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The Attacks on the Secularist Bloggers in Bangladesh

Terror in our world knows no bounds and takes no sides. While many nations feel that Islamic terrorists have targeted them for their opposing views, nowhere is there more intolerance than in Bangladesh where people are being attacked for voicing their opinions on the Islamic faith. This examination provided by the essay writing services of Ultius discusses this issue in a comprehensive manner and tries to make sense of the madness.

Bloggers attacked in Bangladesh for speaking out against Islam

There have disturbing reports in the news over the past couple months that people in Bangladesh are being murdered as a result of expressing views critical of Islam through blog posts. This essay discusses this issue in depth beginning with a description of the events themselves. The essay will consider reactions that have emerged in response to the attacks and reflect on this issue from a broader historical and sociological perspective, finally discussing the relevant moral implications of this issue, as well as how the modern world should perhaps respond to the attacks taking place in Bangladesh.

Avijit Roy

There are three specific events thus far in the recent string of attacks against bloggers in Bangladesh. The first happened on the 26th of February 2015, when the atheist blogger Avijit Roy was murdered with machetes by Islamic fundamentalists who resented his work and believed it to be blasphemy. Roy was an American (of Bangladeshi descent), and he was with his wife at the time:

“The couple were on a bicycle rickshaw, returning from a book fair, when two assailants stopped and dragged them on to the pavement before striking them with machetes, local media reported, citing witnesses” (Agence France-Presse, paragraph 4).

His wife was seriously wounded as well, losing a finger as a result of the attacks; and Roy himself died on the way to the hospital. The attack seemed to be an imitation of a previous murder in the year 2013 of another atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider. So, there was already precedent for such an event happening in Bangladesh. The murder of Roy was not the first attack of its kind within this nation, but merely the first one in the recent string of attacks.

Washiqur Rahman

The target of the second attack was Washiqur Rahman, another blogger who espoused atheist views. He was also attacked in the city of Dhaka, just like Roy; and like Roy, he also died from the wounds he received from the attack. This attack occurred on the 30th of March, mere weeks after the attack on Roy. Writing on the day of the attack, Burke and Hammadi indicated that:

“the suspects have so far been identified only as Zikrullah, said to be a student at a religious school near the city of Chittagong, and Ariful Islam, who police say was studying at the Darul Ulum religious school in Dhaka” (paragraph 6).

So, the suspects attended religious schools, while the victim was known for expressing an atheistic perspective that was satirical with regard to fundamentalist Islam; it is thus quite obvious that the attacks were in fact motivated by this ideological disagreement.

Ananta Bijoy Das

Finally, a third attack occurred on the 12th of May. The victim this time was a man named Ananta Bijoy Das. According to Ahmed:

“Das was an atheist who contributed to Mukto Mona (‘Free Thinkers’), the blog that Roy founded. Mukto Mona contains sections titled ‘Science’ and ‘Rationalism,’ and most of the articles hold science up to religion as a litmus test, which it invariably fails” (paragraphs 13-14).

Again, it is self-evident that this is why Das was targeted for murder. Investigations are still underway; however, there is a good deal of skepticism within the secular community in Bangladesh regarding whether the investigations are in fact being conducted in good faith, and whether the real perpetrators will ever actually be brought to justice. The emerging perception, essentially, is that the Bangladeshi government itself seems to implicitly condone the attacks against secularists by not playing a more aggressive role in preventing such attacks from happening in the first place.

Reactions to the attacks

Naturally, the attacks against secularist bloggers in Bangladesh have sparked outrage among both the secular community within Bangladesh and the modern world in general. There have also been protests within Bangladesh itself:

“Soon after Das’s death, his social network pages were flooded with messages of shock and condolence. And hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Sylhet demanding that the government bring his killers to justice” (Ahmed, paragraph 22).

It is unclear, however, whether these protests will truly amount to very much within the context of the highly conservative political climate in Bangladesh. In fact, the most common response within Bangladesh to the attacks has been disturbingly ambivalent at best, with the government often not even making clear that the attacks were in fact morally and legally unacceptable.

Lack of support for the bloggers and victims

In general, there has not been outright condemnation of the attacks but rather a mixture of condemnation, resignation, and even understanding. For example, Agence France-Presse has reported the following:

“After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist groups started to protest against other campaigning bloggers, calling a series of nationwide strikes to demand their deaths, accusing them of blasphemy. The secular government of the Bangladeshi prime minister reacted by arresting some atheist bloggers” (paragraph 15).

To put it mildly, this is not encouraging news: when confronted with Islamic fundamentalists who were calling for the deaths of secularist bloggers, the government’s response was not to preserve the rule of law but rather turn against the bloggers themselves, in an effort to appease the fundamentalists. This gives credence to the emerging notion that the Bangladeshi government is in fact more on the side of the fundamentalists than it is on the side of the bloggers, irrespective of whether the government is to be formally identified as “secular” or not.

Thes bloggers represent an unpopular minority

Moreover, the ambivalence of the government is mirrored by the ambivalence of the large majority of the Bangladeshi people themselves. For example, Barry has quoted a 22-year-old business student providing what would seem to be a fairly typical response to the whole issue:

“Look, 93.2 percent of Bangladeshis are Muslim, and 80 percent of those are against what he wrote . . . I don’t know why our government gave him the liberty to write against Islam” (paragraph 15).

