Avijit Roy , an atheist writer and blogger of Bangladeshi origin, residing in USA was brutally hacked to death yesterday night in Dhaka.
This is an old post written by him in the website founded by him Mukto Mona
The answer of religion to criticism has always been violence.
Today is September 30th, also known as Blasphemy Rights day. This day is dedicated to those who are systematically being persecuted, harassed, or killed for their simple expression of Freethought (more precisely, for their ‘blasphemous’ views towards religion).
In medieval ages “blasphemy” was equated with sin, as it was considered an insult to a deity or Holy Scripture. But as time progressed, we apparently became more civilized by promoting the idea that any belief should be open to examination and taboo-free. In most progressive parts of today’s world, particularly in Europe and North America, the old blasphemy laws have been overturned. However, few other parts of the world have retained social ideas that are reminiscent of the mediaeval age. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Bangladesh are some prime examples. In Bangladesh, as we already know, several bloggers were recently put behind bars on the sole basis that they were openly atheist (Pls. refer to my write up published in current issue of Free Inquiry Magazine on this topic). In Pakistan (as from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report), at least 203 incidents of violence in the name of religion have resulted in some 1,800 casualties and more than 700 deaths in just the last 18 months. These Islamic countries, based on their religious legal code known as Sharia, are deeply anti-woman as well. Recently, a 19-year-old gang rape victim (yes, you read right – rape victim, not the rapist) was sentenced to 200 lashes and to six months in jail for the crime of indecency and speaking to the press in Saudi Arabia (read here). In another incident, Raif Badawi, a blogger in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes on charges of blasphemy (here). The nonbelievers in these Islamic countries face the most severe treatment at the hands of both mullahs and the state.
Today, we state clearly that considering apostasy to be a criminal offense in state level in fact is an inexcusable offense. If being religious is someone’s right, then being critical to religion is also one’s right. There is nothing wrong to be critical to any idea or ideology, as CFI aptly put on its Blasphemy day banner – ‘Ideas do not need rights, People do’!
I wished I would write more on this year’s celebration of blasphemy day, but one unexpected email changed the entire theme of my planned write-up. The email arrived from Patuakhali, one of the remote districts in South-western Bangladesh:
“Every human being wants to be happy; but if we don’t know how to find a way to walk the road of happiness then we will just grow up naturally and die someday without getting the taste of real happiness.
Few years ago, I was desperately looking for a way to find the path of happiness. I guess I have found it at last. Now I know the real happiness is reading “Mukto-Mona [Freethinker] blog” every day. The real feeling is to know the truth and all I have got from you. I’m really thankful to you for showing the right path. I wish your happiness and bright future always”.
However, it was the last paragraph of the email that really touched my heart. It says:
I have a daughter. As a mark of respect to you and your creation – Mukto-Mona blog, I call her ‘Muktomona’ [freethinker is Bengali] as well. She is two years old now. I will try my best to make her real muktomona I look forward to my daughter growing up and one day asking me, among the millions of names, why did I pick and choose her name ‘muktomona’. That day I would tell her about you and show her your site and explain -‘That’s why’!
This was a wonderful gift for me on ‘Blasphemy day’. I founded this ‘blasphemous site’ Mukto-Mona (www.mukto-mona.com) in the year of 2001, with a singular intention: to debate and discuss on controversial, but utterly important issues. Only with this principle, I thought, can the construction of a progressive, rational and secular society be possible in mainstream Bangladesh and South Asia. I was proud of MM’s growing popularity in the progressive community over the years, but I never imagined that a person from remote Pauakhali would one day inspired one day so much that he would name his little girl ‘Mukto-Mona’.
What a pleasant surprise! I hope just as her name suggests, the little girl will one day grow up to be a ‘blasphemous’ freethinker. I hope she maintains an inquisitive mind throughout her life, and will be a wonderful person and that she will enhance her life with an ethical, scientific, and philosophical outlook. I wish her all the best.
Happy blasphemy day 2013. We will celebrate the day as ‘Mukto-Mona Day’ from now on.
Founding Moderator, Mukto-Mona
Blasphemy Day, 2013
(September 30, 2013)
Dr. Avijit Roy is a Bangladeshi-American blogger, published author, and prominent defender of the free thought movement. He is an engineer by profession, but well-known for his writings in his self-founded site, Mukto-Mona—an Internet congregation of freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists, and humanists of mainly Bengali and South Asian descent. As an advocate of atheism, science, and metaphysical naturalism, he has published seven Bangla books, and many of his articles have been published in magazines and journals. His latest book, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief), has been critically well-received and is a popular Bengali book on science, skepticism, and rationalism. He writes from Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached through twitter (@avijit_roy_MM) and Facebook.
