Asif Farooq

The case of Nafis and the perpetual state of denial

October 26, 2012
Court drawing of alleged New York bomb plotter Quazi Mohammed Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis and his target, the Federal Reserve Bank. Photo: Reuters

Court drawing of alleged New York bomb plotter Quazi Mohammed Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis and his target, the Federal Reserve Bank. Photo: Reuters

The world obviously is not a perfect place. The sheer multitude of stories from different corners of the world is overwhelming. The more interconnected we are, the more we get to learn about different cultures, cohesion and conflicts among us. Yet, what baffles me is when we fail to make a leap beyond the subtle idiocies that always reverses all the hard-won progress we have made. One of the major reasons for our failure to apprehend our nuisances is that we put ourselves in a perpetual state of denial, remaining complacent in false pride and happy to point our finger to a convenient scapegoat.

The news about student Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis’ bomb plot in the Federal Reserve Bank shocked the Bangladeshi community all over the world. The immediate defence was that such an act belies every characteristics of Bengali identity. How can a nation that was founded on the idea of secularism, fighting a war against the then West Pakistan’s atrocities be smeared by the sheer stupidity of this lad! The ‘wisdom’ goes further: such a heinous act can only be perpetrated by the people from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – but not Bangladesh! No wonder that a friend of mine, who is well educated and a successful professional in one of the top investment banks in New York, recently posted in his facebook status addressing to Nafis, “Next time you want to blow something up, do us all a favor [and] go kill yourself. Short of that, at least renounce your Bangladeshi citizenship first and get Pakistani or Saudi citizenship before doing something stupid….” This was an offensive comment that demonstrate our foolhardiness and the perpetual state of denial we live in.

As a Bangladeshi citizen, born and brought up with the right dose of nationalism during my school years, I have been recently struggling to relate to the edifice of Bangladesh I once had built in my heart. The only answer to my confusion that I seem to come up with is we have given too much importance to the bombast of the label or the brand we have created called ‘Bangladesh’ to an extent that we have complacently distanced ourselves from the values, what collectively should have been Bangladesh. In essence, we have been fashionable at disregarding those values and failed to stand for them. Instead, we cling to a delusion that as a Bangladeshi, we stand on a higher ground as a distinct cultural group. That is why, it is very easy to point to a Pakistani, an Afghani or a Somali and blame them.

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Of course, one cannot deny the critical challenges these countries face, religious extremism, radicalism, Taliban, regular suicide bombings, destructions of schools and hospitals, abysmal record of human rights, marginalization of women and the list goes on. The recent Malala case is one fresh example. However, that does not serve as a testimonial for the corruption of a whole nation. Personally, living in Canada, a country where immigration helped and continues to build a diverse society, I came to appreciate different people and their cultures, whether they be from Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or any European country. We all share similar dreams; we all strive to be better individuals; we all work hard and take pride for our cultures and values which are all equally rich.

Then, perhaps it’s the conditions that drive the individuals but not their nationality or culture to be corrupt. On the one hand, the path dependency of political and historical development has left its mark in many places, which made it extremely difficult for them to breakthrough the cycle of violence and prosper. The problems in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia are a few such examples. There is a history of mistreatment and negligence that have made the FATA region a breeding ground for extremists in Pakistan. The political history of Afghanistan, Somalia or any other countries bear the same responsibility for their terrible fate. On the other hand, many societal and political factors are now creating history by damaging the very essence of the public goods. The ongoing CHT violence in Bangladesh, the marginalization of the minority groups in east India, Rohingyas in Myanmar and many native groups in South America are a few such examples to name.

At the core of these problems are the values of fundamental human rights and dignities which are constantly being threatened, molested and moreover, overlooked. The Bangalis did not fight for a country in 1971. They fought for their rights first and foremost. ‘Bangladesh’ was only a collateral entity. If the emerging ‘Bangladesh’ was suppose to be the collective identity of the values and rights the freedom fighters fought for, then we should be sensible to realize that those values are not higher than that of other nations. And when we as individuals slip from our higher moral ground, let us not blindfold ourselves with the delusion that it cannot possibly happen to us. The catastrophic dehumanization among the Bangladeshis, when the local Muslim settlers ravaged the Buddhist temples in Chittagong lately, serves as a testimonial. The ongoing CHT violence is also another example that many Bangladeshis are not comfortable to talk about. This is when we overlook our problems. We put ourselves in the perpetual state of denial that terrible things cannot be done by us, pointing fingers to others for blames. As much as we long for Pakistan to acknowledge its responsibility for the genocide in ’71, we take comfort in denial that we too may be responsible for terrible policies destroying a minority group’s life and culture within the imaginary border that derives Bangladesh. To be honest, many nations suffer from such a state of denial. America is one such example where President Obama lost support once for acknowledging that the U.S. is not the only greatest nation on earth. Taking pride in one’s identity is helpful to motivate to strive for better. However, it is time to take a leap beyond the evolutionary instinct to extol the in-group while underestimating out-groups.

