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A contagion of nativism is oddly spreading in a globalised space

columns Updated: Jul 09, 2016 00:53 IST
Dhaka cafe attack

Heavily armed militants murdered 20 hostages in Bangladesh, hacking many of their victims to death, before six of the attackers were gunned down at the end of a siege July 2 at a restaurant packed with foreigners. (AFP)

The Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan, the city’s diplomatic enclave, will now forever be linked, tragically, to Mumbai’s Leopold Café: Two expat hangouts targeted for being just that, a global meeting point. The roster of corpses recovered in the Dhaka outlet spanned Americans, young Tarishi Jain, Italians, and Japanese nationals. Their presence was a testament to the interconnectedness of our world. Even the average Walmart shopper is aware of Bangladesh, courtesy the label on his or her cargo shorts.

Decades earlier, when I lived for a couple of years in what was then Dacca, those connections were missing, except for some Brit-accented Sylhetis who had imported curry culture into England and sent their children back home to marinate in their native flavours. Now, buoyed by the Internet and international commerce, many locals and expats are plugged into the same network.

However, while those chilling at the bakery were part of it, so were those killing them, scarily enough, a pattern that repeated itself in many of the recent attacks around the world. If Toronto-based researcher Amarnath Amarasingam is correct, the leader of the Islamic State faction in Bangladesh could well be a “skinny”, “shy” kid from small town Ontario, the Canadian province I currently reside in. The difference between the two sets at the bakery is that while the victims had used their digital access to expand their worldview, their vicious hackers (another term the Daesh has appropriated, literally, from nerd culture) had become insular. Weirdly enough, it’s the open web that often nets them into that closed mindspace, a curious anomaly.

Read | The secular core of Bangladesh is under threat

Those watching the Euro football tournament in France will have noticed the Turkish Airlines promotions on billboards. As the tournament progressed, its hub Istanbul became another major casualty of new age terror. That attack, targeting both Turks and foreigners, was probably led by a Chechen. In Orlando, many that died were children of Cuban émigrés, slaughtered by the son of an immigrant from Afghanistan. But these free radicals that associate themselves with a distant Caliphate, with its even more distant and outdated ideas, have much in common with others that share the impulse of looking inward.

A contagion of nativism is oddly spreading in this globalised space. Ironically, that narrowing of outlooks is in itself a broadening trend.

We’ve seen that with the Brexit vote in England, though even the most virulent opponent wouldn’t compare them with terrorists. But that drawing away from a continent was also a reaction to a perceived threat from the world without. Again, that’s an idyll that will not be recovered regardless of Leave lobbies multiplying across Europe.

Read | Brexit ‘disastrous’ for EU global role: Analysts

In another example of connectedness, a professor at an American university heads (though he’ll soon head back) India’s central bank, while his British counterpart was imported from Canada. And in the group think tank that’s social media, where every two-finger tapper is a wonk, even Lindsay Lohan got to tweet to Remain. Meanwhile, there’s a dizzying array of display pictures that has to accompany each fresh jihadi outrage. We can be overconnected at times.

That anger against the outside is also manifest in the United States’ presidential election cycle. Donald Trump has made that his manifesto — America First and Foremost. Trade deals can be junked, walls raised. His opponent Hillary Clinton has bought into that spiel, deleting, like those pesky emails from her personal server, whole passages about her former support for the Trans Pacific Pact or TPP from the latest edition of her memoir.

Read | Will suspend immigration from nations with terror history: Donald Trump

You may feel sympathy for those undercut by cheap labour abroad or even immigrants vying for scarce opportunities, by shutting the world out can be a false fix. The real issue is that angst in places like America’s rust belt emerge from a trust deficit.

We live in a flat world and many are afraid they will fall off the edge. The emerging conflict is between those who are always on edge and those who want to see the whole wide world. Right now, it seems the former have the edge.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal