Interview with Parvez Alam – Part 1

Dear Parvez, could you first introduce yourself to the audience?

Photo credit Baki Billah

Photo credit Baki Billah

I am from Bangladesh. I am a writer and activist. In Bangladesh, I have been writing regularly in different blogs, newspapers, magazines and I wrote a few books. Most of them are about history of knowledge and more specifically about the intellectual history of Islam and also the political history of Islam. I have been working with several non-governmental organisations and activist groups in Bangladesh. We had a community library there, where I worked for 9 years. As well I was working with several human right groups focussing on minority rights mostly. I came to the Netherlands during 2015.; I had to flee my country because I was seriously threatened because of my writings, like many other critical thinkers from Bangladesh.

How did you get involved in The Hague Peace Projects?

When I came here I came into a project of the NGO Justice and Peace. A friend of mine worked for the NGO and for HPP at this time and we have spent a lot of time together because she was really interested in Bangladeshi bloggers in exile in Europe. So, I connect her with some Bangladeshi bloggers and together we developed the idea of the book fair for HPP and I was involved for the first time in a HPP project in February 2016 when the first book fair took place. In Bangladesh, there is an annual book fair in February as well, but many writers and publishers can´t be there as now they are in exile. In 2016 there was the chance that Avijit Roy’s (who was murdered a year before in front of the book fair) book so we wanted to do a symbolic book fair in The Hague. It was kind of a protest against the attacks, censorship, book bans and exile of publishers or writers. Another intention was to bring the exile writers of Bangladesh together. And from September 2016 I am working more intensively together with the HPP.

How would you describe the development from the first book fair in 2016 to the second in 2017?

When I look back I can say that the development was enormous. In 2016 we have had a half day of book fair without selling any books. Only couple of publishing house was officially involved, and we just displayed some banned books and also books written by Avijit. We had one panel discussion. It was a start and this year we planned everything for months. The result was a book fair with several publishers being present, from and for different countries like Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Netherlands. Moreover, we had several events, books were sold and it lasted for 4 days.

Did you promote the opening for other countries where writers are banned as well?

Yes, I did. The expansion was one of the first things we decided during the planning process, because the situation in Bangladesh is not unique. It is connected to developments in other countries as well. The rise of censorship and the decline of freedom of expression are similar to many other parts of the world. We thought we should bring more countries, more publishers together and have discussions about freedom of expression. Maybe this can be the foundation concept for future book fairs in The Hague, city of Peace and Justice.

The Interview is continued in Part 2 with some more information about the coming book fair and Parvez´s political opinions.

Parvez was interviewed by Miriam Reinhardt.

16-8 Film & Discussion: Rampal Coal plant: a deception of development

Join us on Wednesday 16 August for a film and discussion about Bangladesh at Nutshuis from 6:30 till 8:30.

The world’s largest mangrove forest is under treat of coal mining. The Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC), an energy partnership between India and Bangladesh, is building a massive coal fired power plant called ‘The Rampal Rampal Power Plant’ just 14km from this UNESCO world heritage site – a home to the last populations of critically endangered Royal Bengal Tigers. By damaging the Sundurbans with a coal plant, not only would this take away their livelihoods, and the natural resilience that millions of people in Bangladesh depend on, but it would mean burning more fossil fuels and creating more carbon emissions. This is exactly when the world should be leaving fossil fuels in the ground and be getting behind renewable energy alternatives.

Discussion:
Pro-environment activists group in Bangladesh have been protesting the coal power plant since its inception. Activists from India and other parts of the world also have joined in protest and solidarity. UNESCO also expressed its concern and asked the Government of Bangladesh to halt the project. However, despite nationwide protests and international outcry, the Bangladeshi government is hellbent on going through the project. Police brutality and arrest have become part and parcel of the anti-Rampal Power Plant movement in Bangladesh, and leading activists have faced death threats.

