Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GamerGate and the Taliban: What do Anita Sarkeesian and Malala Yousufzai have in common?

By now everyone's heard of Malala Yousufzai, but not everyone has heard of Anita Sarkeesian, the Canadian-American feminist who created the Tropes Vs. Women Tumblr, the Feminist Frequency video blog, and the Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games Youtube series. Her work focuses on examining women in popular culture, mainly film, television, and video games, and deconstructing the tropes that continue to place women in stereotypical, sexist roles in those mediums.

From the Tropes. Vs Women in Video Games site:

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it's more problematic or pernicious aspects.

I went to the Youtube video and watched the first episode, "Damsels in Distress" and found it a robust critique of women's disempowerment in video games. Instead of heroes with agency and power, they are ditzy princesses, sexualised and powerless, dependent on a male hero to rescue them from their terrible plights. They are often shown beaten, subdued, and nude. They are portrayed as "fundamentally weak, ineffective, or ultimately incapable," and influence our cultural and social ecosystems, where "backward sexist attitudes are already rampant." These just go on to reinforce the global stereotype that women are "frail, fragile and vulnerable."

It's very much in line with feminist thinking on the issue, and the video wouldn't be out of place in a senior-level seminar at Wellesley (my alma mater). The analysis is well done, supported by dozens of examples from the video game world right from the beginning, and challenges the subordinate position in which women are "not the playing teams, but the ball" in almost all video games created over the last thirty years.

It's also quite a shock to realise that these tropes were fed to almost all of us as children eagerly consuming these video games without question. Things have only changed when women have started entering the video game industry and challenging these stereotypes, creating games where women are the protagonists, and don't employ sexuality or helplessness in creating their characters. A feminist analysis of the gaming industry is probably something I wouldn't have thought of, not being heavily immersed in anything more challenging than Candy Crush, but it's a welcome addition to the world of feminism.

However.

Apparently this burgeoning feminist movement within gaming culture has created such a strong backlash that women like Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, and Sarkeesian have been subjected to the most hideous kind of sexual harassment, online and off, from angry men who don't want their sexist stereotypes touched.  Both Wu and Sarkeesian have actually had to leave their homes because angry gamers have threatened them or released their home addresses online. Go here and here to read about the background and tell me if you don't find it absolutely shocking.

Sarkeesian has in fact had to cancel an appearance at the University of Utah to speak because of death threats that the university could not mitigate or protect her against. Brianna Wu was taking Adam Baldwin to task on Twitter yesterday, berating him for not realising that his ham-fisted (or ham-mouthed) opinions could "literally get me killed."

On the other side, the people (men) who attack Sarkeesian, Wu and Quinn think there's some sort of conspiracy from feminists and the lefty press to take their freedom to express themselves in their gaming world away from them, or something like that.

And here's where the parallels to Malala Yousufzai come to mind. Malala stood up for the feminist right of girls to get an education. She stood up to some of the biggest misogynists in the world, the Taliban; she was threatened with death and actually came to grave physical harm because of her beliefs. Even after she's won the Nobel Prize, detractors think her entire existence is a conspiracy against Pakistan or the Muslim world, a declaration that this mythical, monolithic entity's values and norms are being derided and threatened.

The death threats against Anita Sarkeesian and her peers, the entire campaign of harassment represents a similar situation to Malala's, but at a different level. Malala's struggle actually played out in the real world because patriarchy and misogyny are still common currency in Pakistan; she was physically prevented from going to school, she was physically shot in the head, she had to physically leave the country. For now Sarkeesian and her peers are receiving death threats, but how long before it actually turns into real-world violence?

In America and Europe, misogyny exists, but a lot of it has to exist symbolically because there are legal and social mores in place that forbid it from being acted out as pervasively as in Pakistan. So people who can't be misogynistic in everyday life can go online or into a gaming world and be as misogynistic as they like, virtually beating up or killing women or raping them, rescuing them, reducing them to one dimensional video game characters with no voice and no purpose other than as objects to be rescued or disposed. In Pakistan, if you want to be a misogynist, you just have to step outside and take a deep breath, and look all around you. Or you can just do it in your home, and there's no law to stop you and no police to take you to jail where you belong.

