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Feb 09 2014

The woman.

It is so easy to harass women, molest women, rape women, sell women, buy women, exploit women. It is so easy to throw acid on women’s body, beaten women up, burn them down. It is so easy to kill women.

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It is in Bangladesh. I was born and brought up in that country, unfortunately.

Feb 09 2014

Turn skin cells into stem cells!

Our scientists can turn skin cells into stem cells.

Don’t call it a miracle. It has no relation with supernatural stuff.
Call it an amazing fact.

Human skin cells have been turned into stem cells which have the potential to develop into fully-formed embryos, simply by bathing them in weak citric acid for half an hour.

I may not get the benefit of it in my lifetime, but I am so bloody excited for being one of the witnesses of such an incredible scientific achievement.

Although there is no intention to create human embryos from skin cells, scientists believe that it could, theoretically, be possible to do so given that entire mouse embryos have already been effectively created from the re-engineered blood cells of laboratory mice.

Creating the mouse embryos was the final proof the scientists needed to demonstrate that the stem cells were “pluripotent”, and so capable of developing into any specialised tissue of an adult animal, including the “germ cells” that make sperm and eggs.

What else do we really need?

A team of Japanese and American scientists converted human skin cells into stem cells using the same simple approach that had astonished scientists around the world last month when they announced that they had converted blood cells of mice into stem cells by bathing them in a weak solution of citric acid for 30 minutes.

The scientist who instigated the research programme more than a decade ago said that he now has overwhelming evidence that the same technique can be used to create embryonic-like stem cells from human skin cells.

We can prevent our degenerations and deaths if we want. Why don’t we try to live as long as we like? I don’t like the idea to stop cloning because some bad people may misuse cloning, and to stop using stem cells because some bad people may use stem cells to live forever.

Feb 07 2014

The letter.

200 authors from 30 countries wrote a letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Authors have condemned Russia’s anti-gay and blasphemy laws as a “chokehold” on creativity.

Here is the letter:

The story of modern Russia is the story of dramatic, almost seismic change. Russian voices, both literary and journalistic, have always striven to make themselves heard above the clamour of their nation’s unfolding story – commenting on it, shaping it and, in doing so, contributing to the political and intellectual shape of the world far beyond their country’s borders. But during the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have passed a number of laws that place a chokehold on the right to express oneself freely in Russia. As writers and artists, we cannot stand quietly by as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts.

Three of these laws specifically put writers at risk: the so-called gay “propaganda” and “blasphemy” laws, prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality and “religious insult” respectively, and the recriminalisation of defamation. A healthy democracy must hear the independent voices of all its citizens; the global community needs to hear, and be enriched by, the diversity of Russian opinion. We therefore urge the Russian authorities to repeal these laws that strangle free speech, to recognise Russia’s obligations under the international covenant on civil and political rights to respect freedom of opinion, expression and belief – including the right not to believe – and to commit itself to creating an environment in which all citizens can experience the benefit of the free exchange of opinion.

Putin abolishes blasphemy and anti-gay laws or not, this is a very important letter. Every injustice should be opposed. I hope authors also should write an open letter like this one to Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and other countries that have been using blasphemy laws to violate people’s freedom of expression and anti-gay laws to threaten Human Rights.

Feb 07 2014

Anti-women book fair committe cancelled the release of a book on women’s rights

It really happened. The book fair committee of the Kolkata Book Fair cancelled the release of a book on women’s rights. The committee did it either to please the government or because they got the order from the government to do so. Is the government anti-women? We heard that the government blamed the raped girls several times for being raped.

An opposition politician protested against the cancellation of the book release. The left leader defended the writer Jasodhara Bagchi. Ms Bagchi was the chairperson of the West Bengal women commission during the Left Front’s rule. The release ceremony of my book titled ‘Nirbasan’ was cancelled by the government in 2012 in order to make some Muslim fanatics happy. Almost everybody was silent then. I said, if you do not protest against the banning, you will be the next target of the banning. It seems I was right.

I now realize that however much you earn recognition and awards, if muslim fanatics are against you ,no political party in the subcontinent would defend your free speech. And I know it very well that if you believe in freedom of expression of some people, but not of all people— you do NOT believe in freedom of expression at all.

