March 07, 2008

Tasneem Khalil’s Torture: A Pop-Psychological Analysis of the Intelligence Agencies

“কাদতে আসিনি, ফাসির দাবী নিয়ে এসেছি” – মাহবুব-উল-আলম

Apologies firstly for being MIA and secondly for playing a pop psychologist hack like Dr. Phil. But the recent HRW report really is too distressing to let pass by without some observations. First and foremost though, I lend my voice to those who find torture abhorrent on principle and absolutely useless on practical grounds. My deepest sympathies lie with Mr. Khalil and his family, for it is with our tax- money and the silent consent of our informed but selfish middle classes, that they had to suffer.

This has got to stop.

Beyond that, I’d like to try and glean something about the psyche of the intelligence agencies from the very graphic details that have come out. A strong focus throughout the interrogation seemed to be on Mr. Khalil’s foreign and diplomatic contacts, casting those in a negative light. I find this line of thinking rather intriguing, especially when coming from members of “one of the foremost contributors to UN peacekeeping missions”, and would like to pursue this further.

The following is neither scientific nor comprehensive and is based on my limited observations of human behaviour. What exactly is going through the unconscious minds of these people when they act like this? Why is it halal for the military to have foreign contacts, and not civilians?

These are the questions I’d like to answer.

I assume that a section of Bangladeshis look unconsciously upon the foreign community as parents, “the hand that feeds them” financially and ideologically. Given this assumption, intelligence officials in particular and the military in general find themselves unconsciously acting out two roles: 1) the jealous, older sibling to the civilians’ younger sibling; 2) the rebellious child who tries but fails to escape the bonds/bounds set up by their tyrannical and exploitative “parents”, the donors and UN big five. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive and indeed feed off each other.

Role 1 means that these intelligence officials secretly resent civilians such as journalists, NGO-workers, local embassy/ UN staff, college students, doctors, scientists, artists etc. for their foreign connections, especially those with foreign governments. Since all “foreigners” are essentially the same to these people, any connection with “foreigners” is seen as trampling on the territory of the big brother. “A refusal to share the royal teat”, as someone says in “The Good Shepherd”, is an apt description (I apologise for the crudeness). After all, the more “love” (read: money) that these parents expend on their younger siblings, the less there is for the big brother.

Role 2 is of even greater interest. Here we focus on why - when the GOB and the armed forces are supposedly on a neutral, “hostile-to-none” foreign policy - are they so bloody paranoid about their citizens interacting with foreigners? Could it be that their own hands are tied thanks to the large amount of “donor aid” (Europe), lucrative peace-keeping missions (America) and the cheap weapons (China) that are sent their way? Could it be that they would like nothing better than to secure the sovereignty of their country and its independence, but are too utterly addicted to the rewards of not doing so, and unconsciously they know it?

If we follow this line of thinking, there are some interesting results. For then, civvies like Mr. Khalil become not a rival, but their own guilt-ridden consciences. Mr. Khalil did not just criticize the armed forces in his blog. As far as I recall, he has also spoken out against the ill-effect of the global capitalist system and the influx of “donor aid” to create a comprador, spineless “civil society”. He has done by the pen what these men have been too impotent (I use the word deliberately) to do with their guns: break free of the tyrannical parental units. When they torture conscientious people like Tasneem Khalil, they unconsciously torture their past selves: the now-unrecognizable dreamers they were when they entered the service. They dreamt of standing up to their tyrannical parent in their own way. They found out that not only does the parent ensure their existence, but that others are doing a far better job of breaking free than they are. They can’t fight the parent. So they fight those who have successfully usurped their dreams and are living it.

With some amusement, I read a New Age report a few days back that the ACC (led by an ex-army man) has promised to look into corruption within the military. And who did they make this “promise” to? Not to civvies like ourselves, no! Or heaven forbid, to our elected representatives, their political masters! But to a visiting Danish parliamentary delegation. I repeat, a Danish parliamentary delegation. Apparently they refused to comment on it afterwards to our media.

Read that last paragraph again and tell me that there’s nothing rotten with that picture.
That is the sad tale of dependence and misdirected rebellion I read between the lines of their “interrogation”: the miserable antics of a bunch of impotent, insecure frat-boys playing out their unconscious desires to break free of the very same parental unit that sustains them and their jealousy, resulting in torture, of someone who has broken free of the system, thus fulfilling and usurping their aspirations!

Pathetic to see a bunch of boys trying to be real men? You bet.


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