The Fight Is Not Between The East And The West


Let alone ‘Western feminism’, I had no idea about ‘Eastern feminism’. Without any familiarity with these concepts, I have since childhood questioned a lot of diktat, advice and proscriptions from the family and from society at large. When I, unlike my brothers, wasn’t allowed to play outside; when I was called ‘impure’ during my menstrual periods; or when I was told I had grown up and must cover myself  in a black burqa if I wanted to step out, I questioned, I didn’t give in readily.

 When strange boys would hurl abuses at me, snatch my scarf or pinch my breasts as I walked by, I protested. I couldn’t stomach it when I saw husbands beating their wives, young mothers weeping in anxiety and fear of being divorced after  having given birth to a female baby. Upon observing the shame on the faces of raped women, I felt their pain acutely; I broke down after hearing about women being trafficked from city to city, from one country to another in order to be forced into sexual slavery. No logic, no intellect could make me accept the torture of women by the men, the society, the state. But no one witnessed my pain, my tears, the non-acquiescence, the non-acceptance, the speechlessness, the inability to tolerate, the screams – that is, until I started writing.

The society that I grew up in engendered questions in the minds of many. They were forced to accept the answers given by the leaders of the patriarchy. I didn’t give in to that coercion. No one taught me to be disobedient. I didn’t learn defiance from a book. It is not necessary to read thick and heavy books to be aware; one just needs eyes to observe. No one helps build courage either. In order to demand rights for women, one doesn’t need to internalize  Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem; one’s own awareness is often good enough.

If I’m hungry, I shall eat; if I am lashed, I shall wrest away the lash; if I am oppressed, I shall stand up – these feelings are universal. Feminism is not a property of the West. It is the arduous struggle by abused, oppressed, tortured, disrespected, exploited women coming together, putting their lives at stake, for the sake of their rights.

I learned that women of the West also had no less than their share of tribulations. Abused and bloodied, they had their backs to the wall. They have screamed; centuries upon centuries they have been victims of patriarchy, religion, misogynistic traditions and culture, just like their Eastern counterparts. Religious fanatics have burnt them alive, misogynistic traditions forced them to wear  metal  cage  around their  pelvis in the name of chastity, they have been turned into sex slaves. East or West, North or South, women still suffer   for the ‘crime’ of being women.

Human rights are universal. Those, who talk about separate human rights for the East and seek to distance themselves from the universal human rights, assuming that this stance represents a victory over the prolonged oppression by the West, actually end up harming the East more than the West.

A recurrent question that is often raised claims that I have hurt religious sentiments of people. Feminism has long opposed religion; whoever has even the slightest knowledge of women’s rights knows this. Religion is patriarchal through and through. I shall follow a religion and I shall acknowledge women’s rights – this stance is akin to saying I shall drink poison along with honey. Whenever religion-motivated abuse of women has been challenged in order to wrest women’s rights, immediately the slogan “Religious sentiments must not be hurt” has been raised by those that are anti-democracy, anti-free speech, and opposed to women’s freedom. I, however, don’t refer to any kind of barbarism as culture.

Alleging I have hurt Muslim religious sentiments, a few ignorant and insular conservatives pass the verdict that my statements are statements from the West, statements of observing the East with Western eyes. This meaningless, illogical claim by the Islamic fundamentalists is often supported by so-called liberal folk  in the name of tolerance.

I have criticized Christianity, Judaism and other misogynistic religions. But usually no one complains about it thereafter. No one takes out a fatwa to murder me if I hurt the religious sentiments of non-Muslims. But there is no dearth of people who, without any problem, accept the intolerance, and respect the ‘religious sentiments’ of those who do take out a fatwa; such people label me ‘intolerant’ without a hint of doubt. Possibly, they see me as a Muslim, and view my actions of hurting Muslim religious sentiments as arrogance.

But the truth is, if one believes in women’s rights, one has to first cast away one’s religious identity. I have been free of that since my childhood. When I was but a child, I was unjustly shackled with a religious identity in the same way as other children are. We don’t feel uncomfortable in labelling a two year old child as Hindu, Muslim or Christian. When the child grows up, he/she  may choose his/her parents’ religion, or some other religion, or none at all. That’s how it should be. I have successfully implemented this principle in my life. I have chosen humanism as my ideal. I should not be mistaken for a ‘Muslim reformer’. Neither am I a reformer, nor do I belong to any religious community.   My community is that of secular humanism, free from religion.


