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.

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

‘Love Jihad’.Fact or fiction?

Whom do you think a communalist hates most?

Many may feel that an Islamic communalist will hate a Hindu/Christian communalist most while a Hindu communalist will hate a Muslim/Christian communalist most.

But this is not true.

Whom they hate most are the believers of their own religion who try to have strong friendship and social contacts with believers of other religion.

That’s why Jinnah hated Maulana Azad most.
That’s why a Hindutva activist killed Gandhiji.
That’s why communalists of all hues and color hate inter-religious marriages,especially when the couple involved decides to stick on to their own religion.

Even if they do not stick on to their own religion,such marriages based on love increases the social contacts between families of different religions and should be encouraged if the conversion to the spouse’s religion is with out compulsion.

“Love Jihad”

Recently we saw an increasing number of news reports about love used for forcible religious conversion in South India,mainly Kerala. It has been alleged that thousands of Hindu and a few Christian girls has been trapped in to love affairs with Islamist boys and later forced into marriages and conversion to Islam. A newspaper in Kerala coined the term ‘Love Jihad’ for this phenomenon.

If you search ‘Love Jihad’ on google you will see a large number of furious Hindutva websites trying their best to raise the anger in the Hindu mind.The statistics they quote are mind boggling. It ranges from 1000 to 5000 Hindu girls already converted to Islam by this ‘Love jihad’.
Here is an excerpt from ‘Hindu jagruti”s website.

“Trapping naive Non Muslim girls (Read as Hindu girls) in the web of love inorder to convert to Islam is the modus operandi of the said organisation. Already more than 4000 girls have been converted to Islam by this Jihadi Romeos.



Special branch of Police started investigation when marriages of such large scales are reported within last 6 months. As per the instructions to recruits of this organisation, they have to love a Hindu girl within the time frame of 2 weeks and brainwash them to get converted and marry within 6 months. Special instructions to breed atleast 4 kids have also been given. If the target won’t get trapped within first 2 weeks, they are instructed to leave them and move on to another girl.”

Is this really true?

Most of the Hindutva websites reveal the source of their information as Police Special Branch reports. The Kerala High Court asked the Police to enquire about this.The DGP has presented a preliminary report in the Court on October 23.
The DGP’s affidavit said that apart from the 2 cases before the court there is no proof that such incidents are taking place. At the same time the affidavit said “there are reasons to suspect ‘concentrated attempts’ to persuade girls to convert to Islam after they fall in love with Muslim boys but no organisation called ‘Love Jihad’ has been identified so far in the state“. The affidavit said police had no evidence regarding the operation of love jihad and the source of money.

What is the truth behind this?
I am very well aware that Islamists recruit many youths from the campuses in Kerala for propagating hate in name of Islam.
I am also sure that some inter-religious ‘love’ marriages have taken place and most probably conversions too. Most of those marriages were genuine.
Was the conversion forced? Is it really an organised movement by ‘Jihadi’ organisations to increase the number of Muslims in India? Even if it is so has this taken place in such a large scale as being alleged?

The Police special branch report the Hindutva websites are quoting is about complaints registered in police stations regarding missing persons.Police themselves say that most of those compliants have already been withdrawn as the missing persons have returned to their families. Only a few are yet to be traced.The statistics are grossly exaggerated to create bigger effect.

Read here from ‘The Hindu’ a story of alleged ‘love jihad’ from Karnataka

The ‘Love Jehad’ that wasn’t

When Anitha (22) of Barimaru village in Bantwal taluk, went missing this June, the rumour mills fed by several Sangh Parivar organisations claimed that she was forcibly converted to Islam by a Pakistan-backed, professional ‘jehadist lover’.



On October 4, the head of the Gurupura Math, Rajashekharananda, held a protest meeting where he alleged that Anitha had fallen prey to a terrorist ploy. The event, which according to top police officers, threatened to create a communally sensitive situation, led to the hurried constitution of a special investigation team.


In less than two weeks the team cracked the case: Anitha was poisoned to death by Mohan Kumar, serial killer arrested on October 21, who allegedly confessed to having murdered her and robbed 17 other women by luring them with offers of marriage.