Anu Muhammad, the member-secretary of NCBD (the organization leading the anti-rampal protests in Banlgadesh) will join us in a discussion in ‘Het Nutshuis’ in The Hague. Anu Muhammad is a prominent Bangladeshi economist, public intellectual and political acticvist who has been in the forefront of the green energy movement in Bangladesh for years. He had faced arrest, police violance and several death threats along the way. Also activists and experts from both Bangladesh and Netherlands will join this discussion.

Deception of Development:
Bangladesh has entered a critical stage of its development in which the vocabulary around the understanding of development has gone seriously problematic. The Bangladesh state and the media both have gradually separated the idea of social and environmental equity from the vision of development, just like many other parts of the world. While the state continues to be obsessed with high-profile big development projects, farmers, laborers, poor communities, rivers, trees, forests, cultivable fertile land in this process, are perceived to be mere bunch of collateral damage that is expected to be ‘sacrificed’ in this very process towards ‘progress’. The state and the media has been displaying an one track obsession over high GDP growth as the standard of progress. The health of people, cleanness of water, fertility of soil, the quality of food and air are not considered to be worthy enough to be a part of the index of development. In the backdrop of such flawed understanding of development and such disregard towards preservation of environmental resources, it has become necessary to challenge the so called idea of development that does not perceive it necessary to preserve environmental and human integrity. ‘Deception of Development’ is an attempt of as such.

Report: Voices of Dissent: Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh

On Sunday 26th February 2017, The Hague Peace Projects, held a discussion titled “the Voices of Dissent; Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh”, as part of the Hague Freedom Book Fair in Het Nutshuis in Den Haag.  The event was well attended with over 60 participants.

The event began with a documentary from Frontline Defenders titled Victim Blaming, Bangladesh’s Failure to Protect Human Rights Defenders. This short film was a comprehensive introduction into the difficulties surrounding freedom of expression in Bangladesh. The panel featured Bob Churchill, the Director of Communications for the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Bob has had a long-standing interest in secularism, humanism, ethics and epistemology. He previously worked at both the British Humanist Association and Ugandan Humanist Association. Caroline Suransky, who is a board member of the organization Humanistisch Verbond, and professor at the Universiteit Voor Humanistiek. Caroline was previously also a board member for the Foundation for Humanist Education Formation. Her interests lie in strengthening inter connections between partners in the Humanist Alliance. Her time in South Africa formed her world views regarding the personal and political side of ‘human dignity’ and ‘living a humane life’ in a world with differences and inequalities. Olof Blomqvist, who works for Amnesty International as a researcher on Bangladesh and the Maldives. He was previously a press officer for the Asia Pacific region, has worked in Afghanistan for Amnesty International, worked for Doctors Without Borders and The International Crisis Group. Our final panelist Erin Kilbride is a journalist, human rights activist and media coordinator at Front Line Defenders. She works with HRDs to create protection strategies utilizing digital print and film projects. She was previously a gender and juvenile justice researcher in Bahrain, the Gulf & Yemen, Editor at Muftah.org alongside a community organizer with the Iraqi refugee population in the US.

The discussion began with Bob calling upon Bangladeshi bloggers Parvez Alam, Asif Muhudin and Nastikaer Dhormokotha sharing their personal accounts of their struggles with freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Parvez spoke of living low profile and described the increased victim blaming from both the police and government. He explained that the civil society in Bangladesh is failing to unite together against censorship due to deep ideological differences. The situation is unlikely to change for the public until adequate laws are put into place by the judiciary. He urged that there should be increased dialogue to protect the freedom of expression. Asif explained he was one of the first bloggers to be attacked in 2013 and stabbed nine times in the shoulders and back. He was punished for blasphemy by the government for his blog and was imprisoned for three and a half months. Whilst in prison, he had the strange experience of meeting his attackers and soon came to the realization that they were victims of Islamic extremism. His attackers had in fact never read his blogs and acted solely upon the word of their religious leader who told them Asif was anti-Islam. He is still suffering from psychological damage alongside pain in his shoulder. Finally Nastiker spoke of maintaining a very low profile, which involved discontinuing his writing and controlling his movements, as he was aware his name was on the hit list. His panic escalated with every murder he read about, to the point he was scared to leave his house alone. When he heard of Neeloy Neel’s murder, he decided to leave the country. He first moved to Myanmar and then the Netherlands. He described how his trauma is still prevalent, as when he sees large groups of people he still gets nervous. He felt it was vital to explain that he does not categorize Muslims as terrorists as he believes they have been subject to Islamic fundamentalism and are victim themselves. He expressed concern for the numerous Bangladeshi bloggers who have currently fled the country and are in limbo, with no idea of what their future hold with ever decreasing aid from NGO’s. He believes the international community’s attention should be focused on helping these people.

