Rafida Ahmed Bonya talks to Reuters about the murder of her husband Avijit Roy and the non-response of Bangladesh.
On May 3, the Indian-born head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for a string attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan, including Roy’s.
The murder of Roy, an atheist who published a popular and provocative blog, marks an escalation by Islamist militants for control of Bangladesh.
Religious fundamentalists are competing daily with secular government officials for power in the majority-Muslim country, one of the world’s largest and poorest democracies.
In her first extensive interview since the attack, Bonya criticised the Bangladeshi government for not responding more aggressively to her husband’s slaying.
“This was well planned, choreographed – a global act of terrorism,” she said. “But what almost bothers me more is that no one from the Bangladesh government has reached out to me. It’s as if I don’t exist, and they are afraid of the extremists. Is Bangladesh going to be the next Pakistan or Afghanistan?”
In an interview, Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said his mother offered private condolences to Roy’s father.
But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly, he said.
So in other words, the government is in the hands of the murderers. If the Prime Minister can’t comment publicly on a public murder of a citizen, then the PM is a hostage to the murdering theocrats.
“We are walking a fine line here,” said Joy, an informal consultant for the ruling party, the Awami League. “We don’t want to be seen as atheists. It doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism,” he said.
“But given that our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we can’t come out strongly for him. It’s about perception, not about reality.”
So they can’t “come out strongly for him” in the sense of saying the murderers shouldn’t have murdered him.
If that’s true, the murderers are running the government.
Joy said Roy’s death came during a three-month period when 160 people died in bus bombings in Dhaka, and shortly before explosions near the prime minister’s motorcade.
Joy blamed political opponents who, he said, seek to destabilise his mother’s government.
“To us, Avijit Roy is no different than the 160 others that have been killed,” he said. “We want to bring all the killers to justice. I understand why (his wife) is upset. My mother has been targeted by these same fundamentalists.”
He is different in one way, though; he was one of the people who contribute to the public discourse. If the theocrats kill off all such people, no resistance will ever be possible.
Bangladesh was founded as a secular country, but US and Bangladesh officials said the Islamic fundamentalist influence began to increase in the 1990s as wealthy Arabs began building hundreds of religious schools.
The same officials say militant influence also increased as waves of Bangladeshis who had moved to the Persian Gulf as laborers returned home with stricter Muslim views.
So just think – it was our enthusiasm for driving around in cars that made this wonderful situation possible.
When they went to Bangladesh in February…
“We knew that anything can happen in a country like that, and we took precautions,” Bonya said. “There was only one threat against him but we didn’t take it seriously. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone.”
Roy was a star attraction at the book fair. On a tranquil morning before his murder, he outlined a book he planned to write with Bonya, and took her on a rickshaw tour of his childhood neighbourhood.
He exchanged Facebook messages with his stepdaughter, sharing in her excitement at attending a US college lecture by the feminist Gloria Steinem.
“We were really, really happy,” said Bonya, who had edited her husband’s books in Atlanta, but had not seen his influence first-hand in Bangladesh.
“He had finally gotten to show me – in Bangladesh – how and why his work was so important.”
And then the murderers showed her in a different way.