Elites, expats and enclaves

Published July 6, 2016
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

AT the end of a hot and exacting month of fasting, Eid-ul-Fitr this year arrives on the heels of a ghastly number of terrorist attacks. In the week gone by, travellers have perished in Istanbul, diners in Dhaka, shoppers in Baghdad, and several people in three separate blasts in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia the other day.

While the militant Islamic State group has not taken responsibility for all of these attacks — it has for some — most appear to be their doing, and are part of a grisly Ramazan special of mayhem and misery that the militants have decided to unleash on Muslims of the world. In the midst of so much death and such vast stores of tragedy, there are big questions to be answered: what can possibly be their intent behind such bloodlust, such bold theatrics of brutality?

There are, of course, few answers to the troubling questions posed by such tragedies as of the past week. Several of the attacks involved suicide bombers, many as yet unidentified, men who shot and detonated, taking with them the lives and loves of so many others.


In many parts of the developing world where security is an issue and social inequity is rampant, there is deep resentment of those who access and partake in the security and privilege of enclaves.


Of all the attacks this week, the one in Dhaka stands out; due to the amount of time the attackers spent with their victims and the sorting and selection process of deciding who to kill and who to set free. According to reporting by The New York Times (and survivor testimonies), the attackers — now known to be well educated — arrived carrying grenades and firearms. One of the first things they did was to separate foreigners from Bangladeshis, asking everyone their nationality. The kitchen staff and other natives were locked in a bathroom.

As has now been recounted, the dead included Italians, Japanese and Indians. One Bangladeshi Muslim man, dining with an Indian friend and a Bangladeshi-American girl, was killed with the rest; the man, Faraz Hossain, chose not to desert his friends even though the attackers had permitted him to leave.

In the details of the attack on the Holey Artisan cafe, who was targeted and how and what sort of communications the attackers had with their hostages, are clues as to how the Islamic State capitalises on long-standing resentments in developing countries to recruit fighters for its agenda. As has been mentioned, the cafe was located in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka and was not too far from the US embassy.

The area may not be one where many Bangladeshis would feel comfortable or fit in; to belong, one has to be an expatriate or a member of the country’s elite. Unsurprisingly, the attackers were chosen for their ability to pass as ‘elites’, to pepper their conversations with English, to exude the entitlement of those that eat expensive bread in a rice-growing nation.

This pointed class dimension — of elites, expats and their enclaves — was not limited to the selection of the venue in Dhaka. The first picture of the carnage released by the IS ‘news agency’ Amaq showed a table still set with plates of food half-eaten. Next to the plates of food were apparently glasses of red wine. On the floor, killed first by bullets and then cut up with daggers, lay the dead consumers of the repast, chosen to be killed because they were foreign, non-Muslim and drinking wine in Ramazan.

Most of the Muslims were not harmed; the kitchen staff was instructed to prepare tea for them and later sehri so that they could eat before beginning the next day’s fast. As an excuse for the fact that they were killing so many, the attackers told the living that they too were going to die soon.

The resentment towards foreigners, drinking and eating expensive food in cordoned-off portions of a country percolates in many postcolonial states.

In other parts of the developing world where security is an issue and social inequity is rampant, there is deep resentment of those who access and partake in the security and privilege of enclaves. There have even been instances where the artificially maintained ecosystems of such enclaves have been subject to scrutiny, judgment — and occasionally attack — by the larger populace. In this hotbed, the line between protecting sovereignty and ceding tolerance becomes blurred.

Postcolonial populations all bear the scars of exclusion and chafe against the dilutions of their sovereignty by the intrusions of more powerful foreigners. Given this, is there any way that true security can be arranged for the representatives who manage relationships between the wealthy and the wanting? As legitimate as the scrutiny often is, as much as it exposes entrenched local and global inequities, it also stokes some unwanted consequences. It is co-opted by outfits such as the Islamic State group, that prey on and exploit the legitimate grievances of the disenfranchised, while indoctrinating those who only perceive themselves to be so.

Deploying existing resentments and insecurities, class-based exclusions and snubs for its own nefarious agenda, is proving to be the ace in the Islamic State’s deck of brutalities. One hand in this continuing game was played in Dhaka. By freeing the locals while killing foreigners, they present a grotesque and bloodthirsty caricature of justice — the specifics of which reveal just how small qualms can be magnified by terrorists’ bloodlust into excuses for carnage.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2016

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