What it is like to be a Muslim woman: Muricaversary Edition »« A Couple of Comings-Out

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!

Comments

  1. Great American Satan says

    Marwa Berro! A helluva catch for FtB. What does the tattoo on your wrist say, if you don’t mind?

  2. Mary Lennex says

    Yay! Another poly person who came from a very strict upbringing. Super interesting. I hope you blog about some of the issues and thoughts you have on how this freedom and space has impacted how you view personal relationships. I find that I seek out connections rarely for fear of controlling and for fear of having to live up to expectations. I believe “disappointing” people by my choices is still my struggle and would like to hear more if that is a struggle for you as well! And wow..you are crazy smart and hardworking. I need to write more!

    • Hiba says

      Hi and welcome! I definitely will be talking about this and much more re: recovery post-religion and how that’s impacted my sense of self and autonomy, my work, and my relationships!

  3. double-m says

    I’ll be a critical reader of your blog for a trial period, but with pessimistic expectations. I’ve stopped reading stuff by both white and Arab non-believers because they tend to show the same obliviousness to their racial privilege as their religious counterparts. What they have to say is often a slap in the face to someone like me, and it seems impossible to make them understand why. I’m willing to be proven wrong in this case, it would be a pleasant suprise for a change.

    If you don’t take the dehumanizing powers of racism and colonialism seriously, this blog may not be for you.

    If this isn’t one of the many publications by white/Arab people who only see the racism and colonialism on the other side, then I’m looking forward to it. Otherwise it’s unreflected privilege and I’ll stop reading.

    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.

    As a minority Ex-Muslim, I reject concepts such as “Anti-Muslim bigotry” which suggest that we’re all in are in same boat, either internally or vs. the whites. You and I are no more in the same situation than an Ex-Catholic from my ethnic group would be in the same boat with a white Ex-Catholic. Your people and the whites hate each other mutually, as equal rivals in a centuries old power struggle. That’s very different from the unilateral racism on both sides which considers someone like me inferior and not fully human.

    Anyway, good luck with your writing and as for me, I’ll just see how it goes.

    • Hiba says

      Hi. I’ve long intentionally tried to grapple with my own privilege as a member of the dominant ethnicity in the Middle East. We Arabs play inexcusable roles in perpetrating racist migrant worker systems (among other bigotries) that are some of the biggest ongoing human rights violations in the world, and we treat minority groups (Armenians, Kurds, refugees) as second-class citizens in a deplorable manner. It’s as if we’ve learned very little about how not to further propagate the racism we suffer from among white people in the West and the overbearing colonial powers that have overtaken our lands and stripped us of agency, power, and human dignity time and again. However, I am a little confused at your insistence that this power struggle between Arabs and the West has at all been equal and I will have to disagree with you on that point. I am very open to corrections, suggestions, and input on how I handle matters of Arab privilege on this blog. However, I will qualify in advance that I do not view Arab and white privilege to be equivalent power structures, and will not treat them as such in this blog. It’s an odd sort of dynamic where we are in various positions of dominance in the Middle East but radically disadvantaged outside of it. I’m afraid that if your hopes are for this blog to equate Arab and white privilege as mutually vying powers, then you may be in the wrong place. I will actively seek to grapple with the transgressions of Arabs towards other racial groups, but in doing so I will not deny the racial discrimination that my friends, family, and ethnic community have seen so much of in the West, nor will I discount the paternalistic power of a colonialism that has disenfranchised my people time and again. Majority ethnicities among Muslims, eg Arabs and South Asians, are treated with inferiority and dehumanization due to their ethnic belonging and I will not deny that phenomenon.

