Isolation: A buried route

 Published in: The Daily Star on July 18, 2018
Isolation: A buried route

US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin shake hands after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland. PHOTO: REUTERS

Let’s just think about what Donald Trump recently did. He wooed Putin and tried to stitch the US and Russia together without knowing the difference between Great Britain, England and the United Kingdom. While England is a country, the United Kingdom a sovereign state having four countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Great Britain an island, his interview with Piers Morgan revealed that he had limited knowledge of the territory he was visiting. But who cares, really? He is the president of the United States of America who loves Putin and doesn’t want to die alone. Maybe his reach for a duet stems from fears about his own nation.

A recent study terms the level of loneliness in the US as an “epidemic”. Apparently, marriage rates have declined; while in 2000, 55 percent of Americans were married and 34 percent were never married, the numbers are tricky now with the never-marrieds reaching the married range. The average number of people per household is a shrunken 2.57 compared to 3.33 in 1960. The ones using social media in the US have the fewest friends. Fewer Americans go to church now or know their neighbours. Therefore, in an effort to tackle their isolation, the US is trying to learn from many including Japan. In Fort Worth, Texas, a surgeon is trying to form “moais”, a social network of five friends offering social, logistic, emotional and financial support for a lifetime. This model is based on a practice in Okinawa, a place where the average life expectancy of a woman is 90. There they form a moai which shares their crop, provides support for families and even influences lifelong health behaviours. In Texas, they are replicating this model, putting together people who want to change their lives by making friends instead of foes.

Thus, why would we blame poor Trump for making new allies, really, even if it’s at the cost of his own people?

On a separate and much more serious note, let’s remember that we have never lived in isolation. We were never raised by a porpoise on an island. And while our collective existence has always benefitted us, our statuses have always provided the opportunity to exist best in collaboration. No theory in this day and age supports living alone.

However, this is also an era of strange alliances. In every corner of the world, there are efforts to coexist, the latest example being India and Pakistan coming together in the most surprising manner, at a single stroke. The two South Asian nuclear-armed nations have risen above their rivalries and have joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), an entity that requires them both to seek security and protection within its framework.

The SCO, because of its centrality, is often called the “alliance of Asia”, and is referred to as the primary security pillar of the region having China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as its members. And now with India and Pakistan joining the group, it will represent over 40 percent of the world population and 20 percent of its GDP. India and Pakistan have a combined population of almost 1.5 billion, double of the combined EU and five times that of the US. Their joining the SCO signals a lot of changes within the region, in spite of the countries being at loggerheads for more than 70 years over Kashmir. It also paves the way for potential joint military exercises in the future under a multilateral aegis, which focuses on security and economic co-operation in the Eurasian region.

While these international ties and alliances count, often states remain critically unaware of their own people who try to come together. The result of an isolated, authoritarian rule is, unfortunately, severe. Yet, very often, states lobby for international support while forgetting the ones who live within their own borders, and pay less or no heed to the voice of dissent.

Last Sunday, right after the second half of the World Cup Final, the world watched four women dressed in the uniforms of Russian police charging the field. The match was briefly disrupted. These women were not really the police; they were members of a Russian activist group called Pussy Riot, which was founded in 2011 and stages actions, documents videos and puts out statements against the injustices of the state. The Pussy Riot also released a new song, Elections, to protest against “18 years of Putin’s power” as Russians headed to the polls last May. The harsh lyrics read: “Six years we’re gonna fight, fight / We’re not gonna obey during this term.” Needless to say, members of the same group have faced 22 months of imprisonment for defying the authority along with asking the “czar” to step down.

For the last couple of years, our own nation, too, has forged unities most tactfully and is set to be a strategic partner for all in the region. Though we have won international favours, we have had no reason, so far, to isolate ourselves from our own voices within.

Yet, on July 16, when a group of teachers and students marched on the Dhaka University campus, after forming a human chain at Shaheed Minar, they were assaulted. The list of the attacked included three teachers. Slogans were chanted, terming them as Pakistani collaborators. This should definitely be an eye-opener for the public servants. As a tradition, throughout our lives, we have grown up respecting our mentors and can’t imagine scenes of students threateningly charging towards teachers. Most of us have difficulty understanding this trend of aggression, especially at a time when Bangladesh is successfully hitting 50 as a democracy that stands erect for secularism, justice and development.

Rubana Huq is the managing director of Mohammadi Group.

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