Similarities and differences



There are many who utter the names of Salman Rushdie & Taslima Nasreen  truly in the same breath. However, if there are great differences between one individual and the other, this co-vocalization may naturally become a matter of discomfiture. When I am referred to as the ‘Female Rushdie’, these days I ask back, why aren’t you calling Salman Rushdie the ‘Male Nasreen’ instead? Barring the fatwa, everything else is different between us – I know that very well. Rushdie is a man; I’m a woman. This is a huge dissimilarity. He enjoys certain advantages by virtue of being a man; I, on the other hand, am always at a disadvantage because I am a woman.   After the fatwa was issued, Rushdie had begged the fundamentalists for forgiveness, and declared that he had  become a born-again Muslim. I never asked for a pardon. I didn’t even want to become a Muslim. I have been an atheist since childhood – I held my head high to remain one, weathering all tumultuous storms. Rushdie never lived in Iran, the country that brought out the fatwa in his name. In contrast, the country where extremists have marched year after year demanding that I be hanged till death, the country in which intolerant Muslims went berserk trying to silence me forever, the country which took out an arrest warrant in my name because of a lawsuit filed by the government – because of which I was forced to go into hiding for months on end, the country where the fundamentalist terrorists would have torn me apart if they could lay a hand on me – I have been physically present in that country during those harrowing times. I, alone, had to bear the brunt of all the torture meted out by the fundamentalists and the government alike. No one expelled Rushdie from his country as a result of the fatwa; he didn’t have to suffer banishment. England is his country; he lived there, and still does. Rushdie had only a single fatwa against him; there were, against me, three fatwas from Bangladesh, five from India, each with a price on my head. Rushdie never had to budge; I was thrown out from two countries because of my writings. Rushdie had one of his books (The Satanic Verses) banned; I had five – Lajja (Shame), Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utol Haowa (The Tempest), Dwikhondito (Split in Two), and Sei Sob Andhokar (All Those Darkness). Rushdie may criticize religion, but he is not associated with any atheist-humanist group or Human Rights organization – whereas I am, actively. In his personal life, Rushdie is highly conceited; I am its exact opposite. Rushdie is gallivanting with one young woman after another, his playthings many years his junior. His senile pranks are not considered pranks; rather, he is regarded as a strong, virile, bodacious lover-boy – an object of envy to many younger men. In contrast, despite my spending life without a male companion, there is no dearth of people calling me a ‘whore’ or a ‘deviant woman’, and whipping up various sex scandals involving me. Only a man has the right to enjoy a sex life. If a woman does so or talks or writes about women’s equal right to enjoy a sex life, she is labeled a whore. Ever since I started writing, I have received criticism and contempt from people: advocating sexual freedom for women, I am apparently destroying the society. Even though I believe Sexual freedom is not about saying YES to sex always. It is also about saying NO to sex. There is another excellent similarity or difference between Rushdie and me. Many of those who consider Rushdie a good writer have not read his books. Many of those who call me a bad writer have not read a word of my writings.

I took risks of my life  to support  Rushdie publicly in 1989  in Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country. Rushdie’s name has been associated with mine since 1993. Following the fatwa from Iran, Rushdie became a much-discussed and famous name.  My name, on the other hand, crossed the boundaries of Bangladesh and India after a price was set on my head. Rushdie was amongst other European authors who wrote an open letter for me during  those desperate period when  I was forced to live in hiding after the Bangladesh government filed a case against me on the charges of blasphemy. Finally, when I was expelled and living in exile, I heard that Rushdie apparently got furious after reading my opinion about him published in Das Spiegel,  a German magazine. In that piece, I expressed my disappointment at Rushdie’s begging for forgiveness to Mullahs in response to the fatwa,  which I thought was decidedly cowardly.

Rushdie lived in New York City in 2008-2010, as did I. But there was  no possibility of us meeting. He was the president of the Pen Club, a large organization of authors and poets of America. For a couple of years, the Pen Club had been organizing massive demonstrations in support of freedom of expression in New York City. Various authors from Asia and Africa, almost all little known, have been brought over. But I was not welcomed  to tell my story how my freedom of expression was violated over the years and how I was   fighting  religious fundamentalists and  the powerful governments alone without any compromise.  Salman Rushdie was well aware that I have been recently thrown out of India; there were loathsome and incredible attacks against   my freedom of expression. Almost all of my books have been banned in Bangladesh, either officially or socially. Not just Bangladesh, even West Bengal banned my book and threw me out of the state. Not only that, I was kept under house arrest in Kolkata and Delhi for a long seven months during the process of banishment. Eventually, I have been ousted from India. Salman Rushdie was celebrating freedom of speech by cunningly ignoring my glowing history. He can do whatever he wants. One of his security guards wrote an unflattering book about him; he made arrangements with publishers so that the book would not see the light of the day. Yes, he is celebrating freedom of speech. He is a man, people think nothing of it when he chases after much younger women, even at sixty plus. Even if women have complained that Rushdie doesn’t consider them anything more than sex objects, people don’t dislike him. This epitome of male chauvinism, this author has garnered immense name and fame; I am glad that I don’t have any similarities with him beyond the fatwa. To be honest, it irritates me no end to have my name joined with his.

