Tell Me What You and Your Friends Think of Muslims

Readers–I have been formulating a couple of particularly complicated essays for this blog, but I keep running into this obstacle where I keep getting surprised by people I talk to about this stuff, maybe people like you. I keep getting surprised because I don’t have a very good conception of What People Think About Muslims, so learning new information (especially information I couldn’t have thought of on my own) along those lines has the ability to make me pause, to consider not only my approach to an argument, but the content I must include. It’s hard to make those choices when I have a blind spot for what information people are missing or resting upon. And sometimes I can’t even conceive of what my audience knows or doesn’t know or thinks or doesn’t think.  So here is a serious request for information to help me further define my rhetoric and blogging goals and approaches.

I would like to hear about perceptions towards Muslims, especially Muslim women, in the Middle East. I am looking for responses that are either from people who have never lived in or significantly interacted with a Muslim-majority society outside of the West, or describing the positions of people who fit those criteria (your roommate, your mom, etc). ‘People’ here just means one or more contemporary human beings–it doesn’t have to be a group of people, and the perception doesn’t have to be something that a lot of people think.

Information can include but need not be limited to the following:

  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East dress–including the type and fabric and styles of their garments, the role and significance of that clothing, any information on how dress varies or does not vary across class, gender, private, professional spheres etc.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East live–what their homes and cities and jobs and schools look like. What kind of work they do, with what kind of schedules. What kind of transportation systems they have. Anything about economy and infrastructure and landscape and social norms.
  • How people think the urban and rural landscapes in the Muslim-majority Middle East look and function.
  • How people think race, class, religion, and gender hierarchies are structured in the Muslim-majority Middle East, including how members of different groups behave towards each other.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East spend their leisure or pleasure time, including popular or group pastimes.
  • How people think the governments of Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East are structured, including very specific details re: how people think Muslims in the Middle East think about matters of foreign policy, fiscal policy, big government, services, taxes, and the like.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East perceive their own laws, lives, and norms, including if and how and why they dissent or conform.
  • How people think family and community structures are like among Muslims in the Middle East. Marriage, divorce, inheritance, childrearing, etc. How families are divided into homes and provided for. How people join for meals. Community development and activism projects. Etc.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East read, write, and think. What is their literature and music and art and cultural consciousness like? What is their collegiate culture like?

Anything else that comes to mind is welcome too. Go ahead and answer if you have something in mind!

If you are interested in helping me out but have questions, please read the following guidelines in full. If your question is NOT answered then please ask it in the comments and I will address it. So, FAQ:

  1. This is NOT a request for Necessarily True Information, but a request for information about What People Think. This means that Stereotypes Are Good Information, as are Falsehoods. This means you can freely provide answers even if you suspect or are certain that the information in question is mistaken, reductive, offensive, or has other types of problems, but I also encourage you to answer with information you feel to be particularly circumspect, empathetic, and evidenced. I am NOT particularly looking for perspectives from experts rather than laypeople.
  2. This is NOT a request for information for your position or stance on the perspective in question. You need not provide a judgment or explain whether or how a perception you are describing is or isn’t misguided, and it’s okay to provide information that you are not sure about yourself. You don’t need to tell me if you are sure or unsure either.
  3. Justifications for belief in the information you provide are welcome but not required.*
  4. That being said, nuance is not required. Straightforward or simple perceptions are welcome without comment.
  5. Information that indicates what people DON’T think of or consider or think about Muslims is also useful.
  6. Information that indicates what people think about non-Western Muslim-majority societies NOT in the Middle East is not exactly what I’m looking for right now, but is welcome in any case, and will be useful for other things.
  7. Information that indicates a CONFLATION or CONFUSION, even implicitly, between Middle Eastern and other non-Western Muslim-majority societies is also welcome.
  8. Information that indicates a CONFLATION or CONFUSION, even implicitly, between Arabs and Muslims, or Muslims and other ethnicities, or Arabs and other ethnicities associated with Muslim groups is also useful to me.
  9. I will not take your comment as an endorsement. I will not take the information you provide to be indicative of your personal beliefs or positions and you can expect to receive no criticism of the information you provide.
  10. If you *do* want to make your position clear because you fear others will judge you even if I will not, then feel free to, but know that a) I will not use the knowledge of your stance in any way, and b) if you identify yourself as holding a certain belief, you exempt yourself from my promise to withhold criticism of it. It’s worth knowing I will only critique your positions if you voluntarily claim them as yours and if I find it necessary to do so because they are deserving of it. I strongly suggest using a ‘some people think that x’ sentence structure as useful for separating the information you provide from your stance on it if that is your desire.
  11. This is also not a request for information in any *statistical* sense. I am not attempting to measure the frequency or commonality of certain beliefs, so even if you have never encountered more than one person, possibly yourself, who has the conception you are describing, then your information is still valuable to me. If you have the information but don’t know why you or someone else believes it, or you don’t know from where that belief comes, even in a vague way, that is fine too. I’m not attempting to measure influences in any manner, so being unsure why you think something will not affect the usefulness of your information to me.
  12. I am posting this partially to look for perceptions outside of the circles I commonly frequent. This means that you are encouraged to ask friends, family, or even strangers who are differently-minded than you and report back.
  13. If you are struggling with phrasing because you find the position you are describing to be problematic or distasteful in some way, it might help you to know that I prefer a description that may be more offensive if tempering your language will result in loss of connotation or a softened version of the real position.

