Friday, February 26, 2010

The Frankish Disease

"Your language is closer to you than your jugular vein."

From where did this piece of wisdom come to this part of the world? It wasn't always there. When the British came, we gladly relinquished our languages and learned English (and still do). Something changed between the time the English arrived and the time they left. They taught us more than 'Jolly good!" and "Old boy": they taught us nationalism.

But not all of us: only the microscopic minority of educated 'monkey-see-monkey-dos' produced by the imperial education system in South Asia.

But nationalism was not all we ingested from the superabundant harvest of western civilisation. There was Marxism, socialism, secularism, democracy….

That these contradictory ideas could lodge in a single head seems extraordinary today, but one must keep in mind the fact that we had been ruled for two hundred years, and rendered incapable of thinking for ourselves.

Take the Middle Eastern expression for nationalism: when it first arrived there, it was known (correctly) as the 'Frankish idea'. The accompanying physical malady that accompanied it was known as the 'Frankish disease'. Now, syphilis has the same effect on the brain as the Frankish and other assorted ideas. Therefore, we were able to accommodate all sorts of opposing ideologies in one diseased brain.

The climax of these intellectual developments, if lunacy can be credited with development, was the 1972 constitution of Bangladesh. Nationalism was part of it; as was nationalisation of all industry in solidarity with the workers of the world (but – heaven forbid – not the nationalisation of land). How Bengali nationalism could appeal to a Czech factory worker was beyond comprehension. The architects of the constitution wished to create a paradise on earth – but for Bengalis only. But 'Bengalis' also designated those living in West Bengal in India. So, Bengali paradise was not for West Bengalis. Yet nationalism reached across the border….In other words, the constitution was a cocktail meant for immediate inebriation.

In fact, one can't blame the pater patriae for kicking over that piece of paper as a colonial-period relic: it was really just that.

A constitution not in keeping with the culture, the 'manners', to use de Tocqueville's expression, of the people must be worth less than the paper it is printed on. Indeed, it is not worth less, but worthless.

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