I find it astounding when I see the number of people who have joined the ISIS over the years. They are willing to speak a foreign tongue and move to an alien culture, that too a desert, to roam around with weapons and brutally decapitate anyone who does not adhere to their radical Salafi ideas irrespective of whether the victim is Muslim or not. They are willing to have sex with sex-slaves, not believe in principles of democracy, human rights, secularism, have faith only in Sharia law and nothing else, destroy ancient cultures and abandon their loved ones – who even wants such a dangerous life? Who gets attracted to something like that? Believe it or not, nearly 41490 people from around 111 countries have given in to the attractions of such a lifestyle. They have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Of these nearly six thousand people are from France, Germany and the UK alone. Barbarianism and brutality are perhaps inherent aspects of the human psyche. Or else why have people become so blood-thirsty? And how have so many people managed to envisage the impossible scenario that overnight everyone in the world will become Salafi or Wahabi, with one caliphate in charge of ruling them all.

People dream the impossible, having impossible dreams is not a crime. Those who believe in utopia, for instance, can be said to be dreaming the impossible. But they don’t necessarily believe in barbarianism. The problem lies with those who wish to actualise their dreams by way of violence and brutality. Be it Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, each of them had certain dreams. It was just that their dreams required putting people through unspeakable torture, inhuman suffering and brutal slaughter for fulfilment. In our time Maoists are killing people to fulfil their dreams, the victims are more often than not common people. Does that really benefit the Maoists?
ISIS too wants to control the world by killing people. If it were up to them the world would be populated primarily by a horde of murderous and barbaric men and where women will have no freedom whatsoever. The role of women will be reduced simply to being slaves, sexual or otherwise, to men. This may as well be the dream of certain groups of people, but for any other decent human being this will surely be a nightmare.

With the fall of ISIS at hand, many of its radical members have returned to their respective countries, around 1800 of whom have gone back to Europe. However, nearly 15000-16000 terrorists reportedly still remain in Iraq and Syria. Their time is up as well. Of course, a number of erstwhile radicals have realised the error of their ways; it has dawned on them how unwise joining a group as vicious as ISIS had been. They have finally understood that ISIS is in no way representative of true Islam and of peace; instead, it is all about unrest and strife. But someone like the Bangladeshi-origin Shamima Begum is yet to learn this lesson and the veil of religion still covers her vision. Even today she can proudly claim how she did not feel a sliver of regret or repentance at the sight of someone’s severed head in a dustbin. She has absolutely no doubts or anxieties regarding the deadly political games of ISIS, rather she believes that these policies are illustrative of true Islam. According to her if Islam says that the decapitation of a non-believer is just, then it truly is just and there is nothing to get perturbed about. How brainwashed does someone have to be to side with brutality without a glimmer of misgiving or tremor in their assertions! Not only is Shamima not remorseful, rather she has proudly declared that she did nothing wrong by joining ISIS. Despite having seen both her children die right in front of her eyes she does not regret moving to Syria. She still believes in the ideals of ISIS, insists on blaming the ones who have bombed and destroyed ISIS settlements.
The only reason she wishes to return to the UK is for the sake of her last remaining son, this is her fervent request after the loss of her other two children. The father of the child was a Dutch terrorist of ISIS. What I cannot understand is why Shamima, being an advocate of rabid Salafi ideas herself, has not sought shelter among the Salafi people of Saudi Arabia. Even after murdering so many innocent non-Muslims and spewing extreme hatred against them all the time, when it comes to living somewhere these people still choose a non-Muslim country. Such strange duality between thought and action! Now that the UK has revoked her citizenship she has gone on record saying she will seek refuge in her husband’s country Netherlands. What if the Netherlands too refuses to allow her within their borders? Will she then accept that she had made a mistake by joining ISIS? Shamima has not been blaming herself for her pitiful condition though! Instead, she has been putting the blame on the UK and on the coalition that has been waging war against ISIS. On the other hand, I cannot help but blame Shamima’s parents, the ones who began drilling fundamentalist ideas into her head when she was a child, making her lose her sense of reason and turning her into a fanatic. Fanatics find it very easy condone terrorist activities in the name of religion.