Feb 05 2014

My situation

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Jan 31 2014

Forbidden

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My new book is called ‘Nishiddho’ in Bengali. Nishiddho has been published in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Nishiddho means forbidden. I hope forbidden will not be forbidden this year. Religious fanatics love to demand for my execution by hanging because they hate what I write. Governments love to stand beside the fanatics and ban my books. Forbidden is now available at the Kolkata and Dhaka book fairs. But I am not allowed to visit any of the book fairs. I am banned. I am not allowed to enter Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Fanatics suck. Governments suck even more.

Jan 29 2014

Gender-based censorship

The next guest blogger today is MEREDITH TAX. She has been a writer and political activist since the late 1960s. She was a member of Bread and Roses, an early socialist-feminist group in Boston, and her 1970 essay, “Woman and Her Mind: The Story of Everyday Life,” is considered a founding document of the US women’s liberation movement.

In A Room of Her Own Virginia Woolf asked why the literary and intellectual world (overwhelmingly male in 1929) was so cold to works written by women. She concluded that men need to believe women see them as superior beings in order to justify their control of society; hence evidence of women’s actual views is unwelcome. Silencing of women writers is thus essential to patriarchy. Recent cases of gender-based censorship, ranging from Taslima Nasrin in India to feminist bloggers in the United States, indicate that Woolf’s analysis still holds.

And what is gender-based censorship? The Women’s World Organization for Rights, Literature and Development (Women’s WORLD) defined it in The Power of the Word: Culture, Censorship and Voice, drafted by yours truly in 1995:

“Women who write on issues of state politics are silenced by the same means used to silence men in opposition, though, in practice, even these forms of censorship are affected by gender. But gender-based censorship, as we see it, is much broader and more pervasive than this official, organized suppression. It is embedded in a range of social mechanisms that mute women’s voices, deny validity to their experience, and exclude them from the political discourse. Its purpose is to obscure the real conditions of women’s lives and the inequity of patriarchal gender relations, and prevent women writers from breaking the silence, by targeting women who don’t know their place in order to intimidate the rest.”

Though much gender-based censorship today is done in the name of religion, its roots are in misogyny and sexual panic. Take, for instance, the US, where this month’s big story is “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” by feminist journalist Amanda Hess, who describes herself as a freelance writer reporting on sex, Hollywood, teenagers, and technology, and whose blog is called Sex with Amanda Hess. Among other examples, she notes the blizzard of online rape threats that hit Caroline Criado-Perez when she started a website petitioning the Bank of England to put more women’s faces on banknotes. Hess also notes the lack of action on internet death and rape threats and the assiduous passing of the buck between law enforcement agencies and internet companies. Last year, for instance, US atheist blogger “skepchick” Rebecca Watson found that the reaction of the police when she reported death and rape threats was to say they couldn’t do anything unless someone actually did attack her, “at which point they’d have a pretty good lead.”

All this can have a chilling effect on women’s freedom of expression. As Hess relates, “Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages.” Conor Friedersdorf postulates that such “gendered online abuse” may explain why there are so few prominent women bloggers compared to men; in response to a constant stream of threats and invective, many of his women friends “either shuttered their personal blogs and stopped writing for the public, or shifted their journalistic efforts to a traditional format rather than the more personalized blog format.”

The internet is an area in which censorship operates differently for men and women, for the interests of women bloggers, who need to feel safe enough to write, conflict with those of internet trolls who want to feel free to abuse women as much as they like. The feminist movement fought for many years to develop legal protections like the US Violence Against Women Act, which criminalizes phone threats, and recently proposed including online threats. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a watchdog group, opposed this idea, citing privacy considerations. But should privacy trump death threats? In the age of Snowden, nobody wants to call for more government interference in online communications yet, like freedom of religion, male self-expression must be limited by recognition that women too have rights, and that women’s voices—especially when they take up subjects others do not want to deal with—are central to democracy, equality, and the public good.

