<strike>Beshi</strike> Aaro Lajja

Or, so I'm told, "More Shame" in Bangla...

Members of the Muslim fundoo party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh attacked Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin last Thursday, forcing her to hide in a room while media-people fought them off. Nasrin was in Hyderabad for the release of the Telugu translation of her book, Shodh.

"I was attacked earlier too but it was never like Thursday's attack. There was no police for help because the organisers had not foreseen anything of this kind. If I have returned alive to Kolkata it is because of mediapersons who fought those men for half an hour and got injured to save me," Nasreen told IANS in her first interview after the incident at the Hyderabad Press Club on Thursday.

"I was wondering how they would kill me. Would it be with a knife or a gun! Or would they simply beat me to death. They had encircled us. After I escaped from a back door and took shelter in a room, they even broke down one of the doors. I thought I would be dead," said the 45-year-old writer (Hindustan Times).

The assailants (some of whom, incidentally, were Members of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly - yes, elected officials) were acting on a fatwa issued in 1994 in Bangladesh for Nasrin's heinous crime of having been misquoted by an Indian daily. On May 9, 1994, the Statesman of Calcutta quoted Nasrin in an interview as saying the Quran ought to be revised. In the following days, Nasrin explained publicly that this was not, in fact, what she had said, and the following rejoinder was published in the Statesman on May 11:

I would like to clarify two comments attributed to me which appeared in the interview I gave to your correspondent. I do not hold the view that "the Koran should be revised thoroughly" because I think it is impossible to revise the Koran. As I said in the interview, "anyone who proposes to bring in changes is a kafir". Why should we try to change a text which is sacred by many (wluml [pdf*])?

Despite these clarifications, her public vilification continued, and on June 10 at a public meeting Maulana Nazrul Islam announced an award of Tk 100,000 for her assassination.

Completely coincidentally (yeah, right), Nasrin's novel Lajja (meaning shame), an account of the persecution Bangladeshi Hindus faced following the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India by Hindu fundoos, had been published earlier that year. The book is a hastily-written patchwork of newspaper clippings and history lessons woven together by the story of a Hindu household of four living in Dhaka; that said, it rips hard into the state, political parties, and liberal Bangladeshi Muslims for their roles in the violence, and condemns communalism and constitutional attacks on secularism.

After the controversy surrounding Nasrin's alleged statement to the Statesman exploded in Bangladesh, the government charged Nasrin with blasphemy (BBC) and, from what I can tell, capitalized on the convenient opportunity to ban Lajja. Nasrin went into exile and has lived in Kolkata (Calcutta) for the past few years.

Now back to the original story:

"We in Hyderabad want to behead this woman according to the fatwa," said Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi (India Daily).

What Owaisi and his ilk have completely missed is the point which Nasrin makes again and again in Lajja: the destruction of the Babri Masjid by kar sevaks was a criminal and fascistic act carried out under the banner of majoritarianism and intended to intimidate and frighten members of a minority religion; these political events spilled over into Bangladesh, and the same thing happened: members of the majority religion attacked members of a minority religion. Bangladeshi Hindus obviously had nothing to do with the destruction of the Babri Masjid. In attempting to enforce this fatwa against Taslima Nasrin, Owaisi might claim to be protecting Islam, but he's really just perpetuating the same politics, and like so many others before him, is getting political mileage out of it. This is especially tragic if Owaisi claims to represent Indian Muslims; one can only imagine for how many Muslims in India the following scene in Lajja played itself out:

Suranjan's mood again swung towards a desire to participate in all that was happening. He wanted to blend with the crowd, he wanted to make a survey of the temples that were destroyed and burnt, he wanted to enquire about the homes and shops that were looted and plundered. He wanted to protest against the recent events. 'These fanatics should be whipped. These fake religionists are imposters who provoke in the name of religion.' But he could not bring himself to do any of these things; and his desire to be a part of everything that was going on around him was further dampened by the pitying looks that those around him gave him. Voicelessly, these people seemed to say to him that he was not fit to participate in the excitement (p. 33).