Thank you very much! I look forward to your responses.

-Hiba

*That being said, please only provide explanations if you think you are particularly skilled at modeling other minds in that regard, or you have heard the justification from people who have held the position, or you have held or do hold the position with its justification yourself. If you cannot understand why someone might plausibly believe the information you provide, then please do not try to explain it. Explanations like ‘because people are ignorant’ are not useful to me. They tell me nothing about what approaches I might use to temper misinformation because they tell me nothing about what the person believes and knows or doesn’t know that leads them to that conclusion.

In Defense of the Ex-Muslim Story as a Cultural Archetype

I believe we ex-Muslims are developing an entire genre and canon of work. 

I’ve come to think of a narrative similar to mine as the archetypal ex-Muslim woman story. The more ex-Muslims I meet, the more of their work I read, I begin to see it: the circumstances that would most likely explain such a sudden break in lifestyle arise again and again as common, classic: a person from a particularly insular and traumatized Muslim community, who has access to a good education and some connection to the West, enabling that person with powerful tools for critique and the real-world circumstances that  will allow them to come to a place where they might finally speak while also giving them a particularly powerful sociopolitical motivation for doing so.

I’ve met many people who have broken away from Islamic norms, and while there much variation in their motivations and experiences, this seems to be the most common and resonant narrative. And I have come to think that we are in the process of developing an entire genre, the collective work of people dissenting to Islam from within Muslim communities rather than purely as the work of a colonialist and then post-colonialist perspective.

I’m sure we’ve always existed, but have not always had the means to emerge with our discourse, so silenced and taboo have our issues been within our own communities. It is still difficult–looking at my own story, I am still both terrified and astonished at how different it all could have been if not for a series of lucky circumstances–I was very close to being raised and undereducated in a refugee camp. But it is more than luck that is allowing us to speak now. A few years ago you never heard of people with apostasy stories, and people like us believed we were unique because we were so isolated.

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The Struggle of Wanting to be White

I left the hijab behind, but I still use my old scarves as fashion accessories--wraps, turbans, belts, shawls--in attempt to preserve my ethnic belonging in the face of white erosion.

I left the hijab behind, but I still use my old scarves as fashion accessories–wraps, turbans, belts, shawls–in attempt to preserve my ethnic belonging in the face of white erosion.

CN: Racism

I struggle with whiteness as a person of color. I struggle to resist allowing it to define my movements, my identities. I struggle the same reason many other non-white people do: because whiteness is a pervasive force shaping this world. This means I’m constantly battling my own internalized racism, my whitewashing. It means that while I don’t hate myself because I’m not white anymore, I hate myself for still wishing I was white so that I can be ‘normal’, accepted, safe.

Some days and weeks this struggle is harder than others. It’s been particularly tough this week as I’ve delved into arguments, articles, discourse regarding blackness in America. I’ve learned much, but also found a lot that resonates with my experiences as an Arab woman growing up in a strangely white world while still in the Middle East.

I think of how I grew up surrounded by anglophone culture gob-smack in the middle of Saudi Arabia because I was an expat who went to an American school. How everything I read, saw, and watched was about the lives and concerns of white people. How my Muslim (read:Arab) presentation as one of the few hijabis in the entire school was a source of shame and pain and sadness to me because of how thoroughly I was ostracized, ridiculed for it. How, when I first discovered that I wanted to be a writer, the first stories I wrote had exclusively white characters in Western nations because those were the main actors in every bit of history and literature I was being taught as important.

For the longest time, it didn’t even occur to me that stories about brown people could be relevant, useful, or necessary.

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Like Water on a Cabbage Leaf: Islam and Mental Health Stigma

An examination of mental health stigma as a necessary product of maintaining Muslim norms

Content warnings tags also include: physical abuse, imprisonment, interrogation, forced hospitalization, and overmedication.  Also note that my analysis below concerns a quite conservative form of Muslim society as described in the below culture and context and is not to be taken as universal to all forms of Islam or temporally absolute. Also note that this is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive post. I’m describing the roots of a phenomenon. I have no solutions yet.

 

contemplationThere is no doubt in my mind that mental health stigma is one of the most serious cultural problems in various parts of the Middle East today, and that it ties in quite neatly to our conceptions of autonomy and human competence. I understand why this is the case. When I say ‘understand’ here, this means I recognize why there is ideological impetus for mental health to be viewed in the way that it is. That is a curious sentence now that I read it back, but I have come to realize, after long years of struggling with my own depression and psychosis to the obliviousness of those surrounding me, that our cultural language in my home culture is steeped in attitudes that are both necessary for the promulgation of a properly Muslim lifestyle and radically out of tune with what we know about human psychology.

