I honestly don’t care how bad you feel, sitting across a 42-inch Bravia flat screen TV, turned to a news channel, and cursing at the state the country suddenly finds itself in. “What is happening to this country?” you ask to those around you, your friends, your family, your neighbours.
Some intellectual uncle comments on the police and Rapid Action Battalion’s incompetence; a self-claiming aficionado of Bangladehshi politics comes up with some pseudo-analysis about how this country is going to hell; a domestic worker, sitting on the floor, quips in her broken Bengali tinted with the local dialect of some long-forgotten district; a father, weary from a long day of fasting, wonders how the youth, who barely listen to a lifetime of their family’s teachings, can be brainwashed by a single destructive idea; a mother gently shakes her head, agreeing with her husband; a teenager looks down at his phone, shares a status on social media, vacuously warning everyone to be safe; an aunt calls to ask: “Were any of you guys in Gulshan today?”
I honestly don’t care if you blame Western influences for the growing East-West dissonance that is prevalent in the world today. I don’t care if you believe that America’s foreign policy regarding the Middle East – be it Israel-Palestine, the War on Terror, digging for oil, selling arms –was responsible for the insurgence of religious groups leading to theocratic governments.
I do not care if you think Western media was responsible for creating the dichotomy that bred the hate between people with different religions and skin tones. I don’t care if you look at these incidents on the screen and curse them for giving Islam a bad name, and interject with the oft-misleading “these aren’t proper Muslims”.
I don’t care about the misrepresentation of minorities nor the anglicisation of your children’s names, the Westernisation of their behaviour, the sexually charged environment of the upper middle class, the left-leaning next generation who have no respect for their heritage and tradition.
Causes and effects
I don’t care if your heart bleeds with sympathy for the victims and the eventual victims, and imagines the blood that needs to be scrubbed off of the floor of Holey Artisan Bakery. I don’t care how you pray tonight so that everything is alright in the end. I don’t care if “Allah’r rohom” is all you can offer at the end of a long-winding conversation discussing the causes and effects of such a situation.
I don’t care if you look at the pictures released on Twitter, with the blood all over the floor, the tables betraying a quiet dinner, and feel disgusted and hopeless. I don’t care if you think this is the culmination of the free reign of free speech.
I don’t care if you’re offended.
And I don’t care if you think I’m Muslim, Hindu, Christian, atheist, agnostic, Jewish, a liberal, libertarian, conservative, a left-leaning, self-hating, English-toting Bangladeshi, a pariah amongst your largely coalescing viewpoints, sent here to wreak havoc and controversy for havoc and controversy’s sake.
All that matters is that six (as of latest reports) gunmen walked into a restaurant, yelled a god’s name, and opened fire right in my city’s backyard. It matters little that the 20 hostages were mostly foreigners, not Bangladeshis.
It matters little that this was in an overpriced breakfast place almost exclusively for privileged expats, where I personally have never been (though many I know have, or went there recently, have celebrated their birthdays and anniversaries there, or were going there in the near future).
It matters that this is an unprecedented incident of violence, unlike anything we’ve seen in our country’s history. Every time you’ve heard something like this, it was always foreign, somewhere in one of those backwater Asian or Middle Eastern countries like Pakistan or Syria with pigheaded autocratic rulers and a propensity for extremist violence.
It was always somewhere else. What matters is that the country you once thought was bad, but not terrorist haven bad, has become just that. What matters is not the number of people dead, but the number of people who could’ve; not the number of people inside, but how many of us could’ve been one of those people.
What matters is that out of the 20 or so hostages which were held, one of them was a relative I wasn’t close to, but knew. He had studied medicine abroad, played the guitar, was a straight A student, and other such qualities we tend to list off in such situations. But that doesn’t matter.
What matters is that their lives were deemed worthy based on whether they could or couldn’t recite verses from the Qur’an.
What matters is that, by the time this article is published, we’ll be in a different time. But we will also be in a different country. The number of victims may have gone up, the number of officers dead, too. Whether ISIS or al-Qaeda was or wasn’t behind the attack may or may not have been established. That, too, doesn’t matter.
We have failed
What matters is that, years from now, when our country lays waste to whatever illusion of tolerance it once boasted, we will look back and see this night as the point where we began to fade.
This is the day we realise that we have failed to fight the good fight and succumbed to the forces of terror because of our apathy, our ignorance, our apologies, our silence, our inaction, our denial.
What matters is that this isn’t a problem anymore. This is the state of the nation we live in.
We will look back and mourn not just the 20 people who are dead, but our collective national identity. We will fast today and wonder why we were forsaken today by the respective entities we pray to. We will look in shock and wonder as the police hand in their report and be unable to connect the image we had, and what’s happening.
And we will hold our head in our hands and ask ourselves: Is this really how it all ends?
This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.