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Washiqur Rahman Babu's captured killers.
Washiqur Rahman Babu's captured killers.

Nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism are the four fundamental principles of the Bangladesh Constitution. Ironically we are living in a country where the constitution speaks for secularism, but society does not.

Religious intolerance has grown deep roots in our society, and now we are experiencing its extremes. Bangladesh is not a good place for practicing the fundamental right of religious freedom other than if one is a Muslim; it seems every now and again, there is news of suffering among Hindus, Buddhists, and indigenous peoples.

Apart from these minority groups, there is a super minority group present in Bangladesh who choose not to practice any religion at all: agnostics and atheists. This minority, who choose logical reasoning over religious belief as their philosophy in life, live under the constant threat of death. They are not even allowed to breathe in their own beloved country!

I would like to quote Washiqur Rahman Babu, who was brutally killed in a machete attack by three religious extremists on the morning of Monday 30 March, 2015. He wrote:

“Mullahs have freedom, extremists have freedom, apologists have freedom, Muslims have freedom, corrupt people have freedom, political leaders have freedom, petty political leaders have freedom, rapists have freedom, armed forces have freedom, so called civil society has freedom, Pinaki has freedom, Shafi huzur has freedom, garment-factory owners have freedom, ship owners have freedom…

“Farmers and labourers are not free,
Nor are indigenous and minority groups,
Nor are freethinkers,
All the people trying to be human are not free.”

It has been a month since we lost Dr. Avijit Roy. He was the founder and moderator of the secular humanist blogging site Mukto-mona where bloggers practice rationalism; dare to question anything counter intuitive to logical explanation. He was a humanist, a leader of rationalist movement in Bangladesh and most importantly, he was a science writer, a man of science.

He had dedicated his life to popularising science in Bangladesh until his death. Anyone who is familiar with his writing are aware of this focus. His books, “বিশ্বাস ও বিজ্ঞান (Faith and Science),” “ভালোবাসা কারে কয় (Science of Love),” “অবিশ্বাসের দর্শন (Philosophy of Disbelief),” “সমকামিতাঃ বৈজ্ঞানিক এবং সমাজ-মনস্তাত্ত্বিক অনুসন্ধান (Homosexuality: Scientific and Socio-psychological Research),” “স্বতন্ত্র ভাবনাঃ মুক্তচিন্তা ও বুদ্ধির মুক্তি (Independent Thoughts: Free-thinking and Freedom of Mind),” “মহাবিশ্বে প্রাণ ও বুদ্ধিমত্তার খোঁজে (In Search of Life and Intelligence in Universe),” “আলোহাতে চলিয়াছে আঁধারের যাত্রী (Pilgrimage of Darkness Towards Light),” and “শূণ্যথেকে মহাবিশ্ব (From Zero to Universe)” represent the theme of his body of work.

His genre was anti-establishment. Whenever he spoke against any popular but incorrect concepts, he attempted to dissect them from the scientific point of view. He wanted to share the knowledge he earned throughout his education and research.

He was a person who wanted to enlighten the population that had the slimmest chance of attaining true education. He worked towards inspiring a generation with science and rationalism. The killing of Dr. Avijit Roy was not only a bodily attack, but also an attack on science, an rationalism, and secularism.

Dr. Avijit Roy wrote on evolution of life on earth. I have witnessed many people of limited knowledge, who may or may not have their bachelor’s degree, and have never studied evolution, trying to define evolution as only a hypothesis that has never been seriously considered as science.

Such statements prove the limitations of their knowledge. When we are sick, we visit doctors for medicines like antibiotics. They remain unaware that the antibiotic industry constantly faces challenges due to the evolution (mutation) of microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria living in our body.

Today’s study of molecular biology, pharmacology, and medical science would lose their base if they ignored the theory of evolution. Dr. Avijit Roy fought against such misconceptions. Wasn’t it his fundamental right as a person?

“Do not take anything for granted” is the first lesson I learned from my past research adviser who has a Stanford University doctorate degree. A Chinese scientist can say fearlessly, “I am a scientist, I can’t be religious.”

American academics encourage their students to ask logical questions in every phase of academia. Koreans feel proud of teaching cultural values to their children instead of religion. All over the world, all scientists work in harmony just because they can move beyond their religious superstitions.