And if you threaten that misogyny, as Sarkeesian and her peers have done, you will get the same angry backlash, the same death threats, the same hatred directed at you as Malala has received. Here is where the difference between men in my part of the world and men in that part of the world suddenly disappear and all are reduced to men who, in the words of Stieg Larsson, hate women. I don't see any difference between the gamers who threaten Sarkeesian with death and the Taliban who actually wanted to shoot Malala to death.

Do you?




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Islam and Gender Equality

An undergratude student doing a thesis in the UK on secularism in France wrote to ask me some questions relating to her research on the French government's laws on veiling. Here, in edited format, are my answers to her questions.

How compatible is Islam with the notion of sexual/gender equality?

Before I answer this question, we have to make sure we know what we’re talking about when we talk about “Islam”. Are we talking about “Islam” the religion, or the cultures and countries in which Islam is prevalent?

Islam as a religion propagates the idea of gender equality. We see in the Quran that men and women are rewarded equally or punished equally for the same good or bad deeds. Women do not have diminished responsibility due to any perceived spiritual weakness, and both men and women can achieve the highest station of heaven or the lowest station of hell.  There is no concept of original sin.  There is no concept that Eve was responsible for the fall of man (she isn’t even mentioned by name in the Quran, nor is it said that she was created from Adam’s rib).

Also, Islam recognizes the “third gender” – taken commonly to mean hermaphrodites. Verses in the Quran speak of their existence and have been taken in Pakistan as justification for giving national identity cards to transsexuals (this might be of interest: http://www.safraproject.org/sgi-genderidentity.htm).

There are differences in the requirements of Islamic practice due to biology – women perform special rites for purification after menstruation or childbirth, for example – in terms of soul and spirit, men and women are equal. There are allowances made for women because of physical weakness or temporary disability: again, during or after childbirth,  a woman may not be able to provide for herself. So a man is obligated to take on her responsibility and the financial burden of the children he fathers. This is basic biology which Islam does not ignore. It seems quaint or regressive to us from our modern perspective, but to make a man financially responsible for his partner and offspring is an ideal that we have yet to achieve in our modern societies!

But then we have the problem of culture. And the cultures in which Islam is practiced are heavily patriarchal. So these biological allowances have been turned by them into weaknesses, and then justification for keeping women in a subordinate position due to their biology. Not only this, but the Quran and teachings of the Prophet are twisted very far from their intended meaning to cement the inferior position of women in Islamic societies.


Is the concept of sexual equality and feminism something that can be compared across vastly different cultures according to one fixed (western) benchmark? Or are these concepts relative and must be treated as such?

Cultures are manmade creations, or human-made creations, and as such, reflect the strengths and weaknesses of all of humanity. A country in which Islam is the most prevalent religion will be eager to propagate the headscarf as the most desirable attire for women. A country in which Islam is feared and hated will aspire to portray a woman in a headscarf as an oppressed slave. We would be foolish not to see the subjectivity in both stances. We would also be foolish not to see the imposition of belief and choice on women by governments that are, usually, male-dominated across the world. Does the French government have the authority to make decisions on behalf of Muslim women’s religious beliefs? If so, they are not as secular as they like to think.

Ultimately, you will bring what you are to Islam. If you are a misogynist, your Islam will be misogynistic. If you are a humanist, your Islam will be humane. If you are feminist, your Islam will be feminist. Islam has room for all and much more. Any attempts to shoehorn it into one particular rigid worldview are futile and demeaning to both the religion and its followers, who are vastly diverse populations with many different ways of thinking and living.

This post was edited using Grammarly's editing app. Grammarly is an automated grammar checker that can help you improve your writing skills. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

War and the Quran

Over the last week, I've been following the debates going on in the media about Islam, between CNN and Reza Aslan, and then between Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Nicholas Kristof and Ben Affleck. The latter panel was fascinating in that it involved five American men and no Muslims on the panel, but I guess that's the way they like to do things over there.

Kristof has written his analysis here, in a piece called Diversity in Islam, while Reza Aslan has written his analysis here, in a piece called Bill Maher isn't The Only One Who Misunderstands Religion. Both pieces are excellent and I recommend them highly for their attempts to bring nuance into a very clumsy debate which silences Muslims completely (No news yet about anything from Maher or Harris).

Aslan referenced a verse in the Quran, in Surah Tawba, verse 5, as a way of showing that there are contradictions in all religious scriptures and holy books.
The same Quran that warns believers “if you kill one person it is as though you have killed all of humanity” (5:32) also commands them to “slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9:5).
My curiosity piqued by this sentence, I thought I'd go to my trusty commentary on the Quran by Shaykh Muhammed Al Ghazali for more understanding (it's really good to read commentaries because they give depth, historical context, and further explanations than what the Quran provides. God isn't big on footnotes, I've discovered).

