Way of the Blog­ger

The re­cent killings of blog­gers could end so­cial me­dia free­dom in Bangladesh.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The New York Times, April 3, 2015], By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

Un­do­ing the le­gacy of re­li­gious bigotry pro­moted in Bangladesh is a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge The re­cent mur­der of two blog­gers points to the ex­is­tence of a danger­ous trend to­wards in­tol­er­ance and bigotry in the coun­try.

Tah­mima Anam, a noted Ben­gali nov­el­ist and an­thro­pol­o­gist, in her col­umn, ‘Save Bangladesh’s Blog­gers’ [ has lamented that “blog­ging has be­come a danger­ous pro­fes­sion in Bangladesh. She wrote that last Fe­bru­ary, a Bangladeshi-Amer­i­can com­puter en­gi­neer and founder of the sec­u­lar­ist web­site Mukto-Mona, Avi­jit Roy, was hacked to death in a Dhaka street. Later, a blog­ger called Washiqur Rah­man was mur­dered in a sim­i­larly bloody attack. Both were killed for their views on reli­gion.

Blog­ger Avi­jit Roy, who vis­ited Dhaka for the pub­li­ca­tion of his new book at the Ekushey Book Fair, was at­tacked along with his wife on Fe­bru­ary 26, 2015 when they had just left Dhaka Uni­ver­sity. In 2013, the blog­ger Rajib Haider was killed, just a few yards from his home. He was as­so­ci­ated with the Shah­bag move­ment, a protest in­cited by the war crimes tri­als of 2013.

Rah­man, the lat­est vic­tim, ac­cord­ing to Tah­mima Anam, “was the qui­etest of the three. He was not par­tic­u­larly ed­u­cated. He had not, as Mr. Roy had, pub­lished books and ar­ti­cles. He mostly wrote posts on Face­book. Why was he tar­geted? Why, among all the other blog­gers, was his name the one that came up?” The po­lice be­lieve that his death was com­mis­sioned. Two madras­sah stu­dents who were ar­rested at the scene “have since con­fessed, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, to hav­ing car­ried out the mur­der be­cause of Mr. Rah­man’s “writ­ings against Is­lam,” she added.

Roy and Rah­man re­ceived death threats via so­cial me­dia. It is stated by Tah­mima Anam that “per­haps the per­son who en­gi­neered their deaths did a search for “Bangladeshi athe­ist blog­ger” to find a list of peo­ple who op­pose fun­da­men­tal­ism, cham­pion sec­u­lar­ism or de­clare them­selves to be athe­ist. The mur­der­ers ad­mit­ted that they had never heard of Mr. Rah­man or read his blog.” The at­tack­ers were bru­tal as Rah­man’s face was so mu­ti­lated that he could be iden­ti­fied only by his voter-ID card.

In a num­ber of protest ral­lies fol­lowed by the killings of Roy and Rah­man, cam­paign­ers crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment for not do­ing enough to safe­guard free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Ben­gali lib­eral writ­ers ad­mit that

the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party have cracked down hard on fun­da­men­tal­ism, ban­ning ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions and af­firm­ing sec­u­lar­ism as one of the pil­lars of the state. How­ever, the fact re­mains that in­flu­ence of ex­trem­ist re­li­gious el­e­ments in all spheres of life and pol­i­tics is not re­ced­ing.

The con­tin­u­ous spate of vi­o­lence in Bangladeshi pol­i­tics and the re­cent mur­ders of the three blog­gers are not an iso­lated phe­nom­e­non. Says Tah­mima Anam: “Roy and Rah­man were the vic­tims of mur­der­ous thugs, but they were also the vic­tims of a poi­sonous po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, in which sec­u­lar­ists and Is­lamists, ob­ser­vant Mus­lims and athe­ists, Ja­maat-e-Is­lami and the Awami League are pit­ted against one an­other. They battle for votes, for power, for the ide­o­log­i­cal up­per hand. There seems to be no com­mon ground.” She called it the “fight for the soul of Bangladesh” in which “the pro­gres­sive voice must win over the bigot’s.” The roots of re­li­gious bigotry in the sub-con­ti­nent go back to the days when com­mu­nal­ism was made the ba­sis for di­vi­sion of the coun­try. Though Bangladesh’s Supreme Court re­jected the use of reli­gion by the po­lit­i­cal par­ties, yet the in­flu­ence of nar­row-minded clergy is deep-rooted. The mush­room growth of madras­sas, run or sup­ported by the so-called Is­lamic po­lit­i­cal par­ties, is the real mal­ady.

Dr. Ajeet Jawed in Secular and Na­tion­al­ist Jin­nah has pre­sented in­con­tro­vert­ible doc­u­ments that Quaidi-Azam never wanted a theo­cratic state. Through­out his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, he strug­gled against both Hindu and Mus­lim ex­trem­ists. From the very be­gin­ning, the vested in­ter­ests in Pak­istan tam­pered with the fa­mous speech of the Quaid, but failed to do so as Dr. Ajeet re­vealed in his book: "it was al­lowed to be pub­lished in full only af­ter Dawn's edi­tor, Altaf Hu­sain, threat­ened those who were try­ing to tam­per with it to go to Jin­nah him­self if the press ad­vice was not with­drawn." Dr. Ajeet has es­tab­lished that the Quaid re­mained a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ist demo­crat up to the last mo­ment of his life.

The ideas of the Quaid echoed in the de­ci­sion of the Bangladesh Supreme Court when it barred the use of reli­gion in pol­i­tics and reaf­firmed the ide­ol­ogy of the founder. The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Bangladesh on Jan­uary 26, 2010 asked the three Is­lamic par­ties— Ja­maat-e-Is­lami, Bangladesh Khe­lafat An­dolan and Tarikat Fed­er­a­tion —to amend their char­ters which were in con­flict with the supreme law of the coun­try.

Ar­ti­cle 41 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of Bangladesh guar­an­tees free­dom of reli­gion and says:

“(1) Sub­ject to law, public or­der and moral­itya. ev­ery cit­i­zen has the right to pro­fess, prac­tice or prop­a­gate any reli­gion; b. ev­ery re­li­gious com­mu­nity or de­nom­i­na­tion has the right to es­tab­lish, main­tain and man­age its re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions. (2) No per­son at­tend­ing any ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion shall be re­quired to re­ceive re­li­gious in­struc­tion, or to take part in or to at­tend any re­li­gious cer­e­mony or wor­ship, if that in­struc­tion, cer­e­mony or wor­ship re­lates to a reli­gion other than his own”.

In the pres­ence of th­ese con­sti­tu­tion­als pro­vi­sions, there should be no room for re­li­gious-based pol­i­tics. The con­cept of the theo­cratic state is alien to Is­lam. The use of reli­gion in pol­i­tics only cre­ates di­vi­sions, rather than achiev­ing unity, which is the cen­tral mes­sage of the holy Qu­ran. In Is­lam, de­ci­sions are to be taken by con­sul­ta­tion and not im­po­si­tion as prop­a­gated by the clergy. Is­lamic democ­racy is es­sen­tially an anti-the­sis of theoc­racy. Mus­lim coun­tries should fol­low this prin­ci­ple if they want to get rid of bigotry that has re­sulted in ghastly events in Bangladesh and else­where.

The writ­ers, are part­ners in law firm HUZA­IMA & IKRAM, and Ad­junct Fac­ulty Mem­bers at La­hore Uni­ver­sity of Man­age­ment Sciences (LUMS).

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