There is a film festival going on in South Korea at the moment and the theme is “Prospering Asia, Reconciliation and Co-existence.” A documentary film “Tini” by Enamul Karim Nirjhar is the Bangladeshi contribution to the festival - its about the life of the architect Mazharul Islam. I know next to nothing about Mr Islam or his work and so I will move on to the theme of the festival itself.
Prosperity, reconciliation and co-existence - what prospects in Bangladesh? Big topics and so let me choose …um…reconciliation. Yes. Feelings run high when history is revisited. One particular issue is that between those who were pro-liberation and those who were not. It is a divide which is sufficient for endless extra-parliamentary agitation. And sadly it is also a divide which is sufficiently incendiary to invite murder and mayhem. It is an instrument for exclusion ( in political life as well as professional life) and is a pretext for disruptive activity. And it extends to the blogosphere! Those who broadly label themselves as pro-liberation delight in flagging up images of BNP leaders with the anti-liberation Jamaat. They blush or become hostile when the same Jamaat leaders are shown with their favourite pro-liberation leaders during times of alliance with each other. The pro-libs believe their role in the liberation war has given them a god-given right to exclude those who were anti-liberation BUT only when it suits them to do so. They will gladly entertain alliances, however informal, at other times.
There are many in Bangladesh who rightly have come to see the constant shifting alliances and relationships between pro-liberation and anti-liberation sides since 1975 for what they are - a big game where what is at stake is not principle but the capture of state power.
Implacable foes - real ones - have sat down together and thrashed a way forward, no matter how difficult, in many countries. But not it seems bangladesh where the foe is perhaps not as implacable as imagined. Jamaat does not represent different economic interests. Indeed the parties are indinstinguishable on many issues. Jamaat may have war criminals and bone-headed fundamentalists ( as Awami League has its own skeletons) but politics is a contested space and the reality is you simply can’t wish them away. You have to deal with them within the arena of politics.
The riots last month principally showed up the absence of corporate culture in the garment industry - particularly the culture of dialogue. Nevertheless the most exploited and the least empowered workers now have managed to sit down and thrash something out with the owners of the factories no matter how imperfect - and through dialogue. Is there a chance our main political parties might try to do the same? Unlikely.