As a Gay Atheist, I’m Done Waiting for You to Decide What Your Religion Says About Me

When straight Muslims and gay Muslims debate on the acceptability of homosexuality in religious terms, imagine what it might sound like to a disbeliever – particularly an atheist.

Team A:
“Being a homosexual is not a sin in Potterism! Not only was Lord Harry Potter’s wand powered by the feather of a phoenix – indeed the gayest of all birds in All Mighty’s kingdom – but his mentor, Dumbledore, was a closeted gay man!”

Team B:
“No, no, no, no, no! In Book 4, Chapter 6, page 189, the Blessed Companion, Ron Weasley, makes uncomfortable homophobic jokes about Cedric Diggory – to no objection from Lord Potter himself – clearly indicating that Potterism considers homosexuality offensive!”

As a gay Pakistani atheist, I’d like to ask, “What does it matter? What do I care what 7th century desert-folk , some of them probably fictional, might have said about me? Why do I, as a non-believer, need their validation?”

But I can’t.

In Pakistan, a theological debate isn’t just that. What Islam commands or forbids determines the kind of laws that will be made. ‘Progressive Muslims’ will go down swearing that Islam has nothing to do with it, yet whenever you ask a Muslim person the reason for his disdain towards gay people, the very first thing he’s likely to say is, “Because Islam forbids it!”

“No, it doesn’t!” the gay Muslim vociferously responds. And he presents his own counter-argument, the likes of what ‘Team A’ in my satirical analogy offered.

The gay Muslim does not say, “It doesn’t matter”. You see, in the 7th century, a circle of infallible men crafted a moral code both flawless and timeless. Over the next 1400 years, all progress made in the fields of biology, sociology, reproductive medicine, psychiatry, and political sciences, turned out to be an utter waste of caffeine and human endeavor. After all, the truth about homosexuality, was discovered all the way back in the middle-ages when wise men used camel urine as a reasonable substitute for shampoo.

The gay Muslim does not ask, “Why does it matter?”. He plays the game by the rules set by his own oppressor. The opinion of 7th century men determines your dignity as a homosexual today, so your task is to convince the world that these men did not have a problem with you.

It’s a tall order, and the oppressor knows it. Who really knows what happened 1400 years ago, and what precisely folk back then believed? The debate boils down to what you personally believe in; in which case, you’ve successfully abandoned logic and said, “Being gay is okay, because I believe being gay is okay!”. And you’ve permitted your oppressor to effortlessly counter your facile argument by claiming, “Being gay is sinful, because I believe being gay is sinful!”.

As a gay atheist, I have no say in this matter.

In a place where you cannot discuss gay affairs without ‘Islam’ invariably appearing on the discussion table, I’m a passive listener waiting for Muslims to quantify my dignity in terms of a religion I don’t believe in.

I want to contribute something to the discussion. I cannot. I do not speak your language, so I would simply have to sit outside your mosque until you’ve sorted this out. And in the meantime, I simply hope not to get killed by one of your people, chanting – what appears to my heretical ears – the senseless equivalent of “In the name of Holy Potter, I condemn you to an eternity in Azkaban!!”

You may be offended by that comparison, until you consider something you don’t believe in and how ridiculous it might have sounded to you. Think of a friend who expressed his firm belief in Illuminati’s existence, to which you condescendingly rolled your eyes instead of emphatically nodding to his delusion.

And think of what it might have felt like if his kind, his unproven ideas, and his magical thinking – designed the sociopolitical universe in which you reside as a minority.

Yeah. Life’s like that when you’re a gay atheist in Pakistan.

What Goldsmiths Feminists and LGBTQ+ Society Don’t Get

Many years ago, as a medical student in Lahore, I wrote a  blog challenging non-medical use of circumcision, namely for religious reasons. The blog went viral on campus. One evening, my anxious roommate informed me of an angry discussion going on about my blog in the hostel common room among some 100 Muslim students, and that I must escape.

I didn’t need to be told twice. I’d sensed the hostility long before that. I’d already been receiving threats of bodily harm on Facebook and on the blog’s comment section.

A small protest broke out on campus, and the Muslim students demanded the Dean to expel me from college, or let them ‘handle’ the matter themselves.

I secretly met with the Dean. I lied to her about the blog being mine. There wasn’t much else I could say. I was human, and I didn’t want to be expelled, or worse. Although a Muslim myself, I was ostracized by the Muslim community. I didn’t complain. That was the better of the possible outcomes, and to some extent, I thought I deserved it. My parents certainly did, and oh, there’s an interesting story there too.

