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Yasmine Mohammed's 'Unveiled': A review by Arshia Malik

The book turned out to be a page-turner. It has uncanny parallels with my own life as well. Reading about Yasmine’s relationship with her mother, about every growth or setback in her life, was a revelation to me. I had to keep stopping to remind myself that this was a Canadian family, living in Canada, one of the freest countries in the world! Little cultural attitudes that she described in her book, were similar to the obsessive-compulsive rituals, what Dawkins calls “control-freakery” that people of Muslim heritage are generally brought up in, whether it is the Eastern countries, in my case Kashmir, North India – the control-freakery of ablutions, putting the right foot forward, drinking water while sitting down, etc.

What amazed me most was her overcoming the “gulag of the mind” (my coinage), similar to the process I went through while coming of age in the 90s and new millennium Kashmir. Her escape is my “Escape from Freedom (Azadi)”; a journey a woman made to overcome tribal loyalties, patriarchal structures, and self-doubt. Every stage of doubt, critical thinking, low self-esteem, under-confidence, fear, terror, depression, catatonic states, is the labyrinth through which I, like Yasmine, mapped my escape, except for her tenacity, courage and sheer hard work is something I could never live up to.

The doubt she talks about is my life’s work, a quest about normalizing dissent, about making taboo topics mainstream, about “making heresy great again”, to borrow a term. Yasmine mentions Jimmy Bangash, an ex-Muslim of Pakistani descent living in the UK, a human rights activist and life coach helping her out with other ex-Muslims. Jimmy and I interact on Facebook and he is famous for saying that the new millennium is going to belong to women of Muslim heritage. I believe he is right. The amount of literature coming out of the Muslim world from its dissenters, heretics, doubters, critics are amazing and the heretics of our next generations won’t have to feel so alone and lost while confronting their doubts, queries, questions and contrarian views.

This distancing from the family because of their intolerance, their negativity, and their un-acceptance of their own flesh and blood due to conflicting views is happening across continents, daily. The number of such people one gets in touch with every week through social media and later meets-up is mind-boggling. Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, founder of Global Conversations and Ideas Beyond Borders, an Iraqi-born human rights activist, writer, and satirist now living in the United States, is right when he says there is a “quiet revolution” happening in the Arab World. I would like to tell him not just the Arab world but in Muslim societies everywhere.

 Women, men of Muslim heritage who have this nagging persistence in their being that everyone around them is behaving weird and this might not be the end-all to life are the ones who find their true self after escaping. You can’t define that nagging feeling – in Urdu language only one word comes close to it “khalish” (rough translation –restlessness). This “khalish” is what enables one to see through one’s family’s lies, the hypocrisy of family members and the general denial of a community that insists on only one book to be enough as a guideline filtered through the mullahs and imams. A child senses the wrong, especially a child who is acutely sensitive to her environment, she may not have the words, the vocabulary or articulation to say that what she has been witnessing is very wrong, but the sense of unfairness is there.

So it was with Yasmine’s growing up years which she describes in detail in the first chapters of her book. The chapter titles in themselves summarize the phases of her life. Submission, Depression, Abandoned, Submission II, Depression II, etc. Raheel Raza, a brave reformer, author of ‘Their Jihad, not my Jihad’ rightly said that there was no excuse for abuse, no human should have to endure this. In the chapter Abandoned, Yasmine addresses the “mind-set of Muslims” that they already know the answers, don’t need science books, and don’t need to know anything further. This is the basic problem of Muslims and goes opposite to the very famous Hadith (saying of the Prophet) too asking people that for knowledge even if they have to go to China, they should.

I applaud her for berating Western women who have won their freedoms to “turn around and lend a helping hand” to the ones still struggling for basic freedoms. I remember writing about the enforcement of the hijab in the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s by Islamist and Jihadi militants, both local and the ISI-sponsored Pakistani ones through acid attack threats and knee-capping women wearing jeans. I wrote about pamphlets and posters being circulated, threatening dire results if women were found visiting beauty parlours; closure of cinema halls and wine shops – all indications of a wet dream of an Islamic Republic of Kashmir or merger with Pakistan – an unfinished project of the Pakistani military-industrial complex since the Partition in 1947.

The silence of the Indian Liberals was understandable, they had been fed the Leftist narrative of India as an occupying force and how the accession to India was fabricated, how the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits was a conspiracy by the Indian state to commit genocide on the Muslims left in the Valley – spins that the “intifada factory” has given since the 1990s. The “intifada factory” comprises civil society, journalists, writers, bureaucrats, academicians and overground workers of the militants (in other words closet Islamists who dream of a Hindu free Kashmir and merger with Pakistan to create a Second Medina). This spin is now the dominant narrative in the bastions of the Left prevails today. Media outlets like the NYT, WaPo, etc have these embedded intifada factory members and dismiss the experience of locals if it deviates from their agenda which is anti-India. It is sad to see these champions of freedom of expression being used like this.  

What took me by surprise was the target painted on my back by a certain ex-Nun, social activist from Texas, Madam Mary Scully. That was the beginning of what Yasmine has written about liberals enabling radical Islam. You have been brought up so much on the  white guilt of racism, slavery, genocide that your postmodernism, and cultural relativism won’t even allow you to stop, pause and reflect whether there could be more than one story to the whole narrative. Whitewashing regressive practices in Islam, treating it like a baby of just a few odd centuries, coddling women like Linda Sarsour, Ilhan Omar, and other Muslim Brotherhood implants who use secular laws of the free countries, and their democratic processes and traditions of human rights campaigns and activism while totally negating and gaslighting the experiences of other women, men and children in the developing nations was something new to me.   

The point where Yasmine’s story infuriated me was when childcare services and other law enforcement officials could have intervened but this “it is your culture” barrier stopped them. This “disconnect” of upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and respecting the culture and religion despite obvious regressiveness, because you are so afraid of the “this is gross, racist” outburst stupefies us. It bamboozles us who are trying to as Yasmine quotes “push their own societies towards change and progress”. And then to have Western corporations enable these regressive practices into fashion styles is like a backstab and a gunshot to the head twice over. You have no idea for someone who was forced to discontinue sports in the 90s Kashmir how much it hurt to see the Nike swoosh on the woman athlete or see ads for burkinis!!!

What is ironic is those Western feminists don’t even see their own bigotry of low expectations? It never strikes them that they could be empowering misogynistic men, homophobic people, or the more dangerous kind – the jihadis who believe in a Caliphate and do not mind the means to an end such as bombing malls, hijacking planes, kidnapping children, recruiting child soldiers, and using them as human shields for their suicide bombings or for guerrilla warfare against the third largest Army in the world. Yasmine’s chapter Hope is a brilliant essay on what is exactly wrong with feminism today.

I recommend ‘Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam’ as mandatory reading in Western Universities at the high school level or for distribution among youth starting to understand the complexities of their world as the “clash of civilizations” gets nearer to their shores and cities. This “clash” is already here in the Indian, Pakistani, Afghanistani, Bangladeshi, Maldivian and Iranian streets. Besides the larger political struggles that have mired these countries in violence for decades, there are a “million mutinies” (to quote Sir V. S. Naipaul’s book title) happening in pockets where enlightened youth, aware middle-aged citizens are forging bonds and dreaming of secular, democratic societies where the individual’s rights are upheld over the tribe’s. 

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