A despicable act, never mind why

A despicable act, never mind why
MORALLY WRONG: The burnt bus set on fire in Rangpur last month, allegedly by supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

I have long thought about what motivates a petrol-bomb thrower in Bangladesh. Who is this person? What kind of social background and economic class does he come from (I am assuming the person is is a man, though there have been recent reports of female bomb-makers at home)?

What is his occupation? Is he driven by political ideology or money? Or both? How does he fare in the job market? Is he unskilled and desperate to earn some money through clandestine means? Is he a naive political cadre? Is he a religious fanatic? Is he brainwashed? Is he a heartless anarchist who has no understanding of the tragedy he inflicts?

Will his violence on behalf of someone somewhere be rewarded with political favours in the future? Is he merely a dispensable and despicable foot soldier at the wretched bottom of the political pyramid?

After his "successful" operation, where does he go? Who does he meet after his actions? Does he ever come in contact with the beneficiary or beneficiaries of his cruel actions? Does he even care to know who the beneficiaries of his violence are?

How does he feel, seeing the devastating effects of his surreptitious actions? Does he feel any compassion or remain unaffected seeing burnt bodies or the screaming kid whose body is 80 per cent burned?

Who is he really? Could you profile him please?

This was my plea to friends on the social media.

While seeing the burnt bodies of innocent people is heartrending, it is also important to know who the perpetrator of this type of calculated violence is.

The answers that I received wove a tragicomic tapestry of anxiety, lament, opportunism, the-nation-is-held- hostage-by-corrupt-politicians fatalism, and they-did-it-first, so-they-do-it-now justifications.

The petrol-bomb thrower is an anonymous figure. He relies on stealth. He is like an apparition who disappears swiftly after he hurls his cheap but deadly weapon of mass destruction. Nobody seems to know him. Actually, no one seems interested to know him.

As we barely see any follow-up report in the media, it is safe to assume that police or intelligence personnel hardly undertake any forensic investigation of the calculated violence of this faceless killer.

So, what we get is only news of burnt buses, burnt trucks, burnt bodies and, ultimately, our own conscience at the burn unit. Maybe the public does not know that the police know who he is. Who knows?

What happens in the wake of burnt bodies is equally problematic. First, we routinely read about scorched bodies in the newspaper and show our sympathy from a safe and sanitised distance.

Second, and more crucially, we are treating the figure of the petrol-bomb thrower as fiction, as if he can exist only in our imagination or that we can craft him to suit our own political interests.

Instead of demanding of the government and its law enforcement agencies dogged pursuit and prosecution of this invisible terrorist (and his patron), most of us are projecting our own impression of who the petrol-bomb thrower is or might be. And, by indulging in the presumed fictionality of this real killer, we are morally complicit in his violence.


The petrol-bomb thrower has many faces. To one group, the opposition party hires paid mercenaries who wreak havoc in society and strike fear at the very heart of the nation's body politic, thus undermining the government's power to rule.

Another camp thinks that the devil with the Molotov cocktail is a covert agent of the ruling regime, whose nefarious work would show that the opposition party does not care about the people, even when they meet their tragic ends.

Another recalcitrant group justifies the actions of the bomb thrower by claiming that he is a desperate political functionary, who has no other means left for his (and his patron's) political survival other than setting passenger-filled buses ablaze and that "it is the best way to draw the attention of the government".

Some think that he is a religious fanatic who is just carrying out outsourced work, although on behalf of multiple parties with a shared political agenda.

According to another group, he is an opportunistic fundamentalist who wants to create a dysfunctional society which can return to peace only through its "ISISisation".

Some think abject poverty dehumanises the lowest rung of the food chain and produces monsters that kill with calculated nonchalance and even pleasure, as most grittily depicted in Fernando Meirelles' City Of God (2002), the brutal story of gun-toting favela boys in 1970s Rio de Janeiro.

Some claim the bomber is the inevitable result of a long-patronised partisan cadre culture, rooted in the party-based occupation of university dormitories.

To some, he is the epitome of a morally bankrupt and ungovernable society. He is an infernal symbol of the lawless city. He is a disenfranchised, unskilled and unmarketable urban youth who got sucked into a profitable yet self-destructive political cul-de-sac.

He is a slumdog millionaire, always available for hire to carry out incendiary operations. He is an elusive monster working for an equally elusive higher monster.

He is a delusional miscreant who thinks that his violent insurgency would one day be rewarded by someone high up in the party's chain of command.

However, all of these are projections. They seem to suggest that there is no single typology for the petrol-bomb thrower. His presumed indeterminacy and invisibility provoke the imaginations of his many-faced evil persona.

Many of us opportunistically and strategically imagine who he is, only to claim the legitimacy of our own narrow political beliefs.


Ultimately, we should not care who he is. We should want him captured and brought to justice, exemplary justice. In the process, his patron or patrons should be exposed.

Only in this way can we create a rational culture, a culture in which we can reason rather than take self-fulfilling partisan positions, while people die senseless deaths.

Profiling him is fine, as long as it leads to his arrest and prosecution. Burning innocent people on a bus has always been wrong and will always be wrong. Finding tit-for-tat justifications, or any justification whatsoever, for his killing mission is morally wrong.

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