      RE: Anti-Muslim bigotry. I have no right to speak to whether you personally suffer from anti-Muslim bigotry as a minority ex-Muslim, but I would like to clarify what I mean by the term (especially as most Muslims aren’t Arab, so anti-Muslim bigotry has far greater scope than anti-Arab bigotry), because I do insist that it is a real and pervasive problem, which is not the same as claiming that it affects or must affect every person of current or former Muslim belonging, whether socially or religiously. Here is a link to a discussion I had with members of the ethnically diverse Ex-Muslims of North America:

      http://aveilandadarkplace.com/2014/05/21/islamophobia-muslimophobia-anti-muslim-bigotry-a-discussion-between-ex-muslims-on-appropriate-neologisms/

      The gist of the difference is that we’d argue that anti-Muslim bigotry doesn’t make accurate distinctions regarding a person’s actual personal religious background or social belonging…it is, after all, bigotry…and is such a racialized phenomenon that people of racial minorities are potentially subject to on the grounds of being perceived, in one way or another, to have some sort of Muslim belonging due to various features of their identity or presentation (eg, the non-Arab, not-ever-Muslim recent Miss America of Indian American descent was subject to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs by racists who did not care whether she actually was either of those things, based purely on her ethnicity, eg: Sikhs have been attacked and killed because people thought their turbans = Islam). Since ex-Catholic bigotry is not, afaik, an institutionalized phenomenon in either the West or Muslim-majority societies, I’m not sure how that analogy lines up to this one. I can, however, say that while it seems nigh impossible for a white ex-Catholic to suffer anti-Muslim bigotry, it is quite possible for an ex-Catholic of color to, due to the often-racial nature of the bigotry in question, to be subject to anti-Muslim bigotry.

      • double-m says

        I felt compelled to write this because I couldn’t just not respond to some of the things you said. However, this will be my final comment here. The first part of your reply gave me some hope until I read this.

        It’s as if we’ve learned very little about how not to further propagate the racism we suffer from among white people in the West and the overbearing colonial powers that have overtaken our lands and stripped us of agency, power, and human dignity time and again.

        You do a lot more than just passing on someone else’s racism. Your people invaded other people’s territories, annihilated their cultures, and forced them to accept Arab (“Islamic”) culture as the “universal standard” long before you had anything to do with whites. The only ones besides the whites who ever successfully challenged you were the Turks, although they merely substituted your highest-ranking leaders and left the Arab supremacist culture completely untouched. Your people are not victims of these things who merely turned bad out of frustration. You’re original perpetrators just like the whites.

        And which “our” lands precisely are you referring to? If you mean North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean, they’re not your lands. You’re colonial settlers there just as the whites are in North America. A place like Algeria isn’t “free” because it reverted from being a white colony back to being an Arab colony. Those are territories which are or used to be claimed by two different colonial powers. If you want sympathy over temporarily losing some of your colonies to the whites I’m afraid I have none to give you because I don’t support either side in this. My full support is with the nomadic and indigenous Americans, North Africans, and so on, who were invaded and turned into oppressed minorities in their own countries, indoctrinated to despise their pre-colonial ancestors, were and still are killed if they reject someone’s colonial religion, and so on.

        I should have gotten used to it by now, but I’m still speechless over the entitlement with which both your people and whites talk about occupied territory as “our land”. It’s not your land. It’s either the land of the indigenous nations or no one’s land at all. Get over it.

        However, I will qualify in advance that I do not view Arab and white privilege to be equivalent power structures, and will not treat them as such in this blog. It’s an odd sort of dynamic where we are in various positions of dominance in the Middle East but radically disadvantaged outside of it. I’m afraid that if your hopes are for this blog to equate Arab and white privilege as mutually vying powers, then you may be in the wrong place.

        Thanks for being open and yes, I am in the wrong place. It’s too draining to get the same “but our competitors are even worse” from both sides all the time, and I’m tired of seeing both sides colonize genuine anti-racist and civil rights efforts by minorities for the purpose of portraying their competition in a bad light. I’m sure Arab (Ex-)Muslims meet with hostility in white dominated countries. I’m also sure white (Ex-)Christians meet with the same hostility in Arab countries. If a white American tried to build a church in Saudi Arabia his rights probably wouldn’t be respected. But that’s not the same as spending your childhood wishing you were someone else everytime you looked in a mirror, because the body you saw had been treated as dirty so many times that you actually felt dirty in it. It’s not the same as feeling like a survivor everytime you pass by a bunch of cops and nothing happens.

