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.
You have always been very vocal against Islamic fundamentalism. On the other hand, there are many voices of liberal Muslims saying that terrorism in the name of religion is not Islamic – do you find yourself to be isolated?
There are free thinkers, rationalists and atheists who think like me, so I don’t always feel isolated. For us, it is not important what religion our families may be following, but we believe in humanism. For people like this, there is no need for any religion in society – rational thinking and scientific minds are far more important. So when I say that religion and fundamentalism have no difference and religion is the root cause of religious terrorism Look at ISIS or Boko Haram – Islamic terrorists are always inspired by Islam. They cite the same Quranic texts all Muslims consider sacred.
What about freedom to practise religion?
Of course, we don’t ask people who believe in it to throw away religion. But religious reform is needed for society. And laws should be based on human rights, womens rights, equality, justice and humanism instead of religion. I acknowledge the rights of religious people to believe and practise religion. When temples are broken in Bangladesh, or mosques are destroyed somewhere else, I protest because religious freedom is necessary, but there should also be freedom to not believe in religion or to criticise it and society, education, state etc should be kept outside the domain of religion. The state should should not have a religion but if people like to they can practise a religion but can’t be forced by anyone. This plurarity of thought is important and laws should be based on human rights and not religion. Personally as an atheist and secularist I do not believe in religion. Secularism for me is not the Indian definition – instead it is someone without religion.
You speak a lot about Islamic fundamentalism – but what about religious intolerance in India?
Some people are intolerant – and the cases of torturing Muslims in India, the beef controversy or the recent case of making Muslims eat cow-dung are very disturbing. But so many religions and cultures in India coexist that it is amazing – if India was intolerant there would be many more riots and the state is not intolerant, nothing in the constitution that promotes intolerance – maybe secularism is not being practised properly. The Indian Constitution is not intolerant, but there are individuals who are intolerant and that has to change.
Your thoughts on uniform civil code?
I’m all for an uniform civil code and had campaigned for it in Bangladesh too, where Hindu women really suffer because of ancient Hindu laws and have no right to inherit property from their fathers. They also suffer because their husbands can marry any number of times that they want to. Muslim personal laws based on Islam in Bangladesh also say that women can inherit less property than their brothers. The husband can have four wives. There’s no equality under any religion, so uniform civil code based on equality is the best way possible in India and Bangladesh.
The new face of terrorists in India and Bangladesh is that of educated young men from affluent families. Your views on radicalisation and is this more alarming than before in view of the recent violence in Bangladesh and Kashmir?
Religious leaders are looking at looking at educated youth for Islamisation because they need talented young people as recruits. They have grandiose dreams to control the world, for which they need to recruit bright young educated men with brains. The old stereotypes of poor, underprivileged and frustrated people turning to religion has changed. Educated young people are turning to religion and are being groomed through Islamic education and the Koran within their families. From a young age they are taught to believe in religion and have faith, when they later study science that’s only for jobs and their profession but they already have a strong belief in religion from childhood. This religious identity is created at an early age and provides an easy solution. Science is difficult to learn and understand while religion is attractive because it provides easy solutions. It is also easy to convince and brainwash young people with religion. Islamist leaders often don’t send their children to madrasas but instead to English medium institutions and western countries for their education, but they have been brainwashed with religion from an early age and so turn to terrorism.
What in your view is the solution?
Children should be allowed to grow up in a free thinking environment and should not be under pressure of religious teachings from an early age. Only then will they not be influenced by preachers to turn to violence in the name of religion. What happens now is that they become easy prey since the seeds of religious fundamentalism has been sown at an early age in their fertile minds. There has been a lot of talk about the misinterpretation of the Koran by preachers. But like Koran there are other holy books too which have also doubtlessly been misinterpreted by fundamentalists – but that has not given rise to Christian or Jewish terrorists who slaughter people. Only one religion creates terrorists who kill innocents around the world.
As a writer and a creative person in exile do you have any regrets about not being able to go back?
No I have no regrets, but I have relatives in Bangladesh and would like to go and visit them. But that is Impossible – the government doesn’t renew my passport or issue a visa – I have no valid documents and it is not safe anymore for me to travel to Bangladesh. I feel like I’m a citizen of this world and I don’t believe in national boundaries – the universe is my country, whole world is my village.
What about the ban by the West Bengal government?
I will keep on fighting for my right to go to Bengal, I’m a Bengali writer and I don’t have any rights to live either in Bangladesh or in West Bengal. I will fight for my right to go back to Bengal – I may not live there but I should have the right to go there because of my freedom of expression. I should be able to criticise religion or say whatever I like and still have the right to stay there. Even the Indian government had thrown me out but I came back again and I’m living here – and that is because India is democracy and India should uphold my freedom of expression. That’s why I live in India because India is a democracy and freedom of expression is valuable – I can criticise religion and still stay in India. More than me this is a positive of India as a secular and democratic state. My fight is not only for me, it is also the fight for people who need to have freedom to express their views that are different from others.
Personally, I’m a citizen of Europe and can live in Europe. I also have an American Green Card and permanent resident rights there. But I live here because I love the Indian sub-continent and I don’t feel like they’re different countries. When I’m in India I feel like I’m at home – my books have been published here and I have so many readers, so many people love me that’s why I feel at home here and not because Indians look like me.
There’s a conspiracy to throw me out though – I have been thrown out of Bengal and Bangladesh and there ae so many fatwas and price on my head but still I’m living in the Indian sub-continet because I write in Bengali – one of the Indian languages.
What are you working on – and though you write in different genres which defines you the best?
Some people like my poetry while others love my fiction and essays. I have written seven autobiographies and will write another one. I’m also writing about women’s freedom. I feel there is a poet inside me.