Today is the first birthday of Avijit Roy that we commemorate without him. His life was taken by Islamic terrorists earlier this year, when he was in Bangladesh to attend the Ekushey Book Fair. Avijit was a prolific and accomplished author, a fierce defender of human rights, and dedicated much of his life to the promotion of freethinking, humanism, and rationalism.
Last month, the United States Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states of the Union, and the District of Columbia, adding the United States to the list of nearly two dozen countries, mostly in Europe and the Americas, that recognize marriage between a man and a man, and between a woman and a woman. The decision, which is nothing short of historic, made waves around the globe, including in Bangladesh, and is a cause for celebration for everybody who believes in equal human dignity.
How many Bengalis do you know who do not like shorshe ilish? Can you imagine a Bengali wedding without kacchi biryani, or beef rezala? If I had to guess, I would say that your answers are "not many," and "hardly." Even though my knowledge of Bengal is rather limited, I think this I know: Bengalis love meat, Muslims probably a bit more so than Hindus, and virtually every Bengali loves fish. One might think that makes lecturing about animal rights in Bangladesh a quixotic exercise. I found that the opposite is the case.
Two years ago, more than 1,100 people lost their lives in the rubble of Rana Plaza. The tragedy made headlines around the globe, and fundraising committees were formed both in Bangladesh and abroad immediately after the building had collapsed. Horrified by the pictures on social media, in the newspapers and on TV, people from all walks of life spontaneously decided to help. People with no personal relation to those affected by the tragedy, total strangers donated money, medical supplies, and blood, physically participated in the rescue efforts, and took to the streets to protest against a politico-economic system that continues to put the lives of workers in Bangladesh at risk.
For better or for worse, people think in boxes. They have boxes for things, and they have boxes for people: Bengali, westerner, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, Asian, White, Black… Curiously, one pair of boxes seems to play a particularly important role in people's lives: Think about it... What was the first-ever question that anybody has asked about you? Likely, the answer is: "Is it a boy or a girl?" And, likely, that question was asked before you were even born. But does it really matter whether you are a man or a woman? And should it matter?
The right to express one's opinion freely is maybe the most important democratic right, and it is currently under assault in Bangladesh. Hifazat-e-Islam demands the introduction of strict blasphemy laws, and the government, instead of defending freedom, resorts to an ill-advised and imprudent appeasement strategy that hinders the press in its duty to inform the public, threatens the futures of young bloggers who were, and continue to be, arrested, and puts in peril the future of the democracy of the country.
It was Shahana's first trip abroad. Shahana was a 10th-grader at an English medium school in Dhaka, and she was part of a student exchange program that had been jointly established by her school and a partner school in New York City. Every summer, a student from her school is selected and sent to the United States to spend four weeks with the family of a student at their partner school. In return, an American student then spends four weeks in Bangladesh in the following winter.
If Mr. Mollah committed the crimes he was convicted for, and if anyone deserves to die, he does. It is hence not surprising that the death penalty is on everybody's lips in Bangladesh these days. However, we do not wish to comment on the case of Mr. Mollah, as we would hardly be in a position to do so. We leave this case to others more familiar with it and more competent than us. Instead, we will offer some thoughts on capital punishment in general, drawing from the debate about killing criminals in our respective home countries – South Africa and Germany.
Babu and Arif have been friends from childhood. They went to school together, played on the same cricket team and had no secrets – except one, but only until recently. While they were out having phuchkas at a street stand somewhere in Dhaka, Arif suddenly slipped into an awkward silence for a couple of seconds.
"Babu, shon, toke amarkichubolar ache… Listen, I want to tell you something…"
"What is it, dosto?"
"I haven't been fully honest with you… Remember when I told you that I really like that girl? That wasn't quite true. It's actually her brother I like. I am gay."
The 14-minute trailer of the movie titled "Innocence of Muslims," a movie that may or may not exist, is poorly made and outright stupid. Anyone of even modest intelligence, Muslim or not, will find it painful to watch. The trailer, produced by Egyptian-born U.S. resident Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was initially uploaded to YouTube in July 2012. From that time until September it got the attention it deserves: none. Then, on September 8, Egyptian television host Khaled Abdallah reported on the film and showed excerpts of an Arabic version of the trailer. We all know what happened next.