Consequently the panel discussion began with the panelists introducing themselves. The three main topics of discussion were the ICT Prosecutions Act, the phenomena of rising extremism and suggestions on how NGO’s and the international community could do more to put pressure on domestic and international governments on the blogger issue. The ICT Prosecutions Act was explained to be passed by the BNP government in Bangladesh and a text book example of how repressive law works. It was described to have very strange and vague wording about hurting religious sentiments and could be interpreted by anyone to mean anything. It has been used on numerous journalists, civil society activists and even a case where citizens were sharing songs, which were perceived to be anti Islamic and thus ended up in jail for seven years under this act. Initially it was very rarely used but recently its use has sky rocketed. Over the last year there has been some acknowledgment for the need for change regarding this act. The government is considering replacement of this act with a new digital security act, however this is perceived by the international community to have even worse implications than the current act. The panel suggested that the solution would be to push the Bangladeshi government to make a law that meets international standards.

The link between different extremist nationalism was broken down to into two questions, reasons and explanations for what is happening worldwide and why there is more political repression within civil society. The panel explained that reason behind the increasing repression by the authoritarian regimes worldwide is partly due to globalization. Governments fear the bloggers because of their wide readership, national and international connections. To the Government, bloggers are consequently undermining their own national agendas. It would be interesting for the international community to think about the consequences of such actions against activism and the media in their own countries. Erin also spoke of the over simplification of what it means to be an atheist in the Bangladeshi context. She explained that the very strong intellectual and rational rights based justifications that writers are presenting have been largely ignored. The notion of being an atheist or a human rights activist has been blurred into one category, when they should remain separate. She mentioned how the ICT Act is the clearest example in which we can call out the hypocrisy of the Bangladeshi government, as they state they want to eradicate extremist groups however is implementing legislation with the exact stated objectives of extremist groups, resulting in restricted open spaces for persecuted religious minorities.

The discussion ended with the moderator asking the panel for suggestions on how NGOs and the international community could do more to put pressure on Bangladeshi and international governments to protect freedom of expression in Bangladesh. The panelists were united in suggesting that the removal of the ICT Act is necessary, which they believe has criminalized the freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Additionally it was suggested that NGO’s and western governments could do more to promote and further support Bangladeshi activists and the citizens of Bangladesh. Finally it was highlighted that the relation between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia needs to be addressed as it is having a ripple effect on the crackdown of human rights activists in Bangladesh.

Photo’s: Ugo Boss Photography ©

 

 

 

 

 

CHALLENGES OF LGBTI ACTIVISM IN RELIGIOUS SOCIETIES

On Saturday 25th February 2016, The Hague Peace Projects, held a discussion on the Challenges of LGBTI Activism in Religious Societies, as part of the Hague Freedom Book Fair in Het Nutshuis in Den Haag.  The event was well attended with over 110 participants.

The panel featured five LGBTI activists, Dino Suhonic, the director of the Maruf Foundation in Amsterdam, who is dedicated to helping the position of Muslim LGBTI’s in the Netherlands. Dino is also a teacher, opinion maker and queer activist and writes about queer Muslims, Islam, sexual diversity and gender identity.  Michiel Leezenberg is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. He has published numerous books on Islam, the most recent of which is De Minaret van Bagdad. This book describes the changes in how people in the West perceive Muslims and also the changing sexual attitudes and practices in the Islamic world. Marie Nagadya, is an LGBTI activist from Uganda, a social worker and researcher on same sex practices. She has been involved in numerous LGBTI activist organizations in both Africa and Europe. She is co-founder of out and Proud Netherlands and is the Assistant Director of Eddoboozi Human Rights Defenders Network in Uganda. Rasel Ahmed, was the editor of Roopbaan, the only LGBTI magazine in Bangladesh and aclose friend of the now deceased founder of the magazine, Xulhaz Mannon and our final panelist was Mohammed Mofar, a member of the LGBTI refugee group, The Rainbow Group in the Netherlands.

