Friday, February 3, 2017

Empowering Islamists under Trumpism

Apart from the glaring, 'handing ISIS a great recruiting tool' effect,  there are many other ways in which Islamists are being empowered in this climate. So many people exist on the edge of extremism, and Trump will tip them over & convince them, that yes they are at war with the West. 

This chaotic, potentially dangerous, and inhumane ‘muslim ban’ (which The White House is now saying isn’t a ban, after calling it a ban themselves on multiple occasions)...has many consequences…some of them obviously horrific…separating families, handcuffing children & generally creating chaos around the world - But other effects are less obvious, less noticeable...and can slip under our radars. 

It's important to keep an eye out for those. 


Islam is Being Held in Higher Regard Each Day

Amidst all the false accusations of ‘Islamophobia' even when people of muslim background would raise their voices to mildly critique something like misogyny or homophobia in their own communities….there were some people spouting legitimate anti muslim bigotry, right alongside them… 

Unfortunately, that has boiled over.

The resistance to allow open discussion of Islam, caused a massive failure to address grievances with Islamic extremism.

This left the floor open for the right to swoop in and fear monger, campaign from an angle of xenophobia…it couldn’t be more obvious than in a time like this. Where muslims are being singled out by the fucking president of the United States...and banned. 

This is a time where innocent muslims were shot while peacefully practising their faith, by a far-right, deranged Trump and Marine Le Pen supporter. People’s hijabs are being ripped off in the street, we hear of such stories more and more. The emboldened bigotry vibe seems infectious - people who were always slightly sympathetic, are more and more comfortable sharing their feelings now.  

What do right wing nationalists want exactly? What does Trump want? If he really hates muslims, he's achieving the opposite of making them a widely detested group.

Artwork by Shepard Fairey

In fact, he’s doing an excellent job of victimizing them to such a degree that Islam/Muslims are being held in higher and higher regard each day. Its becoming 'the anti Trump', the symbol of defiance…to a problematic degree actually. The pendulum always swings too far. 

It swung too far right in opposition of the left's defensiveness around Islam, and now it is swinging further in favour of islam. There are reactionaries on either side - and their pendulums are a' swingin'. 

The reasoned voices will become increasingly invisible. 

I try not to be hyperbolic, but on my worst days I fear we’re headed to a place where the polarization won’t stop till it gets to 'Nazis vs. Jihadists'

But that apocalyptic scenario is a whole other blogpost in itself. 


Muddying The Water 

Now, I’m a long time critic of hijab and Islamic modesty garb - but I come at it as a person who cares about equality, feminism, minority rights…compassion, and someone who truly wants the best for the Muslim community. I just feel the best would be a move towards secularism, a dismantling of orthodoxy and a shedding of its most patriarchal misogynistic symbols...and honest open conversation. 

From a previous post - artwork by yours truly

From a previous post - artwork by yours truly

There are also others who jump on this hijab-critical bandwagon, and because of them, we can almost never have a baggage-free and clear discussion about what an awful practice it really is. Those people are the xenophobes - who hate it because it’s different, its 'of the other'. They are not concerned with women’s rights…especially not with the rights of Muslims, be they men or women. They make that plain as day, repeatedly by participating in far-right, nativist movements, immigrant demonization, support for Trumpian bans…but they don’t hesitate to use “muslim women” as a point scoring technique in their displays of faux-minism. 

From a Pegida Rally in Birmingham in 2016
Image from here

Anne Marie Waters, co heads Pegida UK with 'white genocide' lunatic, Paul Weston and ex leader of the far right group EDL, Tommy Robinson. 

You may have seen these faux-minists come out in response to the hugely successful women’s march protest. Their caring about muslim women is limited to furthering their own agenda, and pointing the finger away from any feminist efforts in the west. 

These obscurantists continuously fall prey to the fallacy of relative privation, or “not as bad as” fallacy…. a silencing tactic commonly used by people on the right to minimize fights for equality in the West. Be they women’s rights, trans rights, whatever..

"Oh feminists in the West think its ok to parade around in silly pussy hats and protest? They have it so good here… what about women in the Middle East? They are being caned for immodesty, stoned for adultery. *Those* are the women you should be fighting for." 

All this is, is basically trying to shame those who want to better their situation here. 

I cannot stress this enough: Just because things are worse in Saudi Arabia, doesn’t mean we in the West cannot also fight for betterment on our scale. 