        I don’t dispute that your people are the target of xenophobia in Western countries. So are white Latinos or Russians, be it for political reasons or due to nationalism. The reverse is also true, and all of it is deplorable. But that’s something radically different from being seen as inferior and subhuman for no other reason than how you were born. When your people are murdered in Palestine the world, including the West, hears about it 24/7 and their loss is mourned. When Arabs are killed in Yemen there are breaking news specials in Indonesia. When buildings full of white people are blown up the world has to stand still. When it happens to the rest of us it’s a footnote at best because our lives are seen as less valuable than yours by birth.

        I will actively seek to grapple with the transgressions of Arabs towards other racial groups, but in doing so I will not deny the racial discrimination that my friends, family, and ethnic community have seen so much of in the West, nor will I discount the paternalistic power of a colonialism that has disenfranchised my people time and again. Majority ethnicities among Muslims, eg Arabs and South Asians, are treated with inferiority and dehumanization due to their ethnic belonging and I will not deny that phenomenon.

        And there we go into completely unchecked privilege territory. You compare your people to South Asians? The religion we were raised in didn’t require us to bow towards South Asia when we prayed. It didn’t claim that Indo-Iranian languages were the “perfect language” and we weren’t all given Indo-Iranian names because of that. We weren’t required to accept South Asian culture as universal, and we weren’t required to pretend that South Asian colonial armies who invaded our ancestors were actually peaceful explorers who just came by to enlighten us. We were all raised in a religion that made your culture the center of everything, not South Asian culture.

        It wasn’t South Asians who were funding and coordinating the various groups that were policing our lives and keeping us in line, it was folks from the Arabian peninsula who expected to be treated like demi-gods whenever they visited our communities. South Asians aren’t funding proxy wars between radical Christians and radical Muslims in Africa, whites and Arabs do. Boycott campaigns over the murder of South Asian children don’t receive widespread global support, because South Asians don’t have the same master race privilege that your people and the whites have.

        The gist of the difference is that we’d argue that anti-Muslim bigotry doesn’t make accurate distinctions regarding a person’s actual personal religious background or social belonging…it is, after all, bigotry…and is such a racialized phenomenon that people of racial minorities are potentially subject to on the grounds of being perceived, in one way or another, to have some sort of Muslim belonging due to various features of their identity or presentation

        That’s not what I was referring to. The phrase “anti-Muslim bigotry” itself erases the racial hierarchy within the Muslimish world. Whites hate you as one of the few serious competitors they have. The look at you and see the enemy. And many of your people see the same in whites. They see terrorists, evil unbelievers, whatever, but they see humans. They don’t see a disease that must be eradicated. They don’t interpret your make-up as a sign that you must be a sex worker because your race is so dirty. Phrases like “anti-Muslim bigotry” create the illusion that the dividing line is between (Ex-)Muslims and Westerners. The real dividing line is a massive structural power cliff between Arabs, to some extent their Turkish substitutes, and whites on one side, and the rest of us on the other side. Any white or Arab person who wanted to be a genuine ally would work to eliminate that difference in privilege rather than deny its existence.

        I can, however, say that while it seems nigh impossible for a white ex-Catholic to suffer anti-Muslim bigotry, it is quite possible for an ex-Catholic of color to, due to the often-racial nature of the bigotry in question, to be subject to anti-Muslim bigotry.

        It’s perfectly possible for a white Muslim or Ex-Muslim to suffer bigotry in Arab-dominated or -colonized countries. That’s not the point. Both Arab and white people can suffer discrimination, even at the hands of other Arabs and whites from different countries. But in the game of institutionalized supremacy, both your groups are perpetrators and not victims. Chances are you’ll be able to live where you are for the rest of your life. And even in the unlikely event that you won’t be able to, you’ll have plenty of places to go. That’s by no means certain for me. One antiziganist flare-up and I may have to run to who knows where, if I make it out at all. My black husband and I may have to run to completely different places. You have no idea what that is like. You and your white liberal counterparts are not our allies because you claim to be in the same boat with us everytime you suffer an injustice. What you’re doing is called appropriation and it makes you the exact opposite of allies.

