Those words went round in my head as I reeled from the descriptions coming out of the attack at Holey Artisan Bakery Café, in Dhaka in July 2016. I had learnt about the Holocaust, and the rise of Nazism in Germany. In the safe, sanitised first world upbringing I had at Queen Edith Junior school in Cambridge. Easy to feel righteous in that pristine, beautiful, cloistered environment. The words resounded in my head…and I couldn’t get away from them. I remember thinking then – how could a people just keep quiet? It was incomprehensible that citizens had not raised their voices as people had been removed, one by one. As depicted in Martin Neimöller’s poem, which we all grew up internalising, ‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, Because I was not a Socialist.’
Dhaka had just suffered the country’s worst terrorist attack. The cold-blooded clinical way it was carried out jolted me, and the entire country, as nothing ever had before. The dots connected in a flash – with a gnawing, sinking realisation. The apparent random deaths; the Italian in Gulshan the previous year, the lone Japanese person in Khulna, the priests, the pacifist Bauls with their renouncement of worldly possessions – many of these were probably connected – the horror of a Poirot-like revelation. That all the signs were there but we chose not to look. Connecting them would mean that the terror of Islamic State was here. In some form. As a virtual tenuous connection with local groups, a franchise, or even an actual physical presence. Whatever the model of engagement, they were influencing our events. Even if the government chose to still deny it. We were not below the radar. We were not immune – to carry on carefree, far away from the ‘war on terror’.