Art & Culture

Truth is, Islam isn't compatible with democracy

Taslima Nasreen
Taslima NasreenNov 08, 2016 | 11:20

Truth is, Islam isn't compatible with democracy

I have come because I have nothing else but India, and because I hope India will one day truly encourage free thought. I wish to live in this country and be allowed the freedom to express my opinions even if they are contrary to others'.

I wish for neighbouring nations to learn from India's example and be inspired, they who yet do not know the meaning of the freedom of speech.


Not that I have a completely stress-free life in India either; the old threats have continued and taken on new forms.

Nearly 12 years ago, an imam from Kolkata had set a price of 20,000 rupees for my head, a sum that had soon increased to 50,000 and eventually to an unlimited sum.

A director of the Muslim Law Board from Uttar Pradesh had also declared a reward of 500,000 rupees, while an ISIS offshoot from Kerala had put up a post on Facebook calling for my assassination.

A leading politician had expressed his ire over whatever I had allegedly written against Islam years ago and declared that I should not be allowed any access to the media to express any views whatsoever on Islam.

Everything that I was made to go through - the ban on my book, my exile from West Bengal, stopping my articles from being published in newspapers and journals, stopping the telecast and production of the TV series written by me - was a result of the government's vote bank politics and blatant appeasement of the fundamentalist elements.

A politics built on sycophancy is the first sign of a rotting democracy. Aren't our political mavericks aware that fanatics seek to plunge society into darkness, that they are against human rights and women's rights, and that they consider any opinion contrary to theirs a sort of violation?


Writers across the world are being persecuted, whipped, tortured, incarcerated and exiled. But, leave alone dictatorships, even democratic governments are no longer interested in safeguarding the freedom of speech and expression.

Whenever I try to point out the significance of such a fundamental right, I am informed that even the freedom of speech must have its limitations and that it cannot be used to hurt someone's sentiments.

Wouldn't it be extremely difficult to ensure that you never hurt someone's sentiments?

People keep hurting us, intentionally or not, by words or deeds. Our world is populated by a multitude of opposing mindsets.

They clash and hurt each other constantly but they also have an inbuilt mechanism to manage hurt. Unfortunately, a few bigots within Islam use the excuse of injured sentiments to cause further mischief, refusing to listen or be placated. It is a moment of crisis for democracy when a citizen is robbed of their right to speak and express their opinions.

Social change makes it necessary that a few feathers will be ruffled and a few egos will be wounded. It hurts people's sentiments when you try to separate religion and the State, when you attempt to abolish misogynist laws; good things cannot be achieved without hurting religious sentiments.

Exile: A Memoir; Rs 599; Penguin Randomhouse. (Photo credit: Google)

A lot of people had been outraged when the Crown and the State were being forcibly separated in the Continent. Galileo's and Darwin's views had upset many pious people of their times. The superstitious are routinely offended by the evolution and advancement of science.

If we stop expressing our opinions because someone will be hurt by them, if we curb the growth and development of scientific knowledge, if we forcibly try to stall the march of civilisation, we will end up inhabiting a stagnant quagmire, bereft of knowledge and growth.

If the objective is to say exactly what everyone would love to listen to, then we would have no need for the freedom of speech and expression. Such rights are important primarily for those whose opinions usually don't follow the status quo.

Freedom of speech is the freedom to say something you might not like to hear. Those who never hurt other's sentiments do not need the freedom of speech.

A State that chooses to side with those who seek to oppose such freedoms, instead of ensuring that they are brought to book, will be responsible for its own eventual annihilation.

Some time back one such draconian law against freedom of speech was abolished by the government of India. I was among those who had worked towards this goal and our success was a significant acknowledgement of the systematic persecution many have had to go through because of such laws.

I have had to face it too, which is why I am glad to have been part of such a reform initiative, despite not being a pure-born citizen of India. The world is constantly vigilant that no one hurts the sentiments of those who are opposed to human rights and women's rights.

When will the world learn to see all as equal? When will it learn to stop pleasing extremists and begin according respect to reason and humanism instead?

This crisis is not India's alone; it is being felt across the world. It's not so much a battle between two faiths but a war between two opposing world views - the secular and the fundamentalist, the progressive and the prejudiced, the rational and the superstitious, between awareness and ignorance, freedom and enslavement.

In this fight I know whose side I am on; I am forever in favour of my opponents' freedom of opinion even if I do not wish to support or respect it. My lack of support does not mean that I will attack my opponent during their morning jog, or shoot them in public, or hack them to death.

I will neither kiss nor wound my opponent; I will instead express my opinions through my writings. If someone does not like what I have to say, they have the right to respond to my opinions in kind - in words. They do not have the right to kill me.

This is a basic condition for the freedom of speech which many fanatics wilfully choose to ignore. Can faith be sustained thus? There were once so many religions and yet so few exist to this day.

Where are the imperious gods of the Greeks and where is their Olympus? Where are the powerful deities of the Romans or the exotic divinities of the Egyptian pharaohs?

They have been cast into history, just like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism too will be forgotten one day, to be replaced by an epoch-appropriate new faith or a rationalist and scientistic outlook.

The terrorists at the Dhaka café were around twenty years old. They were not poor, not illiterate. Heavily indoctrinated in Islam, they shouted "Allahu Akbar" while slaughtering people. Those who could recite a verse from the Quran were spared while others were tortured and hacked to death with machetes. Those terrorists had nothing but religion as their guide.

Young men have been brainwashed with Islam, at home, madrasas and mosques. They have been fed the belief that non-believers, non-Muslims and critics of Islam should be exterminated.

By killing them, they have been convinced, they will go to heaven. They have also been taught that jihad is mandatory for every Muslim and Muslims should strive to turn Dar-ul-Harb (the Land of the Enemy) into Dar-ul-Islam (the Land of Islam).

In the early 1990s, when I was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists, a fatwa was issued against me, a price set on my head, and hundreds of thousands of Muslim fundamentalists took to the streets demanding my execution; meanwhile, the intellectuals remained silent.

The government, instead of cracking down on the fundamentalists, filed a case against me on charges of hurting the religious sentiments of people. I was forced to leave the country and that was the beginning of what today's Bangladesh is - a medieval and intolerant nation of bigots, extremists and fanatics.

Without allowing criticism of Islam, it will be difficult for Muslim countries to separate the State and religion, to make personal laws based on equality, or to have a secular education system.

If this does not happen, Muslim countries will forever remain in darkness, breeding and training people indoctrinated by religion to not tolerate any differences, and where women will never enjoy the right to live as complete human beings. People like to believe that Islam is a religion of peace.

I, however, have witnessed the opposite since my childhood. The time has come for people to unequivocally tell the truth and be willing to listen to it too. Islam and Islamic fundamentalism don't have too many differences; Islam isn't compatible with democracy, human rights, women's rights, freedom of expression.

You will not be able to kill terrorism by killing terrorists. You have to kill its root cause. You have to stop brainwashing children with religion. In the present scenario, a call for sanity and introspection is as good as a cry in the wilderness. This must end.

The good and the sensible must break their silence; the inaction of the good is the asset of the malevolent. This is how the world will continue to endure - ignorance, stupidity and bigotry walking hand in hand with awareness and intelligence.

The narrow-minded and the political will forever seek to plunge society into darkness and chaos, while a handful of others will always strive for the betterment of society and to have good sense prevail.

It's always a few special people who seek to bring about change; that is how it has always been. I hope no one else is exiled for being different ever again. I hope no one ever has to suffer the ignominy I went through.

(Reprinted with publisher's permission.)

Last updated: November 10, 2016 | 11:41
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy