Bangladesh Prime Minister appears to condone killings of atheist writers

From Prothom Alo Bangladesh

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday said everybody needs to exercise tolerance as it is essential for the country’s uninterrupted development.
She said it is not at all acceptable to write something hurting religious sentiments of others. “We perform our religious rituals. But, if anyone writes filthy words against our religion, why should we tolerate that?” news agency UNB quoted her as saying.
Nowadays it has become a fashion to write something against religion as part of free thinking, she observed. “But, I consider such writings as not free thinking but filthy words. Why anyone would write such things? It’s not at all acceptable if anyone writes against our prophet or other religions. This is a characteristic fault, expression of distorted or filthy mindset. I hope no one would write such filthy things,” said Hasina.
“Why the government would take responsibility if such writings lead to any untoward incidents? Everyone should maintain decency. Or else the government wouldn’t take the responsibility for any uncivilised attitude.”
About the killing out of vengeance for such writings, she said Islam does not permit it and Almighty Allah does not bestow the duty of trial on them.
“But, if anyone doesn’t abide by the guidance of Almighty Allah and his prophet and thus kill people, it is ‘Shirk’. I hope no one would indulge in such act,” she added.

Several Bangladeshi writers have been murdered recently, including Najimuddin Samad on 5 April.

See also Arif Rahman.

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Yet another secularist writer murdered in Bangladesh

Ananta Bijoy Das and Avijit Roy

From The Guardian, 12 May 2015: A secular blogger has been hacked to death in north-east Bangladesh, the third such deadly attack this year.

Police said Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered as he headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet, an attack that fellow writers said highlighted a culture of impunity.

Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, said a group of about four masked attackers pounced on Das with machetes at about 8.30am on Tuesday on a busy street in Bangladesh’s fifth-largest city.

Read more…

It appears that Ananta Bijoy Das had been refused a visa to attend a writers’ conference in Sweden, as the death threats against him led the consulate to consider it a risk he might not return home.

See also BBC report.

It appears also that the Bangladesh government is reluctant to upset Islamists by investigating the murders and threats too closely.

Another atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union on 30 March 2015:

Washiqur Rahman’s Facebook banner declares “#IamAvijit”, after the leading secular and humanist blogger, Avijit Roy, who was murdered a month ago in Bangladesh.

Washiqur babu

This morning Washiqur Rahman himself was killed in similar circumstances: a machete attack by assailants on the streets of Dhaka. The brutal attack took place close to Rahman’s home. Police have reportedly taken two men into custody who were detained at the scene.

Bob Churchill, Director of Communications at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) comments: “We are deeply saddened that yet another rationalist voice has been so brutally silenced in this vile backlash against atheist bloggers. Our thoughts are with Washiqur’s family and we stand in solidarity with the many individual thinkers and writers from Bangladesh who exercise their right to discuss religion — Islam in particular — frankly and critically. This is a human right, freedom of expression, and it should be respected and protected in Bangladesh, as it should be respected and protected everywhere.”

Asif Mohiuddin, who was also the victim of a machete attack in 2013, but survived and now lives abroad, described Washiqur on his Facebook page as a “humanist” and a true wit. He told the IHEU: “He was a good friend. We spent hours over tea discussing blogs a few years ago. He had a great sense of humor, his satires were amazing. I named him the George Carlin of Bangladesh! Personally he was very polite, a nice human being. He wanted with all his heart, a true secular country, where everyone can practice their freedom.”

Arifur Rahman, another fellow Bangladeshi atheist blogger, saw Washiqur recently at a social meetup. Washiqur was “a soft spoken personality,” says Arifur, and “his writing was very good. He was… careful, but that did not save him… The culture of impunity that has spread over the last few years clearly has very damning results. It is now the consensus inside Bangladesh, be it silent or spoken, that ‘if you drop an atheist in the open street, nothing will happen to you, you will be treated as a hero.’ The word ‘Nastik’ (atheist) has been vilified in Bangladesh (and the rest of the Muslim world); they are seen as sub-human, it is OK to kill them.”

Washiqur’s writing

Washiqur also used the hashtag #WordsCannotBeKilled, introduced by Avijit Roy’s daughter following her father’s murder. In that vital spirit, we share some words from Washiqur Rahman.

Mild-mannered in person, Washiqur’s satire could be bitingly incisive and insightful. Writing a 52 episode series for Dhormockery.com (a satirical Bengali site), called “Jaw-crushing answers to insulting comments of atheists” (see: questions 1-20, questions 21-40) he enumerated questions raised by critics about Islam, alongside answers commonly given to them, but paired the questions together in order to highlight how the answers are very often in tension, or contradict each other entirely. For example:

Insulting comment 21: Islam is claimed to be ‘the best and the complete way of life’. Does that mean that slavery is valid for eternity?

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a humane religion. Slavery was not forbidden because of the situation of that time. But there scope for ‘qiyas and ijma’ (consensus and reconsideration) in Islam. That means any custom can be abolished

Insulting comment 22: Why then Muslims are not agreeing to equal inheritance for girls through ‘qiyas and ijma’.

