Cultural, International, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Albert Einstein’s Views on Religion

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Einstein and Tagore, the two intellectual giants of the 20th century, from the West and the East

Many people, particularly those promoting and propagating religious beliefs (in all major religions), had over the years laid claims that Albert Einstein was a man of religious conviction. They often put forward Einstein’s famous quote, “God does not play dice”, implying that belief in God’s harmony and absolutism in creation was inbuilt in Einstein’s thought process. Nothing, I emphasise nothing, could be more egregiously misinterpreted and misrepresented than this.

Albert Einstein was not a man of religious conviction by any standards. His religious views, if considered dispassionately, would verge on the side of atheism; although he did not like him to be branded as an ‘atheist’. His views on religions were very well contained in his one and half page letter, written in German in 1954 (just a year before his death) to the German philosopher, Eric Gutkind, which contained, “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends, which are nevertheless pretty childish”. He also said, “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this”. That letter had been sold in an auction at Christie’s in New York only a few days ago (2018) for the staggering sum of $2.9 m (£2.3 m).

Einstein's letter

That “God does not play dice” was not said by Einstein out of devotion to God, but as a retort to the underlying theme of “Copenhagen interpretation” produced by Niels Bohr/Heisenberg and others on quantum mechanics. Although Albert Einstein and Max Planck were the pioneers of quantum concept in the first decade of the 20th century, subsequent developments of quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr / Schrodinger / Heisenberg / Pauli / Dirac and many more leading to probabilistic nature of objects (elementary particles) were very much disputed by Einstein. An object is either there or not, it cannot be half there and half not; Einstein contended. In that context, he rejected the probabilistic nature of objects by that quote. He also said, the moon is there on the night sky whether we observe it or not. Just because we cannot observe the moon because of cloud in the sky does not mean the moon is not there!

However, quantum physics was relentlessly moving forward into the probabilistic interpretation of objects and successfully explained many hitherto inexplicable physical processes. Einstein struggled the latter part of his life with the nature of reality. When Tagore and Einstein met in Berlin in 1926 (and at least three more times until 1930 meeting in New York), they had a very fascinating philosophical discussion/debate, not so much on the existence of God but on the nature of reality. Tagore held the Eastern philosophical view of convergence of man (meaning life) and nature, Einstein held the view of ‘absolutism’.

In the letter, Einstein, an Ashkenazi Jew, also articulated his disenchantment with Judaism. “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people,” he wrote.

However, as a child he was religious; as is the case with most of the children of religious families anywhere in the world. But he had a fiercely independent mind and a deeply inquisitive trait. He disliked authoritarian attitude – whether in teaching or training. He was very unhappy at the Luitpold Gymnasium (a strict discipline focussed school) in Munich, where his parents enrolled him for proper education. He described later that he deeply disliked the ‘rote learning’ method at the school with no opportunity for creative thinking. He, however, remained at that school to keep his parents happy. Years later, he advised people, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”.

Einstein did not or could not completely discard the notion of supremacy of the supernatural power, which became inbuilt in his childhood, although he rejected consciously the idea that this religion or that religion derives from the orders or massages from God. By the age of 13, he started doubting the religious teachings and “abandoned his uncritical religious fervour, feeling he had been deceived into believing lies”.

He believed in or had strong inclination towards “Spinoza’s God” (Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Dutch thinker), “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”. Einstein had the same or similar mindset. This streak of thinking had a strong resonance with the Eastern philosophy that man and nature merge into one or have strong inter-connection.

The physical world follows a set of laws and principles with specific physical constants relevant to the natural world. Any variation of these laws and constants would negate the existence of this universe and could possibly generate another universe. That may be the underlying thinking in the idea of multiverse. So, to claim that a grand designer created this universe with specific set rules and laws for our habitation in mind is a mendacious presumption.