This is called progress. 

There will always be something worse to point to.

The islamic right also uses this tactic.. 

"Oh you think Islam is bad? Islam fought for women's rights...You should have seen what they were doing before Islam, burying girl babies. Be thankful you don’t have it as bad, and appreciate how far we’ve come." 

In Pakistan I always heard, "Why are you complaining about Pakistan… at least we don’t have morality police and enforced burqas like Saudi Arabia." 

One I often hear from fellow atheists is:

"Oh you pathetic bleeding heart liberals, fighting for trans rights? Here you are arguing about what pronouns to use while ISIS is throwing gay people off buildings. " 

From Trump Supporters:

"Oh you think Pence is bad? They *kill* gays in Saudi Arabia! "

"Oh you think Trump’s Muslim ban is bad? What about Saudi Arabia not letting any non Muslims into Mecca? What about THAT ban?" 

"Oh hindu nationalist extremists are bad? They only rarely kill ppl for eating beef, at least they aren’t suicide bombers."

and my personal favourite: “Oh you think Trump is bad, at least he’s better than Mohammed"

Yes, congrats he’s better than a 7th century desert warlord who married a child. His values as president of the US in 2017 are better than those in 7th century arabia…what a high bar you have! 

Not to mention, Isis is pretty much a gift to extremists and apologists of far-right movements everywhere. It’s the worst thing of our times, something they can always, always point to that they are better than… 

This is what people do when they don’t want to address the thing in question. 

The left has it’s versions of  'not as bad as' too, the same way it has it’s versions of faux-minists, like those who champion the hijab carelessly as a feminist symbol, or those who think Sharia apologist Sarsour was a good pick to lead the Women's march. 

And I’m sure we’ve all fallen prey to this fallacy at some point or another - but the levels of this I’m seeing on the right nowadays are astronomical, its a running theme not an occasional slip. Panicked flailing attempts at diverting attention from the total mess that Trump's created. 

There’s even a whole new type of 'stealth right' movement that insists its on the left….they insist they are not fans of Trump or Milo… but they spend unimaginable amounts of time defending these people they supposedly dislike, they spend a disproportionate amount of time criticizing those who oppose these people…(but i swear, they don’t like them or anything).  

(As for Milo protests and Nazi punches: for the record I’m against violence, and find it to be an ineffective tactic, one that sets a worrying precedent for people who others may perceive as ‘dangerous’. If we leave it up to the public to decide who’s dangerous, some will get it terribly wrong. And ‘dangerous' is subjective a hardcore theist, there’s nothing more dangerous than a charming, well spoken atheist who dismantles the terrible ideas so revered in holy books. This is a slippery slope that could effect ex-muslims, atheists, satanists…muslims even. This also fuels Milo’s fire, gives him more publicity, more support. I think that creative campaigns to peacefully and wittily protest his appearances would be more effective. 

So yes I feel all that, but I am also not compelled do defend him or Richard Spencer for days on end on social media, nor would I be compelled to defend or shed any tears over Anjem Choudary, if he got punched).


Ripe climate for Islamists to frame Criticism as Victimization

Non muddied water and clear distinctions/discussions are important now..more than ever. If you retweet, promote or associate with far-right critics of Islam, you are damaging this discussion, and making it harder. 

This climate of genuine muslim victimization is a time when extremists sneak in their rhetoric and leverage the situation for their benefit. Since the Muslim ban I have seen Islamists tweeting furiously against anyone critical of hijabs or any security or safety bans on modesty garb, like in the airport. This is being framed as further ‘victimization' of an already victimized group. 

Yes...Trump is victimizing muslims, we must strongly condemn and oppose it. 

But Islamism is an ongoing problem, allowing face coverings in places others are not allowed to cover should not be framed as part of this victimization. 

Hijabs on children should not be crept into the mainstream discussion as 'acceptable', just because, Trump is victimizing Muslims. 

Two things at once, Trump is an anti muslim bigot, hijabs on kids are also wrong. 

Trump is an anti muslim bigot, but that doesn’t mean that everything to do with Islam is automatically amazing and should be free from criticism. 

Two things at once.

Christian homophobia sucks, so does Muslim homophobia - and we still have a long way to go with rights for LGBT Muslims. Don’t let Islamists frame legitimate criticism in this time, as unfair scrutiny. 