The same consideration applies to Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, whose censors have brewed a lethal mix of fundamentalism, political opportunism, and sexual silencing to try to shut her up. In 1994 Nasrin was driven from Bangladesh by a combination of Islamist fatwa and government indictment for “offending religious feelings.” The Islamists hated the way she criticized religion and the government hated her because she wrote a book exposing Muslim violence against Hindus, which the Bangladesh National Party government claimed did not exist. She was put under death threat, went underground, and became one of the Northern media’s first poster girls for Islamist mistreatment of women. I helped organize a campaign on her behalf at the time and, I wrote in 2002, thought sex was as central to her persecution as religion or politics:

“Nasrin did not have to flee Bangladesh merely because she wrote a novel about the persecution of its Hindu minority, or told an Indian reporter the Sharia … was outdated and should be left behind. Other Bangladeshi writers, male and female, have said such things; some have also been threatened by fundamentalists; but most are still there. Nasrin combined the violation of those taboos with an even more daring transgression: She opened the closet door on a whole world of subterranean sexual experience and feeling, much of it abusive, and none of it considered fit to be discussed. She wrote about sex and religion and state politics all together, and she did it at a bad time, when fundamentalism was on the rise. The combination did her in.”

Nasrin eventually settled in Kolkata ,where she lived quite happily from 2004 until 2007, when Islamists began protesting her existence again. What had begun as a movement by poor, largely Muslim farmers against forced industrialization and land seizures in Nandigram got deflected by political manipulation into a riot over Nasrin. The ruling party in West Bengal, at that time the leftwing CPI(M), found it a lot easier to get rid of her than to deal with land issues. When I saw Nasrin the next year in New York, she told me they had shipped her off to Delhi without even giving her time to pack. In Delhi the federal government essentially kept her under house arrest for months, claiming this was for her own protection while trying to convince her to get out of India.

One might ask why leftwing secularist parties like the CPI(M) and its federal ally, the Congress Party, would collude with Muslim fundamentalists to suppress free speech. As Nasrin says, it is all about electoral politics. “Who doesn’t want to get Muslim votes? They are 25% of the population.”

She stayed away for a few years, then returned to India and, being barred from Kolkata, settled in Delhi, where she resumed work on a projected TV series for a Bengali station. The series, called Doohshahobash, which means something like Difficult Cohabitations, is about a Hindu family of three sisters who confront various kinds of gender oppression. The station ran a huge advertising campaign, plastering Taslima’s face on billboards around Kolkata, and the series was to be broadcast in December.

But suddenly, on December 20th, everything ground to a halt when a coalition of 22 Islamist groups went to the government of West Bengal, now led by the Trinamool Congress party. Even though they hadn’t seen any of the series, they were so certain it would offend Muslims that they insisted it should be banned; otherwise people might riot. And, like the CPI(M) before it, the Trinamool Congress caved. A station spokesperson told The Hindu, “due to external pressure we have deferred the telecast of this serial indefinitely.”

As Nasrin noted in her blog, this censorship was met by a stunning lack of protest from Kolkata’s literary community. Garga Chatterjee made a similar point in the Indian weekly Outlook: “Kolkata’s current and the erstwhile rulers, the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) respectively, seem to be competing with each other in setting a record on muzzling free speech at the instigation of groups in whose worldview free speech has no place. While there may be short-term electoral gain for such posturing, this race to the bottom has no winners.”

The silence of Kolkata’s literary lions may have more to do with male sexual solidarity than party politics. Nasrin is not deferential and has always been outspoken on issues of rape, child molestation, and sexual harassment. The second volume of her memoirs, Dwikhandito, was banned in Kolkata, allegedly because it violated Muslim sentiments, but she told me in 2005 that the real reason was because she named names about sexual harassment and relationships within the literary elite. She recently accused a well known Delhi intellectual, Sunil Gangopadhyay, of taking advantage of his position to harass young women writers. Public discussion of this kind of thing is relatively new in India, where a law against workplace sexual harassment was just passed in April 2013, and a young journalist’s story of being assaulted in an elevator by her editor at the muckraking paper Tehelka made headlines in November.

A democracy’s commitment to freedom of expression can be measured by how it treats two groups of people: those of such low status that they have no voice, and those who push the limits of acceptable speech. There is no need to protect those who are powerful and those who never offend. Protesting gender-based censorship is part of mobilizing against rape and sexual harassment, for women’s freedom of expression and movement are related, and if either is limited to what does not offend, it will not exist.

Public secular space, on the internet and on the streets, in intellectual fora and on TV, is essential to the health of civil society. This space must be as accessible to women and atheists as to men and the pious. That means that men—including Kolkata intellectuals and US bloggers—should defend women’s right to a public voice, and women should be able to speak publicly without fear of violence. And if these women then offend against male amour-propre, hey, as Virginia Woolf said in 1929, that’s part of free speech.