Owaisi didn't seem too concerned about the fact that he happens to occupy an elected office:

''We are not bothered about our MLA status. We are Muslims first. And its our responsibility to test those who have said anything against Islam in which ever way possible,'' said Akbaruddin Owaisi, MIM MLA (NDTV).

And purported to speak on behalf of all of India's Muslims:

"Everyone seems to be very concerned over the freedom of speech and literary freedom of a person who is not an Indian citizen. But nobody is bothered about the 20 crore Muslims of our country who have been deeply hurt by the provocative writings of this woman" (TOI).

I wonder if he can actually point specifically to any of Nasrin's writings which are so offensive. Nasrin has made blanket statements about Islam, like the following in an interview with Irshad Manji (thanks Dr. A):

IM: Liberal Muslims would say that there are plenty of other verses that treat women with dignity, and fundamentalists ignore those elements to suit their own agenda.

TN: Maybe liberal Muslims are morally decent, but they're not following Islam honestly. Fundamentalists are. They're following the "word of God," and the orders of Prophet Muhammad exactly. So it's not true that Islam is good for humanity. It's not at all good. Islam completely denies human rights and treats women very badly (muslim-refusenik).

While Lajja serves as a critique of fundamentalist Islam in a majoritarian context, statements like the one above feed right into the hands of those who seek to vilify Muslims in contexts where Muslims are at the losing end of majoritarian politics. Saying that fundamentalists are the only ones who follow Islam honestly essentially concedes ownership of the religion to those who, like Owaisi and MIM, most vociferously claim it. It then becomes easy for political parties like the BJP to appropriate her, since her message lacks nuance and can be interpreted in a completely different way where Islam isn't the dominant religion.

For its part, the Hyderabadi police has responded to the incident in pathetic fashion, filing cases against BOTH Nasrin and Owaisi:

Police said on Saturday they had registered a complaint against exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen for creating religious tensions, after she was attacked by Muslim protesters.

But they said they were also seeking permission to arrest the radical Muslim lawmaker who brought the complaint - for saying Nasreen could be killed after the incident (Reuters).

That was reported on August 11, and since by August 13 it hadn't even been established that Nasrin had said anything remotely inflammatory at the meeting (Hindu), one can only surmise that Nasrin is a menace to society (or an anti-social element, to use Indian media parlance) by her very existence in a particular place.

I want to close with a quotation from Lajja which I liked very much, but wasn't able to fit in anywhere in this post:

And they said Bangladesh was a country that believed in communal harmony! Suranjan laughed out loud. He was alone in the room. There was only a cat sitting by the door, and it jumped up in alarm at the sound of Suranjan's laughter. Suranjan's attention was drawn to the animal. Hadn't the cat been to the Dhakeshwari temple today? Which community did the cat belong to? Was it Hindu? Presumably it was Hindu, since it lived in a Hindu home. It was a black and white cat, and there was a softness about its eyes. It seemed to pity him. If it had the ability to pity, the cat must be Muslim! Must be a liberal Muslim! They normally looked at Hindus with a touch of pity. The cat got up and left. Perhaps it was going to the Muslim kitchen next door, since there wasn't much food being cooked in this house. In that case the cat had no communal identity. In fact only human beings had racial and communal differences and only they had temples and mosques. Sunlight flooded the room and Suranjan realized that the day was well advanced. It was the 9th of December, and he longed to become a cat (p. 58).

--

*Note: The pdf linked above is a report from an organization called Women Living Under Muslim Laws. In the report, they specify that most of the data contained within it is from Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any of ASK's reports on their site.

Trackback URL for this post:

http://www.passtheroti.com/trackback/538

Comments

Also, there's a

Also, there's a philosopher/quranic scholar named Abdol Karim Soroush who wrote a collection of essays called Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam. It provides a philosophical method for reconciling ideas like the Koran as eternal truth with Western notions of incomplete knowledge of the Western world (and other issues).

and on to the post... I find

and on to the post...

