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December 11, 2019

The march and the vitriol

Opinion

December 11, 2019

The vitriolic attacks by pseudo intellectuals, state-sponsored historians and Ghairat Brigade columnists on the Student Solidarity March were really very disappointing.

It seems that these people are determined to spit venom against any movement that talks about the basic rights of people, raises a voice for the voiceless, sides with the oppressed and challenges obscurantism, patriarchy and fanaticism. Such lethal assaults on a peaceful movement must not go unchallenged. It is important that they are countered with cogent arguments.

Let us first talk about a prominent columnist who heaped eulogies on capitalism, defending those who are ready to destroy everything for the sake of their voracious greed and gargantuan appetite for the accumulation of wealth. He rightly saw the march as something against this inhuman system called capitalism. The columnist presented capitalism as an altruistic ideology, arguing that the goons of the corporate world are benevolent individuals who know nothing but selflessness and philanthropy. The columnist defended their right to make profit without explaining how this surplus wealth is generated and then snatched away. He tried to create an impression that entrepreneurs accumulate wealth through sheer hard work and industrious efforts. He appeared to ignore the bloody history of capitalism.

Look at the industrial countries of the modern world and ask yourself whether they did not carry out a ruthless exploitation of third world states to be what they are today. The US, Japan, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal – all of them have been colonial powers with varying degrees.

The US not only wiped out the indigenous population on its own land but also plundered the Philippines besides ruthlessly exploiting several states of Latin America by dictating political and economic terms to them. Spain and Portugal had also plundered this hapless region in the past. The UK colonised close to half of the world, France occupied Indochina, North Africa and several other parts of the world. Germany and Italy also looted Africa while Japan had plundered the Chinese and some other nations of Asia.

These states not only plundered the natural resources of their colonies but also set some of the worst records of barbarity. For instance Leopold II, a king of Belgium, had the hands of millions of people chopped off in Congo. The British-created famine claimed around 35 million hapless souls in Bihar, Orissa and Bengal. Australia, New Zealand and Canada exterminated their indigenous populations. France resorted to barbaric tactics in Algeria and some other French colonies. Today all these states are far richer than the colonised states of the Global South.

The story does not end here. Around four million perished because of the inhuman slavery that was imposed on the hapless African masses. In addition to that, millions were eliminated in the Americas during the Western countries’ invasion of this region. Today it is estimated that only the UK looted around $45 trillion from India, which used to contribute 25 to 30 percent of the world’s GDP before the arrival of the British; this was reduced to five percent when the English left the giant country.

Black Americans are demanding five trillion dollars in reparation for the slavery that was thrust upon them. Modern capitalism flourished on slavery, ruthless exploitation, plunder, massacre and exterminations of several nations. Some historians go to the extent of claiming that there could not have been any industrialization in the West if there were no plantation and there could not have been any plantation without slavery.

To cut the long story short, slavery was one of the factors contributing to the prosperity of Western capitalism and every prominent company is somehow linked to this gruesome business. So, if one of the purposes of the students’ march was to point out the evils of capitalism, then such an initiative deserves huge appreciation and not a sermon – that too, one without any historical proof.

It is not only the defenders of capitalism who heaped scorn on the organisers of the students’ march but official historians also sprung into action, warning against the possible ulterior motives of the organisers. For such historians, history begins and ends with Nasim Hijazi. They want to present a religious community as a monolithic phenomenon that does not have any clash at all.

Such self-appointed scholars of history fear that marches like the Student Solidarity March may encourage a culture of critical thinking, putting an end to the tradition of distorting history which has served the interests of the ruling elite besides providing livelihood to many sycophants. For them, this critical thinking is the greatest enemy of society and it must be suppressed.

As expected, the Ghairat Brigade also vented its anger. Columnists from this tribe valiantly protect the ideological boundaries of the country. It is not a matter for them if more than 43 percent of children are stunted here. They are least bothered about the 67 percent people who do not have a concrete roof over the heads. Eighty percent water-borne diseases do not deserve any of their attention. Extreme poverty does not seem to be melting their hearts.

The images of little children roaming about cities barefoot during the sweltering heat of June do not boil their blood. The numbed bodies lying on footpaths under the freezing temperature of December do not hurt their honour – but a song on national TV could trigger a wave of anger. If a woman forgets to take her scarf, then the entire ideological boundary of the Islamic Republic starts crumbling.

So, their tantrums were understandable when thousands of male and female students took to the streets demanding an education system that is not based on money or wealth but on the principle that allows everyone to use her or his full potential. Such columnists have never bothered to write about skyrocketing fees, the lack of investment in this crucial sector, the privatization of educational institutions, the interference of state institutions in universities and the inadequate facilities of hostels and transportation but when students came up with these demands, they started mocking them.

Silence cannot work any longer. We need to challenge these retrogressive elements that have bizarre concepts about history, ideologies and the sense of honour. We need to counter the type of obscurantist ideas that they have been trying to impose on society through different means. If we stay silent, it will further encourage them to spit venom against anyone who wants to shake the foundations of status-quo. Deep in their hearts, they know that the demands of the students are justified but since such demands have not come up from their beloved student group that has been monopolising our educational institutions through its sledgehammer tactics, they are trying to detect faults with the slogans that were raised during the students’ march.

But, as a matter of fact, neither the march nor the slogans can be refuted on rational grounds. Therefore, they are employing rhetoric to discredit those who want a radical change by replacing this decadent system with one reflecting not only the aspirations of students but all other sections of marginalised groups. The march seems to have sowed the seeds of a struggle which might lead to a movement aimed at establishing a society free from exploitation.

Email: [email protected]

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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