  1. Marella says

    It’s fascinating to know that there is a percentage of people who, no matter how much religion they are surrounded by, never fall for it. Most of the stories on the web are by people who found their way out of religion having been sucked in as a child, but some (my favourite) are by people who were surrounded by it but whose indoctrination never took. It makes me confident that throughout the ages, even if they kept quiet, there have always been atheists. I’d love to know what percentage of people this is.

    • mynameischeese says


      Even as a small child, I just couldn’t bring myself to believe. And I know, because I remember having playground conversations with my peers, that a lot more didn’t really believe either. Either a huge percentage of people are only pretending to believe in god, or it takes a few years for the indoctrination to take hold. Because small kids are a lot more skeptical than is generally believed.

  2. Lynne says

    I didn’t realize I even was a feminist until I became atheist. The current political climate has made me an angry feminist.

    Enjoyed hearing you speak at the Reason Rally and glad to see you here.

  3. says

    My own feminist feelings are probably the strongest, although not the only reason why I felt drawn to Wicca for a long time. I internally questioned whether or not it was an actual, valid religion with a lineage from ancient times, or a relatively modern fantastic invention. Towards the end, I felt that either way it was good because it was to me an obvious improvement,for women to be considered as spiritually equal to men, the environment sacred, and animals to be respected as creatures with souls, just as all other living things. One night recently, I read a book I had for years by a Wiccan author, which led me to question my faith in it. I checked the internet for information from others who were critical of the Religion, and not from a Fundamentalist Christian standpoint, but from someone who would not reject it thoughtlessly, and without empathy for its values. I googled something like “a critical perspective on Wicca,” I don’t remember exactly what,and was led to Camels with Hammers. Which I felt allowed me to look at Wicca even more critically than I had been. It is still close to my heart, but I know it is not provable one way or the other. I know that there are some deep discrepancies about it by the various Wiccan authors, discussed in Dan Fincke’s Atheism and Wicca Series. I still care about it, but I don’t want to fool myself by thinking its definitely The Truth as all other religions claim to be. I consider myself Agnostic, with faith but uncertain, questioning and not feeling like I know as many answers as I used to feel I did. It still helps me sleep to think of a spiritual dimension and souls and a dualistic world with equal material and spiritual properties. I know that if I suddenly thought for certain there is no such things, I would feel bereft of all goodness, because I have needed it many times. I just don’t want to. I don’t know how a person can not feel that way. I have no insight into how a person can be Atheist and not go completely insane or become morbidly depressed because I think I would… I am interested to know more about that though.

      • says

        I would like to apologize for that! I was under the impression Eric Steinhart wrote for some of that series, but maybe not all of it (I haven’t read all of it). I’m sorry! Also,I will definitely want to keep reading as I try to make my mind up and make sense of the world(s), inner and outer.

    • Tony says

      I consider myself Agnostic, with faith but uncertain, questioning and not feeling like I know as many answers as I used to feel I did. It still helps me sleep to think of a spiritual dimension and souls and a dualistic world with equal material and spiritual properties. I know that if I suddenly thought for certain there is no such things, I would feel bereft of all goodness, because I have needed it many times. I just don’t want to. I don’t know how a person can not feel that way. I have no insight into how a person can be Atheist and not go completely insane or become morbidly depressed because I think I would… I am interested to know more about that though.

      –(warning: long post)
      You’re on a path toward atheism. If I may…(I mean no offense in any of the following):
      I feel agnosticism is an unreasonable position to maintain.
      As typically defined, agnostic means:
      agnostic (æɡˈnɒstɪk)

      — n
      1. atheist Compare theist a person who holds that knowledge of a Supreme Being, ultimate cause, etc, is impossible
      2. a person who claims, with respect to any particular question, that the answer cannot be known with certainty