There are more events now, being organized for people to wear the hijab 'in solidarity'… the hijab is a garment mostly used to oppress women in the Muslim world. 

There are kids events, card-making marathons  “to islam” "with love” ...cringe....cringe...cringe

I am 10000% for solidarity with muslims, but this is turning into fetishization of a religion. And one that commands more orthodoxy than other major present day ones.

Imagine this happening over Christianity…it’s just as cringeworthy to liberals of Muslim background who are struggling and fighting for change. 

Of course you stand for hijab, your goal *is* to keep women covered and less visible in the public sphere, ffs. 

You know how people in the west laugh at this christian persecution complex, mostly because there is no persecution whatsoever…*but* imagine if in an environment where Christians were legitimately being mistreated, people like Ken Ham swept in to push creationism in schools … free from scrutiny. And if you pushed back, you were automatically 'piling on'. Or if Westboro baptist wanted to push their nasty hateful agendas under the cover of Christian persecution. 

Be wary, is all I’m saying. Stand with muslims, yes...but don’t let anyone tell you Islam is above criticism. More important now, for us to take this discussion in a liberal direction, rather than let the far right own it. Maybe we can start chipping away at their hate, with better alternatives. 

I’m all for women having the right to choose their modesty coverings if they truly have a choice and they want to perpetuate this practice, but the disproportionate focus on women’s right TO wear something that majority of women wearing it in the world get forced into, is in incredibly bad taste…its preventing liberals from muslim backgrounds from gaining the same equality for women that has been won in the west.

Dressing children up in hijab is essentially sexualizing children. Something liberals in the muslim world have fought consistently against. It’s a garment meant to ‘protect women from the lust of men’ what sort of message are we glorifying here…

imagine how this message sounds to someone who has had run ins with morality police, who have enforced this type of modesty…here we are, in the West... promoting campaigns that are telling people to ‘cover up for a day’, akin to 'try this chastity belt for a day.' 


Don't let 'anti-Trump' become synonymous with 'Islam is awesome', similarly... don't let Islam-critical perspectives be conflated with pro-Trump illiberal, intolerant ones. We must open another door, for liberal, compassionate critique of Islam as with any other religion.


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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Down with the Left-Right Binary

The following is a guest post by Jason Liggi, it doesn't reflect my views exactly... I've been feeling more united and connected with the left than ever, since Trump has been elected. Of course the left is as flawed as it was pre Trump, but having the right in power shows me just how many values I do share with the left. That said, I can completely relate to feeling this way, I've been there myself. So I thought this was a great piece to share for those who may be feeling unanchored in these turbulent times. 

Read Jason's other guest blog 'The Alt Right's Dangerous Pseudo Rationalism' here



I have a confession: I'm politically non-binary. Actually, it's more than that. I don't fit anywhere on the binary spectrum. I'm a third political gender.

I imagine already you've got Jordan Peterson's voice in your head, balking. "Something, something, neo-Marxist agenda". Binaries are the natural way of things, right? You can't just make up a new thing. I can't demand you identify me as a "Xeiberal" or a "Zirservative". Stop trying to control language!

I always found it strange that, when it comes to politics, we place ourselves on a spectrum between a binary: communism (the left) and fascism (the right). The “party of movement” (freedom, equality, human rights, progress), and the “party of order” (tradition, nationalism, order).

There’s a history behind this, of course, and it’s served a purpose. The first usages of this concept came during the French Revolution, when the National Assembly divided itself, with the supporters of the king to the right, and the supporters of the revolution to the left. The world over, every democratic society generally organizes itself along these lines. It makes sense, if you think about it: the people that value freedom and equality, generally favour human rights and progress over tradition and nationalism, and vice versa for those that value tradition and nationalism. Those people organize into groups and it generally seems to be a fairly even split, and the electorate tends to gravitate between one and the other.

These are vague categories: the Republican party of the US is right-wing, Trump’s administration are also right-wing, but they don’t really seem to like each other much. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both left-wing, but again, don’t often see eye to eye on much (and nor do their supporters).

Recently, to an increasing degree, I’ve been feeling like this isn't making much sense to me.

People in this position often call themselves centrist, but I also feel like I have to stay away from that now after Glenn Beck and Dave Rubin had a conversation about creating a “new centre”. That’s not a centre that I want to be anywhere near. Sorry, Dave, but if you're buddying up with Mike Cernovich in your new club, I'm not showing up to the meetings.