The practice of such rationalism and free thinking is allowed all over the world except nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt et cetera, and the newest jewel of this series, Bangladesh!

Dr. Avijit Roy was a man of science and he asked logical questions on religion. In many cases he mentioned religious statements which are contradictory to modern day science. The problem is, religious people who think his statements are offending their religious sentiment have never tried to answer those questions logically.

People are still attempting to generalise his writing as the humiliation of religion even after his brutal murder. When anyone says Dr. Avijit Roy humiliated religion, we who are familiar with his writing, can clearly understand these individuals never read his writing.

Islamic extremists killed Dr. Avijit Roy, and the group generalising his work as insults to religious sentiment from a point of ignorance, are wrongfully defaming a man who had been horrendously killed by terrorists. In other words, these quarters are trying to justify the heinous act of terrorism. Is that really honouring religion?

As a country, Bangladesh is failing to ensure freedom of speech and secularism. We are barred from sharing our knowledge from fear of extremism. We are not allowed to raise our voice anymore. We have been threatened for our intellect, for our voice, for our efforts to disseminate knowledge throughout society. How loudly we shout for our right to freedom of speech; how spontaneously we want to live; and yet no one cares!

Dr. Humayun Azad was similarly attacked on February 27, 2004. When Dr. Humayun Azad was attacked by these terrorists, our seniors and general citizens stayed silent. The government disposed of their duties by financing the medical cost of his treatment.

No justice arrived in ten long years. Islamist terrorism continues to grip Bangladesh for ten years. On February 26, 2015, exactly a decade later, another brutal killing has taken place, as if they are marking another era of terror through intellectual death. These two events will be long marked in the history of Bangladesh.

Dr. Avijit Roy’s blood has not quite dried yet, and already Washiqur Rahman Babu has been killed in the same manner on March 30, 2015. In 2013, they stabbed Asif Mahiuddin and killed Rajib Haider. What was the role of Bangladesh’s government against such attacks? The government arrested four bloggers Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, Russel Parvez, and Asif Mohiuddin (who was also stabbed earlier) for their questionable writing. Should we blame extremists alone?

Rajib Haider’s killers were bailed out and two years have now passed, with no justice in sight. One month has passed since the late Dr. Avijit Roy’s murder, and the police are without leads. And now Washiqur Rahman Babu’s murder has taken place.

Can the government of Bangladesh answer why our writers, bloggers, journalists, and teachers are persecuted and openly killed? Who has the greater power in our nation? The government’s silence acts as consent for these events to continue to pass. The next target may be anyone. Remain silent or be killed: this is the ultimatum left open to the general populace.

They are afraid the uneducated will learn to think rationally and scientifically, and the chances of taking advantage of an illiterate population, easily afraid of illogical threats spread under the name of religion, will diminish.

Dr. Humayun Azad who spoke against Islamic fundamentalist, Dr. Avijit Roy who presented how some religious statements can be contradictory to modern day science with his wisdom and rationalism, Rajib Haider who used to write satirically, Washiqur Rahman Babu who presented how Islamic clerics made contradictory arguments, who spoke for humanity and was met with a reply of machetes. Two murderers were caught running away from the scene by the help of transgendered individuals. Both murderers are madrasa students.

They have stated, “We do not understand blog. We haven’t read his writing. Huzur said that he was an anti-islamist. It’s our religious duty to kill him. We have killed him to fulfil our religious duty.” What I would like to ask these radical Islamists is “Who is this Huzur?” Who are their ideological leaders?

Hifazat-e Islam’s Bangladesh leader Allama Shafi said once, “Atheists are apostate; it has become wajib for us to kill atheists.” When a religious leader with a political agenda to insist Shariah law starts to spread hatred against non-religious people, then thousands of mullahs will preach and guide their students into terrorism. This is unsurprising.

Allama Shafi and many other Islamic preachers are violating our fundamental right to a peaceful life by encouraging terrorism under the name of Islam. But I hope Bangladesh government has not forgotten our constitutional right to secularism.

Who will ensure our human rights? Who is in the charge of protecting freedom of speech? Ignoring the brutal killing of intellectuals, writers, and bloggers will create a future where no one will approach educating society. No writer will feel safe to write about science. No one will speak up for human rights. No one will stand against the heinous activities of Islamic fundamentalist groups.

