Today I spoke to a troll; one of the Twitter folk who crop up from nowhere, wielding their 140 characters like an overtired toddler with a pointy stick. I know I should take a deep breath and step away from the internet, I know his words (I’m assuming it’s a he) should have no bearing on my thoughts, but they do.
I’d been keen to find out what literature already exists on misogyny in Islamic communities, so earlier this week I tweeted this:
No one came back to me with any book suggestions, but instead I had several tweets from Mr Troll telling me, among other things, that my story is a ‘yawn inducing cliché’, that I’m building ‘sensationalised mythologies’, that I have ‘little independence of thought’, and that I’m playing ‘into a toxic public narrative about Islam’ with a ‘tired story that is heavily politicised and deeply divisive’.
At first I was pleasantly surprised. So, the tweets weren’t overly supportive *cough*, but I was amazed that my little blog with just 6 posts had evoked such passion in someone I’ve never met. My smugness didn’t last long, because his words dug away at the part of me that until now has been too scared to talk about my past.
Mr Troll implied that I’m using my ‘small, personal story’ to attack Islam. It’s not the first time I’ve been told that in opening up about the forced conversion, the misogyny, and the disownment, I’m pitting myself against a whole faith. Several people have suggested that despite, or perhaps because of what I’ve been through, I’ve a responsibility to defend Islam and Muslims. I’ve been told that instead of reflecting angrily I should help to improve the lot of Muslim women from within the faith. All those arguments have niggled away at me for years and so I’ve stayed quiet, worrying that I might contribute to the anti-Islamic rhetoric that has hurt so many of the people I love.
I would probably still be weighed down by those fears if it weren’t for the internet. Thankfully my computer sings to me with beautiful feminist writing and women who refuse to be victims. And I’ve come to realise that misogyny is like any other abuse in that it wont sort itself out. In order for men to be held accountable and women to be given any chance of freedom, we need to speak up about our experiences. We need to stop tolerating misogyny. We need to stop feeling guilty for wanting equality. We need to raise our voices. And Muslim and ex Muslim women need to rise above accusations that their stories are inflammatory, irrelevant and anti-Islamic – those arguments are just manifestations of a culture wanting to control female minds and bodies.
Over 20 years ago a man commanded that I be Muslim. I had no choice in the matter. It was an abuse of power. It’s ridiculous to assume that I’ve a responsibility to promote or protect a religion just because I was forced to practice it. I’ve no desire to upset Muslims, indeed some of the people I love most are Muslim, but I’m entitled to reflect on the abuses of power I, and many other women, have suffered in the name of Islam.
The suggestion that my story is just a personal account with no bearing on wider society is absurd and it’s an attempt to belittle and silence me. Growing up I could only watch as women around me were reduced to vessels of male honour, their lives stunted to fit archaic models of purity.
The lack of autonomy that women in so many Muslim communities experience is relevant and must be discussed. As I’ve said before, presenting my story and my belief that women should have complete autonomy is not an attack on Islam, it’s a legitimate demand for equality and a necessary calling out of injustice.
I didn’t ask for the misogyny, but it happened to me, so now I own it, and I will talk about it. Whether you like it or not.