Ten years ago this month Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion hit the world with force, its silvery cover inviting any who picked it up to see an image of a god creator peering back at the unwitting shopper. The thousands and thousands who read it in its first few weeks rode the first wave of the New Atheists and began a conversation that continues to sweep the planet.
For Raihan Abir, the movement started a few years earlier with the publication of the Bangla book, The Philosophy of Disbelief, in 2011. It was co-written by Raihan and his close friend Avijit Roy. Since then, much has changed. Raihan was forced to flee his homeland and now lives in Canada. He continues to lead Mukto-Mona, the secular humanist community in Bangladesh.
I asked Raihan, now a close friend, if he would write an article to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of Dawkins’ book. He did and I’m honoured to post it here as my first guest blog.
Ajoy Roy, father of murdered atheist writer Avijit Roy, a University professor and humanist, first started to translate The God Delusion in Bangla in 2009 knowing how important it was to deliver the book’s message of science and reason for a humanist, secular, rational society. The official Bangla translation of the book was later done by Kazi Mahboob Hassan. It was published in 2015 in the month long book fair in Dhaka celebrated each February by Bangladeshi intellectuals, writers, publishers, secular activists, and readers of all ages. The fair is organized to celebrate International Mother Language Day which remembers the contributions of Bangladeshi who died fighting for the rights of their countrymen to retain Bangla, their mother tongue, as the official language of then East Pakistan. sixty-three years before, on February 21, 1952.
The fight for a secular Bangladesh still continues. On the third week of the 2015 book fair, the Bangladesh government shut down the secular publication house Rodela for publishing a Bangla translation of a biography of the prophet Muhammad written by Iranian scholar Ali- Dashti. They argued that the publication hurt the feelings of Muslims. No wonder! Truth can be hurtful for those who trade in lies! At the same book fair, the Kazi Mahboob’s Bangla translation of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion was also published. Fortunately it went unnoticed by the Islamic extremists and government.
The day Rodela was shut down, Avijit Roy, the founder of Mukto-Mona and most famous Bangladeshi science and atheist author, arrived in Dhaka from Atlanta to attend the book fair. He was celebrating the publication of two of his own new books, one exploring the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and Argentinian writer and intellectual, Victoria Ocampo, and the other exploring the idea of the universe coming into existence from nothing. The latter was written together with late mathematician Mizan Rahman.
The first Bangla book inspired by The New Atheism movement was a collaboration between Avijit and me originally published in 2011. The Philosophy of Disbelief was scheduled to be released in an updated third edition in 2015 by Jagriti publishers. In the book, we argued that God, as defined by the major religions in the world, if examined logically and scientifically, could never exist. We showed that although religion naturally emerged as a result of our journey to find answers about our existence, as we developed rational and scientific methods to inquire about the universe and life within it, we exhausted its role. Our editor, Ananta Bijoy Das captured our motivation in writing the book. His comment on the inside cover reads,
The Philosophy of Disbelief written by Avijit Roy and Raihan Abir is a must read for Bengali speaking skeptics, agnostics, atheists, humanists and for all free thinkers. Filled with modern scientific discoveries and data, this book shows the hope of building a secular, humane Bangladesh free from blind faith, superstition, man made class, race and division.”
That February, I was with Avijit and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, at the book fair. Whenever he ran into someone he knew, he would greet them with delight and buy them a secular book. Almost every time he did so, Avijit’s choice was the Bangla translation of The God Delusion. I still remember taking him to that stall over and again from every corner of the fair.
But Avijit wasn’t able to take his Bangla copy of Dawkins’ book home. He and his wife, Bonya, were attacked from behind on 26th February by machete wielding Al-Queda assassins. He was murdered on the street and and Bonya was wounded. Bangladesh brutally lost one of its brightest minds. Since then the killing of secular writers, bloggers, and those who make their works available has become fashionable in Bangladesh; both our editor, Ananta Bijoy Das, and our publisher, Faisal Arefin Dipon, have been murdered in equally brutal attacks.
In Bangladesh, the government will prosecute you if your writing seems un-Islamic. But if they fail to catch you to put you in prison, you risk being tracked down, hunted, and killed by terrorists. You can only write about freedom of expression in Bangladesh if you are willing to give away all your freedom.
Muslim Umma – the Muslim community – once contributed much to science, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. This was possible because of the flow of knowledge into Arabic from other civilizations and cultures. Now the dominate Sunni-Wahabi segments of the Muslim Umma refuse knowledge from anything other than one book. They have became ignorant, blinded by dogmatic faith & ideology. Their contribution to modern society is dominated by violence, death, and destruction.
It is, therefore, very important that those of us who live or have lived in a part of world where religion continues to dominate private and public life and society and where government bans or limits the transfer of knowledge, must keep translating books like The God Delusion and keep promoting the idea of The New Atheism by writing new books in our native language. We must do so in order that people are exposed to important and provocative ideas, learn to think independently, and ask questions, especially about religious “truths”. Once people are freed of the virus of faith, they can contribute more toward our real, earthly challenges: creating peace, inclusion, freedom, and the urgent work of building a human, secular world for our next generation.
It is my great pleasure to thank Richard Dawkins for his time and willingness to write The God Delusion. I congratulate him on a decade of promoting the light of science and reason through this book. I personally want to tell him, it changed my life and although it has cost me much-loved friends and my homeland, it has enlightened millions just in Bangladesh because The New Atheism works!