Living In A Propaganda State

Is it easy to persuade people to do things you want them to do? Well it’s not at all that easy but you may be confused once you find yourself in disarray of events taking place in Bangladesh over the last couple of months. Few thoughts on what’s going on around me were bubbling for long. I am fascinated after I was exposed to flurry of propaganda unleashed by arguing parties and people believing in them.

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One of the facebook poster demanding capital punishment of crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of 1971.

I can see how media – both national and international – become participants of events, trying to be catalyst or performing a role of observer. I can see people around me on their own platforms have become vocal against discord but resting their thoughts in the same discord again and over again. Enough surrealism!

Bangladesh can be called a state of propaganda now following events in the last one week alone. Face of a person has been seen on moon and he is religious – this was propagated and the result was death of over 20 people! It seems we live in the age of darkness, and the reality is that such propaganda is powerful enough to sway the tide.

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Demonstrators at Shahbag who lit hundreds and thousands of candle light sticks demanding capital punishment for war crimes. Demonstrators say since the Bangladesh government had shut down youtube, this moment was unable to attract international attention it deserved.

If you do not run your propaganda, your opponent’s propaganda will escalate the situation in their favour. All the parties involved in the game are doing the same. Some of them are very smart. The one which needs to be smartest appeared to be the dumbest. However, signals are yet to be clear which path they will take next. It is their game of power for power. In this game, people and parties will push you towards other’s box if you do not sing their songs.

This is for the first time that a movement has formed in Bangladesh which has been initiated with a call to protest from online platforms against a verdict in the Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal. Even many of the organisers told me that they could not imagine that the movement would reach that far when it is really far from where it had originated.  In the beginning, there were struggle for taking control as student political parties joined hands. This movement at Shahbag by bloggers and online activists is, what the organisers say, nothing but to demand capital punishment of those who were involved in crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence.

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Mr. Delwar Hossain Saidee’s supporters spread this photo through facebook groups where he is seen to offer prayer inside jail.

However, the people so far convicted (except one) belong to a political party – Jamaat-e-Islami – which opposed the trial and demand release of its leaders. The local media was divided since the beginning of the movement as per their political divide. The movement has witnessed a series of organised propaganda which also created problem for the government as well.

Few examples may be helpful. Firstly, there was information campaign against the movement at Shahbag calling it a movement by atheist. Restless campaign swayed public opinion after the gruesome killing of a blogger – Ahmed Rajib Hayder who used to write with pen name ‘Thaba Baba’, a highly-googled pair of word of recent time now synonymous to atheism. Campaigners were successful in making a large portion of the country convinced that the Shahbag movement was orchestrated by atheists like Rajib who have criticised the Prophet of Islam. Although the protestors tried their hard to counter that campaign, their efforts went in vein and at one point, some of the Islamist political parties got engaged. Although these newly-involved islamists have difference of opinion with Jamaat-e-Islami, they were ignited with Jihadi spirit to face the ‘atheists of Shahbag’. They were about to occupy Shahbag but the police foiled their first attempt. Before they could go for a second attempt, a verdict in the International Crimes Tribunal convicting an accused changed the scenario and saved the skin of many. Branding Shahbag movement as a ‘dancing party by atheists’ was very successful to some extent!

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The opponents of Jamaat-e-Islami party has been spreading this sort of posters.

Secondly, sighting of Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a convicted by the tribunal on crimes against humanity, on moon was another successful campaign which actually favoured those who opposed the Tribunal and the trial. It had successfully incited hundreds of people of rural Bangladesh and caused deaths of over 20 people on a single day of violence. Despite many national media were supporting the movement of Shahbag, neither the protestors of Shahbag nor even the government were successful in countering such information campaign.

Those who are trying to portray that the Shahbag movement is nothing but atheist’s movement and doing all anti-islamic things, the latest twist is that the ongoing fight in Bangladesh is actually fight between secular and islamists. This is the third point I would like to mention before I end. Many people have fallen into this campaign and its parents will be happy to see its success as many of the protestors and supporters are also calling it a fight between islamists and secular forces. An Islamist may also demand capital punishment of the accused in crimes against humanity. It will ultimately sway the debate and that’s what the opponent of Shahbag movement would like to see. The protestors are all singing patriotic songs, beginning programmes with recitation from holy books of different religions and so on and there are secular spirit as well. I guess the last one in a spell of campaign is the one which will be critical. Moreover, the minority button has been pushed.

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Death toll reached around a hundred and many on-duty cops also shed their blood.

Although the protestors of Shahbag movement were successful in spreading their movement in and outside the country, they were outsmarted by their opponents in terms of propaganda on number of occasions. There are several reasons for that. People are also panicked and as the Daily Prothol Alo newspaper states that 40 out of 64 district administrations asked for security. In one of my previous pieces here, I wrote how the government of Bangladesh was lagging behind in reaching the outer world and persuade the West in favour of the war crimes trial. Its opponents were successful in making the tribunal controversial and many human rights groups and international media are still critical of the government. Shahbag movement had been helpful for the government on some points and some of the talking heads of local tv channels believe the movement had buried the possibility of negotiation between the government parties and Jamaat-e-Islami.

The propaganda war did not start with the recent movement. Rather it has been continued for long and with the Shahbag movement, it reached a new height. There are many lessons to learn from these information campaigns of the parties involved.

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