November 28, 2007

Between "Islam"ists and "Secular Human"ists - Caught in Between (and Needing Badly to Get Out): the World's Muslims! - Part 2

Please read Part 1 before this.

Ms. Nasrin and the "Secular Human"ists

So continuing on with my evening: after pondering the sheer hypocrisy of Islamists when it comes to turning a blind eye to the un-Islamic behaviour of their ideological allies, and re-affirming once again their inability to better the conditions of the world's Muslims, I decided to cool off by distracting myself.

A visit to The 3rd World View produced this real gem of a resource on the latest controversy surrounding Taslima Nasrin.

For those who do not know, Taslima Nasrin is a self-confessed secular humanist. This means that she is in support of the separation of church/temple/mosque/synagogue/whathaveyou and state.

Now while I do not subscribe to secular humanism (or Islamism), what I expect from the adherents of these ideologies is consistency. Plain and simple. Yesterday I highlighted how the controversies created by Islamists were hollow and self-serving, simply the opposite of Islam which values consistency and deliberation in judgement. Today, I will highlight how secular humanists of the Nasrin variety create controversies that are equally self-serving and without any consistency, but which have the unfortunate effects of demonising the world's Muslims to an increasingly suspicious non-Muslim audience.

Taslima Nasrin's writings against Islam what she experienced in the name of Islam at the hands of some Muslims are well-known. She has been living in exile since then, ironically in a country with more Muslims than in her home-country of Bangladesh - and yet her plight is constantly used as an instance of "Muslim intolerance" by vested quarters. The Indian government - normally so harsh on Bangladeshis immigrating to its territory - has continuously given her visa extensions. (I leave readers to draw their own conclusions. Frankly, Bangladesh's response should have been to offer asylum to M.F. Husain, but then our "national security" warriors worriers don't like paintings of Hindu goddesses either, do they? Damn, we BADLY need a good debate about national security that is free of communal dynamics!)

What really screamed out at me from the 3rd World View post linked above however was this particular newspiece:

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, in hiding in India after death threats from Islamic groups, has found an ally in a hardline Hindu leader accused of collusion in the killing of Muslims during religious riots in 2002.

Gujarat chief minister Narender Modi has invited the author to stay in his western state after she fled Marxist-ruled West Bengal last week, the Economic Times newspaper reported Tuesday.

"She is welcome to come and stay in Gujarat. She can carry on her work in the field of literature and serve mankind," Modi was quoted as saying in an interview to the paper.

"Even if she criticises me in her book, I will welcome it."

"Never underestimate the impudence of an impudent man", to paraphrase an unmarried Christian woman on a small island off the coast of Europe (and I can't wait to find out how the Jamaatis spin that one tomorrow!). It went through my head as I imagined Modi being so magnanimous to a critic of Islam.

For those who don't know, Narendra Modi was the godfather behind the genocide (the ONLY word) of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. What started off as commmunal rioting was transformed into ethnic cleansing thanks to the government of Gujarat's then chief minister, Narendra Modi. RSS "volunteers" roamed free with voters' list furnished by the government showing where Muslims lived. The state and the police were complicit in this massacre of a people based on their religion. And the victims were Muslim. The latest from the investigation into Gujarat comes from Tehelka (h/t Tacit).

I think it is pretty clear that Narendra Modi's dislike for "Muslims" stems from a very different source than Taslima Nasrin's. Yet, their dislike brings them together - (just as, in our country, a hatred for the centre-left makes far-left eccentrics like Farhad Mazhar write for far-right newspapers like Naya Diganta).

But this is not my real disappointment with Ms. Nasrin. I am not as thin-skinned as some people who call themselves Muslim. I do not really give a **** what cartoons are being published or who wrote what in which third-rate novel. If someone's written against Islam: fine, whatever. I have many more productive ways to follow Islam in everyday life (prayer, good deeds, fundraising for some cyclone victims, alms, a few polemics against Islamists) than to take up some placard and waste half my day.

No my real disappointment with Ms. Nasrin lies in the fact that in all her years in India, very rarely have I heard her speak against the religious fundamentalism of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates. I have not found any utterance by her against the Gujarat Genocide, the censoring and "voluntary" exile of M.F. Husain, the censoring of and RSS-backed protetsts against the film Final Solution on the Gujarat Massacres by Rakesh Sharma. I emphasise, I have not found and if you know of any, I will put in the correction. Indeed, the only criticism she has ventured against any of the RSS's pet projects have been her support for Deepa Mehta's film "Water" (one of my favourite movies), whose filming was stopped by threats from religious fundamentalists. The movie is about the lives of Hindu widows in the backdrop of Indian's independence, and has nothing to do with Muslims.

So basically, secular-humanists of the Nasrin, Rushdie or the Hitchens variety really say a lot by their selective silence on and selective speeches against some religions more than others. Wrongs are done in the name of all religions, yet Islam what they think is "Islam" always comes in for more than it's share of flak for a lot of reasons.

And this flak by secular humanists can then be used by bigots like Modi to de-humanise Muslims, disenfranchise them and in extreme cases like Gujarat, wipe them off completely. One can then invite a secular-humanist with a beef against Muslims to "criticise away" with no problem whatsoever!

