Just like 9/11 and 7/7, 7/1 will be etched in our memories as a dark day forever. It has been a difficult time for everyone following round-the-clock development since the Islamist terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka on July 1. We all know at least someone who has lost their family or friends.
Two of the victims murdered by the terrorists were acquaintances of mine, including a police officer who was killed in the line of duty.
Another friend’s nephew was one of the fortunate hostages who were rescued unharmed by the security forces. We are left shell-shocked in the aftermath of this tragedy. We realise once again in this difficult time how small Dhaka’s social circle is and the need for us to stand by each other.
Close to home
The Holey siege was a full-blown terrorist attack targeting Bangladesh and hitting us close to home. Many of us have frequented this café and restaurant known for its exquisite ambience.
There was always something very tranquil about the place, but it will sadly never be the same again.
Bangladesh has not witnessed a terrorist attack and hostage crisis of this scale in the recent past. They killed youth, travellers, and foreigners in their attempt to terrorise us and establish an Islamist theocracy.
Time to wake-up
The bitter reality is that there are hardcore radicals with extreme hatred and intolerance breeding within our society who are determined to cause bloodshed.
No doubt terrorists represent a minuscule population, but we need to admit there is a problem if we are going to find a solution to the ongoing terrorist threat.
Bangladesh is facing a long war against terrorism and there can be no room for complacency even if there is interim counter-terrorism success. In other words, we have to always be one step ahead of the terrorists. We have to stop looking at radicalisation only as an outcome or product that can be eradicated overnight, but as a complex process involving local and international groups, ideological narratives and communication channels.
In this digital age, we need to move beyond the redundant binaries of “homegrown vs transnational” and “political vs religious” in understanding the evolving nature of Islamist terrorism. Islamist terrorists today have multiple layers of identities and motivations that may be homegrown, transnational, political, and religious, both interchangeably and simultaneously in an increasingly interconnected world.
In the backdrop of terrorist trends becoming simultaneously decentralised and de-territorialised, the ongoing debate on “IS vs not IS” is an unnecessary distraction and non-issue undermining counter-terrorism efforts in Bangladesh.
There is evidence of increasing terrorist mobilisation in urban environments targeting youth from upper- middle class or upper-class backgrounds, often studying in private schools and universities.
We need to rethink our conventional assumptions that terrorist threats emanate only from poverty and madrasas, thereby developing counter-terrorism strategies addressing militant indoctrinations in privileged segments of society through study circles veiled as intellectual activism.
Roles of families and schools need to be emphasised to support counter-terrorism measures by identifying early warning signs to reverse the radicalisation process before it leads to terrorism.
Values of respect, dignity, lawfulness, tolerance, and secularism need to be inculcated amongst the younger generation to prevent terrorist mobilisation.
Most importantly, the need of the hour is bi-partisan political consensus to fight terrorism in Bangladesh. The time has come for us to stand together as a nation and build a united front against terrorism.
All parties and individuals who believe in a liberal, progressive and peaceful Bangladesh need to rise above their differences to protect national security. In this respect, our two main political parties have large countrywide networks that can be effectively used.
Some say Dhaka will never be the same again. We have to come together to support each other – those who love their loved ones, youth who are understandably panic-stricken, foreigners who may feel insecure, and each and every one of us still reeling with shock – to collectively regain our strength as a nation.
We need to bounce back to go about leading our daily lives as we used to, living our chosen lifestyles, visiting all the places we want to without being intimidated by Islamist terrorists.
We cannot let the terrorists win and this is precisely why the government was right to go ahead with the inauguration of the Dhaka-Chittagong four-lane highway by the prime minister the day after the attack.
We have proven how Bangladesh – our government, leaders and people – will not succumb to Islamist terrorism.
This is the same reason why United States President Barack Obama continued with his prior agenda in Cuba despite the Brussels attack earlier in the year.
We need to keep confidence in our military, security forces and law enforcement agencies who have handled the hostage crisis with courage and dedication.
We have lost two brave officers in this terrorist attack – a reminder of how members of various security agencies risk their lives day and night to protect our security.
Most importantly, the memories shared on social media show the victims of the terrorist attack epitomised the best of Dhaka’s youthful vigour, vibrancy and joie de vivre. They were full of life and we owe it to their memories to rekindle the unique spirits and energy that makes Dhaka so special.
Having said that, let us mourn our losses, reflect on the overall state of our society, and renew our commitment to fight religious obscurantism threatening our country’s founding values as well as everything we stand and aspire for. 7/1 may have been a turning point, but we will not let the terrorists win. Bangladesh deserves better and we will triumph.
This article first appeared on the Dhaka Tribune website.