Is Bangladesh Following Pakistan Into Extremism?
Ananda Bijoy Das
By Kamlesh Singh
15 May 2015
If you were a writer/blogger, you would hate to be in the shoes of Asif Mohiuddin.
Mohiuddin, along with Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Russel Parvez, is on trial in Bangladesh for hurting religious sentiments.
The four face about a decade in prison if the police can prove that their derogatory posts caused “a slide in law and order that led to anarchy”.
But the long arm of the law does not worry them as much as its ineffective arm does.
The group have been marked for death by Hefazat-e-Islam, quite an effective arm of Jamaat-e-Islami, the religious-political organisation that wants Bangladesh to become like Pakistan, the country it broke away from.
Hefazat has just claimed its latest blogger kill in Ananda Bijoy Das.
Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed multiple times by four young men in early 2013. He survived. Rajib Haider did not.
Rajib had written against the attack on Asif so powerfully that it had triggered the Shahbag Protests against the neo-Islamists in Bangladesh. But he was attacked in the same fashion. Meat cleavers, knives, all in public view. It later turned out that the attackers were the same people who had attacked Asif.
The Shahbag protests, meanwhile, attracted thousands of youths who demanded that the Jamaat elements that supported Pakistan in the atrocities in 1971 be punished.
To counter that, the Islamists held a massive rally in Dhaka, threatening the bloggers with death.
They delivered on their threat. In February this year, Avijit Roy, an American citizen, was attacked with machetes and knives in Dhaka in full public view, with his wife crying for help.
In March, Wasiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Dhaka. In public yet again, but nobody dared to protect him. The killers were walking away again, when a hijra, Labanya, caught the murderers.
Barely three months later, Ananda Bijoy Das has been hacked to death, meeting the same fate. He was walking out of his home in Sylhet when four people chased him and clobbered his head with machetes.
Ananda was one of the star writers for Mukto-Mona, the secular blog that Avijit had founded. The 33-year-old also edited a magazine called Jukti (Logic). He was more of a pro-science man than an anti-religion activist. But he did point out the absurdities in religion, like atheists do.
Atheists are soft targets. In a country like India, atheists do not attract much attention, because co-existence is rooted in its cultural ethos. Bangladesh, though 90 per cent Muslim, has been more or less the same, but the recent rise of Islamism globally has hit it hard.
Tauheen-e-Risalat or insulting the Prophet, is the excuse, while all these bloggers ever did was question religion. All of them, not just Islam. In fact, none of the bloggers killed had ever insulted the Prophet.
Yet, a bunch of boys have become a rallying point for Islamists. They say Allah is all-knowing and all-merciful, but do not wait for Allah to decide the fate of someone they hate.
The pro-reason, pro-science atheists are now more vocal, because religion has led to macabre bloodshed, especially in the Muslim world.
Look at Pakistan. After obliterating non-Muslims, they have entered the Shia-hunting phase of hate. Mindless, indiscriminate killings like Wednesday’s Karachi bus attack are now part of the norm.
The atheists were once indifferent to blind faith. Today, they actively denounce religion because the days of benign disregard are over.
As religion gets more tenacious about its tenets, the atheists have become more vocal. Publishing books that can be termed blasphemous may force one to live in exile, a la Taslima Nasreen. So the youth use the internet.
The inherent anachronism of religion has pushed the youth towards reason, because they have questions that religion cannot answer.
Thankfully, only a tiny minority of religious people are fundamentalists. The vast majority believe in god and the book, but gloss over the content. They are content being believers, and have no time for hate. They do not raise swords to defend their gods because an omnipotent god should logically be capable of defending himself.
The tiny minority of self-appointed ‘defenders of the faith’ would not be a problem, had they not carried out such barbaric murders. They are known by different names in different religions and countries. They burn little children alive, organise the mass slaughter of humans, and line up men and women to shower them with bullets.
They feed off each other, and stand in solidarity too. When Jamaat organised a ‘death for atheists’ rally in Dhaka, at least 15 Muslim organisations in West Bengal held a procession at Kolkata’s Shaheed Minar chanting, ‘death for atheist bloggers’.
The silent majority is, well, silent and impotent in the face of the wrath of god’s killing machines like Hefazat-e-Islam. The Bangladesh government has failed to protect Avijit, Wasiqur and Ananda, if you count the victims of only this year.
That does not give any confidence to Asif Mohiuddin. Jailed by the Bangladesh government for posting “offensive comments about Islam and Mohammed”, Asif is now out on bail. He faces charges, and if convicted, he will be sent to jail.
That may well prove to be safer than the freedom he enjoys today. Because words are all he has against religion. Religion has machetes. No match. The pen is mightier than the sword, but the sword draws blood. Not ink. No match.
Kamlesh Singh is Managing Editor, India Today Digital