[Moderator’s Note: Asif Mohiuddin who is currently in prison, considered as one of the most outspoken atheist and humanist bloggers of Bangladesh. His writing—which was heavily critical of religious dogma, bigotry and superstition—and his political activism including the Jagannath University protests angered the government, as well as marked the beginning of the threats he received from fundamentalists. These threats eventually led to action in mid-January this year. Mohiuddin was brutally stabbed and severely injured by three suspected but unidentified Islamic fundamentalists. When Asif returned from hospital and started writing again, the BTRC (The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) allegedly told the blog communities to stop spreading his messages. Complying with the threat, Somewherein, Bangladesh’s first Bangla language community blog site, ultimately banned Mohiuddin, who used to write there regularly (and was even 2012’s User Winner for “Best Social Activism Campaign” at the Deutsche Welle’s International Blog Awards). Now he has been arrested and still in jail. While Asif has been an object of criticism for a number of groups for various reasons, many young freethinkers in Bangladesh look to him as a nonconformist idol who has fought against the tyrannical state machinery until the very end. The arrest of Asif Mohiuddin, came a day after the detention of three other bloggers (Subrata Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Rasel Pervez) and ahead of an Islamist march towards the capital Dhaka to demand the death penalty for online atheist writers. While three other bloggers recently were released on bail, Asif Mohiuddin are still in jail.
This was his last piece in Mukto-mona Banglablog under the title, ‘এখনো বিষের পেয়ালা ঠোঁটের সামনে তুলে ধরা হয় নি, তুমি কথা বলো!’, published on March 8, 2013. We thank Allachalaina for translating this piece.]
Speak, for the Cup of Hemlock is not yet on Your Lips
Written by- Asif Mohiuddin ( https://www.facebook.com/atheist.asif )
I was traveling to work to start a long night shift that night. I was traveling by a three-wheeler and from distance I saw three men standing at the gate of my office-building, not a very unusual sight. Therefore, not pay much attention to them I went to pay the fare of the three-wheeler. I was facing back at them. Then, suddenly from behind I felt a hammer-blow at the back of my head. It was extremely painful and debilitating. Before I could pay much attention to that pain, I felt a stranglehold locking my head tight. Immediately afterwards I felt a bunch of stabbing wounds on my back. Terrorists usually fail to hide their excitement during an attack, they usually swear and shout. But, these terrorists were exception, they did all the things in complete silence without saying a word, not even the signature “Allahu Akbor”.
By that time I had already suffered a hail of stabbing from knives and machetes on my back and neck. Every single of those stabs were pointed vertically downwards on my body with an apparent objective of nailing the entire knife inside. Later from my doctor I came to know that two of the wounds in my neck were the most severe; one 6 centimeter deep and the other 4 centimeter; both of which missed my spinal cord just by half an inch.
Meanwhile the man holding me in stranglehold was trying to slit my throat. I understood if he successfully severs my carotid artery I would have no chance. And this understanding probably made me to fight back. I employed the entire strength of my body and got out of the stranglehold repulsing the attackers. One of the attackers came back and blew his machete to my abdomen, but luckily I was able to dodge it. Then realizing that I will also be fighting back, the attackers fled and ran away into the darkness. A very important thing to notice in this attack is- the attackers were not robbers at all; they did not come for my mobile phone, my tablet or my wallet; they just came for my life. This observation confirmed my suspicion that it was an Islamist attack.
My entire body and the spot where the attack took place were completely drenched in blood. I was bleeding badly; still, I was trying my best not to collapse. I realized I must live. This sheer will to live out-shadowed my sensation of pain and injury. After a minute or two a couple of men came by from a nearby shop. I requested one of them to find my spectacles which I lost midst the attack. After getting my glasses back I asked one of them where is the nearest hospital. Luckily there was a small clinic just next to the main road, very nearby. Enforced with the aforesaid ‘sheer will to live’ I ran to that clinic.
As I entered the clinic I shouted, “I am loosing blood at a shocking rate, please stop my bleeding, or else I will die”. But, to my shock and surprise I discovered nobody did anything, they rather told me to wait for the police to come and that they can treat me only in the presence of the police. I do not know, probably they thought me being an outlaw of some sort caught in a street battle or something! Anyway finally the police arrived and my wounds were washed. The clinic decided that my wounds needed to be treated surgically. So, they transferred me to the nearby Monsur Ali hospital, a surgical facility. On my way to that hospital I called my sister and fellow blogger Baki Billah and Ananya Azad, I informed them that I have been attacked.
Immediately the news of me being attacked was posted in the ‘Somewherein’ blog. Some of the bloggers gathered in the Monsur Ali Hospital. I saw blogger Sharat talking on his mobile crying frantically. Also Selim Anwar, Mahbub Rashid, Shafiul Joy, Anindya, Ananya Azad and my nephew and brother in law was there. Doctors stapled the wounds in my body closed. However the two wounds in by neck were too deep to be stapled. I remember a doctor pushing his finger inside those wounds in order to assess the depth of the wound and saying ‘probably we will not be able to save this patient for the wound is so deep that it can house the whole length of my finger inside’! Doctors decided to transfer me to a bigger hospital, Dhaka Medical College Hospital. We were waiting for the ambulance. Ananya Azad was crying frantically and suddenly out of emotion kissed me very brotherly. In return I tried my best to smile at him.
