Fighting oppression in Muslim world: By Taslima Nasrin

This speech was delivered before the 38th annual FFRF national convention in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 9, 2015.

By Taslima Nasrin

I am grateful to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for giving me The Emperor Has No Clothes award. I am also grateful to Annie Laurie Gaylor for having previously selected me for the Freethought Heroine award in 2002 and for a grant more recently. This organization has been standing by me during my trials and tribulations.

A few days ago, the Bangladeshi jihadist group Ansarullah Bangla Team published what it called a “global hit list” of bloggers who have denigrated Islam, and vowed to take action against such writers. I am on the list. At the bottom of the list, was this chilling threat: “Enemies of Islam and madrassa education, atheists, anti-Islamic apostates, Shahbagi bloggers, acting on behalf of India, are trying to set obstacles in the path of establishment of Islamic caliphate. We demand that the Bangladesh government cancel the citizenship of such enemies of Islam, otherwise we will liquidate them wherever we find them across the world. Our jihad will continue, Inshallah. Amen. — Ansarullah Bangla Team”
There have been reports in the media recently that Ansarullah activists are trying to cross over from Bangladesh to India to kill me. Ansarullah believes in the ideology of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based al-Qaeda activist, and has been involved in the brutal murders of at least four Bangladeshi freethinkers and bloggers.

It’s a matter of pride to be a freethinker, atheist and blogger in a civilized society; as the rights of such people are respected by the people and the government. However, in a country like Bangladesh, where society is still in its primitive and brutal state, such intellectuals are killed for being progressive and speaking their minds or writing what they wish to say. Such societies silence the voices of atheists who try to wake people to a new dawn.

No atheist support

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and her son Sajeeb Wazed, who acts as her information and communications technology adviser as well as political campaigner, have announced that they will not stand with the atheists. But the point is that the atheists are not aliens, they too are citizens of the country. So, it is apparent that the government of the day stands with the bigots.

Atheism became such a hated word that everybody in Bangladesh chooses to maintain a safe distance from atheists even though the government is bound by its own policy to not differentiate between citizens on the basis of their religion, color, gender or language. Sadly, in order to safeguard its own interest, the government has turned its back on rationalists, secularists and atheists who need its support the most.

The Bangladesh government is silent about the murder of freethinkers. Sheikh Hasina does not want to stand by the side of atheists. She does not say that murdering anyone is illegal. She does not want to punish the murderers. She gave a statement against the murderers of innocent people but made no statement against the murderers of atheists.
Bangladesh has never been a true democracy, because a democracy does not have affinity to any particular religion, whereas Bangladesh has an official religion. Until the time this country gets rid of that state religion, until the time atheists become as accepted as theists, Bangladesh cannot be called a democratic country.

There has always been a marked conflict between religion and science, and every time science emerges as the winner, as science bases itself on facts, not faith. It supports what is tested and is true and truth cannot be hidden by lies for a very long time. To abolish all kinds of hypocrisy from my country, we need more atheists to speak the truth.
The silence of the government on the death of the bloggers is a strong indication that this is going to be the new norm for in Bangladesh. At times, I really feel that one shouldn’t expect anything worthwhile from Bangladesh. Its political parties will turn it into a fundamentalist Islamic state. And the commoners will just sit and watch the unfolding horror. A rational mind might say this is strongly condemnable, but for the masses, it is not such an appalling place to be. They have been so blinded by religion that they wouldn’t mind being another cog in the giant wheel turning Bangladesh into “Darul Islam.”

Resisters are punished

Citizens who are resisting this anarchy with courage will be slowly and systematically eliminated by those who will never be punished because they serve the vested interests of shrewd politicians.

Bangladesh was earlier known to the world because of the annual floods that devastated the population. From a country that suffered from natural calamities, it is now emerging as a nation that suffers from man-made catastrophes, remorselessly butchering atheists and bloggers. Unless politicians stop the business of using religion to get votes from masses, many enlightened youngsters will bleed to death in the country.

At one time Sheikh Mujibar Rahaman had moved the people to reject the Pakistani soldiers who massacred the Bangladeshi intelligentsia. Today, his own daughter is indulging criminals whose hands are red with the blood of bloggers. I no longer feel ashamed to say I feel scared to think of myself as a Bangladeshi.

Four bloggers were hacked to death. Among them was Niloy Neel, the secular humanist blogger who was a member of the Taslima Nasreen supporters group. He was brutally killed by Bangladeshi Islamists only because he was an enlightened critic of Islam. Niloy Neel criticized all religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. But he was killed only for criticizing Islam. The Bangladesh government did not take any action against the killers. Like others, he had to die for his crime of being a freethinker.
A few days ago Islamic State (or ISIS) claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of an Italian citizen on a street in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Then a few days later, a Japanese man was also killed there.

