Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear Ben Affleck: Words from a Woman raised in Islam (unedited)

A bit of a preamble before the unedited letter: 

To all you wonderful folk who have taken the time to read and help spread my message, my letter to Ben - I am truly honoured, humbled and grateful. Thank you so much. Your kind words and encouragement have meant a lot to me. Forgive me if I have been unable to thank everyone individually. 

There have been some interesting conversations surrounding this letter. Some have called me, predictably, an 'Islamophobe'. Some have called me, rather confusingly, an 'Islamist'/apologist. I certainly can't be both. I was told by someone that I was aiding genocide through such a 'hateful' piece, that's a bit of a stretch - come on now! And from the side that called me an apologist, I was apparently unrealistic and disillusioned to think any Muslims at all could be peaceful. *sigh*

Some have asked me why, if I have the courage to speak out, I have not left the faith? 

If you have followed me for some time - you will know that I am indeed an atheist - and a vocal one at that. I refer to myself as a 'woman born and raised in Islam' and loosely group myself in with other muslims when i say 'we' (because even as an ex-muslim I do consider myself as part of the community) in the article. I do not however refer to myself as a 'Muslim woman'. The difference is subtle, I know. The piece was for a Pakistani publication, and so had to be worded this way. Even publishing this was an act of courage on their part. I am especially grateful to them for giving me a Pakistani platform to speak from. That kind of openness on their part is truly game-changing. 

You might see some articles about this letter, with sensationalist headlines such as 'Muslim woman speaks out against Islam', etc. That is a misrepresentation, because I am not a practising Muslim. 

I'd also just like to take a moment to talk about journalism etiquette. I have been hearing from several journalists who want to reprint the piece - and that is excellent. Please, by all means reprint and help spread the message. If you get in touch with me, I will most likely welcome the opportunity to have my words heard by a larger audience. Maybe we'll even get a response/reaction from Ben? (Nah, that's a long shot) 

There have been some instances however, where journalists have felt it is ok to copy and paste my ENTIRE piece as a 'quote'. My artwork was also used without even asking or informing me. Even though *eventually* properly attributed to me, one would expect that it is a basic courtesy to ask the person who's work you are using to funnel traffic to your website. Even if the piece in question is titled 'open letter', and is intended for public reading, one assumes that common courtesy will still prevail. 

Its not just one publication, several large name publications have used my work without sourcing properly in the past. I have always found this unfair, but am really unable to control it, as a not-so-important blogger. When I call this behaviour out, I am told to show 'gratitude' for the extra publicity. :/ 

I was actually even told by someone that I had 'delusions of grandeur' for expecting that publications would ask before lifting my piece. 

I'm wondering though, if these publications would be ok with me taking their articles and publishing on my blog (as a quote) and attributing to the first name of the author? 

So there is a writer called Joe who has some stuff to say:

"Joe's words, Joe's words"

he also says:

"Joe's words, Joe's words, Joe's entire piece." 

Yeah, something about that would rub them the wrong way, I'm sure. I dare not try it. I'm also not a journalist, so what would I know? 

Anyhow, individual use is also different from public use. If you want to post it up as your Facebook status, go for it. Share it in any way you like. But if you are a reputable publication - I will at least expect you to ask before. Just ask... that's all. :) If you don't ask, there is not much I can do, my work is up on the internet....I cannot control what you do with it. But it would be nice if you asked before using it to get hits on your site. Cheers. 

And now below, I will share with you my original unedited letter to Ben. Which for obvious reasons could not be printed as is. 


Dear Ben, 

I am writing to you today, as a woman who was born and raised in Islam. I saw your discussion with Bill Maher and Sam Harris - And I must say, you did me a great disservice that day. Your heart was in the right place, of course, and it was lovely of you to step up and defend ‘my people’. 

What you really did though, perhaps inadvertently, was silence a conversation that never gets started. Two people attempted to begin a dialogue and you wouldn’t even listen. Why should any set of ideas be above criticism, Ben? 

Why are Muslims being ‘preserved’ in some time-capsule of centuries gone by? Why is it ok that we continue to live in a world where our women are compared to candy -- waiting to be consumed? Why is it ok for women of the rest of the world to fight for freedom and equality, while we are told to cover our shameful bodies? Can't you see that we are being held back from joining this elite club known as the 21st century? 

image from
Noble liberals like yourself always stand up for the misrepresented Muslims and stand against the Islamophobes, which is great -- but who stands in my corner, and for the others who have been oppressed by the 'religion of peace'? Every time we raise our voices, one of us is killed or threatened. I am a blogger and illustrator, no threat to anyone Ben - except for those afraid of words and drawings. I want the freedom to express myself, without the very real fear that I might be killed for it. Is that too much to ask?