One war has started; this is not a war between secularists and Muslims. Rather, this is an ideological war between Bangladesh and radical extremists. At the end of this war, only one will remain extant.

Jawshan Ara Shatil is a doctoral researcher and blogger at Mukto-Mona.

17 Responses to “Bangladesh v. Religious Extremists”

  1. Chowdhury

    “BNP apologizes to women over TSC incident
    April 18, 2015 6:05 pm The Daily Ittefaq”. Thanks for confession.
    How about the ‘APOLOGY’ about burning killing 200 and injuring thousands, ‘Mukta Mona’ people, $2.7 billion economy, Grenade attack and killed, et cetera?
    After all those things, how come you’re (Khaleda) on the loose and on the street campaign?

  2. Mohammad

    We have Khaleda Zia, and we need Tareque, the traitors to bring to book!! Nobody can stop it! There’s no place for these ‘Nexus of all terrors’ in Bangladesh.

  3. moin

    These beast heinous persons committed genocide, crimes against humanity just to keep east Pakistan but, this is Bangladesh , not taleban style ruling so, these killers must be cleaned or send back to Pakistan with one way tickets just to clean the souls of Bangladeshis.
    These barbaric individuals creating unrests using great Islam as shield! All these killers justice should have been carried out with Kamruzzaman, not individual case, because their goal was one and they committed crimes against humanity!

  4. abdul amin

    Secularism as one of 4 fundamental principles of Bangladesh Constitution is my own struggle for decades to make my extremist siblings aware of it.
    Every word of this article is true, so intelligently, logically written and award winning; all ‘answers’ to ‘million dollar questions’ from Bangladeshis, simply right here. I wish every individual in Bangladesh go through this article, just one time. Frankly, this article speaks all about me, that’s who I am.
    Beginning of last year, one of my siblings told me, I quote “Tui nastik, tor shatee kota bolle ami Islam dhormo harabo”. It is something like “you’re non-believer of Islam, if I talk to you I will lose my religion”, I realized what he was up to; in fact, he’s quite educated but, has long beard, wears cap and prays 5 times a day. I’m being Muslim, may be I don’t say prayer 5 times a day; I fall in the group of ‘minorities’ for them, so honor killing may be ‘Wajib’. After listening to his words, I felt my life’s threatened and in ‘danger’. Home grown extremists are more dangerous than from foreign lands. Thank God, I’m away from them.

  5. Akteruzzaman Chowdhury

    Sunni Jihadis are active in large numbers in many organizations like Alqaeda, Taliban, ISIS, Alshabab, Bokoharam and our home-made JMB. Even then the sunnis of the Arabian Peninsula are afraid of the few small Shia armies in and around Arabia. Saudi Arabia is fighting a difficult war with shias in Yemen. The Saudis are so scared, they are asking for help from Egypt, Turkey and specially Pakistan. Our local jihadis should give a thought to what is going on in Arabia instead of killing fellow citizens.

  6. Students Group

    Kamaruzzaman, the mass killer, the rapist, arsonist and what not? We are so glad to come to know that the highest court has dismissed his review petition of death sentence. It is a great news for us all because we are going to hang him for the grave misdeeds he committed in 1971. We expected this to have happened last night but we are, in fact, disappointed as it did not occur as yet. However, we want see it happen at the soonest. The souls of the martyrs will find peace once he is executed; the victims’ families will also get some solace seeing that justice has been established after so many years We shall celebrate, once he is executed! We are now eagerly waiting for that happening!

    We salute the freedom fighters; we are sympathized with the families of the victims; we shall always stand beside them.

    Expose the Jamaati butchers, their poisonous accomplices and destroy them wherever and whenever found them. Long live Bangladesh.

    Non-political Students of different Schools, Colleges
    and Universities :

    • Sajjadul islam

      Kamaruzzaman was a student of class 11 during the war of independenc.After that he studied and passed post graduate digree from the Dhaka university.he was the president of one of the biggest student organizations of bangladsh- islamic chatra shibbir. then joint the jamaate islami.Last 40 years he was actived in politics and journalism.during this years even single case was brought against him.After arresting him cases lodged against him by the govt becouse he follows the path of Islam, wanted to establish islamic rule of justices in the country that free the contrymen from all sorts of injustic,corruptions,spolitations and slaveries. i think thatis why
      the govt lodged politically motivated false cases against him to kill him.

