Way of the Blogger
The recent killings of bloggers could end social media freedom in Bangladesh.
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).