External Affairs

The Dhaka Attack Was Not an Abstraction. I Lost My Friends.

I recently learnt my friend Faraaz was given the opportunity to save his own skin. But anybody that has known Faraaz wouldn’t be surprised by what he did. He stuck around and refused to give up on his friends. He was Muslim and Bangladeshi but he would not leave behind his Indian friend and his Bangladeshi friend.


Faraaz Hossain, Abinta Kabir and Tarishi Jain, ex-students of the American International School Dhaka. Credit: aisdhaka.org

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. Three of the dead are not “faceless” to me. They were real people. Real lives. We went to the same high school. We are a small high school of about 200 people so, naturally, almost everybody knows each other. It was an international school so people would come and go every year; naturally, those of us who remained behind would grow ever tighter. Scattered as we are about the globe, we know how to respond when we hear “tigers on 3”. And now we find out three people from our tight-knit community are dead. They were murdered.

And yet, this is “just another terrorist attack” for the rest of the world.

Already, the world is moving on, spinning on its axis oblivious to what’s happened. Why should it care? We are but a small insignificant community that just came next in line to mourn.

Istanbul has faced multiple terrorist attacks yet we have forgotten. Not moved on, but forgotten.

Iraq just faced a terrorist attack recently after the Dhaka attack. And the world will move on.

I like to think I’m well-connected. All of us from my school, we’re all well-connected and we know so many more people from around the globe. And yet nobody feels our despair. Nobody is enraged by the apathy. Only a small minority of my friends from outside Dhaka appear to have seen this news. The vast majority has either not heard of it or willingly ignored it. And can you blame them? I never cared until it affected me. Why should they?

I want to let those of you that didn’t know the victims know that there is simply one degree of separation between you and them. For those who know me, I am your connection to them. I want you to know this isn’t some “abstract” terrorist attack. I want you to know my friends, the victims, had faces. They had names: Faraaz, Abinta, Tarishi. I want people to stop using this incident, as they already have, as a way to justify their bigotry. I want you to know that these three were from my school where nobody cared WHO you were, only if you were nice or not. I want you to imagine the raw fear my friends felt as they realised “this is it” as death became imminent.

I recently learnt my friend Faraaz was given the opportunity to leave and save his own skin. But anybody that has known Faraaz wouldn’t be surprised by what he did. He stuck around and refused to give up on his friends. He was Muslim and Bangladeshi but he would not leave behind his Indian friend and his Bangladeshi friend.

And, for that, the price was his life.

For those reading this right now, I fear my writing style has given away my identity already. I write to share this because I want to make these people be real to you as they are to me and so many others. I want my voice to pierce the wall of apathy that the whole world has put up. I want my words to be heard by every single individual on this planet so that they feel my powerlessness and my despair.

So that they know my loss could easily be their loss.

Grief. Credit: Samuel Tristan/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Grief. Credit: Samuel Tristan/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I wish to remain anonymous because, as anybody keeping up with the news in Bangladesh would know, there have been plenty of murders of bloggers and practically anybody with a dissenting voice. I would very much like to not be hacked to death, thank you very much.

I can’t say I’m honestly surprised by what has happened in Dhaka though. For too long, us “westernised”, “liberal” elites have trampled upon a significant portion of Bangladeshi society. When you marginalise people’s voices like this and turn them away from healthy, non-violent methods of political participation, one should not be surprised by the onset of more violent tendencies. And yet, we never learn. The rich in Bangladesh (and also in other countries) almost never have to answer for their transgressions.

At the same time, I should add that Bangladesh has fought a variant of this before. Our war of independence was for the very essence of our secular spirit. We are very much a secular country that prides itself on divorcing Islam from its politics (unlike other Muslim nations).

But that is only the bigger picture. The terrorists that murdered my friends were the kind of people that would join a common criminal gang. These are the kinds of people that simply look for an excuse to engage in violence.

However, for such social ills, we require social solutions.

We cannot do this alone. Governments cannot do this alone.

Not while we are still divided.

Not while we continue pointing the finger at each other instead of shutting up and studying the problem properly and intelligently looking for the solution.

Not while we still have international “news” sources like Fox News, that are ignorant of the damage they do.

Not while we have a broken media where one of the news stations in Dhaka reported on live TV that my friends were hiding in the bathroom of the bakery. (Needless to say, they were found.)

Not while we keep wanting simple easy solutions. These are complex problems and we need complex solutions.

I wish I had the solution but I’m still just a student who is trying to study this stuff.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a young student who was a friend of Faraaz Hossain, Abinta Kabir and Tarishi Jain – the three alumni of the American International School Dhaka that were among the 20 people killed by terrorists in Dhaka on July 2, 2016.

  • E.

    Thank you for speaking up.
    Though I didn’t know Faraaz, Abinta and Tarishi, I want you to know that people like myself care, and are sending positive energy to you and the victims’ families.
    The irony of it is the killers were actually people from the same age group/socio-economic level as the victims- they apparently even hung out at that Bakery before. So, they’re not actually ‘people who would join a common criminal gang’, as you wrote). Some of them were from Monash University in my country. My friend from Monash U. was shocked because the killer had seemed like a regular student. And it was front page news over here 2 days ago. It’s not an abstraction. Tears are falling. I hurt to read about Istanbul and Baghdad too. Each and every victim a special and innocent person who was going about living, and caring about living.. unlike the perpetrators.