Year-ends begin with reminiscence: What happened, who died, what did we lose, did we gain anything? Are we on a downward spiral or are we escalating, reaching these so-called new heights in the guise of economic boom, SDGs, MDGs? What even are these acronyms that the layman can barely understand?
2016, to say the least, has been a bad year. If you had to represent the year in a single photo, it would bear the flag of ISIS. Locally and internationally, the Islamic State has wreaked havoc, claimed responsibility for things that weren’t even their own, and recruited, without meaning to, sexually frustrated, mentally unhealthy youths who had no other way of taking power.
But, more symbolically, this has been the year the bubbles burst. This is the year that Dhaka’s upper-middle class realised that they, too, had, sleeping amongst them, the minds of militants, that terrorism and violence were not exclusive to the “uneducated” working-class masses.
And across the Atlantic, the rise and triumph of Donald Trump burst the bubble the media had created for the left. It showed how little influence the media had had in the campaign, and that there was a vast multitude amongst the American population who had had enough of the narrative which painted them as evil, uncouth, non-human, illiterate hicks.
In a way, if you choose to see it, there’s a beauty in seeing a corporation-backed behemoth fall to the collective working class masses, and in Donald Trump’s underdog story, even if you’re not a big fan of the ideology.
Year-ends end with hope: It has a lovely way of giving you the illusion that the world will, suddenly and without reason, decide to wipe its slate clean and give you a new start, as if these numbers dividing up our lives into years, our years into months, days, hours, minutes, seconds, were not artificial and arbitrary.
But that’s okay. Without hope, especially after the year that we’ve had, what else do we have? Especially after Holey Artisan, and the rise of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh, a characteristic as of yet unseen as being part of Bangladesh’s identity, a certain group has doubted the very nature of its being.
If our friends and families can be terrorists, what does that say about me?
What does it mean that that we couldn’t identify this brewing storm?
2016 has taught us to not become too comfortable in the silver-spooned, white-walled domains that we occupy. It has taught us that there is a great divide and that we must, at least, make some attempt at bridging the gap that has allowed for such viewpoints to remain silent to our ears
How does it affect the way we live?
What does it say about the very fact that lifestyle does not equate to certain kinds of behaviour?
At least, that is how we see it, from the socio-political space we currently inhabit. And with the continuing killings of minorities, from Hindu priests to Buddhist monks, to the torching down of their houses, to the treatment of the Santals at the very hands of the police, albeit by a different socio-political space, Bangladesh has never before faced a more potent existential crisis.
In the end, this is what 2016 has come down to: What does it mean to be Bangladeshi? Is it us, with our support for democracy and free speech and equal rights? Or is it them, with their Islamic identity, and their constant iteration that Bangladesh equals Bangla-speaking Muslims?
What, then, happens to the minorities? Have we become, as we never were perhaps, hostile to the very notion of what can nowadays only be deemed to be “outsiders,” because they have continued to desist from the mainstream narrative?
If 2016 has one good thing to offer, it has to be the very fact that we have, at least, questioned ourselves.
We have questioned our conviction, we have blurred the lines between right and wrong, and have doubted the perspective with which we have for so long, with certainty, seen the world.
2016 has taught us to not become too comfortable in the silver-spooned, white-walled domains that we ocupy.
It has taught us that there is a great divide and that we must, at least, make some attempt at bridging the gap that has allowed for such viewpoints to remain silent to our ears.
It has taught us that, no matter what, silencing viewpoints, no matter how different and regressive, will lead to far worse outcomes than those very opinions being aired.
2016, if anything, has taught us to listen. Or at least, it should have.
This is where hope comes in.
I hope that we don’t make the same mistakes all over again. I hope that we learn to doubt ourselves.
And I hope, above all, that we empathise with those we call our enemies, no matter what.
SN Rasul is a Sub-Editor at Dhaka Tribune.