Returnees from Emergency God

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, December 28th, 2017


Journalist Utpal Das has been found more than two months after he was last heard from. Political Islam researcher, academic Mubashar Hasan came back home 44 days after he was picked up forcefully to an unknown destination by ‘unknown’ people. Nearly four months into his getting missing politician MM Aminur Rahman resurfaced last week only to be taken into remand for his alleged complicity in a bomb attack – a case in which he was never there as an accused in the FIR (first information report).


There couldn’t have been happier times than the past few days for people, who have long been dreaded by the fact that many people at this point of time are becoming victims of enforced disappearance. It was rather overdosing of good news – three missing persons for many weeks returned in one week and all alive.


Whoever might have been their captors – that we don’t ‘know’ at this point of time – must have decided not to eliminate them and they kept them alive. That’s why we got to see the welcome returns of the three. A few more, of course, returned alive in previous weeks while a few dozen still untraced, months and even years after they had gone missing.


There must be an Emergency God or Gods, who’ve succeeded prevailing upon others in treating their abductees ‘well’ (in relative term), keeping them alive and finally setting them free.


Sven Safstrom was a young banker at the Swedish bank – Sveriges Kreditbank – in Stockholm, where a 32-year-old career-criminal Jan-Erik Olsson along with an accomplice held him and three of his co-workers hostages for six days in August, 1973. The Swedish government refused to allow Olsson to leave the bank with hostages. The four captives seemed bound in peculiar amity with their captors, and feared police intervention. The police enclosed the group in the bank vault, and evaluated Olsson’s behavior, concluding that he was rational, and that the more time he spent with his captives, the more likely the drama would end in his capitulation. The police filled the vault with tear gas, and Olsson gave himself up.


“When he (Olsson) treated us well, we could think of him as an emergency God,” Sven Safstrom told an American journalist Daniel Lang when the later took interviews ofeveryone involved in the drama a year later for the New Yorker. It portrayed the most extensive picture of how captors and captives interacted. The hostages spoke of being well treated by Olsson, and at the time it appeared that they believed they owed their lives to the criminal pair, he wrote. On one occasion a claustrophobic Elisabeth Oldgren, another hostage, was allowed to leave the vault that had become their prison but only with a rope fixed around her neck. Elisabeth said that at the time she thought it was “very kind” of Olsson to allow her to move around the floor of the bank. Sven Safstrom said he even felt gratitude when Olsson told him he was planning to shoot him – to show the police understood he meant business – but added he would make sure he didn’t kill him and would let him get drunk first.


Forty four years passed by since the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was coined at the end of that six-day bank siege. Stockholm Syndrome is typically applied to explain the ambivalent feelings of the captives, but the feelings of the captors change too. A 19-year-old American newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped and held hostage by a little-known group called Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974, she was apparently brainwashed into accepting their ideas. In April 1974 she was caught on CCTV helping the group to rob a bank. She went on the run, but was caught by the FBI. Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released after three years. She was pardoned in January 2001 by President Bill Clinton.


In our case, a number of recent returnees from the ‘Emergency God/s’ spoke of some of their kindness. While a number of their captors allegedly contemplated to banish them for good, the others played the role of ‘Emergency God/s.’ Some say, people should be content with the fact that the once thought ‘enforced disappeared’ victims returned alive. But then again, people have very curious mind – once they are content with the fact that the missing ones are back, almost immediately they start inquiring – where the abductees had been for all those days and who the captors were and what prompted them to pick the chosen ones and not the others and what the motives behind – if not for ransom – a motive that people, somehow, least reckon these days.


Our state, its law enforcers have assured us, by now, that they would dig deep to track down the abductors, unless of course, the victims themselves had gone missing wishfully in the very first place. Meantime, one piece of information came as a first light to an otherwise dark tunnel. A ruling party leader, who also occupies a seat in the cabinet, said the just other day that he was suspecting a Sweden expatriate opposition party leader’s hand behind some of the recent incidents of disappearances and murders. It once again reminded us of the land – Sweden – where ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ was originated.


The writer is Executive Editor of United News of Bangladesh

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