5 years of Mukto-Mona

After years of growing pain, the forum is in shipshape condition to move forward

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on May 31, 2006

Mukto-Mona (M-M) is celebrating now its fifth year birth anniversary; therefore, congratulations are due to the founding moderators. It is a joyous occasion, undoubtedly. The cyber organization had gone through the growing pains and a lot has happened already. A few of the early moderators have left the forum for whatever reasons while many new faces have replaced them. The forum is in strong footing now; thus, another round of applause is due. Avijit, Jahed, Bonna � you guys deserve all the plaudits from everyone who call this forum their home away from home. We certainly are the proud denizens of Mukto-Mona. This is where we slake our intellectual thirst.

How did I get involved with M-M? Come to think of it, Jamal Hasan should get some credit for my being in this prestigious forum. He told me in the summer of 2001 that an e-forum by the name Mukto-Mona was formed and I should certainly become a member of this newly formed group. At the time I was quite busy with the �News from Bangladesh� or NFB. My hands were fool and I was not in a mood to join another cyber forum. Naturally, I postponed my participation in M-M forum; however, I kept abreast of what was going on in this new forum.

Jamal Hasan told me that he found Avijit in an obscure forum where he was debating endlessly with some Muslim fanatics. Jamal liked Avijit�s style of arguments with the diehard Bangladeshi Islamists. He then proposed to Avijit to visit NFB where Abul Kasem, Syed Kamran Mirza, Fatemollah, and a handful of secularists were locked in vicious debates of myriad kinds. The meeting of the minds took place in NFB forum and the rest is what the clich� said, history.

Barely four months could pass after the formation of M-M forum when Islamic terrorists struck America. This mega-event gave a shot in the arm of M-M forum-goers. I became very busy then while penning all kinds of editorials on 9-11. I realized then that people were reading our articles that were critical to jihadism, fundamentalism, obscurantism, etc. A reporter from Washington D.C. called me at home seeking my interview. I saw that some of what I said during the interview got into the article. I asked the reporter how did he get my name and phone number. He said he did a research on Islamic fundamentalism in the Net and my name came up very strongly in the search. From that I learned what we do in the Net vis-�-vis writing against religious fanaticism is getting the attention of key people.

In October 2001, Bangladesh�s voters went to the poll to elect parliamentary members. When the election results came out some of us were very disturbed hearing the election outcome. Words were coming out that the cards were stacked against the main secularist party, the Awami League (AL). The head of the caretaker government, Justice Latifur Rahman, in connivance with the chief election officer, and few administrative officers had helped rig the election just enough to give the four-party alliance a majority in the parliament. As soon as the results were out, the goons belonging to BNP, Jamaat, and two other alliance parties started a reign of terror targeting the Hindus on the premise that the minorities vote for AL candidates. Some of us in NFB including Dr. Shabbir Ahmed started a writing campaign to tell the world that Hindus in Bangladesh were getting the shaft for voting AL candidates.

On December 16, 2001 I published an article entitled �The Victory Day from minority�s perspective.� The next day I received an invitation via e-mail from the moderator of M-M to join the forum. The moderator requested me to send the article to the forum, which I did [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/3795]. Since then, I started sending my articles to Mukto-Mona regularly and I have continued this practice to this date.

In the last five years I witnessed many a change in the forum. Initially, this was the place where a plethora of articles and posts that were critical of Islam were posted. Also, secularists who joined the group had vociferously complained about the minority (from the standpoint of religion) repressions that got under way immediately after the parliamentary election of October 2001. I also remember seeing many posts relating to 9-11 terrorist bombings in New York and Washington D.C. However, as the time passed by, the character of the forum started changing. Quite a few regular members left the forum for various reasons but their absence was not sorely missed; the new members took up the slack and the forum was invigorated with the infusion of new blood.

In the later part of 2002 when President Bush was making preparation for his unilateral war against Iraq many members of our forum were really concerned about the fallout of Bush�s misadventure; they posted articles, short comments opposing President Bush�s idea. After that, M-M looked more like a global civil rights group. Because of the overabundance of anti-Islamic articles and posts many outsiders thought that our forum�s main goal was to demonize religion and in particular Islam. Thus, I have seen other Bangladeshis mentioning M-M�s name with their disparaging remarks. By this time I had joined M-M�s advisory and editorial board and because of this, my contact with Avijit and other board members grew and we were in constant touch with each other over various issues.

The most dramatic change in the policy of M-M came when the U.S. election neared in November 2004. A bunch of us in the forum took the side of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic Party�s nominee, which had irritated some writers. After the election results, a rift developed between the two groups. Consequently, a few of them moved over to another e-forum. However, M-M�s loss was compensated by the arrival of many new members and some of them were very enthusiastic about the future of M-M. The identity of M-M had rapidly changed from being an anti-Islamic forum to secularist forum that opposes civil rights violation, and having such agenda as pro-democracy, pro-science, pro-Darwinism, pro-rationalism, etc. Folks from divergent backgrounds could still meet in this cyber forum and discuss myriad of issues � all encompassing subcontinental, regional, global, etc. Some may view our forum a meeting ground of social activists and I will ditto to that. We would do our part to make our world a tad better; therefore, any action towards that goal no matter how small it is would be a worthwhile cause.

Mukto-Mona website received a much needed facelift that took place perhaps in late 2004 or early 2005. It is a lot easier now to find articles in the archive and the cataloguing of hundreds of articles had made it easier to locate a specific article.

The forum is finally receiving many submissions in Bangla, which should be a joy to our Bangla-speaking members. I must say that most of the Bangla articles are original composition of many talented members; however, this cannot be said about the English articles. I wish M-M would receive more original full-length articles in English to quench the thirst of non-Bengali participants.

From time to time, our forum participates in celebration of joyous occasions such as Bangladesh�s Victory Day, Independence Day, Bangla New Year Celebration, Darwin Day, Rabindranath�s Birth Day, the Earth Day, etc. As you could see, these celebrations center on secular events; on the contrary, the holidays with religious underpinning do not receive any attention here.

The membership of M-M forum is steadily growing, which is a healthy sign. Even though the forum was initially formed by a small bunch of people from Bangladesh, now many people from our subcontinent have joined the organization making it a premiere forum for secularists. The perspective had changed from Bangladesh to global and topic wise from the narrow confine of discussion focusing on monotheistic religions to rationality, science, globalization, etc. M-M writers are becoming widely known now in Bangladesh; thanks to the publications of their works both in Bangla and English media. The forum has already made inroads into various universities and colleges. It is heartening to know that various enlightened bodies are celebrating Mukto-Mona Day while holding seminars and discussions. As time passes by, we expect to hear more news about such activities throughout Bangladesh. There was a definite void in Bangladesh as far secular and scientific discussions are concerned, I am glad to hear that Mukto-Mona is filling that void.

What is the future of M-M going forward? If we keep up with the posting of good articles, commentaries, and debates on myriad issues, more people would join our forum. Is it possible to organize forums in various universities in Dhaka, Kolkata, Chittagong, and few other cities in Bengal? Our idea is to spread secular humanism movement allover our subcontinent. M-M has definitely taken the lead in this regard. In my humble opinion amongst various forums in cyberspace our forum, Mukto-Mona, is certainly a Jewel in the Crown? An overstatement? I hardly think so.

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from the campus of Cornell University at Ithaca, New York