Department of WTF

Feminist scholar Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch) has jumped into the row over the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. As you may recall, the novel stirred some strong feelings within the Bangladeshi community back in 2003, and now that a production company has started work on a film adaptation, some people want the filming to be taken elsewhere. (There are, it should be said, other people from the community who think filming on location would be great for business and should be encouraged. Not that this makes for great newspaper copy. But, moving on.)

Greer’s stance, or however much of it I can decode, seems to be that a) Monica Ali is not really Bengali, because she has “allowed herself to forget” her mother tongue; b) she is British, and has a British point of view ; c) she is not ostracized because she went to Oxford and lives in a nice neighborhood; therefore d) she doesn’t really have what it takes to write about poor Bengalis from Brick Lane; and, as a corollary, e) Bangladeshi Britons are better off not reading the book or seeing the movie.

This Ali-bashing is getting really tiresome. Yes, she made a poor stylistic choice with Hasina’s voice, and no, Brick Lane is not without fault. But to claim to know what Monica Ali’s intentions are when she wrote the novel is just plain ridiculous. Is Greer a mind reader? And to condemn Ali because she dared—dared!—to go to Oxford is even more stupid. Since when has education been an impediment to writing? What gives Greer the right to decide whether Monica Ali is Bangladeshi enough? And what gives her the right to tell Bangladeshi Britons whether they should see the movie or not?

In other developments, Salman Rushdie fired off a response to the editors, in which he took issue with Greer’s characterization of Ali, and added

At the height of the assault against my novel The Satanic Verses, Germaine Greer stated: “I refuse to sign petitions for that book of his, which was about his own troubles.” She went on to describe me as “a megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin”. Now it’s Monica Ali’s turn to be deracinated: “She writes in English and her point of view is, whether she allows herself to impersonate a village Bangladeshi woman or not, British.” There is a kind of double racism in this argument. To suit Greer, the British-Bangladeshi Ali is denied her heritage and belittled for her Britishness, while her British-Bangladeshi critics are denied that same Britishness, which most of them would certainly insist was theirs by right. “Writers are treacherous,” Greer says, and she should know.

Touché.

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