First let me trace out the extent of the problem, before I tackle its roots. Here is an anecdote for you. The following had to happen before for my parents to finally cave and get me medical help:

I ran away from home. I was an adult, though barely (I left maybe 2 months after my 18th birthday). My dad was in the States for work and my mom got Hezbollah involved right away. It’s a long story, but with a lot of deception and trickery, they had found me and had me holed up in an apartment in the middle of the Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern suburb and the Hezb’s stronghold near the capital, basically keeping me there until my father could come claim me.

He did. In the subsequent weeks, my parents began their interrogation process, because the explanation I gave for running away was unacceptable. After all, I lived in a society where leaving home is unthinkable for an unmarried Muslim girl. I told them I wanted my own life, wanted self-determination, that I was depressed living among them–none of this made any sense or was acceptable to them. Note that I was still Muslim at this point–none of it was about leaving Islam, though of course my definition of Islam at the time would have been shocking to their understanding of it. But my actions were in such violation of what was permissible that they did not even question the use of force, control, and extortion to try to get to the bottom of what was going on.

They kept me locked up in a tiny room in the dark for weeks, taking me out only to tie me up, beat me, and much worse in attempts to extort ‘the truth’ about my motivations from me. My dad asked if I was a prostitute, pregnant, etc. Those were the sorts of confessions they tried to wring out of me, because depravity was the only explanation in their minds for my actions. I was already depressed. I was already psychotic, and had been for a few years at that point without telling anybody; strangely, the voices at first were a comfort, the only thing I had that was my own, that nobody at all ever anywhere could access or influence or touch. Being locked up in a tiny room meant I was sitting in my own blood and shit and urine sometimes. Unsurprisingly, over the course of weeks and eventually months, I withdrew so much into myself that I even stopped physically reacting to beatings. I was like a rag doll. It was at this point that something clicked in my father’s mind: maybe I was not responding because I was incapable of doing so.

Up until that point, he thought I was just being stubborn, willful, cruel. That I was being a vicious, evil woman by not submitting to the interrogations. He quite literally could not conceive of another reason.

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A Post Wherein I Publicly Thank Alex Gabriel

You might have noticed that my new banner is up, courtesy of Alex Gabriel. I think it’s beautiful, and captures my spirit perfectly. Alex knows me, and knows what’s up.

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Glowing, calm, Arabesque. Isn’t that something. He created that typeface himself, painstakingly shaping the letters.

But it’s not the only masthead Alex designed; he did Heina’s too. In my inaugural post, I cracked a joke about being commonly mistaken for Heina, as we are both queer, polyamorous, ex-hijabi ex-Muslim women with similar names who just joined the Freethought Blogs.

Luckily, Alex turned the masthead-making into an anthropological project of sorts, knowing that he wasn’t just branding our blogs, but our selves. He made a point of capturing each of our very different differences in ways that gave both of our characters justice. A quote:

Heina’s persona is distinctly ironic, dripping with snark. Hiba’s is known for being gutwrenchingly sincere. Hiba’s apostasy plays against the backdrop of her middle eastern taste in art, food, clothing, even grammar; Heina’s aesthetic – lipstick, heels, polka dots – is hard-femme Americana.

How do you represent these sorts of differences in two 728x120px images?

Alex almost has me believing that people have essences. He writes beautifully about his methods, inadvertently giving the most touching testimony to both our characters in the process. At least, I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. I’m sure you didn’t plan this entire thing, Alex. I’m sure you didn’t turn a couple of women of color into your guinea pigs on purpose.

I kid. In fact, Alex gives remarkably astute thought to our respective racial representations, given the stereotypes and conflations Heina and I are always struggling to subvert in our daily lives; yes, even with our clothing, our writing styles, in every way we publicly present ourselves. His commentary on his thought process is fascinating and incredibly on-point.

Go take a look at Heina’s kick-ass masthead and read the rest. The writing is just as well-crafted as the banners.

-Hiba

What it is like to be a Muslim woman: Muricaversary Edition

Today is my ‘Muricaversary’, marking 2 years to the day from my landing in the US from Lebanon. Since this also marks my first ‘real’ post at FTB, I thought it would be fitting to publish a new version of the first essay that went viral on the old Between A Veil and a Dark Place. This piece won me many of my loyal readers and brought in hundreds of comments and messages from people who found that this piece spoke to them, resonated with them.

That’s not the only reason I want to re-issue this piece. This piece is iconic for me, in many ways. It marks the first time I was able to write about trauma as a Muslim woman with any measure of success. It is also grapples with the struggle to realize that things have actually changed, to come to terms with having autonomy and the right to self-determination–things I never thought I’d have to struggle to come to terms with. It is in that sense definitely a piece on Freedom. It is a piece of learning and growing, which is why I think it’s apt for today.

This is an edited, expanded, and more philosophical version of the original essay. You can also find the new version in print at 580 Split, which is sold online and in Bay Area bookstores. I also later wrote a Part Two, a defense/rationale of the title, and a sister essay on being ex-Muslim.

Enjoy.

What it is Like to be a Muslim Woman, and Why We Know What Freedom Is

By Hiba Krisht

muslimwoman

 

I have keys.

