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Aug 10, 2007 at 10:59am IST

Target Taslima: No room for critics in Islam?

First it was author Salman Rushdie and now, once again, it's eminent writer Taslima Nasreen at the receiving end of religious intolerance.

The Bangladeshi author was attacked by the Muslim hardliner MLAs of political party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Hyderabad.

The MLAs, angry over Taslima's alleged remarks on Islam and Prophet Mohammad, attacked her at a press conference where the author was to release the Telugu translation of her latest book Shodh.

The enraged activists hurled abuses at the author and even threw pieces of furniture at her. Nasreen was shielded by journalists and some senior officials, who also got injured in the process.

Police arrested three MLAs of the MIM later on.

While the incident comes as a shock, the pertinent issue is whether the critics of Islam are victimised by their own community? Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen MLA, Akbaruddin Owaisi and Social Activist Nafisa Ali debated that on CNN-IBN Face the Nation.

Truth, banished by Fatwas

Tasleema Nasreen initially gained fame as a poet and columnist. However, she gradually drew attention from all quarters for a series of books that she wrote unveiling the dark truths of the Islamic society. Some of her critics believe that part of the reasons of Taslima Nasrin's popularity is because of her critical views on religions, especially Islam.

The Thursday's attack on Taslima is not the first one. She has been living in exile, ever since Fatwas and banishment orders were issued against her by Muslim clerics in Bangladesh.

Condemning the attacks on the writer, socialite Nafisa Ali said, "I feel sorry for the situation she was in. At a time when we are talking of Gandhigiri and offering flowers, the goons in the garb of MLAs are throwing chairs and bags at a writer and abusing her. This sends out a very wrong message about how India treats people here."

Nafisa Ali said that she herself is a Muslim and her according to knowledge of Islam, the religion does not permits anyone to disgrace a woman like this. "People like the Hyderabad MLAs who attacked Taslima are responsible for giving Islam a bad name," she said.

The protestors said they are Muslim hardliners and are least repentant about the mistreatment meted out to the author. They said the offense to Islam is so great that all the physical violence is justified.

"Taslima Nasreen has passed denigrated comments on Prophet Mohammad and purdah," said Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen MLA, Akbaruddin Owaisi.

The MLA also denied that there was any kind of physical violence at all. "It wasn't physical violence. She got what she deserves. Probably she deserves more. Why are we talking about a writer who is not an Indian?" he asked.

Drawing a comparison between Taslima and Hindu hardliners, Akbaruddin Owaisi said, "Nasreen is no different than a (Praveen) Togadia, who is a Hindu fundamental leader. She has hurt the sentiments of 20 crore Muslims. We are bothered so much about one person who is not even an Indian but we don't seem to care about the lot of Muslims in this country who are disgusted with her."

Akbaruddin Owaisi said that what happened at the press conference was completely justified and in fact Nasrin deserved more. He said that this is in no way physical violence.

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Muslims expect democratic treatment by Hindus but are unwilling to abide by the rules of democracy. "Democracy does not allow you to hurt somebody's religious sentiments. The religious sentiments of Muslims have been hurt. Why are we not talking about that?"

"She deserves Fatwas"

There are democratic methods of protest and the one adopted by Hyderabad MLAs was certainly not one. Is it correct to use physical force, throw things at a person, use abusive language and expect that to be considered a democratic protest?

"You showed on TV what happened at the last. But you did not show what happened in the beginning. My party had gone there first and asked Taslima Nasreen to withdraw her work and take back all her opinions, which had hurt the Muslims. But instead of that she started expressing those more strongly. She spoke derogatory things about Islam and Prophet Mohammad," said Akbaruddin Owaisi.

But what about M F Hussain's paintings of Hindu God's and Goddesses? Does he have a right to make those paintings?

"I condemn Hussain's depiction of Hindu Gods in the manner that he has. He was booked under the law and was forced to leave the country. And here we are giving amnesty to a writer who is from Bangladesh?"

On being asked whether he approves off the legal action against Hussain he said, "I condemn what he does. When he can be brought under the law of the country, why not Taslima Nasreen?"

Nafisa Ali responding to Akbaruddin Owaisi's comments said, "Hussain does not have the right to paint Hindu Gods in the nude. It is a disgrace and very hurtful. I don't appreciate Hussain's art. It should not be allowed to come into the public domain."

Is Akbaruddin Owaisi the right kind of leader for the Muslims at the moment? "Definitely not. The charges against Hussain were taken to court and probed by the authorities. If the Muslim leaders have a problem with Taslima Nasreen's writings, they must take it to court and address it legally. Why do on a rampage?" she asked.

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Responding to Nafisa Ali's comments, Akbaruddin Owaisi said it is sad that despite being a Muslim, Nafisa is pushing a Bangladeshi writer's case but fails to see the "20 crore Muslims that are hurt."

"All the secular minded people must come together and demand the Indian government to cancel the amnesty of Taslima Nasreen. We do not need such people in India," said Akbaruddin Owaisi.

He said that Dalai Lama too lives in India and enjoys amnesty but he has never voiced provocative statements that would hurt anyone.

Nafisa Ali concluded the argument by appealing the Muslim extremists to leave the author alone. She said, "Nobody reads Taslima Nasreen's books. I can say for sure that 99.99 per cent of Indians have never read her books. Why bother so much about her?"

However, Akbaruddin Owaisi said that Taslima Nasrin is someone who deserves banishment and that India "doesn't need people like her."

"People may or may not read her work. But in her press conferences, she has issued vengeful, controversial statements against Islam. We don't need such people in our country," said Akbaruddin Owaisi.

Final Comments: Are the critics of Islam being victimised by their own community?

Yes: 85 per cent

No: 15 per cent

<table width="248" border="0" cellpadding="3" cellspacing="2"> <tr bgcolor="#AE111D"> <td height="20" valign="middle" bgcolor="#DB1524"><div align="center"><strong class="Wtext11">DURING THE UPA REGIME</strong></div></td> </tr> <tr bgcolor="#e7e7e7"> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" />1989: Fatwa against Salman Rushdie for Satanic Verses. The book was viewed as blasphemous by Muslims clerics.</td> </tr> <tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" />1993: In a series of newspaper columns Taslima was critical of the treatment of women under Islam. As a result Islamic fundamentalists issued a fatwa and offering a bounty for her death. Later, the government banned her book <i>Lajja</i>, (a Bangla word meaning shame), which drew attention to the torture of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh. This brought more calls for her death, and her passport was confiscated by the Bangladesh.</td> </tr> <tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /> 1994: Organised groups identified with Islamic fundamentalists demanded her execution by hanging after she was quoted in <i>The Statesman</i> stating that "the Quran should be revised thoroughly." </td> </tr> <tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" /> 2005: Fatwa against Sania Mirza for wearing short tennis skirts.</td> </tr> <tr> <td width="248" height="20" valign="middle" class="Btext11 pLeft10"><img src="/pix/common/bullet.gif" width="7" height="7" alt="bullet" />2006: Outrage among Muslims over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Prophet's cartoons were published by a Danish newspaper. A UP minister promised Rs 51 crore for the cartoonist's head. UP Shariat court issued death decree for the cartoonist.</td> </tr> </table>
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