The Scourge of 2016?

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury lists a few of the local and international incidents that has driven international commentators to call 2016 a very bad year

2016 XTRA cover

There are some who personally believe that they can predict how their day will be within the first few moments after waking up. If the circumstances they face during the beginning of the day are unfortunate (for example, water on the tap abruptly running out while taking a bath or not finding a rickshaw or taxi to get to work in time etc.),  then they prepare themselves for a bad day ahead.

But these same individuals cannot apply this for a week, a month or even a year. If this was possible, maybe they would have predicted by January or February of this year, that the year ahead will be bad not just for themselves, but for the whole world.

Commentators like John Oliver, along with many others, have called the year especially bad due to the rise of ultra-nationalism, the spate of terrorist attacks, the outbreak of diseases, deaths of famous politicians and so on.

Bangladesh itself faced a tough year following the terrorist attack in July, the heightened security and spate of raids along with attacks on minorities in different parts of the country.

New Age Xtra looked back at some of the major incidents.


Holey Artisan and Sholakia attacks

The month of July was especially significant for Bangladesh as it faced its first-ever armed terrorist attack as five young militants barged into the Holey Artisan Bakery of Gulshan after 9:00pm on July 1. Armed with crude bombs, machetes and firearms, the militants began to target the foreigners in the restaurant and proceeded to kill them. The nearly 10 hour long crisis ended when a team of the Bangladesh Armed Forces raided the restaurant around early morning of July 2. The ensuing violence led to the deaths of the five militants and one cook. Altogether 29 people including foreigners and two police officials were killed. Although Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the Bangladesh authorities claimed that the attack was carried out by Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

The incident shocked the nation while sending shivers down the spine of the global community. Law enforcing agencies beefed up security in most parts of the country. However, just five days later, on the day of Eid-ul Fitr, when police were frisking worshippers coming to the congregational prayers at Sholakia, a group of six to seven people attacked policemen near the Eidgah ground with sharp weapons and blasted some bombs at scene.

A chase led to the deaths of two policemen, one attacker and a woman. Only one suspect was held.


Attacks across the globe

A number of attacks across the globe made the headlines. The Orlando nightclub attack claimed the lives of 49 people. Suicide bombs in Istanbul killed 45; the Bastille Day truck massacre in Nice, France, slaughtered 77; the Brussels airport and metro attacks claimed 35 lives along with the most recent the Christmas market attack in Berlin and the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey were some of the other major incidents.

There were also countless attacks and ceaseless warfare in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere that has claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Raids in Bangladesh

The July attacks in Bangladesh led to increased vigilance in the urban and rural areas of the country. An earlier instruction to landlords to provide information of all tenants to concerned police stations began to be followed by most landlords, following the arrest of Professor M Gias Uddin Ahsan, acting Pro Vice-Chancellor of North South University, his nephew and the manager of his house in Bashundhara residential area for ‘providing shelter’ to the cafe attackers.

Since then, law enforcing agencies conducted drives in Kalyanpur, Savar, Rupnagar, Azimpur, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Tangail, killing around 26 suspected militants. One of those killed includes alleged Neo-JMB coordinator Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury who is also claimed to be one of the masterminds behind the cafe attack.

The latest drive in Ashkona on December 25, led to the deaths of a woman, who tried to blow herself up along with her little daughter, and Afif Kaderi, the 14-year-old boy of slain Neo-JMB militant Tanvir Kaderi. Till this report was being written, police were still on the lookout for militant Musa.

Rise of Ultra Nationalism

While the rise of ‘Ultra nationalism’ was being observed since the beginning of 2011, it seemed to have reached its crescendo this year.

On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the European Union through ‘Brexit’. Although the ultimate exit by the UK may happen around March 2019, the incident led to a loss of US$ 2 trillion in global financial markets the next day. The value of pound sterling against the US dollar fell to a 30 year low. Also, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of UK, resigned making way for Theresa May to take over the position on July 13.

Another shock for the world occurred when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton during the US presidential election. Fallout of the election saw thousands of Americans taking to the streets to protest the outcomes. Also, within weeks after the results, there was a spike in hate crimes being reported all across the USA.

The rise of Trump and the Brexit incident has encouraged Ultra Nationalist parties in Europe as well as in Africa. International political experts have dreaded that there may be more such wins by hardline conservatives in 2017 given the dissatisfaction and distrust that the masses have toward liberal-aligning political groups.


