On a clear spring night in April 23, 1998 we rushed to the residence of Latifur Rahman, Shamim Bhai as we call him, hearing that their youngest daughter Shazneen has been murdered in her bedroom . The 15-year -old was brutally murdered by domestic members of the household. For days, months and years, the memory of that macabre night continued to haunt us and that had left the family to mourn forever the untimely and tragic death of their youngest. We knew her well, a young bubbly teenager full of life just getting ready to step into adulthood.
Apart from the unthinkable tragedy, the family since then has suffered innumerable disappointments and frustration over the progress of the murder case of their daughter. After 18 years, the case is still pending. But who is this family? Latifur Rahman and his family have set up a well reputed industrial house like the Transcom Group and has partnered in establishing many institutions providing much needed employment to thousands. Latifur Rahman has been instrumental in the setting up and success of such a prestigious newspaper as The Daily Star. Together with his wife, their daughters and a son, they make up one of the most eminent families of the country, known for their ethical business standards, their amicable behaviour and above all their generosity towards people.
When many sent their children abroad to study they insisted their children study in local English medium schools in Dhaka. Although the older ones went abroad for higher studies, they all returned to Bangladesh, following the footsteps of their parents, to build their future here and make a contribution to the country of their birth. Fate, indeed dealt them a cruel blow in taking away their youngest cherished child.
But how did the family survive this huge tragedy. Did they dissipate, give up, leave the country, collapse and become immobile in the face of such a tragedy. No, on the contrary, they rose from the tragedy, more firm and resolute not to be defeated by the evil forces and continued to contribute by setting up the most highly circulated Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo in the country and expanding their business. They did not allow the cruel murderous hand of fate to destroy them, they stood up, they rose and fought back. However, during this time, their world revolved around their children and most importantly their four grand children.
Then came July 1, 2016; the next day was Shabe Qadre the 26th day of the holy month of Ramadaan. For Muslims, it was the “night of all nights”, many doing last minute shopping for Eid, festivity in the air, restaurants busy serving Iftar. Like other restaurants, Holey Artisan bakery was busy. Some people had come for iftar and lingered on, others for dinner. As we know by now, all hell broke loose around 8:30 as 6-7 gunmen stormed the restaurant and took the guests hostage.
We heard in shock and dismay that Faraaz Hossain, grandson of Latifur Rahman and son of their eldest daughter of Simeen, MD of Eskyef pharmaceuticals was among the hostages. Suddenly the tragedy the family had endured nearly 20 years ago seemed to be coming back. We prayed with our heart and soul, begging and pleading with God not to let this happen to them again.
But Alas!, that was not to be. Faraaz along with 19 others was brutally murdered by a bunch of de-humanised young men, indoctrinated to believe that killing of Jews and Christians would land them in heaven.
This incident in many ways has no parallel in Bangladesh. The brutality of the murders, the motive, the choice of victims are all alien to our society which we believe is tolerant, humane and believes in living together in peace and harmony.
There are hundreds of unanswered questions. Who are these young men, how did they become radicalised, what prompted them to this act of cruelty, what is their motive, why? Too many questions and few answers as slowly we are trying to make sense of it all. Can it be at all possible that Bangladesh is moving towards the kind of radicalism that we see in the Middle East and other places? But how can this be? We liberated our country in 1971 on four principles, one of which was secularism!
However, this article is not about finding answers to these questions. It is about the family of Latifur Rahman, about Shazneen and about Faraaz.
And who was Faraaz? A young innocent boy of 20, so handsome that seeing him one had to ask “who is that good looking boy?”. Well mannered, polite and a good student. The apple of the eyes of this parents and grandparents and brought up with the same values and principles that is the hallmark of the family. What was his fault? He had just gone to Holey for a meal with two friends, Tarishi and Abinta. He along with his friends were brutally murdered that night.
Many of us know by now that he could have saved himself if he wanted to. But, imbued with the values given to him by his parents and grandparents, he stood up, defied the murderers and paid the price with his life. He refused to leave his friends to die and by doing so showed us that there is still hope left in this country.
As already published in The Daily Star this morning, he did not fail us. He showed courage in the face of death and stood tall. When the nation failed our foreign guests, were not able to protect them, this young boy of only 20, showed a rare kind of hospitality and responsibility. He just could not leave them and save himself. One wonders how many among us could have done the same.
On one side is the immense personal tragedy traumatising family and friends and on the other, the million dollar question “where is our country heading towards?” Will it be branded as another “terrorist country”, will the threat of extremism and radicalisation continue to expand, if yes, do we have the means, expertise and will to deal with it.
Only time will tell, but what we do as a nation from now onwards will determine the future of this beloved country that we call Bangladesh. Finally, I want to pay my personal tribute to the 9 Italians and 7 Japanese murdered so brutally, conveying my heartfelt regret, sorrow and shame that we failed to protect them. Our hearts go out to the loved ones of the two brave police officers who gave their lives to save others.
To the families of Faraaz, Tarishi, Abinta and Ishrat. Please know, they were our children, our sons and daughters. We mourn their deaths as if this has happened to our families, to our children. We stand beside you in this hour of immense pain and tragedy. May their soul rest in peace, may the angels themselves take them to their heavenly adobe. With deep sorrow, love and respect.
The writer is Executive Director of Manusher Jonno foundation.