Tiffin Talk: On the Trail of Taslima by Hanifa Deen

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11 October 2012 12:45 pm

On the Trail of Taslima: See the Media Release

Hanifa Deen’s book, first published under the title The Crescent and the Pen in 2000, is about Islamic fundamentalism, mythmaking and international literary politics. It is the story of Taslima Nasreen, a former medical doctor and protest writer who shot to international fame in 1993 at the age of thirty-four after she was accused of blasphemy by religious fanatics in Bangladesh and her book Shame was banned. In order to escape a warrant for her arrest, the controversial writer went underground and, as the official story has it, fled to the West where she became a human rights celebrity, a female version of Salman Rushdie.

Taslima Nasreen almost became a household name in 1994, when she was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, and she was feted by presidents, chancellors, mayors, and famous writers and intellectuals around Europe. Today she is still remembered and widely admired as a modern-day feminist icon who fought the bearded fundamentalists in her country. This is the official story that most people are familiar with, and the one that is widely believed by Taslima supporters around the world. However, as Deen’s book reveals, the true story behind the international campaign to save Taslima has never been told until now.

Following on the trail of Taslima, the author questions the reasoning behind the international "crusade" to save her. In the process, Deen debunks much of the current thinking that has shaped Islam into the new global enemy. She discovers that the story of what really happened to Taslima is a fascinating labyrinth where memory and myth have merged, the tale having acquired a life of its own with a hundred different authors.

The book was at least five years in the making, Deen said, during which she traversed many countries worldwide, interviewed over 100 people, and sifted through over 200 hours of taped interviews. Eventually, she said, she had to realise she had all of the answers she was ever going to get, and must start writing. Through her thorough research and investigations, she hoped to "discover the woman behind the poems and essays," she said.

About Hanifa Deen:

After teaching for fifteen years, Hanifa Deen entered the public service where she held various positions: Deputy Commissioner, Multicultural & Ethnic Affairs Commission WA and Director Community Education, Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission; she also served as Hearing Commissioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission of Australia and on the Board of Directors of Special Broadcasting Services (SBS).

In 1994 she began a third career, as an author of narrative non-fiction books. Her first book Caravanserai: A Journey Among Australian Muslims won a NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 1996. Broken Bangles, her best-selling book on the lives of women in Pakistan and Bangladesh, was short-listed in 1998 for the WA Premier’s Literary Award. Deen’s next book The Jihad Seminar was short-listed for the Australian Human Rights Commission Literary Non-fiction Award in 2008.

In her spare time Deen appears at Writers’ Festivals around Australia; she also speaks at many different social justice and human rights forums. Deen is the Editor of a new Online Magazine, Sultana’s Dream that she started in 2011. She is also an Hon. Fellow at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, Melbourne University.