Islamists seek to hang Dhaka's feminist gadfly: Writer's barbs about Koran have infuriated the clergy, writes Tim McGirk in New Delhi

MUSLIM extremists in Bangladesh are renewing their demand that Taslima Nasreen, the feminist and writer, be arrested and executed for blasphemy.

Ms Nasreen, 31, already had one fatwa - an Islamic pronouncement that she deserves to die - on her head for her criticism of the way Muslim women are treated in Bangladesh. Now she has two. The latest came after she was quoted in the Indian press, erroneously, she later claimed, as saying that 'the Koran should be revised thoroughly' in regard to women's rights.

The reaction in Bangladesh was furious. A respected cleric, Moulana Amini, chairman of the Bangladesh Ulema Committee, said that her comments were even more 'filthy' than those made by Salman Rushdie, who faces a fatwa from Iranian mullahs. The cleric demanded the arrest and execution of Ms Nasreen, who has 24-hour police protection around her flat on the ninth storey of a Dhaka high-rise.

Over 5,000 militants of the right-wing Jamiat Islami party marched through Dhaka's streets last week and unfurled a banner that read: 'We demand hanging of those who blaspheme the Holy Prophet and Islam.'

The party leaders warned that unless Ms Nasreen is jailed, they will stir up unrest against Bangladesh's Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia. An Islamic party leader, Azharul Islam, described Ms Nasreen as 'an apostate appointed by imperialist forces to vilify Islam'.

Ms Nasreen may be acting out of bravado or navete. She relishes publicity, and the controversy coincides with the publication of her novel, Lajja (Shame), in English and French. When she tries to cool the anger of the Islamic clergy, her choice of phrase can be unwise.

In a letter to the Calcutta daily, the Statesman, Ms Nasreen complained that her remarks on the Koran had been misquoted.

But she added: 'I hold the Koran, the Vedas, the Bible, and all such religious texts determining the lives of their followers, as out of place and out of time . . . We have to move beyond these ancient texts if we want progress.'

The clerics found this statement even more blasphemous than the first misquotation. Death by hanging, they said, was the only possible punishment for her.

Many admirers who applauded her descriptions of the abuses suffered by women in Bangladesh are worried that, with her barbs against the Koran, she has strayed too far. The hatred she has aroused among the clergy will not cool quickly.

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