Salman Rushdie did not stay in Iran, the country that declared a price on his head. I have lived in Bangladesh and India, two countries where price on my head has been set repeatedly. It is these two countries where I have faced death threats, been physically attacked, had processions taken out against me, had my books banned and my TV serials taken off air. If Rushdie is not safe under police protection in the Western world, there’s little left to be imagined about my personal safety. But I am not in favour of trading for a safe and placid life in fear of diatribe and personal security. I choose to express my views in spite of the threat to my life, even if none subscribe to my views. I stand for my views against religious brutality, for humanism, rationalism, and equal rights for women.
The same Iran that had issued a fatwa against Rushdie in 1989 has sentenced Jafar Panahi, the world-famous filmmaker, to six years imprisonment for criticising the government just a few weeks ago. There is no trace of human rights in Iran after the Islamic revolution. Anyone who has dared to voice uncomfortable truths—criticised the government, sought an end to fundamentalism, demanded equal rights for women—has been tortured mercilessly, jailed and executed. Minority communities, homosexuals, transgenders and socially-conscious people of the arts and sciences are routinely tortured.
The most important requirement for strangulation of democracy, equal rights for women and right to speech is to move the State away from secularism and make it believe in a religion, causing it to follow the doctrines of that religion. Any religion will eventually, almost inevitably, walk against democracy, decree against equal rights for women, and violate the right to speech. These problems are more evident in declared Islamic countries.
Things have come to such a pass that minority Islamic groups are capable of producing indoctrinated religious terrorists even in traditionally secular countries that uphold the right to speech. The person who tried to kill Rushdie is one of them. Whether in the minority or majority, Muslim fundamentalists are active everywhere. If young people are bred systematically in religion, it doesn’t take long for them to be turned into religious fanatics. The path from fanaticism to terrorism is then easy to traverse.
Islamic terrorists don’t care about the law of the land; they only follow Allah’s laws. Critics of Islam were killed in the 7th century, and they are killed even today in the 21st century. Its soldiers are still carrying out the orders of Allah, who is famous for being the almighty, all-knowing, most beneficent, most gracious, and most merciful. They will continue doing it until Islam is reformed, free speech is allowed, violence is denounced, the breeding ground for extremism is demolished.
Other religions have evolved, but that’s hardly what we can say about Islam. Islam has been exempted from critical scrutiny that applies to other religions. Islam has not gone through an enlightenment process by which the barbaric, inhuman, unequal, unscientific aspects of religion have been questioned. Other religions could rectify their errors and mistakes; prohibit barbarity and violence against women. It was possible because those religions were subjected to critical scrutiny. On the other hand, all forms of d iscrimination against women still continue to exist in Islam.
Islam must be very weak and fragile so Islamists need blood to keep it alive. In this desperate situation if moderate Muslims do not break their silence and do not protest against jihadis, we would have to think that there is no such thing as moderate Muslims.
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No religious scripture is sacred. All religious texts have been created by human beings. The same goes for the Quran. The days of considering a book as holy or as a commandment of the Almighty are long gone. Human beings aren’t too far away from watching and experiencing the beginning of the creation of the universe, the ‘Big Bang’ explosion. Till date, we couldn’t get hold of any proof of something we can call ‘God.’ Scientific discoveries have time and again proved that religions are nothing but fairy tales. Believing in such fairy tales, enough humans have killed other humans, enough people have harmed others. They need to stop now. Let the backward thoughts of these barbarians who are anti-democracy, anti-individual freedom and anti-freedom of speech be identified, marked and called out.
Let the world, the progress of the world, the future of the world, and above all, humanity, be saved from them.
Most of the declared religious countries in the world are Islamic states. Non-Islamic states are by and large, secular in nature. Socially aware artists and litterateurs are deprived of human rights in almost all Islamic states. Those who are unscathed have inevitably compromised themselves. India has its own share of myriad problems. It is said that Hindutva is currently in its heyday and Muslims in the country are cornered. Not that there is no truth in what is said, but in spite of all this, two Muslim men in Udaipur did dare to barge into the shop of Kanhaiya Lal and slaughter him in broad daylight. If I were to imagine a Hindu in a similar state of rage against a Muslim in Bangladesh, I cannot imagine him in a similar act of murder. Murders are possible only by those who don’t care or believe deeply that the Almighty above has given them the right to kill.
What happened in the plush surroundings of the newly-opened Lulu Mall in Lucknow was truly fantastic. A few Muslims without any provocation settled down to offer namaaz inside the mall. There are some Muslims that consider the entire world to be their personal mosque. Nothing deters them from starting their namaaz anywhere and everywhere. Seeing some Muslims offering namaaz in the mall, a few Hindus scampered together and started reading the Hanuman Chalisa at the same place. The police, dying to react, swung into action and arrested a few of the Hanuman Chalisa readers. Chaos and commotion ensued. The flustered officials of Lulu Mall put up a notice saying, “Any form of religious prayer is prohibited in this mall”.
Let such notices stating “Any form of religious prayer is prohibited here” be put up in all malls, markets, museums, roads, schools, colleges, offices, courts, boats, launches, buses, trains, ships and airplanes. The time for removing religion from all public places is long overdue. Actually, there is no need for religious institutions, prayer halls, and faith schools. Religion has given nothing to society apart from bigotry, ignorance, communal hatred and terrorism. While it is a grave mistake not to keep religion separate from the State, it is equally big a mistake to let religion meddle in politics. The Islam that is brandishing its swords and killing free thinkers and progressive people is a political Islam. As long as political Islam is alive, every free thinker will live with a constant threat to life.
There’s no other way left for us but to free the world from terror and make the world a better place to live. There’s no option left for us but to ensure every human being’s right to expression and protect the safety of every life. If we don’t do it even today, we’ll all sink into the darkness of an uncertain future. Governments of all nations have to stop using religion for their political interests. Religion should go away from public places for the sake of humanity. The strict separation between state and religion is urgently necessary. Humans have no choice left but to be scientific in their outlook. Fairytales don’t save human beings, rationalism and humanism do.
Religion has given nothing to humans and society apart from bigotry, ignorance, communal hatred and terrorism. While it is a grave mistake not to keep religion separated from the State, it is equally big a mistake to let religion meddle into the politics of the State. The Islam that is brandishing its metals and killing freethinkers and progressive people is political Islam. As long as political Islam is alive, every freethinker will live with a constant threat to life.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Barbarism in the Name of Religion")
(Views expressed are personal)
Taslima Nasrin is an award winning feminist poet, novelist and public intellectual