— The Erimtan Angle —

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Last year, the writer and historian Ryan Shaffer put forward that “Bangladeshi atheists and secularists are under attack from their government and Muslim extremists. In the last year, several leading Bangladeshi secularists have been murdered. In late 2014 and early 2015, four vocal professors, authors, and bloggers were killed by extremists by being hacked to death in public. The first murder was of Shafiul Islam, who was killed by several machete-wielding men near his home following allegations that he banned women from wearing burkas in his university classes. Then Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi American writer who was critical of Islam, was attacked by three men with machetes and died at a nearby hospital from his injuries. Lastly, Oyasiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das, both atheist bloggers, were killed by assailants with machetes in separate but nearly identical attacks. These murders are just the latest in a campaign against atheists in Bangladesh. Since the 2013 murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider, another blogger who criticized Islam, the Bangladeshi government has walked a fine line between safeguarding its official religion of Islam and trying to protect nonbelievers from violent Islamic extremists”.[1]

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In early 2014, AFP reported that “Bangladesh police have charged seven students of an elite university and a cleric over the murder of an allegedly atheist blogger who was critical of Islam and Islamic groups. The students are accused of hacking to death Ahmed Rajib Haider, 35, near his home in Dhaka in February [2013], days after he helped launch a campaign against Islamist leaders accused of war crimes. Police also charged an imam from a Dhaka mosque with instigating the murder by allegedly preaching that it was legal to kill atheist bloggers who campaigned against Islam”.[2] The situation in East Bengal seems to be very dire indeed. The report goes on to say that the “body of Haider, better known by his Bengali online identity Thaba Baba, was found with hatchet wounds to the head in what police said was an apparent attempt to behead him. Six out of the seven men — all of whom are students of the prestigious and private North South University — and the imam have been arrested and are being held in jail, [Dhaka police deputy commissioner Masudur Rahman] said. Haider’s killing was the second attack in Dhaka against bloggers critical of Islam, after the stabbing of a self-styled ‘militant atheist’ by three unidentified men in January [2013]. After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s Islamic parties started to protest against other campaigning bloggers, calling a series of nationwide strikes to demand their execution, accusing them of blasphemy”.[3]

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Giving a little potted history, Shaffer explains that “Bangladesh has its origins in religious strife and sectarianism. It gained its independence in 1947 when British India was divided to create a separate Muslim land. Originally founded as a Muslim-nation called East Pakistan, the country underwent a devastating ‘war of liberation’ against West Pakistan in 1971 and became Bangladesh, a nation of Bengalis. Though the country has a secular democracy, Islam is the official state religion and Muslim political parties play significant roles in crafting laws and influencing prosecutions. However, the current ruling party is the Awami League, a left-leaning secular socialist party [in power since 2009], and the prime minister is Sheikh Hasina, a woman who also governed the country from 1996 to 2001. Bangladesh’s recent history has been marked by corruption, assassinations, and arrests of political rivals, including Hasina’s 2008 indictment for extortion. At the same time, Muslim extremism has cast a large shadow with terrorist attacks killing and injuring large numbers of people, most notably two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries following Hasina’s public anti-terror speech in 2004. Indeed, the country has weak governance and vocal religious extremists, which is further complicated by poverty and terrorism. Politicians have used Islam as a wedge for broadening its appeal and tapping into populist support for the nation’s official religion. Specifically, the government has been pursuing atheists and humanists for “hate speech” over their online posts critical of Islam”.[4]

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The Bangladeshi Constitution proclaims that the country “is a unitary, independent, sovereign Republic to be known as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh” (Article 1).[5] The document then goes on to state that “[t]he state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic” (Article 2.A).[6] And driving home the point, the document also points out that “[t]he principles of absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah, nationalism, democracy and socialism meaning economic and social justice, together with the principles derived from them as set out in this Part [of the Constitution], shall constitute the fundamental principles of state policy” (Article 8.1) and that “[a]bsolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions” (Article 8.1A).[7] As a result, it seems that the Bangladeshi mind is bound to be somewhat confused and muddled, as the Almighty Allah is the driving force behind “nationalism, democracy and socialism” in East Bengal . . .

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[1] Ryan Shaffer, “Crisis in Bangladesh: Secularists Killed by Extremists and Under Legal Threat from Government” Council for Secular Humanism (02 June 2015). https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/articles/7551.

[2] “Cleric, students charged with ‘athesist’ blogger’s murder” AFP (29 January 2014). http://www.9news.com.au/world/2014/01/29/07/48/cleric-students-charged-with-atheist-blogger-s-murder#eDrLKJjuBtEuGOqO.99.

[3] “Cleric, students charged with ‘athesist’ blogger’s murder”.

[4] Ryan Shaffer, “Crisis in Bangladesh: Secularists Killed by Extremists and Under Legal Threat from Government”.

[5] “CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH” International Relations and Security Network. http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/research/bangladesh-constitution.pdf.

[6] “CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH”.

[7] “CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BANGLADESH”.

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