When I moved to the United States around two years ago, it took me several weeks to grasp this.

I have keys.

I have keys to my own front door and I can open this front door and walk down the street whenever I like.

I can walk down the street without being watched through the windows and without anyone calling my parents and telling them their daughter is roaming loose.

I can walk down the street, sit down on a bench under a tree, and eat an iced cream cone. Then I can stand up and walk back home.

There will be nobody waiting for me at my house to ask me where I have been, refuse to let me in, to call me a liar, to use my walk as renewed incentive to rifle through all of my possessions.

Because the simple desire to take a walk cannot but hide something deviant.

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Ohai! Your resident queer, poly, ex-hijabi, ex-Muslim here!

I’m the one who isn’t Heina. Don’t worry, people mix us up all the time, and we’ve decided to blog alongside each other just to further your confusion (ALL THE WELCOMEZ, MY FELLOW NEWBIES HEINA AND AOIFE).

And hello, readers! I’m excited and delighted to be a new Freethought Blogger! Too many wonderful writers I’m too excited to work alongside to count, especially the ex-Muslims. May I say how wonderful and wise it is that the secular community is expanding to give space to valuable ex-Muslim voices. It’s been a long journey to get here. For those of you who know me from the original Between A Veil and a Dark Place I welcome you and salute you for staying with me this long! You may know me either under the name Marwa Berro (my pen name for a good chunk of my blogging) or Hiba Krisht (That is Hiba with a short ‘i’, like in ‘him’ or hip’ and it is my real name, which I recently began to reveal in media appearances, the first of which was this interview in VICE). I am in fact both people, and the same person. I am going by Hiba now and hopefully will successfully merge the 2 identities soon. Others might have seen me appear fleetingly in guest posts or mentions on Ophelia’s, Kaveh’s, and Alex’s blogs among others. My presence on FtB will be fleeting no more!

For those of you who do not know me yet, here is a quick summary:

I’m an ex-Muslim freelance writer and translator from Beirut. I moved to the US about 2 years ago (actually my Murica-versary is in 3 days, wut. PARTY!!), and in my past life I belonged to a very conservative Shia Muslim family. I came of age in Southern Lebanese guerilla warfare culture, with the predominant religious and political power governing my social spaces being Hezbollah–I write about growing up in Hezbollah culture here. I wore the hijab for 15 years, from the ages of 8 to 23. I write about that experience in several places: including here in a Huffpost interview alongside the amazing Heina Dadabhoy and Reem Abdel Razek (you can sense the self-plugging pretty hard, no?), and here, and here. Here’s a lovely photo from my past life, taken when I was about 17 years old, which Alex Gabriel has helped me reclaim by dubbing it ‘A Fabulous Woman with a Massive Gun.’ I like it:

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Now I’m a queer, kinky, polyamorous heathen who ‘can’t just leave religion alone’. I’m vocal, feminist, and vocal about being feminist. I’ve had a very difficult life to date, growing up with a lot of violence and control (neither my family nor Hezbollah took kindly to the whole attempting-to-escape-and-have-my-own-life thing) and I think it’s all worth talking about extensively. This is what I look like now:

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Follow me on Twitter here, and ‘Like’ my Facebook page here, if you’re into that sort of thing. I post blog updates and links in both places but that’s really the extent of my involvement. Sorry I’m not more present.

At the old BaVaaDP, whose archives I will import soon, I wrote critique of Islam with a feminist bent, but also about common experiences/stories/circumstances concerning women in Muslim-majority countries. There is quite a bit of personal narrative up there, woven into a broader critique of Islamic rhetoric and its influence on patriarchy, power, and politics. My academic background was in literature (BA), political philosophy and meta-ethics (MA), and fiction writing (MFA…ish. I dropped out). I taught logic, ethics, creative writing, composition, and rhetoric at the college level for a few years, and I still translate academic sociopolitical theory, so I definitely carry those influences forward in my blogging. The work I do on this blog is more lay-person and less academic (for links to my academic work, ask within the coming weeks; I have a few scholarly articles being published in a new initiative focused on marginalized communities in the Middle East). This is intentional. I like to adapt my work as best suits the spaces hosting it.

I also have a side project, a tumblr photojournalism thing called the Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal where I showcase the stories, photographs, and voices of people who have left Islam and its trappings and would like the space to talk about their own experiences on their own terms, in a gesture of autonomy and self-ownership many of us have always been denied. Find it here. It’s super empowering.

Here’s my own mandatory before-after photo:

before after

I warn you, I really, really like being able to show off my stuff after years and years of being shrouded and obscured. This means I do take selfies, and will post them sometimes.

And for some nice, personal ‘meat’ to this blog post, here is a glimpse of one of the post-religious struggles I still contend with today. This was on my mind this morning, approaching my Muricaversary.

I call it On Freedom (cue *giggle*):

The first time I had any real freedom in my life was when I started college. I lived in the outskirts of Beirut so I attended a university about an hour away (in traffic) from home, and it was too far for me to go home between classes, and I was the only one in my family who attended so I didn’t have anyone there watching and controlling my movements. I also couldn’t drive and my family found taking public transportation to be too immodest after a bunch of harassment incidents in my first year (the irony), so even if I only had one class, I’d get to go to campus at 8am and come back in the evening because my dad dropped me off and picked me up on his way to and from work.