        As much as I’d be interested in reading your views on women’s rights, the part where you point your finger at whites while denying your own people’s structural power would be way too frustrating to put up with. For what it’s worth, I wish you all the best.

        • Hiba says

          You have misunderstood many of my terms and positions (for instance, you thought I was saying that our fault was in passing on the racism of white people, when instead I was saying that it’s deplorable that knowing what racism is ourselves, we continue to do it to other people), so let me make a general statement that is more clear: I do not deny my people’s structural power. I am *in addition to that* acknowledging structural oppression towards my people. Those two are not mutually exclusive. Again: I don’t at all deny any of the colonialist, supremacist, institutionalized conquests of the Arab empire, and I agree with and fully acknowledge most of your characterization of non-Arab Muslim PoC and their plights.

          You, however, continue to deny the disenfranchisement and oppression of Arab people, claiming that we are being appropriative in objecting to the racism we continually experience. We are not.

          Whether you will acknowledge it or not, it is a FACT that there is *institutionalized*, *supremacist* bigotry towards Arabs in the West and within Arab groups in the Middle East, and that Arabs know both conquest and oppression quite well. We are NOT appropriating struggles that we both *historically* and *actively* live. Please don’t assume to know what it is like for us. We are consistently subject to the invasion and interference of Western countries in matters crucial to our national autonomy. When structurally we lack the autonomy of self-determination due to supremacist Western power structures that consistently pull strings and engineer disasters in our nations, you bet we are under institutionalized oppression. We are treated like our lives and autonomy are worth nothing–you bet being viewed as barbaric, savage, backwards sand n****** and camel jockeys has dehumanized us. Please don’t claim to know what it is like to be labelled a terrorist as soon as someone reads your name, looks at your clothing–you are the one dismissing an experience of another ethnic group. It is as unique, incomparable, and heart-rending an injustice as being thought a sex worker because you are a person of your race wearing lipstick–which is to say, they are not in comparison with another. There are many, many ways to be dehumanized, and because we have not been dehumanized in the same ways as you does not mean that we have not had our own horribly dehumanizing forms of racial bigotry and oppression.

          You are talking to a person who was ridiculed throughout middle school in an American institution post-9/11 for having Arab blood and who not 2 years later hid under American-funded bombs, trapped in a war with diminishing supplies and no mobility. I may have ‘plenty of places to go’ right now, but the Western war machine has kept me and my family stuck in dangerous places with no out time and again. Lebanon’s infrastructure has been bombed to hell so many times recently that we have an electricity crisis. I’ve done my homework by candles dozens and dozens and dozens of nights due to the destructive power of Western invasion. You are talking to a person whose entire family for generations upon generations lived in one little strip of land in Palestine and Lebanon, and it is my ancestors who were colonized by Gulf Arabs (among almost every other civilization preceding and thereafter). Many Levantine people are now considered Arab because we adopted the religion and culture and much of the language during the conquest. Occupation of our land is within living memory–mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s. And yes, I say our land. The land we’ve been in for generations, that we were born and grew up in, that we have the right to live in, in peace and dignity. And when Western occupation and colonization has stripped my paternal family of all rights to life and livelihood, when the only access to housing, food, education, and healthcare my father had growing up was of horrible quality and at the generosity of UNRWA, when my grandparents and father grew up without the right to work and risked being shot point-blank during the Lebanon war because they were Palestinians on Lebanese land, when my family’s home was destroyed by bombs and rebuilt by hand three separate times in living history, when the occupation destroyed whole villages and massacred members from every family, forcing my people to either give in, die, or fight. In ’82 every man and boy in my father’s village was rounded up in the hippodrome ruins during the first Israeli occupation and divided into groups of who would go to prison camp randomly and my father and his family members had to *fake Lebanese accents* whenever they took buses because at random checkpoints Palestinians were taken off buses and shot…, when due to nothing but our ethnicities we have been denied safety, service, housing, education, privacy, freedom, the right to work both in the West (that we fled to because of American-backed wars) and under various domineering powers, then this is institutionalized oppression, make no mistake. And as for being able to leave, you are radically mistaken if you think those Arabs who have neither safety nor opportunity at home also have the freedom of mobility in case the various forms of oppression most of us live under become a mortal threat to us. Refugees in camps have almost no choice but to stay put, and it is only by a series of very odd and exceptional flukes that I was not born and raised in a camp and you ever heard of me. I am the minority, among the very lucky ones to have random circumstances line up in favor of leaving. A Lebanese woman can be barred from leaving the country at the wish of her husband or father, did you know that? While white women in Lebanon are given free reign and access almost anywhere they go all over in the Middle East. Our passports are almost worthless in getting us visas to anywhere whatsoever. Most people who stay with all the horrors going on in Syria and Iraq don’t stay despite some capacity to leave, believe me.