Jan 29 2014

Our selective silence…

Guest blogger today is Suruchi Mazumdar. She is a doctoral candidate at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and currently a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. She wrote about the banning of the TV drama series written by me.

‘The launch of Dusshohobash (painful co-existence), a Bengali serial written by Taslima Nasreen, was cancelled by a privately-run Bengali news channel, following objections raised by Muslim groups in Kolkata. The show, based on stories penned by Nasreen, was not about religion but promised to narrate tales of women’s struggle for rights and protest against issues like dowry and rape, condemnation of which are non-controversial at best in the current socio-political milieu. The Muslim groups in Kolkata are in favour of banning writings by exiled author Nasreen who on numerous occasions in the past had drawn the ire of religious leaders for alleged criticism of Islam. The local police was apparently apprehensive that the television serial, which was aggressively promoted, would provoke social unrest. The silence of the ruling party and the opposition in West Bengal come as no surprise. The reluctance to offend fundamentalist groups is politically motivated. But what is baffling is the silence of our liberal progressive elites. The same intellectuals who would otherwise miss no opportunity to condemn and burst in outrage when individuals are persecuted in the name of religion are miraculously numb this time.

Why is it that intellectuals who readily extend public support to SAR Geeliani, for instance – the Delhi University professor who was falsely implicated and later acquitted in the Indian Parliament attack case – are carefully cautious when an exiled woman author’s voice is casually stifled, lest religious sentiments are offended?

Throughout her literary career Nasreen has been vocal about different forms of violence, oppressions and discriminations against women that are rampant in the subcontinent and often patronised by religions. In 2007 she was ousted from Kolkata at the initiative of the then-CPIM-led government that apparently feared unrest over enraged Muslim religious group’s demands of her expulsion from the country. Nasreen was forced to leave her home country Bangladesh in the early 1990s after Islamic religious groups put a price on her head on charges of blasphemy. She has has remained uncompromising in her scathing criticisms of all religions – and not just Islam.

Issues such as Geelani’s (a Kashmiri Muslim) prolonged persecution in the hands of the Indian state or brutal rapes, molestation and murders of minorities in the wake of recent riots in Muzaffarnagar rightly deserve outrage, protests and demands of sentencing that have been raised time and again from sections of the civil society. The provocative criticisms of the failings of Indian democracy and the weaknesses of the country’s institutionalised secularism that emerge from certain pockets of our public sphere are indispensable, especially in the face of rampant persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, an ugly reality in India.

However, the issue is that the moral righteousness somehow falls short when Islamic clerics – as self-proclaimed representatives of a community – are easily provoked by a woman’s free voice, threaten public disorder and the political class and law enforcement agencies meekly give in. It is a different matter though that as to what extent the leaders of a few Islamic groups of Kolkata could be said to stand for Muslims of whole West Bengal. The fear that ordinary Muslims feel brutally hurt by Nasreen’s writing also seems strange – the majority of the Muslim population, at least in Kolkata, are predominantly Hindi-speaking and certainly cannot be said to be readers of Bengali author Nasreen.

The progressive intellectuals of India face a kind of moral/ political dilemma on the issue of Islamic extremists’ contention with women’s emancipation and rights. The infringement of individual/ women’s rights* could be confused with cultural rights of the minority. That could offer moral justification needed to remain silent in case of violations by radical Islamic organisations. Thus activists of the radical left who stand in unison with Islamic religious groups to denounce violence on the Rohingyas fail to raise a voice when leaders of the same groups openly implicate women for sexual crimes. This amounts to no less than a sense of misplaced secularism that encourages one to be patronising towards and forgiving of a religion’s infringement of individual rights, which would be reflective of being sensitive towards a community’s supposed feeling of being offended.
*(Here, I choose to interpret the word “rights” rather broadly by moving beyond definitions set by Western organisations and agencies that set the criteria and decide the terms of what must be known as human rights across diverse peoples and regions. In this context, by “rights” I mean Muslim women’s consent, agency and conscious preferences.)

Such a sense of secularism, however, is not without a history and context. One needs to consider the global xenophobia against Islam that can be said to have intensified under the patronage of an American military state and a global war against terror. Closer home in the subcontinent, the compulsions are no less pressing – the rise of the Hindu right and its growing political might have been a discomforting political reality over the past few decades. Post-independent India has been no stranger to large-scale massacre of minorities like anti-Sikh riots of 1984. But massive riots against Muslims in Bombay and Gujarat, being conducted under the behest of a communal ideology, were interpreted as a threat to India’s secular democratic fabric. Defending Muslims seems only understandable under such political and cultural urgencies. But it is a different matter to be politically lenient towards a framework of ideas that could lend Muslim organisations the justification to publicly pronounce death on those seen as heretic, discourage women’s education and equal rights or dictate women’s clothing.