I don’t know where this leaves me. Who is my tribe going to be? What shall I think?

Well, I think that the West has a moral responsibility to help refugees that are fleeing war-zones and have nowhere to go, but I support comprehensive vetting for immigrants in this climate (although I wonder how we can make this more comprehensive. I’m disgusted by Trump instituting a ban that includes permanent residents of the USA, or immigrants that have already been vetted, but I don’t agree with people who peddle statistics about how you’re more likely to be killed by a lawnmower than a refugee as if they’ve just made a knock-out argument.

I think we should be doing everything we can at the moment to criticize the right-wing, and focus our attacks on them, in order to protect minorities that are under threat, especially Muslims. But I also don’t want to throw my weight behind people that glorify the hijab as a symbol of feminism and political dissent when many women across the globe are literally forced to wear it. I fully supported the Women’s March, but also felt disturbed by a Sharia apologist like Linda Sarsour leading it.

I don’t think we should punch Nazis, but I also don’t think we should spend a whole lot of effort defending them.

Trump has to be the focus right now, because he’s in power. No-one is accidentally going to defend minorities so hard that they put Islamists in power. We have to throw all of our energy into backing the people that need it the most right now, and those are the people being separated from their families and detained at airports. These are the people being murdered by right-wing, Trump-supporting nutcases in mosques in Quebec.

But even though I’m attacking the right, I don’t feel like I’m on the left. And I’m definitely not in the centre if Dave Rubin and Glenn Beck are there. 

I know I'm not the first person to challenge this binary, not by far, but right now I'm trying to find somewhere solid to stand, and I'm hoping there are others out there that feel the same.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hijab Glorification : Thoughts on the Shepard Fairey Poster

Artwork by Shepard Fairey

As a woman who grew up under Sharia in Saudi Arabia, I cannot help but resist the glorification of the tools of my oppression.

As much as I loathe Trump, and the chaos he's creating, as much as I stand in solidarity with Muslims at this much as I am personally affected by discrimination against Muslims myself...I cannot sit back and watch conservative Islam be championed in this complex and toxic political climate. 

I ask my fellow critics of religion to be particularly cautious at this time not to feed into far right narratives of hate.... similarly, I ask my fellow left leaning liberals not to fall into romanticizing conservative Islam. It's like walking a tightrope, I understand - but the more we avoid falling into traps on either side...the better equipped we will be to combat this. 

Here is a brief message on the subject: 

Here is the article mentioned in the podcast.

And below are my pieces in Response to the Shepard Fairey one. Let me know your thoughts!


Early Sketches


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Islam & Creativity: Art that Could have been...

As a person of Pakistani Muslim background who dabbles in... art stuff, I’ve long been aware of the limitations imposed upon visual artists and creative types of every sort, in my motherland. 

I see the precautions and risks Pakistani film-makers take, just to film documentaries, especially if they touch on religion and extremism. 

Actors in Pakistan, once had to make sure their clothing passed ridiculous modesty standards before they could appear on TV. 

During the reign of religio-maniac dictator Zia ul Haq, women on TV were required to have headscarves on at all times, and if there was a death scene, or drowning scene, their heads simply wouldn’t be shown, to avoid the immodest picture of a woman without her headscarf. 

Unacceptable… even in death. 

Things are better now, TV wardrobe-wise, but the underlying sentiment of curtailing the imagination has not changed. 

This leashing of creativity spans the Muslim world, in varying intensities, but its everywhere in it’s uniquely oppressive, Islamic way.

I grew up in Saudi, art was pretty much non existent there…aside from a few painters in the malls who were always painting landscapes, fruit arrangements or a picture of The King. 

From Getty images, painting by Ralph Cowan

Things started to change as I grew older, and the world grew smaller through tech. With smart phones, the internet and satellite TV it was harder to control what people read, what shows they watched (words related to “royal” “prince” “king” were often muted even in cartoons when I was younger), or what music they listened to (words were commonly erased or blacked out from album covers, female singers were covered in black marker)

Image from

In my last year there, I attended an “art” exhibit somewhere…something incredibly novel at the time for Saudi life. Of course all the artists being showcased were male. 

There were no figures, only geometric shapes, landscapes and Arabic calligraphy. 

“It’s a start" I thought. 

