Shabbir Ahmed

Dr. Avijit Roy was hacked to death just outside the Dhaka Book Fair by assailants with machetes on February 26, 2015. The assailants attacked him from behind as we learned from the news report. These killers were not different from those who picked up Bengali intellectuals and killed them mercilessly in 1971. At the end of our liberation war in 1971, the military wing (Al-Badrs and Al-Shams) of Jamaat-I-Islami and other Islamic forces brutally killed many intellectuals. These forces re-organized themselves in various forms to continue this killing of selected intellectuals even after our independence. There are many manifestations of Al-Badrs and Al-Shams namely, Jamaatul Mujahedin, Harkatul Jiahad al Islam, Bangla Ansar, Jagrata Muslim Janata, etc. If the government bans the activities of one, the terrorists form one more with a different name to advance the causes of Al-Badrs and Al-Shams or in other words, the causes of their parent organization named Bangladesh Jamaat-I-Islami. The recent killing of Dr. Avijit Roy is the continuation of the process of elimination of maverick writers so that the forces of darkness can continue spreading their philosophy of obscurantism unabatedly in Bangladesh.

Dr. Avijit Roy was a highly gifted intellectual with his exceptionally brilliant abilities of rare endowment in analyzing scientific facts and writing them eloquently in both English and Bengali. In particular, Dr. Roy and his wife Ms. Bonya Ahmed were highly motivated to propagate the scientific views and rationalism on many practical issues of concern (for example, on theories of evolution, Darwinism, and superstitious belief) through their writings in Bengali. To materialize their vision, they devoted their time, energy, and all out effort to write for the Bengali readers. Both of them wrote a number of books in Bengali that helped propagate the scientific facts to the Bengali speaking readers. Their intriguing writings have created a wave of free spirit and inquisitive readers in Bangladesh, who are willing to question the prevalent beliefs and norms. It is amazing to see the influence of their writings on the young Bengali readers in Bangladesh. To undo this progress, the Islamic terrorists killed Dr. Avijit Roy. Despite this heinous act, the terrorists won’t be able to suppress and kill his philosophy of rationalism that has taken its roots in Bangladesh.

A few of us were writing, rebutting, and asking questions on many issues (Islam and democracy, role of the Islamists in 1971 in Bangladesh, viciousness of theocratic rule, and violence in the name of religion) in an online newspaper named “News from Bangladesh” starting in late 1990s. At one point of time, Dr. Avijit Roy joined and formed Mukto-Mona forum to unite us to communicate and express our views in a more coordinated fashion. Gradually, Mukto-Mona forum was transformed into a kind of organization with an established website for freethinkers. Mr. Jahed Ahmed wrote about the genesis of Mukto-Mona and the role of Dr. Avijit Roy in his recent article published in the Center for Inquiry Magazine titled “Avijit Roy and His Legacy” on March 12, 2015. The focus of Mukto-Mona was to spread scientific rationalism and analyze the prevalent ideas based on myths and superstitions. Dr. Avijit Roy himself wrote many articles and put together scientific information in a consolidated form in a number of books. Besides himself, he was eager to get other writers involved in writing on scientific rationalism. He contacted many writers and encouraged them to get involved in Mukto-Mona.

One of the great achievements of Dr. Avijit Roy was to get the young Bengali freethinkers involved in Mukto-Mona and encourage them in writing and propagating their views. I must commend the role of Dr. Roy and his wife in their unrelenting efforts to reach Bengali freethinkers and encourage them to question the validity of many things in the beliefs that will appear genuine only to the naives. The untimely death of Dr. Avijit Roy caused by the fascist Islamic terrorists is definitely a great loss to the present community of freethinkers and the generation of freethinkers yet to come. However, Dr. Roy has left his able followers, who will carry on the light against the evil forces of darkness. His wife, Ms. Bonya Ahmed, critically survived from the attack of the vicious forces. I hope with all my heart that she will recover fully and recuperate from the wounds and trauma of the attack. She already declared about her resolve to continue with the vision of Mukto-Mona. I highly commend her resolve and strength even at this difficult time. I met with them a long time ago. Both of them were great-hearted human beings, who spent a lot of time for the causes of spreading humanism, rationalism, and scientific realism. In particular, Dr. Roy was a very calm and quiet person but had a strong resolve for implementing his vision as a secular humanist. I am sure his able wife will continue the mission that they both pioneered.

Dr. Roy was always active in helping many secular humanists, who were attacked and got into troubles in their respective countries. He spent relentless time for spreading the words out throughout the whole network of humanist organizations about the torture on fellow secular humanists. I found him very compassionate about the people who are basically the victims of faith-based doctrine. While meeting with him and his wife, both of them asked me about the writings of a freethinker, who was writing abusive words against the Muslims in general at that time. According to them, the abusive words against a whole group of people were not right. They wanted to get my opinion. While I agreed, I told them that this gentleman underwent sufferings in prison for no reason under an abusive Islamic blasphemy law. He was given death penalty and was subjected to torture by none other than Muslims. Even in prison, the other Muslim prisoners wanted to kill him. So, he was writing against Muslims in general terms only because of the horror and suffering he went through. I told them that it would go away with time. I have mentioned these exchanges here only to show their non-communal, non-prejudiced, and non-stereotyping views against a whole group of people. The fascist and communal Islamic terrorists would not able to understand the depth of these types of humanistic values of individuals like Dr. Avijit Roy and Ms. Bonya Ahmed.

We have lost a profoundly erudite secular humanist. We all are saddened for what happened to Dr. Roy. He only wrote to enlighten others. He did not have any enmity with anyone. He had different perspectives on beliefs based on his in-depth study and analysis. He asked questions and gave answers based on his views, which could be different from the views of the extremists. Unfortunately, a big group of the believers of the “peaceful religion” Islam do not understand inquisitiveness and differences in views. They consider any inquisitive analyst as their enemy. They also consider anyone as their enemy, who differs with their views. These vicious followers of this “peaceful religion” take arms to suppress the views of others. Did these groups become successful in suppressing the views of the freethinkers in Bangladesh? I do not think so. In 2004, they attacked a renowned freethinker and a university professor named Dr. Humayun Azad. He later died. After Dr. Humayun Azad, Dr. Avijit Roy emerged with full vigor. After Dr. Avijit Roy, many more freethinkers have emerged in Bangladesh. The forces of darkness will be defeated by the brightness of these Bengali freethinkers in Bangladesh. Dr. Avijit Roy and his legacy will always remain alive with these freethinkers.