          You seem to assume that white people suffer discrimination in the Middle East when the truth of the matter that the racial hierarchy makes it into our own lands. I have seen first-hand the ethnic and classist discrimination that leads to white people being ultimately privileged, after which Gulf Arabs are given free reign to exploit and corrupt within the Levant (an example of an *institutionalized* practice: in Lebanon, Gulf Arabs are legally allowed to invest in national capital and real estate, and end up buying summer homes at exorbitant prices, knocking the real estate prices up so high that most Lebanese classes can literally not afford to buy or rent a home, and must remain in inherited family properties). Ethnicity-based economic oppression is a very powerful form of disenfranchisement. And then you have Syrian and Palestinian refugees are turned over to a servant class only above the even more mistreated class of migrant workers. And while I cannot at all compare the kind of the mistreatment of the migrant worker class to that of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, there are unique struggles here where after decades, Palestinians still live in squalid, cramped camps with little electricity, no clean running water, no access to the sun or air, no right to work or study or travel, simply because of their ethnicities, while Syrians are paid literally pennies for the most demeaning of street work.

          And going back to white privilege in the Middle East… while all Arab women are subject to the horrible dehumanization of a patriarchal misogynistic culture, white women in our countries are exempt from acting according to marriage, mobility, financial, and modesty norms–all norms that strip Arab women from agency and autonomy.White expats are given more rights and privileges than the citizens of the countries themselves–yes, a white person can’t build a Church in Saudi, but neither can a Saudi person, so this is not an instance where being white leads to a disadvantage. You know what a white woman can be in Saudi Arabia? An engineer. A doctor. You know how few Saudi women can? Did you know that it’s a ubiquitous problem in the Gulf where white people are imported to constitute the elite working class so that demand for educating local women and having them join the public sphere remains squashed? You know that expat children get to live on huge, luxurious compounds where most of the laws regarding clothing and personal interactions do not apply? White expats party, drink, and fornicate in their little law-exempt bubbles while Saudi women are routinely taken to doctors for ‘virginity tests’ before their marriages. Unmarried Saudi couples seen talking in public are arrested while white ones aren’t. I’ve seen Saudi women in black from head to toe being yelled at up and down by the religious police in malls for wearing *mascara* while white women strolled by with their abayas open and their hair streaming. I likely don’t need to tell you to imagine what that might feel like. You likely already know, but imagine it anyways: imagine being bound by restrictive laws in your own country while you see white foreigners walking around exempt from half the restrictions that stifle you. And conversely, as one of the few Hijabi girls in an American school with thousands of students in Saudi Arabia, I was mocked, ostracized, and bullied because of my Arab presentation….in a school in the capital of Saudi Arabia, so thick was the cloak of white privilege in that school.

