Taslima Nasrin Speaks (Still)

Not Your Father's Fatwa

While Rushdie is the most famous writer to have a fatwa on his head, women writers have long been targets after documenting the lives of women in Muslim societies. And the trend continues. Women writers elsewhere in the Muslim world have received death threats for writing about the conditions of women. Prominent Sudanese writer Kola Boof (Every Little Bit Hurts) has recently taken refuge in the U.S. after death threats in Sudan. She earned the ire of the Islamist government by insisting that there is slavery in Sudan despite official denials. Toujan al-Faisal, the first woman ever elected to the Jordanian parliament, was arrested in March for publishing material deemed "harmful to the country's reputation,"and in Iran, a writer, Mehrangiz Kar, and publisher, Shahla Lahiji, received sentences in February based on protests made at an international conference in Berlin in 2000.

So why did Nasrin think that she was singled out for such protest? "Fundamentalists in Bangladesh don't allow women to protest very much," she said, but the real reason, she thought, was that women were reading her work. Even after it was banned, people read Meyebela on the Internet, and she is now considering putting the second volume on the Web. She seemed dumbfounded that the mullahs would think book banning could be effective in this age, and finds their motives in general to be crass. "They don't think of the future of the country," she said, "only of their temporary gain."

The audience at the Asia Society audibly praised her courage as they streamed out to stand in line for books and her signature. While the chill in our own air here is taking its toll on the numbers of outspoken public figures, it was for some members of the Bangladeshi community at the Asia Society astounding to hear Nasrin say that revision of Islam for the freedom of women is impossible. Everyone laughed with sympathy when she said, "My mother thought I would go to hell, and she worried about me." But then she probably no longer believes in those hellish fires so often questioned by the child Nasrin in her book. "I have told the truth, so I don't regret what I have done."

For information on these writers, see Women's World: www.wworld.org.

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