Bangladesh: Why was science fiction writer Zafar Iqbal attacked?

Bangladesh: Why was science fiction writer Zafar Iqbal attacked?
From Al Jazeera - March 13, 2018

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, a celebrated Bangladeshi author and academic, was stabbed in the back on March 3, while attending a programme at a university in the northeastern district of Sylhet.

The lone attacker, Foyzur Rahman, was caught before he could continue stabbing Iqbal from behind. The 24-year-old attacker later said he wanted to kill Iqbal because he believed the academic was an "an enemy of Islam".

Iqbal, who has authored more than 200 books, is now out of danger and is recuperating at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in the capital, Dhaka, according to his wife, Yasmin Haque.

The stabbing has brought back memories of a series of fatal attacks against secular bloggers in Bangladesh nearly three years ago.

Investigators have made progress in probing the knife attack in which Iqbal sustained injuries to his head, back and left hand.

The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTC), a special unit of the Bangladesh Police who took charge of the investigation, have found some evidence that links Rahman with a right-wing forum named Dawah Ilallah.

Dawah Ilallah is an internet forum run by the banned Bangladeshi outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Ansar al-Islam, which were blamed for the spate of deadly attacks against secular bloggers.

Terming the matter "an ongoing investigation", an official of the CTTC, who preferred anonymity, told Al Jazeera that the forum labelled Iqbal an atheist, and held frequent discussions on possible ways to kill him.

After Rahman volunteered, "some users" of the forum, which one can join by invitation only, guided Rahman to carry out the attack, the CTTC official said.

Abdul Mannan, Additional Deputy Commissioner of CTTC, told Al Jazeera that, at this point, they are not making any "conclusive decision" about Rahman's affiliation with any armed outfit.

"The style of the attack, however, indicated a link with ABT, as this outfit attacks people whom it believes to be an enemy of Islam," he said, adding that Iqbal had long been on the hit-list of ABT.

"We are not yet sure whether Rahman acted alone or as a part of the group," said Mannan.

The case of Zafar Iqbal

On March 5, at a protest meeting in Dhaka's Shahbagh, Haque said her husband wrote more than 200 books and none of those has "anything that goes against the Islamic sentiment".

"Had he [Rahman] read any of his books, he would not have done anything like that," Haque said at the rally.

While Iqbal has never styled himself as an atheist or was believed to have said anything that goes against Islam, he has been a staunch critic of Islamist politics and growing intolerance in Bangladeshi society.

His father, who worked as a police officer in what was then Eastern Pakistan, was killed during the 1971 liberation war.

He comes from a family of writers. His elder brother, late Humayun Ahmed, is the most popular and highest-selling Bangladeshi writer of all time. His younger brother Ahsan Habib is a satire writer and the editor of Bangladesh's only monthly satire magazine, Unmad, which means"madman".

After his PhD from the University of Washington, he went on to work as a scientist at the renowned Bell Laboratory in California.

In the early 2000s, he came back to Bangladesh to join Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in the northeastern Sylhet district as a professor of electrical and electronics engineering.

"Zafar Iqbal left a high-salaried job at a very prestigious research lab in the US and got back to his homeland to work for it," said Mohammad Kaykobad, a friend of Iqbal.

Why was he attacked?


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