So throughout undergrad and grad school, I got to stay on campus the whole day without anybody monitoring my movements while I was there. It was exhilarating to me, because I could do things like choose what I wanted to buy for lunch (non-halal food ftw!) and walk around Hamra and hang out with guy friends between classes without anybody watching me. I grew up in a household with no value given to personal privacy, where my things were searched through routinely, where I habitually deleted all my chats, emails, and texts as soon as I read them and where I always assumed people would be listening on the other end if I used the phone. I was working through my last couple of years of undergrad and grad school, but my parents had access to my finances, which also really limited my capacity to act. But even with that, I had so much more opportunity to do ‘sinful’ things once I started college, and naturally the hiding and lying also became more concentrated.

It is, to say the least, dehumanizing to be under so much constant suspicion and scrutiny. When my sister started attending the same university 5 years later, my dad would try to use me as a tool to spy on her (little did he suspect that with my sister what you see is what you get, and that I was the ‘bad’ one who secretly thought and felt other than what I presented). He’d routinely tell me to pop into her department and check to see that she wasn’t doing anything ‘wrong’ or taking her hijab off at school. I never did, and would just make up a story about doing so and would tell her to corroborate it. It was almost routine, almost something I didn’t question because it was just the way we had to do things in order to get by. It’s only now that I’m hyperaware of the levels of control, how demeaning and fucked-up it was.

Now I obviously have levels of freedom that are almost incomparable to what I had in my former life (especially as I don’t have a boss to answer to), and have absolutely nobody with power over me scrutinizing my dress, conduct, eating habits, movements, beliefs, or personal belongings. And you know what? I still can’t get over it. I still can’t process having so much SPACE and SAFETY. I still feel paralyzed trying to decide what to do with my time, what to write, where to turn to next.

This small bit of existential panic made it so that today I forewent (forgoed?) my loosely-defined ‘plans’ to work on this one piece for Alternet and translate a few more pages of that horrible book and instead ordered Indian takeout and smoked a bowl and started watching Shankaboot:

I like watching Shankaboot because it speaks to being so quintessentially Beirut to me, and it lets me get sucked into those familiar streets again. So there I was with my chicken tikka masala dripping down my chin when I realized that holy shit… what I WANT when I long for Beirut is to be a BOY in Beirut–obviously only in the sense of having a boy’s privileges. Because only boys have all those glorious freedoms. The protaganist Suleiman obviously hasn’t any class advantage, but despite that, look at him streaking all over those streets on his bike wherever he wants whenever he wants forming casual bonds with people without being under suspicion for it! so jealous! because that’s the best way to experience a place. And that’s how I want to go back, if ever.

So there you are… a little glimpse into my life and thought-processes. If you don’t like critique of religion that incorporates institutionalized systems of power and privilege, then this may not be the blog for you. If you are skeptical of the importance of social justice activism and of theories of intersectionality, this many not be the blog for you. If you don’t take the dehumanizing powers of racism and colonialism seriously, this blog may not be for you. And if you want to use this blog as a dumping-ground for generalized insults to Islam and Muslims, especially as those tend to be highly racialized (can you hear the chorus of little crickets screeching ‘but Islam is not a race’?!), be prepared to have your sentiments challenged and scrutinized. You will not find them applauded here. Insults without purpose are not critique, and I will ask what on earth you are attempting to accomplish if all you want to do is shit on Muslims here. Anti-Muslim bigotry is a very real, pervasive problem that ex-Muslims and brown people perceived-to-be Muslim (eg, Sikhs) are not immune to, and sentiments that enable it will not be tolerated in this space.

And now some less-fun nitty-gritty: some FAQ’s. I’ve decided to skip over the common questions re: Islam and apostasy that I’ve answered already here, and focus on some  particularly pernicious (read: often recurring, triumphantly pursued) ‘questions’ that have been raised as the result of, I can only assume, some serious digging:

Yes, I am technically Arab-American though I hardly identify as such. I was born in the US but my parents took me back to the Middle East when I was very young. My parents were immigrants who had not absorbed the culture or been in the US for very long before leaving again (in fact, my mother’s family experienced a religious revival while in the US, in the 70’s and 80’s following the raucous discourse of Khomeini and Shia uprisings in South Lebanon), and I did not grow up with anything resembling an American experience. I grew up between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. I am open to questions about both places, and have written about what it was like to live in both places too. I think the question comes up because people think they are being super smart by scrutinizing my story on the grounds of ‘if you are who you say you are then how come you speak English so well and can stay in America hurrr durrr’ (as if Arabs cannot possibly be educated, have dual nationality, or immigrate), or else question my belonging to my home country on the grounds that I was born in America, etc. As a dual national who moved to her home country in her teens, I’ve always had my national and cultural belonging questioned from one side or the other and it’s not going to disarm me if people continue to do it again and again. Some people have also tried to catch me not-knowing Arabic (???), despite the fact that I run/own my own translation business. Oops. Luckily one of the first things that comes up when you Google me is my 2012 commencement speech at the American University of Beirut, which corroborates me being in the States for about 2 years. People haven’t been able to catch me in a lie yet (not for lack of trying). It could be because *gasp* I am telling the truth.

