<i>Who is afraid of Taslima Nasrin?</i>
Taslima Nasrin, the Bangladeshi-born writer, has become a legend in her own lifetime. She is hailed outside of Bangladesh as the most important writer in Bangladesh not only by laymen, but also by connoisseurs of literature. All over India, Europe and America, she is recognized as a literary icon. If you travel to Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay or London, New York, Paris or Hamburg, you cannot help being asked about this fallen literary goddess. While traveling by train in India, I heard with my own ears some fellow passengers fulminating against the ban on one of her books in Bangladesh. As a Bangladeshi, I was pelted with question after question as to why the Nasrin was not being allowed to get back to her motherland. The questioners, however, belonged to a particular religion different from that of the writer. They seem to nourish a very lofty idea about Taslima Nasrin as an incarnation of truth. Nasrin has become a living myth after the recurrent proscriptions of her books and her move into self-exile.
Be that as it may, the main point is that Taslima Nasrin's fame has gradually been rising to dizzy heights of eminence. What have some people discovered in her which we failed to do? How has she managed to earn for herself such a big reputation? It is time to delve deep into these questions. If we carefully analyze the whole lot of writings she has by now produced, we cannot but see that except for Select Columns and a few poems, the remainder is a hotchpotch of half-baked ideas and stray thoughts in the guise of pompous claptrap. The mystery behind her fame lies in the fact that however shoddy her writings may be in the original, they have been highly gauged in their translations done by expert hands.
Most of her novels bear testimony to her nodding acquaintance with the genre. The best she has done is try to give a pretty materialistic interpretation of our society, culture and religion in her magnum opus Select Columns. But the motif she has tried to establish in them has been illustrated much more cogently by many of her compatriot authors.
The bulk of her writing can be bogged down to atheism or secularism or extra-religious humanism. It is okay. None should smell a rat in this effort. Bangladeshi writers like Ahmad Sharif, Aroj Ali Matubbar and Humayun Azad have done the same thing in a more effective way. They have arguably been critical of religion as a whole, regardless of any particular religious community, and upheld the doctrine of secular humanism. But Taslima Nasrin is seen fighting only against one religious community and its culture. She likes to pick holes only in Islam and overlooks others. This is surely a sign of incompetence in one who aspires to be a good writer. And for this reason she cannot be on an equal footing with other nonconformist writers of Bangladesh.
This is the reason why people opposed to the Muslim community are taking advantage of Taslima Nasrin's authorship. Personally, I do not know if she at all realizes that she is playing a cat's paw, and working against her own people and culture on the pretext of truth seeking. If she had been an inveterate atheist, she would have abandoned all religions equally, and employed her talent only in unbiased secular pursuits. She could have then found faults with all of them. We wouldn't have worried because, this too is a well-accepted approach to critical investigation into men, matters and morals and many a writer has earned global recognition trying their hand at it. But Nasrin's views are anything but atheistic. They rather seem to be slanted towards a means which is either a fool's rush or a highly clever scheme.
The Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul is more or less possessed of the same skill. He is also prone to undermining the religious feelings of Muslims. His Beyond Belief is a scathing criticism of Islamic people and their culture. If he had been an atheist, or a dialectical materialist, or even a dispassionate secularist, he would have made an equal treatment of all religious communities and their cultures. We would have had very little to object to it. But Naipaul seems to make a deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of a particular community and join hands with those who tend to mistake Islam for terrorism and confuse Laden and the Taliban with general Muslims. He can be easily charged with being a tool under their thumb. We will certainly not forget Naipaul, the author of A House for Mr. Biswas, but, at the same time, we must not hesitate to say that his genius fades into insignificance when he deliberately turns provocative.
Salman Rushdie too belongs to the same cult (careerist cult) and his writing is targeted on Islam to a great extent. He treats Islam as a 'paranoid' religion and keeps mysteriously silent on other faiths. A true atheist is equally critical of all religions irrespective of whether it is Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. By attacking Islam he has drawn the attention of people of other faiths and could headed for the Nobel Prize. His move to the United States is certainly indicative of his move towards the Nobel Prize.
The continuation of this legacy may one day come down to our Taslima Nasrin, who is a feminine version of Naipaul or of Rushdie to a lesser degree. Although her writing is not as cerebral as those of Naipaul and Rushdie, she can serve the purposes of others. Her virulent criticism of Islam is hugely titillating for many.
But what real thing can she gain by all this incitement? In fact, she is cherishing an illusion. A spectre of an aspiration for something which she does not deserve is behind it all. There is no denying the fact that she has a real flair and a critical eye for writing. If she brushes up her talent, she can master her creative and intellectual acumen at least to the point of being one of the most distinguished writers in Bangladesh. She should not mortgage her conscience to climb to the peaks of success.
As there is no reason as to why Taslima Nasrin should be acclaimed so strongly throughout the world, there should equally be no reason why her books should be banned or she should be banished from her country. We may disapprove of what she says, but we should have the mind to protect her right to say what she feels, to practise her freedom of speech. This is the hallmark of a secular democratic countrya country which we dearly achieved in 1971 at the cost of the lives of three million people. Taslima Nasrin was born and bred in the same motherland as we were. In addition, she has not committed any offence subversive of the state. So she preserves every right to come back to her country for the asking. The government should take all possible measures to ensure her safe return. It should not bother about the chorus of indignation against her raised by religious fanatics inside and outside the country. The self-proclaimed guardians of Islam should not be allowed to go too far in dealing with the Taslima Nasrin issue. As a matter of fact, it is they who have made her a hot subject of debate, and thus pushed her into a prominence she does not in reality deserve. If you do not like her writings, you may jolly well shut your eyes to them; or give a flat 'No' to them; or write her off as an eccentric old bore. But you can never be in pursuit of her to put her to the sword.
We do not raise Taslima Nasrin to a zenith she does not deserve. Nor do we exclude her from a position she is worthy of. We are not afraid of her thoughts, ideas and speculations. Nor are we tempted to claim her as the only one of her kind.