      –In my experience, agnostics tend to hold their position in relation to the Big 3 religions of the world: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. However, when it comes to truth claims, one can be agnostic about Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist beliefs as well. One can be agnostic about the existence of Ymir and Baldur of Norse Myth or Bastet and Osiris of Egyptian Myth. Aren’t sure whether Kud or Palk of ancient Korean Myth actually exist? You can be agnostic about them too. The position of agnosticism can also be applied to other myths as well. Is there a china teapot that orbits the sun, an invisible pink unicorn in my garage, or Sasquatches in the Pacific Northwest? Don’t know either way? You too can be agnostic about their existence.
      One of the common denominators in all of the above examples is that their existence can never be proven or disproven. From that however, should one accept that they’re all possible? When I was agnostic, I would have said yes. Many agnostics today say that we can’t know either way if God exists, so they don’t hold a position either way. I find it amusing that they don’t also use the same argument about every other mythology in human history.
      From an agnostic standpoint, all things that we can’t know are theoretically possible. We just can’t know one way or another. So Ymir’s body could have been used by Odin, Vili, and Ve to create the Earth. Xenu *could* have been the dictator of a Galactic Confederacy 75 million years ago who brought billions of his people to Earth in a DC-8 like spacecraft and killed them using nuclear weapons after stacking them around volcanoes. Icarus could have flown too close to the sun which melted the wax on his wings, plunging him into the sea where he drowned.
      But is any of that probable?
      On a scale of possibilities, say 0 to 100 (with 0 being the world around us that we *can* measure and 100 being ideas and concepts that we can’t measure and are so far fetched that they may as well be impossible), where do Xenu, Ymir and Icarus fall? Is the existence of any one of them more probable than the others? Is Xenu a 40, Ymir a 80, Icarus an 82? How does one even decided which mythologies are more likely to be accurate? Where are these standards derived from? Are all these myths equally possible? Are they ‘more than likely’ possible, or so distant as to be nearly impossible? How would one determine the varying levels of ‘possibility’? Greta Christina has something to say about ‘supernatural truth claims’:
      But I think it makes a lot more sense to look at the pattern — the overwhelming pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones by the thousands and more — and consider which kind of explanation is really more likely.

      –She’s so right that she should get an award. The phenomena of the world that we can’t explain most likely *do* have a natural explanation. We just haven’t found it. Postulating God, Ymir, invisible unicorns, or cosmic teapots does nothing to help us gain an understanding of the world around us. Saying “I don’t know if there is an invisible unicorn in your garage or not, so I’m not going to give my opinion one way or another” is ridiculous when talking about truth claims about the world. There are some aspects of reality that exist whether we believe they do or not. Gravity is a great example. You can ‘believe’ in it or not, but gravity still exists. Scientists know that. While gravity can’t be seen, it can be felt. Gravity affects the world around us, so it can be measured. It has an impact on all of us. It would be nonsensical for someone to be ‘agnostic’ about gravity. On the other hand, Isis can’t be seen. She can’t be measured. She doesn’t appear to have any effect on the world around us. What use, then does Isis (or any other god, as they’re all undetectable) have in understanding the way in which the world works? None that I can see.
      We’re left with each God Hypothesis, every mythological deity, and every creation myth being untestable. Thus far, there is exactly zero evidence for anything ‘supernatural’. There never has been. So why is it more reasonable {for the agnostic} to maintain that we can’t know one way or another, so let’s keep the possibility open? That ‘possibility’, as a way of determining the nature of reality, cannot help us. It’s a useless possibility. Until such time as God makes his presence known, or Zeus descends from Mt Olympus and transforms into a woman, or Yggdrasil is discovered at the core of the Earth, the ‘possibility’ of their existence has no benefit. Moreover, the probability of their existence is so distant (as is the case of invisible pink unicorns and orbiting teapots), that it is more reasonable to discard them as potential theories…unless and until sufficient evidence is uncovered that gives validity to any of them. “Sufficient” is actually an understatement. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. There doesn’t even exist any ‘ordinary’ evidence for Thor or Heracles, God or reincarnation. Given that their explanatory power is nonexistent, why should any reasonable person hold the position that ‘they could be true’?
      Now, there are some that believe atheists are arrogant to believe that the various mythologies of the world are the next best thing to impossible. There are agnostics that say “it’s close minded to deny the possibility of God, Vishnu, or Cerberus. Since we can’t know, we’ll keep an open mind.” That’s not keeping an open mind. That’s allowing for anything and everything humanity has imagined or will imagine being possible. But how is that helpful? How does a ‘anything’s possible’ approach help to understand anything in the world?
      In the end, it is more reasonable to treat the various myths of the world as fiction. If/when evidence comes to light about the existence of God, scientists will evaluate said evidence. If there is significant evidence that holds up to intense scrutiny, they will have to revise their beliefs. If it doesn’t hold up, that concept will be cast into the dustbin of history. Where every other religion humanity has believed in dwells.

