Monday, July 04, 2016

Heroism in Dhaka

Terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Dhaka, and Baghdad, following so closely on the heels of the terrible mass-murder in Orlando, cast a pall over today's holiday here in the US. In a world that defeated fascism and survived the Cold War, the continuing crescendo of sectarian violence mocks hope and sows disenchantment and malaise. There is one detail of the tragedy in Dhaka, however, that should cause those committed to peace and shared prosperity to take heart.

The terrorists who attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery chose it because it is a frequent destination for expatriates living and traveling in Bangladesh. Thus, beyond being an act of senseless violence, the Dhaka attack was also an assault on the very forms of international communication, exchange, and cooperation that embody the best tendencies of our postmodern world. The attackers underscored their commitment to isolation and tribalism by attempting to separate the patrons and staff of the bakery into "foreigners" and native Bangladeshis, declaring their intention only to do harm to non-Muslims.

Following this logic, the terrorists offered to release Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, a twenty-year-old college student visiting his home in Dhaka during summer recess from Emory University. Faraaz, however, had come to the bakery with his classmate Abinta Kabir, an American, and their friend Tarishi Jain, from India. Both women were dressed in "Western" clothing, and the terrorists offered them no mercy. Faraaz refused to abandon his companions, and was found among the dead when the bakery was finally retaken by the Bangladeshi military.

It must be small comfort to Faraaz's family, and to the loved ones of all of those taken by terror in recent weeks, but in Faraaz's heroism we can clearly see the impotence and ultimate demise of groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda. Faraaz understood a truth that is beyond the capacity of the moral imbeciles that commit acts like the attacks in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, and Baghdad. Our ties to one-another as human beings are vastly more important than any debt we as individuals owe to abstractions such as "Islam," "Christianity," or "Judaism." Indeed, these latter creeds only retain value and power to the extent that we honor and fulfill the former obligations. In this sense, Faraaz was not only a much better person than his attackers, but a far superior Muslim.

As we here in the US celebrate the two-hundred fortieth anniversary of a document that declared all "equal" and endowed with rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," it is appropriate to honor Faraaz and his sacrifice. The truth for which he died is the same, in essence, as that declared by the Founders in 1776. Though the tragedy of Faraaz and his companions shows us that the struggle to realize these ideals continues and may yet be long, the courage with which he embodied them inspires confidence that they are sure, in the long run, to prevail.

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