Bloody Bangladesh: Michael De Dora on the Attacks on Secularists

June 13, 2016

Secularist bloggers, writers and LGBT activists are being hacked to death in the streets of Bangladesh by militant Islamic groups. To help us get to the bottom of why there needs to be no end in sight to the violence is the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy Director, Michael De Dora. Starting in April of 2013 when secular activist Avijit Roy reached out to De Dora, the Center for Inquiry has worked closely with threatened individuals like Roy to move writers and bloggers in Bangladesh to safety. Roy was himself murdered in Dhaka in February of 2015, beginning the current wave of attacks.

De Dora, who is also CFI’s main representative to the United Nations, explains that many of these champions of free speech in Bangladesh have no other choice but to leave their home country, as the Bangladeshi government refuses to come to terms with the threat, and instead directs responsibility to the dead for their writings. While the current government in power is ostensibly secular and considered the more liberal of the two powerful political parties in Bangladesh, they have been reluctant to make a show of support of the victims, protect their citizens. De Dora suggests that it’s because many of the people being attacked are criticizing the government, and as a result the only action being taken is victim blaming.

Note: Over the weekend, Bangladeshi authorities arrested thousands people said to be connected to extremist groups responsible for the attacks.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, June 13th, 2016. 

I’m Josh Zepps is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. What is going on in Bangladesh? That’s not a question that many people in the West often have much cause to ask. But if you’ve seen that country’s name mentioned in a news headline anytime since 2013, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it also included the woods hacked to death because there’s a deep human rights crisis in Bangladesh where violent Islamists are on a campaign to murder atheist writers and publishers and activists. Michael Todora is director of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy. He’s also the organization’s representative to the United Nations, and he’s currently in Geneva at the U.N. Human Rights Council. And the Conference for Freedom of Religion or Belief and Sexuality. Michael, can you give us some background about how this first came to your attention, what was going on in Bangladesh? 

Sure. So back in April 2013, we got into work one day for the Center for Inquiry is as the director of the Office of Public Policy. And I’d received an email from an individual named obviously Roy, Bangladeshi American who was living in Georgia at the time. And he had emailed me because he had seen that we had done some public advocacy on freedom of religion, belief and expression issues in particular at the time we had been working on a couple of cases like the case of the atheist and in Indonesia, Alexander on who is in prison for posting on Facebook about atheists, but also Rife Badawi, the imprisoned blogger and activist in in Saudi Arabia. And we had done a pretty effective job at bringing attention to some of these cases that had not been talked about before. Allergy saw that, saw that we had the capacity to work on these kinds of issues and emailed me essentially saying, are you aware of the human rights crisis in Bangladesh right now? And I was not born. There was not a country that was on our list of a short list of countries that we’ve been focusing on. And he laid out in pretty good detail what was going on in Bangladesh now at the time when he emailed me, the kind of main cause for him e-mailing me at that point was that in April 2013, the government of Bangladesh had actually arrested four atheist bloggers for insulting religious sentiments, particularly Islam. And Object was obviously outraged by this fact. He knew many of these bloggers because he himself had started a blog called Muk Demona, which translates to a free mind in English from Bumba. And so he he was very connected to the blogging community and the secular activist community in Bangladesh. And so he emailed us basically pleading for us to get involved with this. And and ever since then know the past three years, it’s kind of been a crash course in the history of Bangladesh for me and for the organization. Yeah. 

Can you give us that crash course? Because I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but I daresay that most of our listeners know about that as much about Bangladesh as I do, which is that the British pulled out of colonial subcontinental Asia and divided up the countries, and there was India and Pakistan and Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s majority Muslim. But I would not be able to tell you what form of government it has, whether it’s a democracy. Give us that gives us sort of the background. 