      • says

        Tony-I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner-my computer did not tell me someone replied to me! I GREATLY appreciate your response! Your definition of “Agnostic” as a true and correct definition, having come straight from the dictionary, contains the words “‘any’ particular question”. However, the rest of your statements seem to deny the possibility, and possibly even the probability, that, as a human being, I am in possession of the intellectual faculty of common sense. I was not referring to a pink teapot circling the cosmos. I was referring the possibility of something, anything other than a physical reality being present in any way, shape or form in the entire universe. No matter what it may or may not be. Theoretically, it could be a pink teapot, but, as you said, not likely. Now I will answer your question, to the best of my ability, as to why its important to me personally to keep the possibility of a spiritual reality open. Why I value it so very, very highly. It is not a “useless possibility” to me, and its not even a question of being a reasonable human being in my mind. Its about my feelings, subjective and irrational, or otherwise. I have been diagnosed with Schizo-Effective Disorder-Bipolar Type with Paranoid Personality. I know I shouldn’t “out myself” on the computer like this, but I’m in too much discomfort not too, and, weighing the current risks and benefits, it comes out better to tell the truth, at least right now. I know can’t take it back, but it is, in fact the “god’s honest truth”. Its how I am, and its how I am and have been treated in my life. As such, I suffer from irrational, as well as other more objective and rational problems, that plague me every day of my life. I don’t have a comfortable existence, even even when my existence is comfortable “for all intents and purposes” (at least for someone else without mental illness) on a MATERIAL level. To me there is a constant disturbance that comes, sometimes from the material substance of other people, sometimes from circumstances, but definitely equally or even more often NOT from any material causation factor. You may say the words “chemical imbalance” but what is that supposed to MEAN? Not even those who investigate it know, my psychiatrist tells me. I believe it. Now. I’ll cut it down further. When it comes to choices, for me, as to what shall I believe regarding these facts… I prefer to find meaning in my reality by believing there’s more to this than what the extremely emotionally cold, sometimes nasty, and extremely impatient with others who are “atypical, abnormal human beings” say there is. I don’t want to believe what they do about me. That my life is predetermined by my illness. That I am more limited than I feel. That the world is more limited than I want to believe. It’s a choice. I don’t have a problem that you made a different choice, and I don’t want to, because then I can’t appreciate all the wonderful things there are about other people, including Atheists. Its just that, for me to change my mind about such a deep emotional subject, possibly what I consider the most valuable thing to me in my life, and what came to me before all other positive things, I need proof that it doesn’t exist. If you or anyone wants to comment back I welcome it. If you don’t I will accept. I hope I’m not being a troll. If I am, I’m sorry.

      • Mylene says

        I’m sorry about that. I just reread the comment I made 5 years ago, and I see most of what you were saying now as undeniably true. There are still some statements that I would debate with you about today, but I see now I exploded on you without provocation. You were having a difference of opinion from me and I seem to have taken offense to the idea that my beliefs be held in question.

    • Stacy says

      Mylene, just remember, giving up belief in the supernatural, doesn’t mean you have to throw away your values. Kindness, empathy, goodness, a commitment to equality, respect for nature and for the sentience of animals–these things are no less real and valuable for being rooted in the physical world.

      Best of luck to you as you figure things out for yourself.

      • Mylene says

        Thank you Stacy. You’re right, I believe that my values could for the most part be shared by anyone of any philosophical background. I still value spirituality also, but can’t always imagine it being true even though I still want it to be true. In case you’re wondering why I say this now, it’s because someone made a comment under this heading, and I just began to read around it to refresh my memory. I think I’ll re read Tony’s post to, to see why I reacted to it the way I did.

  4. Zugswang says

    I’m very excited to know that you’re on FtB, now. My first exposure to you was at the Reason Rally, and your speech was one that I remember most vividly.

    A few years ago, I would have been one of those knee-jerk liberals that was quick to embrace the idea of moderate Muslims as a globally silent majority. This was because so much of the anti-Muslim rhetoric I was exposed to came from conservative pundits and politicians with a history of using veiled bigotry and racism to push their own agendas. As a result, I was quick to assume that the criticisms stemmed from delusions that had no basis in reality, and all the things that fell under the umbrella of “fundamentalist Islam” were the unfortunate actions of fringe ideologues.

    The more I read and listened, however, the more I recognized the danger and the violence that is inherent in all Abrahamic faiths. The degree to which this violence is carried out in all nations, theocratic or otherwise, is precisely why no religion deserves the respect and tolerance that its tenets so unconditionally deny to all humanity, regardless of creed.

    It is my sincere hope that the courageous efforts of yourself and those who share your cause will continue to enlighten others.