Yes, I have a weird in-between familial belonging to both Lebanon and Palestine. My father and his family were born into the UNRWA camps in Tyre with no nationality save Palestinian refugee status, having fled from our family’s hometown Tarbeekha, which was taken in ’48. Legally, women in Lebanon cannot pass on their nationalities (one of our many patriarchal human rights trainwrecks in my beloved homeland) so my Lebanese mother couldn’t help me out on that front. Lebanon decided to naturalize refugees from Tarbeekha and 6 other ‘in-between’ villages in the mid-90’s, so that’s when I gained my Lebanese citizenship. I was in Saudi at the time. Naturalizing Palestinian refugees is not a common practice. The reason for it was the Lebanese government officially recognizing the 7 Villages as actually Lebanese in dialect, religion, and culture (for one, they are Shia, and there is no other record of Palestinian Shia existing) despite being taken in the original occupation. It’s an odd situation to be sure, since almost nobody can claim to have been born a refugee then naturalized Lebanese but have been Lebanese all along just the same, so I understand why people have questions about it. Here is the Wikipedia page confirming the historical info given here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia_villages_in_Palestine

Despite (given?) this history, I identify as Lebanese and not as Palestinian, though the second-class status of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in neighboring Arab and Muslim countries is very close to my heart.

For those who Google me and find radically different advertisements/trails of my work: Yes, I do technically have separate lines of writing work, with my creative nonfiction being mostly focused on atheist/humanist/feminist stuff, my work-to-make-a-living being mostly technical and academic translation, and my literary work focused on the short story form, stories about/in Beirut. I recently left an MFA program in Fiction Writing, which your Google-fu skills will most undoubtedly tell you I was matriculated in. Here’s my latest released story, in the Kenyon Review, about a Muslim-Christian relationship in Beirut. Content note for discussion of rape (non-graphic, not-depicted). I’m rather proud of it. It’s part of a novel-in-short-stories I started working on in 2011.

Yes, I had a reason for using a pen name and a reason for leaving it behind. I can explain it to you if you insist but it’s really rather boring and not at all as exciting as my life being in danger for my apostasy or anything, sadly.

Yes, I am affiliated via membership to the Ex-Muslims of North America. No, I am not part of their board or administrative body. We are allied and I often choose to consult them but do not answer to them. I am very close friends with many EXMNA people and we do have joint endeavors.

And it should also go without saying, but ffs, no, I am not paid or endorsed by any right-wing, Illuminati, Judeo-corporate (??), or Zionist entity. *cracks a joke like ‘if i was, i wouldn’t be this poor!’ lol etc etc lol*

Yes, I am happy to come speak at your institution, conference, or campus! You can find my most recent interview here with the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Hour, alongside Ex-Muslims of North America Director of Operations Muhammad Syed. I think I have a talk from the last Secular Student Alliance conference coming online soon. You can find my speaker’s profile with the Center for Inquiry here.

If any literary agents are reading this, yes, I would like to sell my memoir, please and thank you. Just kidding. Not really. Yes I am. No I’m not. I may have written a query and proposal yet. Can haz book deal?

Yes, you can commission me to do non-atheist/humanist freelance work. It’s how I pay my bills and new gigs and projects are always welcome. I don’t mind the ‘overlap’ in my circles. I get most of my gigs via networking anyway! Here’s my translation website: http://hibakrisht.com/

Yes, my posts do tend to be on the long side. Brevity is not my forte, and I figure that if people are going to be deterred by the length of my pieces, then perhaps my content isn’t for them either. I am quite wary of surface-level engagement when the topics I write about are also topics teeming with popular misconception and plagued by various brands of bigotry. Care is paramount. And I have thankfully had no dearth of audience and engaged readership despite the length and complexity of my pieces, so I have good precedent for cleaving to this choice.

Yes, I am mentally ill. The only way this should concern you is if it is of contentful relevance to a post you wish to discuss, and to remind you that I am quite unmoved by ableist attempts to characterize religion or the religious as mentally ill, and will edit out usages of terms like ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ used as intensifying descriptors to mean ‘immoral’ in one way or another.

I won’t set a further-detailed comment policy. I reserve discretion in deleting comments that troll or harass. I do not need to define either of those terms; if you feel them to be ambiguous, you are already looking for loopholes. If I feel the bounds of safety this blog circumscribes have been transgressed, I will either scrap abusive comments or engage with them in a way I find to be publicly beneficial. There is no hard policy for either. I will note the obvious: I am not obliged to host views I find deplorable. People who feel they are not given space to express themselves on my blog can go to another corner of the internet and express themselves all they like.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, and if you have any questions, in the comments!

-Hiba

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oooh, ooh I forgot one thing. No, the banner I have up is not permanent. It’s just a placeholder until Alex finishes designing my shiny new one. Yay!

