Finding Common Ground with My Murderer

On September 2, 2017, I received this message on my facebook page:

“….Don’t act so smart. Otherwise, (you will be chopped into so many pieces that) nobody will even find your corpse.”

This was categorically different than the threats I often received from fake profile holders and spammers. Because this person was not afraid to show off his real identity while delivering the threat. His bio said that he was a member of the ruling Awami League’s student wing and his profile listed further details of his school and hometown etc.  This means that this person does not care if I try to take legal action against him because he would be protected by his legal connection. This threat also came at a time when political dissenters were being abducted wholesale. Because of many of my online contents criticising the government, I had been warned of such attacks by many.

Usually, I would respond to these threats in a jocular manner in the public space in an attempt to discredit the power that the goon claims. However, recognizing that this was more than a basic “hater” and an authentic politico who felt so alienated by my narrative that he wanted to end my life, I engaged in a conversation with my (to be) murderer. Because I felt that he might have some real grievances.  My understanding was that I should never be so polarizing that I fail to represent an entire faction to the extent that they would want to see me dead. When that happens, not only do I have a credible threat on my life, I also have a burning testimony towards my failure of a representative spokesperson for my people.

So, I asked him to suggest me some topics that he wanted to see me talk about. Surely, I presumed, there was some grievance that we could share. Even if he wanted me dead, I believed, he must have some basic beliefs that we could work together on.

Unfortunately, however, he never replied.

Two months later, I was campaigning for the rights of the Rohingya people who were facing persecution in Myanmar. It was then that I received this message from the same person:

He sent me a screenshot of my video on the Rohingya refugees and said that these kinds of videos were okay. He also said that I would be fine if I made videos like this. His tone also softened, judging by the fact that he started using the formal tumi pronoun instead of the informal and sometimes derogatory tui pronoun in his Bengali messages typed in Roman fonts.

This made me happy. Not because I could appease the ruling party or because the threat to my life was lifted. Soon thereafter I made plenty of other videos that could anger a ruling party politico. So the supportive message from my aspiring murder did not mean that he would not murder me if he got a chance, but it meant that even for a little while I could represent a slice of his grievances. This I think is the biggest achievement of my public work. Looking ahead, I will continue to seek those who dislike me and attack me and ask them to help me find ways to represent their grievances as well. While it is true that being steadfast in one’s convictions is important, I believe that it is no less important to be able to listen to those who hold opposite convictions and to find common causes whenever possible, even if the detractors want to chop you up in a million pieces.

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