This post written by me was first published here on the blog of renowned writer and atheist Taslima Nasrin. Thank you Taslima!
How I became an atheist?
Actually I do not remember much about my Theist life.
Was I ever a Theist?
I was born into an upper caste Hindu family in Kerala, in south India. My family was not very religious, and routine visits to temples and special offerings to gods to get something done were rare. My parents did ask me to pray to gods, and I must have done that till I reached the age of 14-15. But my overall impression was in reality my parents did not believe in a typical Theist god, who controls everything in your life. They encouraged us children to work hard in school , and made us think that its your work that counts more than your offerings/prayers to gods. We celebrated the usual Malayali festivals like Vishu, Onam and Pooja.
My earliest introduction to Hinduism was through Mahabharatha and Ramayana , the mega Hindu (Indian) epics. I liked the Mahabharatha very much because it was a gripping tale with so much variety of characters and sub plots. My mother encouraged me to read alternate view points about the epics in which the ‘good’ guys like Pandavas and Rama were not that good and the ‘bad’ guys like Kauravas and Ravana clan were not that bad.
Gods like Rama , who readily sends his wife to the forest, because there was a doubt about her chastity,and the cunning Krishna with 16008 wives never deserved worship from me.
Curious about Hinduism, I read some selected verses from its holy grail, the Vedas.
Vedas probably were created between 1500 and 500 BC. They are a collections of hymns of Aryans, a clan of pastoralists. Rig Veda is considered the oldest. Vedic literature was preserved for hundreds of years by reciting and remembering orally before it was written in Sanskrit, the language of the Aryans.The Vedic hymns are mostly verses recited in praise of Aryan gods, which they called devas.At the sacrifices where Rig Veda hymns were recited, the devas were invited to come and sit around the sacrificial fire, to receive the hospitality of the Aryans who sacrificed animals in their honour.
Apart from verses praising gods, Rig Veda also has verses which are used to ensure the social inequality of the society.
Here is an example from Purushsooktham from Rigveda 10.90 about creation of humans and caste system.
11.1: What did the Purusha (i.e. Virat) hold within Him? How many parts were assigned in His Huge Form?
11.2: What was His Mouth? What was His Arms? What was His Thighs? And what was His Feet?
12.1: The Brahmanas were His Mouth, the Kshatriyas became His Arms,
12.2: The Vaishyas were His Thighs, and from His pair of Feet were born the Shudras.
I can’t see how some one can believe in such stupidities about origin of human beings. We can easily see through it as a vain attempt to justify and perpetuate cruel caste system.
Then I turned to Bhagavad Gita, the book some Hindus consider as The Holy book. There also I could not find anything inspiring. It is just a collection repetitive, incoherent and many a time self contradictory verses.
The whole Hindu system of beliefs looked very shady. I had no difficulty in realising that a religion which wholly supports the oppressive caste system and Patriarchy is a sham.
By the time I was 15, I started standing outside when our family visited temples. Still I used to take part in religious family rituals, so as not to offend the elders. When some one smeared sandal paste on my forehead, I used to clean it off as soon as possible!
My feeling initially was all those who believe in gods were weak minded and could not survive without god belief. So I never questioned their beliefs , though I never allowed them to impose it on me.
Later, in last few years , I realised that no one needs a god-belief , and such a belief is so prevalent because of childhood conditioning. Propagation of reason and rational thinking can help in de-conditioning. I realised it is ok sometimes to offend family elders so that one can drive your point of view of logic and reason forcefully.
Humans created god myths as an explanation for the things that they could not explain. Religions were created by the powerful to retain control on others using god myth. As more and more things are being explained by Science, the space for gods are shrinking fast. There may be still a lot of things which we cannot explain, but that does not mean we should invent an illogical answer of god for the gaps in our knowledge.
The way things are progressing, atheism may one day become the default position of all human beings. The question of why some one became an atheist will become irrelevant, and the more logical question will be for the theist to explain why some one believes in a myth without any evidence.
The other day we met the one and only Taslima Nasrin! Yes me and my wife were able to meet her and had a wonderful few hours with her.
She hardly knew us apart from a few interactions on social media, but welcomed us with warmth and love, and a sumptuous lunch!
