Arifur Rahman is a Bangladeshi British Secular Humanist Blogger. Here we explore his own views on Bangladesh and humanistic values.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the state of humanistic values in Bangladesh?
Arifur Rahman: I would say dying, because for humanistic values to flourish you would have to accept first that every person is a human being. Humanity isn’t the top, unfortunately, in Bangladesh.
Islam is the dominant religion. Islam itself in its ideology talks about humans, but it doesn’t accept anyone else other than Islamic belief to be somebody they would accept as human.
They do not absolutely understand or want to understand or want to accept the United Nations understanding of humanity or humanism. Nor would they want to accept any other religion, or absence of religion, as something that they would want to live with.
It an aggressive expanding philosophy, or should I say a system, that takes up violence to enforce its own beliefs on others.
So, I would say in Bangladesh – because Bangladesh is a very bad example of how a religion can destroy the social fabric and remodel it based on its own understanding, which is what we saw in Saudi Arabia – humanity-wise, humanism wise, is in the worst condition and Bangladesh is not fair.
Obviously, Bangladesh, we don’t behead people on the public, but all other conditions and indicators are almost the same.
Jacobsen: Also, with respect to the way the dominant faith and its representative, I suspect a similar trend as in Canada. It’s a sense of – metaphorically speaking – walking around as if you own the place. Is it similar in Bangladesh but to a greater degree given a greater number of religious people and level of religiosity?
Rahman: Yes, absolutely, I mean talking about owning the place; I was telling you earlier that the religiosity does not limit itself within only religious preachers and the followers.
It expands to the whole society and all the power players as in people with a placing in power, for example, the political leaders, the business owners who have money to spend on causes that are of a religious nature.
They usually call the shots. That means anybody or everybody who does not fall in line are subject to some correcting.
If you say that you want basic human rights of people who are nonreligious, you would then be targeted for multi-magnitudes of violence or even if it is not physical violence then some ‘persuading’ would take place.
We saw in 2015 in Bangladesh. Many colleagues of a secular nature, of an atheistic bent, where they were slaughtered in the broad daylight.
After every murder, without fail, Bangladeshi representatives would come in and say in public meetings and in press conferences that the blogger should not cross any lines, cross any limit.
The limits are set by the religious fundamentalists and the government is ensuring that bloggers are told not to cross that line and when that happens the rest of the blogging community, the rest of the people who may have some hope of keeping these secular, or keeping these humanistic. Values, they fall inside.
They get afraid and that’s how the system wins, by implanting fears inside people’s mind.
Jacobsen: Is this the main tool of religious fundamentalist in general?
Rahman: Well, fear is the first level. Fear means when you slit somebody’s throat in public, broad daylight. That is the beginning. That’s the shock and then you have a massive campaign or public relation and media that follow it.
It puppets things constantly. It repeats these same things that there must be a reason why they were murdered, and “look what they were saying about our Prophet” and they curse relentlessly against those people who are murdered.
Not because they were murdered, but because they say things that are unacceptable in their view.
It doesn’t matter if that person was a human being and who is murdered that should have been taken seriously and should have all the protection of a civil state – at least that it can provide to a citizen, but everybody joins in the bandwagon by destroying that person’s images and life.
What he used to stand for, he ends up solely being somebody who cursed against Allah and that should be brought to justify the murder and the victim blaming gets underway. So, it’s a multi-tentacled thing.
I mean government passed a blasphemy law that says if you are seen or known to have said things that are of a blasphemous nature, then you will be arrested without the possibility of a bail. If you are prosecuted, you will go to jail for 14 years.
Can you imagine a 14-year period in jail for writing a few lines on the internet? That is one of the other tools, but the fear is the one that is dominating and dictates everything.
Jacobsen: If you had to point to the reason for the attempts of domination that people minds through religious indoctrination, what would it be?
Rahman: I have some theories about that. I mean, especially for Bangladesh, there are some theories that are global. We could talk in lengths about it. My theory of why religion is so prevalent is because the purpose of Bangladesh in a global community is to provide cheap labor.
That’s the sole design of Bangladesh in the past 40 years or so. It is to supply cheap labor. The major consumer of that cheap labor was the Middle East mostly. All the big cities you see in the Middle East nowadays are built by blood and sweat of Bangladeshi unskilled laborers.
So, the cheap labor of unskilled labors. There are no statistics. But if Bangladesh did not supply the labor, the construction cost of those skyscrapers would go very high. The only reason you can bring in people from a different country is only when those people have no prospect in that country.
The only way it can happen is when they don’t have enough education. They don’t have enough jobs. Only then they would come to a different country and almost give their life when working at very high altitudes and in scorching heat; there are no human rights for those workers.
There are no labor rights for those who die there. So inside Bangladesh, that is one major reason for religious cities to produce in the millions. People who have very little understanding of their own human rights and of their own wish for a good life, and then when they are told that there is a slightly better life elsewhere then they follow.
They follow that voice and then they go and literally waste their life, give their life in building other countries’ prospects. That is the male citizens, the females; however, there are two. The first one is the female who lives in Bangladesh and works in garments manufacturing.
I don’t know if you are aware Bangladesh is one of the biggest suppliers of manufactured apparel, you know clothing to the rest of the world. The whole country is a big sewing factory.
The workers also have very little prospects, very little education, very little skill sets because you can become a sewing operator within days of training without any literature or any proper training.
You don’t even have to know how to read or write. That’s why Bangladesh has become this way. Then this dark alley of this whole story is that there is a section of female workers who go to the Middle East to work as a domestic worker, but they ended up being sex slaves.
We know about that. However, Bangladesh, it has got no other identity and no other interest to flourish and nurture its own people because it’s primarily dominated by the mullahs.
Who don’t give anybody any education, give some education, the point is to make people literate but not educated.
Even then, their mind and head are full of thoughts and hopes and dreams for the afterlife, talks about the afterlife, but nothing to do with this real beautiful world. So, it’s a sad business. They got murder and fear and prosecution and more murders, more fear from everybody.
Jacobsen: What do you think is the most difficult truth for the nonreligious to come to grips with in their own lives?
Rahman: For me, I can talk about my personal life. It is that you will have no social life other than with you and your fellows.
The people, the society around you will abandon you if they know you are an atheist or if you voice too much, even the other day my father-in-law called my father who is also not an atheist.
He said that your son (me) says things that makes me ashamed. He said this in front of my father. This happens to every atheist, regardless. They can be so many things but if you are, the moment you fall out from the definition of a good Muslim, you become subject to that definition. The definition of degradation for you.
Jacobsen: Similar situation here, the history of Canada started pretty much with the colony of New France on the far East of the continent. It had slaves. 2/3rds were Indigenous.
It was to bring Christian European culture to them by force, psychologically or physically – and if not murder, if they didn’t convert – and that’s been with us since the beginning.
Similarly, not necessarily as violence, but a form of social violence – they could call it, that is that type of isolation that people would experience if they don’t convert to the dominant faith in general.
I don’t think it is as severe as what you are describing in Bangladesh or with the familial ties in Bangladesh. However, that is a definite trend, because so many things are taken for granted all the way.
But it’s also legal with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, which describes in the Preamble – arguably the most important part, that can set a tone across the country for the long haul – the belief in a “supremacy of a god.”
Rahman: Yeah, I mean even trying to get rid of them; unless, it already been done.
Jacobsen: It has not been done. There is work. There is work for a single education system.
Rahman: I would say those are cosmetic wins; not being cynical, I am not in any position to criticize anybody.
Image Credit: BBC News/Arifur Rahman.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.