Avijit Roy, an American, atheist blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death in Dhaka University, Bangladesh on February 26, 2015. The attack, allegedly carried out by Islamists, is yet to be confirmed by Bangladeshi officials. Roy, an acclaimed champion of secularism in Bangladesh, was the founder of Muktomona (a Bengali word meaning ‘Free Mind‘ in English), a free-thinking, secularist blog. The editorial team at Alochonaa.com stand firm in support of the principle of free-thinking. As the title of our site affirms, we stand firm on the principle of free speech and tolerance. We believe, the high profile, yet unfortunate murder of Avijit Roy merits a non-conditional condemnation of intolerance and violence. We would like to know your thoughts on this brutal murder. Is it an attack on free speech? Does ‘Islam’ have anything to do with this murder? Or is it just another sad event brought on by Bangladesh’s unstable political climate? We have compiled a set of responses from people around the world holding different views, cultures and religions: from Washington D.C, Houston, Edinburgh, Dhaka, Jerusalem, London, and Perth. Thank you to all who contributed — Samuel Glen, Editor – Religion and Society, Alochonaa, Brisbane, Australia
‘Ugly Attack on Religious Freedom’, Brian J Grim*, Washington D.C, Metro Area, US
“The fatal attack on Avijit Roy is an ugly attack on religious freedom.”
*President at Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
‘A Martyr of Freedom of Speech’, Adam McMurchie*, Edinburgh, UK
“Like many in the west my reaction to the murder of Avjit Roy a Bangladesh-born US atheist blogger, was that of a knee-jerk reaction. I felt a mixture of anger, disappointment at yet another dare I say it ‘martyr’ for freedom of speech. As a busy professional, I rely heavily on the media to inform me of international affairs. Whilst yes it is obvious that the media have agendas and like to over-state religious barbarism; it does appear that even counting the amount of religiously motivated attacks are increasing. One of the first things that comes to mind is – how to strike back. It is a feeling of helplessness as all these attacks are pre-emptive. They don’t occur on a battlefield, and many if not all in these attacks get away or die escaping justice. Conversely it was relieving to see the outrage in Bangladesh and students taking to the streets to demand the immediate capture of the culprits. It is a reminder that regardless of faith, we all face this together.”
*Linguist and experienced translator and a Data Analyst for banks. Open-Minded agonistic.
“Most societies have their extremists, their wounded egos seeking respite in violently smiting perceived enemies. What seems most worrying in 21st century Bangladesh however is not just that these extremists exist in great number, which perhaps they do, but that the political structure can only react in ways expedient to the powerful; there is no neutral arbiter. Only the rampantly competitive, power hungry parties.This idea of the party-archy comes alive chillingly when we see those pictures of police standing by idle in the crowd as Rafida Ahmed staggers from that body blow of hatred, soaked in blood. Almost as ominous as the presence of the fanatical is the mis-appropriation of agency; the idle authorities, attention directed only in the service of the powerful.
It is perhaps this that is the greatest succour to communalism and threat to a secular Bangladesh, which despite many attempts to suggest otherwise, thrives in many quarters. Forced as we are to live in nation states, we need common glue to hold us together regardless of and beyond creed. The only one we know is a state with enough capacity to stand up to desperately competitive political parties. Those entities who trade principles for votes, manpower or approval for their own gain, with any reactionary monster terrifying enough to make a splash. Is it any wonder then that Bangladesh’s political parties stubbornly fail to empower the law through taxation? To create a state capable of enforcing laws that might just view a person as a citizen, entitled through law, not the power that they may confer.” Joseph Allchin, a British freelance journalist with no religious attachment, currently living in Dhaka, Bangladesh
“This tragedy comes at the heels of months of lethal violence in Bangladesh. Yet, this was different. Apart from being in the same social circles as Abhijit da, to see someone murdered for being who they are, what they think or write – somehow feels worse than an accidental death. It is as though a human mind was extinguished for performing its noblest function. That makes the possibility of a stagnant, putrid Bangladesh real.” Adnan R. Amin, consultant, Bangladeshi, Muslim from Dhaka, Bangladesh
‘Possibly a remote expression of ISIS’ extreme views,’ Tarek Chamkhi*, Perth, Australia
“The reactionary Islamists and their views towards heretics and heretic literature or atheists in general varies and can be from one extreme to other extreme, just like it is within any other non Muslim societies and within other religions. Both those who condemn the mocking of Islam (such as so called the Danish prophet cartoons episodes); and those who are more moderate who deeply tolerate such attacks of inner religious sensitivities and promote freedom of expression as an integral part of an Islamic worldview…
However, what ISIS has chosen to do recently is the ugliest face of such extreme interpretations, and might be who killed this Bangali/American active atheist; just a remote geographical expression of ISIS extreme views. And while there are lots of questions on the loyalties behind ISIS and it’s possible links to Western security agencies, that well might be the case of such recent assassination in Bangladesh too. There is political turmoil there and crackdown on all sorts of Islamism without distinguishing between good and bad, which might be just an attempt to give the rulers a blank cheque to express more of its totalitarianism behaviour. Who knows!”
