Mass Line, Repressive Media, and State Terror
“If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X
Poet and writer Farhad Mazhar is not intimidated by the propaganda campaign being orchestrated by a partisan section of the media community. It is engaged in this activity to create the kind of political condition that would incite the regime to punish him. This particular section of the media fears the poet’s social critique which exposes the contradictions of the mass media, constitutional arrangements for fascism, and the interactive dynamic of the legal and the political, from within which the secular-commandment emerges to organize terror upon marginalized bodies that are circumscribed within the internalized logic of the ‘war on terror’. The poet’s position within the secular sphere as a documentarian of the history of State terror is a serious source of anxiety for some groups in civil society.
Although Farhad Mazhar remains steadfast against the structural complicity of the media apparatus with State supported cultural fascism and he is unperturbed by the wave of media propaganda against him, we as his interlocutors at Chintaa, are very concerned because we know about the political reach of this specific pro-imperialist section in the elite society. It is a well-recognized fact that this regime likes to exhibit its power by inflicting pain upon the bodies of its subjects in an exaggerated manner. The regime has no sense of moderation. It violates human rights by using legal power to harass, arrest, and torture oppositional editors and columnists, human rights workers, and political personalities. Fact-finding reports by internationally recognized human rights organizations confirm that our assumptions about the general madness of this regime are not far-fetched.
This is not the first time Farhad Mazhar has been attacked for being critical against regimes of power that dominate the marginalized people. In 1995 he was imprisoned for a month for writing an article in Chintaa about the "suppression of a rebellion in the ranks of a peasant-based auxiliary police force". French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Nadine Gordimer, and Mahasweta Devi submitted a letter to the editor at the New York Times, demanding his release (see link: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/25/opinion/l-bangladesh-jails-writer-without-charges-236495.html). Professor Gayatri Spivak also stood by his side during that time to support his freedom of speech. We hope that the current administration has the ability to consider the ways in which its international reputation may be at stake.
While we are concerned for the poet’s safety, we recognize that this State repression is not about one individual, rather, the suppression of critical views in the larger political landscape. The regime has systematically suppressed and silenced the analyses of the masses, most of which live at the margins, in the non-urban sphere. These masses have already articulated their position on political-religion by marching towards the capital and taking over public squares, for which they have paid the price with their blood. They have taken a position against the internalized logic of the ‘war on terror’. They have taken a position against a vulgar form of secular-nationalism that identifies friends and enemies on the basis of a fetishized identity and a mystified understanding of regional and global history.
We have translated a statement (originally written in Bangla) by the poet published in national dailies, wherein he clarifies his position on the dominant media, and its structural complicity with State terror. This is a rough translation and we apologize for any errors. Translations are erroneous not only because languages as systems of utterances, syntactic structures, codified expressions, and grammatical rules are incommensurable with each other, but also because the affective dimension of each language comes with a historically specific (con)text of sociality. We tried to stay close to the text as well as the general political-emotive-spirit of the poet’s statement.
Statement by Farhad Mazhar
Journalists are under attack in Bangladesh. I am deeply concerned about this situation. While mass media is not the direct disciplinary force of the regime, media-related offices are still being bombed. Critical journalists who are rigorous in their work of examining the information that circulates in the immediate sphere must ask questions that try to get to the fundamental cause of these sorts of attacks. We know that political leaders and workers are coming under attack as well. Who is organizing/orchestrating these attacks? What is the rationale behind this? To what is this in response? We have to answer these questions. Journalists in particular must go beyond shallow conspiracy theories and unveil the truth behind these hostile acts. This is our responsibility. This is our political-ethical obligation.
On the 28th of October, I participated in the ETV Talk Show program “Ekusher Raat” and discussed the role of mass media in the present social-political context. Journalist Monir Haider was the host of the show. My analyses and comments on media, representation, and political antagonism have been taken partially and out of context and have produced contested debates in the public sphere. This is part of discursive ethics, but Ekattor TV violated all principles of journalism, and used snippets from this program to begin a politicized propaganda campaign against me. Ekattor TV screened their own program, using small parts of my remarks to misrepresent my position on violence against media and media terrorism. The purpose of their misrepresentation is very clear. It is not only a way to silence my voice, but an attempt to silence a particular class and a mass oppositional position within larger society. I believe this misrepresentation is easy to identify if we watch the entire program, and observe how small parts of the original program are used for the purposes of reactionary propaganda.
In the same program I elaborated on the specific comment that is now being circulated by a certain quarter of society to silence my analysis. In the actual program I said: “Obviously, I do not want media offices to be bombed, or to be attacked. I do not want even a stone to be thrown at them. This is rhetoric, so that intellectuals and journalists realize that we cannot only blame Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia for the present political condition. We have also played an active role that has created and perpetuated this condition.” Ekattor TV excluded this vital part of my statement and extracted from the other half selective shots in order to fuel their propaganda.
