I was going to say “to all humanists” but you’d have to be something other than human not to be moved by Bonya Ahmed, the person and her story, speaking to a live public audience for the first time last night at the British Humanist Association 2015 Voltaire lecture in London.
“Wife of” murdered atheist blogger Avijit Roy is how most of us will have first come across Bonya, but she is very much all of atheist, secularist, rationalist, humanist thinker, writer and activist in her own person. A full transcription of her talk last night is already available on the English-language version of the Mukto-Mona rational free-thought blogging platform they set up with other Bangaldeshi bloggers. Giving free-thought a voice in the Bangla language was fundamental to their project. But the words of her talk were only the half of it
At pains not to be drawn into simplistic responses to complex questions, she emphasised the historical perspective of all human situations. And whilst thoughtfully researching the philosophical and historical underpinnings, she also emphasised that this had limited value without political action. It takes all of us to do all of this – we each must do our part of the whole. We can’t fight machetes with pens alone. In that striving for careful thought and balanced effective action, I personally couldn’t help but see a fellow-traveller. A fellow-traveller, in my case, in the comfort of a western secular democracy as chair Jim Al-Khalili pointed out. It was all I could do not to participate whilst she was talking.
Whatever the careful content of her messages, the passionate yet slight, unassuming individual shone through. Shining through, you kept having to remind yourself, not just the horrific death of her husband and father of their daughter, an attack in which she too was savagely maimed, not to mention already under treatment for existing cancer, debilitating personal experience few of us could even imagine. Only 4 months after that event the emotion was visible, yet contained, and the humour and humanity only ever one shyly unassuming smile away.
No wonder so many Tweets used awe-struck language. Courageous and inspiring to all of us it seemed. And a spontaneous emotional standing ovation that died only when Jim persuaded her to step down and leave the stage. The effect summed-up in Phil Walder’s tweet:
I have never felt more humble or proud to be a Humanist than I did tonight. #BHAVoltaire
— Phil Walder (@WallyFlea) July 2, 2015
[Post Note : Video of full event and talk online at BHA You Tube page.]
[Post Note : and some progress thanks to BHA and FCO.]