On October 15, the Hindu Janjagruthi Samiti held a protest outside the Deputy Commissioner’s Office alleging that over 3,000 Hindu girls from Dakshina Kannada and 30,000 from the rest of the State had gone missing since the “Love Jehad operation” was launched by the “terrorists” a year ago. These figures, posted on the Samiti’s website, are now being quoted by other Hindutva organisations as well.

However, official statistics given to The Hindu show that in the three years ended September 30 this year, 404 women went missing in the district. Of them, 332 women have since been traced by the police.

At Wednesday’s press conference, the police said that now only 57 women were missing in the district.

According to Superintendent of Police A.S. Rao, several of these 57 women are suspected to have committed suicide or eloped. “Among those who have eloped there are several who are not Hindus. There are also cases where Hindu women have eloped with Hindu men,” he said.

In another incident Siljaraj a woman of 23 years who eloped with her Muslim boy friend told the Karnataka High court that she had willingly converted to Islam and is waiting to get married under the provisions of the Special Marriages Act and asked for permission to go with her boy friend. But surprisingly the High Court asked her to return to her parent’s home until the case is investigated.

Reacting to the order, senior advocate Ravi Varma Kumar said that it violated Article 21 (of life and personal liberty) and Article 25 (of freedom of religion) of the Indian Constitution. He cited Lata Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2006, in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of a person who had reached the age of majority to marry of his or her own choice.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has said it would file a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Karnataka High Court’s order.


I feel that more than this alleged ‘love jihad’ being a threat to Hindu society [ are Hindu girls so dumb???], it has become a fodder for the propaganda machine of the Sangh Parivar to propagate communal animosity and there by helping them in trying to reduce all social contacts between Hindus and believers of other religions.
Muslim and Christian priests have also issued warnings to youth to be cautious of such inter-religious social contacts.
As I said above Communalists of all colors are the same.They hate social and religious harmony because then their very existence is questioned.

The issue underlines the need for high vigilance against communalisation of our society.

Should we play in to the hands of the terrorist?

More than 6 weeks have passed after the Mumbai attacks. It seems that the Pakistani Government is still in the self denial mode. Press reports say that the investigations by Indian and American agencies have unearthed enough proof of the involvement of Pakistani based terrorist organisations.Pakistan Government know all this.
Then why it is still in the self denial mode?
Can Pakistan keep its house in order by destroying all the terror network present there?

Indians are impatient.There are calls for surgical strikes[meaning all out War], economic blockade and cultural blockade. Indian Government is urged by hawkish experts and pseudo-patriots to do an ‘Israel’.

The Indian Government it seems is in two minds.Statements taunting Pakistan and proclaiming all options are open are coming daily from the External Affairs Ministry.The Cricket tour is cancelled and also most of the cultural contacts.Though Prime Minister said war is not an option, top level meeting with Military Chiefs lasting for hours are given good publicity.

Which is the best way forward for India so as to ensure there are no more Mumbai style attacks?
How can we ensure that our neighbour is stable, democratic and devoid of terror networks?

Let me go into little bit of history here.This is essential for better understanding of what is happening in Pakistan.
Partition and formation of Pakistan
Since its birth in 1947 Pakistan had an acute sense of insecurity and identity crisis.
Insecurity was there because the basis of formation of Pakistan is the premise that under Indian National Congress rule [which was the main force in the freedom struggle] Muslims in undivided free India will face severe hardships.
Pakistan was born as a Nation with the primary aim of protecting Islam from ‘Hindu’ Congress. Thus Pakistan could be easily turned in to a security state in which Army monopolised power and defined National interest as keeping ‘Hindu’ India at bay.
Identity crisis was there because the supposed to be unifying factor of the different provinces of Pakistan,Islam failed to unify it. This was evident from the breaking up of Pakistan with the formation of Bangladesh.In contrast Muslims in India could live the same way as their brethren in Pakistan while India survived and prospered as a secular Republic.
Islamisation of Pakistan
To overcome this identity crisis the army under Zia ul Haq in 1979 tried to Islamise the country even more with radical Islamist ideology. An ideological Islamic State was imposed on Pakistanis. To cement his rule he used Islam. He banned political Parties, censored Media, imposed laws targeting minorities and Women.He Islamised the legal system and Education.

