Sunday, December 16, 2007

Our inalienable right to differ

By: Maneeza Hossain
Bangladesh is a country born out of dissent. Against the tyranny of an outside power that reduced us to second-class citizens, we Bangladeshis asserted our right to difference, prosperity, and progress. We rose from the ashes as a nation deliberately burned by a vindictive colonizer to create a commonwealth that brought together the wretched of our region restoring to them dignity and decency in their means of survival. Ours has not been a full-fledged success story, yet.
These values, for generations the soul of our nation, seems to have been forgotten of late. The previous governments, while paying lip service to democratic values, ignored the central duty of recognizing dissent. Much to our disappointment, the current regime continues to crush opposition. Voices of dissent are still silenced by the state, or when attacked and abused by non-state actors, they face a resounding state silence.
Such is the voice of this particular publication, or its Editor and publisher Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury who has been recognized by many all over the world as a voice of integrity and uncompromising truth. Not in his own country.
To this day, Mr. Choudhury has to suffer the tricks of a legal system that mocks his freedom of thought. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is not alone. Women activists who challenged the status quo have been murdered. Artists and writers who expressed their rejection of facets of the political and /or social order have had to flee. Political demonstrations, a healthy expression of our vibrant democracy, are banned and forcibly repressed. It matters little whether the forces from the dark that try to silence Mr. Choudhury and other brave activists stem from the ruling order, or from a totalitarian mindset that activates radical extremists in our land. In both cases, the result is one: dissent, the right to differ, the right to be oneself, is denied. Dissent and opposition are the barometer of a healthy democracy, if ignored it can degenerate into rebellion, and if addressed properly it can often be gained back as loyal opposition. If we failed as a nation to accommodate dissent in the past, we are surely paying the price for our failure today.
No value is higher than the value of freedom. No claim for any necessity, national, social, religious, or otherwise, can supersede the obligation to respect responsible freedom. Unfortunately, as the tribulations of Shoaib Choudhury indicate, our polity has not risen to the level of acting on this non-negotiable principle. We can only hope that our society will.

Maneeza Hossain is Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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