When I wrote a children’s book that carried a message of diversity and inclusivity for everyone, my life changed. My book, ‘My Chacha (uncle) is Gay' has the innocent anti-homophobia message, ‘Love belongs to Everyone’. This was not palatable to many of my Muslim brothers and sisters. 

Since that project I have been declared an ‘enemy of god’ and deemed worthy of death. All because I want to help create a world where South Asian children too can have their stories told, so they too can know that love comes in all forms, and that that’s ok. My muslim brothers and sisters were hit hard by this work because it addresses the issue of homophobia within our own community. It is not something they can pass off as ‘Western' immorality. Just like they deny that any issues exist within the doctrine of Islam, many deny that homosexuality exists amongst good, ‘moral’ muslims. 

Just like that, millions of people’s existence is rejected. Please do not defend people who think this way, and let me tell you Ben, many ‘good’ muslims do think this way.  

What you did by screaming ‘racist!’, was shut down a conversation that many of us have been waiting to have. You helped those who wish to deny there are issues, deny them. You became an instant hero, a defender of Islam. It’s kind, it really is. I understand, because I too am plagued and affected by the issues brought about by actual Islamophobia. I have a muslim name and brown skin, my peaceful relatives have been pushed in the subway and called ‘terrorist’ for no reason. 

I get that. 

We must distinguish critiquing an ideology from being hateful towards a group of people. And for this reason I think that tackling the issues within Islam should be two-pronged. They must be brought up, but simultaneously we should stress that blame for these issues cannot be placed on individuals. 

I am Pakistan’s only sex blogger, I am also a woman. I am by default a lesser being within Islam. The fact that I talk about sex makes me even more worthy of disgust. Sex is not something easily discussed amongst muslims. And in the efforts of preserving our religious purity, we let some very immoral acts slide. Things that can often be justified by religious scripture. I speak to women every day who suffer under the religion of peace because they are not held as equals. There are things you can use to justify marital rape within the texts, and things you can use to justify pedophilia, there are things you can use to justify beheading infidels and apostates - just as ISIS does. That is not to say that ALL muslims are pedophiles, rapists or violent beheaders, or that Islam promotes these things. But if you are a person looking to justify such acts, you may find what you are looking for within the texts. Countless numbers of people suffer because of this, Ben. 

Who will stand up for those people? In the interest of being politically correct and ‘liberal’ we silence the voices of millions. I am turning to you because you were instrumental in starting this conversation. Those of us who want reform are muted by extremists, as well as the liberals who betray us in the name of multiculturalism. 

ISIS paints a horrific picture, so I understand the knee-jerk reaction to deny any link. Most muslims choose to interpret scripture in a peaceful way, but that doesn’t mean the raw material isn’t there for those who choose the path of violence. That material must be addressed.  

Can we talk about the blatant double standards and violation of human rights, for a second? Mosques are built throughout Western countries, usually without much issue. But in the hub of Islam, the heart of Islam - in Saudi Arabia no one but muslims are allowed to officially practise their faith. There are no churches, temples or synagogues - because Saudi Arabia will not permit any non-muslim place of worship to exist. Who will hold them accountable for such injustice if we hush everyone who speaks out against Islam? 

What is so wrong with wanting to step into the current century? Why is there shame in accepting a book that is over a thousand years old just doesn’t hold up anymore? There should be no shame. There is no denying that violence, misogyny and homophobia exist in all religious texts, but Islam is the only religion that is adhered to so literally, to this day.

In your culture you have the luxury of calling such literalists “crazies", like the Westboro Baptist Church for example. In my culture, such values are upheld by more people than we realise. Many will try to deny it, but please hear me when I say that these are not fringe values. It is apparent in the lacking numbers of Muslims willing to speak out against the archaic Shariah law. The lack of acceptance for any alternate sexuality, the punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, these things are tools of oppression. Why are they not addressed even by the peaceful folk who “aren’t fanatical, who just want to have some sandwiches and pray five times a day?” Where are the Muslim protestors against Blasphemy laws/apostasy? Where are the Muslims who take a stand against Shariah? These sandwich-eating peaceful folk do not defend those suffering in the name of Islam Ben, and therein lies our problem.  

Maybe the points Maher and Harris were trying to make are more easily digested when coming from within the community, I can appreciate that. That is why I am writing to you, as someone who has personally been hurt by the lack of acknowledgement of these issues. 

If Muslims do not critique the atrocities that the religion *can* justify, then people on the outside will - and their message will not be listened to simply because of who they are. Its a vicious cycle, one that can only break if indeed, like Harris said, true reformers are empowered. 

I ask you and anyone reading this, to make an effort to seek out reformers from within our community, and support them in any way you can. 

If I were allowed to meet a man that is not my father, brother or husband unchaperoned - I would have loved to discuss this over drinks (which I am also not allowed to have) with you. So you see, things must change.