope to call ‘theirs’ manipulates a psycho-moral landscape invested with the aura of an original sin more akin to Israel than to Germany after WWI and before WWII. It is the sin of an original injustice, an eternal victimhood that prevents all other suffering from making any claims of immediate and equally necessary redress. Israel has constructed entire museums of suffering, embracing a past truth, but erected on effacing the present.
The liberation war museum houses history; but the platform in front of it performs history. For the performers of the platform that remains of what was Shahbag once, justice more and more is not a principle but a decree: it has no application beyond the one hysterical sign- the signified is not all great injustice, it is only one particular injustice, instrumentalized, and thus degraded of the dignity of calling for justice. The moral ramifications of the war beyond the war, the continuation of injustice, state terror and chauvinism in the present political field is (now) completely terrorized into silence and non- existence. Even the political signification of the struggle for democratic self-determination is a backdrop where the hysterical sign cries Terror as it terrorizes (should sound very familiar, global village et al.).The state and religious repression that enabled such crimes to take place, its deeply chauvinistic nature, is not understood as a context of immorality and degradation that could repeat itself in principle if not in exact moral equivalences. Justice simply has no referent but one injustice. But the Chetona Nazis are not just the League, Sarkar and Co., or puppets thereof and the student opportunists or even the well meaning among them– the easy come easy go pinkish reds, civil society partisans, etc.; they are drawn from a “goonda constituency/class” that can be rounded up at any moment to perform the ‘Action! Action!’ of preventing dissent, or, any change in the status quo well outside the parameters of their ‘moral territory.’ Their self-righteous (since it is not moral in its new perversions, it is merely fascist) frontier now encompasses the whole country, but not because justice can be applied to new contexts, no, but so that no other injustice can ever threaten the aura of those who claim to be the sole redeemers of our original sin; in other words, so that the status quo, the state itself, remains intact. These Chetona Nazis are colonizers of civil space—Shahbag, Press Club, etcetera; they want a permanent seat in all the Houses of liberty. Effect: Joy Bangla sung with such triumphal fatality on a no-rally day that the ‘Bir’ Left taking refuge in their offices to avoid the confrontation meant for the key players. And these Chetona Nazis degrade nothing else as much, as those they seek to redeem. There is a notion in Islam that ‘spiritual pride’ is a cardinal sin; similarly, the self-righteousness of those who perform ‘justice’ but never apply it in context, those who merely hysterically ‘signify’ that might is right because right is their property….theirs is not the world of dignity that liberation insisted on, theirs is a world with such little shame it can even claim to represent ‘MuktiJudhhor Projonmo’ and call itself ‘proud.’
There are other groups who are well endowed to perform our history, i.e. non-fascist artists (a minority sometimes), the (Left of) left, even a civil society that may well be in the offing, so many others; but they were very deliberately sidelined from this platform, in Shahbag, and beyond, for the very fact that in their world of dignity and justice, any true meaning of the Joy Bangla that was shouted with dignity during the war but almost never soon after it, one would have to apply moral law. One would have to swallow the very simple but sad (look at Israel in Palestine) truth that the victims of history do become the perpetrators of crime, that chauvinism can take charge again, that chauvinism will not only manfiest itself as the military or Jamaat or anyone who comes in connection to their contagious blood, but may do so again, as the state and as the mob, the Pretenders. Thence: to whom and to what shall we look for the protection of the ‘blood’ of the martyrs of Ekattor. Well, one tends to look to that intellectualizing, ‘glorious left’ that can read justice as applicable, not as a dead sign of a sign. None of what is happening should shock them; after all, they’ve lost heroically to the Chetona Nazis once before, and fatally.
But what is at stake, this time? If tomorrow, what is left of the political field is not dignified, if the left and what is left of the rest of us who empathize, criticize or harness new energies in its orbit, continues to be a walking shadow for a performance that never happens, then we can all forever hold our peace. But what is it that the left is shrinking from, for it surely can’t be Terror. Today, the field is theirs. The whites are bloodied, the blue is a raging maniac, hysterical, and it is time the rest risk the danger of communion, rather than fixate on the bogey of Jamaat. It is solidarity, coalition, lasting connection, with the unorganized and manifold potential. And what is at stake? Well, just one thing. Not national pride, not the flag, but dignity. Like ‘artists masturbating in a gallery that is nothing more than a cage’ (a simile I have taken from a poet who will remain anonymous), no one who is disturbed if not outraged, including the press, the left, everyone else, can claim to be trying to change anything at this moment, if they do not get out of this gallery, this cage, The Atrocity Exhibition, and reach out in the language of solidarity outside one’s known alliances. Else, we are doomed to the interminable posturing and posing of sign, mere words used to silence meaning…endless aura in an aura-tic universe.
Seema Amin is author of two books of verse and Senior Feature Writer at Depart Art Magazine