In the morning of February 26 last year both my wife and I were at our computers in our home office in the greater Washington DC area. I was doing my office work, and she was browsing news on the internet. She was much startled by a news item, and started reading it loudly, so that I could hear it. It was about the murder of Avijit Roy, writer and blogger, at the Ekushe Book Fair in Dhaka. Before she could say “writer and blogger” after “Avijit Roy”, my heart started pounding. I felt like I was having a nightmare; I did not want to believe the news. I screamed, no, no! The next phase of my reaction was mostly swearing at Avijit for going to Bangladesh.
Through his books and articles, as well as through his foundation of Mukto-Mona, Avijit was clearly a pioneer in promoting rational thoughts, especially among the current young generation of Bangladeshis. His books on science and rationalism, written in Bangla, have been hugely popular in Bangladesh. Since its foundation in 2001, Mukto-Mona has encouraged and promoted rationalist and humanist writings by a generation of Bangladeshis. However, Bangladesh being a Muslim-majority nation, a lot of people in that country found factual and logical writings on Islam too offensive. Thus, Avijit was a target of the protectors of Islam in Bangladesh. He received numerous death threats; and there was a strong likelihood of him getting murdered if he went to Bangladesh. Looking at the backdrop, of course, Avijit Roy was not the first humanist to be murdered in Bangladesh. The humanists that were killed by Islamists in Bangladesh before him include Professor Humayun Azad (2004), Ahmed Rajib Haider (2013) and Professor Shafiul Islam (2014).
Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan before 1971. The founding of Pakistan in 1947 was for creating a nation for the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. In that endeavor the political leaders and the population of East Bengal were highly enthusiastic, and played a pivotal role. While unfair and brutal treatment of Bengalis in Pakistan gave way to secession of East Bengal from Pakistan in 1971 to form the sovereign nation of Bangladesh, the zeal of a Muslim nationhood very much remained in the new country. While secularism was a stated pillar of Bangladesh during 1971-1975, Islam has remained the most powerful political force in that country for most of its lifetime.
Even today, under a secularism-flashing government, it is stated that no law of the land could go against Islam, and hurting religious sentiments is punishable by law. Of course, ‘religious sentiments’ means ‘Muslim sentiments’. Slaughtering cow in public, for example, is not considered hurting religious sentiments, even though it certainly is supposed to hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus, who treat cow like a god. Even today, Islam remains the so-called ‘state religion’ of that country.
Thus, it may be disappointing, but it is not too surprising that on the face of the murder of Avijit Roy, no major leader of the government of Bangladesh publicly consoled his family, including his elderly father who is a winner of the nation’s top civilian award, the Ekushe Padak.
Clearly, murdering Avijit was a major prize for the Islamic fanatics of Bangladesh. Since February 26, 2015, they have murdered quite a few more of the rising stars of secularism and humanism in Bangladesh: Washiqur Rahman Babu on March 30, 2015; Ananta Bijoy Das on May 12, 2015; Niladri Chattopadhyay Niloy on August 7, 2015; and Faisal Arefin Dipan on October 31, 2015. Babu, Ananta and Niloy were writers/bloggers and Dipan was a publisher. There were also quite a few attempted murders that caused serious injuries to nonviolent humanists. These subsequent murders and attempted murders clearly indicate that the government inaction after Avijit’s murder emboldened the fanatics. The governing leaders continue to speak against hurting religious sentiments, while taking no serious action to bring the real capital offenders to justice. Most recently, they shut down a book stall (of Ba-Dwip Publishing) in this year’s Ekushe Book Fair, and arrested the editor, the marketer and the printer of a book that has articles that are alleged to hurt Islamic sentiments.
True, if Avijit could have a talk with the killers, they probably could not kill him. He certainly did not hate them or wish anything bad for them. If they had a chance to use their brain, they could not murder people like him, who seek justice and peace for all kinds of people in the world. It is also true that the brainless fanatics would not be defeated without shedding some blood.
However, while we mourn the murder of Avijit and those of the other great souls of Bangladesh, and vow to continue to use our pens to impart common sense, logic and sense of justice for all humans, don’t we need to realize that to continue our work, we also need to try to maintain some safe distance from environments where life is very likely to be in jeopardy before we get a chance to communicate with the religious brainless zombie murderers? Don’t we need to realize that one-sided giving of blood by non-violent humanists to people who think that they would go to heaven by killing and dying for their religion might impede the good causes that the humanists stand for?
I surely wish Avijit were in the USA today, doing his highly talented writing for Bangladesh and for the world at large. However, for his love for his mother and motherland he went to Bangladesh last year; and at a certain level I do respect that decision. But as a fellow humanist, a friend, a well-wisher and a fan, I would continue to miss him sorely and to feel that the world has lost too much due to his murder at the age of only 43.