Taslima Nasreen, 26 years of endless exile

Taslima Nasreen, 26 years of exile with no end in sight

Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.

Share November 14, 2020 6:21 p.m. Share Taslima Nasreen, 26 years of endless exile Abhaya Srivastava Agence France-Presse NEW DELHI – In exile for more than a quarter of a century, the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen knows she might well never return to her country and believes that the Muslim fundamentalists who sentenced her to death are more active than ever in Bangladesh and across the world.

“In all Muslim countries, fundamentalist organizations are gaining strength, whether it is Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram,” the author of Lajja told AFP (“Shame In Bengali), 58 years old and in exile since 1994, during an interview at her home in New Delhi where she has lived since 2011.

“Even when you look at Europe, a lot of Islamic fundamentalists are calling for sharia [Islamic law] in the name of multiculturalism.”

France, which paid tribute on Friday to the 130 dead and 350 wounded of the jihadist attacks of five years ago, the worst committed on its soil, has just been struck like Austria by Islamist attacks which left eight dead in total. The interview was carried out before these new attacks.

Comments by French President Emmanuel Macron defending the cartoon in the name of freedom of expression after the October 16 assassination of a teacher, Samuel Paty, who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in progress, sparked protests around the world Muslim especially in Bangladesh at the call of Islamist parties.

Islam in its strict interpretation forbids any representation of Muhammad.

A claimed atheist, Taslima Nasreen had to flee Bangladesh in August 1994 after the publication the previous year of Lajja, her cult novel which describes violence against Hindus in Bangladesh after the sack of the Indian mosque in Ayodhya in 1992. Target by a fatwa (religious decree) from a local Islamist group condemning her to death, she has since lived between Europe, the United States and India.


Exile is not a long quiet river. In 2007, Islamist demonstrations drove her from Calcutta where she had temporarily settled.

Celebrated in the West as a symbol of the struggle against women's oppression and obscurantism, Taslima Nasreen, with her divisive personality, is both hailed and hated in the Indian subcontinent.

She says religious fundamentalists have transformed Bangladesh, and other once-moderate countries are in danger of similar societal upheaval. She quotes Turkey which is moving away from its secularism.

“Anyone who is critical of Islamic dogmas is killed or put in prison,” she says.

Even India, which welcomes it, is seeing religious intolerance rise against a backdrop of a surge in Hindu nationalism, according to analysts.

“India was more liberal before. I loved India for it. But that has changed […] now, it's quite difficult, criticism is not easily tolerated, she believes. We can easily be “trolled” ”.

“But not everyone is extremist. If things were going so badly in India, I couldn't have lived here. ”

Born into a Muslim family, she rose to prominence in the 1980s with a series of articles condemning the religious and sexual oppression of women in some Asian countries.

She, who had drawn the anger of Bangladeshi fundamentalists as soon as she decided to abandon the traditional dress, supports the French law of October 2010 prohibiting the concealment of the face in public space. “I agree with the ban. The veils covering the face are very dangerous. You need to know who you're sitting next to, that can be a murderer. ”

This feminist, trained gynecologist, has been campaigning against the culture of rape since long before #MeToo: “men must understand that rape has nothing to do with sex,” she says, remembering her own assault by a famous poet whom she believed to be her friend. Human rights defenders regularly denounce the frequency of sexual violence against women and their insufficient repression in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

A multi-award-winning author of more than forty books translated into some thirty languages, she was praised in the media after the republication in March of her memoir in English under the title My Girlhood.

The writer, who holds a Swedish passport, knows she may never return to her country of birth.

“I begged and begged when my father was on his deathbed [in 2002] but they wouldn't allow me to see him one last time. They have illegally prevented me from coming back to my own country for 26 years.

“The current government [in Bangladesh] protects fanatic Islamist organizations,” she insists. “The people of mosques and madrasas have become so powerful, they will kill me. But I will fight for my right to come back as long as I am alive. ”

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