Sunday, August 12, 2007

Freedom is Not Free

Taslima Nasreen: Symbol of Secularism Extremism

A nobody has been made into a somebody. Political Muslim passivity suddenly got an active voice thanks to the emotive goons of the MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen). I want to congratulate Akbaruddin Owaisi, the chief mentor of the MIM, for defending his men of muscle after causing mayhem. Muslim honour has finally been preserved!

A C-grade writer has been given an A-class status!

What's Taslima Nasreen's claim to fame? It's Shame (Lajja means Shame). Taslima Nasreen is a Bangladeshi writer whose controversial novel Lajja appeared in February 1993 soon after the demolition of Babri Masjid. The theme of the novel was 'persecution of Hindus' in Bangladesh. It was banned five months later by the Bangladesh government for 'disturbing the communal peace' of the country.

Much ink has already been spilt on Lajja for different reasons. The issue which I intend to raise here has not been touched by our so-called secular-liberals. Lajja is a "novel", writes Taslima in the Preface, "and all the characters in the narrative are the product of my own imagination, and any resemblance they bear to actual people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Then she goes on to say that "I have also included in the text numerous incidents, actual historical events, facts and statistics." (Emphasis added).

Can facts be presented in the guise of fiction? It has been the tradition of anti-Islam writers to depict actual history in the guise of fictionalised fantasy. It gives them a real sense of 'freedom' to mix-match facts with fiction at their own convenience. You raise a slogan of 'communal bias', they will raise an eerie wail of fiction! It is the safest route to historical distortion and literary escapism. It is an act of literary cowardice.

At the backdrop of the post-Babri riots in Bangladesh, she mentions the Holy Qur'an in Lajja in such a subtle way that it can be inferred that Islam is essentially an intolerant religion and permits killing of innocents. In recent years, she has poured her venom against Islam in general and Muslims in particular in the form of articles. Her last such article appeared in Outlook (January 22, 2007) provocatively titled 'Let's Burn the Burqa'. Interestingly, after the protests that freedom can never be absolute, the title was later changed to 'Let's Think Again About The Burqa'!

Lajja is the best example of Taslima's hypocritical approach. In Lajja, she claims to continue her battle against "religious persecution, genocide and communalism" because "religious fundamentalism is not restricted to Bangladesh alone and it must be fought at every turn." (Emphasis added).

But alas, she has never ever spoken a single word on Muslim genocide of 1992-93 in Mumbai and State-sponsored pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat. All these years she has carefully chosen the 'freedom' of silence.

MIM legislators' attack on Taslima is an advertisement of political fanaticism. Akbaruddin Owaisi's justification of the attack smacks of political conspiracy keeping in mind that MIM is an ally of the ruling UPA (United Progressive Alliance) at the centre. Was it to 'appease' Muslims of Hyderabad since the image of the ruling class is at stake after the Mecca Masjid Blasts?

Also, one interesting aspect of the entire episode has been missed by the mainstream media. Hyderabad Press Club is just two kilometres from the police control headquarters. The organisers of the book release function did not make adequate security arrangement knowing well the Muslim sensitivity towards the writer.

As senior journalist Syed Ali Mujtaba questions, "Why didn't the organisers make enough security arrangement to check unwanted people coming to their function? Why such people were allowed to enter their premises in the first place itself? It makes me to speculate that this could be part of a set piece devised by the author and the organisers of the function to gain publicity and mileage. They must have anticipated this may snowball in this way and once that happens and actually that happened, Taslima would be in the limelight again…the author has scored in maligning Islam and its followers once again."

Taslima Nasreen calls herself as a 'reformer' although her attitude has been that of an anti-Islam writer. She wants Muslims to stop reading Qur'an since she thinks that it's a flawed book and a 'revision' is a must!

When Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, an English convert to Islam, translated the Holy Qur’an, he said in the introduction that the Qur’an was that “great symphony which moved men to tears and ecstacy.” No wonder Encyclopedia Britannica observes that the Qur’an is “the most frequently read book in the world.” The Qur’an makes an irresistible appeal to all, irrespective of caste, creed or colour to produce the guidance it has produced in the Qur’an.

Taslima has been churning out cheap 'pedestrian literature' all these years. A cursory look at some of her book titles will suffice: Nimontron (Invitation), Bhromor Koio Gia (Tell Him The Secret), Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), Forashi Premik (French Lover).

Taslima Nasreen is a continuation of the Salman Rushdie syndrome. The present-day sufferers of the Rushdie syndrome include Ayan Ali, Irshad Manji, Waraq and a few others who have made a habit of writing on Islam without understanding its true essence. Hurting the religious sentiments of the Muslims is their full-time profession. Muslims worldwide must not fall prey to the Rushdie syndrome. There were enough Rushdies at the time of the Prophet Muhammad as well. His patient behaviour and compassion had compelled many bete noires to 'revert' to Islam in the end.

A book must be fought by book and not by bouquet: It has been an Islamic tradition of books fighting books. The most celebrated example is that of Imam Al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd in the early 11th century. Al-Ghazali fired the first salvo with his monumental book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Ibn Rushd, belonging to rationalists' philosophers, replied with The Incoherence of the Incoherence. The battle went on for centuries leading to 'The Incoherence of the Incoherence of the Incoherence' to the 'nth degree' — ending when the victory was finally conceded to Al-Ghazali on the basis of his arguments.

MIM attack was a clash between political and literary extremism making its subject a mute sufferer. 'When two elephants fight', goes the Malay proverb, 'it is the grass that gets trampled.' The voice of a common Muslim was subdued in this clash. Freedom of speech, thus, belongs to the powerful. "Freedom of expression", writes Ziauddin Sardar "belongs to those with secular power, or access and opportunity within the secular structures of power. That's the problem with secularism. As the preeminent truth and doctrine of the West, it renders insignificant and makes invisible all that is outside its purview, all the possibilities and the potentials outside its framework of power. Secularism masks the will to power; and like all authoritarian ideologies, it nurtures homicidal tendencies."

Islam is not a religion of ridicule but a religion of reason. "Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord" says the Holy Qur'an "with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance." (16: 125)

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