There has been so much happening on my journey with Honor Diaries to various locations throughout North America, that a bit late in the day I decided I need to document some of the interesting elements of my journey for record.
The amazing thing about HD is that while most documentaries have a shelf life of about one year, this one goes on and on, getting bigger and better with feedback, actions and constant demands for more screenings. So I am swept off my feet – and what a wonderful experience this is. On April 23, 2015 we had a screening at Capitol Hill, DC.
This year started with a bang – a screening almost twice a week at which I am invited to speak. There were many screenings last year as well but this year the challenge was the people trying to shut down HD screenings.
Namely CAIR and their ilk.
This came to my notice first in February when I was invited to screen HD at the Topsfield Church near Boston. The Minister received an email from CAIR which is noted here:
Council on American-Islamic Relations
National Communications Director
CAIR Statement on ‘Honor Diaries”
American Muslims join people of conscience of all faiths in condemning female genital mutilation, forced marriages, “honor killings,” and any other form of domestic violence or gender inequality as violations of Islamic beliefs. If anyone mistreats women, they should not seek refuge in Islam. The real concern in this case is that the producers of the film, who have a track record of promoting anti-Muslim bigotry, are hijacking a legitimate issue to push their hate-filled agenda.
CAIR’s issue with the film is based on the fact that the enormous importance of eradicating violence against women from all societies is undermined by the fact that the film is produced by two anti-Islam activists, Ayaan Hirisi Ali and Raphael Shore.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a reputation for anti-Muslim and anti-constitutional rhetoric. For example, during the course of a single 2007 interview with Reason magazine, Ali said, “I think that we are at war with Islam” and called for Islam to be “defeated.” Later in the interview, Ali suggested that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to allow for discrimination against Muslims saying, “There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists.”
Raphael Shore is a lead figure at the Clarion Project (formerly Clarion Fund), a shadowy nonprofit group distributing anti-Muslim propaganda films such as Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West and The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America. Clarion Project is listed among the film’s producers.
My response to CAIR and anyone else who gets this email is the following:
This standard email slams two members of the team in a very racist manner which is the trademark of Islamists. Ironically it’s CAIR itself that is on terrorist list published by the UAE and are un-indicted co-conspirators in the Texas Holy Land Trial. You be the judge!
Fortunately Topsfield is a liberal progressive church so they went ahead and were actually thrilled when I got there and spoke to the issue.
CAIR meanwhile has been actively lobbying faculty and academics not to screen HD. Besides they are cowards. They do this subversive stuff by sending emails behind our backs to every faculty member – and sometimes the ‘white liberal guilt’ kicks in the some faculty cave in to stop a screening.
Last week this happened at USD in S. Dakota where one screening was mysteriously and anonymously cancelled after CAIR emails. http://volanteonline.com/2015/04/research-conference-puts-women-and-gender-issues-at-forefront/
However one brave academic decided to go ahead and have another screening at which she invited me and for the first time I saw CAIR tactics in action. They literally plant people in the audience who have no interest in the film but are there to rant and deflect from the real issues in the film. I gather the idea is to involve everyone in some argument that is far removed from the essence of the film and then the short time is up and most of the students are so intimidated by this exchange and hostility, that they don’t get a chance to ask their questions. So according to their plan, as soon as we opened for Q & A, one woman grabbed the mike and ranted on an on (nothing to do with Honor Diaries) until the organizers had to wrestle the mike away from her. She then left the room – Thank God – then we had a normal conversation. But CAIR’s sleazy tactics to divide and rule created a hostile environment. Obviously they don’t ‘care’ about women’s rights or human rights because they are constantly using underhanded measures to subvert the film.
More recently I was at Oklahoma State University (OSU) where the CAIR representative was on a panel after the film. He had brought supporters with him who were once again placed in the audience with documents, which of course is fine with me, but the irony is that while being Muslim, none of them asked even once how we could solve the problems faced by women that were mentioned in the film. The CAIR representative got caught up in his own lies. Someone from the audience asked why they wish to shut down screenings of HD and he said that they care about these issues and don’t want to shut down screenings but would like to have a panel like this one at screenings (which is a LIE because their email says nothing about a panel). What does this say about their character and lack of honesty? Not much if you ask me.
