Blasphemy laws and accusations have caused terrible suffering around the world. What is considered to be blasphemous is determined by what some people think. Blasphemy is, we assert, absolutely a matter of opinion because other people will claim with the same amount of conviction that they are wrong, or that other acts and statements are blasphemous.
Throughout the ages, from country to country, there have been accusations of blasphemy and religious offence. In fact, only recently, some European countries eliminated their blasphemy laws, but in other regions, the use of direct and indirect blasphemy laws has increased significantly. Blasphemy laws are currently found and acted on in countries around the world, especially in Iran, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and some countries in Africa. But blasphemy laws do not concern only religion; they also enable a group of people to achieve supremacy over others, and the laws are used as a weapon of political, economic, and legal control. Religious nationalist governments, monarchies with religious identities, and so-called democratic authoritarian governments are using blasphemy laws in various dimensions and formats to their advantage. These laws are being used to consolidate and maintain political power, silence dissent, and deprive ordinary people of their freedom of speech. In enforcing these laws, people are being arbitrarily abducted, murdered, and exiled from normal life.
In many more regions, including Europe, ordinary people take it upon themselves to punish people they believe acted blasphemously. The violence resulting from such incidents is no less horrifying than the violence of state mandated blasphemy laws. Readers will be able to recall several examples of this horror.
As a Little Magazine and a book publishing company, Shuddhashar has always opposed blasphemy laws. The books and essays published by Shuddhashar over the years are proof of this. Tragically, several writers of Shuddhashar were victims of blasphemy accusations. Some lost their lives, and many others have been censored or exiled. In 2015, Shuddhashar faced a brutal incident, and the publisher was injured during an attack that was intended to kill. That same day, the publisher of Jagriti was killed. The Ansarullah Bangla team claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying in a statement on Twitter and other media outlets that they killed to punish atheists who published books criticizing Allah, the Prophet, and Islamic values. According to information provided by many security experts and analysts, the government was indirectly involved in the attack. As a result, Shuddhashar suffered huge financial losses and had to withdraw all activities from Bangladesh.
Since the launch of Shuddhashar online, we have been committed to the development and advancement of democratic and human values among people, especially among the youth. In its various magazine issues, Shuddhashar has sought articles to explore reasons for the development of fundamentalism, the dangers of authoritarian rule, and the importance of human rights, democratic culture, social equality, and justice. This special issue on blasphemy is a part of this larger agenda of understanding the various societal and political circumstances that challenge human rights and dignity.
With the belief that understanding these conditions is part of our responsibility and mission, Shuddhashar is publishing this issue. The subject is much vaster and more nuanced than we have managed to present here. Still, we hope that this Shuddhashar issue can serve as a meaningful source of information and ideas.