Thursday, June 18, 2015

Interview with a Pakistani Ex-Extremist: "Osama Bin Laden Was one of my Heroes." Pt. 1

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ooocha/3051971074


The night that Osama bin Laden died, I cried because I was so sad. He was one of my heroes.

The night I accepted in my heart that I was no longer a Muslim, I cried because I was so happy.

It took me almost 7 years to let go of my belief system, 7 years of on and off, doubt and restored faith. I kept a journal and wrote whatever I believed in at different times. 

However, I do not wish to focus on why I left Islam. Instead, I want to focus on why I wanted to join Hamas. I want to highlight the consequences of dangerous beliefs. In my case and in the case of many others today, it was religious belief that caused me to think this way. I was inspired to join Hamas by the anti-Semitism contained in the Hadith and Quran, plus the belief that if I get killed in the way of Allah, that would be the best thing that could happen to me.

I am in my final semester of my bachelors. I reside on my University campus and go home for a weekend every couple of months to visit my parents. 

A year and a half ago, my roommate and I made plans to join Hamas after our graduation. Our skills as electrical engineers would be useful to the cause. My roommate has an uncle who has fought for Hamas, actually. All we needed to do was to give him a phone-call after our bachelors and we would have been well on our way towards Palestine...to kill Jews or get killed by Jews.

Now, I'm an ex-muslim atheist and my roommate tells me he thinks I should be killed. Others in my class who are pro-Taliban and pro-Hamas also think this. I don't know about the intentions of other classmates, but my roommate still wants to join Hamas. I don't know if my friendship with him is more important to him than his religion - which requires him to kill apostates like me, and I don't want to know the answer either.

In the beginning, I used to stay up late to make sure my roommate fell asleep before going to bed myself and I would wake up earlier than him. After some time, I got tired of being paranoid.

Previously, we used to talk about how to get to Palestine, the end times, the need for the Ummah (global Muslim community) to unite and take back our former glory etc. Now we rarely talk at all. We don't go to eat together, we don't joke, we don't watch movies together. Whereas formerly, we were the closest of friends, going to join Hamas was a secret between us. I had not even told my parents about it.

There is an invisible wall between us now. Our room is the most quiet room there is in the hostel (dorms). I'm just waiting for the day when I get out of here. I guess he probably wants to get away from me too, break off all ties.

I have not come out as a non-believer to my parents yet. They are very devout Muslims. I don't know if they love me more or if they love Muhammad more. What I do know is that politics, socio-economic conditions are not the only things that motivate people to join organizations like Hamas. Religion is a major factor, if not -the- factor.

How else could someone like me, who had every other opportunity in the world to live a life as law-abiding citizen, plan to join an organization like Hamas? This is a question people are not willing to ask, certainly Western liberals aren't asking this question. I think they don't ask this question because the answer is too scary for them.

I do not know if or when one of my classmates might report me to the authorities here in Pakistan (they usually get ex-Muslims in jail on blasphemy charges) or kill me personally, but if I stay silent, more and more people are going to get killed and people will still be asking the wrong questions.

This is the reason I write this email to you. I have tried and failed to have this conversation with others. You are one of the few people I've come across that is brave enough to criticize Islam.

-Imad*

*Name has been changed.

***

This was an email I received from a very intelligent 22 year old man that I'd been conversing with primarily on Facebook (before they decided to shut down my account for using a pseudonym)

Imad shares the same ancestry as me, the same pigmentation, he was born into the same religion as me…his journey has led him to the same place of rejecting it as me. Though we are both godless, Pakistani ex-Muslims I cannot personally relate to his story. I have never, despite growing up in Saudi Arabia and living in Pakistan, come across someone who actively wanted to participate in terrorism to serve Allah. 

I have spoken with *many* apologists for such things, but never someone willing to kill and die themselvesI found our chat fascinating, frightening - and considering his about-turn in terms of believing such things…inspiring. 

Imad is a living example that people can be reached through information, exposure, and through humanizing 'the other'. It gives me great hope in this political climate, to speak with someone like him.

His reference to Western Liberals was especially pertinent. As an ex-Muslim observer, I too find that one strain of Western liberals sees Islam as a faith that is routinely misrepresented, misunderstood and maligned. In some ways it is, but certainly not by those who've lived it. A plurality of experiences must be accepted, ex-Muslims must be accepted - as opposed to the outright denial/defensiveness that occurs currently. Harmful, dated ideas must be acknowledged as such if we are to re-evaluate and create a more tolerant Islam. 

Perhaps the root of this defensiveness lies in a combination of both wanting to blindly support minorities (a noble, yet naive and simplistic intention) and wanting to duly oppose right-wing xenophobia. Somewhere in the midst of that, there exist Western liberals completely erasing the people victimized by Islam, mistreated by many Muslims (while simultaneously hypocritically championing human rights).

I had so many questions to ask Imad. Like many others, I wanted to try and understand what motivates educated young people to turn to savagery. What drives their willingness to kill and their blind hatred of others? 

I myself am attacked online for being a critic of religious ideology. And, as the writer of the only Pakistani sex blog there is, I'm a recipient of death threats, rape threats, from people who believe similarly to what Imad also once believed. He provided me with a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the other side. 

We had a lengthy email conversation, he was very open and eloquent in his answers. Not at all what I'd expect from someone who once held such extreme, regressive views. Clearly very bright, and an excellent storyteller. 

His tale is such an important one too. It gives us a chance to hear it from someone once stuck inside that mindset themselves. Please share his words....everyone must hear what he has to say.

Join me next time for our interview.

A huge thanks to my patrons: Fred, Martin, Steve, Ruthless Atheist, Katrin, Berivan, Harpreet, Lisa Fontaine, Humanist Agressor, Jesus&Mo, Pastafarian Woman, Know the Question, Mb Cunney, Ali, Leneke Van Houten, Alberto and Yasmien - your support means a lot and will help me allocate more time towards writing and drawing!

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