          And before you tell me that I do not know what it is like to be a fugitive merely for being who I am, perhaps you’d like to know that I haven’t had the mere RISK of being a fugitive… I was one. Before I had ‘plenty of places to go’, I had to escape the Middle East after I had been kidnapped by Hezbollah, brought back home by force, tortured, then imprisoned for months while I was slowly broken with isolation and overmedication. So perhaps you ought to hesitate before speaking to what I have known, and what my people have experienced. And now in the West, me and my community grapple with issues of less access to housing, less safety, less access to jobs, consistent microaggressions, distrust, invasiveness, objectification, and fetishization at the hand of white power structures. In a different manifestation of a ‘master culture’ being imposed upon us, we are admonished to integrate, to learn English, to eradicate all identifying markers of our culture and ethnicity and culturally whitewash ourselves if we are to deserve the rights and freedoms of the West. Yes, we experience this too. I have to calculate every time I want to speak Arabic on the phone when I am in public, because I am afraid that I will be attacked for daring be foreign in public (despite the irony of the fact that I am qualified to be a college-level English instructor, and was one for a while). You are quite, quite mistaken if you think this is not institutional racism but general hostility. Housing discrimination, job discrimination, and assault against Arabs in the States is an institutionalized underprivilege. This is racial oppression, and it is here. It is not going away, and it is real.

          The fact of that matter is that I am in full acknowledgement of the disenfranchisement and racism towards South Asians and other ethnic Muslim minorities. It is you who consistently denies the oppression and disenfranchisement of Arabs. Acknowledging one doesn’t detract from the other.

          This is why intersectionality is such a useful concept. I’m not denying my privilege. I’m acknowledge my simultaneous lack of privilege in other ways. I know that there are very unique struggles I’ve faced as an Arab woman that white women do not share, but I know that the institutional misogyny all women face is one thing we have in common, so I can use a term like ‘misogyny’ to refer to all women without creating falsely dichotomous categories, and without erasing hierarchies within. The thing is, there are no separate groups. There are so many brands of institutional underprivilege that you cannot ever account for all the relevant hierarchies that intersect with other TYPES of underprivilege in wanting to acknowledge one. I can talk about the plight of women in general and it will be meaningful even though though sexism for WoC manifests in its own unique ways–acknowledging the plights of white women does not mean that I am admitting their sexism is like mine. It’s not. Likewise, I can acknowledge that there are anti-Muslim bigotries all Muslim-perceived people (the *only* parameter under which I was “comparing” Arabs and South Asians–not on racial grounds) are subject to as a form of institutional oppression (not individual discrimination, which is not what I was talking about) and it is useful to use the term anti-Muslim bigotry to describe that, while acknowledging that the intersectionality of being perceived-Muslim and being from a non-Arab minority will give rise to different, unique challenges. All of us have intersectionalities of privilege and underprivilege–for me, it’s being woman, queer, of color, godless, and mentally ill. I recognize that a black man will have completely different racial struggles to contend with, but that should not stand in the way of his acknowledging and grappling with his male privilege. Likewise, talking about the very real institutionalized oppression that Arabs face should not stand in the way of acknowledging and grappling with Arab privilege in other ways. I’m sorry you seem to think these two possibilities are pitted against each other.

        • otrame says

          double m,

          I just want to point out that every single piece of land on the earth has been taken away from someone. My white ancestors took land away from Native Americans. My white ancestors had land taken from them by the invasion of the Angles and Saxons and Jutes. There were people in the British Isles before the Celts arrived, but that invasion took place long enough ago that we don’t know much about them. Yes, Arabs took land. The people living there at the time took it away from the people who had been living there before, and so on, back to the day the first Homo sapiens wandered into the place from Africa and promptly had it taken away from them. Until very, very recently in human history this was the way things worked, and as you point out, it is still going on today, it is just not universally accepted. Nor should it be. Taking land away by violence is wrong.

          I will not, however, demand that anyone of Anglo-Saxon descent get on their knees and beg my forgiveness. Nor will I ask forgiveness for things my ancestors did several hundred years ago. I prefer to concentrate on what is happening now, not what happened decades or centuries or millennia ago. That said, it never hurts to remind people that privilege is complex and we should always be aware what privileges we may or may not have in the various aspects of our lives and keep those things in mind.

          Frankly, making your two posts above on the very first day of the blog suggests to me that you are making assumptions about Hiba based on her ancestry. You should avoid that. There is a nasty word for that sort of thing.

          I would also suggest that your attempt to control what Hiba writes about and what she has to say does not flatter you. In other words, I genuinely hope you find an outlet for your anger somewhere else on the internet. It is good for that sort of thing. I also hope you stick the flounce.

