'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Monday, May 16, 2016
Interview with Taslima Nasreen - Bangladesh safer than Syria for jihadis
Even as a religious hardliner was
executed in Bangladesh, a Buddhist monk was hacked to death. Renowned writer Taslima Nasreen spoke
Tikoo Singh about a hardliner-politician nexus murdering free
thinkers in Bangladesh, religious violence in Pakistan, secularism in India –
and India’s liberals
Since 2013, more
than 20 people – including secular writers, bloggers, professors, members of
religious minorities and foreigners – have been killed in targeted attacks in
Bangladesh. Why are secular individuals being targeted in Bangladesh? Who is
Jihadists have been
silencing or threatening voices of sanity because democracy and pluralism are
anathema to them. All they want is to establish a theocracy. They want to
create Darul Islam, the land of Islam in Bangladesh. They want no law but
Sharia, no women’s rights, and no freedom of speech. They want group loyalty
perforce, which has no space for freedom of thought. There are 148 jihadi
training camps in Bangladesh. Jihadists are helped by Jamat-e-Islami, 132
Islamic terrorist organizations including Ansarullah Bangla team and 231
fundamentalist institutions including ‘Islami bank’. In the last 40 years,
almost 40 thousand crores takas have been used for the military training of
Jihadists in Bangladesh. It is only 20% of total profits that was earned from
the Islamic fundamentalists’ economy. It is well established that the Islami
bank has been financing terrorism.
Six years ago when
Bangladesh restored secularism in its constitution, it seemed it was on a
progressive path. What happened in the last few years that there is such
violent reaction against secularism? Has the trial and conviction of 1971
Jamat-e-Islami war criminals in Bangladesh triggered this violence?
If that were so,
Islamists would have attacked the judges or people in positions of power. But
Islamists have been killing atheist bloggers, critics of Islam, intellectuals,
and progressive Muslims. Islamists can kill anyone they want with impunity, and
it becomes possible because the country has been Islamized for the last few
decades because the government is not only a mute spectator but also directly
encouraging the Islamists by criticizing bloggers for hurting the sentiments of
people. This is bizarre, unthinkable in a society governed by rule of law. It
seems that Bangladesh is hurtling back to the medieval age.
What is the extent
of religious extremism in Bangladesh? Can ISIS find support there? How is Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina fighting religious fundamentalist forces?
All of the terrorists
and fundamentalists of the country support ISIS. Many received training from
ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Sheikh Hasina denies this because of political
compulsions. The denial is facile and nothing short of political skullduggery.
The killings of atheists and bloggers punch holes in her claims. Islamists once
attacked her with grenades. However, out of political compulsions she prefers
to forget about it under imposed amnesia. Instead of proclaiming she is
actually a secular person, she says she is a deeply religious person. There is
a competition among political leaders as to who is more religious. Politicians
use religion to get votes from the ignorant masses. Sheikh Hasina created the Ulema
League in her party, the Awami League. The Ulema League is the organization of
Islamic fundamentalists. Members of this organization are not different from
the Jamat-e-Islami goons. They support the killing of freethinkers and atheist
bloggers in the country.
stigmatized by 1984 anti-Sikh violence, 1990 ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri
Pandits, 2002 Gujarat riots. According to Indian government’s own admission,
communal intolerance and violence has gone up in the last couple of years in
India too. Three rationalists were killed last year and two Muslim boys lynched
to death. How is India’s majoritarian violence against minorities different
fundamentalists have systematically targeted Minorities in Bangladesh. Hindus
are harassed, tortured, and even killed only because they are Hindus. Hindu
girls are getting raped, and Hindu-hating Muslims forcibly takes lands owned by
Hindus. Hindus are frequently told to leave the country. In 1947, Hindu
population in Bangladesh was 31%. Now it is around 8%.
