Do you pick a fight with a helpless beggar on the street for swearing at you because you didn’t give him/her any money?
No? Then why pick one with Henry Kissinger?
I was annoyed when some Bangladeshi journalist thought it worth his while to ask Kissinger about the “bottomless basket”/ “international basketcase” remark. But when I saw this article in March’s Forum, my annoyance turned to utter astonishment! I urge every reader to read the article for themselves before reading my blog post.
Surely Forum is trying to promote itself as a publication that carries thoughtful, high-end political, economic and social commentary. In which case, what is it doing running an article that would fit better into a rag like Amader Shomoy?
The entire point of this article seems to be that some anti-Bangladesh and anti-Mujib quarter has amplified the importance of the “bottomless basket” phrase to hurt “Bangladesh’s image abroad” (Mrs. Zia, Mr. Babar, Mr. Nizami, meet your soulmate!). How have they amplified this? By asserting that the phrase was uttered by Kissinger himself when in reality it was made by some career diplomat that no one has heard of.
Oh brilliant! Simply bloody brilliant!
There is one big, glaring problem within the article, and some larger, more ironic meta-problems.
The BIG GLARING problem:
I have just finished reading the article twice. I read it the second time because I could not quite believe what was going through my head, so decided to duck back and re-read the entire thing more carefully. And here is what I found: there is one single sentence that talks about the U.S. administration’s “tilt” towards Pakistan in 1971. There is no background given for this, which would explain that Kissinger was the architect of that infamous “tilt”. There is no mention of the fact that Kissinger deliberately turned a blind eye to the atrocities carried out by the barbaric Pakistani army, and that made him anti-Bangladesh more than any throw-away remark.
Sticks and stones actually break bones; words… not so much!
I repeat: there is NO mention of this not-unimportant detail; not a little mention, not an understated mention, not a footnote even. NO mention of this easily verifiable historical fact. A Bangladeshi writes about Henry Kissinger’s relationship to Bangladesh (if only tangentially) and does not mention this historical detail at all: what do you call that? Astounding.
Reminds me that when Sharmila Bose was publishing her drivel, there was talk about who was backing her. Some said the U.S. foreign policy establishment was trying to get her to re-write their dirty role during our war and its attendant atrocities. At a time like this when the historical record is under attack, surely the editors at Forum can take a closer look at the impact of what they are publishing. Especially when the article in question focuses on words that Kissinger may or may not have uttered, and NOT on his egotistical backing of Pakistan against us, just so that the little f***er could score a deal with China and feel like a real man!
Let me illustrate all this by way of a parable. Mr. X is accused of murdering his neighbour. Mr. X is also accused of calling his neighbor “a man of loose morals”. Mr. X’s lawyer gathers about witnesses, documents and testimonies from those in the know to prove that not only did Mr. X not say anything, but furthermore he cannot even pronounce the words “loose” or “moral”, and moreover Mr. X has philosophical doubts about the very worth of morals themselves. Indeed, all this proves what a “heavyweight” Mr. X is therefore absolved of never having said any of this, and therefore his neighbor has nothing to be unhappy about! Take the focus away from the murder and onto the insult.
This article is – deliberately or inadvertently – Mr. X’s lawyer.
And this leads us to several meta-problems.
1) I quote from the article:
“ Now, more than ever, is the time to de-link Kissinger from the “international basket case” as its real history intimates, and correct ourselves and leave our younger generation free from false context and wrong historical perspective.”
The phrase “right perspective” also crops up twice in the introductory paragraphs.
The irony is that this article itself seems to be perpetuating the very “false context and wrong historical perspective” that it decries. To repeat ad nauseum: the problem with Kissinger was not this remark, but his material support for the Pakistani army!!!
That’s the right perspective and it is not represented here!
2) But wait, there’s more. The writer and editors might argue that this was not an article about Kissinger’s foreign policy, but only about his “bottomless basket” remark. Which of course poses a larger meta-problem. Because the article says clearly:
“It was this propaganda that had been carried out in the world to unmake Bangladesh — to prove that breaking up with Pakistan wasn’t a viable alternative in the first place. And unfortunately, knowingly or unknowingly, we are participating and/or contributing to that propaganda today.”
And asks desperately:
“Why do we continue with the legacy of erroneous information and flawed interpretation and be a part of the anti-Bangladesh propaganda?”
Why indeed? Propaganda does not work without our consent. By focusing on just the “bottomless basket” remark, we have once again given it undue importance and thus “participating and/or contributing to that propaganda today” by consenting not only to propagating it, but also to say that it is actually important enough to refute. As I’ve asked before, do you pick fights with a helpless beggar who says something awful about you? Why or why not?
Frankly, this borders on the ridiculousness of CNN decrying the cable news coverage of the latest Britney Spears breakdown… which of course is their way of covering the latest Britney Spears breakdown! I say “borders” because our genocide actually matters!
3) Nothing though beats the extreme irony of what this article teaches us. It teaches us that Kissinger is “a heavy weight”. It says things like “Bangladesh did not get even a year to prove the American diplomat Ural Alexis Johnson wrong!” and lastly, with a truly ironic attempt at irony, “Let us recognize Ural Alexis Johnson ….and work in unison to prove his prediction wrong…”
Firstly, “development” is not – or at any rate, should not be – about trying to prove the NYT or Americans wrong, and even less about trying to live up to the expectations of Westerners. That entire “proving” business is the worst thing about our little obsession over Kissinger’s comments.
Secondly, since when does an admirer of Mujib have to acknowledge Kissinger as anything other than the slimy rat he was? We, who love Mujib, love him regardless of something that Henry Kissinger (of all people!) said. Is Forum’s audience now reduced to fringe Jamaati elements and Muslim League remnants that they are publishing this drivel? They’re about the only elements in Bangladesh, who think Kissinger’s some sort of a “heavyweight”. At least, I used to think so until I saw this article!
Lastly, let me just nitpick a bit about the picture that accompanies this piece. It shows men – some with beards, some in punjabis and almost all wearing prayer caps – burning an American flag.
If the photo editor wanted to compare BANGLADESHI critics of Kissinger to knee-jerk anti-American, flag-burning Islamists, then that is the highest insult towards us that I can imagine!
If on the other hand, s/he wanted to compare the magnified importance that these Islamists give American gestures and political figures to the magnified importance that the author of the piece gave to Mr. Kissinger, then I am fully behind him.
Forum, save the April Fool jokes for the April issue!