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Why Can't We Hear People Declaring 'Aami Dhaka' Following Bangladesh Terror Attack?

02/07/2016 3:42 PM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 8:59 PM IST
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Bangladeshi security personnel cordon off the area after a group of gunmen attacked a restaurant popular with foreigners in a diplomatic zone of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, July 1, 2016. A group of gunmen attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka's Gulshan area, taking hostages and exchanging gunfire with security forces, according to a restaurant staff member and local media reports. (AP Photo)

Why not Je Suis Dhaka? Or to be more culturally accurate Aami Dhaka?

The attacks claimed by Islamic State in a restaurant in the capital of Bangladesh have become yet another grisly milestone in that country's cavalcade of horrors — gay activists, Hindu priests, atheist bloggers, publishers, and now restaurant patrons.

Yet precisely because it is such a cavalcade of horrors, happening with deadly and deadening regularity, it will not evoke a Je Suis moment. The Eiffel Tower will probably not be lit up in the colours of Bangladesh. And Facebook will not offer us an Aami Dhaka filter for our profile pictures. It might allow users to mark themselves safe but that's about it. There is a pecking order of tragedy.

Perhaps it's just as well.

The Je Suis slogan, once a stirring call for a moment of coming together in protest and solidarity, is well-meaning but has a long lost its meaning.

We can argue about whether the Eiffel Tower is illuminated or not but that sheds no light on why the bombing or massacre happened.

It's become just another pro forma way to react. Or not. It's more a cookie cutter response than a thoughtful gesture. It has led to no greater equity when it comes to empathy. Some tragedies matter more than others and no prizes for guessing which ones. It is no longer a trigger for solidarity but for hypocrisy alert. Is a gay bar in Orlando more worthy of international mourning than an airport in Istanbul? It just makes us even more acutely aware of which tragedies count for more – colour coding them as it were.

The fact that we even have to debate this shows how ridiculous it has all become, how far removed from the actual horror. Je Suis has been turned into a fashion accessory, the AIDS red ribbon for these troubled times, and it's a fashion accessory that is definitely not one size fits all. Dhaka is not Istanbul is not Paris.

There are reasons for why one tragedy gets a Je Suis moment and another does not and many of them very sound reasons. It's a rare occurrence in Paris. It's more like daily news in Syria. And it has happened with clockwork regularity in Bangladesh.

The world at large has greater cultural connection to Paris or London or New York than to Dhaka. But as the victims at the Istanbul airport blast showed, this was a cosmopolitan city, where many cultures criss-crossed. Among the victims were not just Turks but citizens of Saudi Arabia, China, Uzbekistan, Ukraine to name just a few. The majority, however, were Muslims and The New York Times says "If the bombings are confirmed to be the work of the Islamic State, it will show once again that the group, which portrays itself as defending Islam and fighting Western powers, kills far more Muslims than non-Muslims on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria or in terrorist attacks in the region." Many will point to that fact to say that is the reason why the world at large will not say Je Suis Istanbul whether in French or Turkish.

Je Suis has been turned into a fashion accessory, the AIDS red ribbon for these troubled times, and it's a fashion accessory that is definitely not one size fits all.

On the other hand perhaps the cosmopolitan nature of Turkey was the reason why at least some landmarks around the world did light up in Turkish colours — Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and Amsterdam's Royal Palace to name two. But will it happen the next time? Did it happen the time before when 30 people were killed in a bombing in Ankara in February or when 37 were killed in another bombing in March?

The point is it really does not matter what happens to the Eiffel tower. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 40 world leaders marched the streets of Paris. That was an expression of solidarity which will not be repeated for Lahore or Dhaka or Istanbul, no matter what colours light up the Eiffel Tower. Any gesture, however well-intentioned, loses its impact with repetition and that is exactly what has happened with Je Suis. It's become a trigger of whataboutery for some – what about ? It's become a quick shortcut to blip of solidarity that you don't have to think much about for others.

We can argue about whether the Eiffel Tower is illuminated or not but that sheds no light on why the bombing or massacre happened. Did it happen for the same reason in Orlando as in Dhaka as in Istanbul as in Brussels? Is it really the Islamic State or is it just happy to take "credit" for every act of mayhem? How are the local politics of Bangladesh playing into this narrative versus the local politics of Turkey? What does it mean that despite attack after attack, the government in Bangladesh seems to be more invested in claiming that this is the work of homegrown terrorists as opposed to an international operation like Islamic State as if that should make us all heave a sigh of relief? That stubborn denial in fact helps feed the likes of Donald Trump who want to ride the "Islamic terrorist bogeyman" to the White House. These are the discussions that would be meaningful not debates about changing filters and profile pictures. The hope was that in a more connected world the Je Suis moment would send a powerful message - a united nations of resolve and solidarity.

But it's just become a template to photoshop a tragedy that in effect melds one massacre into another. And the dead whether in Dhaka or Orlando or Istanbul deserve better.

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