Ghazali's explanation of Surah Tawbah starts with a verse from a different chapter, in Surah Yunus, verse 41, where the Prophet, peace be upon him, explains,

"My deeds are mine and your deeds are yours. You are not accountable for my actions, nor am I accountable for what you do." (Surah Yunus, verse 1)

Then, another disclaimer, at the start of Surah Tawba:

[This is a declaration of] disassociation, from Allah and His Messenger, to those with whom you had made a treaty among the polytheists. 

These verses, explains Ghazali, indicate that the circumstances in Muhammed's life were extraordinary, and his actions were also extraordinary. He received them from God as guidance for what to do in a time when the early Muslims numbered in the few hundreds, and were in danger of being destroyed by detractors who didn't want the young religion to take root in Arabia. Those enemies of Islam instigated "a series of military expeditions and incursions against the Muslims." Nor could, writes Ghazali, Muslims after the death of Muhammed look at his actions, conduct war, and pretend that they were simply following his example in this particular case.

Therefore, the instructions on how to conduct a defensive war in those times - not for all time or all circumstances, as so many extremist Muslims believe, mistakenly - came down into the Quran, and we see them listed in Surah Tawba, one after the other. They were not meant to be
"a declaration of war" on all non-Muslims without exception. Phrases such as "...and fight the unbelievers altogether" have been culled from the text and taken to mean all non-Muslims, without exception, omitting the sentence that says "as they too fight you altogether" (Ghazali, p. 178)

But what's this?
Some also understood the word "people" in verse 3, which says "this is a proclamation from God and His messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage..." to refer to all humankind, overlooking the exceptions and comments that follow in the same verse (italics mine) 
The exceptions are: "those idolators who have honoured their treaties with you in every detail and have not aided anyone else against you." (Ghazali, p. 178)

Hang on a second. So the Quran makes a distinction between warring idolators, or unbelievers, and those who have honored treaties of peace between Muslims and non-Muslims.  Then, the Quran further classifies the "innocent people who have no inclination to support either of the fighting sides" (Ghazali, 178).
And when an unbeliever seeks asylum with you, give him protection so that he may hear the words of God, and then enable him to reach his place of safety, because such people have no knowledge (Surah 9:6)

Then, the Prophet is instructed to give his enemies a four-month ceasefire, in which they could reconsider their plans to fight the Muslims. This came during the Hajj in that year, further strengthening the idea that these instructions were for that specific time period.
So long as they keep faith with you, keep faith with them (9:7)
It's clear to see from these instructions, and Ghazali goes on for quite a time about this, that the caveats that these polytheists would never honour their treaties with the young Muslims, that the permission to then go to all-out war with them, and to destroy their armies, are not to be applied to relations with all non-Muslims in all times.

We also get an explanation of the jizya, the tax that was levied upon non-Muslims. Today, fear mongers love to scream about this tax, saying that all Muslims want to turn all non-Muslims into "dhimmis" who force them to pay "jizya". But Ghazali demolishes this argument as well by explaining how the jizya is applied:

"It is not due from those who are neutral and have never taken up arms against the Muslim state." (Ghazali, 183)

Instead, those (who should pay it) are people who did try to fight and oppose the Muslims, and once the war is over and they have been defeated, even they are allowed to live in peace under Muslim authority and practice their beliefs, while paying this levy.

By no means am I trying to say that I have understood these commandments fully, but with a little help, I am able to understand that warfare, while written about in the Quran, is limited to defensive war, is prohibited if peace treaties are made and honoured, and cannot be enacted upon neutral or innocent or peaceful non-Muslims.

Anyone who says otherwise, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is not reading the Quran very carefully at all, or is deliberately misinterpreting and distorting its words for their own agenda. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Myth of the Moderate Muslim

The World Wildlife Foundation recently put out the alarming statistic that the earth has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years. Along with the Caspian Tiger, the Golden Toad of Costa Rica, and the Pyrenean Ibex, the Moderate Muslim has also died out or gone extinct, if you listen to the current discourse on Islam and terrorism. This organism has now entered the realm of mythology, and was probably last seen circa the summer of 2001, when it was still possible to self-identify as a Muslim and not be strip-searched at the airport when attempting to board a flight for any Middle Eastern destination.

