Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Thoughts on Manchester Attack....& Responses that Just aren't Helping

The Manchester terror attack broke my heart, as each and every terror attack does. It chilled me to my core…again. 

Image from CNN.com
With the frequency of these attacks, it’s hard to process them all and properly mourn the loss before your attention is diverted to yet another tragedy. 

During the time I finished up this very blog post, I heard of deadly attacks in Baghdad and Kabul. It's hard, so hard to take it all in and grasp the magnitude of loss around the world. 

My thoughts are with all those who have suffered. 

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The Manchester attack targeted children while they were out having fun, enjoying music, enjoying life... 

Image from here

It’s those very freedoms that terrorists hate, they abhor those who don’t live in the same ideological cages as them. 

I sit here and try to absorb all the fragmented commentary coming from all angles, trying to make sense of this, trying to understand how we can change it for the better. How do we stop this from happening? I don’t know.. because the terrorists motivations seem to lie in a tangled web of things, parts of which each side wants to deny. The most obvious of those is extreme blind faith in an ideology they consider to be infallible.  

I look around me, and see there’s nothing new here…




The left though well intentioned, nor the right, theists, nor atheists - no one is hitting notes (on this subject) that deeply resonate with me anymore. It’s pretty much the same tired commentary, the same motions we go through after each terror attack. 

“Islam is evil”

“”Nothing to do with Islam”

“Muslims must do more” 

“Muslims should not have to apologize for something they have nothing to do with” 

“Islam is war”

“Islam is peace” 

“Its all about foreign policy”

“Its all about religion” 

We really have to do better than this, because neither side on this issue is getting through to the other. Just screaming at each other till we’re blue in the face isn’t going to accomplish anything. 

It’s obvious this is a problem that needs to be addressed, denying links to Islam as people shout Allahu-akbar and take lives just doesn't suffice. It’s not helping anyone, least of all muslims. 

This isn’t to say that how all muslims practice Islam is hateful, divisive and dangerous...but we must acknowledge that some extreme muslims do take it this far, if we want to start solving this. Of course every community has it’s extremists..but Islam does have a lot more Westboro Baptist equivalents …and too many who are even more extreme than Westboro level.

There is a fundamentalism problem coming directly from the rigid orthodoxy that Islam commands in the 21st century. Our communities can certainly do more to promote diversity and inclusivity…we do fall short there, we’ve got to own it…only then can we begin to tackle it.

All that said though, here’s another thing thats not cutting it; Laying the blame on all Muslims collectively. 

This is like me saying portland, Quebec, NYC - white supremacist murders
all by you white people. Its just not right to lump innocent people of the same
demographic with violent savages who murder people. 

In this case in particular, it’s not fair to say Muslims could have, or should have done more as a community…as the bomber, Salman Abedi had been reported to authorities multiple times. There are mixed reports about him being banned from his mosque, so I'm not sure about that. But mosques can always do more to try and root out extremism. 

Full story here

With a frightening surge in white supremacist and anti-muslim attacks in this Trumpian era, the polarization amongst us is growing at such an alarming rate...I fear we’ll end up at a point where we have to pick a side between nazis and jihadis. Already people seem to think you can’t care about both…each team trying to emphasize the horrors of ‘the other side’ while trying to downplay or deny the horrors that come from people within their communities. 

Full story here


Full story here


We’ve got to do better, all of us. Looking inwards, is important for all communities, self-critique is how we improve.

——

The post terror attack scenario, is sadly our reality more and more often…around the globe. I understand its a moment of panic, anger, high emotion. People aren’t always thinking clearly on any side of the debate. But we have to do better, it’s the only way we can beat this monster. The one thing they want is to divide, disrupt and create chaos, sow hatred... in the days, weeks, months after…it’s something we should not let them have. 

