I still remember the day when the picture of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi lying dead on the beach surfaced on the Internet. Aylan and his family were refugees trying to reach Europe. The news was followed by a massive public outcry. I recall that many people including the young in Bangladesh were also vocal about it. Many of my friends on social media made the image their profile picture, with impassioned captions decrying the state of immigration and refugee crisis and how the world had failed an innocent boy. Most people that I know seemed to be very troubled by the Syrian humanitarian crisis which cost many lives and millions of homes. We criticised the lack of an intervention from the international community as the war brought that country to its knees.
But that compassion and fellow-feeling seemed to be lost on many of us when the ball was in our own court. The Bangladesh government showed great courage by sheltering the Rohingya refugees who were victims of one of the worst genocides in history. Applauded at first, this decision by the government has been lately losing its popularity among the citizens. I believe this is one of those few actions taken by our government that should be commended without any hesitation. But my social media homepage was recently flooded with unfortunate criticism and doubts about the means through which the government is dealing with the Rohingya crisis. Hostile comments are being made regarding the Rohingyas and their prolonged stay in the country.
The tension has been further stoked by offensive, discriminatory, humiliating and generalising journalism by some of our online newspapers. What purpose do headlines like “Bangladeshi man murdered by Rohingyas” serve other than enticing hatred among the people? There are about a million Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh and it is quite unreasonable to expect all of them to be saints. Another news report that recently caused tension among many is that of the Rohingya assembly held on August 25, 2019, which marked their two years of being stranded in Bangladesh. Those who have the habit of just reading headlines without going to the details caused quite an uproar on social media, questioning the objective of the gathering. Anyone who bothered to follow the whole news would know that no statements were made in that rally that remotely suggest a threat to Bangladesh’s national security. There was nothing about it that could be construed as dangerous. But absorbing such news through a nationalist filter, however, is problematic. In this case, nationalism should not be the driving factor for our emotions; it should be humanity. I urge those driven by hatred and nationalist sentiments to find their humanity in these trying times and not make the situation any more difficult for an already persecuted community. It should not be that hard as it is our innate characteristic.
On a different note, criticising US President Trump is one of those “cool” things that we young people do a lot these days. I have often seen that two people who have never agreed on anything in their life before are agreeing about the discriminatory and demeaning nature of the comments made by Donald Trump. Statements such as “they bring crimes and drugs to our country” have become too familiar by now to those who keep track of American politics. Unfortunately, these dangerous words and phrases are now being used by many of us also.
I remember an interview in which an Australian man asked British journalist Mehdi Hasan whether he thinks Muslims in Australia are conceiving more frequently so that they can outnumber the Caucasians. Just like the audience present at the hall, I was shocked by hearing such an ignorant and racist question. It hurts even more now when I hear Bangladeshis making similar remarks about Rohingyas.
There is no “Bangladeshi dream” to be achieved here. I would ask anyone who thinks that the Rohingyas are living a better life on this side of the border than they did back at home, please go and visit the camps in Ukhiya. They did not cross the border in pursuit of happiness or a better life. They crossed it to stay alive. Thinking that people would sacrifice all that they once held dear to their hearts to have the things you have is not only arrogant but also bigoted. At tea stalls on the roadside, I sometimes hear people say that the Rohingyas “like it here” and they will never leave our country. To them, I ask, “If not forced, would you want to leave the comfort of your home to live in a refugee camp?”
Have we forgotten about how ten million of our people fled the persecution in 1971 by taking refuge in India? Of all people, Bangladeshis should know better the horror of having to flee from your homes and country amidst a genocidal campaign. We should know how it feels like to walk in the shoes of Rohingyas. We should learn empathy.
Nafiz Ahmed is a law graduate from North South University and currently an apprentice lawyer.