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a ‘perfect and complete way of life’. Its ‘codes of life’ has been formulated for the overall welfare of humanity. Islam has basically given women the highest honor. But you want to abolish the laws of Allah for the sake of inconsequential earthly benefits. This is not acceptable.

For Bangaldesh’s Independence Day, he wrote a poetic lament about which sections of society really are liberated, and those which are not. The piece reveals many wider social justice concerns, alluding to the apparent immunity from prosecution faced by some garment factory owners, and the injustices faced by many of the poorest in society:

আজ বাংলাদেশের স্বাধীনতা দিবস।

মোল্লা স্বাধীন, জঙ্গি স্বাধীন, ছাগু স্বাধীন, মুমিন স্বাধীন, দুর্নীতিবাজ স্বাধীন, রাজনৈতিক নেতা স্বাধীন, পাতি নেতা স্বাধীন, ধর্ষক স্বাধীন, সামরিক বাহিনী স্বাধীন, সুশীল সমাজ স্বাধীন, পিনাকী স্বাধীন, শফি হুজুর স্বাধীন, দলদাস স্বাধীন, গার্মেন্টস মালিক স্বাধীন, লঞ্চ মালিক স্বাধীন…

স্বাধীন নয় কৃষক-শ্রমিক,
স্বাধীন নয় কথিত সংখ্যালঘু-আদিবাসী,
স্বাধীন নয় মুক্তচিন্তার মানুষ,
স্বাধীন নয় মানুষ হতে চাওয়া মানুষগুলো…

Today is Bangladesh’s liberation day

The Mullah has freedom, extremists have freedom, Muslims have freedom, the corrupt have freedom, political leaders have freedom, adulates of the political leaders have freedom, rapists are free, the armed forces are free, so-called civil society is free, intellectuals who support Islamists, they also have freedom, religious leaders have freedom, the garment factory owners have freedom, the ferry owners have freedom.

Not free: the farmers and labours
Not free: indigenous people and minorities
Not free: Freethinkers
Not free: All the people who just want to be human…

Known on Facebook as Washiqur Babu, Rahman also blogged at Shocholayoton and posted at an online message board called Logical Forum. Washiqur Rahman is also a pseudonym and we’re not using his full given name on advice.

Call to action: Defend the bloggers of Bangladesh (International Humanist and Ethical Union)

There is a serious threat to freedom of thought, expression and political opinion in Bangladesh. Atheist and freethinking voices are the target (including the three bloggers paraded by the authorities in the image above).

Islamist political parties have provided government with a list of 84 “atheist bloggers” and are demanding the death penalty for “insulting religion”. Several bloggers have already been arrested and a government official promised to pursue all those listed.

Last week, we said the government would be “walking into a trap set by fundamentalists” if they gave any succour to these demands. But they did. And on Friday a rally on the order of 100,000 Islamists marched in Dhaka (video) calling for a new blasphemy law and for the execution of the atheist bloggers. Earlier this year a prominent atheist blogger was murdered in a machete attack at his home, so we are also concerned about the safety in public of those accused of “blasphemy”.

We are urging IHEU Member Organisations and humanists everywhere to act now in solidarity with the bloggers and to put an end to the threats and intimidation.

Read more

How I lost God

Picture the upbringing. Daily bible reading (very selective) and prayers at home. Daily prayer and homilies at school. Church on Sunday. Social life revolving around the church. Harvest suppers and silly games. Visits to hear Billy Graham and Gladys Aylward and the like. Embarrassment on the toilet because God sees us everywhere – all the time. I still remember the terror I felt when one day I accidentally dropped my Bible.

Every letter received was carefully perused by my parents. I was never sure what they expected to find. A school friend lent me a copy of a Bertrand Russell book and its reading was forbidden.

We were aware of other beliefs. Jews were nice people but misguided, Catholics superstitious and, oh, the parental pursed lips when I came home saying I had learned who Mohammed was!

On to university and boyfriends and some debate. I heard the question, “Do you believe in God?” It is hard to credit but it had never occurred to me that there were people who did not. (I know – I find this hard to believe as well.)

I stopped attending church simply from boredom at first, but retained some type of unconsidered beliefs. I married in church but, becoming increasingly doubtful, faced down opposition and did not have my daughter christened. She was brought up without god at home, but he was still a big presence in both her primary and secondary schools. I felt a vague permeating sense of guilt. Should I at least take her to church to give her the chance to make up her own mind?

Years and years of slow decline in belief followed. I read the parts of the bible that had not been selected, and realised what a vicious and vindictive god I had worshipped. Yet I still missed the ritual, the carols at Christmas and the ready-made social life. The whole package is very hard to shake off, especially the feeling that is instilled that those who do not believe are wicked.

I cast around for something else, but I will spare you the details!

I had heard of Humanists, but had met only one or two and knew next to nothing about them. I started reading and talking, and realised this is where I fit. Humanists believe that as we only have one life it is essential to make it the best we can. For ourselves, and of course for others. It came as a massive relief and a revelation akin to St Paul’s that it really is OK not to believe. That there are thousands of people who do not and with better education these numbers would undoubtedly grow.

I feel sad for those who retain weird beliefs, but I understand how easy it is not to question. It is their prerogative to go on believing, but they have no right to inflict this on others in any way, particularly on children.

Helen Taylor

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