An Interview

India’s leading newspaper published my interview. Here it is.

Since 2013, more than 20 people – including secular writers, bloggers, professors, members of religious minorities and foreigners – have been killed in targeted attacks in Bangladesh. Why are secular individuals being targeted in Bangladesh? Who is killing them?

Jihadists have been silencing or threatening voices of sanity because democracy and pluralism are anathema to them. All they want is to establish a theocracy. They want to create Darul Islam, the land of Islam in Bangladesh. They want no law but Sharia, no women’s rights, and no freedom of speech. They want group loyalty perforce, which has no space for freedom of thought. There are 148 jihadi training camps in Bangladesh. Jihadists are helped by Jamat-e-Islami, 132 Islamic terrorist organizations including Ansarullah Bangla team and 231 fundamentalist institutions including ‘Islami bank’. In the last 40 years, almost 40 thousand crores takas have been used for the military training of Jihadists in Bangladesh. It is only 20% of total profits that was earned from the Islamic fundamentalists’ economy. It is well established that the Islami bank has been financing terrorism.

Six years ago when Bangladesh restored secularism in its constitution, it seemed it was on a progressive path. What happened in the last few years that there is such violent reaction against secularism? Has the trial and conviction of 1971 Jamat-e-Islami war criminals in Bangladesh triggered this violence?

If that were so, Islamists would have attacked the judges or people in positions of power. But Islamists have been killing atheist bloggers, critics of Islam, intellectuals, and progressive Muslims. Islamists can kill anyone they want with impunity, and it becomes possible because the country has been Islamized for the last few decades because the government is not only a mute spectator but also directly encouraging the Islamists by criticizing bloggers for hurting the sentiments of people. This is bizarre, unthinkable in a society governed by rule of law. It seems that Bangladesh is hurtling back to the medieval age.

What is the extent of religious extremism in Bangladesh? Can ISIS find support there? How is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina fighting religious fundamentalist forces?

All of the terrorists and fundamentalists of the country support ISIS. Many received training from ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Sheikh Hasina denies this because of political compulsions. The denial is facile and nothing short of political skullduggery. The killings of atheists and bloggers punch holes in her claims. Islamists once attacked her with grenades. However, out of political compulsions she prefers to forget about it under imposed amnesia. Instead of proclaiming she is actually a secular person, she says she is a deeply religious person. There is a competition among political leaders as to who is more religious. Politicians use religion to get votes from the ignorant masses. Sheikh Hasina created the Ulema League in her party, the Awami League. The Ulema League is the organization of Islamic fundamentalists. Members of this organization are not different from the Jamat-e-Islami goons. They support the killing of freethinkers and atheist bloggers in the country.

India is stigmatized by 1984 anti-Sikh violence, 1990 ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, 2002 Gujarat riots. According to Indian government’s own admission, communal intolerance and violence has gone up in the last couple of years in India too. Three rationalists were killed last year and two Muslim boys lynched to death. How is India’s majoritarian violence against minorities different from Bangladesh?

Islamic fundamentalists have systematically targeted Minorities in Bangladesh. Hindus are harassed, tortured, and even killed only because they are Hindus. Hindu girls are getting raped, and Hindu-hating Muslims forcibly takes lands owned by Hindus. Hindus are frequently told to leave the country. In 1947, Hindu population in Bangladesh was 31%. Now it is around 8%.
I do not think Muslims in India are oppressed the way Hindus are oppressed in Bangladesh. Hindu extremists hate Indian Muslims but the Indian Constitution is secular which guarantees equality before law and the equal protection of law to all irrespective of religion, caste, sex, place of birth etc., and the laws are applied uniformly, which protect Muslims. Muslims in India are given lots of facilities and opportunities to get education and jobs for being Muslims. The population of Hindus is currently less in Bangladesh because of the exodus that started since the partition of India. Hindus do not fight back in Bangladesh, but in India Muslims often fight back against their oppression. It can happen only if you have equality.
In India, all politicians appease Muslims. In Bangladesh there is no such thing as minority appeasement policy. Hindus are leaving Bangladesh for other countries to save their lives. Muslims in India do not need to leave their country.

Pakistan is fighting Islamists too. How is Bangladesh’s situation any different from Pakistan’s?

