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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The slide

Taslima Nasreen’s jibe at England’s Moeen Ali reveals a slump, from secular hero to rebel without a cause

By: Editorial |
Updated: April 8, 2021 8:20:57 am
The slideThe cost of the many battles that Taslima Nasreen has fought over the years — for her right to speak against fundamentalist Islam and patriarchy — has been exile and banishment since 1994.

The cost of the many battles that Taslima Nasreen has fought over the years — for her right to speak against fundamentalist Islam and patriarchy — has been exile and banishment since 1994. That is not an inconsiderable price to pay. But not all the skirmishes that the Bangladesh-origin writer sallies into involve her as a free speech warrior against repressive religious practice. To pick on the much-loved English cricketer Moeen Ali, saying he would have joined ISIS if he were not “stuck with cricket”, reveals a performative, casual bigotry that plays to the basest instincts of social media.

It is unclear what prompted Nasreen’s jibe, but it is safe to say it had something to do with the personal choices of Ali, a deeply religious Muslim, who wears his “beard as a label”, and is an icon of inclusivity for Britain’s cricketing establishment. Ali is proof that it is possible for nations to outgrow the narrow-mindedness of a Tebbit test; that to be “Muslim, Asian and British” involves no conflict. That, perhaps, explains why Ali’s teammates, from Jofra Archer to Ben Duckett and Saqib Mahmood, have rallied around him after this gratuitous attack, and asked Nasreen to withdraw her comments.

Nasreen’s experience of religion is obviously radically different from Ali’s. It entitles her to her suspicion and scepticism of organised religion. But, increasingly, the writer appears to have cast herself as a defender of secular values in a morality play where Islamophobia against ordinary believers can be passed off as courage. Both secularism and religion are invested in the dignity of human beings and their right to fashion their lives differently from others. It is hardly surprising when religious fundamentalists fail to uphold such values. But it is worrying when a writer like Nasreen fails to see fellow humans without the blindfold of prejudice. Bigotry is, of course, the price of free speech. But that does not obscure the slide of Taslima Nasreen, from secular hero to rebel without a cause.

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