A supporter of the Islamic State terrorist group (formerly and still commonly known as ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has threatened one of the stars of Clarion Project’s Honor Diaries, an award-winning documentary about the struggle for women’s rights in Muslim-majority societies.
The online threat was made to Raquel Evita Saraswati, who appears on the cover of the DVD. She is a Muslim-American female activist against gender-based violence and for women’s rights and the separation of mosque and state.
In 2007, she was honored with the prestigious Colin Higgins Youth Courage Award given to “those individuals who have endured overwhelming hostility and hate, yet have handled themselves with the utmost grace.”
She is the first woman under the age of 30 to receive the Durga Award at the San Diego Indiefest. It was given to her in 2010 and is presented to “outstanding women who dedicate their lives to healing communities.”
The threat, shown below, told her not to get in the way of the Islamic State and that she deserves lashings and death:
Saraswati spoke with Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro about the threat and its broader implications:
Ryan Mauro: Why are ISIS supporters and those like them so enraged by you and your work?
Raquel Saraswati: To monsters like ISIS, their supporters and others like them, the Muslim who opposes them is far more threatening than any other critic. For a woman to oppose them, and to refuse to be intimidated or deterred, is even more threatening. Simply put, I refuse to “know my place,” as they define it, and choose instead to actively fight their ideology.
While groups like ISIS may proclaim their opponents to be “apostates,” they well know that to reasonably minded people, they do not represent all Muslims. They also know that, as a fringe voice vying for support within the Muslim community, they are most threatened by those of us who show them for what they are.
ISIS and groups like them insist that they are the only valid representatives of the Muslim community and Muslims like myself refuse to concede that role to them.
There are more subtle aspects of why they feel threatened by women like me, too.
I am not particularly loud or imposing. (I do think sometimes it is harder for radicals to dismiss a person who reasons rather than screams.) I am not hostile to my faith and wear the hijab. I insist on taking my rightful place as a Muslim woman who feels empowered by her faith to combat the likes of ISIS and their clearly woman-hating ideology.
I have come to learn that as a woman and as a person truly committed to individual liberty and the sanctity of human life, that the vilest of men will see Muslims like me—especially women—as their primary targets and most feared combatants.
Mauro: How common is intimidation from ISIS supporters and those like them?
Saraswati: Attempts at silencing Muslim dissidents through intimidation and threats of violence are common. This is especially true for young Muslim women who speak out. We find ourselves on the receiving end of an extraordinary amount of hostility.
Personally, I have been subjected to an enormous amount of harassment, the content of which has stunned even security professionals. In more than one instance, online harassment has turned into real-life stalking and threats of sexual and other physical violence.
The fact that ISIS sympathizers are harassing women online is no surprise. I have received quite a few hostile and even violent tweets, for example, from supporters of ISIS and even those who represent themselves as residents of the “Islamic State.” Many of these ISIS supporters appear to actually reside in the West, in places like the U.K.
It is my assessment that some of these individuals are naïve; brainwashed into believing that terrorists are freedom fighters. Others, however, seem more sincere in their hatred for both women like me and for all who oppose the supremacist and violent ideology of ISIS.
Comments from ISIS supporters to me focus on takfir, or declaring me, a practicing Muslim, to be an apostate worthy of death. Many other comments focus on my physical appearance and gender and are quite perverse in nature.
Mauro: How does this threat to you highlight the importance of Honor Diaries?
Saraswati: Among the many atrocities committed by ISIS, they are focusing on women as a means to advance their mission.
From recruiting young women as “wives” for their fighters to harassing women they see as “deviant,” they continue the misogynist tradition embraced by all radicals: They see control of women, and especially our bodies, as a divine mandate. This mentality is pervasive among radicals, from ISIS to Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab (whose supporters have also harassed me via social media).
The concept of community ownership—and specifically male ownership—over women’s bodies is not limited, of course, to terrorists like ISIS.
The tribal concept of “honor,” often coupled with misogynist interpretations of religion, is behind countless violations of women’s rights—from domestic violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), honor killings and other forms of abuse and violence.
The amount of hostility I personally received for being interviewed in Honor Diaries, despite the fact that I did so as someone who feels empowered by my faith and who is also on the receiving end of bigotry due to my identification as a Muslim, was stunning.
Attacks on my faith and my personal autonomy were constant for months, driving home the message that no matter the platform women use to give voice to the issue of our rights, there are those who simply want these issues to remain undiscussed.
I, for one, will not allow women’s bodies and rights to continue to be sacrificed for an entirely false construct of “unity” which relies on the systematic and rampant abuse of women and minorities.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on Fox News.