Finally, Nafis’ case shows that the Bangladeshi youth are not immune from religious radicalization. If he is responsible for such an act, which apparently the case, then it only points to the fact that any other student alike Nafis can be made corrupt, who could be equally deemed and vouched by his/her family and friends as innocent and whose middle-class family can give up their hard-earned assets for his/her study abroad in good faith. This is not to say that it is a chronic problem in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, it puts many youth like you and me under fire. The question is how can this occur? The responsibility to pose this question disproportionally lies on the shoulder of the youth of Bangladesh. There are many problems and more to do, but first of all, we need to acknowledge our problems first.

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Asif Farooq is a Researcher at the Centre for Studies on Rapid Global Change at the University of Waterloo. He is also a Research and Communications Intern at the Security Governance Group in Waterloo.

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11 Responses to “ The case of Nafis and the perpetual state of denial ”

  1. Asis Das on October 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Thanks for touching base on a fundamental issue. As Bangali (or Bangladeshi), not only denial and dehumanization but quick politicization of all issues that need to looked humanely became the norm today. What makes us so proud to acknowledge what Nafis was about to do? Didn’t or don’t Bangladeshi zihadists fight in Afganistan? Going further back in the history didn’t Bangladshi’s collaborated in the 1971 genocide or killing of intelects? During the Babri mosque era, there was systematic attack on Hindus with destruction of 5000 temples in Bangladesh – we didn’t talk. During 2001 post-election, systematic attacks, rape and arson happened – we din’t talk. Killings of journalist, judges, ministers, politicians activist happened – we didn’t talk. We bombed the whole Bangladesh simulataneously, still we didn’t talk. More that 50% of Bangladeshi minorities have left (if any doubt just cross the border and look by the train tracks) – it is impossible even to raise this issue, leave aside to question the reasons! Then comes the attacks on Buddhist in Chittagong – we are still not talking. Sure in this culture of denial, we cannot talk Nafis.

  2. ddjones on October 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Dude, you invoked everything but the kitchen sink to prove a point that is simply not there. Let me break it to you, YOUR HALF-WITTED FRIEND IS NOT IN DENIAL, he is worried that people will associate him with an alleged terrorist because they both share the same nationality.

  3. Masrur Khan on October 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Very thorough and thoughtful, thank you for this writing. There’s one point I am compelled to make. In my one a half decade of living overseas, I have come across much more reported incidents of fraud, rape and violence committed or attempted by people with Pakistani, middle eastern and north east African origin than any other immigrant groups. Of course, as Bangladeshis we cannot claim any moral superiority, but I can see your friend’s point of view as well. Statistics would support his outburst on the Facebook. Which only means we have a greater chance of winning against the recent trend of radicalisation of our youth.

  4. Zahid on October 28, 2012 at 3:39 am

    It’s an immature articulation wandering in nothingness. Everybody has a
    price depending on his need,unless he is a kind of saint. Furthermore, the
    case against him is yet to be proved, before one can attempt any conclusion.

    • ddjones on October 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm

      Absolutely!

  5. mithun ahmed on October 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    The comment “Finally, Nafis’ case shows that the Bangladeshi youth are not immune from religious radicalization” indicates that you have already prejudged the case. It simplifies the current US law-enforcement agencies’ efforts to catch and vilify many foreign youths from Muslim countries as potential terrorists. Many such past efforts were dismissed by the courts. Some of these agency-efforts are motivated to get additional funding from the government. Don’t indict the boy before he is proven guilty.

  6. Nofel on October 27, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Asif, thank you for calling a spade – a spade!

  7. Asif on October 27, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you Mr. Azim! We are on the same page.

  8. Prashanta Tripura on October 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Did we really need someone like Nafis for proof that given the right circumstances, people in Bangladesh (or people anywhere else in the world) are also capable of leaning towards extremism of all sorts? I think we are trying to grind too many axes against the Nafis case. This hapless BD individual may very well be guilty of the charges brought against him, but to me there is a fundamental ethical distinction between someone who has committed an actual crime, and one who has shown the intent to commit one under the influence of secret agents of a mighty state apparatus seeking out gullible individuals that may be used as pawns in larger games. To some, Nafis case may lead to soul searching, which is not necessarily bad, but that should not happen at the expense of losing sight of those who are playing the games that I have just hinted at. Doing that would be the biggest denial of all.

  9. Abdul Huq on October 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    No. Nobody is absolutely incapable of going wrong. Even the US has its fair share of wrong-doers. Will US apologize to the entire world for Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City or David Koresh who held hostage so many innocent people in his “Kingdom” in in Waco Texas? Every week or other, if not everyday, we hear about shootouts in public places killing many and maiming lot more. I am not justifying whatever Nafis had done or could have done if the plot (in this case, we really do not know who really hatched the plot)was not foiled. Acts like this should be condemned and it has rightly been done so. Blame Nafis, not his nation. We should not jump on the bandwagon of branding Bangladesh as a hatchery for terrorism for an isolated event which is not statistically significant at all.

  10. Anwar Azim on October 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    This is an apt piece. I was really frustrated to see many people including many media outlets going on complete denial over Nafis’ alleged crime. As if a Bangladeshi youth is absolutely incapable of even thinking of committing such a crime! This is the most immature thinking.

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