The latest grisly murder took place this week in Dhaka. Multiple assailants made there way into an apartment building and hacked to death Xulhaz Mannan, a gay rights activist, and Tonoy Majumder. According to reports, the attackers shouted “Allahu Akbar” before leaving the scene. A group affiliated with al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the incident.
Just two days before, a professor of English in the city of Rajshahi was stabbed in the neck by a student. A notice from the Islamic State’s online media agency hailed the killing, saying it was the result of the academic’s “calling to atheism.” Authorities expressed doubts that transnational terror groups had a direct role in any of these murders, but it’s now undeniable that Bangladesh is in the grips of a shocking and almost systematic purge of outspoken secularists by self-appointed Islamist vigilantes.
In 2015, five secular bloggers were killed in separate attacks. Each incident sparked headlines and outrage, but the grim toll has continued into this year. Ever since a hit list of secularists was published in 2013, fringe Islamist groups have made it known that bloggers and secular activists who speak out against religion or in favor of atheism will be under threat. This has been compounded by the inability of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to rein in extremist violence in a country with a long history of extrajudicial murder and impunity.
“The first mistake by Ms Hasina’s government was to yield to hardline Muslim views on the supposed horrors of atheism or homosexuality instead of standing up for pluralism and secularism,” writes Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet. “The second was the sustained assault by security forces and the judiciary on government opponents, including editors and liberal and Islamist politicians.” He adds: “The truth is that the government faces a challenging task in fighting terrorists, who are usually local radicals impressed by international brands such as [the Islamic State], but is making the job still harder by persecuting its legitimate opponents and driving them underground.”
Caught in the dragnet are an increasingly embattled set of activists, scientists, free-thinkers, Hindus and humanists, endangered by Islamist enmities and not sufficiently protected by a state that has distanced itself from the cause of vocal atheists. Below are just a few extracts of what some of the slain bloggers wrote. (A far greater collection of posts and essays in Bengali can be found through links in these websites.)
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