“Despite destruction all around us, the police told me nobody had been hurt, that there was nothing but light violence!”
Monday afternoon, I went to Baitul Mukkaram mosque, near which there had been violent clashes. I saw a burnt-out bus, and concrete dividers smashed into little bits. The mall across the street was completely trashed, and a nearby marketplace was in smoulders. There was a horde of policemen there, so I asked some of them, were there injured protesters? Or injured police? They told me nobody had been hurt, that there was nothing but light violence! After much difficulty, and with the help of a policeman who apparently hadn’t been briefed about not talking to curious activists, I figured out which hospital injured protesters had been taken to. There, no medical personnel would talk to me, but I managed to speak to some men who had been shot – one in the eye, another in the hips. I also went to a morgue, where the police showed me four corpses they said were of protesters. I also saw police bringing in more corpses, but they claimed it was unrelated to the clashes.Ahmed filmed this short video report at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital on Monday.“Many people don’t want any documentation of events that could portray the Islamists as being in any way victims”After putting photos and videos of all this online, anti-Islamist activists came at me with pitchforks, metaphorically speaking. Many people don’t want any documentation of events that could portray the Islamists as being in any way victims. It’s really disheartening to see how much both sides demonise each other. As a gay Muslim man, I’m obviously not a huge fan of the Islamists’ agenda; I don’t think “atheist bloggers” should be given the death penalty nor do I want sharia law. However, so-called “secular” activists are not exactly pacifists either – last February, they organised protests to call for the death penalty for a radical Islamic leader who had been given a life sentence for crimes perpetrated during the 1971 war of independence. I heard many people in these protests chanting things like, “Light a fire, hang him!” Both sides are really good at incendiary rhetoric.Bangladesh is a culturally diverse country – you can live a very modern, Western life in the city, and then go out to the villages and see families living a strict Muslim life, with no TV or radio, with kids studying in the madrassas. These cultural schisms are growing deeper and deeper, and I’m afraid that without a Desmond Tutu-type of leader that can embrace all sides, the situation will only get worse. I’m particularly worried about rumours that are currently circulating between Islamists via text messages and the radio, claiming that the police dumped 50,000 bodies in a river – whether it’s true or not, and it certainly seems unlikely, this could very well create a second wave of violence.