On the night of 26th February, blogger and writer Avijit Roy was hacked to death in the Dhaka University campus. His wife Rafida Ahmed has also been critically wounded. There are disturbing photos making the rounds in social networks that show a throng of people standing around, taking in the horrific sight of a wife covered in blood, trying to help her husband, trying to get him to a medical facility. Pictures that make you wonder what is wrong with all those people who did not even help out with getting them to the nearest hospital.
While no one can say for certain who the culprits are, anyone will have to agree that some possibilities are significantly more probable than others. Avijit Roy wrote about religious scepticism and secular philosophy. Anyone who addresses these issues makes enemies all over the world, and in Bangladesh their most powerful enemy are the Islamic extremists. Several of these groups have often called for imprisonment and even the death penalty for people who do not subscribe to their interpretation of Islam.
Let me emphasise this last point. These extremist factions are not just against non-Muslims, or secular individuals, or even outspoken atheists. They are against anyone and everyone who does not conform to exactly their particular interpretation of Islam. Just a few months ago, the television evangelist Moulana Faruqui was brutally murdered in his own home. That should be enough evidence that even being Muslim does not guarantee safety; you have to be exactly the kind of Muslim these people have approved of. There is no room for academic debate or civil disagreement. You are either with them, or you are a legitimate target.
In Bangladesh, we are unfortunately familiar with the cycle of events that usually happen after a crime like this. People will protest this murder for the next several weeks, the police will promise swift results, and then everyone will eventually forget it until the next time something like this happens all over again. His family and close friends will mourn him every year, demand justice at every opportunity, but the rest of us will move on to more current news items and injustices. We sincerely hope things will be different this time, even if only for the cynical reason that this time the victim was an American citizen.
To be honest, that is not my primary concern. I want to address something else, namely the reaction of mainstream Muslims to yet another hate crime in the name of their religion. While I have been spared knowing someone who actually condones these murders, there are way too many I know who are performing sheer verbal gymnastics to make sure that their opinions cannot possibly offend anyone on this planet. They will start by saying they do not condone violence, ever, but well, the victim seems to have hurt people’s feelings too, and after all, such heinous acts are not actually supported by Islam, and if everyone just avoided offending everyone else…
I know I am not the only one who is always irritated by such compulsive efforts to sound neutral. It is time we understood one thing – with some issues if you are neutral, then you empower the oppressor. You cannot be neutral in case of a mugging, robbery, or murder. In case this was not clear to anyone, if someone’s words hurt you, you are free to use all the hurtful words you can muster to respond.
However, you cannot use knives to hurt them physically.
I imagine that the people who take such great pains to sound neutral want to make sure they do not offend the same extremist quarters that hacked a man to death. If such is the case, it is time to let go of one serious misconception – you are never going to be safe from those people. Once they have killed all the extreme atheists, agnostics, and ‘infidels,’ they will wipe out the secular.
Then, when the murder machine has no other enemy left outside, it will look towards itself inside its own camp. It will split hairs, find the most minuscule of differences, and kill the ones who harbour them. Your silence will not protect you. Your neutrality will not protect you. The day you let them kill an Avijit, the day you let them kill an Azad, you sign your own eventual death warrant.
Hammad Ali is a freelancer and an advisor for Bangladesh Math Olympiad Committee, Society for Popularisation of Science in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Open Source Network.