Finally the ambulance arrived and we boarded and set off. My nephew Anindya was trying to keep me awake and was holding my head tightly with his hands. Later I came to know this was for my spinal cord which was at significant risk, if the road bumps and the vibration of the ambulance could injure my spinal cord that would have resulted in permanent paralysis of parts or whole of my body. By this time my sisters Mimu, Moni, Chanda, Chandana and Mumu reached Dhaka Medical College Hospital, awaiting our arrival.
Finally we arrived in the Dhake Medical College Hospital to find Moniruddin Topu, Faruk Wasif, Mahbub Shakil already there. They were making arrangements and were preparing for our arrival. There I met Dr. Imran for the first time. He told me he reads my writings regularly and knowing the news of me being stabbed from Facebook has rushed to the hospital to see me.
I was sent into the X-ray chamber. By the time I came back from there, a little crowd of people had gathered in my hospital ward. I can not remember very clearly for the sedatives, but there were Mahbuh Rashid, Babu Ahmed, Taosif Hamim, Badhan Shapnyakathak and a lot others. Albeit the strong sedatives, I was trying to listen to their conversation in order for figuring out the seriousness of my condition. I was concerned whether I was going to live or not. The conversation I heard was not very positive. The realization that there is a significant probability of me dying, suddenly made me feel that I needed a cigarette. To that little crowd I casually communicated this supposed last wish of mine. But, unfortunately nobody seemed very much keen to fulfill this last deathbed wish of mine; ‘a cigarette’ seemed a rather bizarre and completely unacceptable deathbed wish to them for some reasons!
Before beginning my treatment the doctors had to get a consent form signed by my sister who was my next to keen. That form explicitly stated- if the course of my treatment results in my death not due to any criminal or medical negligence but due to the very natural chain of events, then the doctors can not be made legally liable. After this Dr. Pratap, another blogger doctor who goes by the pseudonym ‘incognito’ and a lady doctor started my treatment. First, it was the initial assessment of my medical condition. Here again the gloved finger of Dr. Pratap penetrated the two deep wounds in my neck. This was extremely painful because my neck by that time had inflamed and swelled badly. I was screaming in pain and hearing that blood chilling screams of mine, I later came to know, Babu Ahmed and my nephew Himalaya fainted outside my hospital ward. The result of the initial assessment was again not very optimistic. Therefore, the doctors made my sister sign another acknowledgement form which stated- my medical condition is particularly vulnerable and surgical treatment has significant possibility of resulting in my death. I can picture how difficult it was for my beloved sister to sign a form of this sort! Soon after the initial assessment I was taken to the surgical chamber and was sedated again. The last thing I can remember before losing consciousness is the the anxious glances of Dr. Imran, Dr. Pratap and that lady doctor pouring over me.
In the morning when I regained my consciousness I was informed that my lover is here to see me, however she is not allowed in, she is waiting outside. I was very weak that time, yet with all my energy I yelled ‘let her come in’. She entered crying frantically and held my hand. It was that moment when I finally realized my life has been saved; I am not going to die, not this time! It took 70 stitches to staple my wounds close. Catheters were placed in everywhere in my body. I was sedated and badly disoriented and needless to say extremely extremely weak. Yet I felt as refreshed as ever when my girlfriend was by my side.
I had been helped by a lot of friends and well-wishers to whom I have a great deal of thanks to say. At some point in my stay in the hospital I discovered the bed behind me in the ward that I was staying was vacant. I could not figure how come a bed in the busiest hospital in Bangladesh can ever remain vacant. I never knew who it was but later I came to know some good Samaritan paid for that vacant seat and made sure it remains vacant so that I do not have to share the hospital ward with someone else! I never lost faith in humanity nor I ever will- men who assaulted me for the sole purpose of killing me were human beings. On the other hand, the men who spent their entire sleepless nights looking after me, working hard to save my life praying and crying, were also human beings. In fact this endless stream of love of them is what hijacked my soul back from the black grips of death and restored it in the living earth, ever colorful, once again. They were countless in number- laymen, bloggers, well-wishers and what not! Some of them came and talked to me crying; while some others came to see that I was still alive and breathing, stood far and remained standing not saying a word. I can not remember all of them for the anesthetics induced amnesia. But I do know, cured when i see them again I will be struggling to find appropriate words for expressing my thankfulness towards them; no word I know could be appropriate, no word enough! At some point the doctors and nurses were forced to say that if not the almost mortal wounds, then this endless stream of visitors and well-wishers is going to kill me; for they were thousands in number. This large crowd of visitors also made them figure quite erroneously that I must be some very influential person which I certainly was not!
