We enter 2021, hoping to put the Covid-19 pandemic behind us. While each society has dealt with it uniquely, global diplomacy will nevertheless focus on common concerns and shared lessons. Much of that revolves around the nature of globalisation.
Our generation has been conditioned to think of that largely in economic terms. The general sense is one of trade, finance, services, communication, technology and mobility. This expresses the interdependence and interpenetration of our era.
However, what Covid-19 brought out was the deeper indivisibility of our existence. Real globalisation is more about pandemics, climate change and terrorism. They must constitute the core of diplomatic deliberations. As we saw in 2020, overlooking such challenges comes at a huge cost.
Despite its many benefits, the world has also seen strong reactions to globalisation. Much of that arises from unequal benefits, between and within societies. Regimes and dispensations that are oblivious to such happenings are therefore being challenged.
We must ensure that this is not about winners and losers, but about nurturing sustainable communities everywhere.
Covid-19 has also redefined our understanding of security. Until now, nations thought largely in military, intelligence, economic, and perhaps, cultural terms. Today, they will not only assign greater weight to health security but increasingly worry about trusted and resilient supply chains.
The stresses of the Covid-19 era brought out the fragility of our current situation. Additional engines of growth are needed to de-risk the global economy, as indeed is more transparency and market-viability.
Multilateral institutions have not come out well from this experience. Quite apart from controversies surrounding them, there was not even the pretence of a collective response to the most serious global crisis since 1945.
This is cause for serious introspection. Reforming multilateralism is essential to creating effective solutions.
Fashioning a robust response to the Covid-19 challenge is set to dominate global diplomacy in 2021.
And in its own way, India has set an example. That it has done by defying prophets of doom and creating the health wherewithal to minimise its fatality rate and maximise its recovery rate. An international comparison of these numbers tells its own story.
Not just that, India also stepped forward as the pharmacy of the world, supplying medicines to more than 150 countries, many as grants.
As our nation embarks on a mass vaccination effort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assurance that it would help make vaccines accessible and affordable to the world is already being implemented.
The first consignments of Made in India vaccines have reached not only our neighbours like Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka but partners far beyond like Brazil and Morocco.
However, other key global challenges today deserve similar attention. As a central participant in reaching the Paris agreement, India has stood firm with regard to combating climate change. Its renewable energy targets have multiplied, its forest cover has grown, its bio-diversity has expanded and its focus on water utilisation has increased.
Practices honed at home are now applied to its development partnerships in Africa and elsewhere. By example and energy, Indian diplomacy is leading the way, including through the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure initiatives.
The challenge of countering terrorism and radicalisation is also a formidable one. As a society, long subjected to cross-border terrorist attacks, India has been active in enhancing global awareness and encouraging coordinated action. It will be a major focus in India's diplomacy as a non-permanent member of the Security Council and forums like FATF and G20.
Among the takeaways from the Covid-19 experience has been the power of the digital domain. Whether it was contact tracing or the provision of financial and food support, India's digital focus after 2014 has yielded impressive results.
The "work from anywhere" practice was as strongly enhanced by Covid-19 as the "study from home" one. All these will help expand the toolkit of India's development programmes abroad and assist the recovery of many partners.
Also, 2020 saw the largest repatriation exercise in history – the return home of more than 4 million Indians. This alone brings out the importance of mobility in contemporary times.
As smart manufacturing and the knowledge economy take deeper root, the need for trusted talent will surely grow. Facilitating its movement through diplomacy is in the global interest.
A return to normalcy in 2021 will mean safer travel, better health, economic revival and digitally-driven services. They will be expressed in new conversations and fresh understandings.
The world after Covid-19 will be more multi-polar, pluralistic and rebalanced. And India, with its experiences, will help make a difference.
I vividly remember one of my most memorable trips I ever made. In the year 1955, I was part of the boy scout group who got the chance to travel to Europe and North America to the 10th World Jamboree of Boy Scouts held in Canada. I was fifteen years old. It was an unforgettable journey full of inspiration that left a lasting imprint on my mind. For instance, it was quite an experience crossing the Atlantic both ways in luxury liner ships, watching the emergence of countries in Europe from the devastation of the second world war, watching the world with eyes of a kid who grew up in the rural environment of a South Asian country. The journey was a phenomenal experience. It was a life-time learning opportunity for a fifteen year old.
Sooner than we would have wished, the last day of jamboree came nearer. Our great adventure seemed to be coming to an end. We were very sad about it, as we felt that there was still so much for us to see. But organizers of our trip had a different idea. They thought, why not make the journey back home also a part of the adventure for the 27 kids. They changed the plan to bring us back overland by micro-buses, through Europe all the way to Karachi, from where our formal journey had begun. They saved the plane-fare and bought three micro-buses with that money. These micro-buses would become an asset for the Pakistan Scout Association.
