Today is the first birthday of Avijit Roy that we commemorate without him. His life was taken by Islamic terrorists earlier this year, when he was in Bangladesh to attend the Ekushey Book Fair. Avijit was a prolific and accomplished author, a fierce defender of human rights, and dedicated much of his life to the promotion of freethinking, humanism, and rationalism.
Avijit’s murder was not merely an “attack on atheism,” as a common and dangerous misconception has it. Rather, it is part of an ongoing assault on one of the very pillars of Bangladesh’s young democracy, the right to express one’s opinion freely and without fear. That right is crucial, as political and social progress is possible only if ideas can be openly disseminated and debated, in a climate of tolerance and mutual respect.
Nobody is safe from the enemies of Bangladesh who murdered Avijit, and it would be a mistake to think that you are an exception. In February, it was Avijit, presumably because he was outspoken about his views on religion. Tomorrow, it might be you, because you are a devout Muslim with a heart for animals and think Qurbani should be replaced by a more humane alternative, or because you are a Hindu and “worship idols,” or because you are an Ahmadiyya Muslim and live and believe in “the wrong Islam,” or because you are gay and demand your rights, “promoting sin,” or because you think that women should decide for themselves what to wear, “encouraging immodesty,” or because you are a teacher and advocate for sex education, “polluting the youth.”
Avijit lives on in the thoughts and actions of the great many people he influenced through his example, activism, and scholarship. We must not concede an inch to those who attempt to silence our voices and control our thoughts by means of violence. The best we can do to honor Avijit’s memory is to read the words he left behind, and to find the courage to fight with even more determination for the freedom of expression, and thereby also for the idea, soul and future of Bangladesh.
Rainer Ebert is a PhD candidate at the Department of Philosophy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and an Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. He blogs at rainerebert.com.