There are a lot different types of counterproductive behaviour that emerge right after a terror attack, I feel we can make an already horrendous, painful situation a little more bearable if we refrain from this type of behaviour: 

'The Nothing to do with Islam’ chorus - I get it, it’s a reflex to distance either yourself (if you’re muslim) or an already persecuted minority from the worst, most violent people among them. But as all the liberal/muslim defenders of the religion will tell you, Islam is not a monolith. There are many people, majority of muslims in fact who manage to ignore or ‘re-interpret’ the same verses that drive the terrorists to kill. Why then does it all of a sudden become a monolith with boundaries that exclude terrorists when convenient? You simply cannot deny that those verses too come from the same religion. Just a different interpretation…if you start defining ISIS as ‘not real muslims’ you are playing their game. This is essentially what they do to dehumanize muslims that aren’t living up to their barbaric 7th century standards. The defensiveness and the desperation to distance terrorists from the religion that they themselves claim inspires them, makes defenders appear intellectually dishonest or in deep denial. In order to see the whole picture we cannot keep hiding from the fact that religion has a major role to play in religious extremism. There is hatred of music, hatred of women, of LGBT, of non-muslims coming from Islamic scripture, and theres no way you can modernize, reform or improve things if you at the very least don’t acknowledge that this problem exists. Fine…say this is not how you read it, but you can’t deny that the raw material exists for others to interpret in more violent ways. 




Sharing selective out of context Quran quotes guy - Nope. If you think you can share selective positive quotes, then don’t forget that people can and will rightfully share selective violent quotes to counter that too. This just looks like dishonesty or incomplete knowledge (which is also an issue, as many muslims are taught a curated version of scripture and often in a language they don't understand, I honestly didn’t know the existence of some of these verses till I did some research on my own…and hence, ‘ex-muslim’... 





I’ll make the same point for those who randomly share selective violent Quran quotes in the aftermath of a terror attack…not as a rebuttal to anyone denying violence in scripture…but just putting it out there that ..’look the scripture is violent… this scripture ALL muslims live by is dangerous” - no, this isn’t the time or place for that. I wholeheartedly agree…the scripture is vile, violent and all that. But tying ordinary muslims to these violent words when they may not fully be aware of its meanings, or even know of its existence is just in poor taste when they will likely already face a backlash of anti-muslim sentiment after an Islamic terror attack. I would say at other times, absolutely share this stuff, make muslims aware that this is what it says, and ask them to question if they’d really endorse this stuff. But RIGHT after a terror attack? Not a good idea imo. The bible has some vile violent verses too…we’ve just reached a point where many people don’t take it literally, and I hope we get there for Islam too…but if thats the goal tying *muslims in general* to violent verses in ancient scripture post-terror attack is harmful and counterproductive. 

Reminder, for the 'but what about Islam' types, I'm not sharing this to deny or shift blame from the
fact that the Quran has equally violent, abhorrent verses that do inspire such horrors. But just to demonstrate that it is not uniquely evil, it is just unique in how seriously it is still taken today by many...unfortunately. 



Being blindly narrative driven without any regard for the truth - whether on the left or right, all muslims bad or all muslims good. This can take the vicious Nazi-esque Katie Hopkins form (far more dangerous and sinister of course), or it can take a well-intentioned but dishonest form from a magazine trying to portray muslims in a good light. You might be well intentioned but if you knowingly lie about things (see Cosmo screenshots below), ultimately you’re doing more harm to Muslims than you are good, and also providing fodder to the far right…who will find it easier to dismiss positive stories about muslims because of things like this.  



So they seem to know it's a Sikh person at this point...

How then...does this dishonest headline get printed? I mean there might
very well be muslim Taxi drivers doing this as well, but juxtaposing it with
this picture of a Sikh man, is really misleading!

Jump to Islamophobia concerns community leader - usually a guy being interviewed on TV who actually barely says two words about the horror of this attack before turning it around and making it about him and his community. Come on dude, priorities…yes there will likely be an anti-muslim backlash…i feel you…I get your concerns, I think anyone of muslim background shares those…generally people with brown skin might be fearful, as some non muslims have been killed as well in anti-muslim attacks. So i get it, legitimate concern….but in the aftermath of an attack, the first thing on your mind shouldn’t be the impact this will have on you…have some sympathy for the victims, for the horror their families will be dealing with.  

