Gossip from Across the Pond

Warren Allen Smith shares his thoughts on two people he’s been in contact with recently.

James Randi

In March 2010, the sceptic James Randi, in a post and on a radio interview, came out as being homosexual at the age of 81.

James Randi
James Randi

Randi, on 9 April 2010, wrote to me, saying:

The reaction to my coming out has been VERY satisfactory, indeed!  Hardly a sour note in the HUNDREDS of responses I got!

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Warren!  In this small world, we’ll meet again, I’m sure!

To read more, see John Brand’s article, An amazing escape,  elsewhere in this issue.

Taslima Nasrin

More than 2,500 people attending an atheists’ convention in Melbourne, Australia, heard Southeast Asian feminist Taslima Nasrin speak about her exile from Bangladesh because of 5 fatwas issued by mullahs, followed by her being physically attacked in some places and finding she could not secure citizenship even in India.

Called the highlight speaker, Nasrin addressed Australia’s first-ever 2010 Global Atheist Convention, along with the Australian philosopher and Princeton University bioethicist, Peter Singer, and the British evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins.

As her close friend and editor ever since we met in 1996 at the 13th World Humanist Conference in Mexico City (I’m currently working on her 350-page My Exile for a German publisher – I’ve edited several other of her more than 30 books), I received her draft of what she’d say only a few days before she flew directly from India to Australia.  I re-wrote the beginning, knowing that she likely was a stranger to most of those assembled, so I recounted how her recently re-published 2007 article advising Muslim women to feel free not to wear the burqa, or head-to-toe veil, had resulted in 3,000 Muslim fanatics rioting, the newspaper’s office burned with a petrol bomb, and curfews being inforced after 2 were killed by police in an area that is southwest of New Delhi.

Taslima Nasreen
Taslima Nasreen

The 10-page lecture needed a stronger ending and some humour. I included how her mother had been angry at her calling Allah dumb, for the Qur’an states that the sun goes around the earth. Her mother had scolded her, saying if she said anything bad again about Allah, her tongue would fall off!

I was eight and had no idea that anyone’s tongue could do that. So I went to the bathroom, locked the door, and said “Allah is a son of a bitch, Allah is a son of a dog, Allah is a son of a pig’’ – all the slang we commonly use in Bengali. Then I became worried. Maybe my tongue really would fall off! However, a minute passed, then two, then five minutes, and my tongue was still there. I understood right there and then that I could say anything about Allah and my tongue would stay in my mouth.

See this report from the Hindustan Times. It and other journals reported that Nasrin was the only speaker to receive a standing ovation.

On 17 March, an eight-member gang attacked two newspapers in Mangalore, an Indian city of over 600,000, that had reprinted the article.

The University of Connecticut may provide her with a temporary home as a resident scholar in its English Department. Meanwhile, she literally remains a woman without a home. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at least had homes.

Related links
Warren Allen Smith
Global Atheist Convention
World Humanist Conference
Richard Dawkins (official website)
Taslima Nasrin (official website