From the aforementioned comment, which was strategically removed by Ekattor TV it should be clear that I did not make a simplistic gesture in support of bombing media offices. It was not a literal statement. It was an objective point about social conditions, and responses to political antagonisms that have emerged from within the given regime of power. The main point of my analysis was this: We cannot only blame Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia for our present condition. Mass media has played a serious role in creating this condition. I firmly believe that political parties are not the sole actors to blame. The media outlets that have presented news with partisan interests, provided biased statements, and incited people thus violating all standard principles of journalism. Some may disagree with the analysis I presented in the ETV talk show. If this is the case, they should provide their counter-argument. I will provide my logic, or will revise my argument if a better analysis is given. This is the basic structure of public discourse and the practice of free expression. Today, Ekattor TV is the political weapon of the regime in power, and with that power they want to create conditions by which I may be sent to jail. Would anyone with a basic sense of democracy and human dignity assent to this kind of intimidation? Is it possible to call this ‘media for the masses’ when as an institution it incites the State to use its power to identify and harass subjects that have different views than those of the regime? Who should assume the blame when such an important TV station operates in this way? The entire media community or just Ekattor TV? I am interested in examining how the entire journalist community is responsible for this kind of media institutionalization that helps perpetuate State-terrorism against its subjects.
Some people may disagree with me. They do not think that I should blame the entire media apparatus because not everyone works to help the State dominate its subjects. They have mentioned that under this fascistic condition there are still some media outlets trying their best to provide the public with proper news and analysis. This is certainly true. However, it is important that we take into account the general tendencies of the mass media under the given regime and within our social reality. I included myself in this critique as a form of self-criticism. I consistently repeated that we are responsible as participants in the mass media. When one agency in the media works to organize violence against certain kinds of subjects, it can impact the entire media apparatus. This is why I was interested in understanding the problem in general terms, as a structural relation between mass media and State power.
If it had any real interest in debate, Ekattor TV would not have used small parts of my talk for the purposes of misrepresentation. Moreover, by isolating me as an individual, they are turning me into a target for the purposes of State terrorism. One wonders about the role of Ekattor TV in relation to State terror. What does it mean when a particular agency can call for legal action against the opinion of one individual? And, if the perspective of that one individual is the actual political position of a large section of the oppositional masses, then what does it mean to call for disciplining of that position?
As I mentioned above, Ekattor TV intentionally misrepresented my analysis. Misrepresentation is not a theoretical term. It is a legal term. If there were a just legal system then it would be possible for us to demonstrate that Ekattor TV’s propaganda campaign is criminal. I will continue to write against media terrorism, and the structural relation it has with the State apparatus and the various disciplinary techniques it employs against oppositional analysis.
On the 28th of October in that ETV program I asserted the following: “Let me make this clear. It is a fact that you are repressing oppositional positions. You are using the media apparatus to stop any oppositional analysis and representation, and rotating a few individuals as puppets on your programs/shows, and creating the conditions necessary to conceal an entire section of society. No one is allowed to present the analysis of this other class position. There are other classes and social forces in the larger society. But if they are not allowed to present themselves, we will obviously witness bombings. If you silence someone into submission, you create the conditions for terror. You are the first provocateur of terror. The dominant media initiated terrorism. We have to understand this very clearly.”
When you repress an entire section of society, inhibit their material-representation and mode of life, and use the dominant media to spread lies about their social history to categorize them as “terrorists” and “militants,” you will at some point see the emergence of rebellion against vulgar secular logics of repression and domination. Also, I should remind the readers that the term 'terrorism' remains unclear. The UN has yet to define the term. And, in theoretical and intellectual circles there is an entire discourse on terror. There is an already existing critical skepticism about the term in public and intellectual discourse. When the regime along with the dominant media defines this term and specifies it within the logic of the ‘war on terror’, it engages in a form of political-discursive terrorism itself. In fact, all the mainstream political parties are participating in this imperial conceptualization of terror. We know that within the structure of the ‘war on terror’ this kind of conceptualization of terror directly helps in identifying, targeting, torturing, and killing Islamists. This derives from a fundamental vulgar-secular hatred against Islam.
My participation in this talk show was to discuss the political, constitutional and legal concerns central to contemporary questions related to violence. I was interested in discussing the underlying causes and social relations that determine the kinds of violence we are witnessing in our society. I have identified how the constitution allows for a direct rule of violence behind an appearance of democracy. And, in this sense, the original drafting of the constitution, and its relation to contemporary violence against oppositional positions is a fundamental concern. In fact, there is a constitutional grounding for State terror. This has to be a part of our political discourse on violence.
In the mainstream media, there has been a push for dialogue between the main political parties. This is useless unless we understand the objective historical and social conditions that create this kind of impasse. Without identifying the social coordinates that allow for political antagonism, it will be impossible to break through this impasse. The dominant media’s mischaracterization of a large part of society is directly linked to the existing repressive social relations in the given order.
Some detractors have suggested that I speak for the mainstream opposition’s media. Nothing is further from the truth. I have taken a position for human dignity. If the opposition were to come to power, I would assume the same political position. This is a very basic ethical-political practice, but as I have mentioned the behavior of the dominant media and the current regime must be understood by examining our constitutional arrangements. The dominant media’s repressive violence against the oppositional force derives from this constitutional arrangement/crisis.
If the media community were sincere about political dialogue, it would have pressured the regime to allow Daily Amardesh, Diganta Television, Islamic TV, and Channel One to publish news/articles and broadcast programs. This should be the demand regardless of party affiliation. In addition, it is also important to allow columnists and writers to represent the perspectives of marginalized masses. When such expression is suppressed, society as a whole begins to exhibit an anxiety that helps in fostering a political vulnerability that is conducive to violence and terror. This kind of vulnerability can produce problems for the State’s sovereignty within the structure of the ‘war on terror’. Precisely for this reason we must be serious about codifying a general set of rules and procedures for the media apparatus.
This is my position. For upholding the truth, I am not afraid of going to jail. I am not afraid of the terror of the zalim regime.