Bangladesh: Will Violence Against Journalists Ever Stop?
In nearly every corner of the world, there are writers, bloggers, political opposition leaders, and journalists being persecuted for giving voice to their society’s questionable mores. On March 30, a Bangladesh blogger named Washiqur Rahman joined this tragic group of involuntary martyrs when he was hacked to death by radical Islamic fundamentalists for his secular, atheist, and anti-Muslim blog posts. Rahman’s murder comes nearly a month after fellow Bangladesh-based writer Avijit Roy was stabbed to death for similar reasons. In the aftermath of these injustices, many like Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International are asking similar questions. “How many more bloggers will have to be attacked before action is taken?” When will changes be made? Finally, how long before sectarian conflict over the exercise of freedom of information, expression, press, and religion is a distant nightmare? Unfortunately, the outlook for Bangladesh is grim.
Part of the problem with overcoming violence against journalists is the progression of radical Islam. Radical Islamic fundamentalists targeted Bangladesh writers and bloggers, just as they did in the January Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. Although Islam does not teach violence, radical Islamic fundamentalists believe Islam is more than just a personal relationship with God – it’s a culture, a way of life. Sheikh Akram Nadw, a scholar and teacher currently living in England, spoke to NPR and said, “Muslims are taking their religion as identity rather than personal piety,” to combat political and cultural repression. He asserts that the results have been “extremely damaging.” Therefore, despite both France and Bangladesh’s tradition of secularism, such radical Muslims react violently when their beliefs, identity, and way of life are even mildly scrutinized. Silencing audaciously outspoken commentators like Roy and Rahman is framed as a “religious duty” and their murders are revered within radical Muslim circles.
In established democracies like France, the government can be trusted to curtail or at least curb such unjust acts of sectarian violence. However, expecting the same sort of reaction from the Bangladesh government is nothing short of foolish. Since Bangladesh won its independence in 1971, extrajudicial violence has been commonplace and nearly uncontested. The killing of journalists isn’t a new phenomenon either – radical fundamentalists have preyed on secular writers and intellectuals since the early 2000s. Amidst this turmoil, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s quasi-authoritarian initiative to minimize threats to power by banning Muslims from parliament and censoring media scrutiny of the government has only worsened sectarian civil violence in Bangladesh. If the status quo remains, violence against journalists in Bangladesh only has the potential to increase.
Given the prime minister’s tacit compliance in the sectarian violence in Bangladesh to preserve her own authority, any real societal change in response to Roy and Rahman’s murders will have to come from outside the government. Only if the bulk of society uses its voice and numbers to denounce the recent sectarian violence can civil liberties be saved in Bangladesh.