After obtaining his PhD degree from the University of Washington, Muhammed Zafar Iqbal worked as a post-doctoral researcher at California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He was also a research scientist in Bell Communications Research (Bellcore).He could easily choose a wealthy and secured life in US, but he didn’t do so. He came back to his motherland for which his father Faizur Rahman Ahmed, the then Sub-Divisional Police Officer in Pirojpur, had to sacrifice his life during our War of Liberation because he distributed 200 rifles from the armory of Police among the mass people to prevent occupation forces. Dr. Zafar Iqbal could join renowned institutions like Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) or University of Dhaka and lead a luxurious life in the capital, but he selected a newly-constructed university in Sylhet. His research works and teaching at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) made him a frontline educationist of the country. Iqbal’s novels for teenagers and science fictions have made him one of the most popular figures among the tender-aged readers. He has been inspiring the young generation incessantly to know more about the liberation war and take its ideals as the principle in life. Through his regular columns in newspapers he has been outspoken against any kind of injustice, intolerance and backwardness. His voice for the punishment of war criminals never became tired.
Thus Muhammed Zafar Iqbal was always a prime target of the militants. Several times he received death threat from different radical terrorist outfits. But no one thought that he can be attacked by the extremists as Police have been escorting him for security reasons since 2015. As a result the sudden knife attack on him came as an utter surprise. Albeit Zafar Iqbal had to be administered 27 stitches and was given two bags of blood but fortunately he has survived. The attacker was immediately caught by the students. The audacity of the assailant who stabbed the respected teacher and writer in his own campus in the presence of law-enforcement personnel has stunned the whole nation. The desperateness of the attacker to stab and kill him terming him an ‘enemy of Islam’ has indicated that despite several operations by the law enforcement agencies and awareness campaign by the people of different strata, fanaticism in the country still exists. The love and respect for Dr. Iqbal is evident from the collective condemnation of the attack by the mass people including professors, intellectuals, students and readers. But the most shocking thing is the way a group of people conducted a propaganda campaign on different social media sites identifying the veteran writer and educationist as an atheist to justify the cruel attack on him. They even regretted as Muhammed Zafar Iqbal is still alive! Some of them questioned the efficiency of the attacker and evaluated the incident as a necessary and deserved lesson for professor Iqbal! Such hate messages by some people on the social networking sites are not only detestable but also contagious. These offensive remarks may instigate many other half-literate people and develop a sense of extremism among them. So, such practice also needs to be checked on some occasions.
Undoubtedly Dr. Zafar Iqbal always advocates for secularism, which is also one of the ideals of our Liberation War, but he has never made any derogatory remarks about Islam. Rather in many of his columns he has said time and again that the people practicing fundamentalism know nothing about the true values of the religion. Then why the goon attacked him and labeled him as an ‘enemy of Islam’? Because he never read any of Zafar Iqbal’s books and newspaper columns, but believed in the planned publicity of the haters. There are hundreds of videos on youtube where different fanatics have declared Dr. Iqbal an atheist and asked others to kill him! But the government’s law enforcement agencies never took any action against them. Because of those youtube videos and hate speeches by different fanatic religious figures in waz mahfils (Islamic gathering) a huge number of people of the country think that Zafar Iqbal is an atheist.
Even if we overlook the case of Dr. Iqbal, and assume that a person believes in atheism, does anyone have the right to kill him/her? Is Bangladesh a country only for the religious believers? Once many of the top intellectuals like Dr. Ahmed Sharif, Ahmed Sofa, Badruddin Umar publicly declared them as atheists. Many people criticized them for their stance but no one showed the audacity to attack them. Then what did happen to this country? How here militant outfits are able to make lists of people stating them as atheists and serially attack and kill them? Why is militancy rising in Bangladesh? It is because the culture of intolerance and impunity has been developed here. Political parties and leaders are compromising with the religious extremists only to ensure their benefits in the electoral politics. The state itself is patronizing discriminatory ideas and fundamentalist forces. Consequently the country has been going through a tough time.
Militancy can never be eliminated only through the initiatives of law enforcement agency members. Strong political will is a must for it. Political parties need to make a consensus on making the whole nation united and changing the system with a view to preventing religious extremism. But unfortunately the way our major political parties blame each other after every incident makes no sense at all. Until Bangladesh sincerely wants to walk the path forged by our freedom fighters during the days of its liberation struggle, such kind of militant attack will continue in the future.