The hacking to death of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das at Sylhet in Bangladesh on Wednesday brought back into focus the threat faced by rational thinkers in that country.
Das blogged at Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), a website once moderated by Avijit Roy, a writer who was himself hacked to death in February. The 43-year-old Roy, an engineer-turned-writer, wrote to promote secularism and to challenge religious fundamentalism.
What made matters worse was that weeks after Roy’s murder, 27-year-old blogger Washiqur Rahman, who wrote satirical pieces on Islam, was hacked to death in Dhaka in March.
The string of attacks on freethinkers, experts say, reflects the growth of extremism that the Bangladesh government cannot afford to neglect any longer.
“While it is an attack on free expression it reveals the inner turmoil in Bangladesh - between those fighting for rational thought and free thinking and those who oppose challenges to religious orthodoxy,” writer and journalist Salil Tripathi told Hindustan Times.
“The government simply cannot wash its hands off. It must protect those who wish to express themselves freely,” said Tripathi, the author of “The Colonel Who Would Not Repent” based on Bangladesh’s creation in 1971.
At this juncture, after the murder of three bloggers, it is worthwhile to analyse their writings to understand why they were so hated by fundamentalists.
The writings of the three that are available on the internet show that they were strong critics of religious fundamentalism and tried to enthuse a spirit of scientific and rational enquiry in their readers.
Ananta Bijoy Das
For example, this Facebook post by Das on the Nepal earthquake of last month captures the anti-fundamentalism spirit of these bloggers.
An authentic literal translation (by award-winning translator and writer Arunava Sinha) of this post reads:
“We must not expect much of religious fanatics. Whether these fanatics are Pakistani, American Christians, or Indian Hindus. At the end of the day they belong to the same cattle pen.”
Another short satirical post by Das was:
In this post, dated March 26, he wished Bangladeshis a Happy Independence Day, but says the greeting is not for “religious and cultural minorities”.
A scroll through the posts on Das’s Facebook page reveals how strong a voice he was in condemning parochialism, fundamentalism, patriarchy and sexual offences, and of course, the killing of Avijit Roy and apprehensions about justice for him. His posts show he was a follower of the principle of Charles Darwin and supported the dead cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
In one post on the mass sacrifice of thousands of animals in Nepal, Das wrote:
A translation of the post would read:
"How does religion spoil the thinking of people? How does it colour one’s outlook? How does it render all wisdom and knowledge dysfunctional? How does it put logic into a locker? This photograph is a proof of all this."
Of the numerous articles and books that Roy wrote, one of his last essays, "The Virus of Faith", is widely available on the internet.
In "The Virus of Faith", Roy wrote extensively on the link between Islam and Islamic terrorists. He wrote: "Faith-based terrorisms are nothing but viruses – if allowed to spread, they will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions."
In the essay, Roy reflected on the Islamic State and their Islamism, and the Peshawar attack late last year which killed more than 100 school children. This paragraph from the essay puts across his thoughts succinctly:
"ISIS is what unfolds when the virus of faith launches into action and the outbreak becomes an epidemic. The Quran clearly states, ‘when ye meet the unbelievers (in fight), strike off their heads’ (47:4), ‘smite ye above their necks’ (8:12), and ‘kill them wherever you find them’ (2:191). According to the early biography of the Prophet Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad himself sanctioned the merciless massacre of the Banu Qurayza, a vanquished Jewish tribe. Some six hundred to nine hundred Qurayza men were led on Muhammad’s orders to the market in Medina. Trenches were dug, those men were beheaded with swords, and their decapitated corpses were buried in the trenches in presence of Muhammad. Citing the references to the massacre in Shahi Bukhari, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban) considered their recent killing in Peshawar to be consistent with what Prophet Muhammad did to his enemies 1,400 years ago."
Towards the end of the essay, Roy stated: "I know that most Muslims are not terrorists; they are peaceful. The reason is that they do not follow the Qur’an literally."
A British-Bangladeshi writer, Ahsan Akbar, told the Guardian that Roy’s writings were an attempt to educate people without directly attacking religion.
"He was not a hardliner like Richard Dawkins who goes out of his way to offend people. Roy was sensitive to people’s beliefs and thought offending people was the wrong approach," Akbar said.
Free thinking, criticism of religious fundamentalism and scientific pursuit comprised much of Rahman’s writing. He wrote under the pen-name "Kucchit Hasher Channa", or Ugly Duckling. Groups to which he subscribed on Facebook were associated with anti-fundamentalism and atheism.
Dhormockery.com, a Bengali satirical website for which Rahman reportedly wrote a 52-part series, claims on its strap: "Religion is the font of all absurdity." A search of the website’s sections reveals its detailed mockery of all things associated with orthodox religion.
(The writer tweets at @saha_abhi1990 )