If you were a writer/blogger, you would hate to be in the shoes of Asif Mohiuddin. He, along with Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Russel Parvez, is on trial in Bangladesh for hurting religious sentiments. The four face about a decade in prison if the police can prove that their derogatory posts caused "a slide in law and order that led to anarchy". But the long arm of the law does not worry them as much as its ineffective arm does.
They have been marked for death by Hefazat-e-Islam, quite an effective arm of Jamaat-e-Islami, the religious-political organisation that wants Bangladesh to become like Pakistan, the country it broke away from. Hefazat has just claimed its latest blogger kill in Ananta Bijoy Das. Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed multiple times by four young men in early 2013. He survived. Rajib Haider did not. Rajib wrote against the attack on Asif and gave out a call to strengthen secularism. Ganajagaran Manch, the secular organisation, they all supported triggered the Shahbag Protests against the neo-Islamists in Bangladesh.
Rajib was attacked in the same fashion. Meat cleavers, knives, in public view. It later turned out that the attackers were the same people who had attacked Asif. The Shahbag protests, meanwhile, attracted thousands of youth who demanded that Jamaat elements that supported Pakistan in the atrocities in 1971 be punished. To counter that, the Islamists held a massive rally in Dhaka, threatening the bloggers with death. They delivered on their threat.
Thousands of Bangladesh Islamists took to the streets of Dhaka demanding execution of atheist bloggers for defaming Islam. Source: ANI
In February this year, Avijit Roy, an American citizen, was attacked with machetes and knives in Dhaka. In full public view, with his wife crying for help. In March, Wasiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Dhaka. In public yet again, but nobody dared to protect him. The killers were walking away, again, when a transgender, Labanya, caught the murderers. Barely three months later, Ananta Bijoy Das has been hacked to the same fate. He was walking out of his home in Sylhet when four people chased him and clobbered his head with machetes.
Ananta was one of the star writers for Mukto-Mona, the secular blog that Avijit had founded. The 33-year-old also edited a magazine called Jukti (Logic). He was more of a pro-science man than an anti-religion activist. But he did point out the absurdities in religion like atheists do. Religion, let us face it, has run out of its use-by date. It is kept propped by men and sects that feed off it. For these cultists, people of other religions are enemies but atheists are the common enemy, as their humanist ideas negate religion as identity. Atheists are soft targets.
In a country like India, atheists do not attract much attention, because co-existence is rooted in its cultural ethos. Also, religions are busy fighting each other to care about the tiny minority of rationalists. But when any religion faces resistance from secularism, they display remarkable unity. The ban on The Satanic Verses was backed by religious leaders of all shades. MF Husain's depiction of Hindu goddesses was condemned by all religions. Sanal Edamaruku lives in exile because he questioned Christianity. And All India Bakchod were spared by none. It goes beyond boundaries too. When Jamaat organised that "death for atheists" rally in Dhaka, at least 15 Muslim organisations in West Bengal held a massive procession at Kolkata's Shaheed Minar chanting, no surprise, "death for atheist bloggers".
Cornered after their prominent leaders are being tried for war crimes of the 1971 liberation war, Bangladesh's largest Islamic party, the Jamaat e Islami got support from 15 Islamic outfits in West Bengal. Source: ANI
Bangladesh, though 90 per cent Muslim, has been more or less the same, but the recent rise of Islamism globally has hit them hard. Tauheen-e-Rasaalat or insulting the Prophet is the excuse, while all these bloggers ever did was question religion - all of them - not just Islam. In fact, none of the three killed this year can be accused of insulting the Prophet of Islam.
Yet, a bunch of boys has become a rallying point for Islamists. They say Allah is Rahman-ul-Rahim (God is the most merciful), but do not wait for Allah to decide the fate of someone they hate. The pro-reason, pro-science atheists are now more vocal, because religion has inspired ghoulish cruelty, especially in the Muslim world. Look at Pakistan. After obliterating non-Muslims, they have entered the Shia-hunting phase of hate. Mindless, indiscriminate killings like May 13 Karachi bus attack are now part of the normal. As religion gets more tenacious about the tenets, the atheists have begun pushing the envelope. Once indifferent to blind faith, now they actively denounce religion because the days of benign disregard are over. The inherent anachronism of religion has pushed the youth towards reason, because they have questions that religion cannot answer. Publishing books that can be termed blasphemous may force one to live in exile, a la Taslima Nasreen. So the youth use the internet. It's just a tad bit less dangerous, though the new Information Technology laws criminalise hurting religious sentiments.
The Bangladesh government has failed to protect Avijit, Wasiqur and Ananta, if you count the victims of only this year. That does not give any confidence to Asif Mohiuddin. Jailed by the Bangladesh government for posting "offensive comments about Islam and Mohammed", Asif is now out on bail. He still faces charges, and if convicted, he will be sent to jail. That may well prove to be safer than the freedom he enjoys today. Because words are all he has against religion. Religion has machetes. No match. Pen is mightier than the sword, but the sword draws blood. Not ink. No match.