Published:  01:00 AM, 17 October 2020

Bittersweet Facebook experiences over the years

Bittersweet Facebook experiences over the years

I always believe that, like the Christian renaissance and reformation had a good impact on the church and state in the continental Europe in the 15th century, Muslims will also have their renaissance in the 21st century, which will change their life with a very progressive trajectory.

Being born in a Muslim family, I had to learn the Koran and other Islamic rituals at a tender age. So once I was a typical young Muslim boy who would recite from the Koran and say my prayers regularly. At the age of eighteen, I finished reading the Koran with the tafsir and also read Islamic history. Later in my life, I started studying the major religions of the world. My paternal grandfather, who was an imam and polyglot, was a very friendly and down-to-earth person. Neither my grandfather nor my parents forced me to say prayers. So, I was born and bred in a very liberal Muslim family.

More than a decade ago, I joined Facebook and enthusiastically started to espouse the benefits to be gained from scientific studies and knowledge. I was able to not only to impart liberal knowledge to some friends, but also tried to kindle enthusiasm in liberal figures like Richard Dawkins, Dr Ahmad Sharif and others. My aim was to promote equality, civil rights and progress among Muslim friends. In my view, this is the century for inclusion.
There are all kinds of people including atheists, theists and agnostics on my friends' list.

Some of my learned friends suggest that I de-friend the radical Muslims who often incite moderate Muslims to take up arms against non-believers and their interests. I argue with them, saying we need to make them understand that they are on the wrong path. Many of my radical Muslim friends de-friended and or blocked me and some others sent me hate messages for my opinions on different Islamic issues on Facebook.

Since I have studied Abrahamic religions, I was able to write several articles excoriating some issues that drew my attention in newspapers and on Facebook. So, some ex-Muslims and non-Muslim friends appreciated me for what I had written. Being excited, they praised me thoroughly; a few of them called me over the phone and others shared my articles.

Indian Hindu nationalist leaders' rhetoric against Bangladesh has had a huge leverage on the Sangh Parivar, a cluster of Hindu organizations including the BJP, which always blames Bangladesh by suggesting that Hindus have been oppressed by all Bangladeshi governments and being subdued to convert to Islam by the majority Muslims. They also condemn Bangladesh for the mass exodus of Hindu Bangladeshis to India's West Bengal, Tripura and Assam.

Everybody knows that the ruling BJP has reached the pinnacle of its political success by focusing on the revival of Hindutva or a strict implementation of Hindu culture, etiquette, and customs. The folks who speak against the polity come under the attacks of the Sangh Parivar. So, they get threatened or killed for saying anything against the rightwing Hindutva politics. But on different social media, the Hindu nationalists abuse and humiliate you for raising your voice against them.

A few months ago, Union Home Minister Amit Shah started spewing vitriol against Bangladesh, referring to illegal migrants from Bangladesh as termites. Bangladesh's government likes to portray itself as a friend of India but Modi-Shah duo grotesquely distorted the friendship and blamed Bangladesh for the alleged killing or converting Hindus to Islam.The BJP and its allies Sangh Parivar do not believe in secularism. They believe in a non-secular India and give credence to right-wing Hindutva politics of division and segregation.

Hindu nationalists have always been vocal on different social media flat-forms. The majority of Hindu nationalists with whom I became friends years back, now hide their face to slam Bangladesh, saying tens of thousands of undocumented Bangladeshis live and work in India. According to them, Bangladeshi Muslims have been doing criminal activities all across India and especially changing the demography of Assam and North-Eastern states of India.

I didn't delete or block any friends until recently. But, now I do so, because some of the friends whom I added, seeing their profile pictures, now hide their pictures to abuse others for establishing their arguments.  Through Facebook, I came to know some Urdu-speakers, who were born in erstwhile East Pakistan; and a few of them studied inBangladeshi universities until the mid 1980s and left for Pakistan. Several of them called me over the phone and I met a few of them in Toronto.

The Bengali accent of some of them is nearly impeccable, and our conversations went very nicely. I guess if Bangladesh was richer than Pakistan then, they wouldn't migrate to an unknown place leaving their place of birth. A Bangladeshi Hindu who seemed to be secular, who is a former professor at the University of Chittagong, hurled abuse at me for saying that Bangladesh has been doing better than India in social indicators. He later blocked me because our arguments reached a stalemate and neither of us wanted to reconcile.

A Bangladeshi-Canadian and ex-Muslim gave me and my family shelter at his basement for more than a month when I couldn't finalize the deal of buying my new house several years ago. I am grateful to him for his generosity. He can't tolerate Bangladesh because in his view, Bangladeshi Muslims have been becoming fanatical and inflicting attacks on Hindus. He loves India with his heart and soul. Once I commented on his Facebook post that India has never been a united nation until the foreign rulers came in.

There were hundreds of small kingdoms if not thousands in the South Asian region. The Mughals and British united the all kingdoms to make a united India. He got hurt emotionally and several times, I tried to reconcile with him, but he thinks I started the enmity with him by saying so - that is why he has been giving me the cold shoulder. A long time female friend of his told me that he had converted to Hinduism. But I've some Indian and Pakistani friends who are very sober and logical in their comments.

Anjan Chakraborty, once a communist party leader in West Bengal, still calls me from Minneapolis, USA, over the phone and vice versa. Once he had been active on Facebook for years. I came into contact with some people whose parents migrated to West Bengal from Bangladesh have a soft corner for Bangladesh and Bangladeshi people. Apart from that, they are good because they have overcome the barriers of caste, creed or religion.

Radical Hindus are as bad as radical Muslims. What the Hindu nationalists are doing in India has a great impact on the radical Muslims in Bangladesh. That might even ignite radical extremism in Bangladesh. Such a situation might harm both the nations. Eight years ago one morning, I got a message on my Facebook messenger from a female friend appreciating my writing. In the beginning, I was attracted to her intelligence because both her Bengali and English writings were perfect and later.

I searched about her and found that she has been a great writer and story teller in Bengali. She lives in NYC. Though our relationship was based on platonic love, it didn't remain in that boundary anymore. Several years ago, we brought an end to that relationship. Several years ago, I first came into contact with amazing writers like Syed Badrul Ahsan, a political analyst and historian, writer Nazarul Islam, writer Subrata Kumar Das, and many more.

I am not among those people who believe that giving time on Facebook is frittering away precious time instead doing something better, because what I learnt from this forum is very remarkable. I read posts, articles and I also get inspired by them, to write articles on many subjects. For me, this forum has got me many experiences and skills. Overall, I believe, in the realm of knowledge, this forum will build me up well as a human being. I have personally found some solutions to and solace for issues I am concerned with from virtual friends.

The writer, a Bangladeshi freethinker, is based in Toronto, Canada .

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