Of course, there was opposition to the idea.
Some said; “No, it’s too long a distance to cover by micro-bus", some said “No, there are too many borders to cross!”. But finally, the idea had support from all of us. We were young and felt that anything was better than going back home and to school.
We crossed the Atlantic by ship. Arrived in London. Made all preparations and readied the paper works for the long journey. We the arrived at Wolfsburg, Germany and bought three shiny micro-buses from the Volkswagen factory, then launched our long trip right out of the factory.
The trip was nothing but excitement everyday as we travelled from one city to another city, detoured from direct route to visit an interesting city off the main route. We stayed longer in places where we wanted to stay and see more, or we were forced to stay because of unforeseen circumstances. It took us four months to drive all the way from Germany, along the Mediterranean coast, through countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and back to Karachi. Then two more weeks to travel through India to Chittagong, my home-town.
Along the long journey we met so many friendly and hospitable people. It made the whole world feel like home for us.
From this experience I became a firm believer in the need for global mobility to create an environment for people to get to places to explore the world. People throughout the world are eager to travel to see their neighbouring countries, and the world at large.
People need mobility as a daily need too. One cannot survive without mobility. It is essential for our lives no matter where we live. Of course, it is different depending on the level of the economic status of the country,
For example, in Bangladesh, most people do not own personal motor vehicle. This is because most people cannot afford it. But I think it gives Bangladesh an opportunity to plan better, we can start with a clean slate. This gives us the opportunity to think more of mass-transportation than personal cars. Now we can make environment-friendly choices. We may focus on green energy-based vehicles, and put deadline for fossil fuel-based vehicles. We can prioritise mass transport facilities, run on green energy. We can introduce taxi services for self-formed passenger groups who decide the routes, time and fare, for a single trip or on a regular monthly basis. We may discourage single person usage of any vehicle.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, having more than 1000 people per square kilometre. Imagine what will happen if there are personal vehicles for everybody, and worse of it if rhe vehicles were running on fossil fuel! We are already in the frontline of climate disaster. We should not be the one contributing to the disaster.
Mobility is a major issue in Bangladesh for many reasons. Two main reasons are air pollution and death by traffic accidents. In Dhaka city the traffic is almost unbearable. Dhaka is one of top cities in the world with terrible air quality. Constant traffic jams and honking are normal everyday experience.
During the last one year the world has learnt from Covid-19 pandemic very important and positive lessons on mobility. This is about how to drastically reduce mobility. We got used to doing many things without mobility. When pandemic will be gone, we'll continue with many of these valuable life-style changes that the pandemic forced on us. We like them. We see a great future for them. Now we realise that we can run offices and businesses from our homes. We’ll not do it as an emergency procedure any more, but as our convenience and on environmental considerations. We now know that we can have most of our meetings virtually. They are time-saving (no getting stuck with traffic-jams, which in Dhaka can be for several hours in one spot), and cost saving. Now we can invite in our meetings and conferences as many participants as we wish, from anywhere in the country or in the world, without support from any event planner. Educational institutions got used to operating virtually. We saw how virtual sessions of parliaments, and high-level UN meetings can take place. Conferences became more world-wide with no cost. One virtual global event can save us from tons of carbon emission. Virtual meetings and gatherings will protect us from future transmission of viruses across the globe. Suddenly all varieties of online businesses popped up. Many of these practices were forced on us by the circumstances, but we'll keep them because now we love them. We’ll continue to make them more lovable as we proceed.
We have to rethink mobility in the light of new reality. This was a great learning process. We’ll continue to promote virtual interactions not only to protect ourselves from the pandemic, but to protect our environment, and general health. We should soon come out with policies to encourage virtual, replacing physical, interactions at all possible levels. All boards may start asking the management to submit plans on reducing travel mileages by air and roads, year by year. This will encourage virtual interactions.
Mobility, yes. But mobility must be integrated with social and environmental responsibilities. Mobility is an area where we have to balance personal need with collective need. By balancing these two needs a clear picture will emerge for the future of mobility: it has to be responsible, sustainable, necessity based, easy, facilitating, affordable, and always remembering that we have a ready option whenever we need it, the virtual option.
The future of mobility has to aim at creating less traffic. Two-, and three-wheelers should get the priority, and move away from one car one person type of vision, at least until it becomes green energy driven, and takes up least possible city space.
