This is an emergency

In this vat of ignorance and hate that we have created, extremism thrives 

Image: AFP

Bangladesh is under attack, from within.
It has been so for quite some time. The attack on Gulshan’s Holey Artisan Bakery is just the latest, but the depressing reality is that it probably won’t be the last.

Even this one wasn’t surprising for those who keep an eye on the news. Disgusting, yes. Shocking, horrifying, all that. But not really surprising. Violent extremism has been the one constant in Bangladeshi life in the past decades, and the passage of time has only increased its presence.

This latest one happens towards the end of the holy month of Ramadan, just a few days before Eid. Two senior police officers dead. 20 bodies recovered from the scene. The hostage standoff is apparently over, but the overall dread is not.

The assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar,” according to witnesses. They did not make demands the way hostage-takers normally do. There are guns and grenades in the hands of brainwashed murderers, and these murderers are not doing these things towards any kind of rational endgame — they have nothing to lose. They think, after the curtain falls, they’re going to heaven.

Social media erupted with fear and speculation after words of the initial blasts came through. CNN questioned if Bangladesh was the new hot spot for the Islamic State, predictably gaining hate from offended Bangladeshis. Our own government will most likely be vehemently denying any such thing.

And you’ll find government lackeys claiming this was all the anti-state work of domestic organisations who wish to “destabilise” the country and undermine all the good work the government has done so far. There will be vague philosophical statements about how atrocities like this can be committed during Ramadan, but very little effective action.  

Our government loves to look the other way, pretending there isn’t really much that is wrong. In the meantime, book stalls get shut down, and reading material gets confiscated (the enlightened folk cluck their tongues and say: “Oh well, something offensive must have been in those books”). Writers and editors get harassed, injured, or thrown in jail if they’re lucky. If they’re unlucky, well, you know.

Civilians don’t have any faith in the police force, as the vast majority of our uniformed friends seem more interested in harassing innocent citizens at the security checkpoints in the tri-state area than to catch actual criminals. By the way, how did the terrorists get through? That’s a lame question, I know. All you have to do is be in a car when attempting to enter Gulshan and you’re good. Only someone poor enough to be in a CNG is subject to checking, interrogation, and harassment around here.

But now, police officers are dead at the hand of extremists. Will some things change because of that? Only time will tell, but if history is any indication, only the lives of law-abiding people will get harder.

Minorities and atheists live in constant fear. Secular-minded people, and those who have friends of many creeds and lifestyles, live in constant fear. Sadly, that is exactly what the terrorists want.

Whenever something bad happens, the people in office blame the victims or pass the buck. One of our favourite pastimes is blaming “Western media” for the world’s perception of us, childishly unwilling to own up to the fact that we created this mess on our own.

Our legislators want to close down our minds and burn our libraries. Whenever they see a lifestyle they don’t fully understand, while hypocritically claiming everyone has the right to live however they want, they add the caveat: “Oh, but that sort of thing isn’t part of our culture.” In this vat of ignorance and hate, sympathy for IS and al-Qaeda don’t just survive, they thrive.

If only there was some measure of how much blood has been spilt because of our inaction. To anyone who had their eyes open these past couple of decades, it has been painfully, depressingly obvious that extremism has moved centre-stage; that the secular, tolerant, and free Bangladesh we imagined when differentiating ourselves from terrorist havens like Pakistan existed only in political speeches and bad poetry.

As Eid approaches, let’s take a moment to consider that we’ve reached the next level. If gunmen can storm in and take hostages in one of the swankiest restaurants in Dhaka, they can certainly do so at any restaurant you frequent. The way you feel about going out for dinner just won’t be the same anymore. Again, sadly, that’s exactly what the terrorists want — for you and me to live in fear. By attacking 20 people, they want to scare 20 million. They want power over us, they want to curb our freedoms.

I wish I could offer something more positive at this point — some sort of solace, some words of assurance that everything is going to be alright. The truth is, though, the cancer of extremism has spread far and deep. Bangladesh is terminally ill.

And there’s no doctor in the house. 

Abak Hussain is Op-Ed Editor, Dhaka Tribune.

Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune



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