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People pay last respects to slain writer Avijit Roy. Photo: Tanvir Ahammed/bdnews24.com
People pay last respects to slain writer Avijit Roy. Photo: Tanvir Ahammed/bdnews24.com

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.

18 Responses to “The growing circle of intolerance”

  1. Anwar A. Khan

    The government must take into cognizance that the principal mischief mongers are Jamaati + Shibir gansters for the current deadly violences taking physical energy or intensity from their supremo Khaleda Zia and her wicked accomplices and hence, they should deal with them iron-handedly to crush these brutal animals in no time.

    Secondly, the government should immediately put under serious surveillance of all petrol/diesel pump stations, especially BNP and Jamaat owned ones + there are also certain mischief-mongers in certain points of alleyways of the city (police knows those points) who in connivance with the drivers of transport vehicles and private cars buy petrols and diesels from them pulling out the same using plastic pipes at cheaper costs and sell those items to other people for different purposes including petrol bombing to derive financial benefits. I am sure that the petrol bombing for kiliing of our innocent people by these cruel animals in the guise of human-beings will cease to exist in no time if the measure is adopted to a severe or serious degree without wasting any time.

    Thirdly, the source of their financial support and similar nature of issues must be striken violently and repeatedly by the government to make them paralysed in getting any such financial suppot to carry on this long standing violent activities in the name of so-called poltical movements.

    Fourthly, the government must also bear in mind that we, the general public, who are out of any sort of politics are the worst suffers; they should understand clearly that they are duty-bound to protect us from all such deadly violences being conducted by the above-mentioned sub-humans. By this time, 2 months have gone by; we have tolerated enough this incredible situation and now we are really getting impatient about your style of controlling this unbearable situation any longer. It is very difficult to believe humans can behave with such beastiality towards other humans under the so-called leadership of an illiterate Dracula type of woman!

    Costly time is running out fast causing us untold sufferings. We may not give the government any more time to go in this unacceptable way. Rise up with firm determination immediately to despise them once and for all and show us that you are beside with innocent people with full authority. Please do it faster without losing any more precious time. If you can, plaudits are awaiting you from the general public.

    Ciao for the time being.

  2. Zak

    “WHOSO SHEDDETH MAN’S BLOOD, BY MAN SHALL HIS BLOOD BE SHED” – If these so called Islamists, or should I say, subscribers of the antihumanists cult, continue to shed blood of innocent people in the name of religion, sooner or later the tables will turn and they too will, in a karmic way face similar consequences. What is most appalling is that the government is not not doing anything to protect it’s citizens from these bloodthirsty predators.

  3. Sumit Mazumdar

    As I have commented on several occasions – there IS a way to stop this madness in Bangladesh. And that is to everyday publish news from Pakistan. Not in a biased way, but straightforward reporting from THEIR newspapers. How everyday Shias are being killed, in their masjids and in their homes. How schoolchildren are being slaughtered in the name of religious purity. How Christians are being lynched and sent to prison for “blasphemy”. How lawyers and judges who take the criminals to court are being killed. How Hindu girls are kidnapped, converted and forced into marriages.

    It is essential that Bangladeshis who are sitting on the fence realize where trying to get a homogenous religious tradition leaves.

    BTW, the same might also work in India, where a free thinker has just been shot and killed. All of us need heavy doses of news from the land of the pure. Not made up – but the simple truth.

  4. kc

    Hi,

    It is sad that Mr. Avijit had to die like this. It is sad. It is said in the media that he was a blogger who was atheist and he did not like religions. If you take a closer look at his work, he did not critical of religions but only of Islam and more specifically of the Quran when he did not even know Arabic neither was he qualified to make any criticism of the Book. Just like I am not qualified to criticize Hindu books or any other religion’s books. It seems like these pseudo intellectuals are making a career out of criticizing only Islam or the Quran or the Prophet in the veil of freedom of speech, Mukto Chinta or other fancy labels. While it is not right to attack or kill him for his “opinion” because that is against Islamic tradition because the Prophet never attacked anyone for personally attacking him but there are people in the society who will not stand by while some pseudo intellectuals keep attacking your religion. I will respect you as you respect me. Maybe these pseudo intellectuals need to practice what they preach.

    • Sumit Mazumdar

      You are the one who is “attacking religion”. Why do you think that Allah is unable to protect your religion’s honor and needs the help from “people who will not stand by”? If Allah is omnipotent He will take case of the Avijits of the world. “I will respect you as you respect me”. But then disrespect me as I disrespect you. I disrespect you but I am not suggesting that you be killed. Show me the same amount of disrespect and stop right there before you pick up a bomb or a knife.