But in order to achieve these goals we need creative ideas and innovative social businesses. in the mobility sector and its counterpart, the virtual sector to reduce the need for mobility. Social business is a social-consciousness driven business. It is a non-dividend business to solve human problems. Many social businesses have been created around the world to bring solutions to mobility in sustainable ways. We need massive efforts to make it a real force for change. I keep on encouraging businesses, technology specialists, and young people to keep coming up with solutions to mobility problems in creative social business ways. Mission of a social business is to solve problems of the people, and the planet, in an entrepreneurial way. We define social business as a non-dividend business to solve human problems.
Since the social business entrepreneur is not interested in taking any personal profit from the company, he can devote all his creativity in solving the problem in a business way, and not use part of his creativity in making money.
Why anybody should be interested in social business? Very simple-- making money may bring you happiness, but making other people happy brings you super-happiness. Business can be run as a social business because of the fact that human beings are not money-making machines. Human beings are made to pursue two interests -- personal interest, and collective interest. Somehow, we got solely busy with pursuing personal interest by setting the objective of business as maximisation of profit. Social business is the business to open up our other mission, to serve the collective interest. This business has no personal profit-making interest. It is dedicated to bring collective happiness by solving collective problems. When we see mobility from the perspective of collective problem, we have to look for solution through social business. Social business is the appropriate business methodology to address it.
I am convinced that social business initiatives can transform mobility to change the way we live and work.
Censorship is a big reality in many places including in Bangladesh. There are several levels of internal and external censorship. Many factors influence this including the nature of media ownership, the nature and policy of the government, consumer demand etc.
Usually, both external and internal forces interact to produce the censorship regime. However, this scenario changed with the emergence of social media caused by the rise of digital media. There is a huge commercial and professional digital media that is increasingly proving to be beyond the conventional capacity of usual censors and even consumer choices.
Ways of censorship
Laws, fear, intimidation, jail, interrogation, bans, even physical attacks are all part of enforcing censorship in different forms and shapes in many places. But with every day, this older form of censorship is proving less equal to the task. The limits are also set by many factors which are beyond the control of the censor.
Also read: Digital Marketing in Bangladesh
In a print media world, censorship was a realistic proposition but with the advent of digital media, technology has left the analog world behind. The result is a world beyond censorship literally though within its own limits. People also need to be technologically very adept to give the censor violators a run for the money. However, in most developing countries, that is not the case. The result is failure of the censorship model as the digital space overwhelms the analog surveillance ideology.
This has become a prominent subject of debate in Bangladesh where censorship exists in several forms. One of the pillars is the Digital Security Act (DSA) under which just about anyone can be prosecuted by anyone for any cause. In most cases, it’s not the Government who is the accuser but its supporters and it is used quite prolifically. It has led to many complaints, some charges, a few trials but a great deal of self-censorship. The objective was therefore achieved.
However, this applies only to matters within the media shores of Bangladesh and not beyond. And that is from where the Government is trashed and the powers that be find they can do little about it. The recent Al-Jazeera documentary titled “All the PM’s men” shows that such products can be made and uploaded which reach all inside Bangladesh. And in a digital era, this can be done with impunity. No DSA applies and that is why the older censorship version has obvious limits in a digital era.
The non-resident media
With a large non-resident population, an NR media has been in place for long. However, over time this has become quite strong and as net reach increased, more vocal and listened to. The big difference of course is social media and other outlets such as Youtube, FB live etc which has spread it everywhere. Of course there are pioneers and Sefu da was one such character, he was immensely popular for his colorful language and taboo topics. His topics were mostly personal but the power of the medium was itself on display too. The Government did try to shut him up and he has since faded away for whatever reasons – not GOB pressure- but several other voices have popped in.
Opposition politics and media are both very thin in Bangladesh due to many reasons. But with no TV and no activism to reach large numbers, it’s all but invisible. However, that is not the case with the voices from abroad. Kanak Sarwar, Elias, Maj. Delawar and others who are anti-AL, anti- India and anti-current leadership of the armed forces have a huge viewership.
Several times a week they are on screen and tear into the Government party politics and its supporters. Their viewership is higher than many TV shows and they not only have a captive audience of pro-BNP and JI but many anti AL person tune in. A couple of press notes condemning them have been issued but not much else because nothing can be done.
Netra News is based in Sweden and is edited by Tasneem Khalil, a journalist who suffered in Bangladesh at the hands of security agencies and had to flee. David Bergman, also a British journalist with a record of having lived and worked in Bangladesh, whose entry back to Bangladesh was barred. Together they are with Netra News and the Al-Jazeera product is part of their work.