Einstein was, to a large extent, ambivalent about God, the so-called grand designer. He could neither prove or disprove the existence of this ‘Uncaused Cause’, the ‘Unmoved Mover’ and hence it was sensible to maintain some ambivalence; but all his instincts were against such a presumption. He said facetiously, “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, International, Literary, Political, Religious

When Continents Clash

It is not the collision of the tectonic plates that I am alluding to here or the drift of the continents nudging each other out, it is the mighty clash of dominant religions from the adjoining Continents. The religion of Islam from the East (the Middle East and North Africa) crossed over to the West in Spain and clashed for centuries for prominence.

Spain was the battle ground of two dominant religions vying out for territorial gains. Islam from North Africa and North West of Middle East eyed Spain some twelve centuries ago as the gateway to Europe for religious expansion. Obviously, the dominant religion (Catholicism) of the region resisted and fought back and what happened during the next few centuries not only shaped Spain but also the whole of Europe.

Recently I travelled to ‘Classical Spain’ with the Riviera Travels visiting places like Seville, Cordoba and Granada, among others, where Islam came, conquered and eventually beaten and relinquished the gains some centuries later in the face of relentless adversarial reaction from the indigenous religions.

Our travel started when we landed at Malaga airport (a southern coastal city of Spain), when Riviera Travels grouped together tourists from Manchester and South of England and brought them through Manchester and Gatwick airports. We spent the night at a 4* hotel which was some 1100 ft above the sea level and hemmed in on the sloping banks of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After a drink reception in the evening followed by buffet dinner where I came to know other tourists, I retired.

Next morning, we travelled to Ronda, a small town on the outskirts of Sierra de Grazalema national park trekking a scenic route past Marbella (a holiday resort famous for night clubs) and on the way managed to have a glimpse of Gibraltar across the sea. It is surprising that for such a desolate rocky mountainous outpost, two countries went to battles a number of times over the centuries. We spent nearly five hours in Ronda, which is famous for bull fighting, in particular. It is claimed that bull fighting started in Ronda, but other cities like Seville and Madrid would dispute that vehemently. After having fantastic mixed tapas for lunch, we went to see the ‘new bridge’ connecting two hill cliffs over a gorge of some four hundred feet drop. The sound of cascading water in the gorge is soothing, but the sight of hundreds of feet of almost vertical drop is awesome. As I looked from the bridge down the gorge, I saw people trekking along the small stream meandering along the boulders, rocks and some tropical trees.

Another three hours of bus trip took us to the famous city of Seville. After checking in at the hotel at the centre of the city, we went to have ‘tapas tasting’ at a local restaurant (given free for Riviera travellers) and then after the dinner, we went to see the famous ‘Mushroom Tower’. This ‘Mushroom Tower’ has a fascinating history. Some twelve years ago, Seville politicians had the bright idea of digging a tunnel across that area to construct a relief road. As they dug, they started getting more and more Roman artefacts and then they found a Roman burial chamber. Obviously, they could not demolish the Roman Remains for the relief road. They built an archeological museum on the burial site and a fantastic mushroom bridge towering over the surrounding areas (some three hundred feet above the street level) had also been built. The site now is a major tourist attraction.

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Mushroom tower in Seville

Seville is a place bristling with numerous historical and cultural monuments from both Islam and Christianity. The next morning, we had been taken by a bus to have a whirlwind tour of the city – so that afterwards we could go and see individual attractions at our leisure. We saw Seville Cathedral with the Giralda, Alcazar palace, the bullring and then we walked through the Maria Luisa garden to Plaza de Espania (half-crescent palace).

Seville Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Santa Maria) is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the third largest cathedral in the world (after the St Peter’s cathedral in Rome and St Paul’s cathedral in London). Seville was conquered by the Umayyad in 712 AD. The Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf decided to construct a grand mosque in the city in 1172 on the site where a mosque was built in 829 by Umar Ibn Adabbas. The grand mosque that was built was massive in size (15,000 sq.m. internal space) but it was not completed until 1198.

