Save the freethinkers in Bangladesh  
June 15th, 2018 at 9:00 pm
Save the freethinkers in Bangladesh  

By Muhammad Golam Sarowar:

Bangladesh witnessed yet another murder of a secular activist and freethinker last week. Shahjahan Bacchu, a poet, creative publisher and an outspoken atheist, was shot dead by a group of motorbike-riding assailants on June 11. He was a left-leaning politician and an energetic activist against religious fundamentalism for many years.

The poet had been facing death threats by the religious fanatics since 2015 for his activism against religious fanatics on blogs and social media. Four unknown persons, close to his home in Munshiganj, a nearby district of the capital city of Bangladesh killed him.

This is probably the 40th killing of progressive activist in the last three years. The list is getting longer. It includes free-thinkers, writers, poets, university teacher, singer, activists for LGBT rights and so on.

Bangladesh has seemingly become a horrifying killing machine. Anyone who has a different opinion than the preferred grand-narrative of the ruling quarters are under the guillotine. Anyone having different opinion about the dominant religion Islam is under threat and attack. Bangladeshi people are living with death threat almost every day. A horrifying insecurity is making ordinary people’s life terrified. Space for having critical views on religion or about state policies have been narrowed to almost zero.

Free thinkers are under threat and often silenced by Islamic fanatics and their allies. And, unfortunately, most of the killers are still outside of the bar. The investigation into those sensation murders have caught up in unusual procrastination. There are no believable initiatives from government side to investigate these cases and arrest the accused killers.

Bangladesh fought against Pakistani regime in 1971 to create a secular society, it’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression for all citizens. However, right after the independence, the country has started to shift its position from a secular political ambition to a more fundamentalist culture, heavily influenced by Sunni Islam.

The founding leader of the country Sheikh Mujibur Rahman laid the first stone of the Islamism by joining the OIC in 1974, the country never looked back to its original aspiration of the liberation war in 1971. Under the military regime of general Ziaur Rahman and general HM Ershad, the country was moved towards fanatic direction. Political Islam extended its shadow in ordinary people’s life. Military regime declared Islam as the state religion and secularism was removed from the constitution. However, after the military regime, none of the democratically elected government tried to restore the secular dream of Bangladesh to its constitution.

After the fall of military dictator Ershad in 1990, the two-leading party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League contested to grab the support of the radical Islamists just to capture the state power. Instead of fighting for a democratic, liberal society, both the parties invested in gaining the trust of ordinary people by showing themselves as a true Islam supporter. Awami League, which led the liberation war in 1971, turned out to be the biggest turncoat against the political promise of a secular society.

Bangladesh secularism

Religion and politics

Islamic fundamentalists have been enjoying almost unconditional support from the two-ruling parties, and the Awami League, in the latest case, got closer to the radical groups.

BNP the right-wing nationalist party had always their political ties with the Islamist fundamentalist group Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. On the other hand, the self-claimed secular party Awami League also failed to keep distance from this violent Islamist groups although the party claims it has been trying to wipe out the religious fundamentalists. The party had forged alliance with fanatic Islamic group called Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, which reportedly harboured Islamic militants, in 2006 ahead of a national election. The party had promised six national assembly nominations to this Islamist group as per an agreement. But the agreement did not worked out due to the subsequent capture of the state power by a quasi-military government took over the state power in early 2017 in the wake of a political turmoil. The election was delayed by two years, and the Awami League made a comeback with landslide parliamentary victory. The party, after nearly 10 years in office, having a law (especially Article 57 of the ICT Act) in hand that prohibits any criticism against religion or Islam. The AL has been criticised for recognising Qawmi Madrassah education.

Free speech and freedom of expression was always challenged by the religious fanatics and now they are ferociously powerful with the tacit support from the ruling quarters. Bangladesh witnessed a surge in Islamisation at the very parts of the society. No political force in Bangladesh can shrug off the responsibility in failing to establish secular spirit of the state. These happened because of the power struggle.

Then who are the killers of these progressive activists? Who are the killers of Shahjahan Bacchu? Like in most incidences, no one was identified or arrested in this case. However, from previous several experiences, from the open public statements of different Islamist groups, having a closer look on their social media activities, it is not so difficult to correlate that who are the killers.

This is really a critical time to raise voice against this terrorism by Islamists and other groups. International opinion should be generated against these killings. International community should raise their voice in the western political arena about the freedom of speech situation in Bangladesh.

This is a grave condition for free speech and human rights in Bangladesh, we must act and protest, right now.

Bangladesh freethinker

Muhammad Golam Sarowar is a writer and blogger