Definitions Impact Understanding

The horrible killing of Nazimuddin Samad is a crime in and of itself. As I read the reporting of it, however, I saw that there were definitely different pictures of the incident, of Nazimuddin Samad himself, and the world.

Aljazeera described his comments as pro-atheist, while also calling him a secularist. Aljazeera quoted Imran Sarker as saying, “He was a secular online activist and a loud voice against any social injustice. He was against Islamic fundamentalism.”

IBT called him a critic of radical Islam, and The Brisbane Times called him liberal and secular. It was the BBC’s report that really got me thinking.

The BBC reported that Nazimuddin Samad wrote against religious extremism. The BBC also reported that Nazimuddin Samad had “I have no religion” on his Facebook profile.

To my way of thinking, there is a difference between religious extremism, pro-atheism, secular, liberal, and even “I have no religion.” While even the understanding of religious extremism can be different (i.e., a devout atheist and devout Christian would have different understandings, depending on the issue), I will stick with the current Western thought of physically violent attacks on those of differing beliefs resulting in longer term harm (PTSD, amputation, blindness, etc.) and/or death.

Pro-atheism would be more akin to a person who publicly advocates for atheism and publicly (and actively?) opposed religion.

Secularism gets interesting as it really can depend. My definition of secularism would be a separation of powers between religious body (versus religion) and government. This is not how many people view secularism (including many Christians and atheists), but I base my understanding of the “separation of church and state” in concert with “the free exercise thereof”, and how I understand what the Founding Fathers intended this tension.

Liberal is such a loaded term that it is almost useless, at least in the United States. Perhaps, it is a more useful term outside our borders.

“I have no religion” is the most interesting. For Fundamentalist believers (whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, etc.), I suspect that this is immediately equated to atheist. Aljazeera, for example, from its history might very well have that perspective (thus affecting their reporting). However, based on what little I know, I suspect Nazimuddin Samad kept his religious views private so as to not impact his work on secularism. Yes, I am assuming he was not an atheist (just stick with me on this). Bangladesh, along with many other nations (including the United States to a much lesser degree), is officially secular, but its people are not, which creates a tension between government and the people. In a country where the people avow their religiosity, “I have no religion” may come across as atheist. Yet, in an atmosphere of rising religious tensions and being a secularist (and I am, I acknowledge, using my definition), I can see the rationale of saying, “I have no religion,” while still holding onto religious beliefs.

My real thrust in this, however, is not trying to define/explain/defend Nazimuddin Samad or anyone else, but to observe that just the reporting on this tragedy can cause one to draw very different conclusions about Nazimuddin Samad, and his views. My take is that depending on who is reporting (and their editor), how one draws conclusions might severly be impacted.

Author: Ian