Just over a year ago, a tragic event unfolded that seemed to mark a turning point in Dhaka and in Bangladesh. I refer to the savage attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery that resulted in the death of 22 innocent victims from five countries who were simply enjoying one another’s company at one of Dhaka’s finest restaurants. That their lives should come to such an unthinkable end at such a gathering place shocked Bangladeshis and friends of Bangladesh alike.
We all suffered many losses that day. In addition to the horrific loss of life, we began to question whether we could all enjoy this diverse and exciting city without fear.
Bangladeshis witnessed a kind of terror not seen in their country before.
New fears and questions
As foreign visitors living in Bangladesh’s open, hospitable, and tolerant culture, we lost the innocence of a presumption that we were not a target of terrorists. That the young men who zealously conducted this carnage were products of good homes and superior educations made the event all the more senseless.
These privileged youth would likely have been assuming positions of leadership in their fields within 10 or 15 years had they not destroyed themselves along with their innocent victims.
As the July 1 anniversary approached, it is fair to say that Bangladeshis and the expatriate community had yet to fully come to terms with their loss and pain. The moving commemoration that took place on the site of the attack one year later reminded us that wounds had yet to heal and, more importantly, that the victims -- along with their families and friends -- were not forgotten.
It is the memories, hopes, and dreams of those lost that must be foremost in our thoughts and prayers as we continue to try to come to terms with the attack. I wish I could speak personally about each of the victims. They were business leaders, students, and aid workers, all in Dhaka because they wanted to be here; because they believed in Bangladesh.
Many of us did not know them personally, but we are united in our grief for the senseless loss of accomplishment and potential of each of the 22 women and men.
The hero among us
In response to a brutality meant to foment incapacitating fear, we are instead inspired by the heroism of one of the youngest to die that day -- Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain -- the Bangladeshi student who stayed with his friends and faced death rather than be released by the gunmen.
Such a selfless act challenges us to ask ourselves how we respond to everyday acts of violence, from bullying to domestic violence to abuse of power.
From this tragedy is growing a new dedication to traditional values all Bangladeshis hold dear -- peace, tolerance, and an appreciation of diversity
Creation rather than destruction
One example serves to illustrate how unimaginable loss can inspire action by what US President Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels.” It was my privilege recently to visit a school founded by the mother of Abinta Kabir, a Bangladeshi American and her mother’s only child who also died in the attack.
Her family has dedicated themselves to transforming the memory of Abinta into new schools for poor Bangladeshis -- choosing creation rather than destruction, education and opportunity rather than nihilism and chaos. What a beautiful and enduring gift in young Abinta’s memory, and to the girls and boys who will benefit from her vision and her family’s generosity.
The metaphor of the lotus is apt here. From mud grows a beautiful flower. So too from this tragedy is growing a new dedication to traditional values all Bangladeshis hold dear -- peace, tolerance, and an appreciation of diversity.
Our prayers are with the souls of those lost that night, and their families and friends as we reflect on their beautiful lives.
Marcia Bernicat is the US Ambassador to Bangladesh.