In the Independent, Rory Fenton says something terrifying about the situation in Bangladesh.
Far from just being two random murders, these attacks are the methodical work of vigilante extremists working through a list of atheist bloggers. The list was drawn up last year when 100,000 protesters called on the government to introduce the death penalty for blasphemy. The government refused to introduce death penalty, but it did begin a crack down on the country’s free-thinking blog community. It shut down some of its most popular sites, and imprisoned bloggers accused of “offending religious feelings”. Once known as the only place where non-religious Bangladeshis could gather safely, the internet suddenly became unsafe for atheists wanting to air their views.
Working through a list. It makes the blood run cold.
I arrived in Dhaka over the weekend with the hope of speaking to bloggers here about the oppression they face in their own country. I met with one writer, who knew both Roy and Rahman. According to him, the two men had not been that discouraged by the government crackdown at first. “When Avijit Roy said he was coming back to Bangladesh from America, he was concerned for his safety, but we assured him he would be fine,” he told me on Saturday evening.
Roy was an atheist, but his focus was really on the importance of science and rational thought. He was careful to build consensus, and avoided criticising the Prophet Mohammad directly. Few people believed he was in immediate danger. His murder last month, also in broad daylight, sent the message to Bangladeshi atheists that no-one who challenged fundamentalism was safe.
Despite this, the writer I spoke to said he felt safe enough talk on the record. However, that was this weekend: this morning changed everything. Rahman was nowhere near as famous as Avijit Roy. In fact, he wrote under a pseudonym and never used images of his face in his posts. Like Roy, he was not especially strident in his views; his most “extreme” action being to post a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Mohammad.
Well, I knew that, I guess – I knew the murder of Rahman was a demonstration that the murder of Roy was not a one-off. But I hadn’t thought of a list…
For many in Bangladesh, this is the crux of the matter. The target of these killings and crackdowns is not just atheism, but the very idea of questioning received wisdom and authority.
For the blogger I spoke to, who is also on this hit-list of atheist bloggers, this all makes for a stark state of affairs. “It is very simple and clear now. I cannot put myself and my family in that risk. I cannot write”.