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Parvez, writing to address radical Islamists in Bangladesh

Interview by Noah Wánebo
Photo Daniella van Bergen

Parvez Alam decided to leave Bangladesh in 2015 as an increasing number of fellow writers were being murdered. Like him, they challenged the forces of extreme political Islam on the rise in the country. He knew he was on the same list.

“Just before I left, another blogger was killed in his house,” he remembers. “That was the point I decided that I just had to leave the country as soon as possible. Someone suggested and gave me information about the Shelter City programme, and it was the closest thing that I could apply for, so I did.”

Through his works, Parvez strives to address radical Islamists, whose ideas and political power are growing in Bangladesh. “I’m sure that the Islamists are going to be very influential in Bangladeshi politics for a long time and they are instrumental in any change there, so that’s my focus rather than just focusing on what secular people can do”, he says.

Parvez came to Amsterdam through the Shelter City programme, which gave him a place to live and work in safety while meeting other human rights defenders and strengthening his networks and strategies for activism. Exceptionally, he has stayed in the country after the end of the programme due to the significant threats against his life that remain in Bangladesh.

“I’m sure that the Islamists are going to be very influential in Bangladeshi politics for a long time”

A particularly thoughtful writer, Parvez tends to weave history and philosophy into both his written work and casual conversations. He jumps between Foucault, late capitalism, and the legacy of British colonialism as he explores the problems facing the modern world and their impact on his homeland. These days his work focuses mostly on the history of ideas—like those that grew into a threat against his life and forced him to leave Bangladesh.

“My personal goal now is writing a kind of genealogy, the history of ideas and the power relations that shape them, across all types of levels,” he says. “I personally think I don’t write anything that is very controversial, but the political atmosphere in Bangladesh now, which has developed since 2012 and 2013, makes things difficult.”

He believes the threats he and other bloggers face for their writing do not gain as much international attention and condemnation as they might if they were to happen elsewhere. The Bangladeshi people, he says, are seen as “exceptions” in the world when compared to the rights and safety enjoyed and promoted elsewhere.

“Nobody cares. You become a form of life that can be killed. It’s not really considered a crime.”

Since 2015, the murder of bloggers appears to have slowed, though Parvez believes this is partly because most of the targets have already been killed or have left the country. Regarding his own future work, he says he does not know how it will evolve, but he will continue his activism—from the Netherlands, for now.

“I just want to continue writing. I have a readership in Bangladesh that’s quite diverse, which gives me a kind of hope”.

Read the full interview of Parvez