Sure. Well, a lot of the history in present term stretches back to the 1971 liberation war in which baldish was formed. And that came after a bloody conflict between the Pakistani army and some Islamic radical Islamic factions like Jamadi, Islami, as it’s called now. And actually a more kind of secular liberal section of of individuals who wanted to form Bangladesh. And to this day, a lot of people in that region and I think fairly would actually consider a lot of the crimes that were committed in 1971 as genocide. We’re talking about mass murder of innocent intellectuals, mass rape of women who moved into Bangladesh. And unfortunately, the U.S. was on the wrong side of that, given our foreign policy positions at the time. There’s actually a phenomenal book by or about the U.S. ambassador at the time, Archer Blood. That’s his real name. And the book is called The Blood Telegram. I would I would advise that everyone read the book about this telegram that he actually sent to the Nixon Nixon administration at the time, which was supporting Pakistan. And the reason why this is so important is that even though we’re decades on from that history, that is something that is a deep scar in baldish society right now. And it’s actually ever presence. And I think that there’s no way to really see the current crisis in Bangladesh without realizing, you know, in the history of Bangladesh, because when the current ruling party, the Awami League and so Bangladesh is a democracy and there are a variety of political parties, but there there are two really serious political parties in the country, the BNP Bondages, Nationalist Party and the Awami League. 

The Awami League is thought to be the more liberal of the two parties. And it was elected. A couple of years ago, and in two thousand thirteen, they had started instituting this war crimes tribunal to try a bunch of the individuals who were involved in 1971, liberation war. 

And as you can imagine, a lot of the Islamic groups who were associated with these individuals were being tried before this tribunal, were very angry about the fact that their leaders were now being brought up on the death penalty essentially for their actions in this liberation war. 

And that’s started. I think the current or at least helped to start a lot of the current turmoil in the country. You saw massive protests in the capital of Dhaka demanding that the government, you know, institute Islamic law in the country and and release these individuals. And then you saw massive counterprotests notices Shahbag movement, which called for a secular Bangladesh and called for the continued the continued trials for these individuals. So so you have a country which there is there’s a history of political turmoil. There are deep divisions. There’s a lot of suspicion between the two political parties. I mean, I could go on to this issue for four hours and talk about the political history of the country. But suffice to say that it’s not neat. It’s not clean. There’s a lot of messiness in the country which has led to, I think, the current the current issues in the country. 

Got it. So if I’m understanding the backdrop correctly, the reasonably secular government was cracking down on more Islamic groups for the role that they played in nineteen seventy one. Correct. The Islamists then felt that they were being punished or unfairly singled out and called for a more Islamic rule in Bangladesh. Then how do we then get to the government rounding up atheists or charging locking up atheists? 

Well, I could not have put it better myself, Josh, but I could and did that in a more succinct way. I could not put it better. But the way we get to the government cracking down on atheists and now I think the problem has been more so now they’re cracking down on atheists, but providing no support for atheists or for religious minorities more broadly. 

Right. But wasn’t the inciting incident that you mentioned that you got an e-mail from overjoyed about was that the government was actually arresting and locking up atheists? 

Yes. So that was in 2013. What I meant it in the present situation, you have a government which is not necessarily arresting people anymore for insulting Islam, but is not doing anything to protect people who are facing attacks. But back in 2013 and I think I think there’s a there’s a commonality as to the government’s behavior. But back in 2013, what the government, I think, was trying to do was send the message that actually they were trying to protect Islam, you know, and they were trying to protect the idea of Islam in the country. 

And so even though they were kind of way of pandering to pandering to Islamists in in hopes of currying favor with them and making the Islamist anger go away, that’s that would be my my best guess. 

You know, it’s hard to read in exactly into what the government’s doing. But, you know, there are some some kind of clues as to why the government might be acting this way. And in more recent years, you’ve seen, for example, the son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina come out after the murder of Obayashi Roy. So now flash forward to 2015 and we can talk about that. But and basically say that they can’t come out and defend atheists because it’s going to look like they’re taking the side of atheists and opposing Islam. So if you retroactively apply that, it would seem pretty clear that the government in 2013 was arresting atheists to kind of make a show that they were there really to protect Islam, even though they were carrying out these workrooms minutes or so. 

You just sort of gave away the the the end of the story. So let’s go straight to the end of the story, which is that Vagy, this person who emailed you in 2013 asking you to look into this, ended up unfortunately succumbing to the Islamists himself. How did you hear about that and what happened? 

