Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reclaiming the Left : The Space Between Terror & Trump

Dear Readers, 

some of you have asked for a transcript to my speech at the Non Conference this past weekend. So here it is. Thank you to those who came out (even though I was only there via skype) , and thank you to those who listened via Soundcloud. It is your support that motivates me to keep speaking up, in the face of so much hatred from all sides. 


Much Love,
Eiynah


(here is a link to the audio. The sound is a bit rough during the first minute, my apologies...but then the event 'noise' is no more after that) 

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Hello doubters, skeptics, heathens, reformers and apostates. Thank you for coming out today, its an honour to be speaking to you.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an ex-Muslim…a Pakistani-Canadian blogger illustrator and children’s book author…

My name is Eiynah, well its not my real name…and there’s a reason for that

…and also a reason for why you don’t see me standing up there in front of you today. I would’ve loved to have been there, lots of people I wanted to meet. And this is one of the *many* opportunities I’ve had to miss out on, because of safety concerns….

Unfortunately, in a world where leaving Islam is met with almost no allyship , where instead it goes without saying, that it will be met with death threats…and rape threats too... if you’re a woman...

In a world where being tainted with the word "islamophobe" can have serious effects on your career, social life… unfortunately....a world like that just doesn’t make me feel safe enough to publicly come out of the ‘apostate closet’ as it were. 

Perhaps someday my circumstances will be different, but for now…you’ll have to hear me from behind a screen….it was either that, or I show up in a burqa… I opted for the non burqa option. 

So screen it is... 

----

Something that really colours my views on religion is having grown up in an Islamic theocracy… Saudi Arabia. 

I grew up there as a Pakistani expat, and lived in a compound for foreigners, a reverse amish compound if u will…where within the safety of the compound walls, there was some sense of normalcy… no morality police, no need to dress modestly...

Life was great as a kid in the artificial bubble of a western compound …till you had to leave for some reason, to get groceries, or go to the mall, etc. That was when we’d encounter the "muttawas", who were tasked with enforcing shariah and policing morality…literally - all part of our friendly neighbourhood Committee for The Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice

Orwellian... 

...I know

They walked around hitting women’s ankles with a cane if their headscarves slipped….there was always a lingering fear when you entered the public sphere as a woman….anything could happen. It did to my mom when I was little - I witnessed a muttawa whip his cane at her ankle as she passed by. I was terrified. We scurried past him as quickly as we could, and my mom fixed her headscarf… but the fear and disgust at enforced religious modesty never quite left me. 

Imagine my surprise as an immigrant, moving to a secular country from an Islamic theocracy, relieved to be leaving extreme religiosity behind… Imagine my surprise in Canada...when face veils are trotted out as some sort of symbol of liberal tolerance - the women who choose to veil, and who fight for the right to veil are our trump equivalents ... they are our extreme bigots (I’m not referring to the women who have no choice of course)….

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In a bizarre twist of fate -here in the west- conservative muslims are tight with the liberals. The term 'strange bedfellows' doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

When western liberals betray liberals from muslim backgrounds...those of us who fight to break free from the orthodox interpretations of our birth religion are left abandoned. 

Our every effort is thwarted by those in the west who share our values but fail to be allies… who fail to stand with us, support us in our extremely difficult task of walking against the tide of our strict community. There are those who will cheer and laugh when Christianity is being mocked on late night TV, but will try to silence those of us with muslim background who only want the same privilege…of poking fun at the absurdities, intolerance and inconsistencies we have grown up with. 

In this time of trump and terrorism, I ...as a liberal ex-muslim find myself walking a narrow tightrope... every day… because the conversation is constantly being volleyed between two shrieky extremes… the 'ban all muslims' crew, and the 'everything is Islamophobia' crew. Both of which are problematic, feed off one another, and not at all accurate in their assessments of the issues we face today, nor in how they think we should deal with such issues. 

One of the biggest problems, nowadays,  is Islamic extremism and radicalization. 
A close second is the reactionary anti-muslim sentiment which solves nothing…
Another is the denial of any problems within Islam…

It is the spaces *between* these concerns, these inaccuracies we must occupy and grow… we need to foster and cultivate a liberal critique of Islam which deals with the problems we’re facing as a global community, in unison...not in divided tribalism or bigotry. 

Being an *ex* muslim in this time is interesting, It’s a time where people are scrambling to defend Islamists or Trumpists, where people are looking for an easy solution.

It puts us apostates in a unique position, where the mainstream left don’t want to have anything to do with us, lest they be labeled Islamophobes…and parts of the right are constantly trying to co opt our words, our struggle to make xenophobic, anti-muslim points.

Its a hard position to be in…because either you go it basically alone, or you accept unwanted support. 

