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:
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:
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:
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!
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!