Similarly, on the fliplside theres the 'You can only care about one thing at a time' person - To this individual if you are concerned about a woman’s hijab being violently ripped off at the same time as the attack, you clearly have no regard for the victims of this brutal attack. This seems absurd to me. You can simultaneously express concern for both…because both harm innocent people. To assume there is no real violence being committed against perceived muslims is deeply foolish or deeply sinister…this isn’t about a few mean words hurled at muslims. This is about pregnant women being kicked till they lose their babies, this is about innocent people being killed. Their lives are no less valuable than those who went to the concert. You can and should express concern about both, of course one of these is not a large scale terrorist attack so one is more pressing and urgent, but this doesn’t mean that anyone expressing concern for both cares any less about the victims of the actual bombing. It just means they are looking at the bigger picture and concerned both about longer term as well as immediate effects. Sad this has to be explained, but there are many 'skeptical takes' out this week saying the victims of the bombing take a backseat if u care about anti-muslim sentiment rising during this attack. Its not one or the other, this is tribalism, plain and simple. And until we stop making it about us vs. them…and see that it is a cyclical problem where hate feeds hate...and that far right anti-muslim hate also fans the fires of Islamism, we won’t be able to combat it. 

The niqabi who decides to wear a grenade t-shirt on TV - ok this is rather specific…but i’m referring to a real fucking person who thought it was a good idea to be on TV and be interviewed about radicalization in the muslim community while wearing a black t-shirt that spells love in fucking *weapons*. 

At first i thought it was a photoshop job.. but sadly not...See video here


What kind of a person thinks thats a fucking good idea..? I mean of course Tommy Robinson was all over that. I don’t think it necessarily says anything about her sympathies or affiliations, as it appears to be a widely available 
t-shirt, 


but I mean the optics of this on a hipster kid and on a niqabi talking about extremism on TV after an *islamic* *terror* *attack* are completely different. Of course people are going to draw conclusions about what she was thinking. It might very well be that she foolishly thought it was a good ironic msg about peace, love and being anti violence or something…but fuck...it does not come across like that. Terrible terrible idea. NOT HELPING. 


'Hashtag Terror attack you say?!...Buy my books because I generally talk about Islam & stuff' person - 


Seriously...don’t be that person…don’t plug your non-specific stuff using a terror attack that took many lives. Of course some content is genuinely helpful and some content has been created as a specific response or commentary to this attack. That’s not what i’m talking about… it’s perfectly ok and also necessary for us to have access to different commentary and viewpoints after an attack. It’s how we process and form our opinions. This very piece is that… I’m talking about unrelated things that people are plugging using the hashtag and all. Don’t do that. That’s really in poor taste. 


Projecting negative intent on anyone that’s visibly muslim - Don’t be like Molyneux, probably a good rule in general.

(This is from the London attack, but the point remains.)


Whining about how people express their grief - Im sorry but people cope in different ways... are you that miserable of a person that you cannot let people heal in the ways that suit them? Coming together in groups, singing, feeling part of a community can feel powerful....and unite us at a time we feel so helpless otherwise. It can make us feel like we're doing something at least. Expressing ourselves through music and song is one of the things jihadis hate... its why they attack concert halls ffs. Don't be the guy that piles on to that. "Liberals just sing while the terrorists bomb us" - right cuz the singing is how they specifically plan to combat bombing. Liberals would go to battle ISIS armed with Jon Lennon songs I'm sure. 



I mean can people seriously have a problem with this kind of thing?



Is this not a valid & beautiful unifying, powerful response to human suffering? I don't understand the pettiness...

But What about [Name other Tragedy] - This isn't a contest, human suffering isn't a contest, please don't try to negate one tragedy by saying another deserves more attention. Yes some things get more air time than others, sometimes because it's closer to home, other times because of some aspects of the story. I wish i knew how to insure that all tragedies got equal attention, but this doesn't happen in the real world...so please don't take away from other horrific acts because the one you're talking about got less coverage. 

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I’m sure there’s a ton of more examples of unhelpful behaviour… feel free to add your observations too, in the comments below. But I just felt I had to put this out there after seeing so many cringeworthy takes, making an already tragic situation worse. 

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Beast of Blasphemy Takes Another




Mashal Khan…

A young bright-eyed Mass Comm. student at Abdul Wali Khan University, who called himself a Humanist…was shot and beaten…his body was still being beaten after it had stopped moving. 

I made the mistake of clicking on one of the blurry videos circulating. It's something I can't ever unsee. 

Mashal is one of the latest victims of Pakistani religious extremism. My heart breaks…every time. And every time it’s harder to pick up the pieces and move on.
  
There have been so many victims, taken by the same monster…the same darkness that resides in too many Pakistani hearts.

