Nasrin, Taslima

Nasrin, Taslima
▪ 1995

      In early August 1994 the Bangladeshi feminist author Taslima Nasrin, disguised in the traditional shrouding dress of Muslim women, made her way through Dhaka and onto a plane. Thus began her flight to sanctuary in Sweden. Left behind was a major fundamentalist Islamic uprising demanding her death for "blasphemous" writings and statements. Militant Muslims had issued a series of fatwas, or religious decrees, against Nasrin, and a bounty was offered to her killer.

      Nasrin had been enraging strict Muslims for several years. In her columns, poems, and fiction, she wrote withering diatribes against the oppression of women and the Islamic code that made them virtually the chattel of men. Her subject matter became increasingly sexual, and her condemnation of men was unrelenting. She wore her hair short, smoked cigarettes, and eschewed women's traditional Muslim dress. In 1992 fundamentalists attacked bookstores carrying her works.

      It was not until the fall of 1993 that she became an international cause célèbre. At that time the first fatwa was issued against her in reaction to her novel Lajja (1993; Shame), which depicts the persecution of a Hindu family by Muslims.

      The real fundamentalist explosion came in May 1994, when she was quoted in the Calcutta Statesman as saying that the Qur`an "should be revised thoroughly." This brought larger and more vociferous demonstrations, demanding that the government put Nasrin to death. She insisted that her statement referred to the Shari'ah, the Islamic code of law, rather than the Qur`an itself. The outcry against her went unabated, however, and the government called for her arrest, invoking a 19th-century blasphemy law. After about two months in hiding, Nasrin appeared in court. She was released on bail and allowed to keep her passport. A few days later she left the country. In Sweden she remained in hiding while stating that, when it was safe, she would return to Bangladesh to continue her battle for women's rights. The Bangladeshi government, meanwhile, sought a court order for her return. Unfazed, she went even further and in November declared that the Qur`an had only historical value.

      Nasrin was born Aug. 25, 1962, in the town of Mymensingh, then in East Pakistan. Her father was a doctor, and she also became a doctor, working in a family planning clinic in Mymensingh until she was reassigned to a government clinic in Dhaka in 1990. She left the national medical service in 1993. Nasrin was married and divorced twice.

      Comparisons with the author Salman Rushdie, also in hiding from Islamic fundamentalists, were inevitable, but Nasrin made a clear distinction between herself and Rushdie. In October 1993 she was quoted as saying, "He has apologized. I have not and will not." (MARVIN MARTIN)

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