It is a concern that right-wing groups in India and elsewhere have time and again hijacked the argument of gender equity to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments. In the Anglo-American world this has even worked as a common Western imperialist argument used to stir Islamophobia. But there could be a strong rebuttal at least to India’s Hindu right-wing voices that dare profile one religion as especially opposed to gender rights: The mention of female foeticide (through sex selective abortion, mostly common among caste Hindus in northern and central India) should be enough to silence such morally defunct voices.

The global urgency of challenging intolerance of Islam abets a home-grown cause – the need to counter perceived persecution of Muslim minorities whose existence seems particularly threatened with the political rise of the Hindu right. Besides, it is no less meaningful for leftist liberals particularly that over the past decade the only confrontation to American military might came in the form of Islamic insurgency. Azar Nafisi in a famous 2003-book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, vividly narrated how left liberals and pro-revolution activists of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in Iran made a common cause with anti-American/ anti-Western imperialism sentiments in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Nafisi’s book is about an all-women group’s clandestine sessions of reading Western literature, which was perceived as morally inappropriate in post-revolution Iran; the issue of wearing veil runs as a concurrent theme in the book.

Under these circumstances being lenient towards Islamic fundamentalists who stifle free speech or prescribe sex-segregated seating arrangements in political rallies and universities stands for a certain political correctness. This correctness – when stretched a little too far – translates to a new political orthodoxy that is not too uncommon in present times. This orthodoxy is best expressed when any criticism of Islamic fanaticism is interpreted as expression of Islamophobia and often amounts to a political stand and casual public posturing of such stand. A great example would be when liberal progressives in India vociferously express solidarity through “likes” and “shares” on Facebook as Stephen Hawking announces a decision to boycott an academic conference scheduled to be hosted by Israel’s president. While such posturing is hardly problematic, our selective silence and selective outrage is unflattering, especially if a politically-conscious citizenry is seen as something that democratic societies must aspire for.’

Jan 27 2014

A woman was gang raped on the orders of a village council. Her crime? She fell in love with a man outside her community.

A woman was gang raped because she was in love with a man outside her community.

A WOMAN was gang-raped by 13 men on the orders of a village council in eastern India as punishment for apparently having an affair.

The council ordered the horrific penalty to be carried out in a village in West Bengal state on Tuesday night after the 20-year-old woman was discovered with a man from another community, a senior officer said.

“The girl was gang-raped for having an affair with a youth of another community and failing to pay the fine which was imposed by the village council,” district police superintendent C. Sudhakar told AFP.

“The head of the village council held an urgent meeting in the village square on Tuesday when the girl and her lover were called,” Sudhakar said.

“The girl and her lover were tied to two separate trees and fined 25,000 rupees each as a fine for having an affair,” he said.

“As the parents of the girl, who were also present at the meeting, expressed their inability to pay the fine, the head of the village council ordered that she should be raped by the villagers as punishment,” he said.

The man apparently involved with the girl was freed after he agreed to pay the fine within a week, he said.

The woman was recovering from the attack in a hospital.

Last month, India marked the first anniversary of the death of the 23-year-old student who was gang-raped in New Delhi on a moving bus, in an attack that sent shock waves across the nation.

Despite tougher laws and efforts to change attitudes to women in India’s deeply patriarchal society, the number of reported sex crimes continues to rise.

We are raped, it is our fault.

It is actually our fault that we live with our oppressors, abusers, rapists, murderers.

Jan 14 2014

No sane people can accept Islamic barbarism.

Islamists want to kill a Mauritanian blogger because he has lack of respect for prophet Muhammad.

We have been witnessing Islamic barbarism all over the world. Islam says apostates must be killed. So, the believers of Islam kill apostates.

What about peace loving moderate Muslims? Do they think it is all right to criticize Muhammad? No, they do not. They also believe apostates should be punished.

I wonder who gave Muhammad and his Islam immunity from criticism?