Shortly after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III, the grand mosque was ‘Christianized’ by converting it to city’s cathedral. In 1401, city’s leaders decided to build a massive cathedral on the site so grand that people would say after its completion that the leaders were simply mad. The work was not, however, completed until 1506!

But some aspects of the grand mosque were preserved. The courtyard for ablution for the Muslim faithful was preserved. Now it is a long pool of water, some 15 ft wide, with fountains on both sides criss-crossing the pool and orange trees adorning it. Also, the minaret of the mosque (some 342 ft high) was kept, but converted into a bell tower, known as La Giralda, which is now the iconic symbol of the city. There are wide ramps, not steps, that lead up to the bell tower. The muezzin used to go up the ramps on horse back to the bell tower to carry out calls for prayers five times a day! The cathedral also contains Christopher Columbus’ burial site.

Alcazar is a royal palace, built for the Christian king, Peter of Castile, on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress. The name Alcazar comes from the Arabic word al-qasr (the castle). The castle, with its extensive garden, was used as a royal palace by the Moorish rulers. It is still being used as a royal palace and, in fact, it is the oldest royal palace in Europe. In 1987 the cathedral, the adjacent Alcazar palace complex were all given the status of World Heritage Sites.

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Flamenco dance

In the evening, at 9pm, we went to the Flamenco performance. The gypsies from Southern Spain created the flamenco dance and music since their arrival at Andalusia in the 15th century. It is said that the gypsies came from a region of northern India called Sid, which is now in Pakistan. The folk-lore of Andalusia is conveyed by vibrant expressive dance, trapping of feet and the accompanying music. It was very entertaining.

After spending three nights in Seville we headed for the famous Moorish city of Cordoba. We did not spend night in Cordoba, but spent the whole day there. We visited the Royal Palace, the famous Mezquita (mosque) and a museum. Cordoba, during the Moorish time, had the largest library in the world and the Cordoba University is reputed to be the oldest university (older than Oxford by centuries). After lunch we headed for Granada through the countryside covered with olive groves and absorbed the spectacular views of Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We stayed in a hotel in Granada right on top of a mountain next to the Alhambra palace. Next morning we walked to Alhambra Palace and spent literally the whole day exploring various avenues and absorbing the lifestyles and traditions of bygone days. The history and tradition of Muslim rulers were conveyed to us by a local tourist guide. That the ruler would come in to one of the chambers (which chamber would not be disclosed previously for security reasons), sit on a high chair to give audience to the public is still being practiced by many Muslim leaders in many countries. (It is said that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh practiced the same tradition). The following morning we went on a train tour (actually a bus shaped like a train) of the city, had lunch there and came back in time to board a bus to go back to Malaga airport.

After the hectic seven days we headed back to England.

 

A Rahman is an author and a columnist

 

Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is

An education in sexism

The culture of casual sexism in schools has long-term detrimental effects on girls.
Growing up, it was not uncommon to find teachers calling on female students because the length of their skirt was “inappropriate” and could “distract” or “excite” their male peers, while boys wearing shorts which were the exact same length walked by without a second glance.

It took me years to realize that comments like these are not only unfair, but are also perpetuating rape culture through the sexualization and objectification of young girls — who, from as young as five or six, are being taught that if they show even a glimpse of their knees or shoulders, they are “asking” for male objectification and harassment.
Unfair dress-coding is only one example of the many acts of casual sexism that female students experience at school on an everyday basis.

For instance, female students are often told to ignore derogatory comments from their male peers by on-looking teachers, who wave off their complaints with a laugh, before telling them that “boys will be boys” or that “he’s only doing it because he likes you.”
There have been countless times when PE teachers have called on a “strong boy” to demonstrate to the class, or when a math teacher asked if a “smart young man” would be able to help solve the problem — discounting the dozens of girls in the class who were just as, if not more, capable.

