Last Friday, I got a death threat again. It came from Ansar Khilafah, an ISIS-oriented militant group, in Kerala. If a group has the name of ISIS attached to it, or has an ISIS touch to it, I fear, they must be experts in hacking.
I often gently touch my neck, also put my hand behind my head, trying to understand what would be the feeling when they stab me from behind, or hack me. Maybe it would be better if they shot me in my head. I have suffered a lot in life, don’t want to suffer in death. Death should be quick. But will they listen to me? I can’t imagine requesting them, begging for life. Instead, I should think I would close my eyes and sing some of my favorite Rabindra sangeets to lessen the pain while being hacked. I don’t know if you can lessen any pain like that, but I don’t have any other option.
I was trying to understand what those 19-20-year-olds were doing when they were being hacked. Were they trying to save their lives, screaming? Did they try to snatch the weapons? There were so many people inside the cafe, I don’t know why all of them together could not attack, defeat the militants? Maybe they thought a rescue team would come to save them, police would come, Army would come. Maybe they were waiting. If I were to wait for someone who would save me from the killers, how would be those minutes, hours — the six hours, the 12 hours? The pistol-gun-dagger-knife-toting killers are parading in front of me and I am waiting. They can behead, shoot me any time, and I am waiting. I shiver to think, my throat goes dry. At the Dhaka cafe, nobody came to their rescue even after 12 hours. Those who were supposed to were waiting outside. Why were they just waiting outside? I don’t know. After three hours had passed, Tarishi Jain’s father was speaking on a local television channel. He was anxious, was saying his daughter was inside the cafe. He was wondering why rescue operation hadn’t started. If those who were supposed to rescue the people really knew how and when to carry out the job, many lives could have been saved.
Also Read: At Tarishi’s funeral, a photograph tells the story
I was thinking about Faraaz Hossain. He had been allowed to go, but he didn’t want to leave without his friends. He wanted his friends to be freed too. And since his friends weren’t freed, he didn’t accept the freedom for himself. I am such a sensitive person, I think about people’s welfare all the time, can say I have dedicated my life for this cause, but even I believe if a herd of murderers gave me a safe passage I would escape from the mayhem, without looking back; I would run without waiting for anybody. Everybody would run (in such a situation). Only Faraaz didn’t. Faraazs are perhaps born only once in a century.
The militants got what they wanted. They wanted to shake the world, they did. They wanted to earn Punya (virtuousness) by killing non-Muslims, maybe they succeeded in that too. How were they able to hack so many people, so many young boys and girls? They hadn’t hacked anyone before, how could they hack not one or two but 20 people? In reality, a belief can make people do many impossible things. I don’t know who brainwashed the militants, but whatever was fed into their brains, they believed without asking any question. A lot like the two Boston bomber brothers from Chechenia. They looked smart but didn’t have the ability to intellectually and rationally (logically) consider anything. Religion is truth, the religious book is truth. The religious book was written by the creator himself, so whatever is written there needs to be blindly followed. No questions, just acceptance. As a result, they have literally accepted everything written in the religious text from the beginning to end (without paying heed to any sensory perception). They didn’t try to interpret the ancient text in contemporary context. If it said non-believers should be killed, they just understood non-believers should be killed, they didn’t try to interpret the meaning in any other way.
In a society blinded by religion, brainwashing starts right after birth. These people have been hearing the praise of their religion since birth, at home, in schools, colleges, at playgrounds, in trains, buses, on television, radio and in movies and plays. They have been told following religion takes you to heaven, and if you don’t follow religion you face the extreme punishment of hell. (They have been told) your religious book has the solution to all problems of the world, religion is knowledge, religion is science and religion is peace. If you hear something all the time, it becomes part of your subconscious. The base (foundation) remains prepared, you can easily build a palace of belief on it.
Man has always preferred the easy solutions found in religion to science’s continuous research and complicated equations (mathematics). Religion, hence, attracts every one — from illiterate daily-wagers to university scholars. Because understanding science is not as easier as understanding religion.
Terrorists have been for a long time now hacking to death atheists, seculars, rational writer-bloggers, homosexuals, progressive students and teachers, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has never expressed grief for any such deaths. She has let the killers safely exit the country. She did not bring to justice any of the murderers. She never arrested any of the killers. She did not punish anyone. On the contrary, (she) punished atheist bloggers, sending them behind the bars. She has spoken against freethinking. She has made rules against the right to freedom of expression. For the murder of freethinkers, she has blamed the freethinkers alone. Why did she feel like expressing grief for those who died at the Dhaka cafe? There must be a big politics behind this. Those who were hacked to death at the Dhaka cafe were children of the rich and influential. Was that the reason? Or was it because the world was watching what Hasina would do after a terrorist attack in the city?