On Friday January 3rd, the Nouadibou gendarmerie brigade arrested twenty-eight year old Mauritanian Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir. The young accountant and blogger is to be tried for lack of respect to prophet Muhammad and for apostasy. The latter is punishable by death in Mauritania. Although Sharia law is enforced in the country, death sentences have not been applied by the government since the 1980s.

According to Article 306 of the Mauritanian penal code, “Unless they have repented, every person guilty of the crime of apostasy (Zandagha) shall be put to death.”

Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir published an article titled “Religion, Religiosity and Blacksmiths” on the Mauritanian website Aqlame. Although it was posted anonymously, the authorities somehow managed to obtain his name. The editor of Aqlame later tried to absolve himself of editorial responsibility by claiming that he had not read the article prior to its publication, and that he immediately deleted it amid angry comments and reactions.

The article’s aim was to partly blame the deeply hierarchical structure of Mauritanian society on traditions dating back to the times of prophet Muhammad. More specifically, Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir deplored the fact that the social class he belongs to – the Blacksmiths – was not permitted socio-economic promotion due to ancient traditions. The blogger also reportedly criticized Muhammad and his companions for some of their decisions during Islam’s holy wars. Despite the fact that he issued a public written apology in which he insisted that he never meant to denigrate the person of the prophet, the blogger could not escape the wrath of public outrage.

First, his family members wrote and co-signed a letter in which they basically disown him unless he repents. The letter reads:

“It does look like the foolish modernists, secularists and atheists are still attempting to derail us from the true path after their Jewish and hypocrite masters failed to do so. […] The author of the article must be sponsored by some outside forces. He equated his infallible religion with the rest of humanity’s beliefs and falsely accused our prophet of racism and favoritism. This is not surprising from someone who seeks knowledge from those who hate Allah and his prophet peace be upon him. […] We call upon society to denounce any individual who adopts a similar stance.”

In addition, the streets of Nouadibou witnessed an escalation of clashes between angry mobs and the police. Taking place in front of the court where Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir is supposed to be tried, the protests turned violent, forcing the authorities to reinforce security presence around the tribunal. The protesters expressed their anger at the amount of time the justice system is taking to prosecute the blogger, accusing it of being soft. Mauritanian online press outlets followed suit by praising “the large crowds from all walks of life” who “even discarded their professional duties” (!) in order to publicly condemn the blogger. They also reported the numerous appeals from “imams, scholars and professors” to execute Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir. Preacher Abi Ould Ali said he would pay 4000 Euros to anyone who kills the blogger.

Such outpouring of public anger is only part of a wave of Islamic radicalism that has been building up in Mauritania for the last weeks. Mauritanian activists confirm that in collaboration with Salafists, members of Tawassoul (Mauritanian Islamist party) have been organizing an undercover Facebook witch hunt against their political enemies. In addition, public opinion has been flooded with calls for parents to better “monitor” their children. Mauritanian families were reportedly visited by ad-hoc committees who advised them to silence their adult sons and daughters. The latter are targeted disproportionally, as evidenced by the orchestrated campaign of condemnation against actress Laila Moulay for appearing unveiled in a videoclip.

On January 10th, after a week’s silence, the Mauritanian government added its voice to the ongoing persecution against the blogger. Facing angry protesters after the Friday prayer, president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said: “We will apply God’s law on whoever insults the prophet, and whoever publishes such an insult.” This was in line with the quasi-unanimous condemnation of Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir by political parties. The case is putting the Mauritanian government in a tough spot. If it does not apply the death penalty, it infuriates a conservative public that it can barely contain – as evidenced by the violent clashes with the police. If it does apply the death penalty, it breaks with an unwritten rule of avoiding executions, even against terrorists responsible for civilian deaths. Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir will then be a blogger treated more harshly than terrorists are.

Shunned by his relatives and the rest of Mauritanian society, the blogger had three days to retract his sayings (the Muslim ultimatum for repention). His apology was apparently not enough in the eyes of his detractors. The tragedy of his case is that he is totally isolated at home and abroad. There appears to be no condemnation yet from international watchdogs of the unhuman treatment he is being subjected to. It is thus very hard to be optimistic regarding his future. Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir has however committed no crime worthy of social isolation or the death penalty. All he did was to harmlessly express his opinion on a social matter. His ordeal is yet another example of the danger Islamists pose to individual freedoms: they would rather have free minds dead than argue with them.

I do not think there is any reason to love Islam. But there are millions of reasons to leave Islam.

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