Warsan Shire: “Crude Conversations with Boys Who Fake Laughter Often”

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Inspired by the poem: “The Fire,” by Warsan Shire | Designed by Monique Marchwiany

He says “I don’t get it, why are you still a virgin at 24?”

He says “I don’t believe you, I’ve seen you walk, virgins don’t walk like that.”

He says, “That ain’t natural, people are supposed to fuck.”

He asks “Why though? No offence though.”

I ask “When was your first time?”

He says “I was 12.”

He says “I know what you’re thinking, that’s too young.”

I look at his knuckles, he has two good hands.

He says “She was older than me.”

I ask “How old?”

And he says “It’s better that the girl is older, that’s how I learnt all things I know.”

He licks his lips.

I ask again “How old?”

He says “I could use one finger to make you sob.”

I think of my brother in prison and I can’t remember his face.

I ask again “How old?”

He says “Boys become men in the laps of women, you know?”

I think of my mother’s faced lined with her bad choices in men.

He says “If you were mine you wouldn’t get away with this shit, I’d eat you for hours, I’d gut you like fruit.”

I think of my cousin’s circumcision, how she feels like a mermaid, not human from the waist down.

He says “I’d look after you, you know?”

I laugh, I ask for the last time How old?”

He says “34.”

He says “She was beautiful though and I know what you’re thinking but it’s not like that, I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man. No one could ever hurt me.”

Letter to Spider Magazine: Knights in Not-so Shining Armor

Dear Spider [Magazine],

This is in reference to Kanwal Abidi’s parenting article “Keeping Up with the Digital Natives” published in Spider magazine (Jan 2014). Although a highly commendable effort to reach out to parents and inform them about the many ways they can be a part of their children’s digital lives without trying to drag their children offline in today’s tech savvy world, it still missed the mark regarding the section “Misusing Skype”. Kanwal Abidi focused solely on the threat to girls posed by cyberpredators. This gives parents a false sense of safety regarding their sons, since repeatedly it is young girls who are specifically highlighted as being vulnerable. But it isn’t what the parents feel that’s the biggest worry here.

The greater problem is the myth of male invulnerability that is perpetuated every time someone talks or writes about only our daughters being at risk. According to US statistics, anywhere between 1 in 7 to 1 in 10 victims of rape is male; 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before reaching adulthood. But those are only American statistics, right?

According to Sahil, a non-profit Pakistani organization working against child sexual abuse since 1996, 1 in 4 reported victims of child sexual abuse in Pakistan is male (2012 statistics; pdf). There is no evidence to suggest that child predators suddenly change their preying habits when they move online; in a cybersafety article such as Abidi’s, not only is it grave oversight to ignore these facts but it also does a great disservice to the most innocent parties involved: the children. Boys are told over and over again that it is not possible for them to be at risk, that child predators are only a significant threat to girls. In the same fell swoop with which we give our daughters the message that they are eternally the damsels in distress, we tell our sons they are the knights in shining–impenetrable–armor. We raise daughters who never feel strong and sons who can’t admit weakness, and we do an injustice to both.

Sexual abuse of boys is already unconscionably underrepresented and stigmatized, in some ways even more than sexual abuse of girls, simply because there is hardly anyone talking about it. Muffled under the shadow of masculinity, boys end up silencing themselves, convincing themselves that they are male and males cannot be raped hence they must have been in control of the situation–and/or if they speak up about it, everyone will know there is something ‘wrong’ with them, that they must not be ‘manly enough’ since they got abused and ‘abuse only happens to girls’.

If the shroud of silence is ever to be lifted, we must hold ourselves accountable when we write and talk about these issues and set the record straight. The buck stops here.