It’s time to ask ourselves, how many amongst us think ‘blasphemy’ is a crime…
It’s time to *really* ask what the state’s contributions are to creating an atmosphere ripe with hatred, intolerance and extremism... 

Full story here


In a land where diversity is not accepted, where we have to denounce Ahmedi’s before we can even get a passport…


In a land where ‘blasphemy’ is officially a crime, punishable by death or imprisonment…don't you see...?

The seeds for this are sown already.

Where politicians simply questioning the blasphemy law are murdered again and again


(articles linked above)


Their murderers celebrated by thousands of people. 

Full story here


Funerals like Mashal’s empty, Imams refuse to lead the funeral prayer…



Full story here



And in stark contrast murderer's funerals are heavily attended, mourned, showered with rose petals

full story here


This is what Pakistan has become. This is what it’s viewed as on the global stage.

Youtube stars snuffed out, Singers murdered..journalists attacked…children slaughtered…all at the hands of these religious extremists who’s thirst for religiosity is never quenched. They threatened the now late singer turned preacher/evangelist  Junaid Jamshed too. 

Full story here


*He*...a right wing Islamic preacher fled the country amidst accusations of blasphemy. 

No one is immune, no one is safe…there is no legitimate reason for this law to exist. It can be used against anyone, any time. Even it's supporters…like Junaid Jamshed were not safe from having it thrown back in their face. 

A warning to all those who support blasphemy punishments now…this can and will come for you too. 

All this happens in an environment where the Prime minister himself supports blasphemy punishments. And then we act shocked…"how did this happen?" We say… come on… you know how this happened.  

There are now rumours that these accusations of blasphemy were purposely floated about Mashal Khan to silence his criticism of university admin. I don’t know how true this is, but sadly it wouldn’t surprise me. 




***

What chance does someone like Mashal have when these charges are brought against him, when it’s so easy to whip up a furious mob intoxicated on religion in Pak-istan, ’the land of the pure'. 

It doesn’t even matter if those charges are true or false. That is completely irrelevant, but sadly it’s been a huge part of this story. Well intentioned people…desperately trying to prove Mashal was a non-blasphemer, a pious ‘good Muslim’, in who’s dorm room they found prayer mats, and other religious items. 


Buying into this ‘good Muslim/bad Muslim’ dichotomy is where the problem begins in the first place. Why can’t we be a people that leave matters of religion in the private sphere, why can we not tolerate even slight differences in opinion? Why do words and questions fill so many with murderous fucking rage? Why can’t we teach our children to celebrate our differences? 

And…whats wrong with blasphemy? If you believe in an all powerful god, then he should not need you to stomp out the life of anyone who so much as breathes a word questioning that god’s prescriptions. Can he not withstand even minor scrutiny, this all powerful god? 

We have to ask questions to progress, we have to stop glorifying religion. Dial it waaaay down…Pakistan exists perpetually on a tipping point. It tips every day…and innocent lives are lost. That’s on us - it’s time to speak out, throw your hat in the ring, make your mark…do your part for a liberal and tolerant Pakistan. Speak up for minorities, speak out against injustice.

I’m sure that poor, dear Mashal was a good Muslim…all the evidence points to it. But I wish we lived in a world where this just. didn’t. matter. to Pakistanis. People who are not following Islam the way you want them to are also good people, so are people who don’t follow it at all, and so are people of each and every minority faith that exists in Pakistan. In fact the worst people you will find in Pakistan are those who think there is only one rigid way to follow religion, and that is their way, coincidentally. Those are the one’s who try to police the thoughts and words of others. 

Everyone has a right to exist in safety…it’s sad that this even has to be said, no one should be murdered or punished over words and differences in opinion. 

Pakistan is the country that produced Malala, but it is also the country with the harshest rejections for her

If Pakistan wants to exist in an increasingly globalized world in the 21st century, where different opinions and sources of information are at our fingertips, its going to have to pull itself out of this sinkhole of extremism, otherwise it will continue to fail. 

That’s an effect on all it’s people collectively. 

It’s time to rid ourselves of the mindset that thinks a backwards blasphemy law should exist, it’s hurting us all. 

