In Bangladesh, if there’s one thing that could embody 2017, it would be the Rohingya.
They have come in, beggars of mercy, not choosers of their own fate, and have asked for refuge. They have entered Bangladesh, not only with their bodies, but in spirit, injecting themselves into the way Bangladesh and Bangladeshis now think.
Each new development in the saga has resulted in the country watching with almost silent intensity: “How many more will come? When will this end?” we asked.
“Is our country prepared for this? Will Aung Sun Suu Kyi ever acknowledge what the Myanmar army has done? How could we be living in the 21st century and have atrocities such as this, based on ethnicity and religion, still be an aspect of existence? Do we let them in, for it is morally the right thing to do? Or do we think of our own people and protect them, against extremism, disease, economic depravity, for that is also perhaps the morally right thing to do?”
Children no more
In some ways, and not to make what is one of the most horrible humanitarian crises in the world all about “us,” I am glad that Bangladesh has had to deal with these questions. Up until now -- and this is indicative of Bangladesh’s rise in the global field -- Bangladesh has remained quietly looking from the outside in, as events around the world unfolded.
Wars, famine, mass migration, economic booms and implosions, collapses of regimes, rises and falls of dictators. These things played out on the field as we remained spectators, dealing with our own “little” problems which the world cared little for. We were the children in the corner, while the grown-ups talked the talk at the adult table.
This is not something that we can begrudge the world. We are new and young and we were (and still are) a chaotic amalgamation of the best and worst parts of humanity in some ways. I mean, one cannot speak of Bangladesh without having “resilience” attached to our character, and speak of how empathetic and friendly the people are, how willing to give in to the beckoning of a stranger.
But one cannot speak of Bangladesh without corruption and traffic jams either, the only two things which I believe are holding us back from greatness. We’ve always had potential, but that has been drained by the West or stomped by the black boot of governmental greed and negligence. We’ve always stood on the brink of greatness but ignorance and poor planning have brought us down.
For me, the day Bangladesh grew up was in April 2014, with the Rana Plaza collapse. Again, not to force a silver lining out of a terribly dark cloud, but children, they grow up not with age, but with trauma. It is through having gone through hell and come back, and the accumulation of all these experiences which shape a person (or a country), into what it is.
It wasn’t until the collapse happened that I, as a young man (am I a young man no more?), realised how dependent on our clothes the world truly was. And, though I realised this before, with the multiple interventions across the world, with their hypocrisy when it comes to their so-called moral superiority, how willingly the Western world will extort a nation, and choose to turn the other way, when it comes to making a profit.
Without trauma, without struggle, without overcoming, there is no growth, for there is no learning curve. And the Rohingya might be our greatest test in this regard
But, yes, without trauma, without struggle, without overcoming, there is no growth, for there is no learning curve. And the Rohingya might be our greatest test in this regard. For one, when we judge the Western world for their treatment of immigrants, we can do so without hypocrisy or, at least, with some first-hand experience (though we are not as wealthy, nor do we have enough space).
Secondly, this is a wound that is internal, that we, the Dhakaites, the privileged, the wealthy, might not feel until much later. We have not seen it manifested in our daily lives so, for the moment, it is easy to speak of inclusion and aid and generosity.
When we need to share our dinner table, then we shall know where we truly stand.
But, Bangladesh (and, by extension, I would include all Bangladeshis, here and abroad) has always had the ability to surprise.
Who knows what will happen in 2018? Will Myanmar ever take the Rohingya back, either this year or the next? Is there any point, if their people and their government and their military are inherently against the Rohingya’s existence in their own homeland, and see them as outsiders? Will UN’s watch achieve anything?
Or must we keep them, and make them our own? And is that something we can handle, or live with? Are the Bangladeshi people as generous as legend has it? And, finally, will we have free and fair elections? These are only some of the questions we must answer this year.
What new trauma, what new success await us? Only 2018 can tell.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.