Receiving death threats is not a new one on me. In early 1990s when I first took to writing as a columnist, I received many letters of complaints and threats from across the country written by unidentified persons. The letter-writers were many, but their message was one and the same - I am not a writer of choice for them; what I do in the name of writing smacks of profanities and do not spare the feelings of readers. I never understood what they really meant by 'sparing readers' feelings, but I could realise that their interests would always go against the true spirit of our independence, democracy and secularism. Besides, what we call good writing has never been done in consultation with readers. So, I paid no heed to their advice. But they are not ones to give in. They and the likes of them have been gnawing at me for ages.
We are living in such societies where voices of dissent are unwelcome and nonconformism is treated as an offence. There is, however, no harm in intolerance to dissenting voices and nonconformity if it works as a benign neglect or finds a non-violent expression and finally finishes in fun. But if it turns violent and fixes a price on the dissenter's head, it cannot be appreciated anyway. The ones who have threatened me the other day with forced disappearance have kindly given an outside chance of survival on condition that I have to stop writing what they termed 'trash'. They have accused me of writing columns for disseminating politically partisan views and categorized me with Professor Muntassir Mamoon of Dhaka University and Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal of Shahjalaj University. Dubbing us all 'atheist', they have pronounced corporeal punishment for us allowing, however, the last chance to correct ourselves. I am quite sure that the other two professors are also used to receiving similar threats time and again to which they, too, turn a deaf ear. Once I asked Professor Iqbal if he was afraid of threats of this sort. The good professor sweetly smiled and said he has been living on borrowed time ever since the tumultuous days of 1971 when he lost his father. Professor Mamoon is also a spirited defender of our liberation war spirit and a champion of freedom of speech. He appeared as witness for the prosecution in the International CrimesTribunal-1 and gave a historic witness testifying the heinous activities of the so-called 'Peace Committee' members. Both the professors and many others may have the courage of their convictions, but the threats do not always lie dormant. Consequent upon such threats, Professor Humayun Azad was slashed at with sharp lethal weapons which fatally wounded him and finally put him to death.
As an individual and a writer, I believe in freedom of speech, thought and expression. I also believe that it is necessary for me as much as it is necessary for others. Ever since I grew mature, I have been a great admirer of the oft-quoted Voltaire saying: 'I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'. I never mind criticism levelled at my writing or me. I am always open to it. But I feel a sense of alarm when dissenters are threatened with extinction. To try to cow people by force is a fascist outlook, which stems from one's utter inability to counter opposing views with grace and dignity. Intellectual dysfunction leads to the exercise of muscle in order to suppress dissent.
You have every right to be mad at me, to feel aggrieved at my writing, and to find that your feelings are not spared by me. In that case, I urge you to counter with similar writings or other intellectual means, but not with any bully-boy tactics. If you cannot do that, you may curse me, hate my guts, let loose a stream of abuse, but a violent move for corporeal damage is the last thing to be supported by any sensible person.
I am also one of the passionate defenders of our Liberation War spirit. I consider our Independence as our biggest ever achievement bought at the cost of three million lives. I deem it our social, political and intellectual responsibility to stand by its friends and against its foes. With all due respect, let me reiterate that I cease to apologize for what I have said, done and written in this regard. I am cheerfully unrepentant about my role as a writer and a public intellectual.r
writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. He can be reached at [email protected]