  4. morgan ?! epitheting a metaphor says

    Welcome Hiba. You are a valuable addition to the FtB roster. I look forward to reading you.

  5. toska says

    Welcome!
    I read some posts from your blog a while back, and they were wonderfully enlightening and often shocking at the same time. I’m glad you made it out of an abusive situation, and I hope your writings can help others escape similar abuse. Thank you for your blog. I can’t wait to read more.

  6. congenital cynic says

    Well, I’ll be reading to see what you write. You have a background I couldn’t imagine having lived, you are obviously smart, clearly motivated, you write with a passion that leaps off the page, and if you don’t mind me saying so, you are gorgeous. You seem to have grown up in environments and with languages that give you a great vantage point from which to write. Glad that you are out of the opressive life you had as a teen. I think you’re going to offer a lot to a lot of people.

    And I do have a question for you that has been rolling around in my mind for a few years. I have a lot of students from the middle east in my classes at the uni. There are two things I have noticed about them that I wanted to ask about. My sense of them is that they don’t get “irony”. Is this true, or is it just a scope thing? The other one may be some wide cultural gulf that I can’t seem to see across, but I never see them laugh, and, at least as it applies to anything said in english, they don’t seem to have much of a sense of humour. If you tell me it’s just a language and culture thing with the humour, I’ll be okay with that. But the irony thing is something that seems like it’s totally missing. But then again, lots of Americans suffer from binary objectivity and don’t get nuance (which is perhaps why they rant against the French), and that too is puzzling. Okay, I’m done.

    Well, almost. It’s great that you reply to things in the comments thread. Helpful.

    • Hiba says

      Well, there is no linguistic difference between ‘irony’ and ‘sarcasm’ in Arabic, and afaict there is a reflection of that loss of nuance in how we do the funnies. Now I’m tempted to go through some youtube standup shows in Arabic and see if anybody utilizes irony at all. Sarcasm is very big. And you know how sarcasm can be very familiar? I was socialized in an international community in Saudi as a kid before I moved to Lebanon as a teen, and the strength of the humor took me by surprise. I got a lot of it at home from my mom, but my mom is so familiar to me that I didn’t mind being teased and poked about certain things. I still find it a little bit distasteful, because it assumes a familiarity that kind of disregards boundaries and can lead to great discomfort if you’re not very close to the person. But yes, sense of humor definitely there, if transgressive and dark–I’ll gently suggest here that questioning whether a people don’t have a sense of humor because they don’t laugh at your jokes might be a tad reductive.

      But let me see if I can better characterize our humor. At the most extreme end, it’s quite exaggerated. A good example comes up among Egyptian Arabs, whose comedies are definitely theatrical in presentation, with a lot of robust body language, ululation, slapstick humor, and catfights. In fact, much like our clothing styles, there is a bold, popping nature to the humor we prefer and in comparison some forms of Western cultural presentation seem bland (as opposed to positive descriptors like ‘classic’, ‘tasteful’ and ‘subtle’ that Westerners would use to describe themselves…it’s a difference in perception.)

      Other possible contributing factors: in some areas there is something resembling a modesty taboo in women laughing out loud, but around family etc people tend to laugh heartily. I’m not sure exactly what is happening in your classes, but I do know that some of it might be performative to some degree. One obvious thing I can think of is that your humor may be making references that seem like common knowledge but that just don’t connect to people raised outside the US. I’m still struggling to learn lots of common memes in the American culture-scape. Most of the ‘invisible’ signals that we take for granted are actually hard to process for outsiders who are used to different ones, especially because they’re not things we’re used to consciously thinking about (for instance, gestures are treated like common language–shaking your head means no, sticking your thumb up means ‘great job’ and we hardly question those meanings because they seem inherent in a way when they’re not..gestures are quite different elsewhere, and a lot of confusion (and hilarity) may ensue when tacit, individual understandings for references and body language are broken down).