      • Students Group

        Sajjadul Islam:

        Either you belong to Jammat-e-Islami and Shibir or a staunch supporter of them (without knowing the true history of them) and their killing squads- Al-Badr and Al-Shams. That’s why, you have come up with a falsehood statement. Kamaruzamman did his SSC Examination in 1967. He was quite matured enough in 1971. He was the Al-Badr Commander of the-then greater Mymensingh District who undertook sophisticated military training by the cruel Pakistani Army to brutally eliminate our innocent people and he personally executed so many innocent people of Shohagpur village and other areas of greater Mymensingh District. He also raped our honourable sisters and mothers in those localities during that time. Under his command, hundreds of houses of general public were burnt down to ashes to terrorize the people who were free from evil or guilt of those places.

        There are also many other Kamaruzzaman like terror in the country who took part in cruel mass murdering in 1971 like the despicable Pakistani Army; they took due educations, positioned in big positions and are established in our society during the last 43 years. After independence of Bangladesh, they went into hide-outs and later on, surfaced themselves in the localities where they were unknown to the people. It is “wicked” General Zia who did commit an unpardonable crime to rehabilitate them in the country. Curse be upon him! In the past, they were not tried but why a worst criminal can’t be punished now? It is not fathomable! Even the war criminals of the 2nd world war who were fugitives are now being caught, tried and awarded due punishment. Kamaruzzaman was/is a demon, not a human being. He was a great panic in the greater Mymensingh District during our independence war. He is not Islamic though he pretends to be, a notorious killer, a shyster politician, an enemy of Islam, human being and humanity. He was rightly caught. He has been rightfully handed-down capital punishment with due proofs by the courts which he deserves. If Jamaat is Islamic, then the tamarind tree will produce sweet mangoes only! Wow!

        Don’t make foul talks. We want to see that a big criminal like Kamaruzzaman is soon executed so that the martyrs’ families, at least, get some justice after so many years. Hang him in no time and we wish to celebrate joyfully once we receive the good news that he has been executed!
        Non-political Students of different Schools, Colleges
        and Universities :

      • Milon Ashique Ahmed


        You statement is a blatant lie. Once upon a time in 2003, I visited in one of my friend’s office to meet him who was my friend during my study in the University of Dhaka and I found Muhammad kamaruzzaman was sitting in front of him. My friend tried to introduce Kamaruzzaman to me and he wanted to shake hands with me but I instantly refused him and called him as AL-Badr commander. He was then boastfully saying : “Yes, I was an Al-Badr commander and worked for Pakistan. I shot many people to death by my SLR. I raped many women. I helped burning of houses of many people who helped the Mukti Bahini. What is the fault with me? I did all these to save Pakistan and Islam, shall work tirelessly and try to unite Bangladesh with Pakistan. That is why, I am doing politics of Jamaat-e-islami. Fire will be erupted, if anyone tries to touch me”. The time then was not good for me as I worked for establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 without doing any politics. I was so angry, agitated…. and spoke to myself only and then immediately left the chamber of my friend.

        I wish that Kamaruzzaman be hanged without further delay because of his despicable role during our liberation war. I pray to Allah so that he gets hell fire from YOU. I also wish that all other war criminals now in different jails meet with the same fate.

  7. Gurjot Singh Dhilon

    First let us give some credit to Hasina. Without her rule Bangladesh would have been a failed state like Pakistan. Quasi military rule of Dr. Fakhruddin and General Moinuddin dealt the first blow to Islamists when they sent JMB convicts to the gallows and Hasina has relentelssly contnued the campaign against islamists in Bangladesh.

    The sad truth is that Mujib and Haisna imposed secularism on people of Bangladesh. If not a majority, a substatntail part of Bangladeshi muslims believe in Qaid-e-Azam’s two nation theory.

    It is obvious that attempt to secularize muslims politically is a meaningless endeavor. Just look at Turey havekey — One hundred years after Kamal Ataturk imposed secularism on them, Islamists are ruling that country.

