Preface to 2015 edition by Rafida Bonya Ahmed

The Preface by Rafida Bonya Ahmed, to the 2015 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed

Rafida Bonya Ahmed

“My late husband, Avijit Roy, was a science author, a blogger, a writer on topics including the origins of the whole Universe, homosexuality, the evolution of love and everything including literary criticism in between. Above all he was a humanist. He always wanted to explore the biggest questions in life. His interests were wide, but it was his books on liberal views, faith and disbelief for which he began receiving death threats. I was also a fellow blogger and writer with a published book on Evolution of Life. At the International Book Fair in Dhaka in February 2015 we were attacked by a group of men with machetes. Avijit was killed and I sustained 4 head stabs and a sliced off thumb.

A young blogger, Washiqur Raham Babu, was the next machete victim, in March. In one of his last posts he had decried the breadth of topics on which Islamists demanded silence, from women’s and minority rights to religion and free expression itself. Our good friend and a published author Ananta Bijoy Das, having spent the intervening months writing and protesting about the failures of justice on the part of the Bangladeshi authorities in the earlier cases, was himself cut down in May. In August, blogger Niladri Chatterjee was hacked to death in his own home, his partner forced to watch as the attackers invaded their apartment. And at the end of October, two publishers of Avijit’s books were hit on the same day; the publisher Faysal Arefin Dipon, who published the two of Avijit’s infamous books on Faith and Disbelief, was killed, the publisher Ahmed Rashid Tutul was shot and hacked and left in critical condition. Two other bloggers and writers were gravely injured.

These things we know: That all these men were brave, both intellectually, and because they knew that for some extremists even asking the wrong questions would be enough to rationalise their murder; That dozens more writers who dare to write critically about fundamentalism and advocate for a humanist worldview, are receiving death threats, and given the range of those killed so far any of them could be next; That instead of convicting even one suspect in these killings, the police and the government have been threatening to arrest bloggers themselves if they “hurt religious sentiments” by professing their own secular views.

These killings are one part of the problem of extremism in one part of the world, and our freedoms of thought and expression are under attack in many other ways and in many other places around the globe. If there are lessons the world must draw from Bangladesh in recent years, they are these: Allowing bigotry and extremism to fester unchallenged will have generational consequences; Demands for prison or death sentences or vigilantism against humanists as such must be met not with appeasement nor by arresting the very bloggers under threat, but with condemnation as the gross violations of freedom of thought and expression that such demands represent; And that once a country silences and intimidates its intellectuals and freethinkers , a vicious cycle of terror and extremism becomes inevitable, just as we saw in the earlier mass-killings of the Bengali intellectuals in the 1971 Liberation war, again at the hands of religious extremists, it creates an intellectual vacuum, from which it could take many, many years to revert.”

— Rafida Bonya Ahmed

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