Islamophobia is something coined by fundamentalists. If you criticize Islam, you will be called Islamophobic. It’s a political tactic. You won’t find Hindu-phobics or Christian-phobics. It’s as if you can criticize all religions, but not Islam, even if there are widespread killings and oppression of women in the name of this religion. I don’t criticize Islam only—I criticize and speak up against anti-women elements in all religions. But I criticize Islam more because I have grown up in a Muslim country and I witnessed the violation of human rights and women’s rights under Islam. My voice cannot be gagged.

Is there any other writer in the world whose five books are banned and who has been banned from entering her own country for more than two decades and also banned from entering a place where people have the same language and culture? It is unfortunately me.

Banished from country

In 1993, when my work started drawing the ire of Islamic fundamentalists, there were widespread protests in Bangladesh. Huge rallies were organized against me, fatwas issued and a price was put on my head. Eventually I was banished from my own country. Needless to say, the concept of freedom of speech was violated in all possible ways at that time. Some authors stopped writing books criticizing religion issues because they didn’t want to face what was inflicted on me. Therefore, we can say that self-censorship became a norm right from that time.

Over the years, a generation of progressive youngsters, who are well-educated and called themselves liberal, atheists and humanists, has been making their presence felt in the country. I wouldn’t say that all youngsters are progressive because some of them are joining radical groups too. But there are others who have begun to challenge religious orthodoxy through their blogs or otherwise. Many such bloggers speaking up against bigotry, superstition and fundamentalism are being targeted. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether a blogger is a Hindu, Muslim or Christian; whoever is criticizing Islam is being targeted. Many of them have no option but to flee the country. Those who are staying are scared of writing. So there is again a stifling form of self-censorship. Those who are trying to start life afresh abroad would find it hard to write again because in those countries they have to earn their livelihood first and fight for survival. So such a struggle for existence in an alien land could kill creativity.

A large section of Bangladesh is deeply religious. If Shaikh Hasina is seen punishing killers in order to protect atheists and rationalists, this part of the population might consider the leader to be atheist herself. This perception might be detrimental to her electoral prospects. The politicians need to protect their voting bloc at the end of the day.
Islam is not a race. Just as Christianity has spread from its source of origin, Islam too has traversed a similar path. Those who have hatred or fear against Muslims suffer from Muslim-phobia.

Illegal arrests, imprisonment

Today, hordes of innocent citizens are being illegally arrested, handcuffed and imprisoned across the world. And while we are not making them celebrities, we have made Ahmed Mohammed, the Texas clock boy, a hero just after he spent time in a police station. The real reason for that is Ahmed is a Muslim boy. If Ahmed was a Jew or a Christian or a Hindu, would “good people” the world over have protested as much against racism in the U.S. as they have in Ahmed’s case, and would they have supported him in this manner? Would he have been invited to the White House? I don’t think that would have been the case.

Several white-skinned racists are Muslim-haters. But why do they only hate Muslims and are not Hindu-haters, Sikh-haters or Buddhist-bashers? Can we really argue that they hate Muslims just like that? Is there no reason for their hate whatsoever?

Many American kids have killed their schoolmates. Many such shooting sprees are reported with regularity. Yet I suspect that if the school in Texas came across a situation where an American or a white kid came to class with a toy pistol or a toy rifle, the school authorities would have alerted the police only after assessing the nature of the item in question.

When people suspect Muslims or criticize Islam, they are quickly branded as Islamophobics. But most people are afraid of being labeled such and so they mostly keep quiet. The faster this word disappears, the better. We cannot have this word and, at the same time, voice our support for freedom of speech. It’s extremely difficult to ascertain if talented Muslims are being collectively brainwashed into becoming terrorists, as were the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston bombing.

If people carry a pressure cooker bomb in their backpack, or a clock bomb in a pencil box, then it is reasonable to fear these objects in public places. I do not see anything wrong with such thinking. But please don’t make critical statements like “Ahmed was harassed only because he is a Muslim” or “white people are racists” or “Americans are Muslim-haters.” If you are aware of past and present circumstances, you will easily know why suspicions against Muslims exist.

The religiously blind

When people from a particular community use terrorism to subjugate others, then their religion also becomes suspect. It’s time to understand that. To rid themselves of such suspicion, Muslims must strongly protest against those who use Islam for jihad. We have to stop being religiously blind and be scientific in our approach. No enemy has ever inflicted the amount of damage that Islamic terrorists have done to fellow Muslims.

