For each other

Joan Smith writes about Rafida Bonya Ahmed in the Independent. (Note: Joan Smith reviewed Does God Hate Women? for the Indy. She thought well of it.)

When a slight woman with cropped dark hair walked on to a stage in a London hotel on Thursday evening, she was greeted with an immediate standing ovation. Four months ago, Rafida Bonya Ahmed and her husband, Avijit Roy, were attacked with machetesby Islamic extremists in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. Roy died and Ahmed was seriously injured, receiving deep wounds to her head.

At first glance, it is hard to believe that this lively and engaging woman has gone through such an ordeal. The only visible reminder is her left hand, which is missing a thumb after it was slashed off in the attack.

Ahmed travelled from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, to give the annual Voltaire Lecture, organised by the British Humanist Association – the first time she has spoken in public since the attack. The lecture took place, poignantly, opposite Edgware Road station, where six people died in an Islamist bombing 10 years ago.

A month ago I met Asif Mohiuddin, who also survived a brutal attack by Islamists in Bangladesh. I found it rather overwhelming, meeting him.

Ahmed seemed almost bewildered by the warmth of her reception in London. She is thoughtful and generous, acknowledging the depth of her grief and rage but insisting on the need to have compassion for others. “It is not just ourselves, but each other, every trafficked slave, every murdered writer, every lost and lonely mind, that are important and have value,” she said.

She is still working out how best to continue the work she did with her husband, but it is hard to see such an extraordinary woman as a victim. With her quick mind and infectious laugh, Rafida Bonya Ahmed is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Asif is like that too. I don’t know how they do it.

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