The brutal fight of Bangladesh’s secular voices to be heard

Sep 1, 2015

Muni Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

By Samira Shackle

In February 2015, Avijit Roy and his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, travelled from their home in Atlanta, Georgia, to Dhaka, the capital Bangladesh. This was their home town, and they were attending the annual Ekushey book fair, which runs all month. They had been unable to attend in 2014 because Roy had received death threats after the publication of his book The Virus of Faith, which criticised religion.

The couple were familiar with controversy. They ran a Bengali-language web forum called Mukto-Mona, or Free Minds, promoting rationalist thought, and had been threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. During their trip to Dhaka, they avoided being out late at night, varied their routines and checked in regularly with relatives. For the first 10 days, the strategy seemed to work.

On 26 February, they attended a series of events at the University of Dhaka, where the book fair is held. They left in the evening, walking back to their car through a crowded and well-lit area. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a group of masked men with machetes. Ahmed doesn’t remember what happened next, as the knives rained down upon them. There were hundreds of people around, including police officers. They did not step in. After the attack, a young journalist intervened and drove them to the hospital. Ahmed survived, severely injured. It was too late for Roy, who died during the drive.

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3 comments on “The brutal fight of Bangladesh’s secular voices to be heard

    The Male Defined Female: Power, Control and Fundamentalism

    “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”
    Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others, for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein, considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. However, this God is emotionally unsatisfying (for) it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.
    Carl Sagan

    Throughout history, the role of women, in many cultures but not all, their identity has been defined by males. Such definitions illustrates much of male psychosexual pathology, and ignorance. In ancient Greece, woman were relegated to an inferior, second class status (not true with the ancient Egyptian’s and Romans). Also, the Greeks began to believe that naturally occurring phenomena were the work of the gods. This belief shuts down inquiry, skepticism, analysis and Greek science (Carl Sagan) and resulted in Socrates’s death (“The unexamined life is not worth living.”).
    This fear and ignorance is also very evident in Christianity, a religion which historically has been dominated by men and still is. Today, in the American south among fundamental Christians, sociological research has revealed, that fundamentalists are less educated, poorer, and even less intelligent. There is a fear of science, evolution (because it challenges the Bible) college and university educations (where Satan resides), unless they are “Christian” colleges and universities. However, there is also the massive numbers of people leaving the churches and identifying themselves as non-believers, agnostics and atheists. Europe has passed beyond the “Christian era”, with church attendance in some places miniscule (Sweden about 1 to 3 percent, England about 7 percent). While in America, there is of course, the fundamentalists fear of same sex relationships, which also challenges the Bible, a book which is a series of conflicting stories, created by males, not God, created for a nomadic, illiterate, ignorant people over two thousand years ago, in an attempt to explain the natural world. It doesn’t, although it has some beautiful poetry and ideas.
    In many cases, these male behaviors as illustrated in the bible and elsewhere, are examples of the males envy, fear and hatred of women and the feminine and what education and knowledge can reveal and challenge their beliefs. This fear and ignorance is evident in all the Judaic/Christian religions and their prejudice against women and is illustrated frequently in the Bible (which condones slavery, war, infant sacrifice, and fear of female physiology, i.e. menstruation, the killing of children, and the destruction of those outside one’s own group or tribe, and today, the Palestinians against the Jews, the Jews against the Palestinians sound familiar, I never ends?). In early Christianity, women were written out of the founding of early Christianity (many of Jesus’s disciples were women). During the middle ages there was the male habit of believing women were witches, burning them at the stake, the Inquisition, or wrapping women up in nuns habits and putting them away. During later periods, denying women an education or barring them from entering certain professions, even as late as the 20th century, all illustrates this.
    It’s most recent manifestation can be found in Islam and Islam’s fear of sexuality and most importantly fear of women and female sexuality. This is nowhere better illustrated in female genital mutilation, in which parts of the labia and the clitoris are exercised. In the Koran, it is mentioned that females have a stronger, heightened sexuality in comparison to males. Therefore, female genital mutilation is performed to “reduce” that believed heightened sexuality. Then of course, there is the fundamentalism of the Islamic Nation, a phenomena, and ignorant attempt to try to recreate history and bring back the Caliphate and in the process, they are killing innocent men, women and children in the name of religion and God, as did Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
    Cutting to the chase, another example of the male fear of not being able to satisfy a woman or not being able of “getting it up” so to speak. This is further illustrated in having women to be always covered up including the head and body and in some cases men also, not being allowed to wear short shirts, which exposes the skin, the body. All of this is of course is sanctioned by tradition, and “culture”. In India, there is the trafficking in brides, the buying and selling of females, and feticide in Patriarchal dominated areas of India.
    Putting all the religious and god nonsense aside, this is nothing more than the male fear and envy (they can produce babies, men cannot, in fact, males are no longer needed with in vitro fertilization) of women, and female sexuality, to say nothing of the international trafficking in human beings into slavery, forced military service, work and sex. .

    Sources: (In part)
    BBC Radio 4, “The Women’s Hour”
    Cragun, Ryan, “What You Don’t Know About Religion But Should”,
    Sagan, Carl, ‘The Dragons of Eden,

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  • I wish I had the resources to defend these people. Even something as simple as body amour could help. Perhaps disguises would migrate attacks.

    It saddens me that there are so PRIMITIVE people that they are highly threaten by mere rational words. Yet even in this country numerous people won’t trust their deity of choice to defend itself.

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  • It seems that brutality is inherent in (so called) “Islamic Education”!

    Two Islamic school teachers who beat a 10-year-old boy with a stick for reciting the Koran incorrectly have been jailed for a year.

    Mohammed Siddique, 60, and his son Mohammed Waqar, 24, admitted wilful cruelty to a child under 16.

    The four attacks took place at the Jamia Mosque in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, between May and June 2014, Birmingham Crown Court heard.

    The pair, from the Tyseley area of the city, also face a teaching ban.

    The boy was hit during four separate incidents, with photographs of his injuries showing “extensive” bruising to the back of his legs.

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