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 made Zia USA’s major ally.Zia allowed Americans to use the Inter Services Intelligence Agency[ISI] to act as a conduit for the arms and funds the CIA wanted to supply to the Afghan Mujahedin. In few years the CIA were able to build up the ISI into a formidable Agency. ISI managed to run the Afghan war.the Kashmir militancy and also the political process in Pakistan. Between 1982 and 1990 the CIA working with ISI and Saudi intelligence service funded the training,arrival and arming of some 35000 Islamic militants from 43 Muslim countries in Pakistan madrassas to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.This global jihad launched by Zia and Reagan administration was to sow the seeds of al Qaeda and turn Pakistan in to world centre of jihadism.
Pakistan and 9/11
With 9/11 attack carried out by al Qaeda, World’s attention turned to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The US asked Pakistan army to switch sides and to join the battle against Taliban and al Qaeda.Pakistan army and the army controlled Government agreed in public.But that was only a show.The ISI continued to help Taliban and Islamist terrorists both in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir.The Islamists in turn conducted big anti-US rallies but supported Musharraf’s army rule.Musharraf was successful in making the US Government believe that only he and the army rule can prevent Talibanisation of Pakistan. Generous support by US helped Musharraf to consolidate his power and systematically weaken the Opposition political parties
Present situation in Pakistan
The Elections conducted in February 2008 was considered fair by Pakistani standards [with out much army interference]even though the ruling Musharaf’s Party PML-Q had some unfair advantage. The Islamic Parties were trounced in the election with the relatively secular PPP becoming the single largest Party. This was a big setback for both the Islamists and the army.The election of Asif Ali Zardari as president of Pakistan has–at least theoretically–ushered in a new era in Pakistan’s development. But can it control the army/ISI?

Monopoly of influence the Army enjoys in Pakistan continues today.It is estimated that the Military-Industrial Complex is worth around 20 billion dollars.The 3 armed services is running hotels.shopping malls,insurance companies,banks,farms and industries.Army owned factories make cornflakes,bread,cement,textiles and sugar.Two army run conglomerates,Fauji foundation and Army welfare trust controls a third of entire heavy manufacturing in Pakistan.Army owns about 12 million acres of Land.Almost all retired Generals are working in the Government under various capacities.At one point all the vice chancellors of Universities in Pakistan were retired Army officers.

The new civilian Government under Zardari is weak due to many reasons.PPP do not have absolute majority in National Assembly.It is having an uneasy relationship with Nawas Sherif’s Party.Zardari lacks the following and reverence that Benazir Bhutto carried. In addition, Zardari does not have the political or army connections, which his major opponent Nawaz Sharif has.At the same time there is a feeling of aversion towards terrorists, Islamic extremist philosophy and the army among Pakistani public. They believe that it was the army/ISI in league with Islamist terrorists that killed Benazir Bhutto,the most popular leader of Pakistan.There is also a strong sentiment that only a strong civilian Government can reduce the terror attacks that is happening so regularly in Pakistani provinces.
What should be the Indian response?
India should try to utilise this anti-terror sentiment of Pakistani public by strongly supporting the Civilian Government’s effort to control its non-State actors. Any taunting or war mongering on India’s part will only help the Islamic Parties to whip up anti-India hysteria and unify the public sentiment in Pakistan against India,there by weakening the civilian Government and strengthening the army and Islamists.

It is in best interest of Indian people that we utilise this opportunity in a matured way, as an emerging World power and not as a bickering and taunting neighbour giving tit for tat statements to get some applause from the gallery. India’s role should not be as a Teacher trying to discipline rogue students,but as a Neighbourhood friend helping the neighbour to set its house in order. India should not behave in such a way as to increase Pakistan’s inferiority feeling

More and more evidences laid on the table of Pakistan in full view of the World will help Zardari Government to come out of its self denial mode. Hard evidences and diplomacy in all fronts will make it easy for the civilian Goverment to create a consensus to act against jehadi elements in the army and the terror networks.Instead of cutting off Trade,Sports and Cultural contacts, using such contacts judiciously to soak in Indian point of view on liberal section of Pakistan Civil society is very important in isolating the jehadis.

The terrorists wanted an increase in hostility between India and Pakistan.That’s why so much evidences were left behind. Increasing tension between India and Pakistan and even an all out War will mean more support for ISI/army and for the Islamists in Pakistan. That will mean the weakening of Civilian Government and even an army take over.That will mean less democracy and less freedom for media in both countries.That will also result in more money and men in Terror networks.
Let us not play in to the hands of the terrorist.