The 5 Types of Pakistanis, as Revealed by the “La Maison” Controversy

Two days ago, a condensed version of my blog post was published by the Express Tribune. Although a lot might have been lost in the process of editing a 1376-word article into a web-ready 820-word copy, it still managed to ruffle some feathers. Despite the perceived originality of the comments that spewed forth, I’ve noticed that the majority of opinions (and presumably those who hold them) tend to fall in a few broad categories:-

    1. The Momineen Type: There isn’t much you can usually say to this lot (especially without incurring blasphemy charges) because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith–that it can be imposed from without instead of generated from within. To them there is no problem with banning things in the name of morality (because how else should Muslims live, if they are not saved the inconvenience of having to act consciously along the edicts of their religion?) so there’s no problem if places ban all Pakistanis on the pretext that most Pakistanis are Muslims and hence cannot be trusted not to blow up the place if there’s (gasp!) haraam food on the menu. Just like they blow up in the many, many non-Halal eateries in non-Muslim countries all around the world–including France–where Muslims live and work. That this isn’t an issue of Halal vs Haraam food is of little concern here. (An interesting sub-type of this category is the Indignant Momineen whose reaction is something along the lines of: “You ban me? I refuse to enter where haraam food is being served!”) And end of that story.
    2. The Elite: The elite regret to inform us that we have made a grievous error in speaking out against this restaurant because their food is excellent and it’s a pity we can’t see the good this place is doing by still allowing non-hyphenated Pakistanis to apply for jobs here (because throwing money at people is the solution to every problem.) Seemingly oblivious to the fate of Marie Antoinette, their stance is not so much “Let them eat cake!” as “Look at this cake, this is delicious cake, so what if you can’t have it, as long as I can?”
    3. The Slippery Slope Strawman: If we stopped places in Pakistan from discriminating against Pakistanis on the basis of nationality, we would also have to stop colleges from preferring students on kinship and deny restaurants the right to cultivate exclusivity and then where would we be? Where indeed.
    4. The Average Javaid: This is your common man, the typical Pakistani; the only people who don’t call themselves “desi” anywhere ever because it is understood that is what they are. This type feels an inkling of offense, a vague unpleasantness that can’t quite be named, but which has been felt many times before on the numerous occasions when they are randomly stopped at check points and subjected to searches, denied entry, and so on. But this type also has several plausible explanations for why this must occur on a regular basis, the most pertinent of them being security. Despite the fact that terrorism is a global network and Pakistanis are around twice as likely as the rest of the world to be killed in a terrorist attack (excepting Iraq and Afghanistan) and although many Pakistanis continue to display an ‘inexplicable’ capacity for tolerance and compassion, we understand that we are all innately a threat to others and must be contained. In the palace of Sans-Souci sorrow is not allowed to enter and neither are the Average Javaids; the only people who think differently are the terrorists themselves, which is why they have killed more than 49000 people in the War-That-Isn’t-Ours.
    5. The Bitter Truthers: Of all the opinions out there, this is the type that raises the most valid criticism. It comes from a diverse group of people, but often those who have been working hard to do whatever they can to stem the tide of internal bigotry very much present in Pakistan. They point out that while discrimination against Pakistanis on the basis of nationality (or Muslimhood, as many misunderstand it to be) gets the majority outraged, there is hardly a whimper against much of the discrimination on the basis of religion. Bitterly they grumble that rest of Pakistan is now merely burning in the fire it started itself–and they are not wrong. When we made it acceptable to discriminate between our fellow citizens, to treat those belonging to minority faiths and sects as “lesser” Pakistanis, we left the door open for other people to discriminate against all of us. We made space for the creation of a violent behemoth of religious extremism and it was only a while before that would become a way to paint older prejudice in new colors. But it doesn’t make sense to speak as if non-Muslim Pakistanis are exempt from problems faced by all Pakistanis, because if Pakistanis face discrimination simply for being Pakistanis then non-Muslim Pakistanis face an added layer of discrimination–the injustices are not “evened out”, because they are not separate from the rest of Pakistan. Don’t rush to ouster non-Muslims like that even with good intentions, not only because this whole debate was initiated by a non-Muslim Pakistani, but also because that thinking plays right into the hands of those who insist Pakistan is only for and can only be represented by Muslims. Bigotry is a double-edged sword, and it bleeds those who wield it as well as those who suffer its blade; if it metes out what looks like retribution, you can be sure the only thing it is carving room for is bigotry itself.

And there you have it, folks.