Finding meaning amidst the chaos of terror
A year has passed since militants attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan killing 22 people. Yet, there is so much that many of us still can't quite arrange in proper sequence, to be able to explain, to ourselves, the entirety of the gruesome event, as despite being an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country Bangladesh had never really witnessed anything quite like it before.
Sure there are those who had warned of some form of extremism emerging having observed the inequalities that exist in the social, economic and political fabric of our daily lives (which sometimes give rise to extreme reactionary forces). But they don't really explain the Holey Artisan tragedy, as most of the attackers, all in their late teens or early 20s, came from comparatively privileged backgrounds, and, as such, were not necessarily victims of such unfair discriminations. One thing though is for certain, that they were somehow influenced by external forces.
And here is a lesson to learn: as unfair as it is to ask more of parents who have worked so hard to be able to send their children to some of the best educational institutions in the country (or the world), they must keep keener eyes on their children. Because as was made evident from the tragedy of July 1, 2016 you never know what kind of monsters are lurking in the dark, waiting to incorporate impressionable minds, into their wicked designs.
But is it that easy to divert youngsters down such destructive paths? For one, we don't really know all the details of their recruitment. The current environment, however, might just be perfect for such indoctrination, particularly given the sudden and complete collapse of all previously prevailing societal value structures.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882 asked in his book The Gay Science, with the demise of "what was holiest and mightiest of all...[in] the world...What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?" This philosophical observation of his is perhaps one of the most misunderstood by religious and non-religious minds alike.
Nietzsche's argument was that, since the west's value structure was constructed on religion and was crumbling with the decline of religious belief, people would have to create their own value structures (while the famous Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that human beings were simply incapable of arbitrarily inventing value structures to direct their own lives by and would thus, fall into chaos until they could transform themselves to come to this realisation). Unfortunately, he never got the chance to address how the west could deal with this 'problem'—its ideation appearing to be grounded on an illusion—as religion increasingly became considered a mere fantasy.
What the west, however, would 'certainly' do next, in the chaotic aftermath of being disillusioned by the value structure upon which western society had been predicated, he said, was descend into a combination of nihilism and totalitarianism. In fact, he even prophesised that millions of people would die in the coming century in his book The Will to Power, specifically due to conflict between the competing value structures and ideological doctrines that would attempt to fill the vacuum — Zionism, Fascism, Communism, etc.
To this day, the west is still struggling to solve this problem. But with rapid globalisation, it has, moreover, become sort of universalised; as globalisation, though often understood in terms of economics, does have major cultural, political and social dimensions to it, as it involves, along with goods and services, the movement of people, their ideas and cultures, across geographical space. One such dimension, according to noted linguist and activist Helena Norberg-Hodge, who has been studying different cultures for nearly 50 years, is to supplant historically established local cultures (and value structures) with the newly invented "global monoculture" of consumerism (and nihilism).
This has resulted in millions of youths around the world, including in Bangladesh, suffering from a severe identity crisis, unable to connect with (or relate to) their own history, culture, etc. Indian political and clinical psychologist Ashis Nandy explains, "The Southern world's future now, by definition, is nothing other than an edited version of contemporary North. What Europe and North America are today, the folklore of the globalised middle-class claims, the rest of the world will become tomorrow" (Regimes of Narcissism, Regimes of Despair, Oxford University Press).
But the contemporary global monoculture that is spreading like wildfire is not predicated on any moral or ethical values, or value structure. And in the absence of any concrete principles to hold onto (or value structure which would allow them to determine 'good from evil'), the youth, particularly those coming from relatively privileged backgrounds (not having to worry about survival all the time), can easily become disillusioned and sometimes even desperate to grasp at any alternative that they believe will give them (back) some meaning. Only to find there are (almost) none, other than the global monoculture promoting hedonism, narcissism and purposelessness.
"Once the visions of the future are this narrowly defined, the resulting vacuum is sometimes filled by pathological forms of millennialism," Nandy argues, some of which are "perfectly compatible with the various editions of fundamentalism floating around in the global marketplace of ideas today." Therefore, to fight back against extremism, society must address this problem, as well as many others that push the youth towards the various forms of fundamentalism—such as the violence that is being perpetrated by western governments, seemingly under false pretences—that are trying to allure them under the guise of offering some form of certainties (order) amidst all the chaos.
But this alternative value structure cannot be based on violence, nihilism and the idea that (any) life is meaningless and thus, can (and should) be taken by another at their will. It has to be the opposite. The alternative that the youth should be offered must include dialogue as a means to settling existing differences, rather than violence. Spirituality, morality and optimism rather than nihilism. And the idea that (all) life, including their own, is full of meaning, as opposed to being meaningless, as it is they, who must shape the direction that the human family will tread down, in the days to come. All of which, the great religions and philosophies of the past had 'valued' and promoted, above others.
The writer is a member of the Editorial team at The Daily Star.