From Brad Pitt to Bin Laden

 Published in: The Daily Star on August 3, 2016
From Brad Pitt to Bin Laden

“I have gone from being Brad Pitt to Bin Laden.” A European friend of ours blurted out his disappointment. “How?” I asked. He said that one of the reasons he loved Bangladesh was because he was always treated as a VIP because of his colour. He always got his preferred seat; people spoke to him with more respect, etc. I understood that part. The part that took me by surprise was what he shared next. After being at home for two weeks, the poor soul had gone to grab coffee at a popular coffee shop in Gulshan Avenue. He had walked in, chirpy as ever. But as soon as he had stepped in the café, he was greeted with hushed whispers and fear. All the Bangalis seated at the tables had begun to leave. The fact that once any foreigner was more than welcome within our circles and the fact that today they aren’t, just proves that the winds of terror have hit us hard.

How have our lives changed? To begin with, the restaurants are empty; the coffee shops are closing down and the kids are scared. A few nights ago, a young friend had gone to fetch some frozen yoghurt and she had noticed the guy at the reception counter grabbing something. She immediately concluded that it had to be a gun and thus, ducked. The man looked at her in dismay. In reality, it was just the television remote he was fetching. Poor guy was just trying to change the channel. Paranoia has hit us hard. While I walk these days, I take extra time to check out who’s around me. Suddenly the youth community has become a straight suspect.

One of the nine militants went to school with one of my kids. A regular student, a grieving son mourning his mother’s loss was not to be singled out at any point. So, his friends gave him attention, stood by him, indulged in coffee sessions with him outside school and suddenly poof! He went missing. The next thing we know, he is one of the militants killed in Kalyanpur. One of his school friends wrote on Facebook: “He wasn’t an evil person. He was a funny, earnest kid who I played cricket with . . . but along the way, something went wrong and he was encouraged and inspired by an ideology I cannot understand and violence I cannot condone . . . I hate that I can’t mourn. How can you mourn the defeat of something wrong?” There you go.

While we tell ourselves that it’s business as usual, the rest of our surrounding disallows us from thinking so. Even after a month, there are stories in the papers narrating how they were tortured, taunted and murdered. Even after a month, there are stories narrating how their loved ones received graphic images and videos of their tormented last moments. While the details may benefit the ongoing investigation, how does it affect the aggrieved family members? Does it really benefit opening and reopening boxes piled with grief and tears on a daily basis? How brutally insensitive some of our media outfits become? And how fast are we ourselves spreading rumours and fear that are, at times, unsubstantiated? The stories have to stop, and the gossip must end. We cannot endlessly offer our spirit to feed fear.

But, it’s time we grow fearful of our self-glorified environment. Recently, private universities were asked to encourage active student politics. Fair enough. But what do we do when student leaders themselves are killed in factional clashes? While the silent candlelight vigil ended, Comilla University experienced the attack of a suspended activist, which disrupted the entire event and caused the university a costly closure. A similar incident followed at Barisal’s Brojmohun College. So, how does a call for “Shorob Rajniti”(explicit politics) in campuses work when many young “students” have been blinded by bias? The history of our student politics in 1952, 1971 and 1991 differs hugely from the 2016 version, which has been hijacked by self-seeking aspiring, greedy young pseudo politicians.

At the end of day, our youth, religion and culture are all being hijacked. Very often I hear many of my friends cribbing about leading straight lives, without having too much bank debt, with proper tax assessed lives, relatively devoid of high levels of corruption and yet not being rewarded by God above. Little do they know that our God has also been ideologically hijacked and that what we witness in the world today is a total theft of our religion, Islam. We have been robbed off our faith.

But of course, we live in a world where theft, robbery, plagiarism are all justified by sheer power and influence. Wives of presidential candidates talk about their migrant experiences, choke, recollect their challenging pasts and pour out words that the wife of another president used to address a sensitive audience. But apparently, that’s not plagiarism; that’s merely because she was feeling the same way. It’s equally amusing to watch Fareed Zakaria, who stole lines, lifted passages from publications and survived the whole episode of accusations, just because everyone loved him on screen. That’s another thing to learn. If you are popular, you are forgiven. If one is big, wrong and strong, then that’s even more reason to overlook theft, robbery and fraud. Think about our commercial banks – most of them will sink if the owners of two or three corporate groups were to collapse for one reason or the other. Out of 100,000 defaulters, only two to three are good enough to sink the entire economy. Similarly, out of 1.6 billion Muslims, only the insanity of the 5 percent has jeopardised Islam. At the end of the day, it’s the ferocity of the deviants that counts.

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