Born in Bangladesh, Avijit studied in Singapore and worked as a mechanical engineer in the United States, where he also became a citizen, living in Georgia. He was also a writer and social critic. His Bangladeshi blog, Mukto-Mona (“free mind”), served the country’s rationalists, skeptics, and freethinkers — and provided space for counter-arguments. His ideas met firm resistance: Bangladesh is a secular state, but its population is 90 percent Muslim. “Avijit Roy lives in America,” wrote Bangladeshi Muslim Farabi Shafiur Rahman in an online post. “So it’s not possible to kill him now. But when he returns home, he will be killed then.” It was just one of many threats. Avijit always defied such threats, so he and his wife went to Bangladesh to attend the Ekushey Book Fair in the capital city of Dhaka to speak about his latest two books, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), which were critically well received and popular in the country. After leaving the fair, Avijit and his wife were pulled out of a pedicab by several men and hacked with machetes; despite it being on the street in the crowded city, no one came to their aid. Avijit was killed, and his wife severely injured. Minutes after the attack, police say, Rahman posted photos of the scene online, and has been arrested for murder.
“Let’s not be mistaken about why Avijit was killed,” said Bangladeshi-British journalist Alom Shaha: “he said and wrote things some people didn’t like. There will be more such killings. More people will die because they say, write or draw things that other people don’t like. More people will die until we are all united in stating unequivocally that anyone who commits such atrocities is entirely in the wrong, that it is unjustifiable to kill people who ‘offend’ you, that blasphemy is a ridiculous notion and that no one should ever, ever be killed for ‘insulting’ a religion or drawing a cartoon.” The Dhaka Tribune editorialized that Avijit wrote “books on science and religion that forcefully pointed out the inadequacy of religions to stand up to enlightenment, science, and humanism,” which “inspired tens of thousands of curious minds to know more about the beauty and wonders of science and to be bold enough to question religious dogmas that fail to stand up to reason.” And that’s the problem, it continued: their inadequacy is the “source of insecure rage of the religious fundamentalists; they cannot counter him with words and reason.” Avijit was hacked to death on February 26 for openly promoting reason and thought; he was 42.