How did it get to this point?
The horrific incidents of this Friday have wounded the entire nation and left us in mourning. While we struggle to come to terms with what happened, one of the most common questions being asked is, how did it come to this?
But truth be told, how did we not think this would happen? Acts of violence have been escalating recently. First they came for the secularists and atheists, then the religious minorities, then the LGBT activists, and now they’ve finally come for us. While the sheer level of violence at Holey has left us shocked and numbed, this attack also means our bubbles have burst.
But even before the recent spate of violence, and even before the rise of radical Islam across the world, our slate was not clean. The truth is, minorities have been persecuted in Bangladesh for a long time, and we turned a blind eye as long as it was the sort of terrorism that happened to others.
Why is it that only a handful of people talk about the persecution of the indigenous populations? How many of us remember the massacres at Kaukhali, Logang, Naniachar and many more?
What about recent incidents of communal violence, like Ramu? We all know the mass murder of the Hindu population carried out by Pakistan in 1971, but what about their continued persecution in modern day Bangladesh, and the burning and looting of their homes and temples across the country as recently as 2014?
Why have we forgotten the desecration of Ahmadiyya mosques, and how people actually campaigned to have them removed from Muslim graveyards? Will the Biharis who lost their family members in the arson attack in 2014 ever get justice? Will we ever speak of the Rohingya refugees languishing on our borders as anything more than just unfortunate outsiders?
Is it really a surprise that on the day the massacre at Holey took place, a Hindu priest in Jhenaidah and Buddhist monk in Bandarban were also brutally murdered?
Yes, we are a multi-cultural country and yes, co-existence and communal harmony is the way of life for people of many religions across the nation. But there is also a darker side to our beloved Bangladesh that we have continuously and persistently wiped out of our collective memory.
The doctoring of history books in Bangladesh is common knowledge to us all, so it is not surprising that we, the majority, have slowly but surely erased the stories where we are the oppressing majority. We let one act of violence after another fade from our memories, until something so terrible happened that it has scarred our collective memories and forced us to take notice. Every time we looked away when a person from a minority group was attacked, we took one step closer to July 1.
It would be simplistic to say that erasure and alteration of collective memory is the only state of events that have led to this day, but it is a crucial part of a much greater problem that is rotting the entire system, not just in Bangladesh, but across the world. The language of human rights has been replaced by the language of economic development, of financial emancipation, and rates of GDP growth.
The same system that exploits the weak, persecutes minorities, and ignores the disenfranchised has created a monster we no longer know how to fight
We live in a world where nations are destabilised to prop up the weapons industry, and leaders trade lives in exchange for oil. In our world, we close borders to refugees and push them on boats and let them drift out to die at sea.
We live in a world where political establishments spend millions on militarised security and weapons of warfare, while investments in social welfare and the pursuit of knowledge are watered down every day. We live in a world where we turn a blind eye to any number of atrocities, as long as it supports the neoliberal economic system that we accept, without question, to be the Atlas that supports our world.
And now, the same system that exploits the weak, persecutes minorities, and ignores the disenfranchised has created a monster we no longer know how to fight.
Even the projects of development mirror the system we have created — short-term quick-fix solutions that assume every individual is an economic unit that needs to be empowered, and white-washes the political and social issues that need to be addressed to reach the most vulnerable and oppressed.
Starting from our schools, we applaud the highest scores and the best performance, and ignore critical thinking and creativity. We constantly tell our children that they are destined for success — that they are ambitious, confident, and strong — we say that you, you and only you, are special and in all the noise the “we” gets lost. We forget to tell our children to be humble, to be kind, and to have open minds.
Mass media and consumer culture has replaced political participation and revolutions with maxed out credit cards and the latest smartphone technology. Our heroes are not humanitarian leaders, philosophers, or writers — but the individuals who lied the best at job interviews, who did whatever was necessary to beat their competition and won the race to the top.
The language of human rights and of the collective has been decimated by the free market, and this has created an ideological vacuum that has slowly been filled in by extremist beliefs, both religious, and of the national far-right.
The ideology of the individual has poisoned us, and our leaders have fooled us into gladly being the collateral damage in a dangerous game of chess they are playing to decide who gets the world. We, all of us, have created and are part of the system that is now starting to crumble from within. Why are we so surprised when we are faced with the chaos that follows?