Yesterday, I wrote about the horrible attacks committed by Islamic fundamentalists, which once again struck the heart of France, and the civilised world along with her. Today I’d like to discuss other victims of religious fundamentalism. Because whilst terrorism is not (quite) a daily occurrence, state and mainstream fundamentalism are in some places.
Tonight I’m lucky to be able to grab my laptop and write whatever the hell crosses my mind without consequences. I might get the odd critical comment, particularly on such a controversial topic, but I don’t give a shit. I can deal with that. Not everyone is that lucky. So here are the stories of those for whom blogging really is a matter of life and death.
Raid Badawi (Saudi Arabia)
A liberal thinker who took an active part in his country’s political debates in the past decade, he was arrested as an enemy of the state during the Arab Spring in 2012. Mr Badawi ran a blog, Free Saudi Liberals, on which he wrote articles criticising the country’s religious establishment and championed freedom of speech. Bad combination.
Condemned to 10 years in prison and a ban from traveling and media appearances, he’s currently serving a punishment of 1000 lashes, which he’s been receiving publicly since January. His wife and children have left ‘our allies in Saudi Arabia’, exiled in Canada.
Avijit Roy (Bangladesh)
Last February, American activist and atheist blogger Avajit Roy was murdered in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. More precisely, he was hacked to death by two attackers armed with machetes, on the street in broad day light.
Born in Bangladesh before moving to the US, he was well known for his Bengali blog Mukto-Mona (free-mind), in which he was critical of organised religion, as well as government censorship and the imprisonment of fellow bloggers. The label which fatally stuck with him was that of blasphemer.
Ananta Bijoy Das (Bangladesh)
Another one from the brilliant Republic of Bangladesh…
Ananta was actually murdered in the same gruesome circumstances as Avijit Roy, as for the same reasons. After the death of Roy, Das was a regular writer and moderator for the Mukto-Mona website. He was an atheist also. His body was found in the northeastern city of Sylhet last May.
Note: all in all, 4 bloggers have been murdered in Bangladesh so far this year, all for expressing secular views. This is despite secularism being one of the 4 fundamental principles of the original Bangladeshi Constitution.
Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri (Bahrain)
What a name, and that’s coming from me! During the Arab Spring, Bahrain was condemned for its extensive use of online censorship and crack down on liberal webmasters. In April 2011, al-Ashiri, who ran a blog on human rights and culture, was arrested by authorities.
He was charged with promoting secularism (yep, that was the crime!) and inciting hatred against the government. Or as we call it here, criticism. He died only a week after his detention. According to official reports, he succumbed to illness. The numerous, fresh bruises found on his deceased body? Don’t worry about those, people were told.
Freedom of expression should be a right, but it’s not. In the world we live in, it really is a privilege. And its biggest threat today is religious fundamentalism. That threat comes both from the criminals themselves, and our own hysterical reactions to their extreme violence.
After last week’s events, we must cherish living in a society where free speech is the norm, and religious violence and intolerance the shocking headline. And more than ever, we should be willing to fight for this privilege. Be it from behind a laptop, with a satirical drawing or simply by staying out, continuing to enjoy life with a smile.