Michael Leezenberg opened his discussion by introducing the notion of Islam and homosexuality. It was said that the idea of homosexuality as a concept, did not exist in Islam and the rise of modern nationalism and the nation-state had important implications in defining gender and sexuality including homosexuality globally, also in the muslim world. Rasel Ahmed spoke of his experience in Bangladesh, as editor of Roopbaan, which was the only LGBTI magazine in the country, founded by the now deceased Xulhaz Manon. The magazine gained popularity and provided a great platform for the LGBTI community in Bangladesh. A turning point for the community was the pride rally organized on Bengali New Year, which was severely criticized by the conservatives and soon the LGBTI community were receiving death threats and arrests. As a result of these threats, Rasel was forced to flee the country out of fear and a few days later heard of the hacking of his close friend and colleague Xulhaz, by Al Qaeda.  Due to continuous persecution, the LGBTI movement in Bangladesh has now been forced into hiding, for which Rasel feels responsible and would like to reunite them, but is at loss on how to do so under the present political situation. Dino Suhonic highlighted the challenges of being a bicultural homosexual, whereby the country in which one is residing is friendly towards homosexuality contrasting with one’s home country which is very strict. The demography of LGBTI Muslims is very complex, as they feel defeated by their own communities, countries and societies and much more must be done to help them with these challenges and change mindsets. Maruf Foundation tries to help and assist with these issues.

Mohammed Mofar spoke of his personal difficulties coming out, as homosexuality is considered a sin in his home country of Sierra Leone.  After having met a partner and with the help of the Rainbow Group, Mohammed managed to openly admit his homosexuality.  Marie Nagadya described homosexuality to be a taboo in Ugandan society as the society is still based upon conservative cultural, traditional and religious values.  Marie encountered discrimination at university for researching and showing interest in the topic of homosexuality. She faced obstacles created by both her family and the society, the challenge was even greater as Marie herself was not homosexual. It was interesting to learn that many LGBTI activists in Uganda have become homeless due to the negative comments and hatred from society. It was suggested that the role of the church was fundamental to changing the views on the LGBTI community in Uganda, as it encourages only heterosexual relationship. Scott Livelys visit to Uganda, was emphasized, where a conference with local pastors was arranged, to discuss issues surrounding the taboos of homosexuality. The conference resulted in extreme aggression from the public and a statement from the Archbishop of Uganda stating that he was disappointed with the constitution. The conference led to a proposed homosexuality bill in 2009, which was later passed in 2014. Marie concluded by stating, that homosexuality is considered to be a western notion and therefore is perceived to have no space in Ugandan society.

To conclude the event, the moderator asked each panelist for a suggestion on how to spread more acceptances of LGBTI communities. Marie suggested to love and to not give up.  Rasel proposed that the problem lay in intersectional identity, whereby people are not accepted because of their identity. Being Muslim and being gay is a big challenge and therefore the solution should be intersectional. Mohammed suggested unity of the LGBTI community around the world. Michael felt he was not in a position to comment on what people should do. He explained that he felt dialogue was crucial and the fact the audience were present and discussing these issues, was already a great step forward. In Dutch society, you can either be religious or gay, not both therefore it was interesting to note that this panel and audience was a very good example of everyone being both religious and gay, proving that it is possible to be both at the same time. Finally Dino suggested communities should be empowered, that we should create allies through education and engage with people who are opening up spaces for LGBTI communities.

FREEOM OF EXPRESSION, DIALOGUE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN BANGLADESH

On 27th February we held a discussion about Bangladesh titled “freedom of expression, Dialogue and conflict resolution in Bangladesh”. Among the panelists, there was Sultana Kamal, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist from Bangladesh who have worked for a longtime on women and minority rights. There was also Bonya Ahmed, editor of Muktomona, who a researcher on Islamic Fundamentalism. Bonya was also the wife of deceased Bangladeshi writer and blogger Avijit Roy, she herself carries wonds from the brutal attack that killed her husband. Nasrin Siraj, an anthropologist from the VU university who is an expert on the conflicts of the Chitagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh is also feminist blogger and film maker, was also a panelist. We also blogger Nur Nobi Dulal, the admin of popular Bangladeshi blog Istishon, who recently had to flee the country. His blog Istishon has faced with several censorship in Bangladesh recently. The panel was moderated by Dessi Damianova, the Asian director of Free Press Unlimited.

Dulal started his speech with a quotation from Avijit Roy that expresses a humanistic view of a rational and peaceful world where people from all sort of belief can be friendly towards each other and everyone will stand up together against oppression of any kinds. He also mentioned how Bangladesh atheist bloggers and secular writers are being persecuted both by religious extremists and the Government. He also gave a brief account of the threats and harassments he had faced in Bangladesh that forced him to flee the country. He mentioned how the government closed down his office and how the police never came to any help when he was threatened by the religious extremist.

Desi Damianova asked the vital question of how the people Bangladesh who rejected religion based nationality in the 60s and gave birth to a country based on secular and liberal democracy have recently experiencing the rise of Islamic extremism in such a level that writers, religious minorities and foreigners are getting murdered by followers of AQ and ISIS. More precisely she wanted to get a historical perspective behind this big change in a relatively shorter period of time. She also asked the experts what they think is the most primary conflict at the moment in Bangladesh and the roots of the conflict.

Sultana Kamal answered by stating that to understand the historical context we need to start from the end of the British colonial period. India and Pakistan was born As a result of the two nation theory that became popular during the British period which insisted that Pakistan will be a country for the Muslim and India for Hindus. However the division among a communal line was not successful as many Hindus remain in Pakistan and vice versa.  Bangladesh (back then east pakistan) later separated from Pakistan mainly because of discrimination. The seeds of division were sawn just after Pakistan was born, and especially the language movement that started in 1948 laid the foundation of Bengali nationalism that promoted the idea of nationhood based on language rather than religion. During the Pakistan period many progressive movements supporting minority rights and also women rights came in to being which powered the Bangladeshi independence movement. During the liberation war the leading political parties tried to define a new nation based on liberal democracy, secularism, and socialism but also unfortunately on a kind nationalism which was very narrowly defined and only based on Bengali ethnicity. Anybody who was not a Bengali was not included in the formation of this national identity. So the identity formation was not inclusive enough. Bangladesh only emerged as a secular democracy in its formative period; a secular democratic country was more of an aspiration of the people. But after the change in political power 1975, Bangladesh moved in to a totally opposite direction. The military regime since then moved the country forward to a Islamic identity under totalitarian military rule. So even before the country could form in to a secular democracy it took a different direction from 1975 to 1995 Bangladesh was under the leadership of those who ruled the country as an Islamic country. To understand the shift we need to look closer to the existing political identities that are not inclusive.

Nasrin started by problematizing the idea of freedom of expression. Sh thinks when we talk about freedom of expression without taking consideration of the historical context and political terrain, then the concept becomes oversimplified. She wanted to focus on the discourses of freedom of expression. She thinks it is not just a Bangladeshi problem but a global problem. We understand democracy dominated by liberal discourses that essentialises liberal democracy. We Bangladeshi people also adopted such discourses without giving much thought about how discourses are regulated by neo liberal economic order. It sounds very good to hear that everybody have equal rights, but the world is developed unequally. We are governed by states and states formations are not the same all over the world. When we talk about freedom of expression in Bangladesh, most of the time we talk about freedom of expression of the middle class. When political spaces are not equally distributed among people, the chances are great that those who think they are not being heard equally to resort to violent mean to express themselves. When there is deep antagonism in the public space where powerful groups are always developing discourses around ‘us’ and ‘them’, the conflicts are not going to go away. When freedom of expression is regulated by the discourses of the new liberal economic order, it becomes difficult to find ways for reconciliation as opposing groups consider each other illogical. So if we only look at freedom of speech in term of neo liberal discourses but do not consider the political terrain then we will never be able to find ways for conflict resolution. Islamists in Bangladesh are claiming the political spaces using the anger of those people who think they are denied political spaces. This is actually not too different than what is happening in USA as Trump also won using the anger of those who thought they were denied political spaces.

