Privilege comes in many forms and shapes.
One such peculiar form is how the dead is treated. The names of the victims of the Holey Artisan incident, and those of the terrorists who perpetrated it, are now etched into our collective memory. The fallen have been honoured and paid homage to by relatives, friends, locals. Their deaths united us, primarily because we felt threatened and under attack.
When I say “we,” and when newspapers pay tribute to Holey Artisan victims, elaborately, we fail to understand one simple fact of life. Probably some of us do, but most don’t. This “we” is a negligible percentage in the nearly 164 million souls in the country.
We are, by definition, the minority -- and the only reason Holey Artisan tragedy shook us to the core and changed our lives so drastically is because evil had penetrated the walls and security of privilege then.
It was a proper terrorist attack, the first of its kind on our soil. People died needlessly, and, although the bloodshed has been cleansed away from our minds, the stain it has left on our collective consciousness is indelible.
Ideally, there should never be any bloodshed. But what happened one year and seven days ago is a prime example of the class divide in Bangladesh. It’s always during the aftermath of the terror when armchair analysts launch their oratory on social media, but fail to understand when matters concern their home soil.
A grave shame
Still confused? This is about how the families of the two Holey Artisan employees, who also met their tragic end that night, were refused entry to pay homage to their loved ones on July 1, 2017. It was only after protests erupted from the media that they were allowed to stand in par with the others in the society.
It is also about how the pizza chef (aged 40) who died in the attack was mistaken for one of the terrorists and so law enforcement agencies, prematurely, showed a picture of his corpse lying beside another, shown to the world as a terrorist -- at least in death.
It is about how the cook’s assistant (age 18) was taken into police custody after surviving the July 1 terrorist attack, only to die a few days later in their custody.
Bangladesh is not about you and me, in fact even Dhaka city is not about you and me
It is about how the police have failed to complete investigation to find out if the Holey Artisan employees were in fact involved in the terrorism or not.
They were Saiful Islam Choukider and Zakir Hossain Shaon.
More than anything else, the Holey Artisan incident broke down barriers of falsehood: A) Our security has indeed been compromised by IS, b) the class divide in our society is too vast to be contained in the bubbles we live in.
The song remains the same
It has been one year and seven days, and things have not changed much. Now debates and dialogue centre around secularism vs religion, liberal vs conservative, us vs them -- the divide is more pronounced now, the anger more fierce, and solidarity more ambiguous.
They wanted attention, they wanted to leave a mark on our soil, hit us where it hurts so that we succumb to fear and kowtow to terrorism. Fortunately, that didn’t go according to their plan. We did not succumb to fear, but we did give in to our differences.
For this atrocity to teach us anything, we need to look beyond our circles, our cliques.
Contrary to popular belief, our root problems do not come down to extremism vs progressivism. Too many people live outside this narrative, too many people work hard, strive for a better future, essentially run this country -- and yet do not belong to Hefazat, “intellectuals,” or the Awami League.
You and I do not represent Bangladesh, because you and I make up a negligible percentage of the population. Bangladesh is not about you and me, in fact even Dhaka city is not about you and me.
And, yet, I am enabled to take up space and write what I want here, another sort of privilege, I suppose. We are too cocooned in our nests and comfort zones, cushioned by privilege. So let it be that privilege and our memory of what happened after the Holey Artisan attack which teach us that we can no longer live in bubbles and cherish narrow-mainstreamed-narratives, because we live in dangerous times.
And bubbles cannot keep us safe.
Nusmila Lohani is an Editorial Assistant at Dhaka Tribune.