The other constant tactic I noted is that while I introduce the film as a Human Right issue and at the start explain two things: one, that this is beyond culture and religion and second that the women speak from their personal experience and are not scripted – this is the unique beauty and strength of the documentary. But it seems all this falls on deaf ears as far as the antagonists are concerned – they don’t even listen because they come with their own subversive agenda which is to somehow keep bringing the film back to Muslims and Islam-o-phobia – their main attack. At one point at OSU, the CAIR rep and one of the Muslim supporters said that this is a very conservative community and they will go away thinking all Muslims are terrorists! Well, I told them this film is not about Islamists or terrorism although that is a current crisis and needs to be dealt with separately. However its very offensive to me and racist in the way the Muslims kept putting down the intelligence and integrity of the students by insisting that they will lash back at all Muslims. I suggested we give this next generation of youth the right information to empower them with knowledge and give them the benefit of doubt that they are balanced enough to make a well-informed decision.
Besides, I reminded them that Honor Diaries is a positive reflection on educated, empowered Muslim women working to bring about change. How much Islamophobia is that?
Meanwhile I was also discovering that at remote small campus’s in USA, there were many International students and among them Saudi students as well. At one campus more than half the international students were Saudis. When I questioned the International student’s director about why this is happening when we know that the Salafi/Wahhabi ideology is being pumped directly from Saudi Arabia into organizations and Mosques in this country, he said “it’s all about the money”. That’s pretty much a shut-up call for anyone to critique. But he also told me the challenges he faces when the Saudi female students bring a male ‘guardian’ who insists on sitting in class with them or when the Saudis want to trash all the cafeteria cutlery and crockery and by new stuff as this may touched ‘haraam’ stuff. But that’s their problem – they invited it and they can deal with it. We had warned them years ago.
However the light at the end of the tunnel is the amazing feedback and results we continue to get.
– At one screening a young man came up to me and said he was an ex-marine and would volunteer to be my body guard and would I please tell my sons not to worry – awwww.
– Here at OSU another young man came up and said he is a martial arts expert and I can call on him anytime if I need him
– My fellow panelist who runs a shelter for victims of sexual assaults said she has been educated in something she never knew as she has Muslim clients as well and from now on, she will know what kind of specific questions to ask
– At a screening in Vancouver, two Afghan girls came specifically to meet me as both were victims of honor based violence. One of them saw her mother being killed by her father in BC while she and her siblings watched. She was later forced into an abusive marriage. She decided to speak out after seeing HD and has offered to be an ambassador for the cause.
– Last year there was an HD screening in Minneapolis at which a young high school student named Kellyanne came and later said she would like to have a screening in her school. This young girl lobbied her school Principal and discovered that he knew about Honor Based Violence (HBV) because his sister in law had gone to India to adopt one child and found that the child’s mother had been killed by her husband in an honor killing so she ended up adopting all three kids. The School gave Kellyanne full support and she hosted one of the most successful screenings of HD in the school auditorium with information handouts, posters and fliers. This is what she wrote to me: “Raheel thank you so so so much for coming on Saturday to white bear lake. I cannot express how thankful I am and how wonderful you are. You are an amazing woman doing amazing things. It was so great to see you and have dinner with you. You are beautiful in every way.
– A Muslim representative from a victim’s shelter had this to say “I was wondering if you could pass a message on to Raheel Raza for me as I’m not sure if I will get a chance to talk with her. Seldom am I uniquely impressed with people as I am with her. She took what is a difficult situation and conversation and handled it beautifully. I had heard some talk prior to today, but came with a completely open mind to hearing what she had to say, because I don’t let other people’s opinion sway my own: and I am glad I did this. “
I write this not to stroke my ego in any way but to re-confirm how important the message of HD is and to show how much caring, compassionate people appreciate the message.