Taslima Nasreen speaks out

This is a guest post by Oliver Williams

Taslima Nasreen fled Bangladesh in 1994. Raised in a Muslim family, she had written a novel entitled Shame about the violence of Bangladeshi Muslims against Hindus. Thousands protested – they burnt her books and demanded she be executed. A court pronounced that she had hurt Muslims’ feelings.

Once out of Bangladesh her ordeal continued. In 2007 she was attacked during a book launch in Andhra Pradesh, southern India. Prominent Muslim clerics in Calcutta issued a “death warrant” against her for “repeated criticism” of Islam. The army was deployed when police in that city were unable to control rioters who set cars on fire and pelted police with bricks and bottles full of acid, injuring at least 27 people. She stayed in India but was restricted to complete isolation at an undisclosed location, unable even to meet close friends. “I am like the living dead: benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic confines of my room,” she wrote at the time. “Can anybody live like this?”

In ‘secular’ India the government of West Bengal, a state with a sizeable Muslim minority, banned her autobiography and police in Uttar Pradesh have recently launched an investigation against her for tweeting innocuously that “Indians should speak up against fanatics”. And now West Bengal has banned a Television drama series she scripted. Twenty two Muslim organizations wrote to the Police Commissioner of Calcutta in order to stop the broadcast of a TV show that none of them have ever seen. “We have been told that there are some scenes in the serial that might hurt our sentiments,” said Abdul Aziz, secretary of Milli Ittehad Parishad, an alliance of Muslim groups. It is not about Muhammed or Muslims or religion- it is about the lives of women and the struggle against dowry and trafficking, yet some Muslim groups had threatened to take to the streets. Imam Maulana Nurur Rahman Barkati and a member of the West Bengal legislative assembly, Idris Ali, have adopted the slogan of `Go Back Taslima’ – they demand that she leave India. Hoardings advertising the TV show have been torn down by the police. Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim has stated that there is no place for those who hurt the sentiments of Muslims in Calcutta. Taslima is not allowed to enter the city.

Taslima has reacted angrily to these developments:

“Everybody is scared of Muslim fanatics.”

“These fanatics are very good friends of the government. The politicians appease Muslim fanatics. Who doesn’t want to get Muslim votes?”

Arvind Kejriwal, head of the Aam Aadmi Party recently met with a Muslim cleric who has previously placed bounties on the heads of both Nasreen and George W. Bush.

“Muslim sentiments are very precious…So Muslim fanatics have the right to ban films, books, or whatever they like before they even read or watch [them]”, she complains.

“Will they be able to make fanatics happy? I do not think so. Fanatics will go as far as they can.”

She tweeted: “Democracy, women’s rights and free speech hurt the sentiments of fanatics. If you want to live a civilized life, you’ve got to hurt their thingies”

Offence is subjective. It is taken, not given. The onus should be on the perpetually offended to grow out of their self-indulgent psychological feebleness and never on the “provocateurs” to give up their freedom as the price for an ever more expensive “communal harmony”. Whether this ban is due to vote-bank politics, craven fear or a genuinely held attitude of deference for every taboo of every fanatic is unclear.