*A Muslim PhD Candidate of Tunisian origin, School of Management and Governance, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. He is the author of Neo-Islamism in the post-Arab Spring
‘Awareness is the First Step’, Jon Kofas*, Washington D.C, Metro Area
“Reading the news one wonders why people are so tolerant. Why they do not protest, rebel. I suppose they too are divided into disparate groups: divide and conquer works now as it always has. One thing I would do about the tragedy in question is to bring it to the level of awareness through social media, but also submit it to various organizations dealing with Human Rights. Awareness is the first step, especially via various institutional mechanisms.”
*Philosopher and a Professor-Emeritus of Greek origin.
“There is absolutely no moral justification for taking a life this way for whatever reason. Unfortunately, violence, even extreme forms of it such as the killing of Avijit Roy, can be seen and made ‘acceptable’, ‘normal’, and ‘justifiable’ within a certain metaphysics, whether secular or religious, around it.Assuming religious puritans have any role in this, a relevant, although extremely difficult, question is: is there anything we can ‘listen to’ in what the perpetrators had to say? I think if we want to move beyond simplistic ‘solutions’, such killings shouldn’t be simply reduced to ‘religious intolerance’.” Azim Zahir, a PhD student from Maldives at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, UWA, currently living in Perth, Australia
“The incident is yet to be proven to be perpetrated by Islamists. So, I’d assume it is not an issue strictly based on religious motivation. However, I do believe that no one has the right to end others’ lives for issues relating to belief.” Nour Abu Assab PhD, a female Muslim school teacher living in Jerusalem
“The timing of Avijit Roy’s killing is one of timeliness here. He was killed during such a politically charged environment where both his allies and adversaries, will strive to get maximum mileage and coverage from his death. This will make any proper investigation of the murder extremely difficult, to the extent that I believe no Bangladeshi government agency can handle it, partially due to the impaired perception that the people have of them. I strongly urge a more competent investigatory team from the US to conduct an investigation this murder immediately. Avijit Roy was a naturalized US citizen! The current nature of the Bangladeshi regime offers us no hope for justice; for Avjit or the situation.According to the Daily Star newspaper, the day before Avijit’s murder, three anti-government protestors were gunned down allegedly by the police. The deceased had 50 counts of bullet wounds in their bodies. Such horrendous realities are fueling desensitization among the population and making the murder of an eminent philosopher like Avijit Roy just another victim or ‘murder statistic’ in their eyes. As crazy as it may sound, I earnestly request all to take stock of the situation around Avijit Roy’s murder, and work towards creating space in the society for ALL types of voices, ideas, and philosophies– irrespective of their peculiarity and political incorrectedness. That’s exactlty what a democratic society should aspire to foster, and anything short of that will not be enough!” Shafquat Rabbee Anik, Bangladeshi
“I’m feeling as if I lost a good old friend. I began blogging to give counter arguments to Avijit Roy. I even had sleepless nights just to argue with him, but I always mentioned and will never forgot that Avijit Roy was such a gentleman and one of the most educated bloggers I have ever seen. Engaging in a debate with him was also a learning experience. I am very much shocked and saddened by learning about this heinous crime of his murder. This nation is doing everything to make me ashamed! Curse on the murderer!!!” Osiur Rahman, Master’s student in International Relations at Eastern Mediterranean University, Farmagusta
“The attack against free thinkers in Bangladesh is not a rare incident: extremists murdered another well-known blogger, Rajib, in 2013. Several other bloggers were threatened by Islamist groups. Secular writer Humayun Azad was also killed by extremists in 2004. Here is a deprivation of justice since Humayun’s death. Though the High Court ordered to close the Humayun Azad case within six months, there has been no development since.
