Taslima and Her Technicolor Boat

Taslima Nasreen, like many contemporary Muslim writers, is trying to portray the victim of religion. The best manner in which to do so since Sir Salman (before he was knighted) showed the way is through the dark Islamic tunnel. Let the pot sizzle with some concern for the backward Muslim world. Take large doses of the Quran, the veil, the Prophet and carefully carve it into little bits for easy consumption.

The problem is that Muslims are a bunch of fools. They imagine that most of these books will have an impact. They don’t. On Thursday, a group of activists from the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) barged into her press conference and apparently roughed her up. Television channels showed us this unruly mob get into a scuffle and throw bouquets of flowers still covered in cellophane. Taslima in her blue saree stood aside. No channel showed us what transpired before.

As always, they brought in a ‘conservative’ and he naturally said what conservatives do: she deserves it for constantly maligning the religion and the Prophet. The television anchor smiled and turned to the ‘liberal’ in the studio. This liberal has suddenly discovered she is a Muslim and the usual stuff about freedom of expression was dished out.

I don’t think Taslima or anyone should be physically attacked. What no one has bothered to find out, though, is that the organization that was involved is not a sanctioned Muslim outfit; not many Indian Muslims outside the city of Hyderabad have even heard about it. But, what is the message being sent out to the world? That not only are Muslims a bunch of uncouth fellows, they also beat up women. I can imagine the Western world nodding in agreement and saying, “We told you so.”

When Taslima Nasreen was not allowed to return to Bangladesh for fear for her life, she went to the West for a while. She could not adjust there, so she found solace in India. India that has been busy shunting out Bangladeshi immigrants became her temporary home. She did not have a word to say about the migrants who were being denied citizenship rights even though they have lived in India for 30 years or more.

If Taslima is all about this major literary voice being stilled, why is it that very little analysis is being done of her writings? Why is she always in the news for a perspective other than one of literary or ethical significance? Even when she wrote an autobiographical account in which several writers and political figures were mentioned, not for their role in damaging society but for sleeping with her, she was harping on freedom of speech. How different is this attitude from one of those Hollywood satellite social climbers that claim their pound of tabloid mileage and money based entirely on having had a close encounter with a celebrity? She has imprisoned her own mind and then goes out crying for escape.

Give her complete freedom and she won’t know what to do with it. She has nothing much going for her. Lajja revealed what one always suspected since that day in July 1993 when a fatwa demanding her head was pronounced in Bangladesh – that she was wallowing in quasi-historical truths to suit her convenience. She had ended her 13-day saga with false hope, “Let us go away…to India,” she made her character Sudhomoy Dutta, the sturdy secularist and patriot, say.

Does she imagine that India is some sort of Utopia? A few months ago, she had been ranting against Pakistan’s “tyrannical” yoke, quite forgetting that she lived in a different country. Of course, since she wants to make India her home, this is the best she could do. She felt that all talk of pan-Islamic or Muslim unity was essentially a myth, and nothing had shattered it more convincingly than the breakaway of East Pakistan from its parent unit in the west.

If there is no unity in the Islamic world – and most of us have been long saying so – then on what basis does she paint the whole Islamic world with the same brush? There are pockets of fanatics and she has had to deal with some. I have to belabor the point that a fatwa is an opinion by an individual or a group; it is not a sanctioned edict. If it were so, then all those who have fatwas on their heads would have been killed by now and not managed to write their life stories or create magic realism in Manhattan.

The only reason Taslima prefers India, specifically Kolkata, is the language. This is ironical. East Pakistan moved out of the ‘tyranny’ of West Pakistan largely due to the language issue. Now, she is speaking out against parochialism and perpetrating it herself.

What is she trying to prove? Her ‘humanitarianism’, which hangs round her neck like an albatross, weighty, but drawing sufficient attention to her prized position? Or is she just another writer with perfect timing and a sharp marketing sense? Take the reference to a sentence in her first book: “Most of Suranjan’s friends were Muslim. None of them thought he was Hindu.” What does this mean? Was she trying to say that a religious person could not have friends from another community? Is faith designed to make you inhuman? Then Marxists should be the most human and humane people on earth, and she herself would have written about communal harmony in the purest sense instead of sprinkling stereotypes from Bollywood movies.

If she scratched herself, she would be faced with a truth she refuses to acknowledge: She is so insecure that she feels the need to deny her antecedents. Were it restricted to a personal position it would have been all right, but she uses characters insidiously to make generalizations only in order to anoint herself as a progressive.

Shrewdly, she has selected a time when Islamic or fringe Muslim societies are going through a phase when the red alert sounds every time their names get mentioned. She has a nice bandwagon to ride on.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based writer-columnist. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com


Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections