A new generation of Bangladeshis living in USA took stage to express their solidarity with Bangladeshi bloggers in New York City. Many civil rights issues, including freedom of expression in Bangladesh have been severely curtailed by means of killing, mutilating, threatening, kidnapping, etc. The event ‘Unslain Words: Solidarity for Bangladeshi Bloggers‘ was organized to protest against these trends and rise of religious fundamentalism there.
Four Bangladeshi bloggers were brutally killed this year in different parts of Bangladesh. Avijit Roy on February 26th, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu on March 30th, Ananta Bijoy Das on May 12th, and Niloy Neel on August 7th. Threat is still looming over more than 70 other Bangladeshi bloggers in Bangladesh, many of whom are in hiding. Bangladeshi bloggers living abroad are also threaten. Many have stopped writing out of fear, others continue, knowing that they do so at immense threat to their own lives. Those who have the means have fled the country. Others are desperately seeking an exit strategy. These successive killings and threats towards the writers have drawn a negative image of Bangladesh around the world again after Rana Plaza disaster in 2013.
Mindless killing of bloggers have brought wide condemnation everywhere. Many asked the Bangladeshi authority to provide security for the bloggers, urged to keep them safe, demanded justice. Bangladesh Government attested some perpetrators but also advised the bloggers to tone down their rhetoric against Islam. Bangladesh Police advised them not to cross the line or to leave the country or hide!
The reaction of Bangladeshi community living abroad varies. Some said it was bloggers who are at fault by disrespecting the religious value of Muslim people of Bangladesh through their writings. Others said the bloggers have the right to express their views in a civil democratic society without fear. Whatever the view, majority of Bangladeshi community in USA condemned the killing of bloggers. Religious fanatics committed hideous crimes. Some Bangladeshi organizations protested against the brutal killing. Some gave statements in local Bangla community newspapers.
Bangladeshi new generation living abroad, especially in USA, was perhaps not sure what to do and how to react to this kind of incident! Yet, a solidarity event was held in Brooklyn, New York on September 16th by some non-resident Bangladeshis in collaboration with PEN America, Roulette Intermedium and Center for Inquiry. They expressed their solidarity for Bangladeshi bloggers by words – by reading from their own literary works, from slain bloggers last writing and through live music.
A good number of audience attended the event and it was well presented. The event also provided opportunity for attendees to support Bangladeshi authors who are at risk. Fund collected are specifically earmarked for Bangladeshi authors in need of emergency help due to extreme threats and legal, medical, or security expenses.
Among the Bangladeshi participants, Abeer Yusria Hoque, a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer recalled her experience with religion in her family. As she was growing up, she remembered, her sister and classmates who were learning Islamic education was not happy with the system. With time she was losing her faith in Islamic teaching. Islam’s inheritance and witness law, Islam’s view on girl’s romantic relationship, imposing religion to mend behavior, etc. forced her to seek refuse in the verses of Sura Al Kafirun where it states “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.”
Aladdin Ullah, a comedian, playwright, and actor of Bangladeshi origin, recalled his struggle to fit into his parent’s Bangladeshi value versus his own American identity, his experience of visiting Bangladesh for the first time and find out a lot of cultural and religious practices that made no sense – secular Bangladesh turned into non-secular country, loud call for prayers, exploitation of children, throwing acid to women, color discrimination in American Club in Dhaka…etc. made him think is this why Bangladesh was born in 1971?
Farah Mehreen Ahmad, a Brooklyn-based Bangladeshi writer, researcher and translator, read about a short story in three parts about coercion, domestic violence, and rape.
Javed Jahangir, a writer, essayist and novelist, wondered about George Orwell’s answers to the question ‘Why I Write’, where Orwell told the readers that he writes because of sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. Javed finds new insights in Orwell’s reason for writing in political purpose. Political writing is an art form of highest purpose. The political purpose of writing may not always be appreciated but when needed, the writing can give a boost to overcome the apprehension to achieve something great.
Tanwi Nandini Islam, a writer, multimedia artist, and business entrepreneur, read a travelogue about visiting Bangladesh. She recalled her trip to Sylhet, its indigenous people, lush green, rock, river, flora and fauna etc. that contributed to her recently published book.
Anik Khan, a Brooklyn based Bangladeshi hip-hop singer, energized the audience with his great music.
Bangladesh’s culture of violence has been a constant problem in its development. Bangladeshi community living abroad, especially new and second generation of Bangladeshis can help to curb that culture by showing better alternatives. This event was one example. An important aspect of the event was that it was organized jointly with non-Bangladeshi organizations. This kind of endeavor could bring more attention to a wider audience about Bangladesh.
Hope the participating Bangladeshis will not stop there. They will continue writing about Bangladesh on blogs, newspapers, magazines, social medias, etc. Words, music, drama, painting, photo, video – all can be instruments for a powerful dialog to promote a civil society in Bangladesh from abroad.
Is it possible to organize such event by any Bangladeshi organization where the new generation of Bangladeshis will speak their minds freely!