The ISPR and GOB’s press release after the doc was aired was weak compared to the media hype that was on. Saying they are all BNP-JI supporters and enemy of the state doesn’t cut much ice. Millions have seen it and several more such products are coming, it is said. And it’s beyond the reach of the Bangladesh authorities to censor them.
The Government has declared that it is considering legal action against the broadcaster but that’s another matter. Aimed at this regime, the propaganda damage has been done and little could be done about it. It’s a reality check for such a powerful government that while most are aware that they can be censored at any time, the limits of censorship in this age are obvious also. It is form, not content- based.
The physical boundaries of the state are limited and state censorship is limited within that too. Digitally produced internationally media products are not affected by that. If censorship points to the challenge of media, that the limits of censorship exist within the same space is also a reality. It’s not the politics or content that is intriguing but the digital form that is slowly overtaking all other analog realities.
(This article was first published in Dhaka Courier)
Censorship is constructed largely along the lines of power. Censors reduce the power of the contestants in exercising power. Its function is about enhancement and sustaining power. Constructing media structure it appears is not about finding facts and transparency only. It’s also about exertion of power. How its function is interpreted depends on the nature of what its function is. What therefore is understood as its function?
Pre-study findings on censorship and media
To conduct a KAP – Knowledge, Attitude, Practice- study on censorship and media, a preliminary investigation to determine the parametres of the study of the key stakeholder groups was held. This focused on the stakeholders related to media. They were A. consumers. B. Practitioners. C. Owners.
Once the groups were confirmed, some basic questions were asked about media’s role and responsibility in the context of censorship. The responses will form the basis of further enquiry.
For the moment we find that the three segments can be split further into several sub-segments. For example, owners and Editors can be both one entity but in many/most cases they are different. Thus there is a possibility of conflict between owners and Editors. However, both represent authority and power. They decide what is published and not published though their functioning differs.
Similarly, working journalists also have sub-segments. One split is between the activist journalist and the non-activist media worker. Within the activist group, there are trade unionist and non-trade union media workers and other associations and clubs etc. For the moment, activist and non-activist journalists may be taken as sub-clusters.
Similarly, the consumer is not one monolith and a variety of sub-category applies. The difference between the consumer and the workers is that one is an outsider and the other is the insider. The consumer doesn’t see the difference between Editor and worker, owner and worker etc. but considers everyone as Media, a monolith. In this categorization, they primarily refer to the worker and blame or praise them for what media does. Since public confidence is declining in media, the worker is held responsible for media’s decline.
Perceptions of censorship
In the preliminary discussions on the issue of censorship there is divergence of views on what it means and how it applies. Each group expressed different views on what it constitutes. However, most considered the role of the Government as the prime censor. This was in particular with the working journalists and media workers. Editors too agreed but were more reticent while the Owners were not ready to discuss the issue elaborately.
The consumer’s notion of media freedom or censoring was different. They felt that their right to information was violated in most cases due to fault of “media” as they were not doing their job properly. A section also felt that media workers were in some cases dishonest and in collusion with others – GOB, owners, private sector etc.- self-censoring in their own self-interest.
In discussing what constituted censoring, most responded that it had to do with holding back information that might affect the powerful. Whoever is holding back that information is a party to the censoring of media, many consumer felt.
In case of media workers, the political activists held sway. The Government is considered the prime and in some cases, the only censor. Depending on the political party such workers follow, the interpretation is made regarding its objective, function and current state. Thus the pro-Government activists think that some censorship does exist and it’s positive as it protects public interest. Meanwhile the anti-Government activists think it’s the Government that is all in all in censoring and the rest are minor censors.
In many/most cases, media freedom is interpreted along political lines only and many media workers see their role as an auxiliary political force. They are there to play their role in “progressing the struggle for political democracy”. Their opponents see their own role as countering the efforts of anti-government/ state/people’s forces. Thus media becomes a proxy space for political battles. The consumer is not perceived as a factor here but the audience becomes various political powers, sectors and quarters to whom their loyalty belongs.
While media workers admitted that the owners’ interest was prime and they could not act beyond it nor write if not approved, they didn’t see it as censorship but “house policy”. Thus the concept of internal censorship is weak and taken for granted by many that it will be there. They think, Censor is external- Government - not internal- owners - which most saw as a natural fact of life.
They were ready to give much more space to this as it was linked to livelihood. That by accepting house policies through exercise of self-censorship they were a party to the objectives of the owner hence internal censorship was not stated by any. The focus was on the official censor.
The notion of external censor dominates while that of the internal censor doesn’t. That self-censoring was automatic when it came to conflict with owners interest was described as; house policy” while Government directives as “censorship.”