While boys are praised for taking on leadership roles, winning awards, and receiving excellent grades, girls who are ambitious and hard-working are often told to stop “showing off” and to shy away from compliments, rather than accept due credit for their achievements.

Even in relatively progressive schools, this contradiction exists, and the reality is that in most schools, girls don’t automatically receive the credit they deserve from teachers and other students — but instead, have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts in order to prove that they deserve recognition for their accomplishments.

It is crucial for schools to recognize that teaching young girls their achievements aren’t as valued as the male peers’ when they are younger not only limits them academically, but also has detrimental long-term effects, impacting their drive, ambition, and perception of themselves in the future. This culture of sexism that exists within our schools is perpetuated when students begin to internalize the comments made by their superiors and, whether consciously or subconsciously, begin to perpetuate this cycle of sexism themselves.

By high school, a large number of my female classmates were too afraid to challenge a classmate’s opinion, take on leadership roles, or even participate in class, out of fear that they would be labelled as “bossy” or a “know-it-all” by their peers. Furthermore, many female students who had participated in STEM activities in middle school drop out of these activities by high school, because they’ve been taught that there’s no point in participating in something that boys are just naturally “better” at.

It is the responsibility of schools to acknowledge that these latent prejudices exist, and that they are — whether consciously or not — being perpetuated by their students and faculty on an everyday basis.

Sexism and discrimination within schools has been an issue for decades, and is one that is not disappearing any time soon, and one that needs to be brought to light in order to end the cycle of systemic gender bias and discrimination that exists today.

 

Diya Kraybill is a freelance contributor from Singapore.

Cultural, Economic, International, Life as it is, Political

Is Britain heading towards a ‘banana state’?

A ‘banana state’ or ‘banana republic’ is generally perceived to be a state where the government is blatantly dysfunctional, wobbly and very vulnerable; the politicians, particularly of the ruling party, become self-serving, corrupt and utterly negligent to national interests; national economy becomes dependent on foreign capital and investment (often American’s exploiting local conditions) and relies on few agricultural products, particularly banana (hence the name ‘banana republic’); the weather is warm that makes its people subservient and docile. Britain now satisfies, for all intents and purposes, most, if not all, of these criteria.

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Let us examine these four criteria sequentially. The present government under the premiership of Theresa May is distinctly dysfunctional and wobbly. Boris Johnson, the arch-Brexiteer and a loose cannon of zero intellect, used to dish out national policies on the hoop when he was the foreign secretary. His motive was that the government would find it extremely difficult to ditch ideas, however useless or dogmatic, of the foreign secretary. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland having only 10 MPs had to be bought over by Theresa May for the staggering sum of one billion pounds to prop up her knife-edge administration in parliament. Now Jacob Rees-Mogg, ex-hedge fund manager and presently the leader of the so-called ‘European Research Group’ (ERG) (a shameful pressure group financed by foreign donors) and viscerally anti-European and arch-Brexiteer, is the back-seat driver and vicious sniper to the prime minister. He sets terms for the prime minister and tries to control the Brexit policy on the strength of 50 or so Tory MPs in the ERG. The government can hardly be more dysfunctional and vulnerable due to such crooked self-serving bigoted MPs.

The government exists with all the paraphernalia of ruling the country, but without any strategy, mission or vision. It relies on anti-European hysteria, snappy slogans, and populist narratives. When Theresa May came to power within a month following the most disruptive and destructive EU referendum in 2016, she said at the steps of 10 Downing Street that her government is going to work for everyone, she will prioritise ‘not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged but the working people’, she boastfully (rather beastly) declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’. These were nothing but cheap political slogans, just as typical banana republic politicians would resort to. She is in power but not in authority.

Even more stark demonstration of the banana republic is the egregious pronouncement of promises by ministers, even by the prime minister and other powerful politicians of the ruling party. These promises are made to get support of the general public (in election, in referendum etc) but knowing very well that these promises are only empty words, just bluffs to the public. These promises are not achievable and the politicians would get away without being made accountable.