In Mecca, about 1,300 people were killed in a stampede. You saw how Saudi officials were bulldozing bodies of dead Hajj pilgrims like garbage and dumping them into a pile. Saudi Arabia, the world’s most brutally repressive regime, was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel! I tweeted: “Think twice before going to hajj. You can be killed in a stampede. You won’t be sent to heaven if you die in Mecca, because there is no heaven.”
Muslims believe they will go to heaven if they die in hajj. The families of those pilgrims are so happy that they died in hajj.

Throwing stones at Satan, kissing a black stone believing it absorbs sins! All these childish things performed by adults? Grow up, people!

Religion is a profitable business. You do not need to invest anything but ignorance.
Rituals which were OK in 7th century’s Mecca are now outdated, obsolete, not OK for a huge crowd in the 21st century. Stop hajj.

By supporting women’s rights everywhere, I have criticized all kinds of religions, traditions, cultures and customs. To Muslims, I am labeled as being anti-Islam. This has led to some people’s saying that I am a Muslim-hater. But they are wrong. By no means am I a Muslim-hater! I always stand beside oppressed people. I stood beside Muslims when they were oppressed in Gujarat in India, in Palestine and in Bosnia. I defended their rights to live, just as I stood beside the Hindus who are oppressed in Bangladesh and by the Christians in Pakistan. To me, their religious identity is not important. Human beings either believe in religion or they do not. Nobody should be oppressed because of her or his belief or nonbelief. I have always stood for this. The criticism I make of the religions, I do by writing. I do not go to harm the believers physically with a sword. I do not believe in violence. The fanatics never accept the idea to have a dialogue or debate with me, or write articles or books opposing me; they come to kill me, for they are convinced by their belief in their religion that an apostate must be killed. Some people still like to believe that Islam is a religion of peace. But since my childhood, I have witnessed the opposite.

Some Western-educated, veiled Muslim women have started speaking up, claiming that embracing Islam is still their choice. But then why is it that I have no choice to criticize Islam, and why can’t anybody else freely do so? Without criticism of Islam, it would never be possible for Islamic countries to separate state and religion, never possible to have a secular education instead of a Quranic education, never possible to stop Islam-based politics. And if such did not happen, Islamic states would remain in darkness forever. Women would not enjoy the right to live as human beings.

Women without rights

As I grew up, I realize that, like other religions, Islam is not compatible with human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression and democracy. There is no way in a real democracy that separation of religion and state can be neglected. There is no way we can have women’s rights if we have religious law. There is no way we can enjoy human rights if we allow religious rules to regulate society. Without the right to offend, freedom of expression cannot exist. And without freedom of expression, democracy will not work.
Islam does not consider woman to be a separate human being. Man is the original creation and womankind is created secondarily for the pleasure of man. Islam considers a woman as a slave or sexual object, nothing more. Women’s role is to stay at home and to obey her husband. Women are considered weak so they should be taken care of. Islam treats women as intellectual, moral and physical inferiors. In marriage, Islam protects the rights of men and men only. Once the marriage is consummated, women have no rights whatsoever in this field.

Islam considers women psychologically inferior. A woman’s testimony is not allowed in cases of marriage, divorce and hudud. Hudud are the punishments set by Islamic law for adultery, fornication, adultery against a married person, apostasy, theft, robbery, and so forth. If any woman is raped, she has to produce four male witnesses to the court. If she cannot, there is no charge against the rapist. In Islamic law, the testimony of two women is worth that of one man. In the case in which a man suspects his wife of adultery, or denies the legitimacy of the offspring, his testimony is worth that of four witnesses. A woman does not have the right to charge her husband in a similar manner.

And after all the rights and freedoms, after obtaining all the sexual pleasure and having the pleasure of being the master, Allah will reward men with wine, food, and 72 virgins in Paradise, including the wives they had on Earth. Allah said, “They relax on luxurious furnishings, and we match them with beautiful virgins” (52.19-20). “Near them, shall be blushing virgins with large beautiful eyes who will be like hidden pearls.” (37.48-49).
And what is the reward for the pious woman? Nothing. Nothing but the same old husband, the same man who caused her suffering while the two were back here on Earth.

It was easy for me to become an atheist. I was a student of science, so it was hard to accept that the sun moves around the Earth, that the moon has its own light, and that the purpose of mountains is to support the earth so that it will not fall down somewhere. I came to suspect and be sure that the Quran was not written by someone who has at all any knowledge of the sciences.