Well, it’s it’s kind of interesting how the whole thing came together, because one of the bloggers who was arrested back in 2013, who wasn’t particularly awful story and spoke about it at Center Frankweiler conference in Buffalo a couple of years ago. His aim is to see more hidden. And Seif was one of the four who was originally arrested. He was arrested, by the way, just a couple weeks after getting out of the hospital after narrowly surviving attack by Islamic extremists in Bangladesh who attacked him just outside of his workplace. He was an engineer in Bangladesh. And the government and the police came around, arrest them, put him in prison, even though he was just recovering from his injuries. We helped with the help of a number of other NGOs to put enough pressure on the government to release these these four individuals as Seif escaped the country and is now in Germany. And it’s been doing a great job at it, helping us kind of connect back with individuals in Bangladesh who are who are in need. And also speaking out broadly about the situation, Bolland, that’s the Western media outlets. Can I interrupt him? 

And a problem on one thing, though, because I think supporters of the Center for Inquiry and such and similar NGOs sometimes don’t quite understand exactly what it means when you say. We were able to put pressure and get the person released. What does that actually look like on the grounds that mean publishing embarrassing articles in the local press? Does it mean talking to Congress people here in the United States to talk to the embassy? Does it mean talking to the relevant authorities and ministers in in Bangladesh? What does it look like? 

It means all of that. It’s a full court press. It’s working with, for example, our communications director, Paul Fidalgo, to get into every press outlet that we can possibly imagine. Big, small, national, international, local news outlets and both dash to spread of awareness about the issue and make sure that people are aware of this. To kind of create more public will to act on it. It does mean also meeting with members of Congress, senators and representatives who sit on foreign affairs committees or have some relationship to international issues to speak out about the issue as well. But I think the majority of the work that we’re doing on that on that front is actually working with the United States State Department or else the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is the kind of independent commission set up by Congress on on international with the freedom to pressure political leaders in Bangladesh to pressure our embassies abroad, to take a more active approach to what’s going on in Bardash, in particular, to these arrests to put pressure on political leaders to get these people out of prison and to kind of change the way that they’re they’re operating in terms of how they speak and how they behave when it comes to freedom for the term belief. So it’s a it’s a real full court with a full court press. 

Right. So, yeah. Then just take us through what happens after after the release. 

So ISEF gets out, as do the other three. They all eventually end up leaving the country because it’s not safe. You know, the government, even if it was a show they put on a real good show, they put them out there with their computers on a table and took some photos and put it in the press. So it was not safe for these individuals to stay in bondage. They eventually get out. Seif is one individual that we’ve kept in particularly good contact with. And when you say get out. 

Where do they go? Presumably they had their Bangladeshi citizens, but not all of them can have dual citizenship. Do they do they exit as refugees? Who takes them? 

Oh, that’s a that’s a very difficult process to provide too many details on, because if I give up the secrets of the trade, then it becomes more difficult for me to move people in the future. However, a lot of them end up in in European countries. A lot of a lot of the European countries have been, and I’m very thankful for it, open to allowing these intervals visuals to come in, in working with us to find opportunities, fellowships and other educational programs so that they can get visas and escape some sometimes these individuals in the short term or in the long term end up simply in neighboring countries, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other places like that, which are safer than Bardash. No. No one kind of has them on a hit list. But but the ideal situation over the past couple of years has been to get them into Europe. And so a Sieff Mohideen is in is in Germany, has been in Germany for a couple of years now. And I came in to the Center for inquiry, similar similar to how I received an e-mail from Ofshe Roy back in April 2013. In in February 2015, I received an e-mail from Received telling me that I wish he had gone back to Bangladesh for the annual book fair in Dhaka. Now, it’s something that was was near and dear to objets heart. This is a massive book fair, more than just the book. They’re really a festival of ideas. People would come hang out with authors, talk about big ideas related to religion and science and technology and culture. And I wish had gone back with his wife. 

