External Affairs

In Bangladesh, Mourning Comes Tinged With Anger

The horrific culmination of a year-long series of targeted attacks by extremists in the Gulshan attack in Dhaka on Friday night has disturbed the entire nation and the world community at large.

A man lights a candle at a makeshift memorial, to pay tribute to the victims of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, near the site of the attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 3, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

A man lights a candle at a makeshift memorial, to pay tribute to the victims of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O’Kitchen Restaurant, near the site of the attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 3, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

New Delhi: The tempo had been building up over the past year with violent attacks by Islamist extremists on individuals, particularly liberals, minorities and atheists in Bangladesh, but the terrorist attack on a posh restaurant in the affluent Gulshan neighbourhood of Dhaka on Friday night has shaken the country to its very core.

The Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, has claimed responsibility for the attack, which led to the death of 20 civilians of several nationalities and two policemen, although there has been no official confirmation of their role and the government of Sheikh Hasina continues to deny their presence in the country. On Sunday, the home minister of Bangaldesh,  Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, insisted the terrorists did not have any international links.

Local newspapers in Bangladesh have expressed outrage over the attack and have also criticised the government’s approach towards the targeted attacks over the past few months.

In an editorial titled ‘Our sorrow nows no bounds’, the Daily Star wrote, “Our usual response – ‘these are isolated incidents’ – has proven to be false. The targeted killings and now this massacre may not be organically linked but that they form a part of bigger and more sinister [trend] should not be doubted any more. The new realities must galvanise new thinking on our part to fight the terrorist menace that does not seem to stem in spite of our efforts so far. The message from last Friday’s brutal killing is clear; our efforts so far have been inadequate.”

‘There are no words’ declared the Dhaka Tribune editorial. The fight agains terrorism is an “existential battle” for Bangaldesh, it wrote.  “The terrorists behind this killing have exposed themselves as brutal, inhuman, and unfeeling. They have laid bare the hollowness of their souls and of their claims to act in the name of God”.

The New Age daily also expressed anger over the government’s lackadaisical action in the face of extremist attacks in Bangladesh over the past year, saying that “It is high time that the government initiated a proper investigation of the gruesome attack, arrested the perpetrators and put them on trial in a public court through a transparent legal process. This is much more important for Bangladesh than rhetoric being traded between the opposing political camps, for the country needs to get rid of political extremism most”. The attack has also served as an indicator, according to New Age, that the previous targeted attacks were probably carried out by the IS as well. “The gruesome murders in the restaurant at Gulshan and the instant notification of Amaq, reported to be a news agency of the ISIS, about the events taking place at the venue, which eventually resembled with the facts as established by the army’s commando team, suggests that the ISIS’s previous claims of responsibility for the machete attacks in Bangladesh was not entirely baseless. Amaq claimed early Saturday that ‘20 individuals of varying nationalities’ were killed while the army at a post-operation press conference on Saturday afternoon also admitted that 20 people had been killed before its commando operation.” The celebrated Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen cautioned against blaming poverty for the rise of terrorism as most of the attackers were from well-off backgrounds. Some of the victims of the attack have been identified on social media by their friends and family. One student stated that three of the victims of the attack went to the same high school as him:

It’s easy to dismiss terrorist attacks around the world as abstractions that victimise faceless people. What happened in Dhaka was not one of those attacks. I know the street where it happened and I know the dead. And I’m not the only one. 3 of the dead went to the same high school as me (a high school of about 200 people) and we’re all devastated despite where we are in the world. And yet, this is “just another terrorist attack” for the rest of the world. I want to let those know that didn’t know the victims that you are simply 1 degree of separation away from them through me. I want people to know that this is not some “abstract” terrorist attack. I want people to know that this senseless violence has taken away people I’ll never see again. I want people to quit it with the misinformation from sites like Fox News and Breitbart. I want people to stop using this tragedy to peddle their own petty little agendas that promote selfish bigotry. I want people to know that we, from Bangladesh, are not invisible. I want people to imagine the fear that these friends of mine felt.

The victims were as diverse as they come. May they rest in peace.

Sameeha Mohiuddin, on Facebook, identified two of the victims of the attack as her close friends:

“I lost two of my best friends today and words cannot begin to express nor can they do you justice. All I can say is that I will forever remember all our memories together and how beautiful you both were inside and out. I’m heartbroken and I miss you and love you more than you’ll ever know.”

Other reactions on social media also called upon people to look at the attack as more than just a loss in terms of statistics. Sanjana Choudhary mourned the death of her best friend in a tribute to her on her Facebook profile:

“A decade of friendship ends with a broken heart. Monsters in this world took you away, from me, from us, from this world, but not before you taught me how to laugh, love, and experience life. This is a tribute to the great friendship we shared, that was fortunate enough to transcend into a lifelong bond.”

Aloke Kumar identified one of the victims, Ishrat Akhond, as a friend and said that “Most of the Muslim Bangladeshis were spared after they identified themselves and recited lines from the Koran. Ishrat who was not wearing a Hijab and neither wanted to prove herself was hacked to death with a machete.”

Others, like Sandip Roy from Huffington Post, have highlighted the lack of collective outrage over the attack, as was visible during the Paris attack last year. Roy also calls into question the efficacy of methods like Facebook profile picture filters or changing the lights at Eiffel tower in actually dealing with such attacks and their aftermath, particularly when they happen with clockwork  regularity. “The hope was that in a more connected world, the Je Suis moment would send a powerful message – a united nations of resolve and solidarity. But it’s just become a template to photoshop a tragedy that in effect melds one massacre into another. And the dead whether in Dhaka or Orlando or Istanbul deserve better.”

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a two-day national mourning. In a televised address to the nation she said, “I want to ask those who are aiding terror, what do you get by taking innocent lives? Islam is a religion of peace, you are maligning its name.” On the government’s plan of action, she said, “People must resist these terrorists. My government is determined to root out terrorism and militancy from Bangladesh.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted in solidarity with the people of Bangladesh and expressed his condolences to the victims and their families.

In his tweet, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, urged the West to take note of what happened in Dhaka:

 

Italy lost nine of its nationals in the attack.  also condemned the attack. In a press conference on Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, “Together with the other countries that have been affected, Bangladesh, Japan and all the countries in the international community which have experienced moments like the one we’re going through today, we will continue our struggle because only together, united, can we state an idea of civilisation, which is different from what we have unfortunately seen tonight in Bangladesh.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “I pray for the repose of the souls of those who lost their lives and also extend my condolences to the families of the victims. All of those who lost their lives had gone to Bangladesh in the spirit of wanting to work for the good of that country.  This matter truly grieves me deeply and I am rendered speechless to think of the regrets of the victims.  This was an impermissible act of terrorism and I am profoundly outraged.”

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon “condemns the terrorist attack” and “hopes that those behind this crime will be identified and brought to justice,” his spokesperson said in a statement, adding that he “stands firmly by Bangladesh as it confronts this threat and stresses the need to intensify regional and international efforts to prevent and combat terrorism.”

Shambhavi Sharma is an intern with The Wire.