I find these kinds of figures really difficult to deal with analytically--likely because it's incredibly difficult for them to deal with the intersectionality of abuse involved. On the one hand, Nasrin's life experience and a lot of the things that she's done make her a standout in terms of what one can do with one's limited time on this earth. On the other than, people like Irshad Manji and her and others that I've heard who use essentialist notions of Islam that cede the ground to the fundamentalists are annoying--akin to lumping all of Christianity into the Christian right umbrella or all of left politics into the totalitarian USSR model.

There's a decent book by an acquaintance of mine--Sarah Husain--called Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith & Sexuality. It puts together a compilation of voices across the spectrum and across issue, including conversations among Muslim women about the issues described in the title. And it's largely progressive/radical without doing what the figures named above do.

Granted, many writers and artists in the book are diasporic, but then, so are my objections :) Moreover, the gender aspect is difficult for men like me given that it's easier for me to write off Ambedkar's condemnation of Hinduism in a way that I can't for these folks. And then there's the contemporary vs. past figure comparison involved there.

just one thing–I think beshi

just one thing–I think beshi means “too much” not “more.” “Aaro” would be more.

corrected.

Great post vivek...something

Great post vivek...something for everyone :)
just one thing--I think beshi means "too much" not "more." "Aaro" would be more.

Haven’t read the book, but I

Haven’t read the book, but I am averse to the descriptive labels “Muslim women,” “Muslim men,” and the “Muslim world.” I would equally shirk if someone said “Hindu women,” “Hindu world,” etc. For me, it’s too reductive.

why don't you google it first or glance through it and then decide. Here's the description from the website (if you click, you can see that the way the words in the title are arranged on the cover shows at least some awareness of the issues you raise).

Voices of Resistance is a diverse collection of personal narratives and prose by Muslim women whose experiences and observations are particularly poignant in today's politically and religiously charged environment. The contributors in this anthology hail from Yemen, Iran, Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Canada, and the United States.Sarah Husain conceptualized this collection as a means of redefining the stereotypical depictions of Muslim women that inundate current western discourse on the Islamic “other.” She seeks to dispel the image of the veil as the age-old symbol of Muslim women's repression and move beyond sterile representations and narrow debates about the contemporary realities of Muslim women. These women engage in discourses concerning their bodies and their communities. A woman mourns the death of a cousin killed in a suicide bombing; a transsexual remembers with fondness the donning of the veil he no longer wears as a Muslim man; a woman confronts sexism and hypocrisy on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia; and the experience of being judged on the basis of skin color and political and religious affiliation that is far more blatant and ubiquitous since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

SO IN ALL RESPECT TASLIMA

SO IN ALL RESPECT TASLIMA NASREEN HAS BECOME SATAN SO SHE MUST BE ERASED FROM THIS WORLD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Apparently you live in Kolkata or read the news. In considering the "leaders" that incited the protests against her yesterday, the police that reportedly escalated it, and the army troops that eventually took over parts of the city, i would say that taslima nasreen is the least of our problems right now.

and in the future, you might choose to comment at different times on such issues, in the interests of not appearing like an instigator rather than a conversant ;)

Isn't it amazing how much of

Isn't it amazing how much of a quick answer religion is? Like saying someone is "evil" "against Islam," and the "satan." There's no need to think things through and come up with logical conclusions. Must be too hard and complex for some...

Dr.A:

There’s a decent book by an acquaintance of mine–Sarah Husain–called Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith & Sexuality. It puts together a compilation of voices across the spectrum and across issue, including conversations among Muslim women about the issues described in the title.

Haven't read the book, but I am averse to the descriptive labels "Muslim women," "Muslim men," and the "Muslim world." I would equally shirk if someone said "Hindu women," "Hindu world," etc. For me, it's too reductive.

Md. Farooque, have you read

Md. Farooque, have you read Lajja?

why don’t you google it first

why don’t you google it first or glance through it and then decide.

Even with your snark and subsequent little snippet, I still stand by my comment.