According to Bonya, we have to think everything globally in this 21st century. It is true that there is a rise of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism in Bangladesh. It is a big problem not only in Bangladesh but all around the world. At the same time we have seen the rise of right wing populism in the west recently. For Bangladesh, we have to look both to the local context and also the global connection to get the bigger picture. Bangladesh has always been a religious society, a Muslim majority society, but the country was way more secular and tolerant in the past. There was no utopian harmony in our society but we haven’t seen violence of this kind in the past. Also it is not only about religion, there is also a political autocracy in Bangladesh. The persecuted bloggers in Bangladesh has the feeling of being between a rock and a hard place. At one hand they are being killed by the Islamists on the other hand arrested by the Government. And if we look at the global rise of Islamic extremism we cannot also forget how AQ was groomed in Afghanistan by the US to fight against the Soviet Russia. If Iraq was not invaded, maybe ISIS wouldn’t have come in to being. Wahabism was confined in to a very small part of the Middle East, but now it’s one of the most dominating versions of Islam after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established backed by the western powers. Saudi Arabaia has sent millions of dollars to countries like Bangladesh in establishing religious institutes that harbors fundamentalist and extremist ideals.  She thinks it’s very important for us to talk about the roles of the imperialist powers behind the rise of Islamic extremism. We need to talk about how Islamic fundamentalism has been used and groomed by the western powers for resource accumulation and for the sake of the neo liberal world order.  But we also can’t just blame western imperialism and solve this crisis. The solution also needs to come from inside the Muslim’s themselves. She wanted to ask the moderate and liberal Muslims if they are fulfilling their duty in standing against the rising Islamic extremism and violence. When someone raises a question about Islam and gets hacked because of that, the Muslim has a lot to do too. If we want to understand the conflict and want to look for ways of its resolution then we need to talk about all this things.

Part of the audience mentioned that, we need to challenge the extremists about their version of Islam; we need to ask them where in Islam they find legitimacy for their deeds. There was also a proposition that the basic teaching of every religion including Islam is peace, not violence. And we need to stay strong on this.  Bonya replied that Religions also have some very violent basis. We have seen war and genocide in the name of crusade and Jihad in the history. We have come to a point when the Muslim’s need to rethink and reevaluate their scripture and its interpretations to stand against violence committed in the name of Islam. There are peaceful verses in the Quran, but at the same time verses that promote violence and undermine the concepts of modern humanism.  The discussion went on between the panelists and the audience and it was suggested and agreed upon by few that the Muslim needs to say that the verses promoting violence are context specific and do not imply in our time. There are different forms of Islam and some are violent. We need to recognize that rather than staying in denial. Sultana Kamal finally stated that, we have to probably accept that there are elements of violence in every religion. But are we firm enough to say that we will have peace and we will give up violence anywhere, within religion or outside religion?

Desi brought the important question of why is there an acceptance of such violence against irreligious people among some Muslim? And How to activate a bigger solidarity among moderate Muslims? There was an opinion from the audience  that Religious fundamentalism is also is in rise in India where people are being beaten for eating beef, students being persecuted for showing dissent, university campuses has been raid like the emergency period of the 70s. Anti Government posts are being removed from the facebook. In Pakistan journalists are getting killed by extremists. Leiden University lecturer Roshni asked is it not the time to solidify ourselves beyond the national boarders within the south asia?  Sultana Kamal agreed that we need to solidify our solidarity across boarder.  There was also suggestion from the audience that a human to human dialogue is more necessary than dialogue between religious and ethnic divides. If we cannot do that then we are doomed.