Politicians of Britain have become self-serving, tribal and opportunistic, relegating national interests to nonentity. David Cameron, the prime minister between 2010 and 2015, had to give in to the demands of right-wing xenophobic imperialist elements of his party and produced ‘Bloomberg Speech’ in 2013, where he promised to give a referendum to the public by 2017 regarding UK’s continued EU membership. It was the most self-indulgent disruptive promise made to satisfy the rogue elements of his party at the expense of national interests. Self-interests and tribalism cannot go deeper than this.

After David Cameron’s announcement of the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, political jostling, tribalism, lies and deception all broke loose. Boris Johnson, the then MP and ex-Mayor of London (elected twice), along with Michael Gove, the then secretary of state for justice, Ian Duncan Smith, the then works and pensions secretary and many more politicians of the ruling party gave fictitious and egregious promises to the general public and the deplorable, illiterate and semi-literate public clung on to those promises. They promised to put back additional £350 million per week to the NHS, if UK leaves the EU. ‘The future is bright’, ‘take back control’ (from Brussels), ‘British Parliament is sovereign’, no more ‘unelected representatives’ would make our laws, etc were the thunders of these self-serving dogmatic opportunistic politicians. They also fabricated millions of phantom immigrant Turks waiting outside the borders to come to the UK, if UK remains in the EU. Although all of these pronouncements were blatant lies, the Electoral Commission was impotent to put a stop to the falsehood and the referendum proceeded with these lies.

Barack Obama in the dying days of his administration tried to warn British public of the consequences of leaving the EU. But then the Brexit politicians led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove screamed loudly complaining against ‘American interference’ in British internal matters. But when Donald Trump interfered only a few days ago and advised the prime minister, in no uncertain terms, to leave the EU without a deal and sue the EU, the Brexiteers found nothing wrong in that! Tribalism and racism are obviously deep rooted in Brexiteers minds.

America had aggressive stance towards other states right from the end of the WWII. America, Britain and Russia, the victorious Allied Powers, were at par in 1946. But then as decolonisation proceeded, Britain started to decline in political, economic and military spheres and America started to step in with ‘ethical and moral’ flags in those countries to fill the vacuum. Very soon, America ditched those moral pretence and started outright domination of those countries and became de-facto masters of these countries.

Britain invented ‘special relationship’ with America in order to remain as a super power or at least pretence of a super power. Britain benefited from American political support, American offer of nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines etc in return of accepting American hegemony. Special relationship remained especially advantageous to America and made Britain especially subservient to America.

All American and British governments since WWII had tried to gloss over this ‘tilted special relationship’ until the reality television show presenter and street brawler Donald Trump spilled the beans. He explicitly told British prime minister to break off ties and negotiations with the EU (as he declares EU is America’s foe) and start negotiations with America, even though America recently imposed 25% tariff on British steel. The ‘special relationship’ has in effect become a master-servant relationship. If America manages to prise Britain out of the EU, its dominance over Britain, in economic and political fields, will be permanent. Britain’s ‘banana republic’ status will become rock-solid, similar to other banana republics in the Caribbean.

While America is pulling Britain to subservience, there is a very strong bunch of xenophobic imperialist Tory politicians who are hallucinating of bringing back the second era of British colonialism and ‘rule Britannia’ status! Boris Johnson went to India, Myanmar and other ex-colonies deluding that he would get the reception and imperial status of colonial foreign secretary. Liam Fox, Brexit international trade secretary, claimed that making a trade deal (probably with ex-colonies) is the easiest thing in world history! However, in over two years as the international trade secretary he managed to get not a single trade deal! Banana republic ministers are all puff and froth, no substance.

