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Shamila Ghyas: No More Fear and Denial

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Shamila Ghyas is an author, blogger and satirist from Pakistan. She writes for The Nation, Dawn and the Express Tribune along with the satirical outlet, the Khabaristan Times.

She is also a published fantasy author.

She Tweets @ShamilaGhyas and is on Facebook.

She graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about Pakistan and her writing.  

Clarion Project: What motivated you to start blogging about problems of extremism?

Shamila Ghyas: Like most people I used to be oblivious to most of the issues in my country. I thought that the bubble that I lived in was pretty much the reality for most save a few ‘unlucky’ folks.

I think as incidents started growing more and more, I started becoming aware and started paying attention. I started reading and listening to people around me and as frustration grew, started venting on social media too.

At that time I was starting out as an (fantasy fiction) author and a friend encouraged me (actually pushed) to start my own blog where I could voice my concerns properly and thus reach more people.

I really wanted to create more awareness and the more I wrote, the more people came forward and the more I could learn and write about.

 

Clarion: Clerics in Pakistan have opposed a Women's Protection Bill that would implement legal protections for women against rape and domestic violence. Why is there such difficulty in getting this bill through?

Ghyas: In my opinion, a man who does not intend on hitting/harassing/assaulting women would not have issues with this bill. It seems that the clerics want to keep that right without being punished for it. They argue that it will cause divorces and that it will be against the ‘dignity’ of man if they are made to leave their home. Home – where they can supposedly beat their wives (i.e property) in peace. I can think of no other reason why.

A man who has no intention of hitting his wife would not have issues; it is as simple as that.

Sadly, their numbers are alarming and since they use religion as a tool to justify their own violent tendencies, the government is a little wary of angering them. I still don’t understand why they get to have a say at all though when they have never done anything for any females anywhere.

Had their intentions been righteous, they would have said instead, “Do not hit women. We support anything that protects them including the Women’s Protection Bill.” 
 

Clarion: Some of your work is satirical, what do you find about satire that helps you get your message across on these sensitive topics? 

Ghyas: Historically satire has been one of the most effective means of critique. As an opinion writer, I feel sarcasm and irony can often help deliver a message across more effectively than anything else.

I will admit though that I have had to explain myself on more than one occasion when people took what I wrote quite literally.

 

Clarion: Why do you think so many people fail to speak out against Islamist extremism?

Ghyas: Fear and denial.

Imagine an Ahmadi in Pakistan being very vocal about how they are persecuted. They can’t even call themselves Muslims out in the open. Imagine a Christian saying that the Muslims in his neighborhood don’t treat him right.

Remember Asia Bibi? She was wrongly accused of blasphemy and the one man who stood up for her; a prominent figure in Pakistani politics, was gunned down by his own guard. That guard though now has been executed for his crime, is considered a hero by many.  

Too many.

Today, 25,000 people rioted in the Pakistani capital against this decision. A suicide bomber just killed over 70 people in Lahore. The target was Christians celebrating Easter.

How many people will dare to speak up when this might be the likely result?

In other cases outside of Pakistan, the people just live in plain denial and think this is not a problem that concerns them. They think it is non-Muslims pretending to be Muslims trying to make them or their religion look bad. Or they simply justify it by saying that since the US attacked Afghanistan, Iraq, etc this is just payback.

 

 

Clarion: You wrote after the Brussels attacks that Muslims need to take responsibility for fighting extremists within their faith. What do you think people need to do?

Ghyas: Like I wrote above, a lot of us tend to disassociate ourselves from these events by stating the people we know are not like that. Or that Islam does not teach that. Or simply by saying they were not Muslims.  

That same bubble that refuses to burst.

They have to realize that just like other people of other faith, Muslims also do bad things. For example, the people killing Shias in Pakistan are very much Muslims. The ones who killed kids before and today as well. They are not Atheists or Buddhists!

We are one of the biggest victims of terrorism as well. We have perhaps even lost more people than other countries even. If one does not stand up to these extremists, these attacks will continue in our country and others.

Muslims need to condemn the attacks and their actions. By saying that it is not Islam, or that that the terrorists are not that many or by using popular hashtags; it means very little to the non Muslim who has just lost his friends and family in an attack. Actions mean more than words.

Muslims need to show they are not aliens and want to live together in peace. They need to integrate and speak up. They need to be the loud ones, not the terrorists or extremists.

They have to act the way they want to be perceived. And there can be no room for any kind of apologia. 

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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