Bangladesh was born as a secular country; its constitution was secular. Pakistan is an Islamic republic. But Bangladesh, once a secular state, is now degenerating into a country of Islamists. Because of the Islamization of Bangladesh for 40 long years, its political system is now totally Islamic. You will not find many Muslim countries with political systems as Islamized as is the case in Bangladesh. Islamic fanatics have killed so many secular writers and bloggers and freethinkers in recent years. Not a single killer has been punished. But the Islamic fanatic who killed secular and progressive Salman Taseer in Pakistan was hanged. You can get at least some justice in Pakistan, but not in Bangladesh, which has become a safe haven for Islamists. Even Syria and Iraq are not as accommodating of Islamic fanatics as Bangladesh. No air raid or drone attacks disturb Bangladeshi jihadists. The government of Bangladesh is providing them with protection and has warned atheists and free thinker bloggers to quit writing about atheism and secularism and stop hurting religious feelings. Atheists are getting arrested under 57 ICT acts, a new law which was created to fight free thought.

All three states that emerged from the partition of Indian subcontinent seem to be challenged by the same communal conflicts that our freedom fighters were fighting through the 1940s. Was Partition a good idea to begin with? How has creation of Bangladesh helped?

Partition was a mistake. Now India has two neighbours dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. The 1971 Bangladesh-Pakistan war proved that Muslim unity was a myth and the two-nation theory was a blunder. Bangladesh could not remain as a secular state due to the Islamic policies that were introduced by corrupt political regimes. Bangladesh is becoming the worst Islamic country in the world. Having a neighbour like Bangladesh is not good for India. You never know when the ISIS and al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations will come to India and begin killing innocent people. Bangladesh is totally a failed state. The so-called democratic government is a theocratic government in reality. The creation of Bangladesh as a secular state has failed miserably. Bangladesh has become a breeding ground for terrorists.

You have been very critical of Indian liberals and the Left. Why?

I have always been critical of far right politics. I am also critical of Indian liberals and leftists. I noticed liberals and leftists are generally very critical of Hindu fanaticism but not of Islamic fanaticism. Islamic fanatics are against human rights, women’s rights, free speech and democracy. The truth is those Islamic fanatics are against everything Indian liberals stand for. But liberals strangely sympathize with them. This is how they have distorted the concept of secularism.

You have been opposed to all religions? Don’t you think criticism of religion is unnecessarily provoking even moderate religionists to take hardliner positions?

I do not think so. Freethinkers, rationalists, atheists, humanists are a minority in most societies. Moderate religionists do not need criticism of religion to become hardliners. They have political reasons to become hardliners. Criticism of religion should hopefully provoke people to think rationally and give up irrational blind faith. We must not forget that without criticism of religion no society has evolved and no state becomes secular. Critical scrutiny of religion is necessary for a healthy society. No religion should be protected from critical scrutiny, from questioning unethical aspects of its doctrines. Criticism encourages people to become secular humanists.
Hardliners have been killing atheists and rationalists in Bangladesh. They became hardliners because they were indoctrinated with Islam from a very early age, and they sorely need to be exposed to a rational and tolerant worldview.

Bangladesh is a killing field

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Rezaul Karim Siddiguee was hacked to death by Islamists yesterday in Bangladesh. He was not an atheist blogger. He was a professor of English at Rajshahi University. He was involved in cultural activities. He played sitar and puboished literary magazines. He was of course a progressive man.

It is not easy to find atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. Because atheists left the country out of fear. Some are hiding. Stop writing. So, islamists killed a progressive student in Dhaka a few days ago, now they killed a progressive teacher in Rajshahi.

Muhammad killed poets. Asma Bint Marwan was killed for criticizing Muhammad in her poetry in 624. Rezaul Karim Siddiquee was killed by followers of Muhammad for writing poems or publishing literary magaizines, or playing sitar or for being a freethinker in 2016.

I am not surprised. Killers are Muslims. They have the right to practice Islam or follow the orders or advices of Allah and Muhammad in a country where state religion is Islam and where almost everybody believes that Islam means peace and nobody has the right to do any unislamic things. Rezaul Karim opened a music school in his village, that was a non Islamic act. Writing poetry,playing sitar are also non Islamic.

