I think the biggest lesson we learnt in 2016 is that we have been living in a bubble of delusion - about the kind of world we live in.
The first major bubble that burst our incorrigible complacency was the ramifications of terrorism unleashed by ISIS which we realised with horror, had reached every nook and cranny of the world, including our own home. ISIS and its sympathisers (whether recruits or lone wolves) have proved that there is actually no limit to human cruelty, the manifestation of which we were forced to witness on July 1. I will not go into the details of that just as we begin a New Year but we must acknowledge the fact that what ISIS and other terror outfits have taught us is when there is a vacuum of basic values in the existing system and in our personal lives, the seeds of extremism will germinate at exponential speed and will infect even the most unlikeliest targets. Could we have ever imagined that youngsters, barely out of their 20s who had been brought up in luxury and had the privilege of going to the best schools and universities, who never had to suffer the deprivations that so many young people from poor families do – these young men would be capable of becoming such ruthless killers? They had been brainwashed to such an extent that they were willing to give up everything – their families, their future, their very lives, for some distorted idea spread by a few evil men. We learnt with growing fright, the profile of religious militants were no longer confined to poor, neglected, youngsters who had only been exposed to religious education and so were easy targets of extremist indoctrination. The new brand of terrorists did not sport beards and long kurtas, they wore jeans and T shirts, could be friends of your children or even sons (and daughters) of your extended family.
This is something we must think about very deeply and try to understand why our young men and women would be drawn to such distorted, destructive ideology. On the other hand the same horrific incident also gave us the most incredible sacrifice of a young man named Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain. Educated in the most prestigious educational institutes at home and abroad, from a respectable and wealthy family, this 20-year-old who happened to be quite religious, showed the world that religion and humanity was one and the same thing. By refusing to leave his friends, both young women he went to school with, one of Hindu faith, he showed what true courage, piety, nobility and loyalty was. His sacrifice was a slap in the face for the terrorists who justified their heinous murdering spree as being for the sake of Islam. Faraaz's sacrifice is more important for Muslims all over the world because it refutes the western stereotype of what a Muslim represents - terror, backwardness and ill treatment of women. Faraaz has told the world that being a Muslim means being humane, being courageous in the face of injustice, it means friendship and it means tolerance of other people's differences. If ever there was an example of what a modern, enlightened Muslim could be like, that would be this innocent young man who was brought up with the best values a human being could have.
A humungous bombshell fell on the entire world (and it is still reeling from the experience) when Donald Trump won the US presidency. The media coverage of the campaigns exposed the extent of Islamophobia and xenophobia of a large portion of the electorate that found Trump's political incorrectness so appealing. The America that had been admired for its liberal thinking, it's passionate adherence to the constitution, it's acceptance of people from all cultures and faiths – all that was brushed aside by Trump and his supporters. Again, the media, and us living thousands of miles away yet so invested in the outcome of the US elections, realised, we had been living in that delusional bubble. Not that there were no signs of this wave of narrow-minded populist nationalism, in the US and before in other parts of the world. It is just that we were in denial – definitely the American media was – about how much their country had changed and how many of their compatriots believed in an all-white America. In fact the all-white agenda is spreading fast all over the just divorced UK and Europe as more and more non-whites are forced to leave home to seek refuge in western countries.
The most damning realisation of 2016 is that the human race has become more confused, divisive, racist and violent than ever. Technology has been abused to kill human beings – whether they are assault rifles or drones that can wipe out whole villages. And no matter how much the West and its eastern allies try to arrest the haemorrhaging in the wars they instigated, the bleeding just won't stop. Because the intentions are not to 'save' people, it is to expand power bases, settle scores with international rivals and sustain the arms industries.
As climate change makes itself more known to the world, there is little hope that there will be less conflict if we carry on like this, for how do we tackle the influx of more and more climate refugees, the loss of natural resources, the scarcity of land and water and most importantly, the greed and selfishness of humans?
Stepping into a new year therefore, brings with it huge baggage, the burden of the truths we have been forced to recognise. The question is always can we move forward? Can we learn the lessons of last year and try to be better human beings? But perhaps the real question is: How much do we really want to?
The writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Opinion, The Daily Star.