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A Japanese national shot dead in Bangladesh's northern district of Rangpur within a week of an identical murder of an Italian aid worker in Dhaka.
A Japanese national shot dead in Bangladesh's northern district of Rangpur within a week of an identical murder of an Italian aid worker in Dhaka.

The death of an Italian and a Japanese national in Bangladesh has triggered global concern bringing up serious safety issues in Bangladesh. International alerts have been issued and foreigners have been told by their respective governments to exercise caution while here.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh is trying to grapple with the crisis and protection of foreigners has been declared a top priority. Reports also suggest that the authorities think that the blogger-killers and the foreigner-killers are the same.

That is quite significant since the bloggers have been getting chopped for quite a while with no one raising a finger, while this is probably the first time two deaths of foreigners happened in a short time-span and we are doing all we can.

Going by international data, the murder rate here is between 2-3 people per 100,000 people. India, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives are in the same range while Sri Lanka has a very high rate at more than 7, and Pakistan has between 5 to 6 persons also.

Most of the countries in the African civil war and conflict zone are understandably very high. Pakistan and Sri Lanka also have a conflict situation of some level.

Europe has a lower rate of violence but the United States has one of the highest murder rates among non-conflict countries at 5 + death per 100,000.  Whatever be the reason for the numbers, the US murder rate is higher than Bangladesh.

But Bangladesh is facing unprecedented criticism as a country where “foreigners” are not safe. And that the murders are political in nature no matter what kind of politics it may be.

Adding spice to the drama has been the IS factor. If this word can be attached to any violence, the entire West starts shaking in anxiety and rage.  So the claim that the two were killed by the IS in a supposedly IS web site and distributed by a Zionism-supporting US site has made the claim global though not necessarily credible. However, the damage has been done.

Several issues emerge out of the matter. The nature and identity of the victims indicate that the targets were selected specifically because they were harmless non-political individuals who had no diplomatic role whatsoever.

That makes the killings that much more cruel and the killers plan more obvious. They went for a kill knowing the target was not protected.  They were not random killings but products of a clear design which had a purpose to fill and was unfortunately achieved.

The two quick killings also showed how inept our security agencies are. Not only were they aware that a killing was being planned – as per official admission – but failed to provide any security to the very people who were under threat.

Since then, they have also failed to arrest anyone in the connection and have been better at flying information kites in the not very useful sky a lot more. It means the foreign governments will be very aware that when it comes to providing protection, we are not very good at it.

So add more stigma.

The recent statement that the blogger and the foreigner killers are the same is the most disturbing one because that is quite possible, but to say so now and not do something before the attacks is the most absurd statement to have come out from the law enforcement world.

Everyone is shocked that the police have not observed that before and now are telling people what everyone already knows.  What people want to know is what is being done about it.

However, there is silence in that aspect till date. Worse, many fear that random arrest of Islamic militants may be made and then passed off as the killers in a desperate attempt to prevent more national embarrassment.

But much of this could have been avoided had the blogger-killings been taken more seriously. It seems on hindsight that bloggers were less important and so ignorable, while the foreigner-killers are more important so action, though futile, is on.

The way the blogger and the foreigner-killing is being treated differently shows that the killers have read the situation right. We care about foreigners but not about our own.

One really doesn’t know what will happen in future but we do need to appreciate that all deaths are equal before the state. If every death is treated a crime, we would have sent a much better message to the killers that to us every life is precious and such killings will not be tolerated.

Unfortunately, we tolerated such murders and gave them license. So the killer group upped the ante and showed us that they understand the murder importance ladder better than we do.

Unless we treat all murders as murder and provide security to all, particularly when we know the political roots of such killings, we are stepping into the trap set by the killers. Every murder, no matter who is killed and who kills, is about murders and all murders and all life deserve the same attention.

Ananda Das teaches computer science at a private university.

3 Responses to “Of foreigners and bloggers: Are all deaths equal?”

  1. Andrew Eagle

    Your point that all deaths should be equal is a good one. But i don’t think security is inept in Bangladesh. If it was, the country might look more like Pakistan or even Afghanistan. One only needs to cast one’s mind back to 2005 to recall what inept security looks like. Bangladesh is not in that position anymore. Nor do things remain static. By chance a few weeks ago I visited a building in Dhaka where one of the threatened bloggers was staying. He had 24 hour police protection, which foreigners do not. And of course he needs it, having been directly threatened. That the blogger killings could have been dealt with better is a given, but it does not mean better protection efforts have not been forthcoming. Nor will foreign governments be thinking that Bangladesh is ‘not very good at protection.’ They are more worried about their own situations. As i write bombs have been detonated in Old Dhaka at an Ashura event. But yesterday there was also a shooting in Tennessee. There was the stabbing murders of children in Sweden. At the same time the foreigners died here, a very similar incident happened in Sydney (where billions of counter terrorism dollars are spent… the kind of resourcing Bangladeshi security agencies can only dream of). There is hardly a country with a record unblemished by terrorism.

    And certainly whatever difficulty there is in adjusting to the post-foreigner-murder Bangladesh for a foreigner (me) comes in large part from the luxury of the past many years never having needed to think of security because, especially for foreigners, it has been so good. Indeed, more have died from terrorism in Bangkok. I also remember the ASI who was stabbed to death in Gabtoli yesterday. He was on the street for our protection, and gave his life for it. I just don’t think ‘inept’ and ‘not very good at it’ is at all a fair description of security in Bangladesh.

  2. taslima islam

    Bangladesh’s murder statistics are much less an issue of concern than the same statistics in other countries. But where would you find a country where the Prime Minister before investigation of murders of those in which both national and international media and foreign countries are interested makes public statements as the judge and the jury?. When the two foreigners were killed, she said Khaleda Zia and her son killed both. The she and her son both said the killings were carried out by ISIS. Then she said there has been no ISIS in Bangladesh and there are none now. Only a couple of months ago, her son wrote in the Washington Times an article in which he said that Bangladesh is in the grip of ISIS. Now he too does not see any trace of ISIS in the country!! Then where would you find a country where the Police bosses would say that police have been given guns and weapons not to keep as show pieces but to kill and they will kill those they think are terrorists and not just that; they have said openly that they would also shoot and kill their families and the Prime Minister in parliament backed her police bosses. Where is another country where you would find a case like the Rana Plaza being explained by a Home Minister as the result of the opposition people shaking the iron gate of the 5 storied building so hard that it collapsed?? Statistics are totally irreevant in case of the deaths that the author has discussed here. What is relevant is the fact in the eyes of the government, anyone that dares to oppose the political hold of the government on power can be killed without any questions asked…in other words, everybody in government and its agencies and the AL and its supporters like the Chatra League can kill opponents by underlining that those who oppose the AL and government are traitors and thus their lives do not matter…Bangladesh has become.the classic case of a country that has graduated to the final phase of a fascist state..Therefore article such as this one does not serve any useful purpose at all…

    • sundar swapan

      so we can conclude that the statistics of talking much and talking nonsense by peoples in power is the most important issue of our concern.

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