A documentary on the threat to humanist bloggers in Bangladesh

In 2013 Muslim extremists in Bangladesh published a deathlist with 84 atheist bloggers. Since then they killed five atheist bloggers, four in 2015 alone, as well as a secular publisher. Others have been attacked but survived. Dozens of bloggers have been forced into hiding or exile, part of them fled the country. Nastiker Dharmakatha is one of them. He made Razor’s Edge, a film about what happened to him and other bloggers and to his country, in terms of rising terror by Islamist Extremists.

What is happening to your country?
Bangladesh is a small country in South Asia. Though 90% of her population of 160 million people is Muslim, it has a long tradition of secularism and communal harmony. After a bloody war with Islamist Pakistan Bangladesh emerged in 1971 as an independent secular country. But secularism was removed from the constitution in 1979, Islam was made the state religion in 1988 and in  2011 we got a peculiar mixture of “secularism” and “state religion Islam” in! All these developments had dire consequences for our country. A small but growing number of people consider themselves non-believers or atheists. Among them are activists, writers and bloggers, like me,  who write about free thought, secularism, human rights and pluralism. Now that islamist extremism is gaining power, oppressing free thought, we sometimes criticize political- Islamism and the governments’ failure to counter that. Since 2013 atheists have been attacked and murdered by extremists, while the government leaves them unprotected, or even arrests them for "hurting religious sentiments".

What is the film about?
The film shows Muslim leaders preaching violence against atheists, and interviews with persecuted humanist bloggers.  All of them are on the deathlist and have been threatened or attacked by extremists. I decided to publish a short (18 minutes) anonymized version, for public use. Showing the whole film- 65 minutes- online, with many more interviews, would be too dangerous for the people in it, who are still target for the killers. So I hid their faces with anonymous’ masks and don’t disclose any names. 

What happened to you?
In 2015, Avijit Roy was first killed, then after we lost our blogger colleagues Washikur Babu, Ananta Bijoy Dash, Niloy Neel and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, within 7 to 8 months. Life seemed so helpless in the carnival of blogger killings. We were feeling like insects, in fear, sorrow and anger. Family, relatives and friends were so worried that I imposed censorship on myself. With apologies to my family, I finally decided to flee my country. Leaving one’s own home land always hurts; to me it feels like a defeat: I left my beloved country to those Islamic extremists! That feeling is always hurting me.

Why did you make this film?
I am an independant filmmaker. In 2015 I started working on two documentaries: one on environmental issues, another about an indigenous woman. But soon the year 2015 became totally horrifying to me. Since writer Avijit Roy was hacked to death, on 26th of February I have been chased by nightmares. I had to stop all my activities other than my profession. Gradually I was bound to be caged inside the four walls of my home and office.

In this situation, the documentary was born. For a long time I had not been writing or making anything. I can’t concentrate on politics, history, philosophy, religion- the topics of my interest. At first I couldn’t write on Avijit Roy, Ananta Bijoy, Niloy Neel either. The horrifying pictures haunted me whenever I tried to write something about them.  But whenever I dìd write since 26th of February it has always been on the blogger killings, the rise of Islamism and the inertness of our government to protect us or to stop extremism. I cannot think or write about anything else.  So, naturally RAZOR’S EDGE is about: How are the enlisted atheist bloggers and writers, the ones who were attacked, the family members? How has this soil become so unlivable for atheist writers and bloggers? I show the rise of Islamic extremism in the present context and try to find who are mostly responsible. Politics? People? Intellectuals of Bangladesh? Cultural activists?

Our rivers have all been drying and dying, in the same way our culture has been drying. Extremists are coming like a flood and we are washed away like tiny leaves. RAZOR’S EDGE tells about all this. W. Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘RAZOR’S EDGE’is about trauma. My documentary is about the trauma of Bangladeshi atheist writers, and of all people who love peace and democracy. Important is not how powerful the RAZORS are or how sharp the EDGE is. Important is that- if we think that our civilization needs to advance- we must get rid of this trauma, this RAZOR’S EDGE.

It's the ‘Humanistisch Verbond’(Dutch Humanist Association) that has been with me from the very beginning. They supported my idea and proposal for this documentary, helped as co-producer with editing facilities by their broadcasting corporation HUMAN and arranged for the first viewing of this documentary, in a preliminary version, in an influential meeting with the Dutch Human Rights’ Ambassador and members of Dutch parliament. With the target of this viewing in mind we actually started working seriously for this documentary.

How do you see the future?
Still there’s hope. Civilization advances despite all its obstacles. RAZOR’S EDGE ends with this hope and dreams, with a tribute to all our friends who were killed for it:  Humayun Azad, Ahmed Rajib, Avijit Roy, Washiqur Babu, Ananta Bijoy Niloy Neel and Faisal Arefin Dipan

As long as the situation in Bangladesh hasn’t been changed, I will continue my journey with this documentary. So far I have made different long and short versions and shown them in Europe to different audiences. I hope to gather awareness and support for the struggle in Bangladesh, which is the struggle of many countries and individuals in this world