Last month the world was shocked by the ghastly pictures that went viral on the internet – pictures of blogger Abhijit Roy who was hacked to death in a busy street in Dhaka. It was soon followed by the murder of Washiqur Rahman, also a blogger. Both of these men were known for their views on religion – both proclaimed themselves to be atheists. The brutality of their murders stunned the entire world and has made Bangladesh the cynosure of all eyes, for entirely wrong reasons.

This editorial, however, is not about Bangladesh, nor about any other country where religious fundamentalism is raising its ugly head. It is about the cause itself – the intolerance for independent thoughts and views that concern religion. All across the world, and especially in countries that for centuries have lived peacefully with different religious communities, religious fundamentalism is on the rise. It is as if the world is going back to the middle ages where religious crusades were the chosen method of domination and expansion. The war torn Middle East is a living testimony to that. Israel, Palestine, Syria, Yemen are torn by war and destruction. Nigeria’s Boko Haram has killed innumerable civilians in the last five years and committed atrocious acts of barbarism, all in the name of religion. In countries like India, fundamentalism is also on the rise, with a substantial section of the population pandering to the populist proclamations of political & religious leaders. With neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan going the same way, the Indian subcontinent today is explosive, to say the least.

Why does religious fundamentalism strike such a chord in the most ordinary people? Why has it always been so easy to use religion as a trigger for intolerance and hatred? Why are different religions breeding extremists today who are prepared to kill in the name of religion? Why did they breed the warriors yesterday - the crusaders, the jihadists, the religious armies that destroyed in the name of religion? Is it because religion is part of our identity, something that is stamped in our brains from the day we are born? Is that the reason why it has always been so easy, for power hungry despots to use it for mobilizing ordinary people to their own selfish causes?

No religion ever teaches hatred, violence, intolerance – the religious leaders tell us. This is not true. The rules and the codes of conduct of each religion create, by definition, the concept of ‘them’ and ‘us’ – those who follow the rules and those who do not. Not only with respect to other religions, but also between those who practice and those who do not. Those who believe and those who don’t - not necessarily in the existence of a ‘God’, but the rules themselves. So boundaries are drawn, and often they are not even intentional. And we all know that defending boundaries are almost instinctive.

So what needs to be done? The answer is not easy, maybe there is no answer. We teach our children codes of conduct that we have learnt ourselves. We teach them what is right and wrong; we teach them how to live harmoniously in society. Aren’t our own value systems tinted by the religious community in which we are born? Is the code of conduct and honor universal? I don’t think so. So what is the alternative? Leave each child to define its own value system? That does not seem a plausible answer either. Ban all religions and religious practices? No, that would mean denying fundamental rights.

There is no easy, readymade solution. While I believe that at an individual level most people find the right balance as far as their religion is concerned, at a collective level it is just the opposite. In a world where all other ideologies have failed, religion remains the only vehicle for some sort of bonding between people. And the leaders and despots know that. Motivated by their own lusts, they will not hesitate to use it over and over again. We can only hope that the good sense of ordinary people will prevail.

I take this opportunity to thank all our contributors and readers of Songsoptok – we have completed our first year. All of you have made it possible. Let us continue to fight for what we believe as just and auspicious.



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