Eventually, I discovered that I had options. I thought about it, did my research, and gradually became an atheist. Before coming out of the closet, I brought up the subject of atheism with my mum and dad in the car, on our way to Islamabad. He told me it’s acceptable to be one from the beginning, but one cannot leave Islam. Why, I asked. Because it’s not a joke, he said, and murtids (apostates) are to be put to death.

You might accuse me of exaggerating, but I’m not. This is also the law in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death.

Needless to say, I did not come out of the closet that evening.

Please note that I used the general term ‘Muslim’ here instead of ‘Islamist’, as in my country, these are not well distinguished. No Musalman identifies himself as an ‘Islamist’ – it’s a label we unilaterally slap onto them to separate them from those whom we describe as the good Muslims. But Islamism is a culture existing within the Muslim community. Consider how you would feel if I argued, “Not all Men are Misogynists!”. I’ll use the same language that you use for white men.

I realize that this idea upsets you, but please bear with me.

Muslims exist simultaneously in two different worlds. One is yours, the Western world, in which Muslims are a marginalized group, and often subjected to gross anti-Muslim bigotry.
Muslims2Worlds
The other world is where I live. In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where Muslims are the ruling class. Islam is not a counter-cultural phenomenon here. It is the established order. It is the law. It is the man. It is the bane of all the minorities within the Muslim states, and even Muslim communities abroad.

And this is a world you are NOT acquainted with. Islamists have convinced you that all the stories about blasphemers being lynched, and atheists being hacked to death, and Iranian women being stoned to death for adultery, or forced to wear burqas, are “way overblown” and mostly just a way to make Muslims look savage.

While that may be the motive for white Islamophobes, the problem is not a myth. Just as an MRA might argue that all the stories about the high prevalence of rape in the United Kingdom or the United States are “way overblown”.

But I know I’m not overreacting.

Maryam Namazie comes from a world where Muslims aren’t a “minority”, but the privileged class, and her tone is suited to that paradigm.

She embodies the agony of all ex-Muslims, including me, who live in constant fear in Islamic countries.

She embodies the frustration of gay brown people, like me, who Muslims attempt to suppress by quoting scripture and telling religious stories to their children about ‘Qaum-e-Lut’.

She embodies the defeat of feminists, like me, who fight for political reforms to end domestic violence, only to have the bill shot down in the Pakistani parliament because it goes against Quranic injunctions.

Those ISOC boys who interrupted the talk by an ex-Muslim Iranian woman, telling her to shut the fuck up, are a marginalized minority to you, but an oppressor to us.

They say that if we insult Islam and call it out as an archaic, barbaric system, then we’re being Islamophobes. The question is, how can we NOT talk about Islam, when Islam is what gets thrown in our face every time we ask for the freedom to love whom we want, and believe what we want?

As a person from a Muslim background, I empathize with your need to clamp down on rhetoric that could be used to incite anti-Muslim bigotry. But stop demanding me to put the welfare of my own atheist ex-Muslim community aside, and go out of my way to aid the empowerment of those who enable my oppression.

Give us a chance to fight the ideological demons that are internal to our Islamic world, the same way you’ve fought with your Christian right.

Help Wanted: Ex-Muslim Seeking White Liberal Allies

Hi, are you liberal?

Do you stand by the minorities?

Are you a friend of the underdog, an ally of the marginalized?

There is a minority of the minority in town that just won’t trend on Twitter.

Hello, I’m a brown, gay, bi-gender, ex-Muslim atheist. Please notice me.

Like a lot of things, ‘privilege’ is a spectrum. Muslims are a marginalized community in Europe and America, often subjected to dangerous stereotypes. I supported Tahira Ahmed, the Muslim woman refused an unopened can of diet coke aboard a flight for “security reasons”. I yelled at Richard Dawkins – a person who I usually admire – on Twitter, for his paranoid rants against a Muslim child arrested for making a clock.

I stand up for Muslims wherever they face persecution, but they don’t stand up for me. Oh, and if you object to my use of the word “they”, notice that I’m making use of the same language you’d use for white people. You must recognize the context in which I speak.

In my part of the world – the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – Muslims are not an oppressed minority. They are the ruling class. If they find out who I am, I would be legally executed, if not lynched – not even because I’ve said anything blasphemous, but because I’m an ex-Muslim, an “apostate”.