Another name is being entangled with mine for the past couple of years. He is Maqbul Fida Hussein, a great artist. His paintings fetch the highest price in India. He is considered by many as India’s top painter. He has recently hurt Hindu religious sentiments by painting Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of Learning) in the nude. Hindu fundamentalists  have destroyed his paintings, threatened him, and forced him to leave the country. I believe in one hundred percent freedom of speech of human beings. I firmly believe that Maqbul Fida Hussein should have the freedom of drawing whatever he wants. No one has the right to persecute him for this reason. However, it still makes me uncomfortable if my insignificant name is linked with that of as great an artist as Fida Hussein. Because, despite my insignificance, I hold my principles very dear; I have no favorable disposition towards someone, however world-famous for any reason, whose values don’t measure up to mine. I don’t feel gratified to have my name uttered along with that of such a person. When a controversy has broken out in India over Maqbul Fida Hussein’s painting a nude Saraswati, I have very naturally sided with the freedom of the artist. Since atheists are rare amongst Muslims, I find it heartening to find a Muslim turn secular or atheist. Thereafter, I went through all of Hussein’s paintings minutely, seeking to find if he had ever mocked any religion other than Hinduism, especially his own, Islam. I found zilch. Instead, he has used the word ‘Allah’, written in Arabic, on his canvas with much respect and care. I saw clearly that he had a great faith in and regard for Islam. He did not believe in any religion other than Islam! His painting of Lakshmi and Saraswati in the nude stemmed from his disregard for Hinduism! Would he ever draw Muhammad in the nude? I am certain he won’t. I have no problem drawing naked pictures of gods and goddesses or prophets of any religion. I am equitable in my lack of belief in all religions of the world. Putting one religion over another, hating one and loving or believing in another – I have no such issues. All religions say, your religion is the best and true and correct, your god is the only true god; all other religions are erroneous, all other gods, false! Having been indoctrinated thus, extremists blinded by faith are able to easily attack others who do not belong to their faith. Christian extremists have once wreaked havoc in Europe; even now, they are driven to violence against abortion. Hindu extremists have recently been on a rampage in Ayodhya of India, and in Gujarat. Attacks by Muslim extremists time and again have shaken up the world, let alone India. Fida Hussein is similar to those religious individuals, who put faith in their own religion while criticizing others’. I have no reason for any interest in having my name linked with Fida Hussein’s – even though he may be a great tree to my inconsequential twig of grass; because I am an atheist, and he… Not only is he a theist, but he is a theist only in respect of his own god. When it comes to believing in many other gods in the world, he has no faith.

The only similarity that I have with Fida Hussein is that almost around the same time, we both had to leave India following a barrage of attacks from irrational religionists. This apart, everything else is dissimilar. The prime difference is that his exile was finally his choice, while mine was not. I was evicted not only from my Kolkata residence, but from India as well by the authorities.  No, those responsible were not some random individuals or groups blinded by faith, but the government. Fida Hussein has houses to stay in foreign lands, I don’t. The Indian government has been trying to repatriate Hussein; I have been barred from entry by both Bangladesh & India governments. After being ousted from India, whenever I have re-entered with the intention of taking up residence, I have been immediately pushed away. Fida Hussein has but mocked one religion; I, discussing women’s rights, castigate the misogynistic thesis of all religions, always making the following points – let there be laws promulgated on the basis of equal rights, let the misogynistic laws and traditions perish. I criticize all religions equitably, not leaving out my family’s religion, Islam.

I don’t have the name, fame and clout of Rushdie or Fida Hussein. However, even then, I don’t want my name associated with theirs in any way. The way I have been tormented for years by religious governments in power, they have not had to face even a fraction of that. The manner in which I am compelled to live abroad, in the darkness of uncertainty, with no place to call home, and to fend for myself in sickness and through insolvency, while carrying on my struggles for my beliefs and principles, is not inconsequential. Rushdie or Hussain never had to encounter such an intolerable situation. My utmost respect for their craft notwithstanding, I think it’s unfair to put in the same bracket as those two men. However people may perceive my incessant struggle for a society free of religion and discrimination, a society with equality and equal rights, those men, regardless of their stature as artists of renown, cannot come even close to my principles.