Islamists killed some other progressive professors of Rajshahi University. Islamists will continue killing all the secular progressive people in Bangladesh. Government will say nothing against the killers. No action will be taken against them. Bangladesh is Becoming a killing field.

Delhi made a brave start to clean up

Delhi appeared almost unrecognisable during the days of the odd-ev­en rule, when evenings appe­ared livable, devoid of traffic snarls and as if, in the midst of a holiday season or a citywide general strike. Delhi is the wo­rld’s second largest densely populated city after Tokyo. The populations of some of the European towns do not even add up to a couple of la­khs, though Delhi boasts more than 2.5 crore residents. No wonder, the first fortnight of the New Year transformed De­lhi into a dream city.

I often cover my routine ev­ening drives through Delhi in an hour-and-half, though now I did it in barely 20 minutes, which is why I find the odd-even scheme almost magical. This was tried and tested in Beijing a few years ago with overwhelming success, and appeared to work in Delhi on Day 1, though, to start with, so many of us remained sceptical. I remember crossing path with a journalist friend at the state-run Doordarshan Ken­dra, who informed me that he’d taken the metro to reach office, a first in years. It is go­od to see that a constructive move has been made to make Delhi pollution free and most Delhiites endorse the plan.

Global studies earlier sho­wed Beijing and now Delhi as the world’s most polluted city. It’s high time that city government draws up a sustained and viable campaign to clean up the mess, for which, several foolproof measures can be initiated. For starters, it sho­uld ban old diesel cars, as th­ese are among the biggest sou­rces of pollution. Cigarettes are no longer the prime cause of lung cancer; carcinogens concentrated in the atmosph­ere are far more lethal. I don’t remember a day when I wal­ked Delhi’s forever busy str­eets breathing freely, or without coughing. A large number of citizens have taken to wearing masks sold at neighbourhood chemists, even as the city stays shrouded by permanently looming smog. Haunted by the poisonous air, we no longer get to enjoy the city’s fabulous winter.

Let there be longer queues at the metro. Let there be mo­re public buses. Let the upper class and upper middle class keep aside their vanity and take to public transport. Let separate cycle tracks run parallel to the main carriageways and the citizens pedal to office. Delhi’s face will change for the better.

Citizens across Europe are looked up to for cycling to wo­rk. Berlin’s streets have been redesigned with cycling tracks that are not encroached upon by rush hour cars. Even ministers in Stockholm ride to wo­rk. Public representatives ha­ve the moral conviction to le­ad by way of example. Delhi needs to catch up with the world’s foremost modern civi­lisations. And the governme­nt’s top echelons must set the example to make this happen, instead of spending billions to treat bronchial ailments, as catastrophic death stares citizens in their faces.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who masterminded the move, set a precedent, dr­iving on alternate cars to wo­rk, as his own car sported an odd number; the tourism mi­nister bicycled to office. Kejriwal was strict about not exte­nding privileges based on citizens’ social standing, considering that Delhi is home to thousands of VIPs. I too chose to stay indoors every alternate day of the odd-even fortnight, as my car sports an even number plate. Though I have a security detail to escort me all over the city, I never felt it ne­cessary to drag my VIP mooring by driving out on days wh­en my car was meant to idle. I live in this city under a constant threat from fundamentalists without whom I would love to bicycle around the ci­ty’s lovely roads every day, irrespective of whether the odd-even rule was in force or not.

Yet, Delhi being Delhi, I was overwhelmed to note the scale of corruption in Delhi to help citizens bend the rules, despite the Herculean effort to clean up the city. In this co­untry, the corrupt always have the last word. Fuel stations were busy selling illegal CNG stickers for cars that don’t run on natural gas. And desperate citizens, who don’t think twice about burning up lakhs on the latest fuel guzzlers, got busy buying those stickers. I also noticed certain citizens driving around with the wrong nu­mber plate, despite the concession made only to self-driving women, CNG cars and for medical emergency. Who knows if these citizens were content at breaking the rule by paying a hefty Rs 2,000 fine? It’s sad that such scoundrels don’t understand how big the problem of pollution is.

