Until a few years ago, arriving in Bangladesh from West Bengal, India, was a slightly confusing experience. The 10-hour train ride cuts eastward across the lush Bengali countryside between Calcutta and Dhaka, leaving passengers in a mostly identical city, albeit a few decades in the past.
The journey across the border, in space and time, revealed another chaotic, decadent megalopolis, ultra-populated by millions of Bangladeshis quite similar in dress, culinary tastes and cultural references to the Indians across the border. Bangladesh is a country of 180 million people, poor in infrastructure and jobs but rich in raw minerals (natural gas in particular). It was considered a good-natured anomaly among large Islamic states in South Asia: Burqas are rare in the city, the threat of Islamists bordered zero and people are intrigued by “videshi,” any foreigner who for one reason or another (usually business or diplomacy) decided to reverse the migration of Bangladeshis, who leave in search of work, and settle in “our golden Bangladesh,” as it’s honored in the national anthem.
Over the last five years, the scene has monstrously transformed by a streak of violence and tensions that passed largely unnoticed in a world dealing with ISIS and terrorism in the West. The conditions became hospitable for an advanced, unrestricted Islamic extremism in the country.