Not only did I read the Quran, I read the Hadith, the words of Muhammad. I found different events of Prophet Muhammad’s life in which, when he had problems, Allah was able to solve them right away. For example, when he was sexually aroused after seeing his daughter-in-law, Allah sent him a message saying that he could marry her because his son was adopted and thus not his real son, so that marriage was therefore justified.

It became clear to me that Muhammad had written the Quran for his own interest, for his own comfort, for his own fun. When I studied other religions, I found they, too, oppressed women.

In my society, I have witnessed that women are flogged. They have been stoned to death. Women are not considered as human beings. For a typical Muslim couple, the most unwanted thing is a female baby. If a woman fails to conceive a male child, either she is forced into a divorce for her crime of having given birth to girls or else she must spend her life with disgrace.

I am sure you have heard many times that Islam does not support the killing of innocent people. Allah of the Holy Quran never advocates killings. The killings are the work of a few misguided individuals at the fringe of society. Islam, the real Islam, is against violence. Islam means peace. Islam means tolerance.

But is this true? Does Islam really preach peace, tolerance and non-violence? Those Muslims who perpetrate crimes in the name of Allah think differently. They believe that what they do is a jihad or holy war. They say that killing the nonbelievers is mandatory for every Muslim. They do not kill because they break the laws of Islam but because they think this is what a true Muslim should do. Those who blow up their own bodies to kill the people of different faiths do so because they think they will be rewarded in paradise. They hope to be blessed by Allah, eat celestial food, drink pure wine, and enjoy the company of those 72 virgins.

What the Quran teaches

Are they completely misguided? Let’s see what the Quran really teaches.
The Quran says: “Not to make friendship with Jews and Christians” (5:51), “Kill the disbelievers wherever you find them” (2:191), “Murder them and treat them harshly” (9:123).

The Quran says that all those who disbelieve in Islam will be thrown into Hell (5:10), they are filthy, untouchable, impure (9:28), and Muslims are ordered to fight the nonbelievers until no other religion except Islam is left (2:193). It prohibits a Muslim to be a friend to a nonbeliever even if that nonbeliever is the father or the brother of that very Muslim (9:23), (3:28).

It says that the “nonbelievers will go to Hell and will drink boiling water” (14:17). It asks the Muslims to “slay or crucify or cut the hands and feet of the non-believers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace, and that they shall have great punishment in the world hereafter” (5:34).

He promises that in the fight for His cause if the followers win, they will go to heaven, to the garden of paradise (9:111). There, they will be given pure beautiful pink-colored large-eyed virgins (56:54).

When the Prophet was in Mecca and he was still not powerful enough, he called for tolerance. He said, “To you be your religion, and to me my religion” (109:6). This famous quote is often misused to prove that the general principle of the Quran is one of tolerance. He advised his follower to speak well of their enemies (2: 83), exhorted them to be patient (20:103), and said “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). But all that changed drastically when he came to power. Then killing and slaying the nonbelievers was justified in innumerable verses with harshness and without mercy. The verses quoted to prove Islam’s tolerance ignore many other verses that bear no trace of tolerance or forgiveness. Is it normal that a book revealed by Allah, the supernatural god, should have so many serious contradictions?

These are not stories but records from authentic Islamic history and the Hadiths. One can argue that these behaviors were not unknown or unusual for the conquerors and leaders of the medieval world, but these are not the activities befitting a peaceful saint and certainly not of someone who claimed to be the Mercy of God for all the creation.

There is a conflict in the world, the conflict is between two different ideas: secularism and fundamentalism. I don’t agree with those who think the conflict is between religions or between the East and the West. To me, this conflict is basically between rational, logical thinking and irrational blind faith. To me, this is a conflict between modernity and anti-modernism. While some strive to go forward, others strive to go backward. This is a conflict between innovation and tradition, between those who value freedom and those who do not.

I have been fighting every day against injustices and inequalities, against religious terrorism and superstition, against bigotry and obscurantism. Fighting for human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression and humanism. I do not fear to tell the truth, come what may. When the emperor has no clothes, I do not hesitate to say that the emperor never had any clothes.

Taslima Nasrin received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award. She has been living under a death fatwa for blasphemy by Bangladesh imams since 1993. She became an anesthesiologist, poet and syndicated columnist. Her novella, Shame, which deals with Muslim discrimination against Hindus, was banned, then brought bounties on her head. She fled to Sweden for asylum, then settled in India. After escalating death threats and street executions of other Bangladesh atheist writers this year, she left India, with the help of FFRF and CFI. She received a Freethought Heroine Award from FFRF in 2002. Other books include French Lover, Mayebela: My Bengali Girlhood, No Country for Women, All About Women.

Freedom From Religion Foundation