I do not think Muslims
in India are oppressed the way Hindus are oppressed in Bangladesh. Hindu
extremists hate Indian Muslims but the Indian Constitution is secular which
guarantees equality before law and the equal protection of law to all
irrespective of religion, caste, sex, place of birth etc., and the laws are
applied uniformly, which protect Muslims. Muslims in India are given lots of
facilities and opportunities to get education and jobs for being Muslims. The
population of Hindus is currently less in Bangladesh because of the exodus that
started since the partition of India. Hindus do not fight back in Bangladesh,
but in India Muslims often fight back against their oppression. It can happen
only if you have equality.
In India, all politicians appease Muslims. In Bangladesh there is no such thing
as minority appeasement policy. Hindus are leaving Bangladesh for other
countries to save their lives. Muslims in India do not need to leave their
fighting Islamists too. How is Bangladesh’s situation any different from
Bangladesh was born as
a secular country; its constitution was secular. Pakistan is an Islamic
republic. But Bangladesh, once a secular state, is now degenerating into a
country of Islamists. Because of the Islamization of Bangladesh for 40 long
years, its political system is now totally Islamic. You will not find many
Muslim countries with political systems as Islamized as is the case in
Bangladesh. Islamic fanatics have killed so many secular writers and bloggers
and freethinkers in recent years. Not a single killer has been punished. But
the Islamic fanatic who killed secular and progressive Salman Taseer in
Pakistan was hanged. You can get at least some justice in Pakistan, but not in
Bangladesh, which has become a safe haven for Islamists. Even Syria and Iraq
are not as accommodating of Islamic fanatics as Bangladesh. No air raid or
drone attacks disturb Bangladeshi jihadists. The government of Bangladesh is
providing them with protection and has warned atheists and free thinker
bloggers to quit writing about atheism and secularism and stop hurting
religious feelings. Atheists are getting arrested under 57 ICT acts, a new law
which was created to fight free thought.
All three states
that emerged from the partition of Indian subcontinent seem to be challenged by
the same communal conflicts that our freedom fighters were fighting through the
1940s. Was Partition a good idea to begin with? How has creation of Bangladesh
Partition was a mistake.
Now India has two neighbours dominated by Islamic fundamentalists. The 1971
Bangladesh-Pakistan war proved that Muslim unity was a myth and the two-nation
theory was a blunder. Bangladesh could not remain as a secular state due to the
Islamic policies that were introduced by corrupt political regimes. Bangladesh
is becoming the worst Islamic country in the world. Having a neighbour like
Bangladesh is not good for India. You never know when the ISIS and al-Qaeda and
other Islamic terrorist organizations will come to India and begin killing
innocent people. Bangladesh is totally a failed state. The so-called democratic
government is a theocratic government in reality. The creation of Bangladesh as
a secular state has failed miserably. Bangladesh has become a breeding ground
You have been very
critical of Indian liberals and the Left. Why?
I have always been
critical of far right politics. I am also critical of Indian liberals and
leftists. I noticed liberals and leftists are generally very critical of Hindu
fanaticism but not of Islamic fanaticism. Islamic fanatics are against human
rights, women’s rights, free speech and democracy. The truth is those Islamic
fanatics are against everything Indian liberals stand for. But liberals strangely
sympathize with them. This is how they have distorted the concept of
You have been
opposed to all religions? Don’t you think criticism of religion is
unnecessarily provoking even moderate religionists to take hardliner positions?
I do not think so.
Freethinkers, rationalists, atheists, humanists are a minority in most
societies. Moderate religionists do not need criticism of religion to become
hardliners. They have political reasons to become hardliners. Criticism of
religion should hopefully provoke people to think rationally and give up
irrational blind faith. We must not forget that without criticism of religion
no society has evolved and no state becomes secular. Critical scrutiny of
religion is necessary for a healthy society. No religion should be protected
from critical scrutiny, from questioning unethical aspects of its doctrines.
Criticism encourages people to become secular humanists.
Hardliners have been
killing atheists and rationalists in Bangladesh. They became hardliners because
they were indoctrinated with Islam from a very early age, and they sorely need
to be exposed to a rational and tolerant worldview.