Comments

  1. bubba707 says

    Frankly, I read Rushdies Satanic Verses and really didn’t think it was such a much. I think the primary reason it sold so well was because of the fatwa.

  2. Dave says

    Hi Taslima, and welcome to FTB. I have followed you on Twitter for a while, and enjoy your insights, particularly since I spend a lot of time in Afghanistan and see first hand the misogyny you have lived through.

    Now you just need to get them to add you to the Blog Roll….

  3. sc_677205d219f80551bb5cfc02336dfdaf says

    Wow. This was excellent and I had never (unfortunately for me!) heard of you until PZ Myers just mentioned you were here today.

    I love learning about the struggle for equality throughout the world.. so I shall try to follow you from now on..

    Nice Work and I wish you well..

  4. anon says

    Being a young Kolkatan, I just want to tell you how ashamed I am of my government for not protecting your rights. Having you in our city would have resurrected our intellectual tradition. Sadly, the government chose to pander to narrow interests.
    I know that many many people support you and hope that you will be able to return one day.

  5. Suresh says

    There you go. That’s the feminist I adore.
    Taslima ain’t no Rushide.
    Go , rock, you Lady.
    I am so proud of you.
    You wouldn’t believe I have few drops of tears reading this.

    I am so proud of you.

  6. satcomguy says

    Welcome to FreethoughtBlogs and thank you for an excellent post. May I say that somehow this line really seemed to hit me hard:

    let there be laws promulgated on the basis of equal rights, let the misogynistic laws and traditions perish.

    Perhaps there is just something heartfelt and final about the word “perish” when used that way.
    I look forward to reading more of your writing.

    Steve

  7. Rick Schauer says

    It is humbling to read your work and witness your persecution. My gratitude for your bravery and ability to bring light to so much darkness. Welcome to ftb – fiat lux!

    • lonesomegonad says

      What an inspirational post. I’ve always admired anyone who has been blacklisted, banished or banned but you (the ecrivain maudit) are in a class by yourself. It is always a thrill to discover a new heroine/hero. Welcome to FTB.

  8. madbull says

    I so love you,
    In a sane world, west and east Bengal would be fighting to keep you within their territory for your sheer intellect and amazing literary skills.

  9. says

    Wow, Taslima. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t heard of you until now. I am so glad I did though. Thank you for coming to FtB.

  10. Cheyla says

    I started following Taslima on Twitter after I heard her at the Reason Rally. I’m so glad to be able to follow more of her journey to find a home on her blog.

  11. =8)-DX says

    Welcome to FTB, your impassioned (while at the same time strangely, furiosly cold-blooded) article made for some interesting reading, giving me a new view of Mr. Rushdie. I welcome your further writing and hope you carve out your own groove despite comparisons to celebrities.

    I look forward to reading some of your books and stand in solidarity with your for freedom of speech, freedom from religion and women’s rights.

    =8)-DX

  12. Danny boy says

    Dear Ms. Nasreem,

    You are correct, I have (shame) never read a book by you and I would like to. Please convince your publisher to have any or all of your books published on Kindle. I live in a third world country and getting paper based books, especially like yours is difficult.

  13. Stevarious says

    Oh my, such fiery righteous anger! You’ll fit in just fine around here and welcome indeed!

    As an aside, I did want to mention one thing. According to Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography, Rushdie was pressured by the CIA to publically recant his apostacy, as a condition to secure the release of some political prisoners. I don’t know if that makes the act less shameful but if it is true, one could at least say that he had good intentions.

    I do not say this in order to belittle or marginalize your hardships, however – its very clear that you’ve shown remarkable courage in the face of incredible adversity and deserve to be recognize on your own account.

  14. rdmcpeek43 says

    Welcome to FTblogs. The females on this site ARE awesome and
    PZ is right to include you. I already like you and your “style”
    (of writing). You and Greta Christina: THE DYNAMIC DUO.

  15. snebo154 says

    After reading your post I would like to add a couple of differences between Rushdie and yourself that you would have been unaware of. (1) I have never had any desire to read anything written by Rushdie, I will most certainly read some or all of your books. (2) In spite of his desirability(?) as a companion, I have never imagined speaking to Rushdie. You are well up on my list of people that I would like the opportunity to spend an evening listening to and sharing ideas with. Welcome to FTB, your blog will be a regular stopping point in my virtual travels.

  16. electrabotanical says

    I salute your courage and look forward to reading your essays about women’s rights. Bravo brave lady!

  17. JohnS says

    So the first post here is how awesome and solid the author’s principles are, how unfair the world is, and unprovoked attacks on those that are more famous. Meh, have fun railing.

