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Humanists in danger

Watch humanist Bonya Ahmed describe how she and her husband Avajit Roy were attacked for their beliefs
My husband Avijit Roy and I, we were both bloggers, writers, you know, that was our, you can say ‘evening job’. You know, he founded the first online platform - this was the pre-blog era in 2001 - for the humanists, atheists, free thinkers, which was quite unusual for that time. We were in Bangladesh for a book signing trip during the 2015 annual Book Fair. It’s a month long annual Book Fair to celebrate the International Mother Language Day. And Avijit had two of his books published during that fair.
So Avijit has written eight books, edited a couple; I have written a book on evolution and Avijit wrote on various topics ranging from, you know, from physics to how the universe was formed, to the scientific and social basis of homosexuality. We were coming out of the book fair, going to our car, which was like a quarter-mile away, even not that, and we were targeted by three militants, three young guys, in the middle of the street, in front of hundreds and hundreds of people. And I do not have any memory of the attack. I remember 30 seconds before what happened - we were holding hands and walking towards the car, but I don’t remember anything about the attack.
So what I have pieced together from all the pictures, online pictures, or talking to other people later on, is that Avijit was stabbed and bleeding and laying on the street. And I lost consciousness because he was stabbed multiple times, bleeding to death and my hand, my thumb was sliced off and I had like four six to seven inches machete stabs on my head, one on the back. And I lost consciousness and fell on a motorbike. The second thing I remember is that I’m sitting on a stretcher.
I had white band-aids of my on my thumbs, on my hands, all over my head and my shoulder and I sat up, saw Avijit on a stretcher, like a few feet away from me, and he was making a sound, some kind of a sound. I realised that, you know, most probably I will live, I’m doing better than him and I was repeating, I was just pleading for help for him. And he was taken inside the operation theatre and I guess that’s where he died.
So right after the attack on us, the militants, Islamic militants, vowed to kill one atheist blogger a month. And, you know, I have talked about this in the past, you know, these were all of our dear friends. And that went on for four months, four-five months and four of the bloggers were killed and the government - it just looked like the Bangladeshi government didn’t want to address this issue. They were scared that if they talked or supported, you know, the atheists or give them any support - just the basic support to live as a citizen, they would compromise their vote bank.
So they stayed completely quiet and finally when the government spoke out - they were actually forced to speak out - they said, yeah, they blame these killings, but at the same time, these bloggers actually brought it onto themselves by speaking against religion. And if they didn’t do that, this wouldn’t have happened to them. So, you know, we were pretty much blamed for our own deaths.
Humanism was actually the basis of my recovery. I know there is a common belief that there is no atheist in the foxhole, that if you are not even that big of a believer, you kind of take shelter in religion during the time of trauma or loss, you know, but it was exactly the opposite for me.
I have two choices at this point: either I can just fall into depression, hide in a dark closet, or I can live again, because we create our own meaning in this world. There is nothing - this is it, you know. We have got one life and I have been lucky to choose how I want to live this life. So, you know, these were kind of the things that I thought, I think, because of my humanistic worldview, which helped me greatly to recover from this trauma.
I have no excuse not to live again, not only living, you know, creating a meaningful life for myself, for whatever the time I have left here. It almost felt like I’ve got a bonus time. I almost died and, you know, if Avijit were alive, he would have said the same thing. He would have. He gave his life for his passion. So I left my corporate job at that time and decided that, you know, just getting a paycheck for a living didn’t make sense anymore. I quit my job four or five months after the attack, and decided to do what I’m passionate about. I started working with all the displaced bloggers and writers in Bangladesh.
I started working, helping, for them, because I thought, you know, I have a voice. I have this international platform, where I can actually go to these humanist organisations and request them to help. And also I thought, you know, I will feel better if I start, if I keep writing about the things I am passionate about, you know, about science, about the political and religious - the relationship between religion and politics in our present time. So that’s what I started doing right after, you know, that attack, and this is what I have been working on since.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She wrote for Mukto-Mona, the first online blogging platform for Bengali-speaking freethinkers, atheists, and humanists, founded by her husband Avajit Roy. In 2007 she wrote Bibortoner Path Dhore (Along the Evolutionary Path). Today she works with humanist organisations around the world to raise awareness about the attacks on secular Bangladeshi writers by Islamic fundamentalists.

Question: How important is it that states support individuals’ freedom of religion and the freedom to be non-religious?

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