    • Pulak Sen

      Please look at your own backyard, Sardarji! Thousands of years later, Saffron rules in India, and Bajrangi-RSS-VHP thugs are terrorizing the minorities, making a mockery of democracy. Do you remember how many Sikhs were slaughtered after Ms. Indira Gandhi was assassinated? Please think a little, like the South Indians, before pointing fingers. I know it’s hard for the Punjabis to think hard, but try anyway.

    • Jawshan

      Sheikh Mujib Rahman hadn’t impose secularism in Bangladesh. By definition, secularism is not atheism or agnosticism, secularism does not nullify any religion, rather it gives freedom to all religious practice: Islam, hinduism, Buddhism or atheism whatever the citizens wish to practive. Secularism protects both beilevers and non-believers. Declearation of secularism in the constitution indicates, Government has nothing to do with religion, it is solely the citizen’s choice what religion they would like to follow. I would say, if anyday, Bangladesh turns into a Islamic state, that would clearly invalidate the human right of the minority groups present in Bangladesh, that would be imposition.

      Unlike Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey, Secular movement in Bangladesh is focused on ensuring religious freedom to every citizen, vocal against human rights violation. We want to get rid of century old religious dominations which violates others human right. We want to inspire rationalism. Turning the population into an atheist community is not the target of secular movement in Bangladesh.

      Bangladesh earned its independence through the spirit of Bengali nationalism. Despite the imposition of Quaid-i-Azam’s two nation theory, two portion of Pakistan was never united, religious similarity was not enough to turn Bangalis into Pakistani. So, I do not agree that Bengali people have ever believed in two nation theory. What we are seeing these days, that’s a consequence of allowing Jamat-e-Islami into national politics, not a derivative of two nation theory.

      • Abdul

        I have to disagree. The reason the two portions of Pakistan were not united is not because religious similarities was not enough. It was the mentalities of the Punjabis who could not accept the Bengalis as equal. Had there been more tolerance and understanding that all human beings are equal and be given equal rights then this breakup would not have happened. To say that from 1947 the Bengalis were not accepting Pakistan as their country is a myth and is not supported by any facts .

      • Chy

        Thank you Jawshan Ara Shatil, I want add some more, if I may.
        Hon PM Hasina has proven her excellence as governing body and at the same time keeping her grace, having patience, non-violent approach to terrorists like in Indian independence, “God has no religion” and that doesn’t mean God hate all religions, rather giving religious freedom. Any religious extremist comes to power, will eliminate others
        Even though BNP and its extremist organs are not in power, they’re destroying other religious minorities’ faith places like Mondir, Churches, Pagodas, keeping Mosques, et cetera, killing ‘Mukto mona’ people.
        Our 4 pillars ‘Nationalism, Socialism, Democracy and Secularism’ were in effect after liberation, we all Bangladeshis, all kinds people, not depending on religious faith, fought for the new country so called Bangladesh; until the assassination of Father of the Nation and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and then Islamist terrors took power. Now, AL PM Hasina’s trying to reestablish country’s birth-rights and westerners are with her.
        But, BNP being “the root and energizer of religious extremists”, way behind current digital age, no update of 21st century livelihood except, destructions, started beheading intellectuals like in liberation war what al-badr, jamaat, etc did and they’re full ahead going for gaining sharia like power by supporting and doing ‘hartals and blockades’ without thinking development of Bangladesh, openly burning and killing innocent people but, themselves hiding.
        Khaleda and her religious extremists should have one-way tickets to Pakistan or to extremist-funder Saudi Arabia, AL government will not talk to this BNP and its terrorists organs, FULL STOP.

      • Chy

        You’re most welcome Jawshan , an amazing article and trending topic in the hearts and minds of western intellectual societies, will be read by millions.
        ‘Mukto mona’ is free mind in 21st century, not medieval self-centered or egocentric barbarism,
        Secularism is not atheism that atheist has to be slaughtered, rather non-believers respect all religions and people. No religion has bad teachings. Atheists are very kind hearted creatures than religious extremists.
        “God has no religion”— Mahatma Gandhi, didn’t mean he hate religions, rather he loved and respected all religions and it shows in India, the biggest democracy on earth!

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