***

I have a problem with the word Islamophobia, because it conflates people and ideology, which is something i spend majority of my time highlighting the difference between. Terms like Islamophobia make it easy for muslim conservatives to accuse critics of bigotry. 

As an apostate, my death is commanded in many interpretations of the religion, simply for turning my back on the faith….why would I not be terrified of such an ideology? 

At the same time, some of the people I love most in the world are muslims, my parents who raised me, who were great secular role models….who didn’t force religion on us….*this* is the difference between Islam and Muslims. 

I love and treasure many muslims…it is islam i don’t love. 

I am a critic of the religion, but also of anti muslim bigotry… this is a statement that many people find confusing,  contradictory even… because the separation of ideas and people is not as clear yet, as it needs to be. 



Apologists cannot make this distinction…for them any criticism of the faith is a direct attack on them… and also anti muslim bigots are unable to separate people from ideas….for them each and every muslim embodies, lives by and endorses every single verse in scripture. For them, much like apologists... Muslims *are* Islam…

This is simply untrue... easily disproved by the many different ways and degrees to which people practice. 

..And this...is the difference I work so hard to make clearer. 

We won’t get anywhere in this discussion if we can’t unwed people from ideas. It is of utmost importance to demonstrate that our critique comes from a genuine place…and not one of malice...

It is the left I and others like me hope to reclaim, we must once again stand up for liberal ideas and humanity in this battle of extremes…we must be careful not to glorify purity culture, slut shaming, religious orthodoxy, when it comes to minorities….we’re in this together…pushing back against Trump by denying problems in Islam just isn’t helping, we need to face the problems head on. 

I once wrote an anti homophobia children’s book set in Pakistan, the first of its kind... My Chacha is Gay, (which means my uncle is gay) - and for this innocent book about love, I was deemed "worthy of death", an "enemy of god"…people even wished death and venereal diseases on my fictional character Chacha…



But despite that...

It was wonderfully embraced by schools in the Toronto area - at first… till religious (mostly muslim) parents complained, and even threatened to sue the school board. Islamic websites wrote panicked articles about it. They claimed the book was a misrepresentation of their culture… that it was insensitive…  instead of continuing to use this resource to reach a demographic that clearly, evidently needed it, schools quickly backed off from using it in any official capacity again. 

And even though the updated Ontario Sex Ed curriculum includes teaching children about LGBT families, and homophobic bullying….this was not a resource they could touch. Perhaps because its author is a known Islamophobe…*gasp*  

...and in that struggle it is the LGBT muslim and Pakistani children that suffer the most, that are abandoned, that are pushed back into the closet because their parents deem it unnatural and unholy… these kids should not see normalization or support in school because that, is insensitive apparently. Insensitive to the archaic, misogynistic, homophobic over-a-thousand year old value system we seem inclined to want to defend over minorities within minorities….

Girls forced into hijabs by their families, will not see support from liberal western society, from liberal western feminists…. they will not see the dismantling of such backwards ideas… because people use their tolerance of intolerance as a yardstick for how progressive and 'anti Trump' they are. 

We must fight this silence, we must pry open that space between the two ends…we must reclaim the left or leave it open for the bigots & denialists to hijack the conversation. 

Don’t be silent on this, don’t make trump a hero…don’t make conservative islam, illiberal at its core, a symbol for liberalism in the west. 

And when you speak up, remember just who you're standing in solidarity with:

  • The girl who wrote to me, terrified during the month of Ramadan, that someone would find out about her disbelief, because she secretly ate a snack in the bathroom…exhausted from pretending to fast…from starving herself against her will….exhausted from keeping up a religious facade.. because the alternative was too risky. 
  • The woman who never refused her husband sex, because she believed it was her religious duty to satisfy him any time he asked…even if it was right after childbirth and she was held together with stitches…
  • The man who emailed me terrified of coming out as a non believer to his devout wife
  • The many young impressionable LGBT kids who are turned away by their communities, shunned by their religion, because only hetero married relationships are halal..
  • The countless others trapped in their faith-shaped cages


Each time you refuse to be silent, its all these shackles you help take apart…

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Thank you to my wonderful Patrons, it is because of your support I am able to grow and keep myself motivated to speak out in the face of so much hate, from all sides.  Much love xx

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1 comment:

  1. I am so with you. Have blogged on the issue at some length and included links to your blog. Not blogging much now but once the garden season ends I have to finish something on defining racism, which is relevant to the accusations of Islamophobia that fly around at the slighted deviation of political correctness. You might really enjoy the latest missive by the Archdruid, a wonderful thinker and dot connector in the doomsday bloggosphere. I had been struggling to express similar ideas. https://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.ca/2016/08/learning-from-failure-modest.html

    ReplyDelete