Atheist blogger Avijit Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death in Dhaka by machete-wielding militants allegedly affiliated with the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist terrorist organization. His wife, Rafida Ahmad, who is also a blogger, was seriously injured in the attack. Recent years have seen a rise in attacks by Islamists against writers who advocate secular ideals and challenge religious extremism. Similar attacks have been recorded across continents against writers, publishers and intellectuals in the name of religion. Be it Bangladesh, Japan, Pakistan or France – it is the same ideology at work. The fact is that religious doctrines can never stand up to science, reason or morality based on humanist ideals. Therefore, people of faith often have to rely on violence to make up for their intellectual inferiority and the vulnerability and shallowness of the ideals they hold sacred. As we’ve witnessed in numerous incidents that have occurred through the course of history, people are willing to commit grave crimes against humanity if they feel that they are carrying out the will of their God.

The government of Bangladesh would do well to ensure that the perpetrators are not allowed to escape justice. Regardless of whether one or all interpretations of scripture proscribe death for atheists, inhumane laws should not govern the lives of human beings. Non-state actors especially cannot be allowed to mete out punishments against perceived offences. Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a serious threat to global peace and universal ideals, most importantly, free speech. It doesn’t allow for any debate or disagreement and seeks to forcibly impose restrictions on speech, actions, even thoughts, if it could manage. Of course poverty, culture, international politics and disputes may have an impact on the behavior of individuals who are part of groups such as ISIS, but it would be in error to downplay the fundamental role of the ideology that they subscribe to. Religious extremism cannot be fought solely with guns. As long as free thinkers like Avijit Roy continue to raise their voice against ignorance and oppression, there is hope.