How can we write in the aftermath of a tragedy?
One day and two years ago, I was staring at a white blank page and wondering what exactly I could say about the Holey Aritsan attack that was anything other than sympathy, pity, maybe fear or disgust, perhaps flavoured with some disingenuous condemnation of what had taken place.
What can one produce on the coattails of such a tragedy, any tragedy, that would not be hollow words which make a joke of an attempt at closure, or understanding, towards finding some sort of meaning in the aftermath of such an attack?
And, to what extent, was what I was about to write merely capitalizing on a tragedy that, churning out a piece with an opinion like everyone else in the country (and perhaps the world), hoping to say something, anything, that was pertinent to the incident?
At the time, only a day had passed; all of us knew so little. We could barely believe that a hostage situation had taken place in Bangladesh, a situation which manifests in the news, or on television, and definitely in other parts of the world.
We came to learn that this was a product of Islamic extremism, a brand of terrorism that, unbeknownst to us, had been brewing in the country for years. Sure, we’ve had blogger killings and hackings, but this was different: This was a brand of terrorism we had, similarly, reserved for Western countries with Western agendas who, some of us would sometimes unjustly argue, had brought it upon themselves through their ignorant foreign policies.
This struggle to encapsulate what had happened at Holey, and to offer a perspective that was not completely immaterial in the face of such blatant violence, was new. But writing about tragedy was never new before; we’d done it every day.
We’ve written on terrorist attacks all over the world, from London to Paris to Toronto to New York. We’ve written of Bngladeshi people dying, as launches capsize and planes crash in Nepal and extra-judicial killings take the lives of criminals (unproven, untried).
But it had always been so straightforward: A wrong has occurred. This is how we correct it.
Everyone knows the answers to the problems of the world; it is a different matter that we seldom get to implement it. But what was the solution to Holey? In fact, what exactly had been the problem?
And why -- at least this was the case for me -- was it so difficult to respond to (with words, or otherwise)?
The Holey Artisan terrorist attack asked questions of us we did not have answers to; in fact, these were questions we never had asked to us. We were grossly unprepared to face the demons in our midst. And it gave birth to a generation borne out of self-hatred, depression, anger, ignorance.
We did not know that our friends, sons, brothers, daughters, sisters were being recruited for a purpose that they deemed higher than the one we associate with our own nation. That they had become products of far-reaching global politics, while religion had been used to render their anger violent.
One of the reasons it was so difficult was, perhaps, that we realized (or so I hope) that there is no “we” in our country, if there is one in any country. The comfort we had felt in the bosom of our motherland had been an illusion -- there are entire communities within a single country (even one as small as our country of Bangladesh) which disagree with your socio-political viewpoints to such an extent that they deem you (and everything you stand for) worthy of absolute and utter annihilation.
It takes a lot to reach such a breaking point. It takes decades of neglect and denial. It takes the world to work together, incessantly and unknowingly, to create people willing to be monsters, or for monsters to let themselves out, however you may wish to see it.
We, who write for a certain kind of people on a certain platform, were a cut above the rest. Not because we were better than them, but because of our socio-economic backgrounds which had imbued in us an education which was completely at odds with the reality of the world.
We did not understand that, given the right kind of circumstances, and the wrong kind of influences, anyone is really capable of anything.
We spoke of bubbles, of how we had been trapped inside it for too long. How could we then respond, how could we come up with a solution, knowing that those we were writing and speaking for (and the language that we had to write and speak with), were not who needed to hear what we had to say.
We were writing into a bubble, into a vacuum. And two years and a day later, as I write, it is pretty much the same. All the problems within our country are separated by a single divide: Those who provide solutions, and those who see those solutions as problems (and vice versa).
How can we write in the aftermath of a tragedy, for a people who don’t know who they are, and a people who have yet to decide what a tragedy entails?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.