      Other than a sort of culture shock, it may just be that certain cultural or personal hangups get in the way of some Middle Easterners laughing at the Western teacher’s jokes. In some places, you are not to laugh in the face of your professor. (Authority norms have an almost inviolable spirit in the Middle East), while in others it might seem to be endorsement or approval of the professor when the student may have political/cultural shame or reason to not want to seem to be like they are getting too intimate with Westerners, or might use it as a sort of shield, because familiarity begets access to weakness, and being a cultural outsider means you are already susceptible to a lot of (most often unintentional, implicit, invisible) scrutiny regarding who you are, how you speak, what you look like, and how you interact with others. It may also just be general disapproval if you are exhibiting a sense of familiarity they feel you have not earned, as strangers from other countries are often approached with wariness and scrutiny first.

      I should also add that if you happen to be British (don’t want to make assumptions here), that might also explain a lot of it. British humor is far more subtle in its use of sarcasm and irony than we are used to, probably because we rely quite heavily on tone and gesture to differentiate sarcasm, and I get the sense that British humor doesn’t rely upon tone and presentation so much, or at least relies on quiet versions of expression…I often can’t tell AT ALL when talking to some of my British friends whether when they say ‘well that’s wonderful’ they mean it’s awful or not. So there’s that.

  7. Menyambal says

    Welcome, Hiba!

    I have read some of your writing, incuding one segment of your life story, and am impressed by both your writing and you. Please keep up the good work.

    (My moniker is a souvenir of a Muslim woman who tried to teach me Indonesian, BTW.)

  8. plainenglish says

    “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.”

    The upbringing that is prison does this to us. I was born a white male in Canada, not nearly punished like you were as a Muslim woman. Still, having left the religiously rigorous denial of a preacher’s family, I know exactly what you are saying about being paralyzed. I think you sound wonderfully engaged and alive and I am grateful to know you are here and writing. Welcome, Hiba.

  9. fernando says

    Welocome!

    The world need more brave people like you, Hiba.
    I can only imagine the dificulties you, and other men and women, have to break the chains of a repressive religious cultural background…

    But what you did is another step in the direction of a better future society, where foul ideas about sexual descrimination, gender descrimination and other horrible thing will belong to the past; for what you did and do, Hiba, i can only say:
    “Thank you!”

  10. Denis Giron says

    Thanks for sharing the bit about the Shee3a Palestinian villages, and the refugees who were later naturalized as Lebanese (as well as the corresponding Wikipedia entry). I never knew about that, and I find the subject fascinating.

  11. fiercemuggus says

    Welcome! I just wanted to say that I am enjoying your blog a great deal, long or not, because I think thoroughness and clarity are so undervalued in the era of headline-only reading. It’s such a privilege to be allowed glimpses of the world from other people’s perspective, to hear about experiences very different from my own, and how they inform that perspective. I especially like that you take the time to respond to comments. I look forward to reading more!

  12. says

    Thanks for joining the Freethoughtblog community, and sharing your voice with us. I am an eager audience for your writing. I found your before/after (hijab) pictures stunning, not just for your obvious beauty, but for effectively communicating (to me at least) that women in hijab can be or are the same as women not wearing this garb. It is hard for me to express, but I see this as a special cultural bridge, your Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal. I like it, because it makes me think.

  13. Al Dente says

    Is there some reason why my welcoming comment is still “awaiting moderation” over 24 hours after I made it?

    • Hiba says

      Ack, Not at all! I’m terribly sorry. It just got lost in the lineup because you commented right when I imported my archives and when my comment notifications changed I thought it was just bringing in all the pending junk from the last blog. Sorry for not checking properly.

  14. bob purinton says

    Welcome, welcome, welcome. Very glad to read your interesting, chock-full-of-stuff-new-to-me blog.
    Best wishes to you!
    Bob

  15. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Welcome. Really looking forward to reading your lengthy posts (already skimmed some and looks great. Will read in entirety when I have a bit more time. Lots to absorb/learn…)

  16. Ex-Muslims Forum (@CEMB_forum) says

    Hiba, have you deleted your twitter account? It seems to have been deleted.

    Ex-Muslims Forum

    (@CEMB_forum)

    • Hiba says

      Ack! I changed my handle to reflect my coming out. It’s now @hiba_krisht . Didn’t realize changing my handle would take me off your radar. Sorry!

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