This weekend, I received a message on Facebook:
Read your article on being an ex-Muslim and why you hold that identity. I braced myself for a torrent of talking about how Islam is the worst ideology in the world and how evil the teachings are. But hey, you kept it from being polemical, which makes me want to ask you a question: As an ex-Muslim, why do you avoid polemics against Islam? You’re probably one of the least angry ex-Muslims I’ve read about.
My feelings upon reading it were mixed. Gratitude faded into annoyance, which mellowed into a slight defensiveness (I loathe anything even slightly resembling the idea that I’m “one of the good ones“).
It’s not as if I never was angry about Islam, or don’t continue to be angry about aspects of it.
When I first left Islam, I harbored the naive belief that if I were to explain my reasons for having left — reasons that had a lot more to do with theological underpinnings than any ethical or emotional objections to Islam — then those around me would not only understand why I had lost my faith, they might become sympathetic or even end up agree with me on some level. Some secret part of me yearned to convince at least one Muslim in my life of the lack of reason behind their faith.
Surprise, surprise. They were as shocked, enraged, and threatened by my philosophically-framed revelation as they would have been had I taken a more Problem of Evil-oriented approach.
This pissed me right off, and for a long time afterwards, I was angry about Islam.
I was angry that being loving, meticulous, and intellectual with my disclosure of my apostasy from Islam did not lead to a similarly thoughtful and careful reaction from those around me. Instead, they were angry, cruel, and abusive towards me.
I was angry that people dismissed me as yet another formerly-repressed young woman wanting to “party” (as in have a boyfriend, drink alcohol, and not wear hijab) guilt-free. Despite the fact that I was an atheist in hijab for quite a while, my story was forced into a simplistic girl-gone-wild narrative.
I was angry that I, as an atheist apostate, faced ludicrous questions and accusations regarding my basic moral and ethical sense as a human being. I was especially angry because I thought that Muslims, who deal with equally-ludicrous accusations and assumptions, ought to know better. I was incessantly asked to prove that I possessed even a shred of basic human decency and assumed to be deficient in it regardless of what I said or did. Meanwhile, the people who flat-out tormented me throughout childhood got off scot-free by calling themselves “Muslims.”
I was angry that people seemed to take pleasure from of stalking me online and tattling on me, to the point where I had to take down an anonymous blog I started as an outlet for my feelings because of threats of violence. I hated being told that I ought to shut up about my beliefs even though the very people urging me to silence myself walked around every day proudly wearing a symbol of their beliefs.
In pain, I started to respond to the anger, cruelty, and abuse with bitterness. I ceased my attempts to elevate the discourse and be the better person, and started taking pleasure in perverse and contrarian (though never quite unethical) behavior. If they were going to think the worst of me, I reasoned, I might as well let myself have some fun with it. Why stay civil if people didn’t treat you civilly in return? In other words, I let my self-imposed standards for my own behavior slip in response to others’ poor behavior.
I don’t blame myself. Anger was the tool that let me hold myself together through one of the most painful periods of my life. As my life changed, I eventually had to learn to use that tool differently.
Tomorrow, in A More Reasonable Rage: Why I Don’t Seem Angry at Islam, I will discuss how and why my approach changed.