It might not look it, but sometimes, the world can be split into two.
You may, for example, go back in time, and look at how a line weaved itself between the royals and the peasants.
Or, in the 20th century, when capitalism fought against communism. Later, when 9/11 halved the world into terrorists (Muslims?) and citizens (non-Muslims?).
And now, you may look at the United States, and think of right-wing gun-toting, Bible-thumping, xenophobic, homophobic nut jobs, or left-wing free speech-curbing, safe space-holding, soy milk-drinking “sissies.”
And, closer to home, in 1971, between us, those of Bangla Desh and those who chose to oppress us, the evil West Pakistanis.
And, even closer, both in space and time, when those English medium-educated, upper middle-class boys shook up the entire nation in Holey Artisan, there were most of us, apparently, who believed in what Bangladesh truly stood for (democracy, secularism, etc?) and those who didn’t (extremism, violence, etc?).
And now, that Muhammad Zafar Iqbal has been stabbed, for being “an enemy of Islam,” are we to do the same? No, this is not what Bangladesh is about, don’t you know, these are those militant elements amongst us, pockets, who wish to take our values of freedom and peace away.
Is that how we see it?
A case against binaries
The “othering” of foreign elements and opinions and the fathering of bias-confirming viewpoints are not complicated. When dealing with ideologies which define the identities of nations and thereby mass quantities of people, broad brushstrokes are not desirable yet a necessary evil.
Who has time to look at each individual terrorist who wishes to stab you in the back because you have opposed their political party (which seeks Sharia Law perhaps) in public, and quite vehemently? Who has the patience to consider the unlimited number of factors which contribute to the making of terrorists?
It is nice and easy to consider that these rogue elements come out of an inherent ability to be someone the world collectively does not wish for or, at least, not in its narrative.
At the end of the day, it is this narrative that defines these binaries, between terrorists and civilians, between believers and heretics, between patriots and traitors, between us and them, you and me.
When dealing with ideologies which define the identities of nations and thereby mass quantities of people, broad brushstrokes are not desirable yet a necessary evil
And, also at the end of that rather sad day, the stabber, one presumes, is nothing more than another young blood individual, brainwashed in two (more and more binaries emerge out of the woodwork) ways: Actively, by those he respects, his friends, peers, family, elders and passively, by those he hates, and those who hate him back (us?).
When news broke of Muhammad Zafar Iqbal’s stabbing, were we fooled by the torch-lit vigil or the imagined echoes of consolation provided by ministers and those who read the Dhaka Tribune or The Daily Star? Have a look at the social media profiles of Bangla newspapers like Prothom Alo.
That which does not kill you
One commenter says (and I poorly translate): “The one who did the stabbing should be killed. Why didn’t the idiot insert the knife fully?”
Another: “If he isn’t dead, just to be sure choke him to death.”
And another: “I would’ve been happier with the news of him dying.”
And so on and so forth. This wasn’t different at each of America’s interventions, when Trump won, when the Indian right rose, and definitely not when the news of Holey broke. If one, for a moment, thinks that there isn’t a veritable rift between Bengalis, a binary that places one’s entire life in direct and absolute opposition to a silent and fluid body of people, then one has been blinded by colourful oratory and self-aggrandization.
Our narrative is merely strong because there is no one to disagree with us in our own language. Even if they do, they are outcasts.
But, we forget, that a democracy exists (in whatever incomplete and imperfect form) to ensure that we, those who get comfortable with a certain viewpoint -- one which claims something as simple as Muhammad Zafar Iqbal does not deserve to be killed -- might eventually be toppled.
And, we might find, that those in support of Zafar Iqbal are a minority and that we have been dwarfed by the children of a different Bengal, whose thoughts reverberate in the hands of a young man, his brain fuzzy with dogma, as he wields a blunt knife aimed at the head of a prominent intellectual.
Could it be that, when it comes to Bangladesh, we are the ones who are, in fact, on the wrong side of history?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.