And as he was leaving the festival one night, unfortunately, he was attacked with his wife by by a couple of assailants with machetes and was killed on the scene. His wife, fortunately survived the attack, although she was severely injured and and was able to get to a hospital and get back to the United States safely. Has recovered now and has actually been very working, very close with us on a lot of advocacy efforts because of Always Eat, I was Eat for us was kind of a lifeline into balderdash. 

You know, everyone you know, all the activists, you know all the bloggers. He knew the history of the country and was able to help us and help a lot of other NGOs that were working on the situation, get accurate information about what was going on in the country, us with people. I mean, those four bloggers that we helped, I was in touch with them and their families almost immediately. Thanks, David. So losing someone like that for us was was was critical. But, you know, more broadly, obviously was known in Bangladesh and more so in the region as a kind of leader of the Freethought community. He was someone who in many ways created the current Freethought movement in Bangladesh and in the Bengalla region by starting Move Demona, which was originally this kind of discussion forum and then became a blog and. Became a central hub and an inspiration for a lot of other bloggers who then started their own blog. So just just a devastating, a devastating blow to lose them last year. Yeah. 

Can you give us your sense of what impact this is having on, I guess, the big battle for ideas and the future of the whole country? Because when I first saw the headline, you know, a couple of years ago, atheist blogger hacked to death. It just kind of want to sound callous, but it sort of skirted over the top of my head as being like, well, OK. That’s just another terrible thing that happened in a faraway place. Like who’s an atheist blogger? Why there are all these atheist bloggers. Anyway, it sort of reminded me of just maybe these are just university students who happen to have a blog. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized these are fundamental players fighting for the future of their country in a big battle as to what the nature of the whole country is going to be. Right. Is there an analog that we might think about their role here? 

I mean, is this sort of is this having some kind of tectonic shift in Bangladesh or am I being too pessimistic? 

No, I think there is a there is currently a tectonic shift happening in Bangladesh. And part of that is because the attacks in recent months have really expanded in scope. 

But there’s a reason why these extremists are targeting people who in the United States would be no kind of leaders or very, very well known, well respected individuals in the blogging community or in the atheist secular community. So, you know, killing someone like Objet, which they probably were trying to do or planning on doing for a while, was was a massive blow and a real surprise to a lot of the individuals who were very close to objects and individuals who were not close to obviously, you know, other religious minorities who who had just known him as someone who was a progressive champion, a defender of human rights and democracy, and an organizer, an activist. I think there was a there was a massive blow. 

And then to see what’s happened in the 15 months since Salvages murder has only worsen the situation and I think really gone to prove that. What we’re seeing is that the tectonic shift in the country, because you’ve had a number of different attacks on a pretty wide range of individuals who, you know, it’s one thing to say that these were bloggers and writers. They are. I mean, but they’re they’re obviously much more than that. I mean, a lot of these individuals were married. They had they had families. But but they were all very involved in the kind of political landscape of Bangladesh. They were writing about current affairs and the politics of the country. One of the lesser known things about a lot of these writers, actually, is that they were almost just as critical of Islamic radicalism as they were of the current ruling government, the Awami League. So we’re not talking about individuals who are just kind of, you know, defending the Awami League. And that’s why they got targeted. I mean, they got targeted, obviously, for their criticism of Islam, but they were also very critical of the ruling government. They wanted political reform in the country, in a country in which there’s a lot of political corruption. And the tectonic shift is really happening now because because of the worsening, deteriorating situation in the country. You know, you’ve had a number of different atheists and secularists attacked and killed in the country. But now you’re seeing these attacks. As I said, widen in scope. You know it just a couple months ago, you had two LGBT activists who were murdered in their apartment. 

You’ve had a number of Hindu preachers who had been attacked. You’ve had attacks that Shia mosques after religious processions. You’ve had threats and attacks on Christians in the country. And you’ve had a government which these individuals are looking to and saying, you know, will you at least give out public statements in defense of our human rights? And the government is coming on step and saying, well, you know, you really shouldn’t criticize, you know, Islamic sentiments in the country. If you’re gonna do that, you really should expect that you’re going to come under attack. And so there is this I think this it kind of feels like people were very deflated in the country. And the people I talked to there, even if they don’t feel like they’re in danger, they kind of feel like there’s not a lot of hope in the country right now. That being said, Bangladeshis have a very, very strong sense of of nationality and culture. And Balduccio does have a rich history of rationality and free thought and democracy. 