Bangladesh is experiencing political volatility since 2014. The Islamist groups are expanding their network in this political instability. At the same time several groups are very active in social networking arenas. A chunk of educated and wealthy students from different universities are taking part with these Islamist groups for example – Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team. The Ansarullah Bangla Team is an emerging extremist group in Bangladesh which is responsible for the blogger Rajib murder. Police assumed the group is behind the Avijit Roy killing. When the variables of good governance becomes weaker in a country, people will try to leverage it for their own gain. Bangladesh is facing the same problem, which will become more discernible in near future.” Syed Mahfujul Haque Marjan , Lecturer, Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka
“The murder of Avijit and the attack on his wife on Thursday evening (26 February 2015) was horrific, shocking and tragic. I was at the Mela on Tuesday evening, two nights before Avijit’s murder, and left the place around the same time as Avijit, approximately 8.30pm. I also visited the Mela on Wednesday afternoon to buy a number of books. During these two visits I observed high levels of security: police presence within the spaces allocated for the Boimela; police barricades; RAB forces; and also no doubt, the presence of many plain-clothed security personnel.
No one has been identified or detained as yet for this horrific crime. There are speculations that the murder was undertaken by Islamic extremists linked to Jamaat-e-Islam Bangladesh. It was also reported by the media that an Islamic extremist group took responsibility for this tragic murder. Regardless of who carried out the brutal murder the motive behind the attack was said to be due to Avijit’s free thinking, atheism and anti-religious writings.
Speculations and jumping to conclusions without concrete proof will only add to the increasing dangerous climate the country is experiencing currently. I suggest we encourage and put more pressure on the government of Bangladesh and security forces of the country to make extra efforts to find the killers to get to the bottom of who undertook the brutal murder and why.
No human should be silenced for their thoughts and every human being has the same rights to influence others through arguments, evidence, creativity or any other peaceful means to change their thinking or ways of life. I often express very strong opinions on a number of subjects regarding Bangladeshi politics and I feel that I have the right to communicate my thoughts and persuade others to change their ways without experiencing fear of possible persecution or even physical harm as a result of what I say. Even if my thoughts are useless or could not make any positive contributions to society, or perceived dangerous by some, I still have the right to hold them and communicate them to other people. Others have exactly the same rights as me, and no human being has more rights in this regard than anyone else Being born as human beings we all have the same rights in equal measure.
If Avijit was killed as a result of his atheism, free thinking and anti-religious writings then this should be condemned in the strongest of manners. No one should be killed for his or her thoughts, whether independently arrived at through one’s own mind’s process or adopted and internalised from someone else’s thoughts.
I hope and pray that the killers of Avijit are caught very soon so that the judiciary can determine why the killers struck on the night of 26 February 2015 to take an innocent individual’s life, injure his wife and leave parents and a daughter in mourning. However, I fear that the security forces and the Bangladesh state will engage in a cover up or undertake an incompetent investigation and as a result we will never know who the perpetrators were and why they carried out such a brutal murder in front of a large buzzing crowds of people enjoying the highly popular annual event.” M Ahmedullah, PhD, General Secretary, Bricklane Circle, London, UK
“I am deeply saddened by, and strongly condemn, the heinous and cowardly murder of Dr. Avijit Roy. Avijit was a prolific author. A loyal supporter of Bangladesh’s LGBT rights movement. A fearless defender of free speech. And the founder of Mukto-Mona, a secular online platform dedicated to freethinking, humanism, and rationalism. In the few interactions I had with him as a contributor to Mukto-Mona, he was always very kind and encouraging.
If, as is reasonably presumed, Avijit was targeted because of the content of his writings, then his murder was an attack on the freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution and a fundamental value of any democratic society. The Government of Bangladesh, which has failed to provide Avijit with adequate protection even after he had received multiple death threats, must now move expeditiously to deploy the necessary resources not only to bring the perpetrators to justice, but also to improve the capacity of law enforcement agencies in order to ensure that similar crimes are unlikely to ever occur again and people in Bangladesh feel safe to express their opinions.
My thoughts are with his family and friends. To them, I extend my heart-felt condolences. I wish his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, who was also injured in the attack, a speedy and full recovery.
Bangladesh has lost a great son.”
Rainer Ebert, PhD Candidate, Moral Philosophy (Thesis: The Wrongness of Killing) Rice University, Houston, Texas, US, holds no religious belief
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