On 13 November 2010, the opposition leader Khaleda Zia accused the government of ‘forcefully and disgracefully evicting her’ from her cantonment residence. Ironically the same day, some Awami League leaders thanked her for ‘upholding the rule of law’ by vacating the house ‘willingly’.
In the press briefing, the lamenting opposition leader said, “I feel harassed, humiliated and ashamed of the way I was thrown out of my home”. But the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the armed forces dismissed her claim as ‘false and fabricated’. They even accused the opposition leader of hurling abuses at army personnel. The accusations, counter-accusations went on and some pro-BNP ex-military officials criticised the ISPR for acting political.
In October, a train ran over and killed a number of participants attending a BNP rally that spilled onto the nearby railway tracks. The leader of the opposition said that the incident was a deliberate attempt by the government to foil her rally. The prime minister refuted by accusing the opposition for deliberately resorting to ‘politics of corpse’. Both accusations were made even before any investigation was carried out.
In September, some senior government officials of Pabna district were maliciously assaulted. In a press conference, the weeping officials accused the supporters of the local AL lawmaker for the attack. But without any proper investigation, the state minister for home claimed that ‘the militants and anti-liberation forces backed the attack and they did not belong to the Awami League’.
When political leaders or institutions offer conflicting versions of the fact, it only means that at least one side is lying.
To quote Thomas Jefferson — “difference of opinion leads to enquiry, and enquiry to truth”. But our political system doesn’t enquire the truth. It appoints committees that never publish any report, or it runs investigations that offer hilarious findings. Think of the fairytales they came up with regard to 21 August grenade attack, existence of ‘media created’ Bangla Bhai, killing of SAMS Kibria and Ahsanullah Master, or before that — bomb attacks at Ramna or Udichi concert.
The big lie
Big lie, as the name suggests, is a lying technique that uses a ‘big enough’ lie that is hard to check, and thus disbelieve. Adolf Hitler may not have invented the technique, but he described it very aptly in the Mein Kampf. On general citizens’ tendency to believe, he wrote—
“in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
In our everyday political discourse we face these big lies where either the lie itself is big enough, or the person or institution lying is big enough to confuse us. When the leader of the opposition or the head of the government speaks, we tend to believe them. It’s hard for us to realise that a person of such authority, integrity and position can actually lie to the people.
It’s for the same reason, when the government makes disrespectful claims about the opposition leader’s residence; or when the opposition leader claims her birthday to be celebrated on 15th August — we get divided and keep faith in the contradictory claims according to our political preferences, believing that the other side must be lying.
Fool me twice
The big-lie hypothesis fails to understand that not everyone gets fooled by the same lie or liar over and over. People do learn from their mistakes. As the old saying goes — ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’. If we are fooled again and again by the same lie, then shame on us.
But what happens when the lie gets exposed or people stop getting fooled? Hitler says, even when the facts are exposed, ‘they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation’.
But there is more to it.
When a national institution such as the government machinery or a political party lies, it puts its entire strength to protect that very lie in order to protect its credibility. They cannot set an example by saying that the head of the institution lied. If they do so, people will cease to have faith in them. So protecting the initial lie becomes ever more important. It creates a vicious cycle where series of lies are then implanted to protect the first lie. Anyone daring to come up with the truth then becomes the target of the institution and is targeted mercilessly.
If security agencies or armed forces get involved in these vicious cycles, they can ruthlessly be used to gag the truth and to protect the lie. Lest we forget how the investigators tried to hide their incompetence or politically motivated wrongdoings in the ruthless George Miah case.
Every time our leaders lie, they remind me of the movie ‘Liar Liar’ about Fletcher Reed, the liar lawyer. In his professional life, he lies to win court cases. In personal life, he makes false promises to family members. He even misses his son’s birthday party while cheating on his wife. In a desperate attempt to stop his father from lying, the son makes a wish while blowing out the candles of the birthday cake. He wishes that for one whole day, his dad couldn’t tell a lie.
The wish comes true. Fletcher can’t tell a lie no matter how hard he tries. He can’t even hold the truth, no matter how bitter the truth is. That day, Fletcher’s world turns upside down.
But life is not a movie. If it was, we could all wish that at least for a day, our leaders would only be able to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We could wish that their nose grows every time they lie, like Pinocchio or its Bangla version ‘kather manush Vondul’.
If that wish came true, what a wonderful day it would have been!
Lie u ten ant
Mnemonic method is an amusing way of learning spellings that are hard to remember. It uses witty phrase to remember spelling of a particular word. Long ago, this is how a conversation went with a wise man that helped me memorise the word ‘Lieutenant’. He said —
: Lie is like sinful ten ants. Every time you hear a lie, you should voice ‘Lie, you ten ant’.
: Why is that? I asked.
: Because, every time you get doomed for lying, an ‘army of ants’ takes the chance to terrorise you.
During the political doldrums, that line comes to me with a different meaning.
Syeed Ahamed is an Australia-based public policy analyst by training and a member of Drishtipat Writers’ Collective (www.drishtipat.org/dpwriters). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org