In fact, I have a poster put out by the Muslim Council of America* that shows this magnificent beast in its natural habitat, wearing a colorful scarf on her head, with her arms around a Jew on one side and a Hindu on the other. The smile on her face speaks of tolerance, diversity, pluralism, acceptance. Ah, how it makes me long for the good old days, when Muhammed was just a name for your baby, and not the name of every other character on “Homeland”. 

The use of the phrase “moderate Muslim” is troublesome to begin with - as Nathan Lean so eloquently writes in the New Republic, it comes attendant with its burdens of expectation.  Lean calls the idea of the “moderate Muslim” intellectually lazy because the “moderate Muslim” is shorthand for “the Good Muslim” (his words) or, “the Muslim who doesn’t want to kill us” (mine). And Muslims strive hard to fit the profile of what non-Muslims think a moderate Muslim looks like: someone who lives in America, perhaps, as opposed to Pakistan. Someone who espouses Western thinking on women’s empowerment, LGBT rights, who maybe likes to drink a little (or a lot), someone who definitely doesn’t wear the veil or grows a beard un-ironically. They have to work this hard to efface every aspect of their Muslimness that might scare non-Muslims, because their jobs, their social acceptance, and their security depends on it. 

I asked Twitter, my informal pollster, what exactly the moderate Muslim is. “Spiritually ignorant, religiously apologetic, guilt-ridden, conservative about pork, liberal about vodka, confused, ambiguous” Shahjehan Chaudhry told me. “No such thing,” came another from Dream Big. “It’s just supposed to be common sense, none of the added stupidness on top.” Someone calling himself Enlightened Muslim wrote back, “Ordinary Muslims like you and me.” And Maida Sheikh, who sports a lovely grey scarf on her head in her Twitter display photo, wrote, “Me. I’m a moderate Muslim, oh wait, so are you. Isn’t ‘moderate’ a relative term?”

So in other words, everyone knows that the moderate Muslim exists, but nobody seems to really agree on what he or she looks like, how he or she acts, behaves, what she believes in, how he or she practices. Is a moderate Muslim someone who wears a face veil or a full length beard but hates everything ISIS is doing and wants nothing more than to live in peace? Is a moderate Muslim someone who goes clubbing and drinking but hates the United States for its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine? Is a moderate Muslim a man with two wives who sends his daughters to school? 

Let me say it right here: the “moderate” Muslim has always been a myth, or perhaps more of a mirage, a destination just ahead in the distance, and when you think you’ve gotten there, it recedes from your grasp only to appear further ahead down the road. 

Before the Heritage Foundation invites me to become its latest scholar, let me explain. I don’t mean the usual tired argument that all moderate Muslims are terrorists in vitro, ready to give up their moderate disguise at the first opportunity to commit violence, as Pamela Geller attempts to assert with her crude attempts at mixed-media artwork on the buses of New York City. Nor do I mean that moderate Muslims are a silent and voiceless majority, useless in the face of Islamist extremism, and therefore their existence as the nearly 99% of Muslims worldwide doesn’t count on the world stage, as Bill Maher has explained countless times to anyone who will listen. 

These gross oversimplifications of the status of the moderate Muslim aside, there is an even deeper attempt to drive the moderate Muslim out of existence - by simply denying that the moderate Muslim exists at all. “I think, therefore I am,” said Descartes. In today’s world where the intellect rules all, the “moderate Muslim” corollary is “You think, therefore you are not.” The argument goes like this: nobody would be a (practicing) Muslim if they thought hard enough about their religion. After all, that little black book, the Quran, tells them to kill non-Muslims, to enslave women, to be violent as a matter of ideology. Muslims define themselves by faith - which is, in today’s times, the opposite of thinking - and so faith and thought are incompatible. Think hard enough about what you are, and you’ll find you don’t actually exist at all.  To be a moderate Muslim is to not think about what your religion asks you to do. 

