Daring to know – the story of Mukto-Mona

The very popular blog Mukto-Mona (free thought) was the victim of an Islamist terrorist attack this year that left four of its writers dead. The blog was a successful experiment in freethinking and free debate, and can be described as a “barefoot university”. If terrorism manages to silence it, a door will close to adult education and discussion on the role of science and religion in society. Siddharta Dhar, one of the writers at the blog, gives us the background.

December 17 2015 Text: Siddhartha Dhar

Mukto-Mona is a secular humanist organization, an Internet congregation of secular humanists, atheists, agnostics and sceptics. Most of its members are of Bengali and South Asian Descent who are scattered all around the globe. It came into being in the year of 2000 with the objective of fostering a secular society based on science, reason and rationality. Being started as an online discussion circle, it soon evolved into the largest South Asian Rationalist and Humanist forum on the Internet. Boosted by the contribution from many distinguished authors, philosophers, scientists and human rights activists, today it is recognized as a social movement striving for building a progressive, rational, egalitarian and secular society through publishing books, blogging, conducting research and human rights activities. The literal English translation of the word Mukto-Mona is ‘freethinker’. The Muktomonas or freethinkers adhere to the thought process of humanism and philosophical naturalism. Humanism asserts that, human beings are the natural beings of this natural world and are the source of all morality and values. They apply methodological naturalism in understanding the world without subscribing to any authoritative dictates. The free-thinkers believe in the immortal words of Roman Poet Horace: ‘Sapere aude’ (dare to know). Avijit Roy, the founder of Mukto-Mona; describes his organizations ambitions in the following ways:

“Our aim is to build a society which will not be bound by the dictates of arbitrary authority, comfortable superstition, stifling tradition, or suffocating orthodoxy but would rather be based on reason, compassion, humanity, equality and science. We argue for a rational and scientific approach to human problems as an alternative to religious dogmas, strongly defend freedom of thought and civil liberties, and, strive for the secularization of politics, society and educational system.”

Mukto-Mona has raised its voice whenever there are incidents of attack on people’s freedom and civil liberties. It is a strong critic of systematic and permanent institutionalized subordination. It condemned the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration and it’s so called policy of ‘war on terror’, the persecution of minority religious and ethnic groups in Bangladesh, the communal violence in India which saw the slaughtering of innocent Muslims, oppression of Palestinians and others. Mukto-Mona writers stand by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, strongly oppose gender based discrimination, advocate LGBT rights and critique everything that hinders people’s access to civil rights, freedom and liberty. Mukto-Mona didn’t limit itself in the virtual world of Internet; rather it reached out to the people on the grass root level. It undertook several projects such as building a school in a remote area of Bangladesh, publishing books and magazines on science and rational issues, arranging seminars on secularism, humanism and freethinking, giving out prizes to people who made remarkable accomplishments in this field. It initiated the first celebration of Darwin Day, Rationalist Day and International Women’s Day among the Bengali speaking community on the Internet.

The organization received global recognition and appreciation from several international Secular and Humanist Organizations such as the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Center for Inquiry (CFI), PEN International, PEN Canada, British Humanist Association (BHA) James Randi Foundation, and Richard Dawkins Foundations etc. It is one of the most visited secular humanist website worldwide on the internet.

Does one need to adhere to a religious doctrine to live an honest, decent and fulfilled life? Is the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved by the gods? Mukto-Mona writers dared to ask such off the track yet critical and crucial questions. Asking such questions is still considered as a taboo in the Indian sub-continent. On the contrary, bigotry is always being promoted by the state to a certain extent in many different forms; religious groups have been contemptuous of each other for ages. Religion has been used all throughout history to justify war, slavery, sexism, rape, racism, homophobia, polygamy, mutilation, intolerance, and oppression of minorities; killing in the name of God has endured through the ages. Religion is not only a set of truth claims, it is other things also and the other claims are so highly valued that they often shield the truth claims from honest discussion and criticism. Religious truth claims are by no means always reliably trivial for they often declare some kind of people inferior to other kinds of people and they also snatch the rights from people to rebut such claims. Mukto-Mona activists refuse to accept such sordid bargain. They believe in higher and better values of justice, fairness and equality. They believe in the earth shaking notion that, every human being deserves the same chances of making choices, receiving education and using it; living a full, free and open life and thus they quest for a prosperous society free of all kinds of social injustices, religious and oppressive dogmas, doctrines, and discriminations. The Mukto-Mona bloggers have more to offer in addition to taking a vocal stance against autocratic religious dogmas. They fundamentally advocate the approach of metaphysical naturalism, a way of comprehending our origins through understanding processes that operate naturally in the universe today, an approach that directly contributes to the well-being of almost every human being in the world.

The year of 2015 saw the death of several secular writers and publishers in Bangladesh. Three Mukto-Mona bloggers including its founder Avijit Roy were hacked to death by Islamic zealots. Two of Avijit Roy’s publishers were also attacked, leaving one dead and the other one critically injured. The mission of the Islamic extremists is to obliterate the ideas that Bangladeshi humanists hold, a mission which is highly unlikely to succeed. Mukto-Mona is already successful in transforming many minds; both young and adult toward freedom and courage enabling them to question the authority, convention and tradition of those who seek to impose a particular supernatural view of humanity’s origins. Despite all the tragic losses, Mukto-Mona activists are united in their grief and they still remain undefeated.