On Compassion

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
—John Donne, excerpt from Meditation XVII

Sometimes the lengths cishet homophobes and transphobes go to, justifying their views “for the sake of [their] children”, remind me of this poem. The fact is, we are all interconnected and nowhere does it become more apparent than in the case of “invisible” markers such as sexual orientation and gender identity. You probably already know at least one LGBTIQA person, even if you don’t know it. Somebody you love or care about, someone who may be a friend or a friendly colleague. The children in whose name you justify oppression may one day grow up to be so much more different from you than you could have ever imagined. (Or maybe not that different after all.) Perhaps they may grow up learning to fear you even as they learn more about their own selves.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing a child I spent my life loving and protecting was so scared of me that they went through months or years or even a lifetime of agony and inner torment, desperately trying to hold on to my love (which was never so weak as to be lost) by suppressing who they are.

Oppression is Not a Competition

Screenshot, 12th Aug 2015. I have blurred the child's face because I think it was very irresponsible of the parent not to do so in such a post; the boy is a minor who may not wish to be associated with these views as an adult and is too young to give consent here.
Screenshot, 12th Aug 2015. I have blurred the child’s face because I think it was very irresponsible of the parent not to do so in the first place; the boy is a minor who cannot give consent to be featured in a public post of a controversial nature.

This post was written by the father of a double amputee child. While I support the child, it’s unfortunate his father feels the need to begin this post by knocking down “Bruce Jenner”.

It’s a simple concept, people: there is no single definition of courage, because there is no single definition of a struggle. And there doesn’t need to be. I can acknowledge that this child and Jenner are both courageous, as are the children that manage to grow and even thrive in the conflict zones this man’s country bombs; the countless trans children and adults all around the world who don’t have access to a fraction of the resources Jenner does and still persist in living authentic lives, knowing they may very well die in the process at the hands of transphobes.

Courage is also what the abused children everywhere have, what the families in Kasur have in facing this system and trying to get justice for their children. Courage is what every honest worker has, going to work every day in a system that he knows is biased against him, knowing he has no support base to fall back upon and no advantage to leverage. Courage looks like a woman stepping on to a bus, heading off to work or to school, not letting the fear of groping hands and worse stop her. Sometimes courage is getting out of bed when you are in the deepest pit of depression. And courage can also be as simple as living life, not knowing what the next moment will be like, but silently vowing to yourself you would rather leave the world a more peaceful, happier place than you found it. These are all examples of courage.

We all know a “real” Arthur Ashe award winner–they are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and so on. Does that mean the one in my house is or should be the only one? Is my friend’s mother who beat cancer and manages a primary school for middle-to-lower income kids less deserving? Deserving of what?

Awards are just awards. If we believed awards could fully describe the extent of human achievement (and struggle), we might also have to believe that most of the people who have done anything worthy or have struggled in any way are cis, white Western men. Perhaps that is one reason why I already understand the superficiality of public acknowledgement: if it happens sincerely, it happens too late. So I don’t sit down and squabble over the merit of these awards, just like I don’t go to a school’s sports day and claim rigging/media bias/political correctness if every child is handed a prize for participation. Because these are all ultimately meaningless.

What is real is real, award or no award. Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t need an award from ESPN to validate her life has been a personal struggle, any more than Malala needed a Nobel to realize she had risked her life to stand up against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Iqbal Masih was murdered at the age of 12 and he helped over 3000 children escape from the bonded child labor that still powers a sizable chunk of Pakistan’s capitalist economy–and he got no award. It would be an afterthought even if he did.

But you know what ISN’T courageous? A grown, cis man using his child’s struggle to punch down and attack a trans woman and her struggle as somehow less worthy of attention. Do not turn your child’s pain into an excuse to invalidate someone else’s. Oppression is NOT a competition.

“I Can’t Comprehend” ≠ “Lacks Comprehension”

PSA in response to the Muslim homophobes on my Facebook dissing non-homophobic Islam

You are free to choose your deen. Okay, so you’re not really free as in if you’re born in a Muslim country/Muslim family you can’t really choose to leave Islam without being killed or subjected to violence. BUT you are free to choose your deen within Islam. Okay, so maybe that’s not quite true either, since most of you can’t really choose to change from one major sect to another (Sunni to Shia, Shia to Sunni for eg) without a violent backlash even if the govt permits it. BUT within whatever major sect you happened to be born in, you are TOTALLY free to choose the school of thought you wish to follow.

This means some of you choose to live in compassion for all humankind, following a school of thought that the behavior most in line with Islam in any situation is the one with the lowest body count. This is generally the group that gave us people like Michael Muhammad Knight.

This also means that another group amongst you chooses to believe it is their Allah-bestowed responsibility to ADD to that body count by slaying non-believers, heretics, and other assorted “wajib-ul-qatal” types. This is generally the group that gave us ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. (You’re in great company!)

One way or another, each of you shall arrive at the end of the path you’ve chosen for yourself. (Granted, the more murderous type will probably arrive at it a bit earlier than the rest, since people really don’t like it when you try to kill them.) In light of this freedom, and despite your self-obsessed persecution-complexed worldview, most of the world doesn’t give two bits for your two-bit opinion. (More bits may be given for more valuable opinions.) In the isolation of such irrelevance, you are free to decide you disagree with whoever you wish to disagree with regardless of whether they may possess the finest intellect in the world or, you know, something more familiar to you.

This is, in its simplest form, what freedom of thought looks like–you are not compelled to agree with something just because somebody smarter than you and more well-versed in the subject than you (and probably a lot more popular and influential than you) said it. You may choose to look at the words, not the grandness of who uttered them, and decide whether they resonate with YOU. This may be a novel concept for some of you, and that’s fine. You’ll get used to it with a little effort.

HOWEVER, what you can’t do is pretend you have the intellect to diss their intellect. (Since a lot of you seem to derive a sense of validation by association–no, your favorite telemullah or Islamic Facebook Page admin doesn’t have that intellect or scholarly training either. Sorry not sorry.) The works of scholars like Dr. Amina Wadud and Dr. Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle don’t “lack comprehension”, any more than the works of Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson “lack comprehension” just because YOU don’t have two brain cells to rub together.

Originally written as really long, annoyed Facebook post attached to this post by a friend:

Desi momin logic –

‘Oh, someone was raped as a child? Buss, hota hae, bhool jao, muaaf ker doh, sulah ker loh, chup raho, jaaney doh…’

‘Oh, someone raped a woman? She must be asking for it. Boys will be boys, ghalti hojaati hae, khud khyal kiya kero, chup raho abb…’

‘Someone murdered someone? Chalo, Allah muaaf karney waalah hae, blood money ley loh…’

‘Someone has left Islam? HARAAAAAM MAAR DOH KAAT DOH, GHALAAZAT, SOCIETY WILL FALL APART, ASTAGHFIRULLAAAAWWWHHHHHHH!’

‘Someone is gay? HARAAAAAM MAAR DOH KAAT DOH, GHALAAZAT, SOCIETY WILL FALL APART, ASTAGHFIRULLAAAAWWWHHHHHHH!’