A Couple of Comings-Out

I’d just like to quickly announce two things that have come out today that I am quite excited about.

The first is my appearance in the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Hour alongside Muhammad Syed, Director of Operations of the Ex-Muslims of North America. We talk at length about being ex-Muslim, creating community, and challenges, struggles, and misapprehensions facing Muslim-majority countries and communities today. We talk about interfaith interplay in Muslim-majority countries, about anti-Muslim bigotry and apologism preventing critique of Islam, how both of those manifest, why and how they both need to be resisted, and more. Check out the podcast here:

http://thehumanist.com/multimedia/podcast/the-humanist-hour-108-coming-out-ex-muslim-with-muhammad-syed-and-hiba-krisht

The second is a little personal. Not many of my readers know this, but in my personal and professional life, I was a writer and editor of fiction before I started getting into the sort of literary-narrative nonfiction critique I do in this blog project. Today I have a short story out in The Kenyon Review, one of the world’s leading literary journals, and I’m bursting with pride. The story takes place in my hometown Beirut and explores Muslim-Christian tensions surrounding a rape. Enjoy:

http://www.kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2014-summer/selections/hiba-krisht-342846/

-Hiba

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Calling All Closeted Ex-Muslims Forced to Fast During Ramdan

The following is a message from Kiran Opal, Editor, ExMuslimBlogs.com – Twitter @KiranOpal:

There is still one day left to share your story. During Ramadan, many people from Muslim backgrounds are under immense pressure to avoid eating food or drinking water from the break of dawn till sunset. This can mean up to 19 hours of not eating or drinking. Those who believe in Islam and believe this is required of them may do this of their own choice, but for many, many Muslims who have doubts about Islamic teachings, and those who no longer believe in Islam (Ex-Muslims), Ramadan is a time when they suffer from hunger and thirst NOT out of their own choice, but because their families and Muslim communities often pressure them into it. Many such people end up being forced to lie, and hide food and water from their families. They are forced to drink and eat in secret, as if it were a crime. In fact, in some Muslim majority countries it IS now a crime to eat or drink during Ramadan.

Those Muslims and Ex-Muslims who are forced to fast during Ramadan do not have a voice in the public yet. My goal is to create a space for them to have that voice be heard. This is why I initiated this project, and I am inviting all Ex-Muslims and questioning Muslims who are forced or pressured to fast/starve/stay hungry or thirsty against their choice, to take part in this project.

Please see this link for more information: http://www.exmuslimblogs.com/mehfileskeptics/blog/2014/07/08/calling-closeted-ex-muslims-forced-fast-ramadan

You can send in your responses to the questions there (or write your own piece) by end of day 16 July 2014 to be included in the upcoming piece. The compilation piece including many voices from different people will be published on ExMuslimBlogs.com soon.

Yes, I’d like some Baklawa…but only if you insist: Why saying ‘Yes’ is shameful and saying ‘No’ is insulting

 

I have a very distinct early memory of the first time somebody didn’t say ‘No’ when they really meant ‘Yes.’ I’m not talking about a sexual context, either.

We were still in Saudi Arabia, and I had one of my friends over for dinner. When my mother offered her seconds, my friend said ‘Yes, please.’

I was startled, even taken aback, at those two little words, so accustomed was I to the sacred ritualistic exchange: “No, no…” and “I insist, you must,” and “I really can’t” and “I’ll be very sad if you don’t” and “All right then…it looks delicious.”

I knew the process well from the perspective of the guest; I’d followed the ritual closely time and time again during afternoon visits with my mother, sitting on living room couches as aunties offered trays of goodies. I’d always say no first even though my stomach was growling and I knew I wanted that piece of baklawa or cake that was being offered to me. Why? Because it was polite. Because otherwise I’d be thought a greedy, rude, presumptive little girl who did not know how to respect the hospitality being given to her.

It had exasperated me but never confused me before the night my friend so casually said ‘Yes, please’ and I wondered why accepting hospitality was at odds with respecting hospitality. I had to process my feelings about it. There was so much going on!

I realized that I had been trained to feel–and in fact did feel– a sort of blaming negativity towards my friend for saying Yes, she really did want seconds, that–at least for a moment–I viewed her as the disrespectful greedy little girl my mother so often warned me from being.

Why? It was clear to me that both I and my mother wanted her to take what we offered, that in fact it might be an insult to our hospitality, cooking, and generosity of spirit if she ultimately refused. So why the game in which she must demur and we must insist and she must reconsider and eventually be wheedled into admitting something that she may have felt all along? What was so wrong in saying she wanted something?

And, more interestingly, why did my friend seem so oblivious to these rules, so quiet and sure in what she wanted without exhibiting any shame for it?

I later chalked it up to her having an American mother, because I learned from my limited experience with Americans that they did not offer you food or a ride unless they truly wanted to give them, and did not expect people to say No unless they really meant it, and that they’d take your words at face value if you said No and not offer again.