The last but not the least aspect of banana republic is the warm weather. The warm weather has both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that it somehow helps to produce a good football team. A team when nobody, not even the team players themselves, expected to perform well, they went as far as the semi-final in the world cup in Russia this year. It may be that the warm weather makes human joints more supple and flexible, muscles stronger and resilient than they would otherwise be the case!

However, there is a negative aspect of the warm weather. People become mentally blank and vacuous; they lose their capacity to critically analyse issues. Otherwise, how could millions of people take Boris Johnson’s imbecile comment that the ‘future is bright’ for the UK (on leaving the EU) to be true, when the economy is undoubtedly going to suffer very adversely? How could people become so emotive and bigoted when Nigel Farage showed a photo of long queue of migrants to assert that they were all waiting to come to Britain? People lose their basic human sense in the warm weather and that probably makes them behave like lambs?

It is a shame and highly deplorable that a great power like Britain with educated mass can so easily be persuaded by populist and bigoted politicians to cause such a self-harm to satisfy the interests of these dogmatic politicians by voting to leave the EU. This Brexit is likely to be, unless halted immediately, the sharp decline of British power and become a ‘banana state’.

– A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Bangladesh, Cultural, Environmental, Life as it is, Political

Well done, Sir!

Dhaka trafficThe The on-duty police officer pleads with a flag-carrying car on Hare Road on June 6. The photo was shared on the ‘Traffic Alert’ Facebook Group. COURTESY: SHAMOL JAHANGIR HUSSAIN.On-duty police officer pleads with a flag-carrying car on Hare Road on June 6. The photo was shared on the ‘Traffic Alert’ Facebook Group. COURTESY: SHAMOL JGIRIN

There are iconic pictures that sometimes capture an age, define a moment in history, exemplify beauty, tragedy, or joy, in ways otherwise impossible to evoke. Who can forget the naked, screaming Vietnamese girl fleeing the napalm attack on her village in 1972; the Chinese man standing in lonely defiance in front of a column of tanks at the Tiananmen Square in 1989; the Times Square kiss; or the raising of the US flag at Iwo Jima, heralding the end of WWII?

The picture published in The Daily Star on June 7 on Page 3 of a police officer pleading with a flag-bearing car to not go the wrong side of the road certainly does not have the same drama or historical resonance. But it is remarkable nonetheless for it not only portrays the exemplary integrity of the officer but also reveals a subtle but stark truth about our political realities. The first gives us hope, the second makes us cringe.

We can be justifiably proud of the fact that an officer could, on his own cognisance and authority, exert the supremacy of law and insist that even the privileged classes follow the standard procedures established for everyone else. This is most reassuring. Moreover this took place in a posh area. The people who live or visit here are the ministers and secretaries, power brokers and high rollers, the insiders and deciders. This is where wealth and power seduce each other, and remain locked in intimate, if illicit, embrace.

These are not people used to hearing the word “no”, or being stopped, or being told that they are engaging in an illegal act, or being made to feel accountable for their actions, or (heaven forbid) being asked to correct their behaviour or reverse their decisions. Power in Bangladesh is usually defined, and often expressed, as the ability to flout the law and face no consequences, or as Erich Segal had put it in Love Story in a slightly different context, “never having to say you are sorry.”

Thus, driving on the wrong side of the road becomes a metaphor of our political times. It is an “in your face” raised middle finger which indicates both an entitlement that is casually assumed, and an attitude that is sneeringly demonstrated.

The reason the picture acquires such enormous significance is because it contradicts our typical experiences and expectations. We are not generally used to the rule of law being duly respected and publicly enforced. In these matters we are more likely to being disappointed and, sometimes, outraged. We read of the increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings in the country where those entrusted with enforcing the law take upon themselves the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner all rolled into one. We also see pictures of stricken family members holding up photographs of people who have “disappeared”.

