Friday, November 30, 2007

Feminist author rewrites novel after death threats from Muslim extremists

A feminist author in India has been forced to alter her work because of threats from Muslims:

A feminist author is to rewrite her autobiography after she was forced to flee from Muslim extremists who placed a bounty on her head.

Taslima Nasreen, 45, a former doctor, said today that she hoped that the move would appease fundamentalist groups and end a controversy that forced her to leave Calcutta last week.

Ms Nasreen had claimed that the religious references in Dwikhandito, which means Divided, are sourced from “universally accepted” books on Islamic history.

Today she relented under pressure and said that “controversial lines” relating to Islam from the autobiographical novel would be removed.

“The book was written in 2002, based on my memories of Bangladesh in the 1980s, during which time secularism was removed from the Bangladesh constitution. I wrote the book in support of the people who defended secular values. I had no intention to hurt anybody’s sentiment,” she said today from a secret location.

“I have done what I have never done in my life. I have compromised even in a secular India.” She added that she hoped she would now be able to “live peacefully” in India.

Prashant Mukherjee, her publisher in Calcutta, refused to divulge the exact text or the nature of the sentences that were deemed particularly offensive by Islamic clerics, but said two paragraphs would be deleted.

Mr Mukherjee said that the Muslim-born author, who was whisked to a safe house near Delhi by federal security officers, had instructed him not to reveal the content for fear of stoking communal tensions further.

“I can tell you that we thought it to be historical and true and that it would not give rise to any controversy,” he said. “It’s nothing extraordinarily poisonous against Islam but these people are hypersensitive.”

The publisher is not releasing any more copies of the unedited book, which has sold more than 30,000 copies in the original language since it was published in 2003. It has also been translated into Hindi.

Ms Nasreen was hounded out of Calcutta after widespread violence during a strike by a collection of minority groups demanding the cancellation of her visa. She had been living in the city since 2004 after returning from Europe.

The Indian Government has pointed out that the author is a guest in the country, which is home to 140 million Muslims, and should behave like one. However, it has promised to host her at least until her visa expires in March.

Ms Nasreen, who describes herself as a “secular humanist”, fled her homeland of Bangladesh in 1994. Her other works, including the 1994 novel Lajja (Shame), have provoked extremists to call for her execution for blasphemy.

Some of the Muslim clerics, who issued a fatwa against her and put a 100,000 rupee (£1,200) bounty on her head, said that if she had expressed regret at what she had written by withdrawing the offensive sections, then the “matter should be closed”.

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