I am very happy to announce that Taslima Nasrin, whose life was threatened by the same people behind the brutal murder of at least three Bangladeshi bloggers in recent months, is now safely in the United States and out of harm’s way. I want to share with you how this happened because a lot of people need to be thanked and it provides a great example of humanists coming together to help someone in need.
On May 5th, the night before I was leading a civics/lobby day for CFI Michigan, I got an email from Taslima that included a link to this news report from India about the direct threat made on her life by the same people who murdered Avijit Roy and two other atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. She had been living in India, a few hundred miles from where those murders took place.
When I got this email, I was on my way to Lansing to meet with Michael De Dora, head of CFI’s Office of Public Policy, who was helping lead the lobby day. Michael and I had talked a few times in the past year or so about the need for some sort of program that would help get atheists who are at great risk, primarily in Muslim countries, to the West where they could be safe. We both agreed that it would be best if one of the big atheist/humanist groups would do it.
When we met for dinner, I told him about the situation and he was very concerned. Late that evening, I sent an email to Dave Silverman of American Atheists, Ron Lindsay of the Center for Inquiry and Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, asking if any of them would be willing to put together a fundraiser to pay for Taslima’s flight to the U.S., set her up with a place to stay and provide for a few months to pay the bills while she establishes a life in this country.
I was willing to do the fundraiser myself if necessary, but that would have major tax implications for me at the end of the year. But I preferred that one of the big atheist non-profits did it because the contributions would be tax deductible, they would be able to put their institutional weight behind it, and they’re in a better position to administer the funds as needed. The next morning, as I was at the state capitol building sending people to and fro for meetings with legislators, I got an email back from Ron Lindsay saying that he would check with his staff to see if they could handle all of that.
At the same time, Michael was also communicating with Ron (literally, we were sitting in the same House office building cafeteria, both texting and emailing back and forth) and he told him that he would handle all of the logistics if necessary — whatever it would take to make sure Taslima was safe. By the end of that incredibly busy day, Ron had emailed back and said that the staff had “eagerly embraced” the opportunity to make this happen and that the amazing Debbie Goddard and Martina Fern, the new development director who was also in Lansing with us, had agreed to oversee the whole thing.
We decided that it was best to just go ahead and get the plane ticket and get her out of there as quickly as possible. We didn’t want to launch a big online fundraiser with her name on it before getting her out of India because we didn’t want to alert her would-be killers that they had to work quickly. At that point, FTB’s PhysioProf said that he had hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles and would be happy to use them to get the plane ticket.
A few words about Taslima, if you don’t know who she is. Taslima is a renaissance woman — a poet, novelist, physician and activist for atheism, humanism and feminism. That activism got her exiled from her native Bangladesh more than 20 years ago and put a high price on her head from Muslim extremists. She lived in Europe after being exiled, but settled in India in 2004. Alas, that was temporary as she was chased out of Kolkata and had to move to New Delhi.
She has spent the last 20+ years moving and hiding, never feeling truly safe, but the danger to her life has never been higher than it is now. Everyone involved in this process has been terrified for her and desperate to get her to where she would no longer have to hide in the shadows or look over her shoulder. Taslima is a beacon of light in the humanist community and a shining example of courage in the face of barbarism and brutality. And we now have the opportunity to help her build a new life free from the constant threats. I hope that all who can afford to do so will help us do that. You can donate here.
The people mentioned above deserve enormous gratitude. I want to personally thank Ron Lindsay and CFI for stepping up and making this possible, especially Michael De Dora, Debbie Goddard and Martina Fern. And I’d like to thank that PhysioProf guy, who may come off as gruff but is a deeply caring and compassionate person. All I did was make the connections, it’s all of those people who did the real work. CFI has issued a press release as well.
I also want to make a plea to the larger community that we make this process permanent, that we build some sort of program by which we can help others whose lives are threatened solely because they speak up for humanism, rationality, equality and human rights, to move to where they can be safe if they wish to do so. Taslima may be the best known of those people but she is hardly alone. There are, at bare minimum, dozens more living in hiding in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
It’s simply not acceptable that we allow this horrifying reality to continue. We can’t change the policies of the countries they live in at this point, but we can, with a strong fundraising effort and dedication, help them escape those dangers if they want to do so (it is never a trivial matter to leave one’s home, even under great threat, so the choice must be theirs). And I’m very happy to see that CFI is already in contact with two other bloggers from Bangladesh and are working with them on the same thing.