Refugee crisis

War in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries saw a greater number of refugees boarding boats to make perilous trips over the seas to European countries, Canada and some Middle Eastern countries.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), IOM reports an estimated 204,311 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016 till May 30. The migrants and refugees arrived in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain.  The number was at 91,860 during the corresponding period of the previous year. It is dreaded that thousands have died while making the trips by sea. On December 29, the bodies of 11 dead migrants were found on the shores of Libya.

Bangladesh, Malaysia and a few other countries in Asia faced an inflow of Rohingya refugees around beginning of November when a renewed onslaught by Myanmar army on the Rohingyas of Rakhine state led to the deaths and torture of the Rohingyas. The recent conflict began after October 9 when nine police officers were killed in an attack on a border post there.

This led to a brutal counter insurgency in Rohingya villages that has included rapes, arson attacks and the killing of unarmed civilians, activists have alleged although Myanmar officials have denied any wrongdoing.

According to the United Nations, more than 22,000 Rohingyas had jumped the border into Bangladesh since November 1. Others have fled to Indonesia.

The crisis has led 14 nations including the USA to urge Myanmar to allow a full resumption of aid to Rakhine State.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files    TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY


The Ebola outbreak in Africa around 2014 continued till 2016 claiming as many as over 11,000 lives.

But rather than Ebola, the world was more concerned with Zika outbreak, this year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a ‘global public health emergency’ in February. The infection has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

Initially, the affected countries included Brazil and some countries of South America, Mexico along with other countries of Africa. But soon cases were being reported in India, Pakistan and other parts of Asia.

Migrant workers from Bangladesh were also affected in Singapore, Malaysia and other Asian countries. Bangladeshi authorities had to set up screening processes at the airports and other entry points to the country.

Even then, Bangladesh reported its first case of Zika virus around March of 2016 when a 67-year old man from Chittagong, who had never travelled overseas, was said to have the virus.

The number of cases for Zika and Ebola became less reported around the last quarter of 2016.


Attack on ethnic minorities

The end of this year saw a spike in attacks on ethnic communities starting from mob attacks on hindu community in Brahmanbaria and other parts of the country to an attempt to evict Shantal households by government departments in Gaibandha. At least three people allegedly died after nearly 500 houses were torched leading to displacement of 2,500 inhabitants.

Year of the grim reaper

2016 seems to have claimed a significant number of people including authors, poets, journalists, philosophers, economists and more from Bangladesh.

Around the beginning of this year, Bangladesh lost eminent agriculture economist Dr Mahbub Hossain. Also, music composer Robin Ghosh and scholar and archaeologist AKM Zakaria passed away in February followed by filmmaker Khaled Mahmud Mithu in March.

Freedom fighter Shirin Banu Mitil, also known as the ‘fighter in disguise’, passed away in July while we lost poet Shahid Quadri around end of August followed by author Syed Shamsul Huq in September.

We were also forced to bid eternal farewell to personalities like neurosurgeon professor Rashiduddin Ahmed, actress Parvin Sultana Diti, poet Rafiq Azad, journalists Sadeq Khan, Nurjahan Begum and Syed Fahim Munaim.

The world also said goodbye to Cuban revolutionary and leader Fidel Castro on November 25, at the age of 90. Another departure that made the world cry collectively was of the charismatic boxer Muhammad Ali.

Celebrities who passed away this year were musicians- Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie, George Michael; authors- Harper Lee, Richard Adams, Vera Rubin, Dario Fo, E.R. Braithwaite and others; actors- Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Debbie Reynolds, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ricky Harris, Doris Roberts, Robert Vaughn, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin; film director Abbas Kiarostami and others.

While the list of adverse incidents may be long, there were some pretty positive news in 2016 as well.

Myanmar had the opening session of its first freely-elected parliament in February. In April, the Panama Papers were published exposing widespread illegal activities including fraud, kleptocracy, tax evasion and the violation of international sanctions by the world’s elite. Also, during the same month, the world had the first-ever baby born in Mexico with DNA from three parents through mitochondrial transfer.

In May, Sadiq Khan was elected as Mayor of London and became the first Muslim mayor for any Western city. Also, during the same month, a 70-year-old woman successfully gave birth to a baby boy.

In August, astronomers announced the discovery of earth-like planet named Proxima B orbiting star Proxima Centauri.

In October, the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh and signed a number of deals that has bolstered bilateral ties between the two countries.

In November, the Paris Agreement on climate change came into effect while in December, the US army decided that it will not allow an oil pipeline to be built in North Dakota, after months of protests by The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

We can only hope that the next year will see an end to local and international conflicts and facilitate the path to peace and prosperity for all nations.

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