There was a time when simply having a camera out in the open in Saudi was taboo. I remember my dad having to get out of the car and hurriedly, covertly take some photos for my class project on buildings in the old part of town. 

The contradictions were so many, taking photos in the open was taboo, but there were photo developing places on every corner. Drawing figures was frowned upon as it was considered “idolatry” but the men hired to stand in malls and paint The King, over and over, were considered ok…nay, they demanded a form of idolatry from the 'loyal subjects'.. in that regard. 

It was utterly bizarre for a young questioning mind to grow up around this. I don’t regret it though, the strangeness of Saudi Arabian life has made me who I am today. I have a mixed loathing and affection for it, which i’ve discussed before, some warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia when I hear Arabic, and also feelings of terror as I remember the morality police screaming at me. 


My Pakistani relatives who lived in Pakistan always looked down on life in terms of ‘freedom of expression’. Yes, there is no morality police there (other than the public itself), yes there are women allowed on TV without Burqas (but the burqa is revered and glorified), Yes some creativity is allowed (with many restrictions)...

But who are we kidding here? 'Freedom' is not a thing associated with the Muslim identity, unless you are lying to yourself. The more staunchly Muslim you get, the less freedom you have. Yes, this could be said about any religion...but the orthodoxy Islam commands in the average adherent is unmatched today. 


It is a religion more recent than the other big ones…so, it had the opportunity to plagiarize build upon already established frameworks of oppression. Coming later, gave it the chance to be more nit-picky, more controlling and more hateful than some already pretty hateful ideologies. 

Last year In Pakistan we saw Qandeel Baloch, a rising youtube celebrity, who simply didn’t abide by modesty codes of any sort…She was just a young person having fun, something most of us wouldn’t think twice about in the west. 

Her life was was taken, brutally, in an honour killing by her own brother. 

Before that, in 2014, we saw an iconic, elite, Pakistani popstar-turned-mullah Junaid Jamshed, be accused of blasphemy himself… for having a casual tone and 'poking fun at Ayesha', the prophet Mohammed's wife (in an albeit sexist manner, but the sexism is not what pissed the stauncher mullahs off).

The irony... of someone who's a critic of secularism himself, a proponent of hardline Islam, being accused of blasphemy.

It just goes to show that this blasphemy-beast isn’t satisfied, no matter how religious you are. It is flawed in its humaneness obviously, and the sense that it can be turned around and used against anyone -even those who favour and defend it. 

There will always be someone more religious to look down upon you.

Sadly, Junaid Jamshed died late 2016 in a plane crash…and even the way Pakistanis wanted to remember him was judged, monitored and Islamized. 

He was a huge 80s pop icon once. 

Yes, we lost his creative mind to religion later in his life, but he was just one more, silenced. 

Preacher later in life or not, this was no reason to control how people remembered him. 

To demand their memories of him as a singer be wiped clean, and he be remembered only as a 'holy man' not as a ‘disgraceful entertainer’ is absurd. 

The depths religion wants to get its claws into is frightening. They even want to rewrite history, to satisfy the faith, and they have the media power to do so.


Taher Shah, unintentionally hilarious Pakistani singer, was also forced to leave the country because of threats. I'm not sure how he's even controversial. He's like one of those singers you see in the auditions of America's got Talent, that don’t make it through… but they’re so bad….it’s good. 

The Mullahs, they won't even let us have cringeworthy stuff.

Art-policing transcends geographical borders too, it has affected many religious communities… 
But none quite like the muslim community. 

Salman Rushdie, Charlie Hebdo, and countless other examples...The most recent of which is anger and offense directed towards 'The Real Housewives of ISIS'

…a comedy bit specifically mocking *terrorist group* ISIS, is seen to be offensive to Muslims by many. It's sad, really. 

This type of reaction over something like the mockery of ISIS is disheartening and depressing. What kind of place are we in if people of Muslim background cannot partake in and enjoy skewering extremists, especially in the political climate of today, where Muslims are under scrutiny, where they are at times unfairly generalized as extremists…why would you want to blur those lines further…?

Its time for us…specifically people of Muslim background to ridicule the parts that need to be ridiculed. It is our voices that will hold more weight than any other…it will be our voices that can change the narrative, convince children of tomorrow not to go down that path. 


Maybe someday, we can have our own 'Book of Mormon'-like musical...and hopefully everyone will get to keep their heads afterwards! 


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