On February 26th, 2015, writer Avijit Roy was hacked to death assailants possible linked to the Jamat E Islami on the streets of Dhaka. The attack on Roy and his wife—who is injured and in hospital—was not very different from that on cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, the weekly satirical magazine, in Paris in January. What was different was the outrage. While huge support from all corners of the globe poured in for Charlie Hebdo on social and mainstream media, Roy’s murder has neither been covered well in the mainstream media at least in India nor is there is a similar outrage on social media.
I am leaving aside mainstream media because they are generally known for selective outrage and coverage. This is especially true of the Indian mainstream media. What has disappointed me more is the relatively muted reaction to Roy’s murder on social media, especially in India.
Alright, not many of us, including me, were aware of Roy’s work before his death. But how many of us in India were aware of Charlie Hebdo before the Paris attacks? And yet there were many Je Suis Charlies. Does Roy’s murder—he was killed for a reason not very different from that for Charlie Hebdo cartoonist—not deserve similar reaction? Why no Je Suis Avijit trending on social media as yet?
I do not expect much outrage from the west although Roy was an American citizen and was visiting his native Bangladesh when he was attacked. The west is known for double standards when it comes terror attacks. Notice how they always speak of September 11th, Madrid bombings, London underground bombings but never about 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Was it not a terror attack? In fact, Mumbai suffered three major terror attacks between 1993 and 2008.
No, I am not worried about the muted reaction from western commentators or individuals on social media, who were outraged by Charlie Hebdo. One kind of expects this. It is obvious. For them life of a western citizen is more valuable than the life of a citizen from India or Bangladesh. In Roy’s case it is even more shocking because, as I noted earlier, Roy was an American citizen. As I am writing this, I am yet to find any comments from the U.S. President Barack Obama. He was very quick to react to the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemstov, who was shot dead on Saturday morning. But he is yet to react—I haven’t come across any statements or a tweet—condemning the attack on a American citizen.
But more than the west’s reaction, more than Obama’s reaction, my concern is the relatively muted reaction in India. Many Je Suis Charlies sprung up after the Paris attack. As I am writing this, I don’t see a similar reaction to Roy’s murder. This tells me that either the Je Suis Charlies were just following a popular twitter trend, or to them events in Paris matter more than the events closer home.
Don’t get me wrong. The reaction to the Paris attacks was warranted. But do the events in Paris in any way pose a direct threat to India? No they don’t. But events in Bangladesh do. There are a lot of misconceptions about Bangladesh in India, one being that like Pakistan, it is a Muslim state. It is not. It is a secular state. Islam is by far the largest religion in the country but even the United Nations sees the country as “mainly moderate Muslim democratic country.”
Bangladesh is also part of the Next Eleven or N-11, a term coined by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’ Neill. O’Neill, who also came up with famous BRICs group of countries, said in a research paper that Bangladesh along with the 10 other countries in the report could become the world’s largest economies in this century.
Of course, Bangladesh, like any developing country, has its fair share of problems. The country is marred by extreme poverty and corruption. But there is also a growing threat of Islamist extremism. This is why Indians should be worried about the attack on Roy. While there have been protests over Roy’s death, highlighting the fact that Bangladesh remains a largely tolerant country, Islamic extremism is a growing menace. Rising extremism in a moderate Muslim country in the neighborhood is more worrying than an attack in Paris. It should have got more coverage on the media. It commanded a stronger reaction. Indeed, according to stories floating on social media, Farabi Shafiur Rahman, who had threatened to kill Avijit Roy, has fled into West Bengal. The same state that in 2013 saw 16 Islamic organizations hold a rally in support of Jamat E Islami, which is not just linked to the murder of Roy but whose top leader was also involved in war crimes in 1971.
The relatively muted reaction so far does come as a shock, especially after the outpouring of support for Charlie Hebdo. To all the Je Suis Charlies in India, if your support for Charlie Hebdo was more to do with following a Twitter trend then for your information, the most recent trend on Twitter is #The Dress. To those that have been selective in their outrage, you should consider changing your Twitter handle to Je Suis Hypocrite.