So I think there are a lot of Inju individuals who are in the country or who have fled the country who feel as if things are not lost. You know, not everything is lost. We can still we can still save Bangladesh. But given the way that the government is acting right now, which is only allowing things to get worse, you know, the window is closing. 

And do you have a sense of I’m glad that you say that there’s optimism that gives me some hope. But do you have a sense of. What the impact on public opinion is of these kinds of attacks. I’m sort of trying to think, think. Have a thought experiment here. If, you know, if Bill Meyer exited his studio one night and got hacked to death by Islamist, if Sam Harris got hacked to death. If Ann Colter got hacked to death. If Andrew Sullivan got hacked to death, there would be a massive anti Muslim uprising. Right. I mean, people would not tolerate that. I assume that that it’s not quite as clear-cut in a country like Bangladesh. 

It’s not quite as clear cut. But it’s it’s quite inspiring for me to have seen that after almost every single one of the murders of atheist bloggers or of religious minorities. There have been rallies and protests and vigils held by a diverse crowd of Bolla Deschenes, religious minorities of all stripes and secularists and atheists coming out together to stand against what is happening in the country right now in particular. There was a professor, an English professor, a loved English professor who was killed back in April, who founded a music school and edited a literary magazine. And he was hacked to death on his way to work. And at the university was a Rajasthani university. There was a massive vigil and a massive protest by the students at the university to say if this crime is not solved and these attacks don’t stop, we’re not going to stop protesting. And these are students that are coming, again, of every religious persuasion and no religious persuasion. So so it may not be a widespread, massive movement in the country, but that’s also because a lot of these individuals who would otherwise come out to these protests know that that otherwise would make them more susceptible to a future attack. 

I mean, we actually have reason to believe that some of the bloggers who were killed in 2015 were targeted because actually, after obviously Roy was killed in 2015, there were massive protests and rallies and a number of them were pictured and seen in news media coverage, you know, out of these protests. And we have reason to believe that that could have been one of the reasons why why they were targeted. You know, Extreme is kind of identified them and followed them around and eventually got their work pattern down and attacked them in that way. But it’s been really inspiring for me to see these kind of crossfade and interreligious and intercellular protesting what’s happening in the country. And so that’s the kind of thing that if we can build on that, you know, hopefully we can save the country. 

But if if the government itself is not doing enough and is sort of tacit, tacitly accepting the status quo, is this something that the the formal institutions of state in the United States and other Western countries and India and Pakistan could do? 

I imagine that America doesn’t need Bangladesh at all. And Bangladesh needs America a lot in terms of not just being a market, but also having a bilateral relationship. Is there enough pressure that the State Department is putting in? What more could be done? 

The U.S. government. I have to say, reacted to these murders a bit too slowly for my own, for my own taste. I mean, obviously, really. And Bona Ahmed, who is his wife, who was attacked and survived, where American citizens, naturalized American citizens who were attacked. One of them was killed in a foreign country for simply exercising a right that is protected for American citizens. And I thought it was good that they put out statements and spoke about how horrible the crime was. But they were a little slow in reacting, especially after the murders of bloggers continue to happen. What we have seen, though, in the last couple of months, particularly since April when there was a law student, a professor and then two LGBT activists murdered just within a span of a couple of weeks. And one of those LGBT activists was someone who actually worked at the U.S. embassy in Dhaka working for USAID. And there are a number of photos you can find of him on Facebook and on on social media of him with the U.S. ambassador at the time in Bangladesh, kind of kicked the U.S. government and the State Department into high gear in responding to these things. So in the past couple of months, you’ve seen, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry placed a direct phone call to the prime minister of Bangladesh to put pressure on her about responding to these to these texts. You’ve seen it increase the amount of engagement by the U.S. State Department and a variety of different U.S. agencies to send high level delegations of political leaders, but also kind of law enforcement and other very practical, practically focused individuals to go over there and talk about how to respond to these kinds of crimes, how to fight terrorism in the country. And so I’ve been heartened by the involvement of the U.S. government. But this is the kind of thing that, you know, unless the Bangladesh government buys into what the U.S. government and other governments that are putting pressure on it are saying, there’s very little that the U.S. government can do. I mean, they can’t go over there themselves and take over the country and we probably wouldn’t want that anyway. And it’s up to the government. 