Some of these supposed “victims” in both groups are/were presumably horrible individuals who deserve to be removed from our midst. But, no amount of public anger and frustration about supposedly “bad people” can, ever, justify the suspension of the human rights and liberties guaranteed in the constitution. We must never forget that the concept of democracy entails a nation governed by law, not a nation governed by “men” (however well-intentioned the latter may be).

The public confidence in the rule of law is also a bit shaken by the lack of enthusiasm in bringing the full force of the law against the high and mighty. There are the bank-swindlers, the land-grabbers, forest-cutters and water-polluters, the money launderers, the drug kingpins, the local “investors” who park their money in dodgy deals and shady holdings abroad, the real estate scammers, the tax evaders, the corrupt contractors offering shoddy work at inflated prices, and the ubiquitous “gatekeepers” of the rentier state who command its resources and extract payment for services to which citizens have a right. These people are not particularly concerned about being “caught” and, in fact, flaunt their (mostly ill-gotten) wealth in rude and taunting swagger.

Moreover, the citizens see inordinate delays in the investigation of crimes and bringing perpetrators to justice. In the last several years alone the murders of young Taqi in Narayanganj, college student Tonu in Comilla, journalists Sagar and Runi in Dhaka, and many progressive bloggers and social media activists, remain shrouded in ambiguity and confusion.

Crimes against women and minorities are particularly vulnerable to foot-dragging and seeming indifference. The attacks on temples and ashrams, or communal violence in Ramu in Cox’s Bazar, Shantia in Pabna, Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria, Thakurpara in Rangpur, or Longadu in Rangamati, have not seen much prosecutorial headway. Similarly, of the 4,541 allegations of rape brought to the much-vaunted one-stop crisis centres over the last 16 years, only 60 have been found guilty. And when one is both a woman and “indigenous” (e.g., Kalpana Chakma who was abducted in 1996), the wait for answers can be long and cruel.

The clogged and sluggish nature of the legal system was revealed in the law minister’s own statement in Parliament in January 2018, when he indicated that there were more than 3.3 million cases pending in courts, with more than 476,000 in the High Court Division and 16,565 in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. More importantly, almost a million cases have been languishing for more than five years. Not only does this provoke the old dictum of “justice delayed is justice denied” but it also indicates a court system almost overwhelmed by the pressures put on it.

There are also some public concerns about the use of law enforcement agencies as partisan instruments serving the agendas of particular governments, rather than as autonomous institutions serving the interests of the State. Cases may be initiated or withdrawn because of political considerations (even indemnifying entire classes of crimes committed at certain times), and judicial orders may, at times, be held in abeyance. In an unprecedented affront to the Courts, it is even possible for an individual, who had been duly charged, convicted and sentenced for a capital crime by the legal system, to receive a political pardon and then be spirited out of the country in the cover of darkness.

But this litany of criticisms and complaints should not blind us to the fact that most law enforcement personnel are generally honest, dedicated and competent. They toil in thankless, often dangerous tasks, are usually overworked and underpaid, and receive little appreciation even when they take huge risks and make personal sacrifices to uphold the principles of law and justice. Moreover, the system has to contend with a colonial legacy which had defined its structures and priorities; struggle with inadequate resources, training and incentives offered to it; and function within a larger moral environment which neither rewards nor encourages integrity and talent. To expect these people to be saints, when most others around them are not, is both unrealistic and unfair.

However, it is undeniable that there are some widespread anxieties and scepticism about the rule of law in the country. It is in this particular context that this picture is so memorable and the officer so heroic. He serves to reaffirm our faith in the system, and reminds us once again that there are honourable people in law enforcement willing, and daring, to do the right thing.

The only aspect of the photograph that is bit awkward, but which also speaks volumes, is that the officer has his hands folded in front of him in a traditional gesture of submission and forgiveness-seeking. Sir, it is the occupant of the vehicle who should be assuming that posture, not you. The law is on your side. So are we. Stand tall.

 

The author, Ahrar Ahmad is the director-general of Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation.