The world, as it was in 2015

Syed Badrul AhsanSyed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 31 Dec 2015, 10:52 AM
Updated : 31 Dec 2015, 10:52 AM

There is always a dash of the emotional, a pinch of the nostalgic, which takes over your sensibilities with the end of a year. And a year is but time that loses itself in space in ways decreed by nature's laws. As you watch the sun set on a year, in the cold silence of winter, you realize the world has aged a little more. And so have you. The year recedes into the past as you wait for new times to chime in; but deep in your soul, you miss the excitement and the sunshine and the dark clouds across the horizons that will not come back again. The laughter and the tears and the long, loud silences all sink with the sun as the last day of the year passes into history. The year just ended is history. Mortality works in life as much as it takes a year in its grip. There is no escape.

Even so, we remember.

How has the year been here at home, in Bangladesh? Yes, we have had our squabbles and our quibbles. You only need to observe the politics that has been played out throughout the year. The ruling Awami League has been in triumphant mood, with its strong hold on the issues. The city corporation elections came to pass. The trials — and executions — of the 1971 war criminals were successfully gone through, with nary a thought to the often pointless arguments raised by the self-proclaimed voices of human rights preachers abroad. In the fading days of the year, a former prime minister raised fresh new controversy with her surprising, indeed shocking, reflections on the War of Liberation. Small wonder that millions around the country erupted in fury.

Our diplomacy has been firm, sometimes tough, with the government seeming not to be worried about the concerns expressed by the more powerful nations on matters specifically internal to this country. With other nations, India for instance, friendship was but a matter of renewal with Narendra Modi dropping in to pen the Land Boundary Agreement with Sheikh Hasina. With Pakistan, relations dipped to a new low over Islamabad's unwise comments on the war crimes trials. It all culminated in the withdrawal of a Pakistani diplomat from Dhaka on allegations of her complicity with terrorism in the country. And terrorism, if you recall, took the lives of a Japanese and an Italian in the country, to our collective embarrassment. Machete-wielding Islamist fanatics put an end to the lives of young bloggers and a publisher, with the police having little or no clue to the background of the killers.

In the year that has gone by, the government has, often for good reason, come in for sharp criticism over some of its more questionable decisions. It has remained impervious to protests about Rampal, about moves to restrict media freedom, about its antipathy to civil society. Having loudly proclaimed a digital Bangladesh all along, it then raised eyebrows with its crackdown on social media. Facebook, Viber, Twitter and what have you were pulled from people's lives on what were given out as reasons of national security. Not until weeks elapsed were they restored. The minister for home, indeed the government, then went on reassuring the country that there was no presence of the so-called Islamic State in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the bigots happily went on holding out threats to some of the more prominent of our citizens. And yet the minister for home told us things were good.

Thus Bangladesh — and much more in and about it — in the year that has been.

And the world out there?

Lives have been in a parlous state. Recall the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut and Nairobi. The sinister shadow of IS or ISIL or ISIS or Daesh was the dark theme which dominated headlines around the globe. At the hands of the medieval outfit, cities such as Raqqa in Syria were laid low, innocent foreigners were beheaded in ghoulish demonstrations of religious fanaticism. In the name of Islam, Islamic State undermined Islam. And so did Boko Haram and al-Shabab. Yazidi men were done to death and their women were subjected to rape. Girls in Nigeria were abducted by Boko Haram. In Afghanistan, the Taliban refused to die out and went on harassing government forces, sometimes seizing control of provinces.

These and similar provocations impelled governments into action. President Francois Hollande ordered relentless air strikes on IS positions in Syria. Russian leader Vladimir Putin, determined to do the twin tasks of aiding his friend Bashar Assad and wiping out IS, plunged into the battle even as the West, none too happy with his policies in Ukraine and the Crimea, cried foul. Britain's parliament voted, despite the reservations of Jeremy Corbyn, the new, socialist leader of the opposition Labour Party, to join France in the war on IS. Away in the United States, a lame duck presidency was already in its shuffling and limping stages. With Barack Obama readying himself for retirement in early 2017, a fresh new election circus was beginning to take shape in the country. Donald Trump — rich and arrogant and insensitive and ignorant — took the lead in all polls related to the Republican nomination for the presidency. His diatribes against Mexicans, Muslims, women and his fellow candidates did him little damage. Indeed, they had his ratings soar. The worry, as the year ended, was unmistakable: it could well be that in November 2016, Trump and the Democrats' Hillary Clinton will slug it out at the presidential election.

On a global scale, it was Germany's Angela Merkel who proved to be decisive in having Europe open its doors to the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and Libya. Reluctantly, other European states, though not all, followed suit. The debate on refugees, even as the year ended, raged on. But one debate that seemingly came to an end was climate change. Not every nation was happy with the way things turned out, but for all that unhappiness, COP21 went through a needed endorsement by the world's leaders in Paris. For Iran, the year was one of qualified triumph. It saw an unfriendly West eventually reaching a deal with it on its nuclear programme, albeit with conditions. Both China and India, with Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi at the helm, journeyed to the ends of the earth in their projections of themselves as the models of the future. It was a feat Brazil's Dilma Roussef was unable to emulate owing to the scandal-tainted government she presided over.

In 2015, things happened, for better or for worse, depending on what your perspectives happened to be. In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory at the elections. Unlike her triumph in 1990, this time the army did not step in to annul the results, though the constitution continued to ensure that Suu Kyi could not be the country's president. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame, having presided over the country since 1994, went for a referendum seeking an end to presidential term limits. He clearly was in little mood to walk away from power as were some of his fellow politicians in other countries. Eritrea's Issaias Afewerki is a notable instance. Congo's Joseph Kabila, clearly in the mood to hang on to power, was busy trying to play around with the constitutional provisions relating to the presidency. Nigeria's Muhammad Buhari remained busy trying to bring order into a terrorist-driven country; and Burkina Faso, after a long stretch of turmoil, elected a new president.

In distant Canada, the young Justin Trudeau led his party to electoral triumph, causing memories of his father Pierre Trudeau to come alive. Greece's Alexis Tsipras struggled mightily to keep his cash-strapped country in one piece and in the European community. Egypt's military ruler Abdel Fatah al Sisi was relentless in his silencing of all opposition, to a point where the nation's media quietly began to toe his regime's lines. The deposed elected president, Mohammad Morsi, remained in prison under a sentence of death. The Saudis opened the door, just a wee bit, when they decreed that women could vote at elections. Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan tried and failed to get enough seats at parliamentary elections to transform his office into a more powerful organ of government. That was not his only problem. He ran into serious trouble with Russia's Vladimir Putin when pro-Turkish rebels in Syria shot down a Russian jet, shooting one of the two pilots dead as he ejected from the aircraft on parachute. At the end of the year, India's Narendra Modi dramatically descended on Lahore to greet Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. The brief trip triggered, as was to be expected, screaming debate in both countries. President Obama took the bold step of mending relations with Cuba. Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu continued to be his old abrasive self.

In a year now lost in the mists of time, people died in plane crashes and once popular artistes succumbed to the ravages of ageing. APJ Abdul Kalam passed on and so did Denis Healey and Helmut Schmidt. The world of Indian journalism lost Vinod Mehta and Praful Bidwai. The writers E.L. Doctorow, Gunter Grass, Jackie Collins and Ruth Rendell became memories.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching image of the year was a young Middle Eastern child washed ashore in the tumult of thousands of refugees struggling to reach Europe in search of a new future. The child quickly became a definition of the times.

`Tis the year's midnight, as the 17th century English Metaphysical poet John Donne would say. For the world, tomorrow will be a new dawn, with its absolutes and its uncertainties, with its portraits of love, with its deep, dark dirges on the human condition.