The carnage and mayhem that unfolded in Dhaka for over 24 hour, which we witnessed with utter shock, disbelief and horror, made me wonder: is this real? Can it happen in Bangladesh—a country known for its hospitable, peace-loving people.
But it did. When the army stormed the Holey Artisan café in Dhaka’s upscale Gulshan 10 hours after the standoff began on June 30, the scale and gravity of the carnage became clear with over 20 victims—mostly foreigners–brutally murdered by the hostage-takers. Six of them were also killed by the commandos.
For over three decades I’ve covered many natural- and manmade disasters and have seen death and destruction on numerous occasions. At the outset, my superiors kept me reminding that journalists must remain calm and faithful to do his/her job as objectively as possible. But I failed in that test and I wept inconsolably, especially after seeing the photos of innocent young victims splashed across the front pages. What was their crime? Why they had to die in such a horrible way. Why the despicable ideology is driving young Muslims around the world to commit such hideous crimes in the name of Islam?
Not surprisingly, religious scholars and analysts (of whom there’s no dearth these days) have again vociferously said that Islam is a religion of peace and there is no place of violence in it. These sayings sound rather hackneyed and irritating. The more they say this, the more you see the spread of this kind of violence around the world.
The question perhaps everybody is asking: how to stop it? It is now crystal clear that no amount of money, sermons, fire power and drones can solve the problem. Had it been the case, the United States with its matchless money, firepower and highly sophisticated intelligence network could have succeeded long time ago.
Just a reminder, the combined budget allocation for the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security is over a trillion dollar (yes, $1,000 billion). A bulk of that money is designed to bolster security inside the US and crush religious extremism in and outside America.
What we’re noticing, with increasing fear, that the money and firepower have hardly made any progress toward achieving that twin purpose. Rather it appears to be rising with intensity and ever more horror. The recent mass shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub, which claimed 49 lives, is a case in point.
Frankly, the only people who appear to be benefiting most out of this huge expenditure are the so called security experts, analysts and defense contractors. I can bet that you’ll bump into one of these people if you happen to walk around Washington DC. Being a resident of the greater metropolitan Washington area for nearly 15 years, I can vouch for that. They have made millions by selling their so called expertise. According to a column I read a few years ago by Tom Friedman of The New York Times, the defense contractors made over $42 billion out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And despite President Obama’s firm commitment to end the two wars, American soldiers are still there and will be for indefinite period. So are the defense contractors.
To be blunt, there’s no way the US and its allies both in the West and the Muslim world can win this battle. Frankly, it’s the US policy which is mostly responsible for the abetment and spread of militant Islam around the world.
Take, for instance, its Middle East policy. For over 60 years, America’s myopic, brazen backing of Israel vis-a vis the Palestinians have stoked anger, not only among Muslims but among sane, rational people around the world. Remember the TV footages you see about how Israeli forces respond with war planes and armored vehicles when Palestinians throw rocks and firebombs at them. People also often watch on TV that the United States is the only country that vetoes any resolution in the UN Security Council against Israel, condemning its atrocities on the hapless Palestinians.
The collective anger has been growing against the US policy for over six decades, which the Muslims have come to realize that it would not change, no matter who sits in the White House. That anger further flared up when it was evident that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of punishing the implacable foes of Washington did nothing but bring untold miseries to their people and resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of their citizens. It also saw the beginning of a refugee crisis when hundreds of thousands of desperate Afghan and Iraqi people fleeing war and uncertainty left their countries in droves.
The crisis took on an epic proportion after the US moved to change regimes in Syria and Libya with disastrous consequences. Now more than a million people of the two countries have joined the perilous journey flooding the shores of Europe. Citizens of these countries were never poor and they had relatively secure life and future. Now having lost everything with no future, no hope, what is the guarantee that many of their young people would not become terrorists. And who is to blame except the American establishment.
What is intriguing is that the US policy never encourages regime change of their allies in the Gulf region—Saudi Arabia in particular, which is widely believed to be responsible for exporting radical Islam around the world.
This hypocrisy has laid bare the false claims that America believes in democracy and free speech and would do whatever it takes to promote these cardinal values around the world.
Make no mistake, the American people, by and large, have nothing to do with this hypocritical policy and double standard; they are kept largely in the dark. Mostly, it is formulated by the vested interest groups, whose selfish, relentless pursuit of money and power overtake national interest. I’m often flabbergasted by the response of my American friends give about why it is good for American interest. When I shot back and ask how its national interest is served when their policy and actions make more enemies than friends around the world, they keep quiet.
Happily, there are well-meaning, thinking Americans who are now openly coming out against Washington’s disastrous policy and why it’s hurting America’s image globally. Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, in a recent column in the Project Syndicate, said America must end its addiction to regime change and punish the culprits responsible for causing global financial crisis. To paraphrase, he also emphasized a sense of fairness and opportunity for the disaffected people around the world must be restored. “This means following the social-democratic ethos of pursuing ample social spending for health, education, training, apprenticeships, and family support, financed by taxing the rich and closing tax havens, which are gutting public revenues and exacerbating economic injustice.”
This is the crux. Until and unless America mends its policies and redouble its efforts to address the root cause of people’s grievances against the elites worldwide and their dysfunctional system, the world will continue to see the horror and carnage in greater proportion and no amount of high-tech military gear, drones and sophisticated intelligence would be able to deter, let alone, crush the determined, educated, highly motivated extremists, who are ready to die for their ill-conceived cause.
Arshad Mahmud is a Bangladeshi-American journalist based in northern Virginia. He’s currently in Bangladesh and involved in training journalists. In his long career spanning over three decades, he has reported for a number of reputed news outlets including The New York Times and The Guardian of UK.