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Bangladesh: A country of no equals? The new Citizenship Bill is self-defeating

Monday 13 February 2017, by siawi3

Source: http://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/op-ed/2017/02/09/no-home-away-home/

No home away from home

Luba Khalili

Published at 06:50 PM February 09, 2017
Last updated at 02:42 PM February 10, 2017

No home away from home
A country of no equals? /BIGSTOCK
The new Citizenship Bill is self-defeating

One wouldn’t need to cross the Atlantic to learn of fascism under a shoddy veil of democracy.

It can be found right here at home.

The world has been watching as Donald Trump’s cabinet continues to rile up a good majority of the Western world by its harrowing take on the government and grazing past the American constitution with bullets of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other words we’ve come to associate with tyrannical and oppressive regimes. For good measure, too.

I mean, the individual chosen to be the secretary of education — whose background in the field is as much as my five-year old nephew’s in building non-Lego skyscrapers — is almost ambitious, but mostly, a sad feat coming from one of the biggest democracies in the world.

But much closer to home, as we watch the Land of the Free be a margin away from all that it was supposed to stand for, we can also see our own country taking a leaf out of the new New World’s regime.

How much the Citizenship Bill, 2016 has been talked about is unclear to me, but it is a discourse that has the power to change the narrative of being Bangladeshi.

The bill, drafted last year, cancels out previous acts and orders of citizenship matters in Bangladesh, and posits new restrictions for dual citizens.

For people who were born abroad to Bangladeshi parents, for people who have a parent who isn’t Bangladeshi, things are about to change, and given the way our nation operates, probably not for the better.

From not being able to hold positions in government, to getting involved in political parties — exclusion from such a great honour — the provisions entailed in the bill are meant to restrict rights. Rights that, constitutionally, everyone in the republic should have. Rights, if violated, mean violation of the constitution.

Now, the cabinet definitely has its own justifications for approving such a bill, but limiting citizenship to individuals who care about being Bangladeshi takes a devastating toll on building national identities.

If the struggle for independence — the true unifier of all Bangladeshi people — has allowed for the sovereignty of our nation to come about, then the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has one thing to show for it: Our constitution

Especially if a bill such as this brings in talks of an “alien enemy,” which holds children accountable for the beliefs of their parents.

In a time where one of our neighbouring countries does not flinch while attempting to ruthlessly wipe out an entire ethnic group, and questions of accommodating this group into our country on the basis on human rights is constantly brought up, rendering a child of a parent who is an apparent alien enemy stateless — which this bill might just set out to do – can even be an act against humanity itself.

If the struggle for independence — the true unifier of all Bangladeshi people — has allowed for the sovereignty of our nation to come about, then the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has one thing to show for it: Our constitution.

And laws and amendments such as the new Citizenship Bill have incredibly unconstitutional air to them — even if they are passed in the name of national unity.

Post-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon once wrote about the paradox of national identity; that the revolution of the Third World often finds itself at a confusing space created by its very attempt at liberating itself from its oppressors.

Failing to be inclusive of nuances across its own population, the understanding of “nation” becomes too tethered to a certain class, too much akin to the very notions it has tried to shake off of itself.

These attempts at amassing the people are contrived, and ultimately, self-defeating.

If we apply a closer thought, that bit of Fanon’s articulation of the national identity fits well with the paradigm of what bills such as these are trying to achieve. By categorising Bangladeshis within labels that discriminate and provide putative superiors in comparison to the ones who are catergorised as “second-class,” or “alien enemy,” we are failing at recognising the nuance of the heterogeneity that we all — as Bangladeshis, born on this soil or otherwise — possess.

In the name of being unified, in the name of being Bangladeshi, what we’re creating is a systematic subjugation of people who are our own.

So, as we watch the new US president’s cabinet thrash about on their grand constitution and feel pity at the rhetoric that may get produced from the combination of hypocrisy and xenophobia, a good thing to not forget is that the same rhetoric can be — and is being — created right here around us.

And instead of engaging only in debates of how the Trump presidency is hurting the largest economy and its people, we can actually talk about the attempts which our own country is making that maybe don’t put the West to shame, but definitely bring a dark cloud over our own struggle of liberation.

Luba Khalili is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.