Our values need to be made of sturdier material than straws or sticks
Social media has many uses -- some good, some mildly disturbing. But what we are seeing now in Bangladesh, most recently in Bhola and in many other places before that, is unmatched in its vileness, and reveals the existence of a mind-set in our country that most decent people would rather not think about.
But think about it we must, because we are seeing this ugly thing happen again and again.
This is not a one-off incident, it is a trend. And if we are to stop this trend, we need to recognize it for what it is, and take the swiftest and harshest action, or God help us all.
The original culprit was the instigator behind the Ramu incident in 2012. A rumour was spread that an offensive post was made on Facebook by a man named Uttam Barua.
This led to rampant destruction of the Buddhist communities in Ramu, Teknaf, and Ukhiya, with houses torched and temples looted.
A total of at least 19 monasteries and at least 41 households were attacked as a result of a completely cooked up accusation against an innocent man, whose only crime was to be a member of a minority.
But the kicker is that even though legal proceedings were underway with great fervour, with a charge sheet against 945 people and over 15,000 people accused in over 19 cases filed, the whole things seems to have fizzled out.
Seven years later, we are still waiting to see the perpetrators brought to book.
Obviously, militant elements within the country were taking note. They must have been delighted to have a shiny new tool like social media to wreak havoc with, and a large part of their boldness was a result of the failure of our government -- really, our ineffectual and incompetent judicial system -- to punish the guilty parties in a timely manner.
As with everything else, the criminals were getting away, and good people were suffering.
Ramu set the blueprint, and then the attacks kept coming.
In 2012, a mob set fire to over 30 households -- all of them belonging to Hindu families -- following rumours that a man named Titu Roy made a similarly offensive Facebook post.
Charge sheets were submitted, but not a single hearing has taken place yet.
Next up, in 2013, a man called Rajib Saha was framed, causing hundreds of people to attack not only his house, but 26 other homes in the predominantly Hindu village of Bonogram.
Two people were apprehended, but now they are out on bail. Again, no further progress on the dozens of other people who were involved in this disgusting attack.
Then there were attacks in Comilla is 2014, and in Brahmanbaria in 2016. For the Comilla incident, no verdict has been given so far, and as for Brahmanbaria, which saw beatings, arson, and vandalism on a large scale, 124 people were arrested, but all are now out on bail.
We need to see the reality clearly for what it is: Innocent people, always members of one of our non-Muslim communities, are being framed using social media, and this trumped up provocation is being used to rile up angry mobs, who then go on to unleash the worst kind of violence on entire communities. To be fair, not all who engage in this violence are angry; some are just opportunists who take pleasure in casual destruction.
For the last seven years, the government has been failing to take stern action against these loathsome elements in our nation, and the more time passes, the bolder these elements get.
This is supposed to be a secular nation, as enshrined in the constitution, but our minority communities have no sense of security, while protesters like the ones we saw after the Bhola incident think strength in numbers absolves them of any ethical responsibility towards other human beings.
Much like the many households that have been vandalized over the years by people claiming their religious sentiments have been hurt, the foundational principles of the country have been shaken.
It is time for the government to wake up and start defending our homeland, and the secular values we claim to have.
We need solid legal institutions, and competent law enforcement. Most of all, we need strong leadership that is able to stand up to the nightmarish chaos created by misguided, manipulated, angry mobs.
If not, they will huff and puff and blow our beloved house down.
Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.