It’s also unfortunate that well-known global brands selling diesel cars have been nagging about the Supreme Co­urt-imposed ban on sale of higher capacity diesel vehicles in the national capital, when everybody knows that such cars are a menace. It’s time that the carmakers adopt social and ecological consciousness instead of racing to capture market and chase profit.

All this when, a majority of Delhi’s residents actually fo­und it wise to wholeheartedly stick with the odd-even plan making the experiment a gra­nd success.

Saudi Arabia will never be shamed

Saudi Arabia will never be shamed.

The health minister of Saudi Arabia Khalid Al-Falih has purportedly said that deaths due to the deadly stampede at Mina have happened because of ‘Allah’s will’. Such events cannot be avoided, he has opined. Al-Falih blames the Hajj pilgrims for the deaths. Apparently, the victims have paid the price for failing to follow instructions.

Information about the real incident, however, is quite shocking. The stampede, whi­ch resulted in loss of numerous lives, occurred because two roads, used by lakhs of pilgrims, were closed so that a Saudi prince’s route to the palace could be made more comfortable. If the roads wer­en’t closed, this incident would not have occurred. Many have suggested that the stampede was triggered when two large groups of pilgrims intersected from different directions onto the same street.

Some have even gone on record by saying that the main reason behind this tragic incident was the King, his high ranking officials and Gulf Cooperation Council members welcoming certain distinguished personalities, which necessitated the blocking of the two roads in question that usually lead the pilgrims to an area where they symbolically stone the devil. Confusion and commotion resulted from the closure of the roads, which, in turn, resulted in the devastating stampede. Such news reports lead me to believe that the Hajj pilgrims lost their lives because of the whims and fancies of the Saudi royal family, their lackadaisical attitude towards Hajj and their indifference to the lives of ordinary pilgrims.

Saudi Arabia earns $8.5 billion every year from Hajj alone. However, they seem least bothered about the safety and security of the pilgrims who are reduced to being mere customers of the religion that the Saudis have turned into a business. Their oil business, on the other hand, is a bigger money-spinner and that explains why the safety and security of oil customers is top priority for the Saudis.

That brings me to my countryman and Facebook friend Mohan Kumar Mandal. He was recently arrested because the Bangladesh government did not like the comments he posted on the social networking website. After Saudi Arabia closed the roads that killed thousands of muslims, even non-muslims like Mandal were shocked into expressing their anguish against the horrific mass slaughter. It is well known that symbolic stoning of the devil is done to vanquish evil. This can be done in any country and should not require anybody to travel to Saudi Arabia, which is thousands of miles away. This is what Mohan Kumar reasoned. But his comments apparently hurt the religious sentiment of somebody from Awami League. Religious sentiment has become a dangerous tool in the hands of certain people. Good people are not being allowed to express their views, let alone live.

Unfortunately, even governments appear to be joining the ranks of those who are a bad influence on the society, as with the Saudi royals. The entire world has been criticising Saudi Arabia for the Hajj deaths, but not Bangladesh. The dead bodies of hundreds of pilgrims were picked by bulldozers and dumped in a garbage heap. Such images rattle everybody. Can a civilised country show such utter disregard to the departed?

Saudi Arabia is not a civilised country. Neither is Bangladesh, or else, why would it not criticise Saudi Arabia? If muslims were killed by jews in Gaza and their dead bodies dumped by bulldozers, such an act would have evoked the strongest of reactions in Bangladesh. But when ISIS, Boko Haram and their likes slaughter muslims, muslims do not feel any pain. Saudi Arabia’s mismanagement of the Hajj lead to the deaths of countless muslims. But those muslims haven’t even raised a murmur of protest.

The stampede killed 1,300 pilgrims and many in Ban­gladesh protest in anger and protest. Why then did the Bangladeshi government cho­ose to punish Mohan Kumar Mandal alone? Was he punished because he is hindu? Was he punished because a crime against a hindu does not strike a chord with muslims? Soon, Saudi Arabia is going to head the UN human rights panel. How is it possible for a country where women, non-muslims, homosexuals and transsexuals have no human rights to head the UN human rights panel?

