by Jeffrey Tayler
March 16, 2017
In twenty-first-century America, what happens to a young woman who has wised up and quit a faith-based ideology that ordains the second-class status of women, the submissiveness of wives to husbands (even violent husbands), the partial disinheritance of female heirs in favor of their male counterparts, the stoning of adulterers (and especially adulteresses, given the misogynistic vagaries of evidentiary law associated with said ideology), the taking of captive women as sex slaves, the adherence to a cumbersome dress code, and that also sanctions the savagery of female genital mutilation? Does she win plaudits for standing up her for rights as a woman? Do progressives recite panegyrics that sing her courage and praise her clear-sightedness? Is she inundated with offers of support?
Does she feel, perhaps for the first time in her life, that the United States, her adopted country – the only country on Earth established, at least according to its foundational documents, on the rights to free speech, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – wholly and unreservedly welcomes her as one of its own?
Not necessarily! If the ideology is Islam (and it is) and the woman is a former Muslim (and she is), she must steel herself to face threats against her life from her onetime coreligionists and a hail of invective from, and insidious betrayals by, those posing as progressives. Moreover, she must prepare to fend off attempts to silence her viewpoint as “inconvenient” given our current political morass. Even more egregiously, if the woman is trying to help (as she is) others also striving after the gloriously secular freedom she has achieved for herself, she becomes a danger to the entire edifice of hypocrisy, cowardice, and fact-deficient balderdash forming the mainstream left’s view of Islam as a “religion of peace” distorted by a few deranged miscreants. In short, in the America of today, such a brave woman will find no haven extended to her, but, rather, confront wielders of figurative pitchforks eager to skewer her for both abandoning her religion and traducing her kind. And with Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, her position becomes more precarious than ever.
Such a woman is Sarah Haider, a native of Pakistan who moved to the United States when she was between seven and eight, and who is co-founder and director of outreach for Ex-Muslims of North America. EXMNA, declares its web site, “advocates for acceptance of religious dissent, promotes secular values, and aims to reduce discrimination faced by those who leave Islam.” It also provides a range of services (e.g., temporary shelter, counseling) to its members, who are spread out in eighteen chapters across the continent, and offers a platform from which ex-Muslims can recount, via Youtube videos, their personal stories of faith-free enlightenment.
Soft-spoken, articulate, and earnest, Haider hardly fits the image of a sinister, subversive “native informant” or “house Arab” or “house Muslim” (as she has been vilified by some on the left) scheming to stir up “Islamophobia” and spoil life for American Muslims. Haider drifted away from Islam at age fifteen, but received national attention when, in 2015, she delivered a widely viewed lecture, “Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique,” at an American Humanist Association conference in Denver. She has been, since then, hailed as a hero by the neuroscientist and outspoken atheist Sam Harris (the host of the Waking Up podcast) and has appeared on, among other venues, Dave Rubin’s popular Youtube talk show, The Rubin Report.
I spoke with Haider via Skype one day recently. She told me that things have only gotten tougher for ex-Muslims since she made her appearance in Denver, and that she and her fellow apostates live with a level of threat that influences every aspect of life. (Apostasy is an offence punishable by death, according to Islam, and female apostates in particular, even in the United States, find themselves imperiled.) The more publicity she receives, the more potential danger she has to live with.
“Fear of being exposed has changed how I go about my life and how I socialize. As I become better known, I feel increasingly isolated.”
Worst of all, she feels so besieged in the United States.
“Ex-Muslims in the West should be free to be who they are and leave their religion. At the very least, we shouldn’t have to be fearful of our family and friends. If Muslims feel they’re being badly treated here [in the United States], they can go to Muslim-majority countries. But where can a person like me go? I’m in the safest place I can possibly be, yet I’m too afraid to tell people where I live. It’s tragic for me that there’s even a need for our organization.”