But I mean, we if we if the United States and India and China imposed sanctions on Bangladesh that they couldn’t sell, their economy would collapse. If they didn’t respond, they’d probably respond. 

I would hope so, because the prime motivator right now of the Awami League and particularly Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, is to stay in power. And they have a pretty good grasp right now on the power. And one of the reasons why I think they’ve not really responded that strongly to the murders of atheists and religious minorities and liberals in the country, is that they kind of know that those individuals are not going to go support the BNP, the BNP being the opposition political party, which has ties to Jamadi, Islami and a lot of the other, you know, kind of radical Islamic groups in the country. So the the Awami League knows that they don’t really need to come out forcefully against these attacks. And in fact, maybe it’s even smarter for them not to because then they can kind of keep some of the other religious factions supporting them. But as these attacks continue, as terrorism continues to grow and we continue to see reports in recent months of ISIL and al-Qaida having a presence in the country, it’s probably going to be in their interests to start listening to the United States and India and China, particularly if these countries start to raise issues of possible sanctions, because that is going to create a situation for the government of validation, which and particularly the Awami League, in which their powers is starting to be threatened. 

Yeah, I often think that you can talk cordeiro all you want, but until you hit someone’s pocketbook, it’s probably not going to do a lot in the moment. They stop paying for it and they might much just change. Michael, before before we wrap, I want to talk about the other component of the things that you’re discussing there in Geneva at the United Nations. One aspect of the conference, it’s not just freedom of religion or belief, but also sexuality. Can you tell us a little bit about what is on your radar in terms of the fight for LGBT rights around the world? 

Absolutely. So as you mentioned at the beginning of the show, I mean, I’m in Geneva for the U.N. Human Rights Council. But I also came a couple of days early for kind of private conference on freedom of religion or belief and sexuality, which invited all these different religious leaders, secular activists and intellectuals to talk about the intersection of these these two areas of human rights. And what’s been really interesting for me in sitting through these sessions the past couple days and meeting people from around the world has been that as important as a lot of the the LGBT issues are that we we talk about in the United States right now. It’s been a lot of talk about public accommodation laws and bathroom bills. These activists, these incredibly courageous activists in places around the world, Southeast Asia, Middle East, other places are facing, you know, more fundamental challenges to their their very right to exist, to their very right to be recognized before the law is the person that they. Believe they are so one of the things that that we’ve kind of learned over these past couple days and one of the things that we’ve been working on is that, you know, a lot of countries you don’t even have the right to identify as the gender that that you believe you are and not even in terms of expression. I mean, in terms of national identification cards and things of that nature. So we’ve been doing a lot of work to to work with these activists to learn about things that are going on on the ground there and to support them in what they’re doing so that they have, you know, more resources. But also, I think it goes a long way in coming to these conferences. One of the things that I realize and actually there were there were a couple Bangladeshi LGBT activists who were at this conference and I went up and introduced myself to them. And they were shocked, actually, to find out that an American had any idea about what was going on about this, let alone cared about the situation. And that happened with a number in a number of different my conversations with these these activists, transgender activists and gay and lesbian activists around the world. And actually, just just the idea of the notion to them that people and in Western societies who who have a lot better than they do, are listening to their stories and want to know more about what’s going on in their country and shed some light on that. You know, feed it back to Western media sources, raise those issues that the Human Rights Council, in terms of, you know, arguing for their essential human rights, their their right to identify as they would without any kind of religious intrusion or governmental intrusion. It just goes such a long way towards, I think, creating goodwill in different areas of human rights. And so I think that was one of the biggest parts of this conference, was to put people who might kind of feel as if they’re working a different niche areas of human rights, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, transgender issues. Put them all in the same room and realize that actually there’s a lot of crossover in the kind of work that they’re doing. 

