August 28, 2007

A Writer Surrenders

CQ readers may never have heard of Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi writer who finds herself without a nation at the moment, but she has a similar dilemma as the more famous Salman Rushdie. Nasrin fled Bangladesh for her life after writing a critique of Islam, and now India may expel her for the same reason:

In the second week of August, she was physically assaulted by a Muslim religious group at the launch of a translation of one of her controversial novels in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

A week later, in Calcutta, Muslim clerics issued a "death warrant," threatening to kill Ms. Nasrin - who is Muslim, although a critic of Islam - if she did not leave the country. This week Forward Bloc, part of the leftist block supporting the Indian ruling alliance, announced that it would press for Ms. Nasrin's expulsion from the country, senior FB leader Bhaktipada Ghosh said.

Ms. Nasrin, a medical doctor turned writer, made international headlines in the 1990s after her debut novel Lajja, or Shame, was released in Bangladesh and sparked such intense Muslim antagonism that she was forced to flee her homeland.

Now, it looks as though her dramatic history may repeat itself after her efforts to settle close to her native country, in West Bengal, are sparking a similar outcry.

Nasrin has tried living in the West, including here in the United States, but wants to live in a place where she can hear her native tongue. She says she needs that kind of environment in order to work as a writer, and she feels lost in the West. Nasrin knows she cannot return to Bangladesh, but she hoped that India, with its more cosmopolitan leanings, could accommodate her.

Apparently not. The area of West Bengal in which she settled has a strong Muslim contingent, and they want her gone -- or dead. In a spectacularly risible statement, Ghosh noted that India is a secular society, but that "We cannot tolerate attacks on any religion here." He wants her deported in order to protect that strange kind of secularism that apparently cannot abide anyone questioning Islam. And with the state of West Bengal having Muslims comprise 27% of its population, the ruling coalition cannot afford to anger them.

Nasrin will have to go. At some point, her temporary visa will get cancelled, even though she has tried to gain Indian citizenship for over two years. Unfortunately, the pressure has begun to succeed in a more fundamental way. Nasrin has now offered to stop writing critically of Islam in order to be allowed to stay in Bengal:

Perhaps Muslims here will stop considering me their enemy and governments ... will allow me to stay on in India, if I can change my way [of writing]. I have begun thinking if I can really do that.

It sounds as if Nasrin has already lost. She insists that she needs to be in the area to write -- but if she's willing to surrender her voice to the control of the mob, what will she write that's worth reading?


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Comments (13)

Posted by reddog | August 28, 2007 6:05 AM

So, The people who kicked her out and threatened her life before and the people who are kicking her out and threatening her life now, are our democratic friends and allies, right?

Maybe she could go live in Baghdad, now that the surge has made them all pacified and non-sectarian. Perhaps your neocon friends could get her a little flat in Jerusalem. They certainly would welcome a liberal, feminist Islamic woman in their midst.

I wonder what her problem with the US was, whether in your old stomping ground in the OC or your new home in the TC, there are plenty of people, squatting on the floor, flipping chapatis, and speaking her native tongue. Or London. Or Brussels, etc. etc. etc.

Hell, I miss the sound of my native tongue and the culture of my people too. I only live ten miles from where I was born.

Posted by MarkJ | August 28, 2007 7:06 AM

Charming comments, reddog. The mere fact you used "neocon" indicates you're afflicted with a serious, if not terminal, case of BDS.

Accordingly, my prescription for your fever is "more cowbell."

Posted by Clint | August 28, 2007 7:21 AM

Perhaps she could write an insightful novel about how liberal secular governments surrender the farm to Islamic radicals?

Posted by docjim505 | August 28, 2007 7:40 AM

If it was a choice between moving to a free(er) country so I could pursue my ambitions without fear of being killed or give up my core values to stay in a dangerous place just to "hear my native tongue"... I think I'd move.

Here's a thought: there are ethnic enclaves of all descriptions in the United States, and I suspect that one could find similar conditions in Great Britain and Canada. In all three countries, there is a bit more rule of law and a bit less rule of religious lunatics. Perhaps Nasrin could apply for a visa to live in any of those countries where she could write and live a (more or less) free and productive life.

Posted by Clyde | August 28, 2007 7:50 AM

Concepts such as freedom of speech, and the right to speak or write your opinions without being assaulted or killed, seem to belong primarily to the Anglosphere. Trying to practice such free speech rights in a place where the do not really exist is not unlike trying to fly an aircraft in a country without air traffic controllers. You might be able to do it for a while, but you're likely to come to grief in the end.

Posted by always right | August 28, 2007 8:09 AM

Won't hold my breath for human rights groups, women's rights groups, etc. to champion her cause.
They have sold out their legitamacy a long time ago.

Posted by mrlynn | August 28, 2007 8:39 AM

Perhaps we in the USA should pass a law stating that any so-called 'cleric' anywhere in the world who issues a 'fatwah' or warrant calling for the death of 'heretics' shall be considered an enemy of the United States, and subject to arrest and trial if he sets foot in any country where we have an extradition treaty. Said 'cleric' may also be subject to kidnapping and trial by covert agencies of the US and other Western countries.