We did not talk much about big subjects, like freedom of expression for writers, religion or feminism. Instead we talked about food, illnesses in her family, her own health, Minu her beloved cat…..day to day mundane topics. As we ate, talk was about how Bengalis eat, first concentrating on veggies, touching fish and meat last……all separate ….without mixing. She looked pleased when my wife reminded the scene in her book “French Lover” in which there was a comparison between eating habits of Europeans and Bengalis. She lamented that her cook in Delhi did not know how to make Bengali fish dishes, and she had to do it. She explained she was busy shopping last evening for preparing this lunch for us in the nearby Bengali market. She seemed to be happy meeting friends, cooking for them, anxious about her dishes, disappointed if we did not consume much, repeatedly asking whether the food has become too cold (as we were very late for lunch). She, I felt, yearned for an ordinary life of a human being which is being denied to her by intolerant goons.
While waiting for us, she had put the picture of the dining table with all the dishes on twitter and she got a lot of retweets and positive mentions about how good a hostess she is.
“If I wrote a logical valid point against religion and patriarchy I get so many negative comments, but people it seems are happy seeing me as a hostess and cook” she said with a smile!
Yes, the World wants Taslimas who cook and host, not Taslimas who speak out the truth.
Taslima Nasrin was a victim of plain speaking, of having courage enough to speak out the fact that the King is naked.
She spoke against intolerant misogynist religion and about the cruel oppression women face from Patriarchy. She wrote the truth about everything that happened in her life in plain and simple language. She wrote about childhood sexual abuse inside the four walls of her house, her love, the betrayal, syphilis, her work as a doctor and a writer, her marriages, her relationships with friends, both men and women, the sordid hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to judging a woman, awards and the abuses she faced from the society.
Islamists and politicians hungry for votes made her a hate figure, a grave threat to religion and family “values”. Fatwas for killing her came out and price was put on her head. She was pushed out of her country Bangladesh first, and then from the Left ruled Indian state of West Bengal. Her press conference in Hyderabad was disrupted by intolerant rowdies led by MLAs and was almost killed in that violence.
Now she is living under intense security at a safe house, with severe restrictions in her movement inside the country in this supposed to be liberal secular republic of India. She has not been granted Indian citizenship and is facing an uncertain future. She is welcome in Western Europe or USA, but hates to live anywhere else other than the Indian subcontinent. She is not an escapist or a coward, running away because of threats. She very well realise that her sphere of activity should be Indian subcontinent, the dark world of religious intolerance and oppressive patriarchy, than much more liberal West.
When we were about to leave, she was generous enough to give us several of her autographed books, and invited us to come for a longer stay.
As we finally bid good bye to Taslima and Minu, I felt ashamed of living in this World where religious/Communalist bigots have a free run to sow hate and incite violence, while a true Humanist Secularist is prevented from sowing the seeds of reason by being confined to the four walls of her house.
When they achieve some thing, Theists say “by god’s grace”.
Is it not strange that Theists praise the god when things go their way, but do not blame him, but just curse their ill luck when they are the victim? Or are they actually pointing out to the luck they had by praising god? So god=luck?
Do those theists who kill & rape also say “by god’s grace”?
What about their victims? Should they believe that God is angry with them?
The other day I was discussing about God/Religion with my theist friend. He was arguing that if every one become atheists the World will become a very Selfish World.
Is that correct? Is the World or the Organisms residing in the World not selfish (or less selfish) because of their Beliefs in supernatural God?
I do not think so.
Doing good things to others just because you are afraid of ‘God”s punishment and to attain ‘heaven ‘ can be considered as one of the most selfish of all acts.
But still some people will say even if done for a selfish purpose, it is good.
I agree that people doing good things to others is good. But is it really because of God/religion? Is it because of unselfishness?
Non believers also do good things to others. What is the explanation for their noble acts?
In my opinion all living organisms in this World are selfish. All of them are seeking their own happiness. Happiness is a certain state of our Brain. We try to attain that state constantly.When we reach that state we automatically try to share our mood with others. Our body is hard wired to share ( or let others know) our emotions. That is why we smile/laugh when we are happy and cry when we are sad. Other wise there is no purpose for smile/tears.
When some one smile or laugh in front of you, automatically you tend to smile or laugh. Mirror neurones in our Brain are responsible for this behaviour. Thus happiness becomes infectious. Sorrow is also infectious like this.
When we help others we are trying to make others happy (smile/laugh). Their happiness in turn make us happy. So the primary purpose of doing good things to others is to make us happy, a very selfish motive.
This selfishness is a very good thing and has nothing to do with God/religion.
Should parents force their children to follow their brand of Religion and God? On the other hand should parents force them to be an Atheist?
May be the just way is to explain to them about God/religion and Atheism. Encourage them to question everything including your own belief/non-belief. Give them books to read which explains the essence of religion and free thinking.
Let them choose their own path at their own time.