Terror Will Not Define Us
Jul 6 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh) – “Everything will be alright in a few days again”, I said to my friend in a half hearted attempt to console her as I left her apartment. It was her answer which consumed me for the rest of the day. Motherly in nature and genuinely bereaved, she looked back at me and said “why should it be, why should we forget”.
We had all gathered together the night before for dinner to say goodbye to a friend who happened to be a social worker visiting from Europe. She had come to work for the Acid Survivors Foundation. We all got together to celebrate her time in Bangladesh, the work she’s done and the lives she impacted.
It was a little after dinner that the phones of my friends’ began to buzz with Emergency messages from their respective embassies urging caution. At that moment the intensity of the situation was not yet apparent and we carried on with our usual conversations.
But as news outlets began to cover the incident, the severity of the situation came to light. We were left in a situation that far exceeded our sensibilities. With our hosts insisting on us staying back due to concerns for our security, we decided to stay the night.
As the night progressed we stayed fixated on the TV screen. Curious as to how the situation was being handled we were hooked to every little detail. At times disdain was voiced regarding the sensationalizing of the news coverage; nonetheless, we all stayed glued to the television.
Amidst all the feeble laughter and small talk, the gravity of the situation slowly began to sink in. Here I was, on a Saturday night stuck in a house with 15 or so people, 8 of them being expats, watching the unraveling of a hostage situation where foreigners and Bangladeshis were victims.
Slowly, as time passed, the irony of the events taking place caught on. While we watched on TV, a group of extremists planning to kill all those who were seemingly different from us; I sat there observing instead, the threads which bind all of us together.
There was a raging concern for all those stuck inside the bakery; friends, family, acquaintances or even strangers, it didn’t matter. We all prayed together for their safety; a group of people differing in religion, language, country and ethnicity. Not once was the issue of religion raised. Nor did anyone blame religion for this catastrophe. A silent agreement resonated in the room about the evils of extremism.
What stood out most for me was how every now and then someone would run off and go explaining to their parents, at home or abroad, that they were alright. We were all adults but still children in the eyes of our parents. Children in the eyes of God. How much different could we possibly be?
Tired and strained we all decided to go to sleep after Sehri knowing little of what awaited us in the latter part of the day. As the news of the morning raid into the compound broke, we again were hooked on the television. There wasn’t much information of substance that was shared so it did little to appease the apprehension of what lay ahead. We watched as news varied between reports of the rescue of 12 to 14 people. There was no mention of the fate of others. Another glance around the room revealed the shift from a look of concern to one of desolation, till finally someone asked that the news be turned off. An ominous silence fell upon the room. We knew what had happened would have a lasting impact on the country, but maybe what preceded that was the concern about what to do next. Something as primal as, how do we go home?
I tried to make sense of the scurry of emotions which fluttered through my head. The initial sentiment was one of shame. I felt that I owed an apology. I felt that as a nation we would be burdened by this heinous act. But a little reflection revealed that that cannot be the case.
As a strong nationalist I believed that I along with everyone I have come in contact with embody the ethos of our country; which entails a sense of inclusion, acceptance of diversity and respect for religious freedom. There is a unanimous sense of empathy for all lives lost, civilians and defense forces. Overwhelming support for all those affected is being voiced out everywhere. It begs the question then, why should we as a nation let a group of a few extremists dictate the sentiments of the country?
It is no secret that extremism is a growing concern in the country, but we have at our disposal the strongest tool to battle it. Extremism is a mindset and the flames of it cannot be blown away with guns and tanks. It can only be contained and eradicated through educating people on religion and understanding of inclusion. It is time and again that we forget that Prophet Muhammamed (Pbuh) governed over the city of Medina with a diversely ethnic and religious population. It is the natural convulse in fear to what is different and a natural inclination to endear all that is similar.
It is our reaction to this incident that will define us as a nation. It would display the character of the country as a whole to the international community. Overcoming the natural instinct of anger, I realised that what we need now most is our pride in our nature of “Bengaliness”; the overly passionate, the extremely loving and excessively accommodating people. We stand together to show our empathy to the families of those who we lost, our love for them and promise to act on this monstrosity.
This act does not define us a nation. This incident does not display our character as a nation. It certainly does not reduce our capacity to love as a nation. We stand together in prayer for the lost ones and for our country. We shall overcome this menace with what they fear most, Love. #PrayForBangladesh.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh