I live in the United States, in the comfort of a secure job, a warm house, travelling to work on roads that let’s me drive 30 KM in 25 minutes. I live with my children who go to publicly funded schools, run around with friends, morning, afternoon, evening, as children of their age should. And I live without fear.
Every once in a while, I turn on the radio or TV to hear the news: that there has been a shooting at a school in Colorado, a Temple in Wisconsin, and most recently, at a mall in Oregon. In almost all cases the work of a lone gunman, and often with no clear motive. When motive is found, it is often the case that anger is directed at a boss who fired him, a co-worker who insulted him, or a partner who left him. These senseless acts are no doubt very painful to the loved ones. But I don’t feel insecure because there is no protection from random occurrences; a lightning could hit me as well. And where motive is clear, I have no reason to be afraid. And I live without fear.
As I am accustomed to do, every day I go to the internet to read the daily newspapers from Bangladesh. Two days ago, I opened the newspapers and saw a series of pictures, of a young man, running in a blood soaked shirt, his terror filled eyes acknowledging that he could not escape, that his time has come. And I felt his fear. A fear I did not wish to acknowledge. I turned away; I protected myself. But Biswajit could not turn away and he must have tried mightily. I felt hope recede, replaced by despair. Hope, despair, fear..I am still able to feel, but not Biswajit. To think that the previous day both him and I shared the joy of seeing Bangladesh win an important game, and to think that on that fateful day, he was heading to work while I was returning from it. I made it safely home, while he lay dead in a pool of blood.
Who are these men whom we call murderers? My daughter is a student at a university here, just like these men are students at a university there. My daughter has had a middle-class upbringing, just like I did when I started going to the university years back. I have to assume that many of these young men also had similar upbringing. Brought up by parents who sat them down on their laps and affectionately talked to them, and who held their hands while walking them to school. I am 55. These men could be my sons, just like I was a son to my father, and just like Biswajit, whose life these men so nonchalantly snuffed out, was a son to his father. Nothing remarkable! And I wonder.
I wonder, what might have happened in their very short life, for they are young men by all accounts, that they could so easily surround a man and ruthlessly hack him to death? Where did they find the audacity to snuff out a life, take a son from his parents, a brother from his siblings? The audacity to kill, not surreptitiously in the darkness of night, but in broad daylight. With people watching. With cameras taking pictures. Some will surely blame a bankrupt political culture that holds no one responsible for moral transgressions; others will surely lay the blame solely on the moral depravity of the individual killers. The truth, if there is one to be found, I cannot so easily comprehend. And I am afraid that this killing will be repeated. And I live in fear.
It’s night now. I am in my safe cocoon. Tomorrow morning I will wake up and drive the 30 KM to work, and Biswajit will slowly recede into my memories. I will open the newspapers again, and Biswajit’s name there would have faded too, no longer mentioned on the front pages. There is no comfort in this, but I placate myself in this thought: Biswajit, you spent your last few minutes engulfed in fear. You have moved on. No longer attached to our transient self, wherever you reside, I am sure that you rest in peace. So rest in peace.
Muhammad Q. Islam, is an Associate Professor of Economics, John Cook School of Business, Saint Louis University, USA.