The Course of Reason

Defending Dissent in Bangladesh, in Missouri

April 30, 2013

A month ago, Bangladesh was barely on my radar. I think I may have encountered a few Facebook pictures with the relevant information. You know, human rights violations, Islamists being violent, and irrational. I’m sad to say that I’ve grown desensitized to the topic. Nothing they do surprises me anymore. There is no tragedy beyond their capabilities. If it is horrific, they have probably done it, and probably to children. But when I saw the call for a global protest about the atheist bloggers, some passion within me lit up. So we protested in Columbia, Missouri, USA, pissed and loud about the human rights violations in Bangladesh.

Something clicked for me when I realized that those humans being killed, stabbed, and arrested, are no different than me, except that they have much more courage. Compared to them, I am a coward, because I haven’t been making more noise about this situation. The reason I haven’t been making more noise is that I didn’t feel directly affected.

I knew that the bloggers were suffering great wrongs, and that their own government was participating in those wrongs, and that their only hope for salvation was the intervention of the global community. But I basically just acknowledged those facts, and continued on with my day to day. I think I was kind of hesitant to stand up and make some noise about something, when it was status quo to just sort of shake my head. It was easy to do the status quo. It was easy to feel powerless. But it was so much easier to make a Facebook event linking to the global one, and tell people to show up with signs and words and noise.

I wish I had started making noise sooner, as I’m sure you do, too, if you haven’t made much noise about it yet. 

Me, Seth Kurtenbach, dude in Missouri, defending dissent for Bangladeshi bloggers.

This is me, struggling to defend dissent for bloggers in Bangladesh. Tony Lakey is behind me, laughing at my pitiful attempt.
Photo credit: Chantelle Moghadam.

I’m really grateful to Maryam Namazie, CFI, American Atheists, and the countless other individuals who raised my awareness about this issue and gave me an opportunity to make some noise about it, by organizing a coordinated global effort to make noise. The first global protest began last Thursday, April 25th, at Noon, in Columbia, MO, and the global protest continues through this Thursday, May 2nd. A week of global opposition to the Bangladeshi bloggers’ basic freedom of speech is good, but we shouldn’t let up. If there’s one thing we should avoid, it’s the return to complacency. There are many issues out there, many of them worthy of our attention and efforts, but we have a real foothold on this one. A globally coordinated protest is no easy feat. We have one. We shouldn’t let it slip away.

Greg Lammers with bullhorn.

Greg Lammers (American Atheists state rep of Missouri) with bullhorn. Me pointing at Greg, saying, “Now that’s how you fuckin’ defend dissent!” Tony laughing at my obvious jealousy of Greg’s dissent defending skills.
Photo credit: Carla Burris.

By the way, if you haven’t signed the petition, you probably should:

In light of the tragic textile collapse last Thursday, many groups decided to postpone their participation, out of respect for the day of mourning declared in Bangladesh, and the likelihood that Bangladeshi consulates would be crowded with anxious overseas family members. Other groups decided to go ahead with the protest. So, we have what amounts to a week long protest. I propose that we keep it going. We should do this every Thursday, World. Every Thursday, let’s make some ruckus about the Bangladeshi bloggers, send emails to our respective State Departments, and drop a bunch of #DefendDissent tagged tweets all over the blogosphere. 

 Carla Burris, defending dissent, but in a totally approachable way.

Carla Burris, defending dissent, but in a totally approachable way.
Photo credit: Chantelle Moghadam.

We can put the Thor back in Thursday, and sling thunder at the oppression. Or like, hammer it with Mjolnir. Maybe we could call it… Hammer Time. Yeah, Hammer Time Thursdays.

 Aaron Underwood, with bullhorn.

Aaron Underwood, with bullhorn (center), and reporter, with microphone (bottom right).
Photo credit: Chantelle Moghadam.

We did it in Columbia, MO, basically as far away from Bangladesh as you can get, geographically and culturally. We had a bullhorn. We made a lot of noise. If we can make noise about Bangladesh all the way from Columbia, MO, then you sure as shit can, wherever you are. Then, we’ll all be making noise about it. If enough of us make noise, then maybe MC Hammer will hear us. Then, the real change can begin. Then, not even the Bangladeshi government, nor all the wacko Islamists in the world, can touch the atheist bloggers.

  Katie Huddlestonesmith and Anastasia Underwood, defending dissent, in a really classy way.
Katie Huddlestonesmith and Anastasia Underwood, defending dissent, in a really classy way.
Photo credit: Chantelle Moghadam.



About the Author: Seth Kurtenbach

Seth Kurtenbach's photo
Seth Kurtenbach is pursuing his PhD in computer science at the University of Missouri. His current research focuses on the application of formal logic to questions about knowledge and rationality. He has his Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri, and is growing an epic beard in order to maintain his philosophical powers. You can email Seth at or follow him on Twitter: @SJKur.




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