Such a simplistic conception of American culture was later shattered as I realized that there were strikingly similar parallels with hospitality in various conservative and/or Southern US cultures. I also realized just how many situations there were where girls shouldn’t or couldn’t say they wanted to do A Thing that was somehow Not For Them, or that held some shame for a woman. I learned that sex and womanhood were treated with different standards than hospitality, where there is an entire culture of expectation surrounding the games of playing hard to get, saying No at first to mean ‘try harder’, of women shamed for admitting they wanted things that were assumed to be not for them, concepts that the clothing and appearance of a dissenting person might indicate that they really, secretly want “it” despite their words–in short, a culture where shaming consent and ignoring non-consent is normalized in various ways–but only in some contexts.

What is it, I’ve been wondering, about some forms of American culture, that makes it okay to say ‘Yes’ when you mean it and take ‘No’ at face value in the contexts of hospitality but not in the contexts of sexuality? Why is there such shame attached to a woman who admits she wants sex, why such flippancy towards a statement such as ‘No, I’m not interested?’, and why do those two things interplay in such a way that if a woman has sex and wants it sometimes that makes her less credible when she refuses it with other people or at other times?

Here are some broad cultural differences I’ve been thinking of as potentially related: America is a place where general self-sufficiency is prized, where taking charity is often full of shame and stigma and never a virtue, and where individualism is heralded as a sort of master value.  In the Arab world, in contrast, being dependent in various ways is prized, taking help extended to you, as long as it follows the correct ritual, does not bear the stigma of shame and is in fact expected, as it honors those who extend their generosity, and, for men, supporting your family, being in a dominant parental or familial role, and giving to charity is a consistent marker of the same virtues of hospitality and generosity prized so much.

It’s also generally true, I noted, that the same things are often markers of deficiency or shame when women do it, implying the lack of a male presence to take on those proper roles. In short, in Arab culture there is a sort of undercurrent that– although you are expected to refuse at first in order to not seem greedy or disrespectful–you must, yes, you must, be open to receiving what others seek to ‘give’ you in various ways circumscribed by rule or law, without ever acknowledging that you really want those things.

Regardless, in fact, of whether you actually do. That’s what I missed when I was a little girl thinking over this problem–I wondered why it was so horrible to say you wanted a piece of cake if someone offered it to you. I didn’t realize that you would be both obliged to say No even if you meant Yes…but also eventually say Yes even if you meant No…that many, many times people ended up eating an extra bit of something even if they really were too full or didn’t actually like it, for fear of insulting their hosts. I realized, too, that accepting food out of politeness would later, for a woman, come to be at odds with remaining trim enough to be desirable, a worthy match…and thus a further dimension of tension would ensue, where mothers and aunties would tsk and say just this once, and do you really want to be eating that? in tension with the hosts’ insistence. And even later on I’d come to realize that women were, in various ways, expected to say Yes to things they did not like or want all the time, including marital choices, career choices, bodily choices, clothing choices..all the way down to the sexual advances of their husbands, as a matter of course.

In short, neither consent nor nonconsent is even a relevant consideration for all these things. (See my post about Sex and Virginity for more about that side of this issue).

And oh, what a horrendously destructive set of values these are, that have ultimately worked towards silencing and marginalizing women and children, forcing them to be dependent and choice-less, and hashing those things as virtues.

How dare you refuse what someone is so generous to offer? How dare you not want what is given with such magnanimity?

And if you do want it…how daring, bold, and without shame you must be to admit it!

And what an almost unnavigable double-bind it is, to find yourself in a place where your own desires must be neutralized in favor of the desires of those under whose power you are–under their roof, under their employment, under their provision, and where you simultaneously must not express personal affinity with those desires.

One of the real-life stories that struck me the most from the novel  Girls of Riyadh when I read it was Sadeem’s, whose husband divorces her after she has sex with him before their official move-in, because he thinks she must be lacking all virtue to have welcomed him into her body so easily. It reflected to me how often women and girls are told to show shame, to have shame, to have haya, even about those things that were lawful or permissible: sex with your husband, eating food…no, we are told to look down, to not show that we like or enjoy it…otherwise, we suffer consequences.

And it’s true, I realized–it is viewed as only natural when men eat heartily, desire sex, or speak forcefully–in the most literal of ways, with the divisions of gender roles in Muslim-majority cultures appealing to the so-called ‘natural’ differences between men and women. Very ‘boys-will-be-boys’-esque, very much reinforcing damaging myths about dominant intellect in men that naturally inclines them towards choosing, speaking, and leading, myths about the prominence and uncontrollable nature of male desire and how  those ‘needs’ pose a sort of privilege and right to women’s bodies, myths about the natural ‘weakness’ of men in resisting the wiles, charms, and temptations of the female body, myths about men needing more space, more food naturally because of their bodies…myths that are not reciprocated because women are not constructed in the same manner, do not have the same abilities, desires, and needs…

No wonder our cultural norms train women to have haya, to have shame, to neither tempt nor acknowledge ever being tempted, to neither resist the will of others nor exhibit our own will…because heaven forbid we view women as people with agency, desires, and needs.

No wonder we say ‘No’ because it is shameful to say ‘Yes’, then say ‘Yes’ because it’s insulting to refuse…

-Hiba

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