The memories of Faraaz and Abinta should inspire us to work for the underprivileged
After 9/11, I was repeatedly asked if I thought there was a chance of Bangladesh becoming infiltrated by al-Qaeda. I told friends, both Bangladeshi and “bideshi,” that when I came to work full time in Bangladesh in 1985, at that time, my sense -- after living 15 years in India -- was that communal harmony in Bangladesh was better than in India! Now, in 2020, I believe this is still true, with the anti-Muslim attitude of the BJP political party.
Over the last few years, particularly since the Holey Artisan Bakery tragedy, the government has been quite successful in rooting out militant extremists who are against any form of secularism. However, completely removing these extremists is very difficult and, as far as I know, they continue to receive funding from abroad.
I remember travelling near Jamalpur in 2004, and noticed a building on a hill and said to my colleague: “I wonder what that is on the hill?” Back came the reply: “Oh sir, that is an al-Qaeda training camp.” I was speechless! Soon after that, I received threats via telephone, demanding money and telling me if I did not pay they would come and get me and it was clear that they knew exactly where I was living at that time in Banani, Dhaka.
The phone call said they were speaking on behalf of Bangla Bhai. Although the BNP government had, for some time, denied that Bangla Bhai existed, the government project with which I was working at the time organized an armed police guard for me, day and night.
On the day of the tragedy of the Holey Artisan Bakery, some Bangladeshi friends had invited me to dinner on that fateful day in 2016, but I declined as I had a fever. Some weeks later, my friends informed me that they had planned to take me to dinner there as “we knew you had never eaten at the Holy Artisan Bakery.”
I have often wondered what I would have attempted to say to the assassins. Would I have spoken in Bangla and/or Urdu and told them that Islam is a religion of peace, and would I have begged forgiveness for the foreigners who were drinking alcohol? So many thoughts have often passed through my mind over the years.
July 1 was the fourth anniversary of the tragic and brutal militant attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. 22 people, mostly foreigners, were savagely killed by the terrorists. That night in 2016, three friends who had been at the American International School-Dhaka and also at Emory University in Atlanta, the US, had arranged to meet at the restaurant.
In the course of deciding which people they would execute, the terrorists made it clear that Muslims would be set free. Faraaz, after reciting some verses from the Holy Qur’an as demanded by the terrorists, was told he could leave but he refused to leave his friends, Abinta Kabir and Indian citizen Tarishi Jain.
The words of one media commentary said: “When evil looked him in the eye, he looked right back, standing unshakeable in his fight for humanity.”
In his memory, Faraaz’s family has set up the Faraaz Hossain Foundation. Not only does it sponsor young persons to become young leaders in different fields, it has also, in cooperation with JAAGO Foundation, been involved in providing relief to families affected by Covid-19, including 20,000 Rohingya refugees.
In addition, with support from US-based Distressed Children and Infants International, the Faraaz Hossain Foundation has provided assistance to over 8,000 people through eye camps.
Faraaz Hossain’s grandfather, the late Mr Latifur Rahman, who had been responsible for founding many companies in Bangladesh and was chairman and CEO of Transcom Group, passed away on July 1 this year.
He had been very proud of his grandson, and to share the same date of passing is both emotional and significant.
In memory of Abinta Kabir, the Abinta Kabir Foundation was set up in 2017 to help underprivileged children get education, and the Abinta Kabir Foundation School was established to help materialize Abinta’s dream. Initially, 36 children enrolled, but currently, the number of students at the school at the city’s Madani Avenue of Baridhara stands at 90.
The school has a library of about 3,000 books and a computer lab. Students are charged a minimal fee, which is deposited in their names and will be refunded once they complete schooling.
“The supreme aim is to empower the students with necessary skills to break out the cycle of poverty for leading a life of dignity in future,” according to the website of the Abinta Kabir Foundation.
The foundation also has a program called “Little Arts” that arranges painting exhibitions for underprivileged children.
So far, it is understood that 28 schools have participated in the program.
The memory of these two outstanding young Bangladeshis should inspire the younger generation to work sincerely among underprivileged communities.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.