The Next Martyr

July 10, 1994

Political extremism camouflaged as religious fundamentalism has claimed another victim, the author Taslima Nasrin, who is on the run in her native Bangladesh while thousands of demonstrators attack her supporters and a $5,000 bounty is offered to anyone murdering her.

Dr. Nasrin, a physician, is a modern young woman in a largely backward and impoverished society of 120 million. Her writings have criticized religious practice and denounced male supremacy in the traditional Muslim marriage.

But the mobs in the streets of Dhaka and provincial cities, the bounty offered by a cleric and the arrest ordered by a Bangladeshi court are based on an untruth. An Indian newspaper, not Muslim, misquoted her as saying the Koran -- the holy book of Islam -- should be revised. What she told its reporter was that the Sharia, or religious law made by men, should be. A letter she wrote from hiding to the Bangladesh parliament making the distinction was of no avail in calling off the fury of the mob. Those fomenting it know better.

So Dr. Nasrin joins the Indian-born Briton, Salman Rushdie, on the list of Muslim-born modern authors marked for murder by clergymen who appropriate to themselves the right to pass anyone's death sentence as a way to control thought in narrow confines.

She is, in fact, a pawn in the effort of political extremists to make Bangladesh more theocratic than the numbers of Bangladeshis who want it so would justify. But she is entitled to write her conscience for anyone who cares to read her books, and she deserves personal security in asylum, preferably in her own country, but anywhere that freedom of conscience is valued.

The murderous intolerance brandished at Taslima Nasrin is only one strand of Islam, a religion that like Judaism and Christianity is rich in the varieties of interpretation and practice among a multitude of believers. In the Muslim world as in Christendom, the best answer to a bad book can only be a good book, and the effective refutation of blasphemy is truth. Those who presume to know whom God wants murdered are a menace to all around them.

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