MY COMMENT IS ONLY THAT

MY COMMENT IS ONLY THAT TASLIMA NASREEN IN HER NOVEL LIKE "LAJJA" IS WRITTING SUCH A THING WHICH IS AGAINST "ISLAM" AND AGAINST ISLAM MEANS AGAINST HUMANITY, AND THE PEOPLE WHO WORKS AGAINST HUMANITY MUST BE STOP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BECOUSE THE PEOPLE WHO IS AGAINST HUMANITY IS NOT HUMAN THEY ARE "SATAN" MEANS EVIL. SO IN ALL RESPECT TASLIMA NASREEN HAS BECOME SATAN SO SHE MUST BE ERASED FROM THIS WORLD AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Even with your snark and

Even with your snark and subsequent little snippet, I still stand by my comment.

So as a result you won't give space to people who present themselves in a volume with the title "Muslim women" to talk about themselves? I'm all for precision and complicating discourse, but I honestly don't see the point of such an inordinate focus on language at the cost of voice.

DI: So your solution is to

DI: So your solution is to leave all discussion of people who have self-identified, to some degree, as "Muslim" and "women" to the exoticizers and Orientalists and patriarchs and strategic analysts and the pawns they find rather than to hear anyone speak themselves. Not the most thought-out idea I've ever heard.

DI: So your solution is to

DI: So your solution is to leave all discussion of people who have self-identified, to some degree, as “Muslim” and “women” to the exoticizers and Orientalists and patriarchs and strategic analysts and the pawns they find rather than to hear anyone speak themselves. Not the most thought-out idea I’ve ever heard.

Dr. Anon,

I think I've already made my point by saying that lumping groups and adding tags to them is not the most instructive and eye-opening for me. You glossed over the point I made in the previous comment: how useful is it to speak of "Hindu men"? If someone spoke to you this way, how much does it illustrate to you?

As for your other condescending remarks, I won't ever bother.

Have a nice day.

DI: So your solution is to

DI: So your solution is to leave all discussion of people who have self-identified, to some degree, as “Muslim” and “women” to the exoticizers and Orientalists and patriarchs and strategic analysts and the pawns they find rather than to hear anyone speak themselves. Not the most thought-out idea I’ve ever heard.

Wait a minute-- I didn't say anything about people calling/describing themselves as Muslim and women. My criticism stemmed more from people coining others as such. And I made it clear that I haven't read the book, but I am hesitant when I hear things like stories about "Muslim women." And what to say of women who live in the "Muslim world" who are not "Muslim" but may share similar experiences with these women?

Wait a minute– I didn’t say

Wait a minute– I didn’t say anything about people calling/describing themselves as Muslim and women. My criticism stemmed more from people coining others as such.And I made it clear that I haven’t read the book, but I am hesitant when I hear things like stories about “Muslim women.”

Which is why I provided you with the description, which you evidently also did not read. I was talking about a book created primarily by people who have chosen to write or draw or otherwise participate in a project self-identified as by "Muslim Women." A point I have mentioned implicitly or explicitly several times.

The broader and related topic of "studying" or writing about "Muslim Women" is obviously more complicated than that; yes, I understand the difference between objects and subjects and that there are people who are placed as objects in many different forms of "knowledge" without their consent and this can and often is damaging and in the service of various fucked up political projects. Many of us understand this. You could even say it's common knowledge in venues like this and therefore not worth repeating 3-4 times.

The reason I didn't respond to your otherwise interesting-if-sarcastic suggestion about subjecting other groups to the same treatment (which they have been) is that I know that you won't have a conversation--you'll just make the same point over and over again, which was only marginally interesting to begin with. This is the same reason I won't respond to your otherwise interesting point about non-Muslim women who are raised or spend a lot of time in national societies that are viewed as "Muslim." Because as interesting as it is, I know you won't read what I have to say, and instead say the same thing over and over and over again.

Which is sad :( A lot of potentially good conversations lost.

Wow. OK, Dr. Anon. I won't

Wow.

OK, Dr. Anon. I won't bother wasting your time.

Many of us understand this.