Although I had been helped by a lot of friends; but unfortunately some other body was not so helpful nor so friendly! One of the most circulated daily newspaper named Prothom Alo which claims itself to be a progressive daily, very tactfully omitted my name from being published in one of its news cover about the Deutsche Welle award. Although they published the names of other winners, they did not publish my name despite me being an award winner. They also published the news of me being attacked as a mere ‘robbery’ as opposing to an ‘Islamist fundamentalist attack’. Also they published that news in one of the least visited corners of the newspaper as opposing to the first page headlines. In a country like Bangladesh being an outspoken atheist is not really a very good idea it seems!
I was attacked but I was lucky, I did not have to die. But, blogger Rajib Hayder was not so lucky as me. Rajib was attacked later that month. His throat was slashed, the attackers left him only after ensuring his death. Those senseless attackers of Rajib had no quarrel with him, they did not even know him. Still they decided to attack and kill him because they figured his writing is somehow challenging and threatening the all powerful position of Allah and the only true religion called Islam! They figured this challenge should be countered with knives and machetes for the holy purpose of the protection of almighty Allah and the holiest religion Islam. Although they believe Allah to be all powerful, omnipresent and omnipotent- they still figured he needs some protection from the literary assault of an innocent writer who writes against what he considers to be bigoted, wrong, poisonous. Although the weapon of that alleged assault of Rajib on their all powerful god was nothing more than pen and paper; the weapons with which those silly soldiers of Allah decided to counter that assault was much more dangerous, namely knives and machetes. They slashed Rajib’s throat saying ‘Allaho Akbor’. ‘god is great’ and in doing so thought they had successfully protected Allah and Islam from a very very dreadful threat! And what those threats were? Well, some articles written by an outspoken atheist who does not want to told how he should live his life! However, if my reaction upon hearing these horrible sets of news becomes- ‘mad, barbaric, ignorant’, fingers would be pointed at me; my reaction will be considered more offensive than the actual act of the slashers of Rajib’s throat and how can I not feel enraged, how can not feel helpless; how any sensible person can not?
I do not know whether I am going to be attacked again. So far all the alleged hit-lists published by Islamists contain my name, it is very possible that I am going to be attacked again. Humayun Azad once said- “Speak, for the cup of hemlock is not yet on your leaps”. Therefore, I will keep speaking, I will be writing as long as I am alive, as long as the cup of hemlock is not pushed on my lips.
To me death is a very natural thing. I am therefore prepared to accept it as naturally as I can. It has been years since I started writing against religious fundamentalism. In this long struggle I have made a lot of friends, comrades; quite naturally have made a lot of enemies as well. I have repeatedly seen ideological enmity turning to the personal one. I also may become a victim of this enmity of nasty sort. I know how to take criticism and know how to respect the freedom of speech of every individual. That is why I never block any religious fundamentalist from my Facebook although they very often threatens me with death and call names. I do this because I believe the doors of thoughtfulness should never be closed, the calls of taking the path of progressiveness should never be barred. If I block them from my Facebook, if I bar them from reading what I have to write, then probably they will remain ever deprived of that very call that I believe every individual should hear and respond to. I have no hatred towards the people who tried to kill me. This is because I know they do not know what they are doing, they are senseless, at least for the time being. They have been taught and trained in this way, they have been brainwashed into hating and killing. My attempted murderers be brought into trial and punished is not the first thing that I want. I rather want this senseless practice of indoctrination and brainwashing be abolished someday. Only when this happens I would consider my attempted murderers have been punished and justice been done.
I have a humble request to make to you all. I do not know how long am I going to survive this struggle against religious fundamentalist bigotry. However, if I fall, please make sure nobody successfully claims that I ever was a theist, or I ever in anyway was respectful towards any superstitious middle age beliefs commonly known as religion. I do not want to be defeated by the superstitions against which I spent my entire life fighting, not even after my death. I do not want any funeral or any sort of religious service for me after my death. I lived my life with my ideals and I want to die with them too; I do not want death to separate me from the ideology that I upheld throughout all my life with all my efforts. I have always been outspoken as opposing to being peaceful. I do not want death to distort my true face to any comparatively more politically correct and generally acceptable form. I am what I always have been and I want to remain so even after my death.
And please make sure my corpse is donated to a medicine school. My eyes and kidneys and every other transplantable organs are to be donated to the people who need them the most. What can be more joyful than the thought that my deceased eyes will enable a blind person in seeing again, my deceased heart will be pumping blood into the arteries of a sick person? I want the rest of my body, my bones and muscles, be donated to a medicine school so that the pupils there can master surgery by cutting incisions on my deceased skin. I never believed in heaven and hell. I rather believed in earth, the planet where we all make our stand. I love this planet so very much. And therefore I fight for it and am ready to die for it, for it being the way I always dream it to be. In this hard battle I do not want to surrender, nor do I want to retreat.