6 Horrors of Being an Atheist in a Fundamentalist Country

"Turncoat" Jo is an atheist from a country where that kind of shit can land your unbelieving ass in prison. He's been shot by religious extremists and hunted down for the unspeakable crime of writing a blog, and he's alive today only because he fled the hell out of Bangladesh on a student visa. Cracked sat down with Jo to hear about life in the shadow of religious extremism and to find out what it's like to have a dude straight up shoot you in the street. Here's what we learned:

#6. If You're a Non-Believer, They Will Find You

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When I was 8 years old, I saw a pigeon poop on a Quran while we were outside doing an Islamic studies class. I showed the book to my grandma, who decided the pigeons were possessed and needed to be executed. So, some men got together and murdered all those pigeons in the name of God. We didn't know which bird actually did the pooping, so they had to kill all of them. So, you know. Just to give you an idea.

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Not that anyone who's ever lived in any city feels much sympathy for these guys.

In theory, things have gotten better since then -- the supreme court of Bangladesh upheld religious freedom in 2010. But it's also a country that is nearly 90 percent Muslim, and Islamic studies courses are very much mandatory. (Strangely, we were taught evolution in school, from sixth grade biology on. So there's that, I guess.)

I had come out as an atheist to some friends before the laws changed, but I kept that fact secret because did you read that thing about the pigeons? But being a teenager, what I couldn't avoid was getting into an argument with my teacher. It didn't take long for one of my classmates to blab that I was a non-believer. That was the beginning of a sequence of events that would lead to the whole "getting shot and fleeing the country" thing a few years down the line.

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So yes, bullying does get worse than this.

But at the time, I just had to settle for a good beating. Teachers could cane the shit out of students in Bangladesh until 2010, and he did just that, for like 15 minutes straight. And that wasn't the end of it. We got death threats. I have a little brother, and someone sent a letter to my dad saying they knew when he got off from school and they'd be coming after him for the crime of being related to me. My dad had to hire bodyguards for three months. And I felt terrible, because this was all my fault.

And if you think that classmate of mine was a jerk for ratting me out, you have to understand ...

#5. Everyone Forces Fundamentalism on Each Other

Munir Uz Zaman / AFP / Getty

When you hear about some country on the news with crazily strict religious codes of dress or conduct, it's easy to imagine that it's just a small group of officials enforcing the rules on the common folk, who just roll their eyes and go along with it. But that's not the way it works: The fundamentalists are your neighbors, co-workers, and classmates, all getting more extreme as they try to top each other to prove they're the purest of all.

AFP / Stringer / Getty
In America, the most extreme people get reality shows.

You've probably heard about revenge porn, where jilted exes post compromising nude pics of their former lovers to be gawked at in the worst parts of the Internet. This happens in Bangladesh, too, only replace the naked pictures with pictures of women wearing jeans and suits, or even just not wearing hijabs. If someone shares a photo of a woman who isn't covered from head to toe, she'll be shamed as a slut. And while "slut" is a nasty word everywhere, there it's a prelude to straight-up violence -- our extremists consider things like this to be stoneable offenses. I should note that a picture of the health minister's daughter ended up on one of these sites, and that time it was the photographers who went to jail. Funny how that works.

Once, a friend of mine was driving a scooter past a madrassa with a bunch of kids out in front of it. As she passed, they pelted her with bricks and stones, calling her a slut. We came out there and asked what the hell they were doing, and they told us this was all part of comedic play, intended to teach proper values via hitting people with stones. We called the cops, and they told us the kids would probably stop on their own, eventually. We just needed to give it a few hours.

Farjana K. Godhuly / Stringer / AFP / Getty
So yes, police get worse than that one dick who ticketed you for going four miles over the damn limit.

And that's the thing -- once the extremists know the police won't respond to their craziness (or might even back it up), all sense of proportion vanishes. In 2012, a single Buddhist man insulting Islam was enough to get hundreds of people rioting and burning temples in the street. Living in the shadow of religious extremism is like having an invisible beehive hovering above your bed, and also being the kid from My Girl.

#4. Your Beliefs Can Screw Your Family Over

Farjana K. Godhuly / Stringer / AFP / Getty

A lot of you reading this are already saying, "Well, I would stand up for my beliefs, regardless of the danger!" And that's fine, as long as you remember that it's not just you who'll suffer the consequences.

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Yes, there are places in this world where blogs matter.

See, it doesn't matter if your family shares any of your beliefs (or lack thereof); being associated with you can be enough to screw up their lives, too. My dad was an army officer. Word got out that I was a kafir, and immediately there was a neighborhood meeting, where I kept getting grilled on why I didn't believe. My dad's boss strongly suggested that I be sent to a madrassa, and I went there for three months.

I hated it, as you can imagine, and eventually I ran the hell away. At that point my dad said it was OK -- I could quit and he wouldn't force me to go back. That was the end for me, but not for my dad, and after another month or so he quit the army. We were lucky that he'd saved up enough money to start his own business, but even though he was his own boss, I still had to attend mosque every week so my family wouldn't be shunned.

At one point I did stop going to services, and my dad immediately started getting harassed. He actually asked me to tell people I wasn't living at home anymore. See, the theory was that if I was an infidel at home, he was failing as a father. But if I did my consorting with devilishly bejeaned women in the hidden opium dens of Dhaka, then that was on me.

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Skinny jeans are bullet trains to hell.

But I wouldn't keep quiet, and things kept escalating.

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