Of course, this is an illogical argument, because it ignores what the Quran overwhelmingly requires Muslims to do: be kind and compassionate, practice charity, non-violence. The Quran asks Muslims to read the Quran and reflect on the signs around them as markers to the existence of God and the truth of the message. The Prophet instructs Muslims to tread the “middle path” - the path of moderation. There’s no need to call up chapter and verse to illustrate this - it’s all been done before by Islamic scholars and interpreters from every sect, race, gender, and geographical location. Anyone who denies that this is the greater tenor of the Quran is doing the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and saying “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

What the Quran doesn’t do is tell Muslims how to define that path other than to “avoid extremes”.  And further compounding the problem is that the goalposts of what defines “moderation” change as our world changes. One year - say in the year 2000 -- a moderate Muslim is a person who has a miniature copy of the Quran in her Volvo. The next, in 2001, it’s a Muslim who doesn’t kill people.

Islam doesn’t deny that violence or warfare exists in the world. The Quran tells Muslims they are restricted to fighting only defensive wars, and how to behave themselves during those times.  This instruction, in the 7th century, was seen as an extremely moderate, if not downright progressive, stance. That there could be limits on warfare, on how to behave with prisoners, on not killing captives and on insisting that widows and orphans be protected in the enemy camp was revolutionary. Today, with our ideas of humanitarian treatment of prisoners, legal rights and Geneva Conventions (and who listens to those anyway), it seems inadequate. In the Middle Ages, with their penchant for slaughtering everyone in the most gruesome ways possible, it would have been seen as downright cowardly. 

(The demand on the “moderate Muslim” is to renounce any kind of warfare whatsoever -- “give up armed jihad!” is the common refrain. I find this laughable, as nobody else in the world is told to get rid of their armies, weapons, expansionist, colonialist, imperialist, and other designs with quite the same conviction as the moderate Muslim. The “extremist” Muslims are presumably not listening, or too busy posing for jihad selfies)

So, in short, it isn’t whether or not the moderate Muslim actually exists. It is that our perception of what a moderate Muslim is is never a fixed point, because the definition of moderation is always evolving. And when it is imposed upon you by an outside force, rather than your own internal convictions, who could blame you for being “confused and ambiguous” or even, like a character in a Kafka novel, beginning to doubt if you even exist? 

*This organization, too, is sadly mythological

Friday, October 3, 2014

On Marriage and the Ideal Spouse

With the recent marriage of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin, perhaps women around the world are thinking hard these days about what their ideal mate would be like. Would be he rich, handsome, successful, powerful? Would he be kind, compassionate, a good father? Would he be intelligent, educated, world-wise?

But in my part of the world, if you ask a woman from a lower-income background what is her idea of a good husband, this is what you'll hear:

"My husband is a good man. He doesn't beat me."

I've heard this from Pakistani women, Sri Lankan women, Indian women. Christian women, Hindu women, Muslim women, Buddhist women.

It breaks my heart that so many of us set the bar so low for what makes the ideal spouse.

It reminds me, as well, of something I read about the origins of the word "spinster". Today, it's a word that is used to derisively mean a woman who isn't married, usually not young anymore. But when it first came about, it was used to describe a woman who could spin well, and earn her own living. So until she decided to marry, she was called a spinster as a way of saying that she was financially independent, and came to a marriage of her own free will, not out of economic necessity.

We've taken a word that used to be so positive for women and turned it into a term of derision. Surely the fear of "spinsterhood" makes many women marry unsuitable men.  And so many women must stay in abusive marriages because they have no financial independence.

There's something very messed up about all of this.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Does Islam Promote Violence? Reza Aslan on CNN

Today I watched a clip of Reza Aslan on CNN, speaking to anchors about whether or not “Islam promotes violence”. I thought what he said was so important, so necessary, that I’d write down notes from what he said in answer to the anchors’ (frankly inane) questions.

Here’s the clip if you want to watch it for yourself.

RA: Frankly, when it comes to the topic of religion, (Bill Maher’s) not very sophisticated in the way that he thinks.  The argument about the female genital mutiliation being an Islamic problem is a perfect example of that. It’s not an Islamic problem, it’s an African problem—

CNN: Yeah but he says it’s a Muslim problem. In Somalia…

RA: Yeah, but that’s factually incorrect. Eritriea has 90% female genital mutilation and it’s a Christian country. Ethiopia has 75% female genital mutilation, and it’s a Christian country.  Nowhere else in the Muslim majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.  But this is the problem: you make these facile arguments that somehow women are mistrated in the Muslim world – well that’s certainly true in many Muslim countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Do you know that Muslim countries have elected seven women as their heads of state?

CNN: But be honest, Reza, for the most part it is not a free and open society for women in those states.

