Religious extremists kills another freethinker

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.

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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.

Avijit Roy
Founding Moderator, Mukto-Mona
Blasphemy Day, 2013
(September 30, 2013)

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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.

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An evening with the one and only Taslima

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.
photo
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.
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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.

Taslima Nasrin’s official website

A report on the heinous attack on Taslima at Hyderabad

A report on hounding out of Taslima from CPM ruled West Bengal

Freedom of Expression in peril in India

Given below is the FB status update that resulted in arrest of a 21 year old woman and destruction of her Uncle’s hospital. Another woman was arrested for liking the above status update.

Every day thousands of people die but still the World moves on.
Due to one political leader’s death, a natural death every one goes bonkers
They should know we are resilient by force, not choice
When was the last time anyone showed some respect or even 2 minutes silence for Shahid Bhagat Singh, Azad or Sukhdev?
Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced.
Today Mumbai shut down due to fear not respect. “

The vandalisation of hospital took place on Sunday, but none of the 24/7 tv channels reported it then. They were eulogising the ‘peaceful’ rally of Shiv Sena held before the cremation of Bal Thackeray.
Even on Nov 19th morning Police kept on denying the arrest till afternoon. Till then Sena sympathisers on twitter were spreading the falsehood that the girls were taken away for their own safety.

No political party actually wants freedom of expression for ordinary citizens. To ensure that freedom exist in our Country we should be ready to struggle hard fearlessly and courageously.

Link

Another Link in Foreign Press

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The rot inside Pakistan

With the cold blooded killing of Salmaan Taseer by his Islamist body guard  few days ago, the rot inside the Pakistani society is ever too evident to be hidden.

In June 2009 Asia Bibi, a 45-year old Christian woman with five children,a farm hand from a village near Lahore was asked to fetch water; she complied, but some of her fellow Muslim workers refused to drink the water as they considered Christians to be “unclean”.Apparently some arguments ensued. There had already been a running feud between Bibi and a neighbour about some property damage. Later some coworkers complained to a cleric that Bibi made derogatory comments about Prophet Muhammad. A mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. However, the police initiated an investigation about her remarks resulting in her arrest and prosecution under Pakistan’s infamous Blasphemy Law. In November 2010  court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan acquired teeth during the reign of General Zia ul-Haq when the crime was made punishable by death. The international community and human rights groups argue that since then it has become a tool, used to settle personal disputes and to discriminate against minority groups. The abuse of the law is widely regarded as effortless because no proof is required – an alleged blasphemer can be imprisoned and even executed on the assertion of witnesses.

Although the death sentence for blasphemy has never been carried out in Pakistan, angry mobs have killed many people accused of blasphemy. In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, Punjab. At least seven Christians were burned to death in the horrific incident.  In July 2010 two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy were gunned down outside a court in the city of Faisalabad, while in custody.

Salmaan Taseer, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the Governor of Punjab province was a vocal opponent of infamous blasphemy law of Pakistan.

                                         Taseer’s daughters with Asia Bibi

 He had recently announced that he will recommend Presidential pardon to Asia Bibi. The Islamic fundamentalists could not tolerate that and he was killed by his own bodyguard on the streets of Nation’s capital Islamabad.

More shocking news were yet to come.

Within hours Taseer’s killer became a hero to be worshipped for many in Facebook.
 Read what Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif wrote about ‘How Pakistan responded to Salmaan Taseer’s assassination”.
 By the evening, Qadri’s picture had replaced a thousand profile pictures on Facebook. He was a mujahid, a lion, a true hero of Islam.
So who are these people who lionise the cold-blooded murderer? Your regular kids, really. Those who have trawled the profiles of these supporters have said that they have MBA degrees, they follow Premier League football, they love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Miley Cyrus figures on lots of these pages. And as the Pakistani blogger who blogs under the name Kala Kawa pointed out: “If you go through the profiles of Qadri supporters on Facebook, you’d think Justin Bieber was the cause of extremism in Pakistan.”

See this Dawn report.

As PPP leaders and workers and admirers of the slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer mourned his death and converged on the Governor`s House in Lahore for funeral prayers, his self-confessed assassin was warmly welcomed by a group of lawyers at the district and sessions court here on Wednesday.The lawyers chanted slogans in his favour, patted him on the back and showered flower petals on him.A power of attorney signed by dozens of lawyers was submitted as the killer`s counsel.

However, more astonishing than the lawyer`s welcome for a man who confessed to have killed the constitutional head of the country`s largest province was a chorus of support from major religious groups and parties and prominent clerics.About 500 religious scholars of the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat said no one should pray or express regret for the killing of Salman Taseer.



Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri, a leader of the Jamaat paid “glorious tribute to the murderer… for his courage, bravery and religious honour and integrity”.


The clerics noted the “courage” and religious zeal of the killer, saying his action had made Muslims around the world proud.
Analysts say the assassination underscores how deeply religious extremism has penetrated Pakistan’s conservative society, with even the Internet-literate elite resorting to Facebook to rally support for the killer.



