JOY, ZAFAR IQBAL, AND A TOUCHY SUBJECT
In 1935, Dinesh Bhatt wrote Rangeela Rasul. Protests about the blasphemous book started soon after. One procession of protesters was passing through the famous red-light district in Shonagachi. A watchman there saw them passing by and asked what was happening. A protester told him they were marching against a blasphemous book written by a Hindu about the beloved Prophet of Islam. Dinesh Bhatt was killed soon after. By none other than the watchman in Shonagachi.
He spent his days guarding brothels, but was so strongly religious that he did not hesitate to kill a man. It was not about whether he followed his religion or not, his piety was firm.
The pilots responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were all Muslims. But there is evidence that they indulged in alcohol the night before the attacks, and had even visited bars and strip clubs in the United States.
Even here, there is no relationship between their acts and their religiousness.
It is not that only Muslims’ religious sentiments can be hurt. The same applies for Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews — their sentiments can also be hurt. Therefore, one must admit that religion is a sensitive issue indeed.
I mention these stories to illustrate the precarious nature of discussions on religion.
Recently, there has been much debate regarding Sajeeb Wazed Joy’s interview with Reuters regarding Avijit’s murder. Joy has tried to say that this is a sensitive issue.
On the other hand, Zafar Iqbal, who is known for being a liberal intellectual, has said Joy’s comments were an encouragement for fundamentalism in the country.
To understand the matter, it is important that we know exactly what Joy said in that interview.
This is what we find in Reuters:
“In an interview, Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said his mother offered private condolences to Roy’s father. But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly, he said. Roy was an avowed atheist; the book he was promoting when he was killed is titled The Virus of Faith.
“‘We are walking a fine line here,’ said Wazed, an informal consultant for the ruling party, the Awami League. ‘We don’t want to be seen as atheists. It doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism,’ he said. ‘But given that our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we can’t come out strongly for him. It’s about perception, not about reality.’”
“Roy was an avowed atheist; the book he was promoting when he was killed is titled The Virus of Faith” — this a line from the report. Not Joy’s sentiments about the killing. However, many online news portals are circulating the news as if these are Joy’s words, which implies that Joy perceives the murders to be legitimate, since they were atheists.
The interview was not translated well and a crucial line was left out: “We are walking a fine line here.”
Now, many people might think that the government will not take any action if more bloggers are killed. Zafar Iqbal also misconstrued Joy’s statements and many liberals like him may be offended by Joy’s remarks without knowing the whole truth.
Now another blogger, Ananta Bijoy Das, has fallen. He was also a writer at the Mukto Mona blog.
It is all over the media that Zafar Iqbal blames the government’s incompetence for Ananta’s death. He has also highlighted that Joy’s comments were a “green signal” for the terrorists and he did not think this was a “sensitive” issue.
Dr Iqbal is a sensible intellectual, and he would not have missed Joy’s message had the interview been correctly translated, or if he had read the original version. And if he made these comments even after reading the original version, then that is a different matter.
A politician and an intellectual are bound to have different perspectives. An intellectual can offer immediate solutions. But a politician must take social realities into account. Joy has to be careful about not being branded as an atheist, because the opposition is bound to use it against him.
That this is a valid concern can easily be seen by what happened at the Gonojagoron Moncho. A vibrant protest that drew thousands to congregate became bare a week within Rajib’s murder because of the religion card used by the opposition. The prime minister did not hesitate to rush to condole the victim’s family, but did BNP-Jamaat-Hefazat not brand the government as atheist? Are they still not promoting their propaganda? Have the opposition condemned the murders even once?
So, if Sheikh Hasina and Joy have been more discreet about sending their condolences to the families of the victims, and if they deem this a sensitive subject, I do not see why Zafar Iqbal or others are criticising or misconstruing it. One cannot turn a blind eye to social realities. Even previously, socialist countries are now allowing for the practice of religion, and Raul Castro has told the Pope that he might start going to church!
It is definitely the government’s responsibility to ensure justice in a system. The government must not remain silent if people are killed and it does not matter whether they are believers or non-believers, or what party they belong to.
But the bloggers also have a social responsibility here. Free-thinking is not about lampooning religion. Why is this getting precedence over logical debates? Attacking and mocking religious leaders who are revered by many does nothing but create animosity. One must think about the consequences before attacking the religious sentiments of millions.
And why are the atheists so occupied with religion in a system that does not force any religion on them? Believers are agitated when their religion is attacked. Some fanatics may even decide to kill to open their doors to heaven. But the atheists have no religion, they are not worried about heaven or hell. But because of what they are doing, it seems like even atheism is a religion. And since they are increasing in number, they think it is fashionable to attack other religions.
Intellectuals like Zafar Iqbal must look at this situation differently. The government does have the lion’s share of the responsibility to ensure justice in the country, but others also have the responsibility to inform the public about the opposition’s propaganda. The realities on the ground must always be taken into consideration.
MAY 17, 2015