Desi summarized the experts view that three are different things needs to be considered while understanding the conflict in Bangladesh. We need to understand the national context, the connection of the conflict with the bigger international picture, and also with some versions of Islam that legitimizes violence in the name of Islam.

The inherent inequality of the neo liberal economic order that makes many people feel excluded both in Bangladesh and international political arena has also greatly contributed in the rise of extremism both in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. So is the dubious and questionable alliance of the western powers with Islamic fundamentalism.

It was agreed by everyone that, dialogue among conflicting groups and also in an individual human level is necessary to find solutions. Solidarity among those who stands for peace beyond national boarder is also necessary as the conflict in Bangladesh is not exclusive from the conflicts the whole world is facing now, particularly in the Indian subcontinent. Also Muslim they have a role to play in strongly standing against violence in the name of Islam and in being a part of the larger alliance of people for peace.

Review of Freedom Book Fair 2017

When the doors of Het Nutshuis in The Hague were opened at the 24th of February 2017 at 1 o´clock in the afternoon, the second edition of the Freedom Book Fair had started. The focus was on authors who are censored or forbidden in their home countries and books who deal with freedom of expression and freedom of press in general. Besides all the books and publications we hosted 6 panel discussions on freedom of speech in different countries and its different forms.

Through these events, that were completely sold out, we were able to put freedom of expression on the agenda and to show our deepest solidarity to people who are putting their lives on the line for it.

The Book Fair started with an introductory panel discussion on Friday evening: “Free speech versus Hate Speech: where the world is heading”, followed by the Somali Poetry Night. In the weekend there were discussions on freedom of expression in Turkey and Bangladesh. Moreover, a documentary and a panel discussion on Saturday evening was dedicated to the LGBT-movement in religious societies.

Every panel was distinguished by the presence of charismatic experts, some of which were personally involved with the subject, trying to give an accurate overview of the current situation in conflict regions and to answer the questions of the audience. Because of this the debates were heated and continued well after the official finishing time, with people exchanging perspectives, opinions and contact details. All events were accompanied by a Facebook live stream, which is still available on the Facebook page of The Hague Peace Projects. We want to say thank you again to everyone who contributed in the organisation, in the events and in the audience to create a successful event. Freedom of expression can never be protected and promoted enough.

Freedom of Expression in Bangladesh

fb-event-cover-photo-bangladesh-discussion

The discussion “Freedom of Expression, Dialogue and Conflict Resolution in Bangladesh” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event will take place at Monday 27 February from 6:30 until 8:30 at the Nutshuis, Riviermarkt 5, Den Haag.

For the last few years, Bangladesh is facing unprecedented crisis of democracy and freedom of expression. Human rights violations have reached sky high. The country is now deeply divided in ideological and political line. After the 2014 troubled national election, the country has become effectively a one party regime. On the other hand rise of radical forms of Islamism, terrorism and violent tactics of some of the government opposition have made the country both unstable and also provided legitimacy to the iron rule of the current regime. An increasing conflict between the Secularists and Islamists that claimed many lives also provided opportunity to the Government in passing several draconian censorship laws. Murder of secular writers, police crackdown on bloggers, activists, writers, publishers, ban on books, newspapers and other forms of media have become regularity. With the conflict between religious, ethnic and political lines escalating, and with the arrival of international terrorist outfits such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, diversity of ideas, opinions and origin have never faced a stiffer challenge in the history of the country. How do we want to shape the future of our country?

The panel consists op the following speakers:
Sultana Kamal
Kaberi Gayen
Rafida Ahmed

You are very welcome to join the discussion! Entrance is free but registration required.

See more about The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017:https://www.facebook.com/events/1229206560520102/

Freedom Book Fair: Voices of Dissent in Bangladesh

fb-event-cover-photo-bangladesh-voices-of-dissentThe discussion “Voices of Dissent; Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event is organised by The Hague Peace Projects, Mukto-Mona and Humanistisch Verbond. It will take place at Sunday 26 February from 3 PM to 5:30 PM at Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5 Den Haag.