      • Rashid

        First of all, I condemn the killing and I demand immediate punishment for the killers unequivocally.
        However, here, between you and the person you’ve responded to, I find only YOU as an “Extremist”. Not only that, you’ve shown your arrogance also saying- “disrespect me as I disrespect you”. It’s people like you who are responsible to destroy all the instances and possibilities of social harmony in our societies. The first commenter was still very sensible to express his/her sadness at the killing of Mr. Avijit Roy, even though he vehemently opposed what Mr. Roy had been doing in the name of scientific rationality. But, it’s you, people like you, who don’t see any goodness in that, because you demand complete submission and subscription in what you believe in. The ‘dogmatic use of science’ by a large number of atheists all over and their extremist gigs, especially in Bangladesh and India, reminds me of the famous Aseop fable- The Fox Who Lost His Tail.

      • Sumit Mazumdar

        Mr. Rashid:

        How did you figure out that I am an atheist? I simply said that God can take care of His world without the help of murderers! That makes me an atheist?

        A tail is good to have perhaps, but it obviously does not help where thinking is concerned.

        Regards.

      • Rashid

        As far as I can remember while commenting on a piece titled ‘Why Muslims are retrogressive’ written some A Rahman you wrote in reply to one of my comments that you didn’t have any religion. Well, technically, still that doesn’t make you an atheist, but practically may be you are. However, the last sentence of my post is basically to address generally only those among the atheists, agnostics and pseudo-theists who misuse science to establish some form of superiority over others.
        let’s consider your last sentence: “A tail is good to have perhaps, but it obviously does not help where thinking is concerned”.
        Though you took the fable literally for whatever purpose you sought to have served by that, in reality a tail does matter even in the case of THINKING. Not having a natural part of the body might cause serious frustration, sorrow, inferiority complex and even aggressiveness reflected in one’s behaviour. So, beware of that ‘not so immanent’ danger!

  5. Khan

    This is really very tragic. If Avijit was writing to enlighten the society things did not work. We should try to reform the society keeping the environment in mind and calculating the blow back. But if you want to reform by poking and teasing then you bring yourself to a place which is not suitable in today’s world and the situation in BD.

  6. nina malik

    My question is why does Khushi Kabir wear such a big tip on her forehead? Is she Hindu? Why why & why do Bangali Muslim women wear tip, anyway? I distaste this whole ‘tip’ culture. Who is the other woman in the picture with choshma & tip? She even looks more ridiculous. Must be another activist.

      • Rafiqul Islam

        I think tip is a typical Hindu religion thing as in Hindu women wear tip & shidoor. For Muslim women it is wearing a churi which shows that she is married. Though tip is more of a fashion statement but I always associate it with Hindu culture. After the 1971 war it made its way in Bangladesh. In my family no women wear tip and that’s cool. Why can’t people take a reader’s comment in its face value these days? That is what is wrong in the world today. Everything has to be scrutinized. Lighten up Mazumdar!

      • Sumit Mazumdar

        Hmm…, let’s see. A distinguished Bangladeshi-American, a free thinking human being gets killed, his wife is in the hospital, people gather to honor the man’s memory, and the only thing a poster has to comment is on the tip on a lady’s forehead. The poster also labels another woman, who BTW could be a Hindu – after all so was Roy – and labels her “ridiculous” and an “activist” (whatever that means!) The poster uses the word “distaste’ in describing the “tip culture”.

        And Mr Islam, you want me to “lighten up”? Besh!!
        Bhalo!!

  7. Shohana Hossain

    Dante said: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” I believe we as a nation just reserved ours by trying to be neutral in today’s world while extremists try to tell us who should live and who should die.

    • Syed Imtiaz Ali

      Perfect 10!
      How true about our dumb (everyone) people who know well that morals are being trampled by none other than half-baked ones, and here we are well on our way to REGRESSION! And we scream about development in society.
      This is why we recall Dante even today.
      My condolence to the bereaved family.

  8. Dr A Rahman

    I am in agreement with the writer’s view – if you are neutral to a blatant criminal activity, you are in fact supporting it indirectly. I also feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with the society. The society has lost its humanity.
    In response to my write-up on Avijit, I got a reply like this: “I do not condone killing someone. But he was an atheist and he did not believe in Allah and he insulted Allah (how? the guy did not say). So he deserved what he got. Why do you pray for him? (In my write-up, I said, May his soul rest in peace).” If this is the mindset of these religious bigots living in the society, I wonder where this society will descend to.

    • Mahadi

      Few days before Avijit killing a 17 year old kid name Robi Sumon Dash being shot at from a close blank range, more than 4 people died that day along with Sumon. Doctors found more than fifty bullets, and police described it was agitated people who did that! I know Robi Sumon Dash and his life did not worth our precious time! Not even a single article or a line we allocated for him. Definitely, our selective priority should be questioned in the age of Madness and horror.

    • Rashid

      You are right, that type of comment is really insensible to say the least. Personally I don’t support assassination and extra-judicial killing. It doesn’t happen in a civilized society.

      Anyway, I would like to know what you understand by soul. Does the science testify the concept of soul? Isn’t it solely a religious thing? Did Mr. Avijit Roy believe in soul? Where does soul go after death? Why does it need to be in peace? Is there any alternative to peace after death?

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