The180·The 180

Speaking up for unheard Muslim and ex-Muslim voices

The issue of Muslim identity is a hot topic these days. But Pakistani-Canadian blogger Eiynah says there is an important group left out of conversations like the debate over the niqab: Muslim and ex-Muslim women who see misogyny and oppression in Islam. She joins us to explain.
Debates over the niqab are just one of the ways Muslim identity has become a hot topic in Canada. But are all voices included in the debates? (Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)

The issue of Muslim identity has been all over the news lately. The Syrian refugee crisis and the recent terror attacks in Paris have provoked conversations about the nature of Islam and how it fits in secular democracies. During the 2015 federal election, columnists spilled gallons of ink pondering the niqab and what it represents. 

But Pakistani-Canadian blogger Eiynah says there is an important group left out of these conversations: Muslim and ex-Muslim women who see misogyny and oppression in Islam. She argues those critiques of Islam are ignored by the Canadian left, and hijacked by the Canadian right to further anti-Muslim narratives. 

Eiynah is a pseudonym. She has asked for anonymity because of the frequent threats she has received for her writing.

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

It's a very nuanced point of view that you have, and you can see it in your own self-description: a "critic of Islam who loathes anti-Muslim bigots." Walk us through that. 

It's something that's hard for people to understand, because they automatically conflate criticism of an ideology sometimes with bigotry toward a people. And I think it's terms like Islamophobia that actually confuse the matter more. When I talk about anti-Muslim bigotry, I mean specifically generalizing large groups of diverse people. Muslims are a very diverse group, and Islam is an idea. Just like any other idea, it should be open for debate, up for critique. I don't think there is an issue with people criticizing Islam — there isn't one with people criticizing Christianity and any other religion, so why is there this unique term for Islam the religion? 

When you criticize misogyny and homophobia in Islam, how to people on the Canadian and American left typically respond to that? 

They're defensive, they deny, and then they lash out and accuse me of being a bigot. I'm a woman of Pakistani origin, and I've been called a white supremacist, an imperialist, a race betrayer, a textbook racist more times than I can tell you. 

Why do you think that is? Where does that reaction come from? 

I hope it comes from a good place, where people are trying to protect a minority that they feel is persecuted — and it is, in a lot of ways — but in doing so they trample on the rights of minorities within that minority, like women, like the LGBT, like apostates and ex-Muslims, atheists who are called terrorists and killed for disbelieving. 

But do you ever worry that when you critique Islam, you could inadvertently end up reinforcing someone's bigoted ideas about Muslim people? 

It does happen, but why should that be a reason for me to stay silent about my own oppression? It does happen. My work has been hijacked and published on right-wing websites without my permission. What I try to do is in each essay that I write, I will include a paragraph in detail about anti-Muslim bigotry and how it's a big issue and how I do not agree with these bigots. I try to proof it like that against them hijacking, but if they still take my work there's nothing I can do. I mean, then literally you can't talk about any oppression if you worry about this.... You can always feed into someone's bias, but that doesn't mean you should stop talking about victims of oppression. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.


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