A new film called The Honor Diaries, which tackles the issue of female oppression in the Islamic world, has been garnering attention on social media. The documentary features nine activists who share their grievances about the daily woes faced by many Muslim women in the name of ‘honor.’ According to its website, the film is a “platform to [sic] exclusively female voices and seeks to expose the paralyzing political correctness that prevents many from identifying, understanding and addressing this international human rights disaster.”
Many have denounced the film as the latest attempt to portray Muslims societies as misogynistic, backward, and dominated by brutal practices that oppress women. Critics claim some of the documentary’s producers are well-known Islamophobes, including the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who once called Islam a “nihilistic death cult.”
Imraan Siddiqi, the Chairman of the Council of American Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Arizona chapter, is one such detractor. In definitive terms, Siddiqi rejects the notion that the film is a genuine attempt to bring the challenges faced by Muslim women to the forefront.
The Clarion Fund
“The first and biggest issue [with the film] is the involvement of the Clarion Fund, an organization that harbors these Muslim Brotherhood conspiracies, [that the group wishes] to take over the American government,” Siddiqi said.
According to its website, Clarion was founded in 2006, “as an independently funded, non-profit organization dedicated to exposing the dangers of Islamic extremism, while providing a platform for the voices of moderation and promoting grassroots activism.” In addition to supporting the “Honor Diaries”, the organization has also produced several other films that allegedly expose the dangers of the Iranian nuclear threat and “radical Islam worldwide.” Clarion is overseen by a board whose members were selected to “help steer the editorial composition of the company’s productions, and assist in ongoing marketing and distribution efforts.”
“The people who serve on Clarion’s s advisory board happen to be the who’s who of the anti-Muslim community in America,” notes Siddiqi: Daniel Pipes and Frank Gaffney, two prominent members of the Clarion advisory board, are noted Islamaphobes. As Siddiqi pointed out, Pipes is considered to be the “godfather of the Islamaphobia industry in the US.” Meanwhile, Gaffney, who is a well-known figure in Washington DC policy circles, and founded the Center for Security Policy, alleged in 2012 that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated Congress.
Gaffney once also claimed that Hilary Clinton’s long-time aide Huma Abedin, a Muslim American, was on the Muslim Brotherhood’s payroll. Gaffney’s allegations where echoed by Michelle Bachman and other Republicans, who stated in a letter that Abedin “has three family members—her late father, her mother, and her brother—connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations”. These allegations were later found to be baseless and repudiated by Republican Senator John McCain.
The Honor Diaries’ main point is that mainstream Muslims have attempted to stifle debate around practices, such as honor killings. Siddiqi disagrees with this overly simplistic narrative:
“First of all, Muslims have been fighting a non-stop battle to prove themselves peaceful since 9/11” Siddiqi asserted. He explained that Muslims have been continuously forced to prove that the events of 9/11, 7/7 in London, and other atrocities have nothing to do with their religion. In his view, the work of progressive Muslim organizations, such as Project Sakinah, that seek to address violence within Muslim communities, has often been ignored.
Founded in 2009, Sakinah is a platform to help Muslims address the issue of domestic violence. The initiative was created in response to who was beheaded by her husband in an honor killing. Sakinah has spearheaded various awareness campaigns and research-based studies to bring attention to the subject, traditionally considered taboo in Muslim communities. One such initiative has been a project to increase awareness of domestic violence by raising the topic in religious sermons or “Khuttbahs” that take place in mosques, a traditional focal point for Muslim life.
The movement has worked with other mainstream Muslim associations, such the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), arguably the largest organization representing the interests of American Muslims. Its efforts have won the organization praise and recognition, and have also been endorsed by renowned Islamic scholars, such as Oxford University Professor Tariq Ramadan.
Siddiqi believes it is absolutely necessary that issues such as domestic violence and honor killings be brought to the forefront and challenged. Nevertheless, he warns that such criminal practices should not be conflated with Islam, as they have little to do with the tenets of the faith and are prevalent outside of Islamic cultures as well.
Follow the Money
Paula Kweskin, credited as one of the film’s producers and writers, has categorically rejected claims by organizations like CAIR and activists such as Siddiqi that her film is anti-Muslim. In an interview given to the Roger Ebert Website, Kweskin states that –
“This film is not anti-Muslim in any way, shape or form. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about it is that it shows women from different faiths being able to speak openly together and one of the things that I am most proud of is that we are able to show positive representations of Muslim women like Raquel Saraswati and Raheel Raza and others who are tremendously dedicated to their faith and yet draw a line when it comes to abuse…”
Siddiqi counters that this is nothing but “a good public relations answer,” and reiterates that it is vital to understand the agenda of those funding the film. As he points out, the Clarion fund has consistently pursued projects that adopt a virulently Islamophobic view. For example, during the 2008 U.S. elections Clarion promoted a film titledObsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, and distributed nearly 28 million DVDs of the film to influence voters. The film was described as “vile” and a “blatant piece of anti-Muslim propaganda.”
Some say Clarion outdid itself with the “Third Jihad” which argued that mainstream Muslim organizations were engaged in a plot to take over America. Also released in 2008, the film focuses on a purported Islamic agenda to replace democracy in America with Sharia law using a “multi-faceted strategy.” The documentary accuses organizations, like CAIR, of not condemning terrorism and maintaining links with groups like Hamas, suggesting collaboration between the two groups. The founder of the Tikum Olam blog Richard Silverstein described Third Jihad as “an anti-Muslim train wreck of a film.”
The film was narrated by Zuhdi Jasser, an American Muslim from Arizona who has denounced mainstream Muslim organizations for having a “hidden agenda”. Jasser was last seen all over major media networks in 2010 during the “9/11 mosque” controversy near the World Trade Center site. He claimed it would be disrespectful to the victims’ memories to build a mosque near the site. In fact, the so called mosque was a Muslim community center, situated several blocks away from the World Trade Center location.
To include a Muslim like Jasser, as Siddiqi put it, “was no coincidence.” Given its history of anti-Islamic films, Siddiqi believes that audiences should be highly suspicious of Clarion’s current interests in “saving Muslim women”. “It would be like a big tobacco company making a health and wellness documentary,” he remarked.
As mentioned earlier, another controversial personality associated with the documentary is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is not only an executive producer but also featured in the Honor Diaries. Hirsi Ali sparked a controversy a few weeks ago when Brandeis University reversed its decision to award her an honorary degree after an online petition went around protesting the move.
The university released a statement saying that “She (Hirsi Ali) is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls. That said we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.” The outspoken author of the book ‘Infidel’ has in the past claimed the West will be “at war with Islam” until the religion is “defeated.”
CAIR, and organizations like it, have growing support for their opposition to Clarion. Like Siddiqi, many others have also criticized Clarion’s work for being inherently anti-Muslim and propagating a blatant agenda that demonizes Muslim communities. For example, Canada’s Globe and Mail columnist Sheema Khan also called out the involvement of Clarion as highly suspicious, concluding that “eradicating honour killings was never the goal of Honor Diaries”.
“They can go ahead and make as many Islamaphobic films as they wish too, we have nothing against it” Siddiqi added. He made clear, however, that this will not stop CAIR from combating “the Islamophobic industry that sponsors these anti-Islam views”.