Untangling horror

By Nadine S. Murshid

As we mourn, we must realize that the fight ahead of us is a difficult one, but one that must be won. Without mass-surveillance. Without impinging on freedoms. Without help from international bodies with vested interests. Without police brutality.dhaka-july-4-2016-photo-taken-on-july-4-2016-433202

The trauma that people of Bangladesh are feeling is palpable. The vulnerability and fear is real. Indeed, that is even expected. If you’re getting nightmares or startling easily, or feeling anxious, that’s okay. But, if these symptoms don’t go away in two weeks or so, please seek help. In the meantime, let’s discuss why we are feeling the way we are feeling as a way to process both the gruesome attack and the events that followed.

Many of us feel that our city will never be the same again, while many are predicting a sinister “new normal.”

That is, perhaps, because many of us are feeling horror, real horror, for the first time in our lives – especially if we’ve never seen anything like this before, and even if we have it is a reenactment of that old trauma. And with it, we are feeling grief; but we don’t know how to process it. Something as inevitable as death should be easier to process, one would think, but it isn’t.

Psychotherapists often cite the Kübler-Ross model of grief (also known as the five stages of grief) in which humans go through five disparate emotions when grief stricken: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But all of these emotions but acceptance make us feel like we’re losing control. They make us feel unlike ourselves. And we try to stop it; and therein lies the problem. We don’t need to stop the feelings. The idea is to feel those feelings, understand them, and make sense of them.

Before our collective grief turns into collective chaos.

Because when death comes in the manner it did on July 1, in which grief combines with horror, we are at risk, in popular parlance, of “losing it.” Add to that all kinds of angst. Class-based angst. Moral angst about inequality. Existential angst. All of a sudden, we have a perfect recipe for conspiracy theories based on our class/race/religious positions.

But no matter how many conspiracies we hatch, we can’t but face the reality that our children – of all walks of life – are at risk of being radicalized. Either at home or abroad. At coaching centers, at schools, and universities. And as we realize that certain groups are offering up enough incentive to the right recruits, enough to convince them that their lives are not worth living unless they prove themselves by partaking in these risky, life-threatening endeavors, let us take pause. Because the fight ahead of us is a difficult one, but one that must be won.

Without mass-surveillance.

Without impinging on freedoms.

Without help from international bodies with vested interests.

Without police brutality.

I know, it’s hard to think about the macro when the micro, our children, are at stake. But without addressing the system, individuals can’t be helped. I know, we want our children to know better; we want them to be able to resist such lucrative offers. Even though we haven’t taught them how. And, maybe, that guilt adds to the grief and the horror that we currently feel.

Maybe some of us can laud ourselves for being human because in the post-attack period we have found it in ourselves to be sympathetic to the families of the attackers.

But only to the ones with upper-middle class backgrounds.

The parents of the attacker from rural Bogra somehow don’t deserve our sympathy. So we sit silently as they get arrested.

Maybe we maintain this silence because it’s easy to fit the narrative that individuals from disadvantaged groups are more susceptible to being radicalized in exchange of money and/or other resources. We like that narrative. It protects our middle-class sentiments. It protects our children, too, for the most part. And even when they end up being killers, we blame radicalization. Not class. Not class-privilege. Not entitlement. Not even them. Or their vacuous lives that make them yearn for meaning. Maybe some of us have even convinced ourselves that they are outliers. But they’re not. The world’s most famous terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was a very rich man, after all (and he was no outlier either).

But we’re not new to disproportionate experiences based on class (and “minority status”). So when class dynamics unfolded in the aftermath of the attacks, we yet again remained silent. We watched as Saiful, the pizza chef who died during Operation Thunderbolt, was first identified as one of the attackers, and then, when it was revealed that he was one of the victims of the tragedy, quickly forgotten.

He, along with AC Rabiul Karim and OC Salauddin Ahmed — also killed during the attacks, didn’t get national honor. Perhaps the injustice of the situation adds to the horror, grief, and guilt.

Maybe this “terror attack” is particularly horrific for us because we can see that they’re (whoever they are) fighting a war. An ideological war. A war with foot soldiers consisting of our children. They want an Islamic state run using their version of Islam.

We can say that IS (or Daesh) is actually anti-Islamic State (in its real sense). We can say: but IS is responsible for killing millions of Muslims. We can say: IS has created Islamophobia. Indeed, we can say IS and its franchisees are in the business of defiling Islam – not promoting Islam.

But we also know that such truths don’t matter.

Not in a country where the Quran is read but not understood by a majority of the people who read it; where reading translations are often thought to “not count” because it’s not in Arabic. IS clearly likes this special brand of Muslims who don’t understand Islam, because they can then feed them their own version. And maybe that knowledge comes together with the horror, grief, guilt, and injustice to muddle our brains as we struggle with the “evidence.”

And that needs to be processed, too. So, here are some considered thoughts in response to the rumors that we have been barraged with in the last few days of Ramadan:

  1. “Certain groups” are unhappy that Faraaz is a hero; that his act of humanity powerfully eclipses the fear that the terror attack was meant to instill.
  1. So, they have released a new video, with more threats, and we have, like puppets, shared them with everyone. Spreading fear, spreading shock.
  1. With these groups have joined others who have vested interests in making certain quarters the “bad guys.” Because you know, all it takes for lies to become truths is the right number of repetition.
  1. We have contributed to this class-based society in which inequality not only persists, but thrives, which then makes events like this hostage situation at an upscale restaurant inevitable. Such inequality — that has happened under our watch — has a price tag. And we’re paying for it. So on one hand, this is terribly sad, and on the other hand, we have to ask: what in the world were we expecting when we allowed such inequality to persist — when we took refuge in it?
  1. We can reminisce about the Dhaka in which we grew up, but that Dhaka had a poverty rate of over 80%, street children were always devoid of clothes, and the malnutrition was visible. Let’s not want the Dhaka of our childhood; instead let’s want a Dhaka where citizens take responsibility for their own actions, where people respect each other, where the system is changed to be more equal, where all children have equal opportunity for things that have long been deemed a human right: quality education, adequate food and nutrition, clothing, shelter, sanitation, freedom, freedom from violence, political rights, the right to dissent. It’s when basic rights are withheld from us that we look for those rights elsewhere. Or replace the need for those rights with an ideology that we can buy into. And perhaps that’s when we realize that the mukhosto bidya (memorized knowledge) we earned in lieu of an education has failed us, too.
  1. The global “we” that I keep referring to is a fragmented group with differential values, ethics, beliefs, and presumably, myths. I realize that I may not be speaking for “us” at all. Just like we are not grieving for all of the people who died equally.

My best hope for this Eid is that we can agree, if not mourn, that we have lost our children, our foreign guests, our people – no matter which side they were on.

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