It's time to let the Muslim world know that we in the West will not put up with this medieval crap.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Jeanette | August 28, 2007 8:42 AM

How can a practicing Muslim be critical of Islam?

It would be akin to me, a Baptist, criticizing Christianity.

I know they have at least two conflicting views of Islam: Sunni and Shia. Our Christian religions are somewhat different in theology, but most agree on the fundamentals. Tis a puzzlement.

Posted by docjim505 | August 28, 2007 9:04 AM


Interesting point. I suspect that she's critical of how some Muslims practice the religion, not the religion per se. In the same vein, many Christians (including me) are quite critical of Fred Phelps though we are not critical of "Christianity".

Posted by DirtCrashr | August 28, 2007 10:09 AM

My parents are practicing American Baptists and very critical of all other, non-liberal, Christian denominations, Southern Baptists in particular. :-)
It's not surprising that there would be a big show of Islamic resistance in Hyderabad, which is a many centuries-old Muslim dominated center. All of the city's the main architectural features are Muslim/Mughal, and nearby are some large burial mausoleum-shrines of a couple of ancient Muslim Sufi saints.
If she moved south of Bengal to Orissa she would find fewer Muslims (3%) - but one reason she probably moved to Bengal is the language similarity. Before it was Bangladesh it was East Pakistan, and before that under the British Raj it was East Bengal. Muslims in Bengal are more prosperous and unified than the much smaller minority in Orissa who are more rural, integrated, and subsistence-based.

Posted by filistro | August 28, 2007 11:17 AM


Contrary to the rather puzzling belief of some posters at this site, "neocon" is neither a pejorative, a slur, an insult, a symptom of "BDS" or a Really Bad Word. It is simply a description of a particular political ideology, one of 10 that predominate in America. To wit:

Centrist – Just what it sounds like. Someone who doesn’t have any particularly strong ideological leanings in any direction.

Conservative – Specifically a "fusionist" conservative of the National Review - Heritage Foundation mold. Someone who believes in traditional morality and capitalism, and the need for a limited government to allow both to flourish.

Left-libertarian – An anti-statist who is somewhat fearful of corporate and religious influence on public life.

Liberal – Supports economic regulation to promote social justice and takes a progressive stance toward moral or cultural issues.

Libertarian – A libertarian opposes most or all government activites. Does not favor much or any government support for either moral or economic systems.

Neoconservative – A "neocon" is more inclined than other conservatives toward vigorous government in the service of the goals of traditional morality and pro-business policies. Tends to favor a very strong foreign policy of America as well.

Paleoconservative – "Paleocons" want less US involvement in foeign affairs than other conservatives and oppose mass immigration. They are also more favorably disposed toward the South and the idea of secession, or at least decentralization, than neoconservatives.

Paleo-libertarian – Similar to other libertarians except for oppostion to mass immigration, and shares the paleocon appreciation of the South.

Radical – Critical of bouregois morality and strongly opposed to capitalism and willing to use state power to achieve desired ends.

Third-way – More supportive of foreign intervention than liberals and less supportive of economic regulation, coupled with more-or-less progressive social views. "Third-way" is to liberal what neoconservative is to conservative.

(descriptions courtesy of political scientist Daniel McCarthy)

Posted by buzz | August 28, 2007 5:17 PM

"Perhaps your neocon friends could get her a little flat in Jerusalem. They certainly would welcome a liberal, feminist Islamic woman in their midst."

You would probably crap your pants when you found out that's exactly what they would do. However, I don't think they speak the language that she is accustomed to and that seems to be her criteria in finding a place to live.

Posted by unclesmrgol | August 28, 2007 6:52 PM

One must remember that the Forward Bloc is Marxist, and the defense of religious belief is alien to Marxism.

Taslima Nasrin is also a secular humanist (per her website), and thinks that religion is counter to good.

As Nasrin herself says: 'Humankind is facing an uncertain future. The probability of new kinds of rivalry and conflict looms large. In particular, the conflict is between two different ideas, secularism and fundamentalism. I don't agree with those who think the conflict is between two religions, namely Christianity and Islam, or Judaism and Islam. After all there are fundamentalists in every religious community. I don't agree with those people who think that the crusades of the Middle Ages are going to be repeated soon. Nor do I think that this is a conflict between the East and the West. To me, this conflict is basically between modern, rational, logical thinking and irrational, blind faith. To me, this is a conflict between modernity and anti-modernism. While some strive to go forward, others strive to go backward. It is a conflict between the future and the past, between innovation and tradition, between those who value freedom and those who do not.'

So, I'm amused that she now has come to depend on people exactly like her, secularists who use "rational, logical thinking", for her life, and, amazingly, that these people are failing her.

She should appeal to Michael Moore, one of her heroes. Maybe he will intercede with her Muslim antagonists for her.

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