Will nobody protest against this travesty? Those of us who protest are punished. As long as we keep our mouths shut, things would be fine. The moment we open our mouths, all hell breaks loose. Even when Saudi Arabia commits a cr­ime, we cannot blame the country or its government. We can’t say that the country has violated human rights even when there is strong evidence of that. When China violates human rights, processions are taken out on the streets. But since Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Muha­mmad, even the most heinous crimes by the present custodian of the faith in that country are overlooked by other nations. Even when 1,300 innocent pilgrims lose their lives because of the reckless attitude of a few Saudis, we are supposed to keep mum and believe that those lives were taken because Allah willed so, and those who died could not have found a holier place to depart.

Saudi Arabia will never be ashamed of its transgressions. This is because their rulers are a shameless bunch. I humbly pray that Saudi Arabia should not be allowed to head the UN human rights panel. When a nation does not care about human rights, what is the point in giving it a leadership role. Saudi Arabia will destroy whatever semblance there is left of human rights in this world.

Will Saudi sex slavery ever end?

An intriguing news item was published in the Arab world a few days ago — a sex shop is coming up in Saudi Arabia’s holiest city, Mecca. Not just any sex shop but a halal sex shop. I have no clue whatsoever about terms and conditions upon which a sex shop is deemed halal or haraam. I also want to know, whether in this sex shop, a woman would be able to shop alone for her personal needs. In a country where women don’t have minimum personal liberty, and have no other identity beyond being sex slaves to men, there cannot be any doubt that the sex shop being opened there will be exclusively for the sexual pleasure of men.

Men from Saudi Arabia spend a lot of their ample wealth on sex. They go to various countries on sex tours to enjoy the company of expensive call-girls, and they roam around freely in the sex shops of foreign countries. From now on, however, they will no longer have to undertake the trouble of a foreign tour for sex-shopping, at least. For, EL Asira, the Sharia-compliant sex brand originating in Amsterdam and backed by Germany’s Beate Uhse, will soon branch out to the holy city.

Till now, the sex shops of Europe and America have not yet arrived in the progressive countries of Asia, but they have managed to reach Saudi Arabia, the most conservative and orthodox society in the world, where women are perceived only as moving genitalia.

The Saudi king, Abdullah, had 30 wives. Out of those, one was Alanoud al Fayez, who had been divorced by the king in 1985. But her four daughters are prisoners in the Saudi royal palace. Jawaher, Maha, Sahar and Hala are incarcerated in every sense of the word. They are not free to set foot outside the palace walls. They are hardly provided food twice a day, and their half-brothers beat them mercilessly. Some of the sisters are nearabouts or over forty years of age but have not been allowed to marry.

Alanoud, who is in self-imposed exile in London for the past few years, has broken her silence and spoken about the abuses inflicted on her daughters to the international media. To no avail, of course. If the most powerful nation on the planet, the United States, bows its head and pays obeisance to the mighty House of Saud, who else dare protest?

Barack Obama paid a high profile visit to Saudi Arabia a few months ago, accompanied by his wife. One does not recall any request from him to alleviate the situation of the sisters trapped in the royal palace, or even the general condition of women in the country.

This is the thing with Saudi Arabia. It’s kind of like a bratty child — whatever strikes its fancy, it shall go ahead and do. Saudi women cannot step out in the open without being covered from head to foot. They have no right to free speech. They can’t talk to strangers of the opposite sex because it’s considered haraam. They can’t take a car ride with someone without the fear of execution. They are punished cruelly if they happen to be victims of rape or torture.

The primitive laws of a seventh century society still prevail over a 21st century Saudi Arabia. Freedom of speech is unheard of. Writer-activist Raif Badawi, creator of the website, Free Saudi Liberals, is still being lashed liberally every other week for daring to have freethinking aspirations. Saudi Arabia doesn’t give two hoots about tenets of modernisation and civilisation. It is making first world nations dance to its tunes on the one hand, and exporting islamic terrorism to other muslim states, on the other. This state, without a shred of ethics and character, is going unpunished since there are no countries that can be brave enough to face the ire of a wealthy, oil-rich nation.

Such are the circumstances under which Saudi Arabia has opened its gates to a sex shop. What can this novelty do for Saudi men? Well, they can now be provided with leather belts, shackles, masks and an assortment of other weapons which they would now be able to use liberally to further treat women as sex slaves. To force them into dominant-submissive sexual role play. To bring into actual force the brutal primitivism of their patriarchal attitude against women by inflicting a new kind of sexual torture on them. And as usual, this too, shall remain unpunished.

