Center for Inquiry helps relocate author, human rights activist.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: Exiled for more than two decades from Bangladesh for espousing the cause of women and denouncing religious fundamentalism, writer and human rights advocate Taslima Nasrin has now found a new home after spending eight years in New Delhi: New York.
Nasrin, 52, was flown out of New Delhi after she received death threats from Al Qaeda related groups who have been held responsible for the murder of three secular bloggers in Bangladesh – Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, and Ananta Bijoy Das, according to The Center for Inquiry (CFI), a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C.
Nasrin, a physician by training, has had a close association with CFI for several years now, and her presentation to CFI’s 2014 Women in Secularism conference was adapted into Free Inquiry’s February/March 2015 cover feature – ‘Why Secularism Is Necessary for Women.’ She is now an associate editor and frequent contributor for CFI’s magazine Free Inquiry, and has been a repeat speaker at their events.
Nasrin, who has lived in West Bengal too, prior to her stay in New Delhi, has long been reviled by religious fundamentalists. Her story of shuttling from one country to the other, to seek refuge and peace, and pursue her interests to empower women and make them aware of their rights, is arguably even more captivating than that of writer Salman Rushdie – a new Yorker himself – who has lived under the shadow of a fatwa on his life.
Recently, Nasrin voiced her concern for secular bloggers in Bangladesh, criticizing the government as not doing enough to help them. She said she has requested organizations in the US and Europe to give asylum to those whose lives are in danger.
CFI was quick to respond and come to the aid of Nasrin, who started to receive death threats recently, and was named as a priority for terrorist organizations. An emergency fund was established for her relocation to the United States. Nasrin landed in Buffalo, New York, last Wednesday, according to the CFI.
CFI says it is helping Nasrin with her food, housing and the means for her to be safely settled, but a spokesperson did not disclose to The American Bazaar, as to where she will settle down in the US eventually. An appeal is circulating internally with CFI members to raise funds, to help in settling her down safely. Her visa status is also not known, though it is likely that she has sought asylum.
CFI also says that any money raised in excess of what is necessary for Nasrin’s relocation, will go toward “a general freethought emergency fund to assist with the rescue of other atheist, humanist, and secular activists under threat.”
“Taslima is a truly international role model, as her work and her courage inspire people of all ages to question tradition, challenge dogma, and fight for human rights,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We could not stand by while her life was in danger, nor will we turn our backs on the other brave freethinkers in fear for their lives. I know our community will make a strong show of solidarity and give generously to this emergency fund.”
Michael De Dora, CFI’s representative to the United Nations, stated the cause CFI has undertaken – to help secular bloggers.
“I lost a valued friend and ally when Islamic extremists murdered Avijit Roy, and since then, two more secular writers have been taken from us,” he said. “While it is truly up to the authorities of countries like Bangladesh and others to rein in this threat, we’re going to do our part to keep these people safe. We’ll need the secular movement’s help to do it, and I know we can count on this community’s support.”
CFI and allied groups also plan to host congressional briefings at Capitol Hill on the threats to religious dissidents around the world on June 9, and on the specific situation in Bangladesh on June 10.