From a modern perspective, this surely sounds shocking. To anyone living in the Western world, social activism is surely understood as an intrinsically valuable right that ought to have nothing to do with how many people may or may not happen to agree with the perspective that one wishes to express. According to the student quoted above, however, the fact that most Bangladeshi people disagree with the secularist bloggers’ views means that those bloggers should not have the legal right to express their views. More than that, the disturbing implication emerges that by expressing their views, the bloggers should have expected to provoke the reactions they did—which ultimately means that the victims are at fault for provoking their own murders.

Historical reflection on the tragedy in Bangladesh

From a historical perspective, the attacks against secularist bloggers in Bangladesh can be understood as a part of the broader recent problem of Islamic fundamentalists apparently believing that it is acceptable to respond with lethal violence when one is offended by the views and opinions expressed by other persons. For example, this is the exact ethos that animated the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, in which the editors of a satirical magazine were murdered by Islamic fundamentalists due to the fact that they portrayed Mohammed in an irreverent way.

The general pattern here is that when a secularist expresses words or images that offend the sensibilities of the fundamentalist, the fundamentalist believes that he has now been given the right, even the moral duty, to murder the secularist. This is the basic idea that underlies all of the recent attacks by fundamentalists against secularists across the planet, and it is the idea that ties the murders of the bloggers in Bangladesh to a broader sociological problem that is affecting the whole globe in general.

A sociological perspective

From the sociological perspective, it would not be inaccurate in this context to speak of a fundamental clash of cultures or even civilizations. In essence, the ethos of the modern world is that it is simply not acceptable to murder a person for the simple reason that he has offended one’s sensibilities; whereas the ethos of the Islamic fundamentalist vision is that it is not only acceptable but positively desirable to do exactly this. Another way to say the same thing is that whereas it is incomprehensible for a modern person that blasphemy should be a capital offense, nothing could be more natural from the perspective of the fundamentalist.

In a way, the Islamic fundamentalists adhere to a vision of religion that the Western world by and large left behind in the Middle Ages. In a sense, there can be no conversation between the modern and the fundamentalist visions, for the simple reason that it is the very possibility of such conversation that the fundamentalist rejects with his insistence on violence. Each view as its own unique grammar, as it were, and is thus incomprehensible from the perspective of the other view (see Wittgenstein).

Moral implications

Morally speaking, there are really only two positions that can be taken with respect to the attacks against the secularist bloggers in Bangladesh.

  1. The attacks are just categorically unacceptable, insofar as it is absolutely wrong for a person to be murdered for expressing his own opinions in a peaceful way.
  2. The murders were in fact acceptable due to the fact that the bloggers were blasphemers who had overstepped whatever right they had to free speech.

These two moral positions are correlated with the two broad visions delineated above which naturally leads to a degree of cultural resistence. One cannot invoke moral relativism to resolve this dispute, for the simple reason that moral relativism itself fundamentally belongs to the very modern vision of the world that is so vehemently rejected by the fundamentalists (see Gowans).  Islamic fundamentalists are essentially acting in accordance with a moral logic that is truly foreign from a modern perspective and that seems barbarous.

Conclusion

From this point, one can enter into pragmatic considerations of how the bloggers perhaps should or should not have conducted themselves, given their knowledge of their cultural environment. For example, even while maintaining that it is categorically wrong for a person to be murdered for simply expressing his personal views, it could also be stated that given the presence of Islamic fundamentalism within Bangladesh, the bloggers should perhaps have known that they would be likely to provoke violent reactions and planned accordingly (for example, by leaving the nation).

Of course, this in no way justifies the perpetrators of the attacks in any way, at the moral level. It is simply akin to the pragmatic statement that if one pokes a wild animal with a stick, then one is likely to anger it and provoke more or less predictable consequences. Perhaps the bloggers actually did want to provoke anger (if not murder), insofar as this would have been essential to their project of changing the minds of an entire generation of Bangladeshi people. The sad pragmatic reality, however, would seem to be that within contemporary Bangladesh, words can be expected to be met not with words but rather with violence.

Works Cited

Agence France-Presse. “American Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death in Bangladesh.” Guardian. 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/27/american-atheist-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh>.

Barry, Ellen. “Bangladesh Killings Send Chilling Message to Secular Bloggers.” New York Times. 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 May 2015. .

Burke, Jason, and Saad Hammadi. “Bangladesh Blogger Becomes Second to Be Murdered in a Month.” Guardian. 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 May 2015. .

Editors. “Charlie Hebdo Attack: Three Days of Terror.” BBC. 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. .

Agence France-Presse. “American Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death in Bangladesh.” Guardian. 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 May 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/ world/2015/feb/27/american-atheist-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh>.

Gowans, Chris. “Moral Relativism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. .

Hammadi, Saad. “Third Atheist Blogger Killed in Bangladesh Knife Attack.” Guardian. 12 May 2015. Web. 15 May 2015. atheist-blogger-killed-in-bangladesh-after-knife-attack>.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. On Certainty. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. Print.

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