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.
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.
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.