      • JohnS says

        Never read Salmon Rushdie. Richard Dawkins IS one of my favorite authors, and yet I recognized he was wrong during the whole “elevatorgate” brouhaha. Singing ones own praises, no matter how apt they would be from the mouth of another, is arrogant and off-putting. The same goes for comparing one’s own work to another’s and finding how superior it is. When Terrell Owens was shooting his mouth off about how great he was, the fact it was true (and it was) didn’t hide the fact he was being an ass.

  18. RW Ahrens says

    Welcome, Taslima! Your writing is so eloquent and strong, I am humbled at my own weak attempts at writing in the past. thank you for taking this stance, and I sincerely hope the day comes when you can return home, in triumph and victorious over your foes.

    I shall read your blog with great interest!

  19. dollypop says

    Welcome. Don’t expect the Pharyngula regulars to join you (for which you should be grateful!), as they care only for barking amongst themselves, like dogs in a pound. Religion IS christianity for them, so diverse experiences such as yours are way beyond their understanding!

    Now let’s get to it!

    • maxamillion says

      Don’t expect the Pharyngula regulars to join you (for which you should be grateful!), as they care only for barking amongst themselves, like dogs in a pound. Religion IS christianity for them, so diverse experiences such as yours are way beyond their understanding!

      Now let’s get to it!

      Gee, don’t go out in the wind, those tickets might just blow away.

    • says

      I guess you don’t visit Pharyngula. What are you basing your ire on? Even if PZ only criticized christianity (which he doesn’t), are bloggers required to be all things to all people?

  20. DLC says

    Welcome to Freethought Blogs. I hope you find a blog-home here.
    You have the courage of your convictions, which makes you dangerous to those who let religious zealotry and mindless hate rule them. Keep up the good work!

  21. KarlVonMox says

    Welcome to this community. I was at the atheist convention in bethesda recently, and I was very much moved by your strength, eloquence, and courage. You are an amazing speaker and writer. Please continue to fight against the forces of bigotry and superstition like you do – the movement needs more like you!

  22. says

    Shagatom!

    I’d heard much about you before and am very excited that you’ll be blogging here. Please don’t be offended when I say I might fall in love with you.

  23. Charles Sullivan says

    Thank you so much. Just one suggestion, if I may. Shorter paragraphs (even if artificially short) have a positive psychological affect on American readers. Longer paragraphs we run away.

  24. bubba707 says

    Frankly, I read Rushdies Satanic Verses and really didn’t think it was such a much. I think the primary reason it sold so well was because of the fatwa. People just wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

  25. Tony says

    What a marvelous discovery are you for me, who until this moment had been ignorant of your existence! Keep the fight, keep the will, keep the hope up…As someone pointed out in a previous post, you’re amongst firends here, even though virtual…

    Tony

  26. Tony says

    What a marvelous discovery are you for me, who until this moment had been ignorant of your existence! Keep the fight, keep the will, keep the hope up…As someone pointed out in a previous post, you’re amongst friends here, even though virtual…

    Tony

  27. mynameischeese says

    Pfff, you are way more hardcore than Rushdie! I was all excited to read The Satanic Verses when I was younger because I thought the controversy was so exciting. I found it a bit boring.

  28. csrster says

    I think some of these folk criticising The Satanic Verses fail to realise that Rushdie was a _huge_ name in literary fiction well before he wrote The Satanic Verses. In fact, if he hadn’t already been well known I rather doubt The Satanic Verses would have attracted the attention it did. Also Rushdie had already made his share of enemies. Midnight’s Children was, among other things, an attack on the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty, and Shame was a pretty vicious satire on every leader of Pakistan since partition.

    Taslima, you attack Rushdie for not being, as you are, active in secularist and humanist organisations. But why should he be under any such obligation? He is a creative artist who faced and faces a religious death sentence for his work, and it is in and through his literary work that he extols the virtues of freedom and openness. That he lives under one fatwa and you live under five is neither here nor there as each of you has only one life to be protected from the zealots.

    Moreover your attacks on his personality are not only distasteful but mirror rather oddly the attacks you report against yourself. Why should we atheists care how old Rushdie’s girlfriends are or how many of them he has? Let’s leave the petty sexual moralising to the god-botherers.

    I have the greatest admiration for your courage in the face of danger and hardship I can barely imagine. But I don’t believe attacking others for experiencing less danger or suffering less hardship helps the cause of secularism in any way.

  29. h. hanson says

    I can’t wait to read more! I am so excited to have you here.
    I have read Rushdie’s books and always thought that the fatwa was what made his name for him.
    WELCOME!

  30. Smita says

    Love your articles and courage. You are truly a hero to millions of women worldwide. It is shame that Rushdie and Hussein gets more publicity but you are the true gem in my book.

  31. says

    I can live with those, what exasperate me is the often overly heavy moderating. Stifles the open exchange of ideas on topics that by their very nature get emotionally charged. We’re all adults here, I think we can handle it.

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