Author: Maxim Sergienko
Non-believer, No party affiliation
I never knew Avijit Roy. I understand that like me he was a freethinker and a secularist. I have a feeling that if I had met him we would get along quite well and enjoy a long conversation. I knew of him slightly – I heard that he wrote a book in Bengali that was trying to introduce the ideas of Richard Dawkins to his native land. When I heard that he was murdered on his visit to Bangladesh, I knew this was a case that demanded solidarity. He had been savagely murdered in a land where the parties of god can have their own way and the police are likely to look the other way. He had been murdered for the crime of thought and writing. We are facing a fascist enemy; too often we are inclined to run and seek shelter rather than meet that confrontation head-on. Avijit had no intention of running. This is not merely a war of words or ideas, it is a shooting war that has been going on for decades but has brought itself only quite recently to the attention of the world with the September 11th attacks on a free society.
I recently took my first trip to my native land of Russia in a very long time. I spent some weeks there and what I have seen is in many ways horrifying. During my first week, a group of Russian Orthodox fascists managed to burst into the Manege Art Gallery right in the center of Moscow (not an easy place to get into, as I later found out), they started shouting, “Blasphemy”, at gallery workers. When security arrived they tried to gently talk to the fascists. The fascists ignored all attempts at amelioration and started smashing the art objects in question in full view of the security guards. When the police arrived – they too approached the miscreants with the kind of gentleness that nearly made my jaw drop. This was Moscow – a place where you had no rights, where the police force is not known for tenderness – they might thrash you within an inch of your life without any consequences. But it was clear from that encounter that the police was more in fear of the Russian Orthodox fascists than they were afraid of the police. It was also clear what they were doing in that case was putting into action their view that if they feel that they’ve been offended then they have the right to come to someone else’s abode and destroy – the moral equivalent of Bin Ladenism. What if the blasphemer had been a person and not an inanimate object? We will soon find out the answer to that question.
The Russian Orthodox Church is enjoying a recrudescence in Russia. In Moscow it is very hard to go to an area that doesn’t either have an Orthodox church or a project to build one. In fact I know that this massive amount of construction priority -in a country that is still in every sense “developing” – is made possible through significant government subsidies. The idea of secularism and the separation of church and state seems unknown or unimportant to the Russian public. As for the political situation – it is just as frightening. There is a great deal of junk-science going around and a steady stream of xenophobic anti-western propaganda on the government-owned television stations (which are the only stations most people can watch). From the conversations I’ve had with people, many of them swallow the message and ask for seconds. The views of Russians are not likely to be challenged by the foreigners they meet because those foreigners are likely to have a self-deprecating attitude towards their own culture. As I sat in the airplane waiting for take-off from Moscow, I started crying for Russia because I can see on the horizon there is confrontation and even war coming. There is no opposition.
This is where Avijit Roy becomes such a powerful example. He could have lived a comfortable and quiet life in the West and left developments in his home country to continue as they had been. He chose to do something about it – to speak out and to oppose the tide of religious fundamentalism. I want to follow his brave example to criticize and to oppose the movements that seek to destroy my native land.