26 May 2015 Dhaka, Bangladesh | Two street women fight each other on the street in the capital of Dhaka, I asked the People why they fight they said don’t know the actual reason, but they said both are sex workers and they fight their internal reason.Photo by Monirul Alam
The most important BHA event of the year will no doubt be the Voltaire Lecture 2015: ‘Fighting machetes with pens’
We are extremely honoured to have the blogger Bonya Ahmed as our lecturer. In February, she survived the attack which killed her husband, the humanist writer Avijit Roy, when they were brutally hacked at with machetes on the streets of Dhaka. They were targeted because Avijit wrote about Humanism and secularism, and openly criticised Islamic extremists.
In the Voltaire Lecture, Bonya will tell her tale, speaking of her life with Avijit and of their struggle for Humanism and secularism in Bangladesh and beyond. She’ll go on to take part in a conversation with BHA President Jim Al-Khalili, before answering questions from the audience.
A campaign of terror against Bangladeshi bloggers has claimed another life in deliberately bloody and brutal slayings of secularist bloggers and critics of religion. On 26 February 2015 Avijit Roy (pictured above) was hacked to death by two men wielding machetes. His wife was injured but survived the attack. A local group, Ansar Bangla-7, claimed responsibility, and the FBI has assisted in the investigation of the crime.
On 30 March 2015 Washiqur Rahman (pictured above) was attacked and murdered by two men later apprehended carrying meat cleavers.
Most recently, on 12 May 2015, Ananta Bijoy Das (pictured above) was, like the others, hacked to death on the street in Dhaka. All three murdered men were bloggers who focused on science and a naturalistic view of the world, championing free expression, rationality, and skepticism.
Wikipedia has a page devoted to Attacks on atheists in Bangladesh, which not only recounts the three cases above, but also adds the cases of Asif Mohiuddin, Ahmed Rajib Haider, Sunnyur Rahaman, and AKM Shafiul Islam. These attacks have occurred in a context of state harassment of journalists and rising religious intolerance. Bloggers are soft targets for militants and radicals, and the visibility of these attacks (like the beheadings practiced by ISIS) are intended to send a message.
Bangladesh is, of course, an officially and explicitly religiously-constituted state. When, with the departure of the British, British India was partitioned in 1947 into India and Pakistan, Pakistan was an impossible nation-state split into two geographically separated parts, west Pakistan, which is what we today know as Pakistan, and East Pakistan, which eventually fought a war for its independence and became Bangladesh.
Because of the circumstances of its inception as an explicitly religiously-constituted state, we should not be surprised that both state institutions and popular opinion have allowed such attacks to take place. Bangladesh today, like many nation-states, is conflicted over its religious origins. When Bangladesh was created, secularism was one of the central principles of the Constitution of Bangladesh (along with nationalism, socialism, and democracy). However, in 1977 secularism was removed from the constitution and Islam declared the state religion. In 2010, the supreme court restored secularism to the constitution, but allowed Islam to remain as the official state religion. So, as I remarked, the relation of the state to religion is conflicted.