RA: Well, it’s not in Iran, it’s not in Saudi Arabia. But it certainly is in Indonesia and Malaysia and Bangladesh and Turkey.  Again, this is the problem: you’re talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes very easy to pain thtem all with a single brush by saying, “Well, in Saudi Arabia they can’t drive, so that’s representative of Islam.” No, that’s representative of Saudi Arabia…

You know, we’re not having this discussion in any legitimate forum, we’re just using two or three examples to justify a generalization – that’s actually the definition of bigotry.

Then they cut to a clip of Netanyahu speaking at the UN, saying ISIS = Hamas.

CNN: So, does Islam promote violence?

RA: Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion. It depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person, your Islam,  your Christianity, your Judaism, your Hindusim is going to be violent. There are maurading Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful, and that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.

CNN: So the justice system in Muslim countries, you don’t think, is more primitive or subjugates women more than in other countries?

RA: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries. I just told you that in Indonesia women are 100% equal to men. In Turkey they’ve had more female representatives and heads of state than we’ve had in the United States.

CNN: But in Pakistan, women are still being stoned.

RA: And that’s a problem for Pakistan.

CNN: Your argument is that Muslim countries are NOT to blame. There is nothing particular, there is no common thread, in Muslim counties, you can’t paint with a broad brush, that their justice system, their Shariah law, what they’re doing in terms of female genital mutliation and stoning is different in other countries, like Western countries.

RA: Stoning and mutliation and those barbaric practices should be condemned by everyone. The actions of individual countries like Saudi Arabia, like Iran, like Pakistan must be condemned because they don’t belong in the 21st century.  But to say “Muslim countries” as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same , as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though what is happening in the most extreme form in these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what’s happening in every other Muslim country,  is frankly, and I use this word seriously, stupid. So let’s stop doing it.

(Not a chance, Reza, I’m afraid. Not a chance.)


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Online Harassment - My Story

Fake account
This week I have been dealing with a particularly vicious form of online harassment. Someone created a fake Twitter profile with my name and image, took photographs from Google Search and my Facebook profile, and started to post those photographs with particularly vile comments about me. This same person did the same thing to me back in May on Facebook, creating a fake Facebook profile and taking pictures and making horrible comments.

This person also messaged many other people on Twitter who are known to me either in person or online, and used the fake profile to harass and abuse them. Most people have been intelligent enough to realise that this was an impostor, but it still caused difficulty for me. I have a professional and personal reputation which this person seemed intent to destroy.

I complained to Facebook back in May and Facebook responded quickly and took the profile down. I complained to Twitter the day I saw the fake Twitter profile, and Twitter eventually responded and suspended the account. But there's no preventing the harasser from coming back and creating a hundred fake profiles if they want to. As a safety measure, I protected my tweets and deactivated my Facebook profile. I also made my blog private, but I'm opening it up today so that this post is readable by all.



Violent threats and abuse.
Bottom tweet: "Whore, you are the army's
bitch, feudals' whore"
I have been working with Bytes For All and the Digital Rights Foundation to use my case as an example of the technology-driven harassment and violence online that women face (but this happens to men, too, as we have seen all too often on social media). Bytes For All is holding a conference on Monday to discuss the findings of a big report on violence against women online, and to hold corporations and law enforcement more accountable for stopping this kind of harassment against us.

Online harassment and abuse of women is a global phenomenon. But in Pakistan, it takes on a different dimension altogether. We face unbearable gender-based discrimination, which often translates into physical violence. Our culture places a huge burden on us to keep our reputations intact, and even if someone else attacks it, it's we who suffer. I don't need to outline the many ways in which women are abused in our society, but online technology-driven abuse makes our lives that much harder, and social media companies and law enforcement agencies are duty-bound to take extra steps to protect us online as well as off.
An attempt to slander me with porn

The FIA (Federal Investigations Agency) has a National Response Center for Cybercrime with a complaint page which you can fill out if you are facing online harassment.

Don't remain silent if you're facing online abuse or harassment. Speak up about it, and know your rights. You have the right not to be abused, not to be harassed, not to feel threatened or violated. You have the right to expect the authorities and Twitter and Facebook to protect you. You don't have to face ugliness and have it drive you offline. Stand your ground. People have been extremely supportive of me while I've been undergoing this experience. It's the abuser who should feel the shame, not you.