- Mainul Hosein :
In the circumstances Dr Zafar Iqbal was attacked we cannot be sure about the motive behind the unfortunate incident. But he is known as a free thinker and needed special police protection from the government for threats on his life issued allegedly by religious groups. Some of such free thinkers lost their lives to also allegedly in the hands of religious fanatics, for their anti-Islam views.
I am prompted by the recent disturbing incident to try to understand and analyse why the free thinkers should not be welcome by us and why should they target Islam. As reasonable persons and free thinkers they should understand our people and their problems better than many of us. Dr Zafar Iqbal as an individual is not the subject matter of considerations of this article. But I have to admit that I have high expectations from knowledgeable persons and dedicated individuals like Dr Zafar Iqbal at a time when the people are groping hopelessly without knowing who to turn to for finding the assurances of hopes.
We generally understand the reaction from oversensitive sections of Muslims and certainly we do not approve of extremism to be met by extremism. But it is puzzling why the free thinkers, as they called themselves, should, as a matter of priority come into clash with Islam in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
There are so many important issues bedeviling our life and liberty for the free thinkers to worry about and give us a sense of their involvement. In our public life something is seriously disturbing because fear of life and insecurity dominates and free discussion on public grievances is not risk-free. We have persons in civilian clothes roaming to pick anybody saying they are police. If they are police why they should not be in uniform? They are active openly, but the government has no answer. If this is not lawlessness no-government situation, then what it is?
The free thinkers define themselves as persons who think freely and form opinion on the basis of reasoned thinking
independently. They reject dogma and sceptical about religion. In such a view of the matter it should be easier for a free thinker not to hurt other people for their personal thoughts and beliefs. Unless of course such beliefs and actions are immediate impediments to social progress. If so the free thinkers should be fighters for the greater good of greater number. This attitude of reasonable people should be against all wrongs, not only religious ones.
If the free thinkers claim their free thinking as a right then they must also agree that all rights have limits. So no social being can claim to be a free thinker for derogating other people's rights. No right can exist in absolute sense. According to an American scholar Mary Ann Glendon such conception is an illusion of absoluteness. She may not be a great scholar but it makes sense if one has to live in peace along with others. Every free thinker should welcome multiplicity of thoughts and freedoms.
There is no justification for disagreeing that religion is a matter of faith and speaks of divine knowledge. One either believes or does not believe. I cannot see how a reasoned research is called for on matters of faith, more particularly, by non-believers.
Once when religion used to be very dogmatic and claimed sweeping power not only over an individual but entire society, then conflict with religion was unavoidable and inevitable. But can we say even the extremists among Muslims are in any way hindering our progress? Unless one's religion is hurt and incite them, they are no obstacles to modern secular life under democratic institutions. Under our Constitution we are a secular country and the rightist Islamists have no objections to that.
Our Muslims are a good example as secular Muslims. They have no quarrel with non-believers. They may rightly ask what business the non-believers have to insinuate their religion and hurt their deepest feelings?
To the serious thinkers, free or unfree, I would emphasise that our obstacle for peace and progress is not our religion. It is the exploitative and monopolistic greed for power and wealth that has made people suffer injustices and live in fear. The favoured ones enjoying police protection. The independence we have achieved at an immense price is proving hollow for the indifference of the thoughtful ones who could have made a difference.
Our country looks a barren place for intellectual debate. Free thinkers are surely not so blind as not to see how carelessly the educated ones (not free thinkers) are ridiculed as job seekers and power seekers just because those in power must remain so.
The country appears to be under a class rule where democracy and democratic tolerance are fast disappearing. The spirit of the liberation war to them is their mystical right as freedom fighters to rule the country the way they like. Those millions who refused to flee the country and made supreme sacrifices but did not surrender to the occupation by Pakistan army have not been honoured except mentioning as a figure.
Those who are politically leftists cannot honestly be free thinkers. They are politically motivated. We do not hear voices loud enough to know what the free thinkers of our country think of such important issues like independence of the country or freedom of the people.
Intolerance to religion is leftist politics under Godless system of Socialism. In Communist ideology no free thinking is tolerated. So if anybody wants to preach leftist politics, he is free to do so honestly and openly. Free thinking should not be an act of deception for leftist politics.
Nobody can call himself a free thinker without being a supporter of free speech. In our situation free speech is hazardous to say the least. It is the bloggers who insult our people's religious sentiment but they are being provided with special police protection for their free thinking. The free thinkers find no contradiction in enjoying such treatment in the midst of denial of free speech.
The fundamentalist leftists in an emerging democracy use the slogan of free thinking to provoke religious extremism for creating social unrest in the hope of justifying authoritarianism. The end game is to help the government concentrate absolute power.
We should be extremely cautious about those who foment religious extremism in the name of free thinking in the knowledge how dangerous the design is. We have only to recall the blood river that flowed in Indonesia in an uprising of Communism during Sukarno era.
The leftists are extremists like religious extremists. Both are equally dangerous for enlightenment and social tolerance. Like the religious extremists the leftist extremists are for cruel regimentation. We do not want to be free thinker to lose freedom and free debate. Enlightenment does not come without free debate.
In Bangladesh the bloggers who have been found spreading spite against Islam in one form or the other are all leftist non-believers. No Islamist attacked any one for being a non-believer. They also accept that religion is a matter of personal choice. As long as no disrespect is shown to our religion, the religious fanatics can be relied on for their religious virtues of peace and tolerance.
Our free thinkers cannot see that our country is being sucked into a black hole of darkness. We do not hear brave voices loud enough in defence of the people's secular right to free and fair election for choosing government of their own. It cannot be reasonable that good governance is nobody's business but corruption is tolerated everywhere. What is not exposed is both the government and the people are in the trap of thieves and sycophants. Surely these are secular issues and free thinkers should be seen in the forefront to make this country a secular democratic country.
The perception is that no blogger of our country criticises any other religion but Islam. The main unhappiness of the general public is that the bloggers follow the Western pattern of vilifying Islam to be one of them. Surely this is not selfless free thinking of their own.
We want our free thinkers to be our free thinkers for our fight to make Bangladesh a secular democratic country because democracy guarantees secularism.
Surely as free thinkers of reason they do not want to see others gagged.