In the Killing Field that Bangladesh has become, brutal assassination of Faisal Arefin Dipan, and attempted murder of Ahmed Rashid Tutil, Ronom Dipam Basu and Tareq Rahim, as heart-breaking and depressing as it is, it is not surprising; and less so is the reaction of Dipan’s father, who has, as reported by the media, refused to seek justice for his son’s killing; (I understand Avijit’s wife also made a similar statement). I do not know the man, but I think he probably actually understands. You see, his son’s death has been preapproved by the highest authorities in the country, that is, by the same people who are supposed to bring to justice the killers of Dipan (and nearly killed the other three) this time, and more before. Every time a blogger is killed, the regime in power holds the bloggers responsible for their own death! What is it but condemning anyone who has ideas other than what the insecure, cravenly power hungry, morally bankrupt political leaders who have ruled this country for few decades now? What is it but an invitation to the savages – the so called Ansar Al Islam, a criminal enterprise that interprets religion as it pleases to serve their foreign financiers to brutally kill talented young people, because these ignoramus fanatics and the regime in power have no answer to the questions these young people raise? The latter is doing everything it can to appease the former while sacrificing the best of this country’s new generation who have the courage of their conviction and insist on exercising their right to free speech, a universally guaranteed fundamental human right, and have not rented themselves out as mercenary gundas posing as students that the regime maintains.
The reason for the collusion of the regime with these killers is important to understand. Based on its refusal to reinstate the secular commitments of the country as was encoded in the original constitution, today’s Awami League is not any different from the Jatya Party or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in this regard: all are Islamist in various degrees. It is further supported by AL’s well know attempts to form alliances with various Islamist parties; it also maintains a subordinate group that is hardly distinguishable from the Jamat i Islam. All indications are, if it could get away with it, bloggers would be shut out, but it does not have the guts to prosecute the bloggers if they are in violation of the constitution. Fundamentalist criminal interpreters of religion are being used in some twisted machinations, the motive of which is only visible in the public expression of what the regime is trying to achieve: keep its hold on political power, permanently if possible. But there might be other use of the plot as well: perhaps because legally denying freedom of expression by a trial would might make it difficult for the Prime Minister to get the Noble Peace Prize, as one of her close confidante, another sycophant, and obviously, a member of the cabinet, recently announced to be the main objective; that, and making Bangladesh a ‘middle income country’! One wonders where does the confidence the regime exudes come from, the support of the agents of RAW and the FBI, making sure the world (and perhaps the Noble Prize Selection Committee) remains persuaded that Bangladesh continues to be known as a ‘moderate’ Muslim country? Surely killing of people who foolishly thinks Bangladesh is a democracy and therefore they have the right to exercise their freedom of speech can’t be that important to them & their protectors whose geo-political ambition conveniently intersects with that of the ruling class in Bangladesh.
Blaming the bloggers for their actions – helps to hide another more insidious truth. Religious fundamentalism, sanctioned by the regime, is pervasive in the country, and along with remittance from the Middle East, Hijab Culture, deliberately promoted, has become just as widespread and is slowly corroding away whatever shreds of liberalism the country once had. The regime and the classes it represents have shielded themselves from being exposed to the influence of modernity, gift of the bourgeois democratic revolution in the west, the influence of which wafted to these parts on the wings of colonialism and played an important role in introducing notions of all that is potential under democracy. Its influence on the culture remains limited, however. Anecdotal information suggests wide spread sympathy among the middle class for the self-appointed enforcers of Islam and very little for the critic of the irrational, the absurd, the exaggerated claimants and the unquestioned authority of secret criminal enterprise to decide who is to be executed next. The ability of these organized criminal enterprises to carry out their ‘program’ by publishing list of their next victims, is proof of a failed government; if not, implication that the regime at least indirectly approves of and considers it necessary to purge the bloggers because of the fear of their potential influence, is frighteningly unavoidable. What is important to note that these killers, their enablers occupy some social place, i.e., they exist among other people; and, surely, some one knows them and if not direct supporters, they must be aware of what these people are preparing to do. Should these people be also held accountable for being accomplices in the crimes of the assassins for not coming out and warning people of the potential impending danger?
What is necessary to rescue the society from the plague of fundamentalist attempt to impose theocracy on the country is for the citizens who still carry in them the spirit of liberation to take up arms against these forces of regression, and eliminate them at their roots. But that is not easy, because of the head-start they had in growing those roots, by their presence in every village (and city) mosques, where the indoctrination in obscurantism starts. It starts in the form of teaching children to read religious texts without understanding, and never allowing questioning, for fear that they might rebel against things they might find do not reconcile with all the other virtues they are taught by the society, say for example, tolerance of diversity. This is institutionalized in the madrasas, especially in the qoumi variety, which seems to have the singular goal of subverting democracy. It is astonishing that the society sees no danger in the extent of proliferation of religious ‘educational’ institution in the country beyond any social control, encouraged by the autocratic military regimes, and vigorously supported by the two major political parties. Yet, there are ample indications that some of these are in fact training facilities where the ignorant young are turned into killers, trained psychologically and tactically to turn into murderers without a soul and kill in the most brutal way possible without a shred of remorse.
What is to be done? At least two sets of problems confront the people of Bangladesh. First is the regime in power. By sheer force of arrogance and complete disregard of norms that are subsumed in a democracy, it blatantly manipulated the election, under a leader surrounded by a cabinet that is a collection of sycophants, who tells her what she wants to hear. It seems all she cares about is staying in power, and according to some speculation, being able to hand it over to the crown prince. As the protector of the interests of the native bourgeoisie practicing a version of capitalism comparable to the brutality of the Ansar Al Islam, it is able to consolidate its hold. But it exists on the assumption of popular support, and hence people have the ultimate authority, if they choose to exert it, to decide who is best capable of dealing with the dangerously anarchic situation. To do so, it is necessary to be free from the opiate like dependency on false choices between the two established parties, both beholden to the same dominating socio-economic class, and with proven affinity for religious state. To counter this currently dominant trend, organizing alternate formation by shedding off petty difference among the progressive forces is the only hope for escaping the fate set by theocrats intent on dragging the country several centuries backwards.
Unfortunately, for dealing with Ansar Al Islam, the options are limited – and complicated by the uniqueness of those who are carrying out the killing operations – because of the success of the ruling class in keeping its opposition (not the nearly dismantled official opposition party), the left formations – disorganized and weak. The regime has enslaved most of the potential critics by trapping them in the snarl of largess it can supply to keep them straight and narrow.
What makes the task of eliminating the fundamentalists scourge in the country so difficult is that these people, and more so their foot soldiers, live in a reality they have concocted that has no relation to the one most of us live-in. You simply cannot have a rational discussion with these – ISIS, Taliban, Ansar Al Islam, etc. – for, they live in a place and time which most people would consider an asylum for the insane. Even the few religious leaders who have raised even the feeblest voices against the unreality of their goals and the crimes against humanity perpetrated by these demented religious fanatics, have not done well.
There is the problem: how do you peacefully and rationally resolve the problem among people who live in entirely opposite realities? Yet, without resistance and direct actions to eliminate the cancer, how would humanity survive? Do we not owe it to these heroes of our time who have sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom that we all deserve? Is it not essential that the coalition of the sane, the democratic, the progressives, set aside petty differences and respond to the onslaught and purposefully decide to do whatever is necessary before they kill our next friend and comrade in struggle?
As a first step, can we organize a million young bloggers to step up and practice freedom of speech, and begin their self-paced training in becoming the citizens of a modern progressive democracy? Will the assassins of Dipan and all others before him kill million bloggers?