Updated: Nov 18, 2018
In my everyday life, the fact that I grew up Muslim should be nothing more than a distant memory. I broke away from that world about fifteen years ago. I have been through four or five rounds of counselling, but the traumatic world I was born into has defined me. It’s in my bones. It runs in my blood. I can’t escape it. I thought I could escape it. I would start over, redefine myself, live my life on my own terms. But I realize that I can’t escape my own self. The very connections in my mind, the visceral reactions of my body — I have no control over any of that.
The very soil I grew in, the water that nourished me, it was all poisoned with deceit, fear, lies, treachery, anger, sadness, and lots and lots of abuse. I may look like a healthy tree from the outside, but the truth is hidden inside.
I can’t reconstruct myself. At times, I think that I might have overcome it all, that I might be able to live a “normal” life, but as soon as my guard is down, the dormant ugly thing rears its head.
I manage to fool everyone around me. Friends that I have known for years have no clue. They say things like, “But you seem so normal!” and “How are you not a basket case?” “I never would have guessed!”
Even my husband can’t reconcile the woman he fell in love with, with the stories of this girl whose life is too far removed from his own for him to be able to relate. We met a few years after I had severed ties with my family. I was by no means healed, but I had learned to swallow my pain. There was no outlet. No one would understand. I knew it made people uncomfortable to talk about Islam. So, I just pushed it all aside.
It wasn’t until years later that I would stumble upon Bill Maher’s Facebook page. ExMuslims were commenting in response to Ben Affleck’s reaction to Sam Harris criticizing Islam. His cries of “gross and racist!” are legendary now, almost cliché. I had never even heard the term ExMuslim before that. I had no idea there were others like me. I kept my sordid secrets to myself. My life is not politically correct. I do not fit the preferred narrative. My life story is an uncomfortable truth, and people much prefer their comfortable lies. But their reaction to Ben Affleck’s rant made me want to get involved.
Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and the author of a ground breaking book called The End of Faith, was on Bill Maher’s show in October 2014 talking about Islam in his signature, commanding yet soft-spoken, manner. He approached the topic with the same academic vigour he applies to any of his research on world religions. He spoke of Islam no differently than he has spoken of Christianity, Judaism and many other religions and ideologies — by stating facts.
He and Bill Maher began the conversation by lamenting the fact that Liberals are failing to stand up for liberal values. Bill recounted how his audience would raucously applaud for principles like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality for women, minorities and LGBT, but the applause would abruptly halt if anyone mentioned that these principles were not being upheld in the Muslim world.
Sam added that liberals are happy to criticize white theocracies, Christian theocracies, but they fail to criticize the same evils in the Muslim world. He clarified that Islam, the religion (a set of ideas) was very different from Muslims, the people.
As if on cue, Ben Affleck, an actor who played the part of a fallen angel in the movie Dogma, seemingly decided to volunteer as Exhibit A to embody that exact caricature of a confused Liberal that Sam was referring to by hurling charges of racism at both Bill and Sam. He likened them to people who use the term “shifty Jew” or who say things like, “black people just always want to shoot each other.” He insisted that Muslims “just want to eat sandwiches,” illustrating exactly the hypocrisy that Sam had just outlined. Did Ben Affleck, the man who made a movie focused specifically on criticising and mocking Christianity, feel that it was beyond the pale for Sam Harris and Bill Maher to have a civil, factual conversation about Islam?
Even though both Bill and Sam quoted PEW research- such as, approximately 90% of Egyptians believe people should be killed for leaving their religion, Ben still insisted that these bad ideas were only held by a nominal number of Muslims.
From my perspective, it was unforgivable for Ben Affleck to deflect criticism of this ideology that has caused so much suffering in the world. No one usually cared if Muslim women were being killed in Iran or Saudi Arabia for not covering their hair. No one cared that bloggers in Bangladesh were being hacked to death in the streets because they dared write about humanism. No one cared if university students were beaten to death in Pakistan for questioning Islam. But now, finally, mainstream people on mainstream television were talking about these issues that have been plaguing the Muslim world for 1,400 years — and this well-meaning, white-guilt ridden man was standing in the way! I was enraged.
I remember feeling like I wanted to speak out. I wanted to shout and scream out. I wanted to join Sam Harris in this battle of ideas. However, I was also terrified. I felt like I was standing on a precipice jutting out over a vast ocean. I was safe on dry land. I had freed myself from the dangerous waters below. But I had this overwhelming sense that I wanted to dive back in. I wanted to meet others who had been through what I had been through. I wanted to share my stories with them and with everyone. I wanted a community of people who could understand my latent fears, insecurities and obsessions.
It was a huge risk. No one in my life knew my backstory. No one. The only person who knew passed away years earlier. I had no life witnesses. I could continue to live in parallel to all this going on and choose not to step off that cliff into that ocean. I would be undetectable.
Or, I could be brave. I could choose to step in, get myself covered in saltwater and seaweed, and even risk drowning. I could choose to share my perspective. I could choose to correct friends who insisted Islam was a religion of peace. I could choose to make people uncomfortable with my story. I could choose to deal with the backlash, the friends who would walk away from me and the death threats.
A saner person would have just turned around and walked away from that ocean. I knew what was in it. I had been there before. It would have been so easy to just continue my life on the safe, dry land that I had already risked my life to scramble onto.
But I chose to dive in.