Islam here is not a counter-cultural phenomenon. It is the writ of the establishment. It is the bane of the minorities, dissidents, freethinkers and liberals such as yourself who refuse to abide by the “official” customs. Things like hijab, niqab, dupatta or any form of pardah are not an “identity” here; they are garments either imposed by law, or enforced by sanctioning the social harassment of women who refuse to wear them.

People like myself, dear friends of mine, have fled to countries like UK, Canada and the United States. These ‘blasphemers’ and ‘apostates’ of the East, the first-hand witnesses of the effects of unmitigated Islamic power, often become ‘Islamophobes’ in the West. Why wouldn’t they be fearful of a religion that has been used to justify all forms of cruelty against them?

‘Good’ Atheists like CJ Werlerman, wouldn’t know the difference. We have often been accused of being “native informants”. We are guilty of not putting the full weight of our support behind a community that treats us with derision, not just in Pakistan, but abroad as well.  It is more than just ‘possible’ for a group to be oppressed in some way, and be an oppressor in another.

Who’s defending us? Werlerman? Lean? Greenwald? Ben Affleck?

Many of my people are locked in accidental alliances with the neo-cons, the anti-Muslim bigots – the likes of Pamela Gellar and Pat Condell – both of whom I intensely dislike. Again, what choice do we have? You defend, and even celebrate Islam as a courtesy to its marginalized adherents in your countries, but that ideology is poison to us; and our only consolation is that not all Muslims follow it uniformly.

Why would you ask us to make peace with a scripture that refers to my kind as the “worst of all beasts”? Why would you want me to get along with a religion that throws Sodom and Gomorrah in my face when I try to speak up for LGBTQ rights? Why would you expect me, as a feminist, to not condemn a book that justifies domestic abuse of women, denial of their equal inheritance rights, and the practice of having a woman’s testimony being valued as only half that of a man’s.

Would you like us, the “native informants”, to pretend that there is no culture of shunning and mistreating ex-Muslims in the Muslim community, so not to intensify anti-Muslim prejudice that is abundant in Europe and America? Do you want us all to go down quietly, because the needs of the many (Muslims) outweigh the needs of the few (ex-Muslims)?

What about my friend, Irtaza, who committed suicide because his Muslim family and community wouldn’t accept him as an atheist?

You expect us to join you in the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry, and I want to. I get you. But in the struggle against anti ex-Muslim bigotry, we stand alone. We remain unacknowledged.

People deserve advocacy. People deserve not to be reduced to their religious, racial or gender identities. But bad ideas and cultures deserve no sympathy. Neither must the baby be thrown out with the bathwater, nor should the bathwater be rescued along with the baby.

Stop Degrading Male Feminists. We’re on Your Side.

Here’s what I don’t enjoy…

Being called “pussy-whipped” by men who accuse me of faking my enthusiasm for gender equality as a cheap way of “attracting chicks”; and, at the same time, being shut down by a ‘mansplaining’ charge by women who disagree with me, as if my gender automatically invalidates everything I write on the subject of feminism. I acknowledge that women have better insight on problems affecting women than men do (duh), but that does not invariably each one of them an expert on the feminist theory. It’s like when my conservative grandmother says she “doesn’t need a lecture from a man”, when I challenge her outdated view that women must always know how to cook.

I acknowledge my male privilege, and the fact that I sometimes get more attention for saying essentially the same thing that female writers have been saying for over a decade. But that is not my fault. I didn’t ask for this bias towards me. I’m trying to use my male privilege to undermine male privilege itself, the best I can.

From the conversations I’ve had with certain female feminists, I’ve come out wondering if I should just delete all that I’ve written on my blog as a (gasp!) ‘male’, and simply replace the text with links to articles of Jessica Valenti or other female feminists. Whenever I find myself in a discussion on women’s issues, I should pretend I’m illiterate, whimper and point my paw at the nearest woman, because fuck me if I have an observation to make as an actual writer.

Several days ago, I got into a Twitter-tussle with Eiynah Nicemangoes, the creator of ‘My Chacha is Gay’, whose work I have much respect for. That respect was somewhat lost when a post appeared on her blog “highlighting the asshole brand of feminism”. Basically, the blog rails out against feminists like myself who objected to the Rosetta scientist’s sexist shirt (#shirtgate) in November 2014. How dare these “asshole” feminists see anything wrong with a shirt with pictures of giant-breasted female archetypes plastered over it, that too while he’s practically representing the scientific team that landed the probe on a comet?