Many of us understand this. You could even say it’s common knowledge in venues like this and therefore not worth repeating 3-4 times.

I have heard this before-- that some things I've said are too trite, redundant, 'common knowledge," etc. My question would be: who are you imagining is your audience? Other desis who have been well versed in social theory and academic critiques? I find most of the responses here somewhat cocky and snide- i.e. "I can't believe you said that, everyone knows that." Obviously not everyone thinks and sees things the way you do, or else we wouldn't see a certain kind of media coverage on people, hear folks say questionable things about others, etc.

I think that if you get irked that some commentators say things that are just too obvious for you and therefore tick you off/bore you/seem redundant, then maybe you should moderate who readers are. Or just ban people who don't offer you the vigorous academic style of debate that you enjoy.

I have heard this before–

I have heard this before– that some things I’ve said are too trite, redundant, ‘common knowledge,” etc. My question would be: who are you imagining is your audience?

Well, probably not the readership of Time magazine. I honestly don't know who's reading this stuff and not responding, but I try not to think about too much.

There's a certain level of condescension in some of the responses you've received (self included), but I think it comes up when you reiterate the same point over and over and over again without actually looking at what the other person or persons you're talking to are saying. It can be very frustrating.

I honestly don’t see the

I honestly don’t see the point of such an inordinate focus on language at the cost of voice.

Fair point. As such, I propose that we start thinking about "Hindu men," "Sikh men," "Jewish men," and the grand finale...

"Christian men!"

Yes! We never talk about "Christian women" and "Christian men" because presumably Christianity is an ineffective force, and Christian men and women are not influenced by their religion the way we other folks are.

I am going to travel the Hindu world and collect stories? Also, the Sikh world. Sikh men have not a voice to the same degree as others.

I read the book Lajja and

I read the book Lajja and would recommend it to most people. Growing up in Bangladesh, I had preconceived notions on the controversial Taslima Nasrin, and like most people my age thought she s some perverted woman desperate for attention, but the book was an eyeopener. I have a lot of hindu, christian and buddhist friends in bd, and realized how they are probably made to feel like they don't belong here from time to time, it must be horrible being a minority in ur own country. I am muslim, and believe theres something to learn from every religion. In the end of it all , we all want to go back to our creator wtvr we choose to call HER/HIM, and demand our piece of heaven, meanwhile religion is just guidelines to being a good person, dats how i see it, and yea, u can call me a liberal muslim, uff i tried to keep my typing proper, but anyway, i donno y i'm writing all dis in da first place, but i guess i must be really sleepy.
and yea, mr anonymous and desi italiana, enjoyed reading ur argument (conversation i shud say?)
oooooooooo another thing... i'm glad the first taslima nasrin book i read was lajja and not the other yucky ones, cos den the first wud be my last, i mean seriously u guys shud read sum of her other books, they r full of gross details about her sexlife dat i'm sure nobody cares much about to want to know anyway. but u gotta admire her for bein so courageous. so yea 3 cheers for ma girl taslima nasreen (aunty?)... and i wud sure bring u bak to bangladesh,, jus wait till i'm the new demented bangladeshi woman prime minister. u jus gotta wait a couple more yrs till i can find an army general i can marry n den get him shot(first step to becomin PM here) to get myself sum sympathy so dat ppl vote for me, and dat they will coz i'm also fairskinned and pretty (which are other requirements for becomin an bd president).......omigod i hav lost it. need sleep, gudnite.
p.s. for those of u who have come dis far and are positive i'm a crackhead, dont think i was tryinna be funny with the first part of my comment, i was serious den and meant it,....... kind of went wacko later on and now i cant stop myself frm talking sum more garbage, but i will now.byaaa.

thanks for taslima nasreen

thanks for taslima nasreen for giving such a nice literature and awaring about the reality of bangladesh.LAJJA is a historic book, describing the real heartly fellings of a person belonging to minority community and living in a different majority community region.this is not the agains ISLAM its only the authers imaginative ideas of providing the descriptive details in literature.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.