The recent slaughtering of secular bloggers in Bangladesh by the radical extremists who claims the killings are the way of Islam and the government's response to it has raised some serious questions about our democracy, freedom, security and the power of political Islam in our democratic politics. How free are we to say what we think and what we believe? How free are we to hear the views of others, of those who challenge widely held beliefs or dare to criticise the powerful? As a citizen of a democratic nation are we free to disagree with another person's opinion and to express that disagreement in a democratic manner? Are we free to mock or to satire in drawings or in writings?
Freedom of speech is probably the most essential element of a democratic society which lies the foundation of a functional democracy. It is one of the basic requirement for a nation to progress under democratic system. It allows the citizens to control their elected officials and those who are in the responsible offices through communication networks like mass media and social networks. The major international human rights legislations recognised freedom of speech as one of the basic of modern human civilisation. It is the element that inspires the citizens of a democratic society to get involved. It defines whether a society is democratic or not. It indicates how civilised the society is and how much they have evolved as a modern democratic society.
It is expected from a democratic government like ours to stand up for the freedom of its citizens - an insurance to write what they want and the freedom of every citizen to support or disagree with what they write. An intellectual society must continue to express what they believe through writings, debates and publications. A democratic government must not censor the freedom of its citizens. In long term, censorship could result in intellectual disability for the entire nation. All the governments of the great functional democracies in the world has one thing in common- they insures the freedom of debate, the proposition and contest of ideas, both good and bad, from all and by all. Our government must realise, for the future prosperity of our nation and for us to evolve as a modern democratic society it is absolutely important to ensure right for every citizen to express their ideas and their opinions freely.
The on going attacks on the secular bloggers are just not disgusting and despicable it is also an assault on our democracy, on our freedom, and on the forging ideals of Bengoli nation in 1971. What shocks me most is the governments response to it. Instead of cracking down on terrorism the government put more pressure on the victims and by doing so the government actually limiting our freedom to speak, to think and to express. The government has not only imprisoned and tortured the bloggers, it has also shut downed the blog sites, blocked websites and jammed satellite signals. To impose further censorship on freedom of speech the government amended ICT act just after the brutal killing of blogger Ahmed Razib Haider. As a keen observer of Bangladeshi blog movement, I clearly know that the bloggers are more afraid of ICT act than the terrorists. It is hard to believe that in a modern democratic state a person could be imprisoned for years, arrested without a warrant and deprived from seeking a bail just because he or she had published an article in electronic form.
As the role-call of death of the bloggers continues, the government and our mainstream political parties have much to do - to ensure freedom and security of the society. If they continue responding to the terrorists by censoring the freedom on which our nation was forged, they will be playing into the murderer's hands. The political parties should not answer to the religious groups. It is not expected from the government to restrict publication of a newspaper or a blog site because of the demand of the extremist religious groups. The government should just simply stand up for the core democratic principles such as freedom of speech. Neither the government nor any political party should give the terrorists the legitimacy they seek. These fanatics are not religious authority they are simply just terrorists. Bangladesh has ninety percent of Muslim population and fundamentally Bangladeshi Muslims are progressive and tolerant. These religious terrorists are just the cancer of the society and the Bangladeshi society is intelligent enough to understand that their radical interpretation of Islamic texts is actually causing harm to Islam and Muslim people.
The bloggers are not the first one to have suffered for publishing their thoughts in Bangladesh. Nations top intellectuals like shamsur Rahman, humayun Azad has also suffered because some radicals accused them of blasphemy just because they have published writings what they thought are right. As we face the evil forces of terror, we must summon up the courage to speak freely for the ideals we believe and to safeguard the right to express what we believe. We must not only stand for our own beliefs, we must also recognise and respect the fact that others have the same right. Right now it seems our democracy is in life support. Though our leaders are elected by the voters but it seems our only role in democracy is to support a particular political party. We may some time allowed to criticise the elected officials or report on corruptions but we are not allowed to think differently or express our daredevil thoughts. This Zombie state of democracy is not what we have fought for. As a democratic society we deserve better and certainly we can do better. Time has come for us to think carefully for the long term prospect of our nation and provide much needed Oxygen for our fragile democracy.
Nur E Emroz Alam Tonoy