    • emma robertson says

      Taslima I’m 45 and have lived all my life in England, UK but what you say about the instinct to question conventional attitudes being innate struck a chord. I remember as a child (I can’t remember the exact date but it must have been mid 70s) having a conversation with my Mum about the double standards that applied (and still do to an extent even in a relatively liberal democracy like the UK ) to sexual behaviour and her telling me that sex before marriage was a bad idea for a female because, when it comes to marriage, a man wouldn’t want “used goods”! Apart from the assumption that marriage was something I would automatically be interested in, what I remember feeling quite shocked by, even as a child, was that my own mother was telling me to equate myself with “goods”.

      Western feminism was in it’s early years still when I was growing up and as you rightly point out women of the West have had their tribulations (and still do) however I am under no illusions as to my good luck to have been born in the late 20th century in a relatively liberal society where womens’ rights have made great strides forward in a relatively short space of time.

      You are right to say that the Leftist Liberal tendency to dismiss criticism of Islam as Western Imperialism and racism is instrumental in allowing elements within Islam to threaten those gains. Sharia courts are operating in the UK and there is evidence ( ) that women’s rights are suffering as a result. Honour killings, forced marriages and FGM are a reality in the UK today and justice in these cases impeded by fear on the part of police, social services and politicians of offending religious or cultural sensibilities.

      Voices such as yours that speak with the authority of first hand experience are vital to challenging the misguided attitudes that provide cover for these “cultural” practices – thank you for speaking out, and please continue, be assured you have the gratitude and support of many in the West as well!

  5. says

    Don’t think any religion encourages discrimination. It is the wrong interpretation and contextual application by the dominant religious leaders and cultural reasons which lead to any discrimination. In some parts of the world, it has more to do with cultural reasons. Which is wrong and has to be eliminated from our societies.

  6. Sohel Rana says

    Every country for human !! If i cry or say all the time i have no room, no room, no room in this house, then one day I will be on the street for living. By nature with logic, women has the first right to live in this earth, as because they give birth…..

    It is needed to educate our society to respect each other. Who will teach our society, it is not you, it is body like UN, Govt. of each country. It is you who will guide them (UN or Govt.of each country).

    It is very poor thinking that “No country for Women”.

  7. Martyn N Hughes says

    Hello Taslima!

    Welcome to FreeThoughtsBlogs!

    I have enjoyed much of your work over the years, especially your book ‘Lajja’ or ‘Shame’.

    Looking forward to reading your blog 😀 XXX

  8. FlickingYourSwitch says

    If one’s religion demands its followers to oppress others, then the religion must go, or at least change. But even without religion, homophobes would be homophobes, misogynists would be misogynists, racists would be racists. The only difference is that they couldn’t blame their views on their imaginary friend.

  9. Cheyla says

    Excellent posting! When I was younger, I often heard on the television that women were slightly more than 50% of the world. This always perplexed me because even as a child, I thought, “How can 50% of the world be treated like second class citizens? Why don’t 50% stand up and say, No!”

    I believe that those women who are silent in a world order of second class citizenry for women due to fear or whatever are just as dangerous as the men who perpetrate the abuse. It is time for all men and women of good conscious to say, “No!” to religion, which is the root of this evil.

    • says

      I believe that those women who are silent in a world order of second class citizenry for women due to fear or whatever are just as dangerous as the men who perpetrate the abuse.

      Then you’re a victim blamer.

      Privileged people have the greater burden to stop oppression. It’s ridiculous, cruel, and ignorant to blame, for example, a woman being beaten and gaslit by her husband as much as you’d blame the husband for doing it.

  10. Usernames are stupid says

    A recurrent question that is often raised claims that I have hurt religious sentiments of people

    Good! Immature idiots with broken boundaries need a reality check now and again. That their feelings were hurt because you said/wrote something they took offense to, they have only themselves to blame.

    From where I sit, I, and I alone choose how to respond to anyone and everyone. I am not forced to feel anything by anyone. A person who chooses to have hurt feelings because of who you are or something you’ve done, Taslima, is an idiot and needs to grow the f— up.

  11. says

    Brilliantly articulated. I read Lajja years ago when I was a teenager and it opened my eyes to so many things happening around me. Since then I have been questioning the social structures and the accepted narratives through which women are viewed. it’s a pleasure to read your writings.

  12. says

    Oh my goodness! a wonderful post dude. Many thanks Even so I am experiencing problem with ur rss . Do not know why Can not enroll in it. Will there be everyone getting identical rss difficulty? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx


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