I’m glad you also made that the point about having some perspective about the rights that we’re fighting for here domestically versus the kinds of rights that people are still struggling for abroad. We can sometimes be a little bit parochial when we when we get in the heat of these battles. It reminds me a bit of I don’t know if you know Klick Hall, which is the an offshoot of The Onion, the satirical newspaper, but they had a piece last year with the headline Shocking. This bakery in Saudi Arabia refuses to make cakes for gay weddings. 

I consider that we do have a pretty good in the West. 

One thing that you are saying that I want to wrap up with off the air was that in many parts of the world, trends rights are actually more recognized than LGBT rights because there are cultures where where there is a history of transgender in in a way that there hasn’t been a history of gay and lesbian struggles. Can you just tell us a bit about that? 

Yeah. This was this was shocking to me. 

And it’s a good example of how coming from a very privileged place, you can sometimes feel as if you you know a lot about human rights situations and then you meet people who are working on all sorts of other human rights issues and learn something that you feel as if. How did I not know this for such a long time? But it was quite shocking to me to find out that in places like India and Bangladesh and Pakistan, which you would imagine would not be very friendly to LGBT rights, actually the key part of that area of human rights is way more welcomes. Then LG be part of that area of human rights, which is to say that in those countries and in a number of countries in Asia, a third gender is actually recognize in the laws to transgender individuals, can actually gain legal identity before the law. Whereas being gay or lesbian is something that is not recognized whatsoever in the law and in fact can bring upon you a death sentence or a very severe jail sentence or even worse, obviously, a attack by an extremist group in a traditionally religious group in the country that doesn’t welcome that kind of behavior, whereas they’re actually even celebrating some transgender individuals. So it was a it was a very shocking finding for me to realize that in some countries this is this is the landscape. And it doesn’t it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me from an American perspective, because actually it’s been the opposite. Right. In America, it seems to me that we’ve had tremendous advances on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. But the transgender issue has been something that’s lag a little bit behind. And that’s something that we’re still coming to terms with in the US. Whereas some of these countries, which we think are so aggressive in terms of human rights actually on this particular area, they may even be slightly better than us. Now, obviously, I’m not saying that transgender individuals in India, Bangladesh or Pakistan haven’t really well. Right. I’m just saying that in the grand scheme of things, they actually have slightly better than lesbians or gays. And it again, it just goes to show you that the smart thing to do is a human rights act. Is to do your homework and to speak to people who are on the ground and do as much research as possible about human rights situations abroad before kind of just assuming how these things are set up, especially if you’re coming from a perspective from the West. You know, it’s easy to kind of assume that a particular country is of a certain way where it turns out might actually be a lot more complex than you thought. 

Michael, if people want to follow you and keep an eye on what we’re we’re doing, where should they go? What should they look on Twitter? 

Well, you can look for the Center for Inquiry on Twitter, its center and the number for inquiry, or they can follow me on Twitter at my first initial M.. A last name, Dora. But then also the Center for Inquiry is Office of Public Policy, which is the the shop of the Center for Inquiry that works on all things related to domestic and international policy issues. Our website is Center for Inquiry Dot Net, Forward Slash OPIS, and we constantly update that with all the work that we’re doing, whether it’s in the halls of power of Capitol Hill or here in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Michael, thanks so much for your time. Enjoy Geneva. Go go out on the lake. 

Have a swim Sunday. Nice at the moment, Sunny. It’s quite nice at the moment. 

And actually, Switzerland just beat Albania in the Euro Cup, so. 

So the city is buzzing right now. More important in Europe than soccer here. That’s exactly right. I’m going to go outside and join the masses. Good. Enjoy. Thanks for your time, Michael. Good luck to you. Thank you, Josh. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.