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The Ms. Q&A: Extremism Won’t Stop Rafida Ahmed Bonya’s Secular Feminism

The Ms. Q&A: Extremism Won't Stop Rafida Ahmed Bonya's Secular Feminism

Rafida Ahmed Bonya’s story resembles that of the legendary chook the Phoenix.

In February 2015, Bonya and her husband, Avijit Roy, have been violently attacked by Islamic terrorists whereas they have been visiting their native Bangladesh. Her husband didn’t survive; Bonya obtained again to the U.S. with extreme accidents, a sliced-off thumb and gnawing reminiscences of the assault. However machetes and dying threats couldn’t cease her indomitable spirit. Bonya and her husband have been focused due to their writing on points together with atheism, secularism, feminism and LGBTQ rights—and after recovering, she resolved to delve into analysis and carry on preventing.

In her lifetime, Bonya has waded by means of many tough patches. She went by way of a violent divorce earlier than she met Roy; raised her daughter as a single mom and survived most cancers. Now, she additionally lives with the lack of her pal and associate. However it’s nonetheless troublesome to see Bonya as a sufferer.

Bonya talked to Ms. journal about preventing for gender fairness throughout borders, secular feminism and her forthcoming memoir.

Eva Anandi / Wikimedia

From a 13-year-old woman who denounced faith, to a Bangladeshi-American author who survived a violent assault by the Islamists in Bangladesh—inform us extra about your journey.

I used to be fortunate to be born in a liberal educated middle-class Muslim household in Bangladesh. My mother and father inspired me and my sisters to learn and query every little thing. Once I was a 13-year-old, I used to ask my father: Why all religions declare that they’re the one “right” faith? No one else will go to heaven apart from the followers of that particular faith—how might that make any sense? My father informed me to learn all of the scriptures and get again to him.

I went to take a look at the Quran, Bible, Gita and Torah from the library, absorbing all the knowledge my teenage mind might deal with. I went again to him, virtually a yr later, and informed him all the scriptures appeared like fairy tales. They didn’t make any sense from a logical perspective, they usually all subjugated ladies to totally different levels.

My dad simply stated: “That’s fine if that’s what you want to believe.” And that was the top of the dialogue in my household about faith.

What’s your tackle the connection between feminism and secularism?

Feminism and secularism are intently related. All main world religions are extraordinarily patriarchal; I don’t know one which helps equal rights of all human beings. However I additionally assume if we don’t speak concerning the different essential elements related to secularism—reminiscent of politics, financial system, interaction of gender, faith and native and international energy—as a part of feminism, the story stays incomplete.

Human societies and cultures are complicated and don’t work linearly. We have to keep in mind: secularization within the west was a political challenge, not simply an summary social and historic course of, as many secular actions attempt to painting right now. For those who look rigorously, you will notice ladies’s rights weren’t integral to the motion—they turned a bit a lot later as ladies began demanding it. There’s a prevalent concept in developed western nations that separation of politics from faith is inevitable as “modernity” occurs, and gender equality is an everlasting precept of secularism—however we’re seeing throughout us that this isn’t common. Secularism is getting rejected by lots of at this time’s populist actions in nations reminiscent of India, Turkey, Egypt, Russia and even right here in america, in some ways.

We also needs to not overlook that many of those highly effective secular nations sponsored spiritual fundamentalism in creating nations and newly democratic nations, particularly the Muslim nations, within the post-colonial period as a part of their chilly conflict and imperialist technique. Saudi Arabia, the most important exporter of Wahabi fundamentalism in poor Muslim nations, is our largest ally. We’re seeing the first-hand results of this in nations like Bangladesh now.

How would you describe it within the context of Bangladesh?

Let’s take a look at it from an area perspective as nicely. Take into consideration a feminine garment’s employee in Bangladesh. She continues to be preventing for a humane minimal wage. We’re speaking about tens of millions and tens of millions of feminine staff within the creating nations who’re promoting their labor for $50 to 70 per 30 days and dwelling in inhumane circumstances. That’s how we’re getting cheaper stuff right here. As a lady, they should continuously battle the political, financial and social buildings identical to the poverty-stricken males do in these poor nations—however then these ladies should battle towards faith and patriarchy on prime of it.

We’re seeing a brand new wave of id formation based mostly on faith and nationalism—to me, nationalism can also be a faith—all around the globe. On the similar time, It additionally seems like we now have began going backward. We’re getting stripped off of the progress we made in previous couple of many years as a part of the feminist motion. Ladies’s proper are beneath assault right here in the USA as properly.

We live at an fascinating time. I feel we have to transcend simply the secularism and feminism binary, although it is likely one of the necessary elements, and take into consideration ladies’s liberation and feminism from a extra holistic perspective.

Inform me about your upcoming memoir.

My memoir continues to be very a lot within the works, however I assume I may give you a common idea. I’ve been hesitating to put in writing it as a result of I’ve all the time been fairly personal about my private life, however I assume I’m rising out of that reservation, particularly after the TEDx speak I did in April within the UK.