Bangladesh is a secular Muslim country. However, citizens who have questioned religion, have recurrently been targeted by Islamic extremists. For bloggers, intellectuals and writers who have openly critiqued religious conservatism in their writings, the consequences were severe. Since 2013, there have been deaths of dozens of bloggers and activists, to name a few, Rajshahi University professor AKM Shafiul Islam, literary publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, and bloggers Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman Bubu, Ananta Bijoy Das and Niloy Neel. The death of these bloggers and activists not only caused grief but also created a well-connected community of Bangladeshi bloggers who seek for constitutional change in Bangladesh. The need for change is necessary from the core of Bangladesh citizens, democracy and for the safety of those who are putting their lives on the line for freedom of expression.

This event is a commemoration in solidarity with the Bangladeshi people who died because of their critical stance.

Speakers:
Bob Churchill – IHEU (moderator)
Caroline Suransky- Humanistisch Verbond
Olof Blomqvist – Amnesty International

Documentary: Razor’s Edge made by Mukto-Mona.

You are welcome to join us. Entrance is free, but registration required.

See more about The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017:www.freedombookfair.com

Challenges of LGBT-Activism in Religious Societies

fb-event-cover-photo-lgbtThe discussion “Challenges of LGBT-Activism in Religious Societies” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event is organised is cooperation with The Hague Peace Projects and Maruf.
Where: Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5, Den Haag
When: Satyrday 26 February
What time: 7PM – 9PM
You are very welcome to join the discussion! Entrance is free but registration is required.
The reason to organize this panel discussion was the recent killings of LGT activist in Bangladesh by Al-Qaeda as well as the arrest of members of the organization ‘Boys of Bangladesh’ for organizing a Rainbow Rally. These event however, are not isolated incidents. In many religious societies LGTBI people are facing intolerance and a shrinking civic space.

In many Muslim countries, The LGBT-rights movement is being painted as an anti-Islamic western conspiracy to destroy Islamic moral values by the Islamic extremists; as if homo-sexuality never existed in the Muslim world. Also in traditional christian societies, homosexuals and transgenders are facing enormous challenges and existential crisis.

In this event we want to discuss the current challenges of rising intolerance all over the world and its effect on the LGBTI movements. We want to counter the essentialization of Islam and Muslim culture as homophobic so that the Muslim LGBTI do not become more estranged from their own culture. What spaces and loopholes do exist to use existing social tolerance in the world to promote LGBT rights?

Speakers are from Bangladesh and Uganda. Names will be announced soon!

The Hague Freedom Book Fair

From February 24 to February 27, We are going to host ‘The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017’ at the Nutshuis, The Hague; with participation from publishers from different parts of the world. There will also be panel discussions on freedom of expression in Bangladesh, freedom of expression in regarding LGBT movements in the muslim world, and also on overall situation of freedom of expression around the world.

The Hague Peace Projects, Mukto-Mona and other international organizations hosted a book fair in February 2016 at Humanity House in The Hague titled ‘Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair’ in memory of Avijit Roy and other Bangladeshi writers and free thinkers who got killed in 2015 and in solidarity with the persecuted and exiled Bangladeshi writers who were unable to be present in the Ekushey Book Fair in Bangladesh. “The Hague Freedom Book Fair” is a continuation of that event.

Date Events Time
24/02/2017 Discussion: Freedom of speech versus Hate Speech; Where the world is heading to. 7-9 pm
Somalian Poetry Night. 9-11 pm
25/02/2017 Discussion: Freedom of Exrpession in Turkey; Challenges for dialogue and peace.  

2-5 pm

Discussion: LGBT Freedom in the Muslim Community; obstacles and possibilities.Documentary:  LGBT freedom in Indonesia. 7-9 Pm
26/02/1017 Discussion: Voice of dissents; persecuted  non-religiosity and threatened religious diversity in Bangladesh.

Documentary: Razors Age

Candle Lighting: In memory of Avijit Roy and other slain Bangladeshi writers/publishers/editors.

3-5.30 Pm
27/02/2017 Discussion on Freedom of expression, Dialogue and conflict resolution in Bangladesh  

6.30-8.30 pm