By the time a Bangladeshi returns to his own country from foreign land, passes through immigration, and waits for the carousel to start churning out poorly handled luggage through at the conveyor belt, he has already had enough.
From the utterly despicable behaviour of immigration officers to the urine-like smell of the airport, there is a hint of unwelcome in the air.
A Bangladeshi thinks: “This is my own country. I own a Bangladeshi passport. I may have mistakenly put my arrival date in the departure box. I may not know where exactly the immigration officer put his seal. But there is no need for the staff, who are paid with tax money, to treat me as if I am unwanted scum who doesn’t belong in his or her own country.”
Welcome to Bangladesh
All the way to the southeast, countless Rohingya have swum across water-bodies and run through barbed wire and jumped over fences to arrive at Bangladesh’s doorstep. We have welcomed them with open arms, in sharp contrast to how Myanmar has treated them.
Minorities are good indicators of a country’s psychological well-being; it has become the litmus test for whether a country can, if at all, be objectively determined to be “good” or “bad.”
After all, it’s one of our criteria for when we, desperate for a better life, choose to immigrate.
Will the country accept me and my different cultures? Do I remain human even if my ethnicity, my religion, my skin colour, my language don’t adhere to the conventions of the majority of the people who inhabit this place?
By welcoming the Rohingya have we shown the world that we, too, are a people who accept and revel in the myriad differences which make us human? Have we established that, on top of the burgeoning economy and the improved living standards, we are a nation as “good” as any other in the world, like America, like Britain, like Canada, who believe, truly and surely, in the value of a single human life?
Go east and you hear stories of Hindus being driven away by sectarian violence. Last year, attacks in Nasirnagar destroyed hundreds of Hindu homes and a dozen or so Hindu temples. The call for hatred had come through the voices of citizens in mosques across the region.
Is this the kind of mentality that we have evolved away from? Could we use our treatment of the Rohingya as an example of the way our national consciousness has changed?
Are we to take in the Rohingya because, like us, they too follow the word of the Qur’an?
All one has to do is pick up a newspaper. While a famed fighter for democracy and Nobel Peace Prize laureate ignores and denies ethnic cleansing, we, of small land and big heart, have taken them in. This is done in spite of our strained resources and perennially burgeoning population.
How could one not be enamoured by the way we have proven ourselves to be “good”?
It’s a Muslim thing
One thing, however, is a scary possibility. If you were to have a conversation with a fellow citizen on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the rhetoric you would experience will follow something along these lines: “The Jews have been killing Muslims for years.”
Which is true. Jews have been killing Muslims in the region for years. They have been oppressed and persecuted, not unlike the Rohingya in Myanmar, forced to be driven out of their home, and rebel elements in their midst being treated as “terrorists” (whether or not they are terrorists remains a matter of contention; violence won’t solve anything).
But what is worrisome is that this brotherhood comes from a shared religion, not a shared humanity, which in many ways, feeds into the same mentality that the Myanmar government has followed in its continued persecution.
Are we to side with the Palestinians merely because they are Muslims? And are we to take in the Rohingya because, like us, they too follow the word of the Qur’an?
Or are we truly appreciating their value as people?
Now we hear stories of Rohingya Hindus, a minority within a minority, being killed and forced to convert to Islam. What, anymore, can we believe?
Much of the reasoning behind Bangladesh understanding what the Rohingya has gone through stems from the fact that we had been subjected to similar forms of torture in the not-so-distant past.
And if we require common grounds, be it shared histories or shared religions, to form any sort of kinship with another group of people, then is it not a devastating reinforcement of tribalism?
Because, if we can’t even receive our own citizens into our own country with even a hint of welcome in our voices, how can we expect to make the Hindus and Rohingyas feel welcomed?
If we can’t see the people underneath their societal clothing, what progress have we made, what mental gymnastics have we done, what have we learned that the other side has not?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.