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.
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.