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Space For Rent
Sunday, January 18, 2015, Magh 5, 1421, Robiul Awal 26, 1436 Hijr

Out of the box
Intellectuals in Bangladesh
Dr Rashid Askari
Published : Sunday, 18 January, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 80

Ahmed Sofa, the iconoclastic intellectual, in his book 'Buddhibrittir Natun Binyas' (New classification of intellectualism), categorically states that Bangladesh would not have been liberated, if what our intellectuals said had been followed, and it(Bangladesh) will not be developed, if what they now say is followed. Such pejorative connotations attached to the word 'intellectual' cannot, perhaps, be found elsewhere.
Who arethe intellectuals Ahmed Sofa hinted at?They are not sure the ones who were killed on, before, and after 14 December 1971, because what they did cannot come under such censure. As the late 16th century University Wits brought about a transformation in the realm of literature thereby contributing to the creation of the Golden Age of English literature, so did the '71- intellectuals in the realm of our social and political life by turning Pakistan's 'moth-eaten' eastern province into the Golden Bangladesh.They were a very great wealth of talents. As the French Enlightenmentfigures, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and John Locke kindled popular interest in the three basic principles of French Revolution-Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, our Independence Movement intellectuals ignited masses of people in the spirit of freedom. They were the voice of conscience in all the scenes of the struggle. They were no less than Socrates, who was killed by vested interests for showing his people the right way; or Galileo, who was condemned to life imprisonment for his 'heretical'(but in reality scientific) beliefs; or Bruno , the symbol of the freedom of thought, who bound and gagged, was burnt alive at the stake for telling the truth.Our Independence intellectuals, too, showed us the road to independence, taught us the superiority of scientific knowledge over religious and political dogmas, and inspired us to fight for our freedom of thought and expression. They were fully successful in projecting their own thoughts and ideas onto the people who had been blinded to the real needs of their country for ages. The whole nation could well get their message, and fought back against the occupation army, and clinched the victory. They were the real intellectuals and Ahmed Sofa sure did not point his accusing finger at them.He, however, blasted the ones who are completely devoidof what characterizesthe Liberation War intellectuals who died for their country. Sofa must have attacked the intellectuals who live by their wits, play the intellectuals, anddo everything for pure selfish reasons. This trend of decadence of the intellectual class has always been in Bangladesh.
The decadent intellectuals may roughly fall into three groups. The first group consists of the self-centered intellectuals, who are only concerned with their own wants and needs, and never think about other people's good. They are wrappedup in themselves, and always look after number one. Although they are mostly university dons, they work part-time with different private institutions, NGOs, multinational companies, and projects to earn a fortune. Most of their time is spent shuttling between their homes and workplaces, and no spare time is left for them to work for their country and its people for free.
The second group of intellectuals are highly politicized intellectuals. They are the intellectual vanguards of their party, and tend to see everything around them with a partisan eye. They are social climbers, and their sole aim is personal aggrandizement. They wait their turn at power in order to grab the chance of holding high office. They suck up to people in authority for this. These intellectuals toe the party line so strongly that they even give highly lopsided views on undisputed facts and common public interests ignoring objective truth. Even the events of our common art, culture, literature, and history are split by these one-eyed intellectuals. Years of polarization have sapped them of their integrity and moral standards.
The third group comprises the seeming nonpartisan intellectuals who love being called 'civil society'. They are mostly the hired hands of international hierarchies working in their native country as social, cultural, political and economic think tanks. These high profile intellectual interests are prostituting their talents to have very deep pockets. It is a part of their job to pick holes in both the Power and the Opposition affairs in order to paint the country in a bad light with a view to catering to their western masters. They do not see anything good in their own country, and always assume the worst. They give voice to different national crises in such a grave manner that the country has completely gone to the dogs, and there is no escape from it. There is, however, an implication in their speech that the country would be having her best rulers only when these civil society guys would take power. Although they put on an air of neutrality, they must be working willy-nilly to realize the interest of the corporate world. One may reasonably smell a hidden agenda behind their activities.
These three groups of intellectuals have nothing common in them except for the lack of true love of the country. They are far away from the legacy of the Independence intellectuals. They are basically armchair intellectuals living in ivory towers. What should then the true intellectuals be like in the present context?
The concept of intellectuals in the modern sense gained currency with the 1898 "Manifesto of the Intellectuals" produced by the Dreyfusards who, inspired by Emile Zola's open letter of protest to France's president, condemned the treason charges on the French artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus and the subsequent military cover-up. The Dreyfusards' stance conveys the core image of intellectuals as defenders of justice, confronting power with courage and integrity.While determining the responsibilities of intellectuals in his longish essay, "TheResponsibility of Intellectuals" Noam Chomsky said: "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies". Antonio Gramsci, a theorist on intellectuals, argued: "Intellectuals view themselves as autonomous from the ruling class." His theoretical standpoint is that every social class needs its own intelligentsia to shape its ideology. Jean Paul Sartre considered the intellectuals to be the moral conscience of their age, their task being to observe the political and social situation of the moment, and to speak out freely in accordance with their consciences. One of the most distinguished cultural critics of late 20th century, Edward W. Said saw the intellectual as an exile and amateur whose role is "to speak the truth to power" even at the risk of ostracism or imprisonment. In his seminal work 'Representations of the Intellectual', Said explores the implications of this idea by drawing on a lot of examples of intellectuals from the past and the present, and shows what happens when intellectuals succumb to the lures of money and power.
Are our intellectuals defenders of justice? Do they speak the truth, and expose lies? Are they able to do things, and make decisions of their own accord? Do they have a voice of conscience? I am as sure as eggs are eggs that the bulk of our present intellectuals are far away with these basic tenets of true intellectuals. It is hard to come by intellectuals like those of the independence at such a time when a large proportion of the population is in the information business. The intellectuals are reduced to merely the specialized servants of special interests, and do not have a larger responsibility for the betterment of people.
There are, however, some true intellectuals, who amid the razzmatazz of the fake intellectuals' activities are hiding their light under a bushel, and hence are failing to make any apparent difference in our socio-political scene for the time being. However, it is they who cherish the true ideals of the 1971 martyred intellectuals from the bottom of their heart. If good triumphs over evil in the end, all the three groups of pseudo-intellectuals must be overshadowed by these few, for they would be the real intellectuals-'the public intellectuals' in Saidian term. Bangladesh has always been in need of the public intellectuals.

Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]

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