“Roy’s killing was indeed the Charlie Hebdo of Dhaka. However, since Dhaka is not Paris and since Roy and his wife are brown in colour, activists and intellectuals from South Asia say the killing did not get the attention it deserved in the West.” – Ahmar Mustikhan
“The Two Nation Theory drowned in the Bay of Bengal in 1971,” Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Ataullah Mengal once said. Bengal is the famed homeland of artists, intellectuals and geniuses such as Swami Vivikenanda and Rabindranath Tagore. Bengal’s eastern half, now Bangladesh, was also the land where that saw the ignominious defeat of world’s largest Muslim army, Pakistan army and capture of more than 90,000 “Butchers of Bengal” as prisoners of war. Bangladesh emerged on the world map as a secular nation as Pakistan army stood defeated after conducting a genocide of at least three million Bengalis and raping tens of thousands of Bengali women. Dhaka became the Waterloo for Pakistan army, thanks to Gen Sam Manekshaw. Scholars still rank Bangladesh with Turkey and Tunisia among the three secular nations in the world, though Kakul-trained army generals, Ershad and Zia, did try to change the secular nature of the state to an Islamic republic. It is pertinent to write here that Kakul in Abbottabad houses the Pakistan Military Academy and gained world infamy after terror mastermind Osama bin Laden was discovered living there in May 2010.
Against this backdrop, the hatching to death of Avijit Roy, 42, in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, on the last Thursday of February was a shocker for writers and journalists in South Asia. Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed, 45, who is a fellow writer, was seriously wounded and lost a finger in the deadly attack. Some reports suggested Roy, a free thinker, was punished among other reasons for marrying a Muslim woman. Roy, a naturalised American from Alpharetta, Georgia, had gone to Dhaka for a book festival and speaking engagement on his latest books, including one entitled “The Virus of Faith,” according to CNN. Roy’s killing was indeed the Charlie Hebdo of Dhaka. However, since Dhaka is not Paris and since Roy and his wife are brown in colour, activists and intellectuals from South Asia say the killing did not get the attention it deserved in the West.
Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, in Philadelphia, told this writer he was sad that while the entire West descended on Paris to defend freedom of expression after the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists’ killings, Western protest over Roy’s killing remained muted. “Dozens of heads of state march for human rights and value of freedom but none speaks when Roy is brutally hacked to death in Dhaka,” said Bhatti. He added he was shocked that the news media portrayed Roy as an atheist – as if to give a dog a bad name and hang him – even though Roy was a born Hindu who believed in the freedom of speech and expression. “The Hindu community in Bangladesh, just like the Christians, is already under threat of Muslim extremists,” he said.
Bhatti credited the Hasina Wajed government for boldly facing the Islamist threat, for bringing the Islamist war criminals to justice and for maintaining the secular character of her nation and said it may not be very difficult to bring Roy’s killers to book as he was constantly under threat of the Islamists. Bhatti said the ISI role in Roy’s killing cannot be ruled out, as Pakistan has been in the forefront to defend Islamists in Bangladesh. Pakistan home minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan condemned Bangladesh for bringing the war criminals to justice, he recalled. These war criminals took part in the killing of millions of Bengalis, a big chunk of whom were Hindus. From Dhaka, senior Bangladesh journalist Saleem Samad said investigators blame Ansarullah Bangla Team, which has several offshoot groups, for killing Roy. An elite anti-terror unit, called RAB, has arrested Islamic extremist blogger Farabi Shafiur Rahman, who is a key suspect in the Avijit Roy murder case, Samad said. Samad, who is also a correspondent for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said Bangladesh had faced an Islamist threat ever since its birth in 1971. “The Muslim bigots who were with Jamaat-e-Islami and who had failed to protect the Islamic nation Pakistan, continued to conspire, sabotage Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujib‘s dream of a secular nation,” Samad said. He said the dreaded ISI has armed and funded militants in Northeast Indian states to destabilise India’s northern region. “ISI had always recruited Jihadis from Bangladesh to fight with Mujaheddin in Afghanistan. Later, ISI aided and abetted Al Qaeda media and international fund-raising wings to be transferred to Bangladesh in 2002,” he said.
Samad added in recent years that Bangladesh sleuths have busted sleeper cells of Al Qaeda and other Jihadis, who primarily operate in Kashmir, and other regions of India. Samad said the slain writer had thousands of sympathisers in Bangladesh and foreign countries–wherever there is a Bangladeshi community. Many in the East blame the Obama administration for the growth of global jihadi terror, but some liberal sections of US society who stand solidly with President Obama praise his handling of the Islamist challenge. Peter Bishop, Phd, a humanist philosopher associated with the Washington Ethical Society, who had worked hard for Obama’s election victory, said it was wrong to say Roy’s killing did not get Western attention. He said the overwhelming reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings was a little overboard and said “cooler heads” are beginning to be wary of blaming Muslims in general for this, and to try to figure out how to separate the Muslims who are terrorists from those who are not terrorists. “President Obama has been trying to organise this kind of effort worldwide with some success. Europe was hoping that they were being more successful in integrating Muslims into their societies even though France was obviously doing a poor job of this, as evidenced by their laws against wearing Muslim clothing,” Bishop said.
Commenting on the racial angle, Bishop said although many people who live and work in the United States but were born in India feel some of the racial prejudice felt by African Americans, “I believe that this prejudice is not as bad as it is for African Americans. Although Bangladesh is not India, I think Avijit Roy benefits from this goodwill towards people from India than towards African Americans. “Obama’s supporters might be thinking the American president is showing respect to the Muslim world by trying to be politically correct. However, some of his actions were seen to be too repugnant even by Americans. One such action was when Obama bowed to kiss the hand of the late Saudi monarch King Abdullah – the “Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines” and owner of oil wells – at the G20 summit in London in spring 2009. Unlike their US counterparts, liberals from South Asia have a poor view of Obama’s handling of the Islamist threat.
Canadian writer and broadcaster Tarek Fatah, who like Roy continues to receive threats from Islamists, shared Bhatti’s feelings that the killing of Roy did not invite as much outrage simply because of the victim’s skin colour. Tarek Fatah, who is a fierce critic of President Obama playing softball with global Islamists, in a column in the Toronto Sun called Obama’s three-day summit “Countering Violent Extremism” an insult to Muslim opponents of Islamic extremism. Obama had hosted the summit at the White House and deliberately left out Muslim critics of jihad. “It soon became evident the three-day summit was a theatre of the absurd. The very people who have preached Islamism and promoted Sharia in their sermons were invited to recommend how to undo the damage done by their teachings,” Fatah wrote in his Toronto Sun column. He added, “Imams from American mosques which practice gender-segregation and homophobia, representatives of Gulf Arab states who funded and promoted the ideology and the government of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and women sporting Muslim Brotherhood-mandated hijabs dotted the audience and speakers.” – Dailyo, 4 March 2015
» Ahmar Mustikhan is a journalist of long-standing from Balochistan, now residing in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. In his professional career, he has worked for leading newspaper groups in Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and the United States.