Unsilencing Abuse

Categories: Endorsement

By admin

March 19, 2021

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This website has been set up by friends of Nazia Ahmad and Junaid Ahmad, as they attempt to reveal their truth of the abuse they faced at the hands of a well-known academic

March 3, 2021

Dear friends

Since the publication of our article in The Daily Vox a few days ago, talking about male academics’ abuse, and the circulation of the unedited version of the article on social media and various academic mailing lists, we have received an avalanche of messages, almost all showing a heart-warming level of solidarity and support. In these private messages and in public forums there have been numerous calls or requests, a genuine desire, by people who want to know who the abuser is so that friends and others can decide how they will respond.

We are both extremely thankful to courageous colleagues (mostly women) who publicly declared their solidarity with Nazia and me, some of whom then received a few somewhat obnoxious responses that criticized those who try to unequivocally stand with survivors of abuse.

Our decision not to reveal the name earlier was partly based on our (and especially my) sense of protection for ourselves. I have been able to speak about this only years later and after much intensive therapy. The intention of the article was not to open wounds but to point out a phenomenon. However, with the overwhelming support that we have received, we are sure that there is sufficient support to cushion any trauma that might arise from public exposure. Those who think that not revealing the name was some intellectual game or because the culprit is seemingly untouchable and incredibly intimidating don’t know the experience of trauma from a decade-long period of abuse, and the fear that lingers from it. To name an abuse (let alone an abuser), especially by one who wields social and political power, is not an easy thing to do.

At the age of around 20, I believed in a man who seemed to me to have come from a commendable background of being a leading veteran of the South African liberation struggle, and who offered Muslims around the world a valuable Muslim intellectual-activist intervention in his classic book Quran, Liberation, and Pluralism. To me, he loomed as an Ali Shariati-type figure and a hero when I met him for the first time when our community in Yorktown, Virginia, and my father, the late Professor Mumtaz Ahmad, hosted him at our home.

It was not long after our first meeting that Farid Esack’s sexual advances towards me began, despite me telling him that I was not gay and reminding him that I was married (to Nazia). Sadly, that did not stop him, and for the next 9 years the sexual advances continued, developing into sexual abuse. Enthralled by him after our first meetings, I moved to Cape Town to study under the great progressive academic. In retrospect, I and my family were masterfully manipulated by him; I now understand that I was groomed by him.

It took Nazia and I virtually a decade after that to come to terms with what had happened, after first deeply repressing it, and then slowly revealing it to ourselves through intensive therapy and abundant support from close friends and colleagues, and we continue to live with the trauma today. We could not have written the earlier article about a seemingly all-powerful, well-resourced, often-cited narcissist had we not received such support, which we are extremely grateful for.

Attempts by Farid Esack to silence me happened as late as 2018, and included threats such as: ‘I guess I will step out of public life now forever, or better yet, I will kill myself. But that may make you feel guilty since you may feel responsible!’ Or his claim that my exposing him would harm the Palestinian cause because, according to him, ‘I am BDS South Africa.’ Humility was never his strong point; more hypocrisy by someone who built a career as a famous ‘feminist,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘Muslim liberation theologian.’

We would love to see more feminists, progressives and Muslim liberation theologians, but Farid Esack belongs in none of these categories. He utterly sullies the meaning of these appellations, and sullies any platform, space or movement for social, global, and gender justice that he is involved in.

Sincerely,

Junaid Ahmad (with Nazia Ahmad)

 

 

When men speak out against abuse they must be ready to be accountable for the abuse they have perpetrated

An article published on the South African website ‘The Daily Vox‘ on 17 February 2021 has raised much debate and consternation in a number of sectors: academic circles, activist circles, international solidarity circles, and feminist circles. It alleges sexual and other forms of abuse against a well-known academic and activist.

​The article in the ‘The Daily Vox’ is heavily edited. Below is the unedited version that was subsequently posted on facebook. It makes for grim reading, and should cause all activists to sit up and take notice of the abusers they hide in their ranks. For years. For decades. The authors of this article call on us for action. We can respond. Or we can ignore them and move on.

by Nazia Ahmad and Junaid Ahmad
Several months ago, two incidents in Cape Town sharply raised the issues of sexual harassment and misogyny among South African Muslims. The most recent was of two Bo-Kaap brothers accused of child molestation, and before that, of a maulana spewing tasteless sexist remarks in a video that went viral. Muslim women (and men) were understandably outraged and many, including academics, activists and grassroots leaders, expressed their outrage with righteous anger. We want to focus on responses to the earlier incident, the maulana’s video.

There was a legitimate demand from women that Muslim men denounce the crudely sexist language in the video. Many Muslim men did express their abhorrence for the video, and a public, and very welcome, display of this was a letter of solidarity by a group of Muslim men condemning the sexist remarks.

Many of the signatories to the letter were prominent men who have demonstrated a lifetime of commitment to justice and human rights, including women’s rights. But, as many women know, it’s better to be cautious about those who leap first into the limelight to lead some new crusade that they latch onto. One of the signatories of the letter, for example, is a vocal, diva-like individual who likes to describe himself as a “feminist” and a “progressive” liberation theologian committed to gender equality. His character, however, is diametrically opposite to these ideas which he claims to champion. In fact, he is guilty of worse things than the maulana’s sexist language. We know; we are among his victims.

The misdemeanors of this academic range from luring young foreign students to his home with promises of free accommodation then throwing them onto the street because they refuse to obey his every command, to the abuse of his Black female domestic worker, to sexual abuse.

One case we know of intimately is of a young protégé/disciple of this academic who was abused by him for almost a decade, beginning with sexual advances when the protégé was around 20 and already married, to verbal, intellectual, emotional and sexual abuse. The young man’s wife meant nothing to this “feminist” academic who held him hostage to his authoritarianism and abuse and subjected his wife, too, to emotional abuse.

After finally breaking from the clutches of the perpetrator – many years later, the young man finally faced his abuse after engaging with a psychologist for many months of intense therapy. What was shocking for him, however, was that when he told his story to other friends, he found members of three Muslim organizations who casually made comments such as “Oh yes, he was accused of sexually harassing boys thirty years ago already.” So why did these people not speak then? Why did they not write open letters about this theologian like the one written about the Cape Town maulana? Why was he protected by these Muslim organizations? If he was exposed then, how many young men could have been saved from him?

The narcissism and egoism of this academic leads him to seek the limelight of whatever fashionable cause he can latch on to and to create student cults around himself. His captive students must revere him, obey him and accept the myriad forms of abuse that result. His feminism seems to allow him to abuse young people, insult those who disagree with him, and even swear and abuse his domestic worker. It is pure hypocrisy for such a person to sign that open letter about the maulana.

The mistake of such people is that they think that the naïve young 20-year-olds they induct into their cults will never grow up, and their domestic workers will remain silent and will not complain. Many such victims will remain silent out of sheer fear. But it is time for the fear to be broken. These abusers also think that all the nasty and insulting things they say about real feminists and liberation activists behind closed doors will remain hidden.

It is quite possible that this powerful man’s pattern of abuse may very well have influenced and enabled others close to him to behave in the same way. One of his protégés was recently accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, and he was protected and defended by the said academic.

It is welcome and laudable when men stand up in support of the rights of women and speak out against sexism and misogyny. But we must be careful that such solidarity is not just self-serving, and that the men standing up are not themselves abusers – of naïve young men and women, of their domestic workers, of their sisters, mothers and wives. Including such men in the kind of letter that was issued makes a mockery of the female victims and their suffering, and serves nothing but the egos and careers of such men. They must be stopped and they must be exposed.

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