On Facebook, I confronted Eiynah. I challenged her blog, stating that the shirt was indeed sexist. Not “stop-the-planet-and-hang-this-scientist” sexist, but sexist nonetheless as it reinforces the idea of women as sexual objects. Frustratingly, her first line of defense was pointing out my manhood. Turns out, I was ‘mansplaining’ to her. Mic drop. How dare I, a man, challenge her views on feminism?

Admittedly, I once took pride in calling myself a “sex-positive” feminist too, as Eiynah does. My views have since evolved, thanks mostly to radical feminist bloggers like Heather McNammara, and a lot of other wonderful people (mostly female feminists) on social media who patiently put up with my ignorance and rudeness. Unlike Eiynah and several other feminists I’ve met since then, they did not use my gender to devalue or disqualify my views on feminism, but carefully considered the quality of my arguments, and the accuracy of what I said.

More recently, I’ve met feminists who’ve vociferously defended niqab, and implicitly, other self-imposed burdens like breast implants and extreme cosmetic treatment; with a basic argument that I, as a man, am not allowed an opinion on what women do or not do with their bodies. Essentially, what it means is I have no right to identify these behaviors as symptoms of the patriarchal culture/

This false sense of superiority, in my opinion, stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism as a battle of the sexes; a Boys vs Girls situation, rather than a larger fight against the patriarchal culture which transverses gender boundaries (so to speak).

Yes, women can have patriarchal mindsets too. Calling yourself a ‘feminist’ while being a woman, does not ipso facto make you right. I can just imagine being in 1917, having a conversation with the group of *women* campaigning against women’s voting rights; and then slighting me for ‘mansplaining’ to them the need for women’s suffrage.

As a gay person, I don’t try to invalidate your speech with a blind “straightsplaining” charge, wherever I disagree with your methods.on fighting homophobia. That word means something; it’s not just there to make me feel superior to a straight opponent, no matter how valid her or his argument may be. Likewise, I expect not to have my participation in the feminist movement to not be devalued simply because of my gender.

You’re a trend-chaser, not an LGBT “ally”

All Patricia Arquette said, was that we need gender equality, and that all people – black people, gay people, male people – must help women in their political and social battles, just as feminists have helped theirs.

In other words, intersectionality that runs both ways.

On social media, she’s under attack for “implying” that gay people and racial minorities are no longer struggling, and that women are the last group left in the leper-pit of the underprivileged.

Here’s what you should know. Online, I’ve fought for gay rights, racial minorities’ rights, and religious minorities’ rights’; but almost nothing spurs more controversy than when I proudly declare myself a feminist. And that’s while I still have my male privilege working for me!

Arquette is not the one with an intersectionality problem. YOU are, if you’re a hater. All she’s doing, is asking for her empathy towards other marginalized groups to be reciprocated. She’s not calling for women’s rights activism to take place at the expense of sociopolitical justice for gay and black people.

Let me break down to you, what you probably already know and feel.

Gay is *in*. Waving a rainbow flag in people’s face no longer carries the social or political risks it once did, and it’s officially “cool” to do so. Racism, while also far from over, is still widely recognized as a very real problem.

Sexism, is considered far less of an issue, and declaring oneself a feminist is a sure-fire way of getting trolled. ‘Atheismophobia’ isn’t even a thing yet, despite the fact that many countries still execute people for being atheists, just like they do to gay people.

Now note that I say the following as a man who puts the ‘B’ in the LGBT.

Fuck the trend-chasing liberals. Fuck all of you who conveniently crawl out of your foxholes after the battlefield has sufficiently cooled down; when it’s finally become safe and fashionable to stand by the oppressed. I can manage without your “alliance”, which is nothing but a bloody revolution’s open-bar after-party.

Don’t cherry-pick liberal agendas depending on what fetches you the most Facebook likes and retweets. Stand up for the feminists who get rape threats for airing their honest opinions! Stand up for the atheists who get glared at for being “immoral” and leading “purposeless” lives! Stand up for obese people who get fat-shamed everyday to the point that their personhood itself becomes questionable! Take risks standing up for the marginalized communities that aren’t “in” yet, and whose ardent advocates get mercilessly laughed at for being hypersensitive whiners.

I can name one or two things wrong in this world besides homophobia and racism, and ALL of them deserve your tears and attention.

The VIPs Khan Won’t Talk About

Frankly, I was thrilled with the recent incident where VIP politicians were booted off a PIA flight for causing a needless delay. But there’s another VIP culture we rarely like to talk about, because it’s far too dangerous and politically complicated to do so. Democracy is a system cherished by people-pleasers, and despised by forces that can’t acquire votes. It is in their interest to sow among the public, the seeds of mistrust towards the democratic politicians; not that the politicians usually make that task difficult! Attacking a politician wins you easy approval. They say top Pakistani politicians are “above the law”; unimpeachable and incapable of being punished for crimes that others readily get fined and jailed for. It’s true to a large extent, although… – Yousuf Raza Gillani did spend about 6 years in jail – and Zardari spent 8 – before his wife was assassinated running a political campaign of her own (her son is booed nowadays for having “too much personal security) – during the era of General Musharaff, who exiled Nawaz Sharif – and got Javed Hashmi sentenced to a staggering 23 years in prison, though he was released early due to Supreme Court’s intervention In fact, there’s an endless list of examples of these “monarchs” being beaten, imprisoned and even publicly flogged – an occupational hazard of operating in a country where the true power lies with….oh, you know. You want to know what immunity looks like? Sue a high-ranking army officer. The army remains extremely well-funded, for a country that can barely afford to keep a light-bulb on for 18 hours straight. They are well-organized, and demand respect. 90% of the times I’ve been stuck at a road block in Rawalpindi, it’s been because of a general’s convoy passing through. We’re saddened by what happened in Model Town, and the fact that the all-powerful police personnel involved never went to tria; never got investigated. By thew way, do you remember what happened to that old Hamid Mir case where he blamed the attempt to assassinate him on you-know-who? Neither do I. Shhh… Now that’s a VIP culture you won’t find the likes of Imran Khan harping about from the roof of his container. Funny.

An Open Letter to “Good” Atheists who Respect Religion

Dear Conformists,

Hi. Are you rolling your eyes at me for calling you a conformist? I know I shouldn’t insinuate that your admiration for religion and its beauty is a way of appeasing roughly 89% of the world population which you know is religious; that it is just a way of getting a cheap nod, because let’s face it, even if you sweep every atheist reading your book, essay, column or blog off her/his feet, the world’s applause-o-meter barely registers a sound. Make the theists happy, and that is what gets you likes on Facebook.

It could just be that you genuinely believe in religion as, not an absurdity or a pernicious force, but something benign; something we can easily coexist with. That’s your opinion, and it’s fine.

Then there are those who believe that it’s okay to be an anti-theist who criticizes religion, but we should be still be respectful towards other people’s beliefs. No argument there. That is ideally how it should be done.

Unfortunately, anti-theists cannot be expected to act more “ideally” than any other group indulging in activism, online or otherwise. What’s more unfortunate is that most theists, with their inordinately thin skin, are more likely to find the idea of anti-theism itself pretty provocative. You’re just very likely to be labelled “smug”, “arrogant” and a “troll” if you’re not diplomatically starting off every sentence of your criticism with, “Yes, religion is great and I deeply admire some of your religious personalities, but….”

Brendan O’Neil, in a recent article on The Telegraph, wonders how atheists have become “the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet”. History is not his strong suit, because atheists have always been regarded as the “most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet”. Islam calls them, “the worst of all beasts” and the bible refers to them as “corrupt fools”. And that’s how its followers have treated the godless for the past…I don’t know…about 2000 years.

That is why it is necessary to salute the valor and courage of our theists and “good-guy” atheists, defending us all against the rise of smug atheists who make disrespectful internet memes. Actually, no. You are an embarrassing redundancy, right up there with the white activists fighting for men’s rights.

In any kind of activism, there will always be a minority that resorts to tactics that may be considered distasteful. Like vegans calling you “murderers”. Socialists calling you “thieves”. Feminists calling you “misogynistic assholes”. Anti-theist atheists – those claiming (not unreasonably) that religion is a malignant force – are expected to act far more diplomatic and civilized than all other kinds of activism. It is because the subject they deal in is still considered so sensitive, the slightest pinch induces massive butt-hurt.

Atheist debaters are expected to work with teaspoons where all other activists are allowed to work with spades. And it is because of this, that atheists come off as more acerbic and abrasive than than those who criticize any other ideology or system they find harmful.

I don’t need to apologize for atheist trolls any more than feminists, Occupy folk, Democrats, liberals, LGBT and human rights activists have to apologize for the dicks they contribute to the internet.

And as for respecting religion, I don’t need to respect any religion claiming that I, as an atheist, am so vile that I deserve eternal torture. That’s like you calling me a “prick”, and demanding that I respect your belief. Sorry, can’t do; especially when you’re passing on their hateful ideas to your kids, and then scratching your heads when they grow up to be bigots.

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