I Am Niloy

With each keystroke today I am focused on one idea, thankful for one simple fact. I am still alive.

Like any westerner I don’t really think about that as often as I should. I am free to say what I please, where, when and how I please, and I take that for granted. Although I choose integrity, being objective and factually representative what I blog is entirely voluntary.  Were it to suit me (sit down please, Mr Trump) I could be as reckless and irrational with my words as my mood dictated without fear of consequence. I am free to revel in the furore I may cause, secure in the knowledge that no one, no matter how tempting the thought, would seriously consider getting the posse together, grabbing a handful of machetes, and breaking down my door to hack me to bits.

You’re probably laughing at the mental image. Sadly, the laughter is choked off when you consider that in less enlightened places, like Bangladesh, bloggers do have to take such possibilities into account before clicking the ‘Publish’ prompt. Niloy Chatterjee, a forty-year-old writer and resident of Dhaka who wrote under the pen name of Niloy Neel, was fully aware of the mortal risk in speaking freely in the backyard of Islāmic fundamentalists yet still chose to do so.

He advocated against fundamentalism, calling for justice in the deaths of three other writers who, along with him, were prominent on a list of “atheist bloggers” circulated among radical Islāmic groups. As well he pleaded for an end to civilian bloodshed and bombings in mosques. Neel lobbied passionately for freedom of religion in Bangladesh, another right I take for granted here in the US. He did it knowing he was on a death list in a country where fanatics were only too willing to do “God’s work.”

The other day, in a different world, I read that Houston Texans running back Arian Foster hid his atheism from teammates throughout high school, college, and for his first six NFL seasons, kneeling, holding hands, and pretending to pray with teammates daily in the decades-long-entrenched pre-game, post-game, and practice ritual.  He feared he would be otherwise ostracized. I remember thinking that his fear was ridiculous. That isn’t the world we live in.

But of course it is. Football is an insular society, not unlike corporate America, where the players are expected to shed every aspect of self for the team. To stand aside while the rest of the team joined hands would have made him unwanted, unwelcome, unnatural. With every other door leading out of a world of poverty, drugs, murder, and second-class citizenry jealously guarded how could he turn away from the one being held wide open for him?

Of course if he had taken a stand for his individual right not to believe in God only his dream would have been killed. Foster would have lived to find another path in life. That is the difference between him and Niloy Neel. After six years and the security of a multi-million dollar contract, Arian Foster the star was free to speak out. Niloy never was. Yet silence would only have allowed the killings in Bangladesh to continue, so he spoke out. What the rest of us need to ensure is that his murder has made his voice loud enough to be heard everywhere freedom is valued.

[Next Post on Monday]

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