As he lay bleeding, Zafar Iqbal, a Bangladeshi scientist widely viewed as a pioneer of Sci-Fi writing in his country who spoke out against radicalism and faith-based politics, reportedly showed mercy on the man who allegedly attacked him with a knife.
Iqbal, who was recovering Monday at a military hospital in Dhaka from his stab wounds, pleaded for students to spare the suspect, identified as Faizur Rahman, soon after a group of enraged youths ganged up on Rahman and roughed him up following Saturday’s attack at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in the northeastern city of Sylhet.
“Do not beat him. Save him. Check if he is my student,” the professor told a political science student at the time, according to a report in BDNews24.com, a local news website.
Iqbal is a professor of computer science and engineering at the university, where he heads up its electrical engineering department.
The attack occurred during a robotic fair at the university while Zafar Iqbal was guarded by four police officers.
“This attack on Dr. Zafar Iqbal is directly an attack on free intellectual thinking and an attack on all writers and publishers,” publisher Robin Ahsan, the proprietor of Srabon Prokashoni, a secular publishing house, told BenarNews.
Iqbal, 65, is considered a leader of Bangladesh’s progressive movement and a pioneer in science fiction in the Bengali language, who has written several non-fiction books on physics and mathematics. In addition, he writes columns published in mainstream newspapers.
His father was a policeman who was killed while fighting against Pakistan and its collaborators in the 1971 war of independence, when Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan. During the decades since, Iqbal has actively spoken out against alleged war criminals who had sided with Pakistani forces, as well as against religious-based political parties and organizations.
Ahsan described Iqbal as a writer who directed his works at young people. “He is important for writing the history of the Liberation War [the 1971 war] for kids.”
Two brothers have similar literary careers. Elder brother Hunayun Ahmed, who died in 2012, was known as a best-seller writer of Bangla literature. Younger brother Ahsan Habib is one of the country’s best cartoonists and edits Bangladesh’s only cartoon-focused humor magazine, “Unmad.”
“He is a voice against Islamic radicalism and sectarianism. He was not silent while they killed writers and publishers,” Ahsan said of Zafar Iqbal, referring to a string of murders that targeted secular writers in Bangladesh in 2015 and 2016.
Among those killed was writer and blogger Avijit Roy who was fatally stabbed after leaving the Ekushey Book Fair on the Dhaka University campus in February 2015. In October of that year, Faisal Arefin Dipan, the founder of Jagriti Publishers who published works by Roy and Zafar Iqbal, suffered a similar fate.
Dipan’s widow, Razia Rahman Jolly, published two more books by Zafar Iqbal.
“He is a bird of light. People living in darkness are obviously trying to kill him,” she said.
In online postings, radical groups have claimed that Zafar Iqbal’s writings have insulted the prophet Dawud and his son, prophet Sulaiman.
Razia Rahman said she realized that her actions could have consequences.
“After writers, maybe publishers will be the targets,” she said.