I’ll write about two main elements of my life: my upbringing in one of many poorest nations within the East, getting concerned with the left politics as a youngster, dropping out of medical faculty and dealing with indigenous individuals and garment staff—which was a reasonably large deal for a teenage woman to do in a conservative Muslim nation like Bangladesh—and my maturity within the richest nations within the west, the U.S. and Canada, as a scholar and knowledgeable, and my life with Avijit after a violent divorce in 2000.

It seems like I’ve been preventing with the prevailing world order in numerous capacities—faith, social change, politics, household. I’m notably enthusiastic about telling my story from the lens of a lady who grew up “alongside” Bangladesh; by this, I imply that Bangladesh gained independence shortly after my start via a bloody nine-month-long conflict and that Bangladesh and I’ve grown up hand in hand. On the opposite aspect, I need to speak about my grownup life within the company world as one of many few ladies in IT; Avijit’s and my journey collectively as freethinkers, writers and activists.  My story can also be about certainly one of a lady in our era who needed to continuously stability and negotiated her means by means of the interval of single motherhood, skilled success, ardour, politics, competing worldviews and faith.

How did you meet Avijit?

Avijit and I began courting throughout continents in 2002 after we met in Avijit’s newly based on-line platform, Muktomona, for the Bengali talking freethinkers. We had an exquisite relationship for nearly 13 years. Avijit was not solely a prolific author and an internet activist with a rational and scientific thoughts; he was additionally a feminist. I typically really feel our relationship was so fulfilling in so many ways in which I can’t have any regrets if I don’t have another relationships in my lifetime.

Do you assume the assault make you extra dedicated to your objectives? Do you are feeling this assault has modified you? 

I don’t know if it made me extra dedicated, however it has modified me in some ways. I don’t worry about little issues in life anymore, and my 21-year-old daughter undoubtedly appreciates that lots.

Do you assume such terrorists contemplate fearless ladies one among their largest threats? 

The spiritual group commits itself to the suppression of girls—it’s a development present in all organized faith. A lady’s proper to decide on is presently beneath assault on this nation, too. It’s unhappy that we’re nonetheless preventing for the safety of those elementary rights, whereas we must be preventing for the subsequent steps to realize equal rights for ladies.

You requested a query in your TEDx Talks: “Why not me.” Are you able to clarify that?

This realization of “why not me” helped me see my random and temporary existence on this planet inside the broader context of the universe and was an integral piece of my restoration. I coped by not being perplexed and depressed by the query, “why me,” however by making an attempt to cope with it, and reply it. I attempted to know how occasions are formed by one another, how all of us impression one another—simply as, maybe, a small butterfly fluttering its wings in a single nook can influence the climate on the other aspect of the world.

Even in any case that had occurred to me, I’m nonetheless extra lucky than many others. I nonetheless have a well-paying job, a particularly supportive and succesful community of family and friends and a assure of a cushty life and a platform to speak to the world. Most individuals shouldn’t have these luxuries. We reside in a world now the place the richest one % personal half of the world’s wealth, however when a few of us get fortunate to be tucked into this protected and cozy life we take it as a right and create a private backyard of Eden throughout us. We expect that is what we deserve, that nothing can contact us inside these protecting partitions that we’ve got constructed. However once we are thrown out of that Eden, we break down and begin asking, “why me, why am I the one suffering?”—simply as Job did within the Previous Testomony.

For those who look rigorously, this can be a fairly violent universe: stars exploding, galaxies crashing. Even in our comparatively calmer planet, there isn’t any finish of catastrophes—pure disasters, local weather change, random accidents, excessive poverty, corruption, wars, intercourse trafficking, ethnic cleaning, violence. A few of it flows from sheer randomness, corresponding to the place we’re born; some from accidents. Others are undoubtedly created by the actions of people.

At the moment, tales of the Yazidi ladies who escaped from the stronghold of ISIS after being captured, bought and raped many occasions have been everywhere in the information. They labored as an inspiration for me. I assumed, if these extremely courageous ladies might attempt to stay once more, what was my excuse? This realization was extremely liberating. It inspired me to transcend the inside screaming of “me, me, me.” The query actually isn’t “why did bad things happen to me?” Shouldn’t the actual query be “why not me?”

I considered it from one other angle, too. I assumed concerning the younger photojournalist. Quite than simply taking footage and leaving or watching us on the road like tons of of different individuals, he requested himself: “Why not me? Why not help?” That saved my life.

Kohinur Khyum Tithila is a journalist based mostly in Bangladesh. She is a Fulbright scholar and acquired her second grasp’s diploma in Journal, Newspaper, & On-line Journalism from Syracuse College, first grasp’s diploma in criminology and felony justice from Dhaka College, and bachelor’s diploma in English from East West College. Kohinur writes about LGBTQ and ladies’s points, feminism, crime, secularism, social justice and human rights. She can also be hooked on something caffeinated.

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