I have seen another argument floating around Pakistani Twitter that disturbs me. It’s the “Blasphemy laws are being misused/manipulated against innocents” - No. That’s garbage…there’s no legitimate way to use a blasphemy law. Blasphemy is as simple as ‘a difference in opinion’. If you use this argument you are indirectly condoning some instances of punishment for people with differing opinions on religion. 
Some day you could be that person, depending on the group judging you. 

We are all Mashal Khan, because that could be any one of us..no matter how religious you think you are, it’s not enough to satisfy insatiable blasphemy laws.

We are all Salman Taseer

We are all Asia Bibi (not killed, but imprisoned)

We are all Shahbaz Bhatti

We are all Sabeen Mahmood

Do not forget these names. 

***
Important to remember: yes, while those who have killed people like Mashal Khan and Salman Taseer are Muslim, often the victims too are Muslim. It is voices like theirs we must fight for. Those who generalize and demonize Muslims are not doing that, In fact they are part of the problem. 


From a western, ex-muslim Pakistani-Canadian perspective like mine…it’s getting harder and harder to have this discussion on an international level, because there’s always some who will jump on our voices and use them to cast our own loved ones in a bad light. I feel like i’m forever walking a tightrope. Call out illiberalism on all sides, abandon tribalism so we can have these conversations honestly. 

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Foot in Both Worlds: How it feels to see the Suffering of Muslim women used to Undermine Feminism in the West


If you're on atheist Twitter, you've probably heard the terrifying and heartbreaking tale of Dina Ali, a young Saudi woman, trying to escape an abusive family...on her way to Australia to seek asylum, but stopped in the Philippines and hauled back to danger by male relatives.

I have seen many good people rally behind this worthy cause. I hope creating all this noise will be of some use and we can help her find freedom somehow. At least her family knows there are people looking out for her and want accountability.

I can only hope, that one day women in the place I grew up, Saudi Arabia, will have the freedom to move and travel as they please.

Please use the hashtag #SaveDinaAli to continue making noise about this, and to keep the pressure up.




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What else can we do besides making noise? I know it feels like you're helpless and oceans away. But sometimes campaigning and distributing information to those who simply don't know about the situation, is invaluable...

The topic of anything relating to Islam is fraught with baggage in the current global climate. People who were reluctant to touch this subject before, will be even more reluctant now. If we, as liberals, actually want valid critiques to be heard on a wider scale, this is the time to build bridges with the mainstream left - who control most mainstream, credible media.

If you care for the rights of Muslim women, this is the time to vocally oppose anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-immigrant/anti-migrant sentiment, so that when and if such women get a chance to leave...they don't continue to suffer. Honestly, in the Islam-critical scene, I don't see enough of that.

One thing that makes this situation even worse is people using this instance to dump on, discredit and minimize the struggles of Western feminists as a whole. It's wrong on many levels, but its also just strategically flawed and counterproductive.

Granted, many Western feminists may not be aware of the struggles of women in Islamic theocracies - and may indeed view the subject through a Western lens.

I myself have been a critic of this time and time again....on specific topics like hijab for example.

From a previous post, you can see the full thing here


There are definitely some *specific* instances where the response of Western feminists can be criticized. And I'm perfectly happy to do that when its relevant - but what I'm seeing a lot of now is a blanket condemnation of Western feminism as a whole.

Sure yeah, no other issues here in the west for women. 


(click to enlarge)
Not to mention there are western feminists supporting, reporting and creating awareness on this very topic.



Well no, you don't have to dump on Western feminists to highlight the suffering of Saudi women.
It would be far more effective if you raised awareness about it on it's own...as it's a very
worthy cause. Should not be used as a tool to score cheap points.
"To create controversy" ? so there's a desire to purposefully create controversy by dragging others down?
Am I misunderstanding something?
(click to enlarge)


Here's just one example of a Western feminist drawing national attention
to a problem like FGM. Of course much more can be done, but this will be achieved
through bridging the gaps in understanding, not through alienating Western feminists.

Why are Western feminists viewed as privileged? Well, because Western feminists do not live under Sharia, and aren't being held captive by a male guardianship system. What a privilege!