Liberals want Shamima to be allowed to return to the UK. According to them, her son is not guilty of any crime. Besides, they argue that since Shamima turned to terrorism while she was still in the UK the latter government must accept its responsibility in the matter. They believe that a fifteen-year-old girl is susceptible to making mistakes, so she must be given the choice to either find rehabilitation or face a court of law, even if that means being sentenced to prison. The right-wing is of the opinion that all ISIS agents must be executed because keeping them alive means taking unnecessary risks. Besides, no country will be willing to take such people back. Even though she is of Bangladeshi origin, Bangladesh will not take her back. Bangladesh has no dearth of terrorists and they are definitely not going to be giving shelter to new ones. Only Shamima and her well-wishers can now figure out what will eventually happen to her. Some people believe that such abrupt revocations of citizenship of known terrorists will only serve to fuel their resentment further, more fires will burn and terrorist activities will increase. But what will other people learn if terrorists are allowed to resettle? They will perhaps learn that one need not forgo comforts and privileges even after turning to terrorism; that on facing hardships it is really easy to return to the civilised world. And that they will always have further opportunities to carry out acts of terror, as seasoned terror veterans living in Europe and America.

I fear that if Shamima returns to the UK she will perhaps hide bombs underneath her burqa and carry out terrorist attacks in crowded places or metro rails to slaughter non-Muslims. Brainwashing is a dangerous thing; it is nearly impossible to turn an indoctrinated mind back to how it used to be previously. People can go from being moderate to being extremist really swiftly but the reverse journey is not so easy. Should I then, like the most zealous right-wing fundamentalist, demand that all terrorists and jihadis be killed? No, I will not say that. Everyone has the right to life. Rather, I hope Shamima can keep faith in her beliefs till her last breath if she so chooses. However, with so much hatred in her heart against heretics, it will surely not be safe for her to travel to a nation of heretics like the UK. In fact, even a British prison might not be safe for her. Since her views on non-Muslims have become well publicised, most people will come to regard her with distrust, with hatred and even fear. This will surely make Shamima even more vengeful and make her commit bigger acts of terror, something that will not be good for her and definitely not for the UK either. Just as jihadis don’t care about themselves, they don’t care about other people either. All those people in the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka were slaughtered in cold-blood by really young boys. Did those boys take training somewhere to be able to decapitate someone? Indoctrination can make people achieve anything, including the murder of innocent people, loved ones and even oneself.

Shamima and the many other ISIS agents who remain in stateless conditions in Iraq or Syria, those who have lost their US or European citizenships or are in the process of losing them, rather than trying these aforementioned places they ought to try and seek refuge in countries with Muslim majorities, especially the ones where Sharia law is followed. It is in such countries that these people will perhaps manage to find true inner peace. No one will have anything to say to someone wearing a burqa in such a place, in fact the burqa will not be illegal there like it is in Europe. And the men of ISIS too will be able to dress like the Prophet as they go about their daily affairs. No one will attack them for being terrorists and they will be able to comfortably merge into Muslim society. So instead of trying to send them back to Europe or America, I urge everyone to help these people return to countries ruled by Sharia law.

Women’s Day – It comes and it goes

We celebrate all kinds of special Days in today’s time – Children’s Day, Labour Day, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day. The reason behind commemorating these entities is that our children, the disabled, the workers, our parents don’t receive sufficient respect throughout the rest of the year and that we must mark an occasion to emphasize the importance of these roles in human society. The International Women’s Day is one such occasion. A woman, much like children, disabled individuals, a person belonging to the working class is a vulnerable object. And that, probably, is why civil society has granted a day in the year for compassion towards womenfolk.

I remember, nearly thirty years ago, when I’d demanded the ‘freedom of the uterus’, this particular expression had shaken up the bulwarks of patriarchy to not a slim degree. Thousands of religious fanatics had thronged the streets waiting to tear Taslima apart. Well, at least they weren’t the educated elite. And what were the respectable educated men doing then? Were they singing my praises – no, not! They were sitting in their comfortable apartments with their friends and discussing how best to get rid of me. While the fanatics were deliberating on my beheading out in the open, the genteel men plotted the same in the privacy of their drawing rooms. On the other hand, at every turn, I was expected to justify exactly what I’d meant by the ‘freedom of the uterus’. I would politely explain, whether a woman wishes to have children or not is her decision, at what age to have them and how many, that, too is her choice; whose semen to let enter her and who’s not to, this decision also rests entirely with her. My explanation had incensed many at the time. The elite, the unschooled, the literate, the illiterate, all kinds of men had turned anti-Taslima, for every single one of them believed that a woman’s body,every part of her body, indeed her entire physical existence were owned by men and men only. A woman has no say over the matter of her own body, she doesn’t deserve a say, and if she does hold an opinion, then she must be a ‘whore’. And a ‘whore’ I was called in Bangladesh, although at the time I’d been working as a medical doctor at a Medical College Hospital and was already a reputed writer.