Actually, politicians are hypocrites. Will accept what is convenient in the religion, not the rest — it is the Muslims with this mentality who are hypocrites. In fact, those militants were not hypocrites. Whatever they were brainwashed to say, they uttered like mechanised puppets. They didn’t think about their life, they had come that night knowing they would die, believed they were going to heaven. Somebody told them, taught them they would get the reward of jihad, a place in the highest heaven if they killed non-Muslims. After hacking to death the foreigners, displaying the height of atrocity, they told their Muslim countrymen in the morning, ‘we are here only to kill the non-Muslims. We won’t kill you. You all (the Muslims) can leave. We are going to heaven anyways’.
You cannot uproot terrorism by killing terrorists. You need to uproot terrorism at source to end terrorism.
On Friday morning, I got the news that a terrorist organisation called Ansarul Khilafa from Kerala owing allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) had issued a death threat against me on its Facebook page. By the evening, I got the news of the attack by Islamic terrorists in a Dhaka cafe. I was worried for my life for a while. But then, my concerns turned to the lives of the hostages at the Holey Artisan Bakery.
Bangladesh has already become an Islamic fundamentalist nation. Atheists, secularists, rationalists, bloggers, professors, students, homosexuals, Shias, Ahmadiyas, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians are being hacked to death by Islamic terrorists. They kill without fear because the government hardly takes any action against the perpetrators.
Guilty Until Proven Guilty
Instead, victims get threatened by the government. The latter accuses freethinkers of hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims. This is an overt endorsement of the danse macabre conducted on a regular basis by Islamic obscurantists.
Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006 — that allows the arrest without a warrant of any person who “deliberately publishes any material in electronic form that causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or causes to hurt religious belief” — was introduced for one simple purpose: to gag freedom of expression.
Many bloggers left Bangladesh out of fear. Many stopped expressing their views. No critical analysis of Islam or even Islamic fundamentalism is possible in Bangladesh any more.
The terrorists at the Dhaka café were 20-25 years old. They were not poor, not illiterate. Heavily indoctrinated in Islam, they shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ while slaughtering people. Those who could recite a Koranic verse were spared. The others were tortured and hacked to death with machetes.
Those terrorists have nothing but religion. They behaved well with hostages in hijab and hacked non-hijabis — including two Bangladeshi Muslim women, Ishrat Akhand and Abinta Kabir — to death. Faraz Hussain, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, was also among the dead. Tarushi Jain, a 19-year-old University of California student from India, was hacked to death.
Twenty-eight people were killed, among them 20 were foreigners. Young men have been brainwashed with Islam at home, madrasas and mosques. They have been fed the belief that non-believers, non-Muslims and critics of Islam should be exterminated.
By killing them, they are successfully taught, they will go to heaven. They have also been taught that ‘jihad’ is mandatory for every Muslim and Muslims should turn Darul Harb (the Land of the Enemy) into Darul Islam (the Land of Islam).
There is no point trying to confuse the issue by saying that poverty, frustration, lack of jobs and the absence of hope force people to become terrorists.
It is the other way around. We are often seeing rich and literate, highly qualified professionals becoming terrorists. They join the IS because they know they will be at liberty to do whatever they wish to do, sanctioned to rape and kill and torture.
Many organisations and institutions in Bangladesh have been funded by Islamic fundamentalists from rich Arab countries for decades. Already, madrasas and mosques are breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalists.
Islamisation in Bangladesh started not long after its creation in 1971. It is tragic that Bangladesh, whose very birth was based on secularism and the rejection of the ‘two-nation’ theory, has degenerated into an Islamic fundamentalist country. And the government is to blame for its wilful failure to contain fundamentalism.
My Way or Fly Away
In the early 1990s, when I was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists, a fatwa was issued against me, a price set on my head, hundreds of thousands of Muslim fundamentalists took to the street demanding my execution, the intellectuals remained silent. Instead of
cracking down on the fundamentalists, the government filed a case against me on the charges of hurting the religious feelings of people.
I was forced to leave the country. That was the beginning of what today’s Bangladesh is: full of religionists, fundamentalists, hijabis, burqawalis, an atavistic medieval country.
Without allowing the criticism of Islam, it will be difficult for Muslim countries to separate the state and religion, to make personal laws based on equality, to have a secular education. And if this does not happen, Muslim countries will remain in darkness forever, breeding people indoctrinated by religion to not tolerate any differences, and where women will never enjoy the right to live as complete human beings.
People like to believe that Islam is a religion of peace. I, however, have witnessed the opposite since my childhood.
The time has come for people to tell the truth and listen to it without equivocating: Islam and Islamic fundamentalism don’t have so many differences. Islam isn’t compatible with democracy, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression.
You will not be able to kill terrorism by killing terrorists. You have to kill its root cause. You have to stop brainwashing children with religion.
It is every sane person’s duty to make insane people sane.
But in the present scenario, the voice of sanity is a cry in wilderness. This has to be changed. Good and sensible people must speak up. Because the silence of the good is the strength of the bad.
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.
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 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 gener…
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.