Nearly 2,000 Facebook users joined one group on the social networking site praising Qadri, and dozens of “fans” joined other pages set up in Qadri’s honour in the hours after the shooting.

In a sign of mainstream media opposition, Pakistan’s leading Urdu-language newspaper, Jang, ran a front-page story declaring: “There should be no funeral for Salman Taseer and no condemnation for his death.”



“A supporter of a blasphemer is also a blasphemer,” said a sub-heading, reporting that 500 religious scholars and clerics had paid tribute to Qadri

 Lahore’s clerics were reluctant to lead funeral prayers for Salman Taseer.Even the chief cleric of the historical Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, who initially agreed to offer prayers, backed off at the last moment, saying he was going out of town. Finally, the services were led by a cleric of the Ulema wing of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Declan Walsh wrote in Guardian

Yesterday on Twitter, the medium beloved of Taseer, liberal Pakistanis bemoaned the disappearance of “Jinnah’s Pakistan” – the tolerant, pluralistic country envisioned by its founder, the lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1947. Still others struggled to remember when it truly existed.



And on the streets outside the celebrated silent majority – moderate Pakistanis who shun extremism and violence, and only want their society to thrive – were saying nothing. But in Pakistan, that is no longer good enough. Silence kills.

My Take

Did the problem in Pakistan started only with Zia ul Haq and the military regime as many liberal Pakistanis want to believe? Or did it begin with the origin of the Nation based on religion? I believe that Jinnah is equally responsible. When you set loose a demon of religion in politics you cannot remain liberal and democratic.

Edited to add

Let me quote from what Aatish Taseer [son of Salmaan and Indian journalist Tavleen Singh] wrote about his father’s death and its aftermath.

And so, though I believe, as deeply as I have ever believed anything, that my father joins that sad procession of martyrs – every day a thinner line – standing between him and his country’s descent into fear and nihilism, I also know that unless Pakistan finds a way to turn its back on Islam in the public sphere, the memory of the late governor of Punjab will fade.



And where one day there might have been a street named after him, there will be one named after Malik Mumtaz Qadir, my father’s boy-assassin.

Links
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/06/pakistan-salman-taseer-assassination
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/05/pakistan-salman-taseer-liberal
http://www.dawn.com/2011/01/06/taseers-assassin-idolised-by-lawyers-clerics.htm
lhttp://www.indianexpress.com/news/After-a-murder/734984
Aatish Taseer’s article

Prof T.J.Joseph should be pardoned

A teacher of Newman College, Thodupuzha, in Idukki district of Kerala, who was attacked by extremist elements in July on the accusation that he had hurt religious sentiments by setting a question paper with certain blasphemous sentences, was dismissed from service by the college management on Saturday.



T.J. Joseph, who was the head of the college’s Malayalam Department, had two more years of service.


The management had suspended him from service in March when the question paper set for an internal examination for B.Com. students created a controversy. A few organisations took to the streets in Thodupuzha and curfew was imposed in the town.

The radical activists, reportedly owing allegiance to the Popular Front of India (PFI), waylaid his car as he was returning home from church, hacked him and chopped off his right palm

The dismissal attracted widespread condemnation in the State. In a statement, six intellectuals, led by poet O.N.V. Kurup, said the teacher had already been harassed for a lapse which took place owing to his carelessness, ignorance or lack of adequate forethought. If it had shocked democratic Kerala, his dismissal was as cruel and inhuman as the chopping off of his hand.



He hoped that the teacher would get the sympathetic support of everyone with conscience.


Other signatories to the statement are K.N .Panikkar, historian, Ninan Koshy, thinker, and the writers U.A. Khadar, P. Valsala and George Onakkkur
from The Hindu

Prof T.J.Joseph has been teaching Malayalam for last 25 years.He was never a controversial figure till March 2010. He had never indulged in activities which can be termed as against or for any particular religion.He drafted a question paper for his 32 students of BCom class. Some thought a question in that paper is hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.That was his ‘fault’. As ONV Kurup and other Intellectuals said it can be termed as owing to his carelessness, ignorance or lack of adequate forethought. He had apologised for it.

 But how did a DTP printed 32 copy question paper came to be printed in large scale and distributed in mosques and educational institutions?
 If you find something derogatory to your religion, will you print it in large scale and give it more publicity? Yes one will do it if one wants to get maximum political/religious mileage out of it.
Communalists are always in search of issues for hate/victim hood campaigns. Such issues are their fuel and they will try to give maximum publicity to it.But in this issue of Prof T.J Joseph my feeling is many secularists also fell into the trap laid by communalists.Without looking deep into the matter many were accusing Prof Joseph of deliberate mischief. In an article in the new issue of Mathrubhoomi weekly Prof Joseph has explained in detail how the question came into being.His explanations are reasonable for any secular minded person.
Prof Joseph’s mistake was lack of adequate forethought.He can and should be pardoned. Let us hope that saner voices from Muslim community will be brave enough to rise against fundamentalist/communalist ideologies and pardon Prof Joseph accepting his apology.
If we allow the communal organisations to dictate terms in Kerala civil society, our cultural atmosphere may soon resemble that of Arabian Gulf States or Gujarat.