Upon Mukto-Mona’s receiving of Jahanara Imam Memorial Award 2007
Does Recognition Matter for a Good Cause?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead, American anthropologist
How important is an award or recognition to an individual or a group that believes and promotes the ideals of secular humanism, science, reason and human rights? Taking a careful look at history, we know most pivotal thinkers didn’t do what they did for the temptation of any recognition or reward; recognition mostly came along the way, sometimes when they were alive and often long after they were dead. Let’s take the example of Socrates: almost 2500 years ago he announced, “I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world.” Did he say it with the hope of any award? No; indeed it was risky at that time to make such utterances. Socrates, however, didn’t stop believing and spreading the cause of reason, courage and honesty. And that’s why we are remembering him even today (our act of remembering him is at most a post humus honor, not an accolade though). Yet it’s hard to deny recognition is a natural desire of human mind. It makes us distinct in the eyes of others, we feel special and therefore, happy. For much similar reasons, I felt elated when I heard Mukto-Mona has been awarded Jahanara Imam Memorial Medal 2007. In addition to the joy for getting recognized for the first time officially through a national award, I felt especially proud to think the award carries the name of a woman who is known as the Martyrs’ Mother (Shaheed Jononi) among the people of Bangladesh. This is a woman who reminded an otherwise forgetful nation about one of its most crucial yet incomplete jobs: the trial of the criminals and collaborators of the gruesome genocide that took place during liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. Jahanara Imama, however, was not just an idle preacher. Despite having suffered from malignant throat cancer, she continued to mobilize the mass and unite all pro-secular and progressive political parties to force the ruling party to initiate the trial of the war criminals. Until her death in 1994, Jahanara Imam firmly believed unless and until we brought ’71 war criminals and collaborators to justice, our dream of a secular and progressive Bangladesh would always remain a difficult job. Rise of political Islam and its militant gurus such as Bangla Bhai gang in Bangladesh during recent years has proved how true Jahanara Imam was!
Speaking one’s mind without a fear or favor had been always a risky endeavor in human history. In ancient Greece, Socrates was poisoned to death for promoting free thinking; Bruno was burned alive, Copernicus was persecuted and Galileo suffered solitary confinement in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. Not so long ago, thousands of women were burned alive at stake in Europe through what is known as witch-hunt. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" was the declared verdict of Christian Church authority in punishing women. Despite all these examples, it’s not difficult to understand why promoting free thinking in Islamic society poses much more risks today that it does in a non-Islamic society. That’s because regardless of its parochial and backward past, Christianity has undergone social and democratic reformation, especially separation of state and church has killed the virulent components of orthodoxy in Christianity. More or less is true with all other religions except Islam. At least we don’t see a counter version of fatwa issuing death sentence as Mullahs did to Taslima Nasrin, Humayun Azad, Ahmed Shariff, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie—to mention just a few example of the victims of Islamic Sharia law.
Therefore, presence of an organization aimed at propagating secularism, reason and science in today’s Muslim society is an urgent need despite all the risks. This was one of the core missions that brought together a few like-minded individuals of Bangladeshi origin under a single platform and Mukto-Mona was born. Prior to Mukto-Mona, News from Bangladesh (NFB) was the only online venue for those handful freethinkers, agnostics and rationalists of Bangladeshi & Bangalee origin. It was 2000; after months of debate, discussion, at last Avijit Roy—one of the most vocal critics on the net against religious superstition and doctrine—took the final initiative and Mukto-Mona was born. In years that followed, Mukto-Mona team was enriched by the contributions of today’s active freethinkers such as Bonna Ahmed (author, ”Bibortoner Hat Dhore”), Mehul Kamdar (former assistant editor, the Modern Rationalist, India), Farid Ahmed, Tanbira Talukdar and Ananta (a spirited freethinker in his early 20s only; editor, Yukti).
With merely 30 members Mukto-Mona declared its presence on the net; now it’s not just the number of its members that makes Mukto-Mona distinct; it’s, rather, in other words, Mukto-Mona’s commitment to the motto: actions speak louder than the words. Assuming many readers are already aware of Mukto-Mona’s existence beyond just cyber discussion, I am refraining here from listing out details about works that we have so far done in areas such as secularism, human rights, creating and encouraging awareness about critical and scientific outlook among the South Asian youths—especially those of Bangladesh origin. Interested readers may wish to read details of our offline activities in our website (www.mukto-mona.com). Despite generous praise of many of our activities, we like to think we have yet to achieve what we targeted: paving the way for a secular, progressive and democratic atmosphere in South Asian countries. We hope to extend our network in every South Asian country someday. We know our path is not free from obstacles and challenges; yet we shall not falter from our dreams for if we take history as a source of lesson, people of reason and good will never ceased to exist in the face of odds. And as their successors, never shall we!
More often than not, radical Islamists react to Mukto-Mona in a language which, when compared, we find strikingly similar to the language in which radical Hindus curse us: “Anti-Muslim,” “Pro-Christian,” “Pro-Hindu,” “Pro-India” are some of the terms which Jihadi and political Islamists use against Mukto-Mona while Hindu fanatics often accuse Mukto-Mona of being “anti-Hindu,” “anti-India,” “sympathetic to Jihadi Muslims” etc. Interestingly, reactionary minds on both sides think Mukto-Mona is a “paid agent.” We, however, take prefixes such as “pro” and “anti” slightly different way: we are “pro” of course, if it means a stand for humanity and “anti” for sure, of anything and everything that hinders the sense of reason, compassion and science in people’s mind. Thanks to the fanatics at least for partial understanding of these terms!
In addition to having had a very dedicated team of moderators, advisors, it’s often the presence and encouragement of like-minded readers and writers from all around the world that is the real driving force behind Mukto-Mona. People of good sense and will—however small or big in number—always existed in the history. Mukto-Mona set off its mission with this belief in mind. And Mukto-Mona shall continue to thrive on this very belief—again and again.
I congratulate all our readers, well wishers, advisors, all my co-moderators and founding moderator Avijit Roy upon this gracious occasion. Long live Mukto-Mona and its missions!
About the author: Jahed Ahmed is the co-moderator and editorial board member of Mukto-Mona (www.mukto-mona.com), a network of freethinkers and humanists from South Asian countries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org