If Taslima Nasrin actually takes up that offer, I'll be more than happy to retract this blog post and put up "I was wrong" in big, bold letters. But she won't. Firstly, because as an author she is terribly narrow: she can only write about her personal experience and her personal tragedy and those were inflicted on her by Muslims. Secondly because her world-view is such that "religious fundamentalism" is always worse than fundamentalism in the name of the nation. The RSS never simply presents themselves as a religious outfit, but as a nationalist one as well, all about restoring Bharat to an imagined pristine state before the Muslims and Christians "sullied" it. She'll buy it as an instance of "secular" nationalism, just as V.S. Naipaul did. Thirdly, who exactly is going to bite the hand that's sheltering them? (Hint: people with integrity)

And that, dear readers, is how I came to the conclusion that Muslims worldwide are being screwed over - by "Islam"ists who really care about certain policies rather than Islam or Muslims; and by "secular human"ists whose humanism is not magnanimous enough to care about Muslims, 1/6 of the world's human population. Attendant caveats as always: not all Islamists are like this and neither are all secular humanists. And thankfully most of the world's populaton, let alone most of the world's Muslims do not fall into these two blindingly rigid categories. That is what gave me some hope as I tended to my throat. But I admit, not a lot.

Concluding remarks: such "secular human"ists and "Islam"ists have certain traits in common. As I've said before: neo-cons/"secular human"ists and Islamists have a monolithic view of Islam. Their view of Islam is that of an intolerant, illiberal, stupefying dogma (a view that serves both their interests) rather than the tolerant, merciful, moderate and sympathetic religion that was once the driving engine of several cosmopolitan empires.

Lastly, they both need each other. Both need each other to get rid of the ideological adversaries within their own communities, namely "domestic" liberals. "Secular human"ists need to point to Islamists in order to convince REAL liberals that "Muslims" are simply different, they neither understand nor deserve any response but the brute force and torture that liberals frown upon. (And if they get those from non-secular communalists like Modi, well "All's well that ends well".) When REAL liberals refuse to agree, well then it's easy to paint them as "terrorist sympathisers", "appeasers" and "liberal wimps who empathise too much with other cultures" etc etc. Although the word "over-smartness" is yet to be used, the connotations are there among neo-cons and their apologists.

On the other hand, Islamists take liberals within Muslim communities to task using these "secular human"ists as examples of "liberals". Thus the Daily Star becomes an "Islamophobic" paper to them and Zafar Sobhan's adherence to Islam is questioned by them, even though a few weeks back, Zafar Sobhan had this to say about a particularly sordid neo-con venture. In other words, all domestic liberals are "neo-cons/Islamophobes" to Islamists. Even when they are Muslims!

In between, a large swath of the world's population is left to rot in ignorance and poverty and insecurity. Maybe for generations to come.

This post would not have been possible without two posts by The 3rd World View and Bonbibi, both of whose writing prove them to be much better humanists and humans than the ones I've criticised here.


Anonymous said...


the following blog links may be of interest to you. I particularly liked how Sagarika Ghose draws a parallel between Buddhedeb Bhattacharjee and Modi, and Rajdeep talks about the true character of Modi.

Sometimes I can't decide which group I despise more, the secular humanists or the religious fanatics (of any religion). Both are always trying to falsely represent the mainstream who happen to belong to neither. Both mistakenly try to establish their own self-serving politics and practices as 'just' and 'truthful'.

Despite being a staunch (militant) feminist, I can never find myself relating to Nasrin. Primary because she embodies all the things that I think are the negatives of the 'feminism' movement. The reasons that people take issues of gender equity, hegemony, empowerment and discrimination lightly, and call them cliches. She, and people like herself, make us look like attention-seeking women creating issues of trivial matters that don't contribute to the greater good of society. How is it that Germaine Greer and Gayatri Chakroborty never manage to get people to issue death threats against them despite being a lot more outrageous and courageous than Taslima? Could it be because they actually have some substance and know what they're talking about?

tacit said...

Good piece. Like the new layout too, DS.

I like the part about offering M. F. Hussain asylum in Bangladesh. But before that, I wish we could work out a system to let Ms. Nasrin return to Bangladesh. I believe we really need to broaden our allowed avenue of public discourse, and we can't go on exiling people who go against established norms.

Yes, her comments may be petty. But she should be allowed to make those petty comments from her homeland, unless she chooses otherwise.

DhakaShohor said...


I think you've hit on the difference between single-issue feminists and feminists who are much more nuanced. Gayatri Spivak is one person who does not let any single issue get in the way. Though she asserts that appeals to nationalism were used by post-colonial patriarchs to reign in the women, she sees the value of nationalism in being an ideology of resistance to hegemony (IR-wise). Substitute "religion" for "nationalism" and you get another variant of her argument. It was after all she who said of the British attempt to ban sati, "White man saving brown women from brown men."

Too many feminists of the Nasrin variety make that mistake. Instead of taking aim at patriarchy in general, they take aim at a certain religion or nation thereby playing - deliberately or obliviously - into hegemonic ambitions.

I'm not under ay grand delusion that this will make feminism any more palatable to Mintoo, let alone the bearded Montu. After all, such a feminist would have to criticise all men equally, dealing to Donald Trump what they deal to Delwar Hossain Saidee and Humayun Ahmed. The first might bring your brownie points. Not so sure about the latter two.

And this is where tacit is spot-on. We need to make some space safe for dissent, even on stuff we personally don't like. Which is why I again emphasize that despite my track record of being anti-war criminal, I am not joining any call to ban Jamaat or try/arrest/exile anyone who calls it a "civil war"/ "war of secession". Those are OPINIONS and the right to bear and express them must be kept safe. Alas, if only Jamaat or their online cousins were half as decent....

Tacit, glad you liked the new set-up. I felt like I was wasting a lot of space on the left-hand side. :)