After the Holey Artisan attack, a wide range of emotions sprang up on social media and popular news outlets. On the part of Bangladeshis, this mostly involved statements about how this isn’t Bangladesh, how this violence doesn’t represent this country, and that this is simply a foreign demonic ideology invading our serene and gentle culture.
Conspiracy theorists emerged out of their cocoons as fast as they could and we were so eager to believe them -- anything seemed better than ignorance. We were all moved. Some of us screamed in angst, others were apologetic.
Then there were those who just couldn’t understand how “sweet and sexy” Nibras became a “cold-blooded killing machine” (make note that I’m personally against characterisation of that sort).
I’m sorry but I beg to differ. Bangladesh in its current path is quite like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, or Libya before the “doom” arrived in those parts of the continent. Those countries had not seen a single fair election in the years preceding terrorism. They didn’t have a tolerant political space, no scope for a multi-party electoral system, and the media was suppressed and abused by those in establishment. That is, the news outlets which weren’t already banned/destroyed.
Yet, we are never going to admit that it’s partly a governance issue now, will we? Because it’s just so much easier to lament the loss of privileged middle class innocence and talk about terrorists hiding in plain sight, plotting to corrupt our hearts with their poisonous words.
It’s not like the political parties with their takfiri ideologies that consider all other parties to be traitors/Islamophobic/bourgeois are in any way to blame.
It’s not like our intellectuals politicised themselves to a point that they no longer have any idea about how the mass people feel. And it’s not like we have a religious institution that can promote a healthy counter-narrative to the jihadi prospectus. Because we don’t.
Because we have already decided that we hate the madrasas. We hate their middle-aged, constipated conservatism. They are backward mullahs who are outcasts in our society.
At best, they can teach us the Qur’an (without meaning), lead our janaza prayers, and commit Quran khotoms for us in times of crisis. Oh, and sometimes we use them in marriages and khotnas too.
But in any other case, their point of view is outdated. They are not worthy of our middle class attention. They are minds waiting to be radicalised. They are not liberal or modern like our upper middle class kids.
You know who else aren’t like our upper middle class kids? Our politicians. Their kids may be upper-middle class, but they are decidedly not. They still believe in the age-old system of hooliganism and muscle power. Not that they ever let it contaminate their kids. Because otherwise, it just wouldn’t be hypocritical now, would it? And are politicians ever known for not being hypocritical? No.
The kids of our journalists and media figures are also middle class. That’s why there’s so much sympathy pouring for these middle class murderers in our newspapers and TV channels. Yesterday’s “faceless terror” has become today’s “misunderstood brainwashed poor kid.”
The fact that the victims are also middle class allows us all to sleep at night. It allows us to feel “touched” by the incident. Because who the hell cared when it was non-middle class political gundas,mastans, and kamlas getting axed right? Where was our sea of tears when the poor were getting torched in their filthy local buses?
The middle class didn’t care then. It sat comfortably inside its safe and secure residence when Bangladesh was getting burned. It didn’t want to get its hands dirty, it didn’t want to get involved.
Now when the rust has gone the full circle, we wonder: How did we let this happen? Where did it all go wrong? How did this country, once a dimly-lit democracy at best, become a nation of intolerance and violence? No, I’m not lamenting our past. I don’t want to go back to Pakistan or spend years under military dictatorship.
I don’t want to see any military-backed caretaker government either. But I do want to progress. While our South Asian neighbours are all trying to get back to a steady culture of electoral politics, we are only a few steps from completely banning it.
What do we really expect out of a nation where elections have become jokes made at a national expense? Roses, kittens, chocolates? What happens when the middle class in a country becomes obscenely depoliticised, at the point of being desensitised to the country getting ruined? Butterflies, marshmallows, coconuts?
Back to religious institutions. With all our scorn for madrasas, why aren’t we investing to create an alternative? We blame the Salafis these days for everything but Saudia Arabia releases tons of research done on Islam every year. We may not agree with their viewpoints but their academic merit is pretty solid.
Even Western universities have renowned faculties of theology. What do we have? Where can the middle class learn Islam for its entirety and not just memorise a bunch of ayats from our holy book without ever realising their meaning? It would have helped if the reputed private universities had faculties of theology, but they don’t.
As I said in the beginning about terrorism, it is, in many ways, a crystal clear picture of Bangladesh. But it’s not the only true picture out there. Those who said our culture is serene and gentle were true to some extent too.
We still have the time to develop those other images. We still have the energy to create a counter-narrative against the hatred preached by terrorists. But to do that, we have to start with considering these terrorists as “very bad people,” not “faceless monsters.” Otherwise, it’s just easier for them to lurk in the shadows. We don’t want that now, do we?