They aren't being stoned to death...so their struggles aren't real. Trivial non-issues. 


right, because being liked by everyone is the biggest problem Western feminists have

Who's saying they are comparable? I know I'm not...yet this is a response to me.
(click to enlarge)

Now of course, theres no comparison between the types of struggles faced in the West and those under Islamic theocracy. But who, other than anti-feminist types are equating the two? Women saying "we should be heard too" isn't equating or saying they are comparable. This is another manifestation of the "But what about Islam" nonsense - nothing else can ever be criticized, thanks Islam. :/

What a divisive way to look at things. Identity politics being used by anti-sjw type critics of such things.

1) Western feminist? Bah...you don't have problems.
2) Also, (white) privilege isn't real, and oppression olympics are stupid. < Same people, probably.

Who was equating here? Not me...
'disrespect first-world feminists' :(

Ok maybe not all these types deny the existence of 'privilege', especially when it suits them:


Truly a disgusting and unhelpful way to look at things.
Not a single Saudi woman is helped with this attitude. 

****

Sure Sharia is THE worst for women...but this is not to say that Western feminism as a whole is frivolous and silly. Don't give me the tired crap about manspreading as if that's what the whole movement is based on. I've heard more anti-feminists obsess over manspreading than feminists. Yes there have been some silly instances, which I have no issue with criticizing....but that is not representative of the whole of Western feminism.

By this standard every woman who escapes life in a theocracy and moves to the West...and wants to continue fighting for her rights even in the West, against Western misogynists...is now just engaging in trivial BS. So basically: 'we'll have your back till you leave sharia...after that, you're a joke, your concerns are non-issues.'  

Free speech is a major topic of concern in our circles, but this 'anti-Western-feminist' argument can be used there too. If it's not sharia-level bad, it's not worth worrying about I guess...total non-issue:


****

I can't describe how awful it is to see this as someone with one foot in both worlds. To see women's suffering being used against women in other contexts.

I've been forced to veil in the past, but this doesn't mean I won't care about workplace sexual harassment in a Toronto office.

Stop using the pain of women abused under Islamic regimes to undermine feminists in the West. Women's rights and the fight for those rights extends across the globe. Women are not pawns to pit against each other in some stupid imagined rivalry.

I have spent roughly half my life in the West and half of it in the East...in a theocracy. I can tell you that even though there isn't morality police here, women's problems are not magically erased. Women are still struggling for equality all over the world, to different degrees obviously (yes, calm down, not equating). If you care for women's rights, and aren't just interested in weaponizing the *idea* of women's rights to express your hatred for Islam...then you should care about those rights everywhere. Islam can be criticized without throwing Western feminists under the bus. Some may seem reluctant to criticize Islam now, and boy...minimizing their struggles will definitely change their minds!

Most importantly, this approach is a disservice to people like Dina Ali, if Muslim women's rights are continued to be seen as a cause hijacked by anti-feminists, right-wingers, etc. to undermine progress and women's rights in their own parts of the world...these critiques and calls to action will never fully resonate with the mainstream...they will always be a taboo topic to touch, they will always be tainted by associations with those seen as having illiberal views in a Western context.

And this is why ex-muslims in the West like me...and women who continue to exist under sharia, often feel like we are shouting into the wind. How can any of us be heard like this?

So...how do we help women like Dina? We talk about these issues...without using her heartbreaking situation to undermine others.



****

Here are some examples of the battles Western feminism is facing today...for those who think it's just non-issues:


Full story here

Full story here

Full story here
Full story here


Full story here


Full story here
Full story here

Full story here 

Full story here


And all this continues in a climate where alt-right sexism/misogyny is becoming hip, trendy and acceptable in a way it hasn't been in decades...In a climate where a self-professed sexual predator is sitting in the most powerful position in the world. Accusations of sexual assault certainly didn't damage his 'career'.

Full story here


We are in a time, where it's acceptable to say women should be taken out of positions of political power, "we need to establish a fierce and strong patriarchy". This is not some obscure alt-right woman btw, this is someone praised as an ally by our very own leading atheist figure, Dave Rubin.






Video clips from @ViniKako
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Somewhere along the way, many crossed over from rightfully criticizing the left for dealing with Islam-related topics poorly, to opposing every liberal left value...feminism, diversity, standing up for minorities, trans rights, etc.

How did we get here? :(



Tell someone you were raped in the West and their response is "But I'm glad you
weren't forced to marry your rapist, or stoned to death".
I have no words. 


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