THE stabbing of Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, a professor of computer science and engineering at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology and popular writer of mainly science fictions, in the head from behind with a sharp weapon, is as sad an event as it is a pointer that dissenting views of any school of thought almost always come to face violent opposition in this country, which is a glaring failure of the state and society. Assailants stabbed Zafar Iqbal several times on the university campus in the afternoon on Saturday when he was inspecting students projects in a robotic competition. He was promptly taken care of in terms of his treatment, in Sylhet and then in the capital city, and one of the attackers was chased, captured and handed over to the police for further action. Zafar Iqbal came to be threatened his life earlier by religious extremist groups on several occasions for his views about the national life while his disputes with a section of teachers and students in his university are also well known. But the government first should treat the incident as a crime of grievous nature, which is the foremost condition to deal with crimes if they are to be eliminated from society.
Dissenting views are important for a society to progress forward and there should be as many dissenting views as there can be, which is the sign of health in a democratic polity. There should, therefore, be no reason for anyone to come under attack for holding dissenting views, which only helps society to become more vigorous, accommodating and vibrant through the exercise of rational thinking. And the government, as the manager of the state, keeping to what the constitution confers on citizens in the right to the freedom of thought and conscience, barring some restrictions in the interests of the state security, should create a condition for dissenting views no matter how diversified they are. This is where the government seems to have failed, by its inaction or poor efforts, in attending to the issues, beginning with the series of killing of writers, bloggers and people of other faiths across the country in 2013–2016. In protecting the citizens’ right to the freedom of conscience and speech, even the government, or any agency under the government, has no scope to get down on dissenting voice, lawfully or unlawfully. But there are examples where government agencies have displayed a significant degree of intolerance to opposing views, political or otherwise. Such intolerance of the powers that be often provides for extremist forces to become violent against their perceived enemies that could result in disastrous consequences.
The government, under the circumstances, must stringently deal with the case at hand, the attack on Zafar Iqbal that is, by deterrently punishing anyone found, after credible investigation, to be involved in the attack. A proper justice dispensation is the way only to stem such malaise in society or stamp them out. The government must also keep in mind that itself being high-handed about views that go against the government, it will hardly be successful in protecting the citizens’ right to the freedom of conscience and of speech.
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