If there is indeed any pleasure to be gained out of those shops, they would be exclusively for the men. The women are not to partake in any such thing. Those who do not have basic human rights must never aspire to sexual rights either. And those that do not have sexual freedom or rights, have no sexual pleasure. Sex slaves take no pleasure in sex — they need to be freed of their slavery first.

The world stands wondering when, if at all, the new generation of politically and socially aware Saudi youth shall spell the death knell of this dystopic dynastic rule. Time waits for them.

Another blogger was brutally killed in Bangladesh

Niloy Neel, the secular humanist blogger who was brutally killed in Bangladesh was the member of Taslima Nasreen supporters group. 11868828_723769511062681_686877920_n

Niloy Neel was speaking at the rally to express his solidarity towards me.

Niloy Neel got a master’s degree in philosophy from Dhaka university. He was 27-years-old. He was brutally killed by Bangladeshi Islamists only because he was enlightened critic of Islam. Niloy Neel criticized all religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc. But he was killed only for criticizing Islam.

Bangladesh government does not take any action against the killers.

He had to die for his crime of being a free thinker.
Niloy-Neel

Is ISIS’ cause a true act of fana ?

Religious fanaticism has a new name. It’s called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or as we know it, ISIS. Just the other day, ISIS imposed a ban on namaz during eid in Mosul. In their words, “Namaz during eid has got nothing to do with islam. True muslims never offered namaz during eid”. Therefore, they decreed that no muslim inhabitant of Mosul had any right to namaz on eid. Anyone choosing to do otherwise was threatened with summary execution.

Iraq is held captive by armed fanatics professing to be the pillars of islam, a religion that is no longer preached through love, but imposed through naked aggression and violence.

Over the time that it has held the people of Iraq hostage in the name of faith, ISIS has destroyed relics, masjids and museums showcasing islam’s rich heritage. In deploying terror in the cause of islam, it has gone against the very tenets of a once-tolerant faith.

This is why, we need to ask if, one day, ISIS will eradicate the practise of namaz altogether, citing that infidels and not the religiously inclined offer prayers to god? Will it insist that the jews and christians worship the divine by bowing down in reverence, and therefore, such an act is unislamic in nature?

In insisting that all places of worship must be demolished, they have said masjids are a replication of idolatry in the garb of islam and have no religious sanction. There are hundreds of advocates of such a cause, arguing that ISIS alone can return islam to its pristine state, as it existed a thousand and four hundred years ago,

If ISIS succeeds in eradicating many of the islamic traditions and customs that are practised worldwide today, citing that these are corruptions brought in by the infidels, and therefore, unsuitable for a true believer of the faith, I wonder if there would anything left in islam to practice. From food habits to prayers, everything can be cited as a corruption introduced by another religion and banned. After all, the story of Adam and Eve too was introduced by heretics and must, therefore, be silenced. This, when the fact is that islam has not only picked up several practices from the other faiths, but is itself derived from another religion. If we were to return everything that we have acquired over the years, the religion itself would have to be abolished.

In the modern age, no voice of reason will ever insist on reverting to the practices of a bygone era. Society is meant to progress and not revert to the regressive ways of the past. It is the civilisational need of our times to insist on educating women, placing our faith of science and discoveries and technologically leapfrogging into the future, rather than get stuck with religious obscurantism. There can never be a positive outcome of harking back to the past.

Humans have a right to their faith; each one of us is entitled to our native beliefs. Despite being an atheist, I support the right of everyone to choose his or her faith. If there are downsides to religious beliefs, that must be debated, not condemned.

What surprises is that muslims are not vocal in protesting the atrocities committed by ISIS. Why do they not take it upon themselves to wage a war against the ISIS, as it threatens their religious integrity? Why do they join a cause that by its own logic must annihilate the religion they profess? Do muslims, the world over, believe the cause of ISIS, as their cause of conviction? Do they see in it the true act of fana, that Sufis otherwise see as an act of annihilation of the self? Or are they drawn to ISIS by the unbridled power that comes from dehumanising society?