Ambassador Marcia Bernicat’s Remarks Delivered at American Chamber of Commerce on July 20

July 20, 2016

Friends and colleagues:

Assalam Alaikum and belated Eid Mubarak!

Good afternoon. I am very glad that I could join the American Chamber of Commerce for the July meeting. I look forward to hearing more about the timely subject of safeguarding Bangladesh’s digital platform.

I would first like to welcome and congratulate the new Executive Director, Mohammad Shahadat Hossen. The U.S. Embassy has been fortunate to meet with Mr. Hossen before and we have been incredibly impressed by the work he has done to promote foreign companies’ investments in Bangladesh. I wish you the best in your new role. We expect great things from you!

Before we hear about today’s meeting topic, “Securing the Digital Platform for Bangladesh,” I would like to say a few words about a subject that weighs heavily on all of our minds – the persistent terrorist threat we are all facing – and how the U.S. business community can help to overcome the challenges it poses for Bangladesh. We all are deeply saddened, angry and frustrated in the aftermath of the July 1 attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan that so tragically took the lives of 20 innocents, including an American citizen. That attack, and the bombing at the Sholakia Eid-al-Fitr gathering, the largest Eid congregation in Bangladesh, which so closely followed the Holey attack, has only added to our pain.

What should have been a religious occasion for forgiveness and for joyous family gatherings became a time for mourning and loss. This is not the Bangladesh I have come to know, and I know this is not the Bangladesh you have built, and yet we have seen approximately 70 such attacks since January 2015. For many, the most recent attacks obliterated our sense of security and any expectation that this violence somehow could not touch us or change our lives. But we will not be afraid. The security environment is changing, and we all must act. We must respond, and we can respond.

Bangladesh remains a country on the rise with an ever larger proportion of its 160 million citizens able to believe a better life is within reach. Millions already enjoy middle class comforts, and millions more will rise out of poverty within the next five years, if the country continues its steady economic progress. Bangladesh sits at the nexus of South and Southeast Asia, regions which promise to generate much of the world’s economic growth over the next decade. Indeed, economic forecasters such as Fitch Group’s BMI Research regard Bangladesh as one of the 10 emerging markets that will most fuel world economic growth in the coming years. That is the bright future that awaits Bangladesh, but it is also the future which the terrorists hope to extinguish. We cannot let them.

U.S. investors and the broader international business community are gravely concerned about these attacks. Bangladeshis across the spectrum, including the business community and civil society, are bravely speaking out to condemn the violence and oppose extremism. Social media users and thought leaders are highlighting the threat of international actors supporting extremists here and elsewhere and the susceptibility of Bangladeshi youth to extremism. Responsible parents tell us they fear that their own children could be radicalized. Inarguably, around the globe people perceive a greater threat in light of the horrific violence and senselessness of these recent attacks in so many countries.

Clearly a strong response will be necessary to safeguard Bangladesh’s future and its economic progress. I have a sticker that I keep by my schedule that says “silence is consent.” If we don’t speak out, if we don’t counter this, then we are silently consenting to what is going on. The Bangladesh and United States governments have been acting jointly to counter the threat, and I assure you that we are stepping up our efforts. You have been following the headlines of the last week or so and you know that our Assistant Secretary has yet again returned to the region to personally deliver messages from the Secretary of State and the President of the United States about our commitment to helping Bangladesh.

We appreciate the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s unflagging commitment to fight terror. Specifically, to carry forward, there needs to be a clear recognition that the security environment is changing and will require additional tools and measures to address it. Bangladesh also needs to conduct a rigorous, open and thorough investigation of these attacks that coordinates closely with the international partners. And there needs to be an openness to accept the findings of the investigations wherever – and to whomever – they lead. Only this level of commitment will counter the threat in Bangladesh — and globally. Why? Because Bangladesh is now part of an international crime scene. Evidence found and evaluated here will help others find the perpetrators of attacks in their countries. A piece of evidence may be vital to uncovering that information here, or when you connect it with the events and characters, timing and data of attacks in other countries that might tell us a much more significant and more meaningful story that will help us all to get to the root of terrorism.

No doubt the combined action of the Bangladeshi government and likeminded governments to protect the public safety will diminish the threat, but to win this struggle, we need the assistance of the business community, civil society, religious leaders, teachers and youth leaders. To that end, the American Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) can play a vital role in engaging the Bangladesh government to restore confidence among foreign investors and the broader public. I want to hasten to add that you can also reach out to youth. To the extent that the youth who are being lied to or brought into these acts, are lost or looking for meaning in their lives, or may be discouraged about the prospects they see before them, being able to intern in one of your companies may change that. You are also able to reach out to their schools and share your personal stories. There are so many ways you can reach out to youth and ensure that they know that their bright futures are with Bangladesh and not with the terrorists.

It is important that such efforts, especially to develop the confidence of foreign investors and the broader public and the broader business community, remain non-partisan and welcome all responsible actors to join in. As a proponent of strong democratic values, AmCham can help to set the right tone for the kind of unified response this country can and must provide.

The more organized and comprehensive Bangladesh’s efforts are to counter both terrorism and the rise of violent extremism, the less the environment here will be seen as permissive by those who seek to terrorize this country and destroy its way of life.

I have been sad to see reports lately of some people who are saying that U.S. offers to provide counter-terrorism assistance are either our effort to invade Bangladesh, or take over Bangladesh, or control Bangladesh in some way, or even to drag you onto a battlefield. We have no such desire to occupy this country in any way. I just want to assure you that the types of assistance we provide to you are those of a partner; those of a partner who unfortunately has been fighting terrorism for a long time. We think we have some techniques and some knowledge, some value. And again, more importantly, we must work on this challenge jointly. No country today can fight terrorism alone because the terrorists don’t operate within borders. We are looking to Bangladesh as a partner in this effort.

Please help me to tamp down the stories, the fears of some people that our efforts are not genuine. Our country’s assistance to Bangladesh aims to help the country ride out the crisis. Bangladesh should create an example that defies the ideology of these groups: Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country, which has adopted a market economy, a great democracy, and you have women in key leadership positions and a woman as head of the government. You are the very example they wish to crush.

I do want to end on a positive note. Monday’s signing of an agreement between US-based Excelerate Energy and Petrobangla on setting up a LNG plant in Moheshkhali, to me, is the best vote of confidence that we can have at a time like this. It is not only a foreign direct investment, it is an investment that will help all of you continue to grow your businesses, attract partners and other industries that Bangladesh needs and deserves, and will help Bangladesh grow itself. In short Bangladesh should be a place where investors are coming.

In Bangla (PDF 259 KB)