A comprehensive framing of censorship in media requires more attention and work.
(This article was first published in Dhaka Courier)
The man, the mittens, the pose and the context itemized the most sensational US inauguration day hit content ‘grumpy Bernie Sanders’ memes for the internet world. Searching by #berniememes will provide you with some good laughs if you haven’t already followed the viral trend.
After the chaotic turn of events at Capitol Hill on January 6, finally the world refocused on the inauguration ceremony of US President Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris on 20th January.
But no one could’ve imagined the post- inauguration highlight of the internet world would be neither the president’s speech nor the significant ceremonial moments, but rather a single senator’s photo and a pair of mittens!
The photo of former Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont huddled in a chair with pose and poise, his two hands crossed in woolly mittens, and his expression cagey with a surgical mask, was viral for almost the entire week following the event, surfing through every nook and corner of the internet world.
How and why this image invited attention of this scale? No one knows exactly.
Maybe Bernie’s homely feeling mittens in an effort to keep himself warm resonated with everyone around the world from US to Argentina, and Iran to India. Also a political figure’s secluded yet endearing minimalist image in a prime political setting surely spiked the comic relief the world was eager to grasp, after a year of the pandemic and the shocking Capitol Hill riot.
Discover Bernie Sanders cropped into most bizarre backdrops
The #berniememes wave sparked a hilarious challenge of putting him cropped with his chair in the most bizarre places yet fitting perfectly.
Self-acclaimed social democrat Sanders is much-loved among the youngsters for espousing policies like minimum wage raise, healthcare for all and pointing at prevailing economic divide.
Most of this oldest presidential contender’s fans are aged under 30, so the meme wave was inevitable positioning him in every other famous sitcom, series or film.
Bernie in his mittens became pertinent in any place from Forrest Gump’s chocolate box scene, to chilling in Star Wars action scenes, to the Game of Thrones’ Brandon Stark’s chair!
One may find Bernie Sander these days even in historical photographs or paintings like Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ beside Jesus and his apostles or his mittened hand in the climatic fresco of Michelangelo’s famous painting in the Sistine Chapel .
Bangladeshi netizens also got hit by the Bernie meme storm and we saw him sitting on a foot-over bridge in Mirpur or with a bunch of HSC examinee without a care in the world. The #berniememe wave swung the Bollywood world too!
Look for famous ‘kuch kuch hota hay’ scene where Sharhrukh held on to the two actresses at the same time and Bernie sitting on the bench depicting a regular elderly resting in the park with the caption ‘Bernie was there’.
Bernie Sanders’s reaction
Memes involving Sanders were never out of fashion in the political meme arena but this one created a global fan base of its own over the night! And how would the prominent politician react?
In the ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ NBC show Bernie admitted to being very aware and amused by his mitten memes with a genuine chuckle.
He also introduced the lady who handmade the famous brown mittens in the photo as a school teacher from Essex Junction in Vermont. The lady already got overwhelmed with the request for weaving more mittens but she refused saying,’ those mittens were a gesture of admiration to the Democrat senator and they are not for sale.’
Sanders’ team promptly took the chance of meme mania and started a charity service selling his meme printed T-shirts online.
Sanders told CNN on Sunday that his meme printed sweatshirts and T-shirts will be produced in Vermont and sold around US with all the proceeds going to a charity feeding low-income senior citizens.
Former presidential contender is expecting a couple of million dollars to be raised from the sales.
As Sanders is extremely popular among the youth the charity should definitely be a successful one.
A reflection of American political culture
Political satire has been an integral part of American political culture for almost six decades now. Evening TV shows where talk show hosts and comedians dissect politics with wit and courage remarks is a very common scenario for American viewers.
A generation’s political opinion and consciousness today in US is shaped and influenced by political comedians like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel, John Stewart, Bill Maher and more.
They fashioned joke and satire as the perfect enzyme for digesting any and every political issue for the American audience. Anyone who gets the joke in America gets politics. And who doesn’t get the joke right?
In this regard Bernie memes doesn’t refer to any deep issue. Even its satirical calibre is quite a no- brainer.
Yet a prominent and powerful senator like Bernie Sanders’s reaction towards turning into a meme and him appreciating the sarcasm full-fledged refers to the decades-old political culture of tolerance and freedom of expression once again.
Sitting in this part of the world where the long nurtured culture of political caricature and cartoons are vanishing from the print mediums this sort of appreciation seems quiet unreal.
The question is we can make Bangladeshi versions of #berniememes as much as we like, but can we cultivate the same political culture in our country?