A violent world

I visited my friend Archna yesterday. She, like so many others I know, was distraught over the Newtown shootings.

What was happening to the world?

We embarked on a conversation about many things.

Was the world more cruel in medieval times? No, Archna said. Back then at least you knew you were going to be killed. There were fights and public executions but were there 20-year-old bursting into schools and murdering young children?

Maybe there were.

Maybe we just live in a world of heightened awareness and non-stop information sharing. Mt employer, CNN, has been broadcasting live from Newtown since Friday.

What was the answer to preventing another massacre like this? School security guards should be fully armed, Archna said. I don’t know about that. Yes, she agreed. Perhaps that might lead to more bloodshed.

She doesn’t think stronger gun control is the answer. Look at the crazy guy who knifed 22 children in China?

Maybe the answer was better health care access so that mentally disturbed people could seek the help they need.

I could tell that she, like all of America, was grasping for solutions.

There is so much violence in the world, she said. I told her about massacres in Syria and Congo and other places, where young children die every day.

Why was the world letting Bashar al-Assad do this to his own people?

With all those questions, I left her at the new branch of her restaurant Bhojanic. We were both thinking the same thing, I believe. What gave us the right to be so happy, to lead such trouble-free lives in a world that contains so much sorrow?


If you look at the map on photographer Shahidul Alam’s Web site, Bangladesh is a sea of yellow pinpricks — each virtual thumb tack pointing to a killing by the Rapid Action Battalion, a security force formed in 2004 to fight corruption in the South Asian nation.

The ruthless guardians of the nation stand accused by human rights groups of the torture and extra-judicial slayings of their fellow citizens.

Alam, a brilliant photographer and passionate defender of human rights, focused his heart and his camera on the state-sanctioned terror; on all the people allegedly caught in the “crossfire.”

In a collection of photographs catalogued as “Crossfire,” he shows us the hospital corridor, the rice paddy, the city wall, the rickshaw stand — all the places where they happened.

In his own words:

“The intention of this exhibit, was therefore not to present documentary evidence. There was plenty of that around and it had failed. The show attempts to reach out at an emotional level. I aim to get under the skin. To walk those cold streets. To hear the cries, see terror in the eyes. To sit quietly with the family besides a cold corpse. But every photograph is based on in-depth research. On actual case studies. On verifiable facts. A fragment of the story has been used to suggest the whole. A quiet metaphor for the screaming truth.”

Bangladeshi police prevented the public from viewing “Crossfire” by blocking the entrance to Drik Gallery in Dhaka. But Drik won its case in court and people can once again freely view Alam’s important work. It’s vital that people see through Alam’s lens. it’s vital for Bangladeshi democracy,

Check out Alam’s work on the New York Times site:

And thanks to my friend John Trotter (another brilliant photographer) for bringing the court ruling to my attention.

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