The word ‘whore’ is one that’s hurled at women by all sorts of men in order to frighten her, to make her cower and crawl back into a grotto-like a fragile earthworm. Women who have been deceived by fate, cast off for some reason or another, stricken by poverty, sickness or ill-fortune are gathered by patriarchy and turned into sex slaves for the sexual satisfaction of men. It is such a woman that men call a ‘whore’. As also the woman who has defied all constraints placed upon her by dint of her gender, has refused the trammels of sex-slavery, has gone out and educated herself, made herself independent, not needing or seeking out male validation, ` is possible that many women have consented to the hijab simply to avoid being branded a ‘whore’ or safeguard themselves from getting raped. But can the hijab really protect anyone? Men force women to become whores for their own interests, and men also use the word whore to humiliate women whom they do not like. For many years now, I’ve been telling the women I meet not to kowtow before this abuse, not to be frightened when she’s called a whore, not to relent but continue undaunted on their own paths in life.

Does the story of my life not demonstrate with perfect clarity how terribly misogynistic Bengali society is the way it stands today? Must I spell it out for myself every year that – despite never having killed or violated anyone, looted, cheated or deceived anyone – the crime that got me banished from my own land was writing a novel about the liberation of women in society. I’ve been banished for having the gall to claim that an empowered woman doesn’t pay heed to the barbaric rituals and customs that constrain her, that she has no respect for them. If we belonged in a truly just and equal society, I wouldn’t be living in exile like this. It is only autocratic societies that banish their writers and stifle voices of dissent among its people.

Bangladesh celebrates International Women’s Day with pomp and fanfare. It’s their attempt to convince the world that they are indeed a civilized nation. Possibly also to tell the world that if a woman can be Prime Minister of the country, women here are allowed to inhabit other positions of power as well. So that the rest of the world may believe that women are accorded equal rights as men in the country and allowed to exist freely in the spaces they inhabit, that women are allowed education and healthcare to lead a life as qualitatively rich as a man’s. That a woman may be allowed to hold her own moral, ethical and political beliefs, stand for elections, assume leading roles in a system not rigged against her. Who is to contest these egalitarian claims? After decades of struggle against discrimination, who is to say whether a woman may really have all this without borrowing from the power and privilege of her eminent father, or a well-known husband, or her famed male sibling? Tell us, how many ordinary women have been allowed the privilege to continue her education, have not been married off forcefully by her family to serve as an unpaid maid at husband’s household, have been allowed to make decisions that freely affect her own life? Tell us, how many women in the country can honestly claim to have full sovereignty over the terrains of their own bodies, claim they may choose to or reject the idea of having children of their own? What clothes a woman will wear, which places she travels to, where she spends her money, how far she may be educated, what she will eat, whether she will bear children or not – every single decision forming the trajectory of her life rests with the male members of her family, not with herself! It’s not simply her body that belongs to others, it’s her whole life. A woman is a marionette – she does what she’s ordered to do, she may not defy commands from those above her, and she may never dare display a glitch in her programmed servility! And the woman who wants to go against the grain, be a free person of flesh-and-blood, make her choices, utilize her education to be an autonomous individual in her own right, she is a dangerous element who must immediately be eradicated. Take her life, violate her, shame her, send her away into exile!

The violation and abuse continue. Physical, psychological, in all spheres of a woman’s existence. The act of raping her has little to do with sexuality. It is to establish his dominance over her, to exert his will through brute force, compelling her forced submission to the misogyny that enslaves her through fear. Every year, the International Women’s Day comes and subsequently, passes. Beginning right from the old woman to the young girl, nobody’s lot improves. What use is such a Day then? If misogyny still gets free reign for perpetuating infinite brutality, if patriarchy still thrives with equal strength and force as it did before, what’s the point of having this blasted Day marked as special on our calendars?
So, here is my poem for Women’s Day:

They said—take it easy…
Said—calm down…
Said—stop talkin’…
Said—shut up….
They said—sit down….
Said—bow your head…
Said—keep on cryin’, let the tears roll…

What should you do in response?

You should stand up now
Should stand right up
Hold your back straight
Hold your head high…
You should speak
Speak your mind
Speak it loudly

You should scream so loud that they must run for cover.
They will say—’You are shameless!’
When you hear that, just laugh…

They will say— ‘You have a loose character!’
When you hear that, just laugh louder…

They will say—’You are rotten!’
So just laugh, laugh even louder…

Hearing you laugh, they will shout,
‘You are a whore!’

When they say that,
just put your hands on your hips,
stand firm and say,
‘Yes, yes, I am a whore!’

They will be shocked.
They will stare in disbelief.
They will wait for you to say more, much more…

The men amongst them will turn red and sweat.
The women amongst them will dream to be a whore like you.