Predatory Women And The Men Who Enable Them

‘Call Me By Your Name’ debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22nd  2017, with a US release set for November 24th 2017.  The film, revolving around a gay love affair between a 17 year old and 24 year old, has received rave reviews – being called a ‘work of beauty’ (1). Conservative actor James Woods took issue with the film, tweeting out his displeasure.

teacher #2

Woods received a significant amount of backlash for his comments – many asserting that he was trying to link paedophilia and homosexuality.

I read through many arguments over the film’s content. I saw many, gay men included, insisting that the film was damaging for it’s focus on teenage sexuality. Others argued that ages of consent vary wildly by country – being fourteen in Italy and thirteen in Japan, so the film wasn’t made with American ages of consent in mind.

Interestingly though, a lot of people don’t have this type of vigorous debate when the older person in a relationship is a woman. If anything, relationships between adult women and teenage boys are glamourised, and presented as an accomplishment for the younger male.

Female sexual predators are often unspoken of, despite their surprisingly large prevalence. It’s estimated that there’s up to 64,000 female pedophiles in the UK (2), which is far higher than most people would imagine.

It’s a classic tale of temptation and secrecy – a seductive, attractive high school teacher enticing her young male student. So popular in fact, that my research for this article was often hindered by porn sites. Clearly, there’s a market for this scenario being played out. The response from men, once the story breaks, is quite warped in my opinion.

Comments sections beneath news articles are often filled to the brim with “Why didn’t I have teachers like THAT in high school???” and “He’s a lucky sod”. This type of response would never been seen as acceptable, had the it been a male teacher seducing a teenage boy or girl. Yet, for women taking advantage of the young, it’s customary to dismiss the severity of their actions.

teacher #3

Pamela Smart was imprisoned in 1992 for conspiring with her 15 year old lover to have her husband murdered

It’s often thought that young boys would enjoy the advances of a older woman. However, there’s almost a sense of shame attached to the victims, if they were to react negatively to the woman’s advances. Their masculinity, heterosexuality and sex drive would be called into question. They would be told they ‘should feel lucky’, despite the psychological ramifications of such events –

Rosencran’s 1997 study of female perpetrated sexual abuse found that only 3% of the female victims and 0% of the male victims told anyone about the sexual abuse during their childhood, even though 100% of them reported it was damaging (3). Most likely, it’s a deep sense of shame that’s keeping victims silent and enabling abusers to continue.

 

  1. https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2017/09/what-lies-beneath
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2009/oct/04/uk-female-child-sex-offenders
  3. http://www.femalesexoffenders.org/2010/09/toptenmythsaboutfemalesexoffenders
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The End Of America Won’t Be Televised

“If the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the fourth will be fought with bows and arrows” – Lord Louis Mountbatten

Nine countries in the world possess a total of 14,900 nuclear weapons. With the United States and Russia accounting for 93% of that number, other countries accounting for the extraordinary figure include France, China, The United Kingdom, Pakistan, India and Israel (1).

Having been the first to acquire nuclear weapons, the US held the upper ground for most of the 20th century. Though facing competition from the Soviet Union, their rivalry diminished by 1991 with the Communist nation’s dissolution. As of 2017, the US is undoubtedly the world’s leading nuclear powerhouse. But that isn’t guaranteed to stay the case for much longer.

Though the Cold War had ended twenty-six years ago, the threat of nuclear annihilation still lingers over the world’s populations. A recent poll indicated that 82% of Americans are ‘fearful’ of nuclear war (2), with 91% of the people who took the poll having paid close attention to recent tensions between the US and North Korea.

This isn’t the first time Americans have felt some degree of anxiety over tensions with a nuclear #5foreign nation. Many were fearful of wrath from Iran, leading to The Iran Deal, in efforts to ensure ‘Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful’ (3).

In some ways, there certainly is a double standard when it comes to this issue. There’s such frenzy and fear generated around the thought of Iran or North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons. However, only one nation has ever used nuclear weapons against another – the United States when it bombed Japan in 1945.

North Korea has an appalling human rights record – but hasn’t invaded another nation since 1953, when the Korean War came to an end. In that time period, the US has invaded Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq (Twice) and Afghanistan.

How Likely Is It That We’re Going To Die?

A lot of the recent comments made by both side have been more aggressive than usual. Many were alarmed when President Trump said, “North Korea will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. It was a complete departure from the rhetoric of previous presidents, who’d opted to be diplomatic in their condemnations of the rogue nation.

North Korea has always been quite animated in their threats towards other nations. They vowed to turn Seoul into ‘a sea of fire’ in 1994, to ‘mercilessly wipe out the aggressors’ in 2002 and threatened a ‘merciless sacred war’ against South Korea in 2012 (4). Their recent threats are nothing new. It’s just whether they mean to deliver on their promises of destruction, that has people worried.

The Hwasong-14, the Koreans’ furthest-reaching inter-ballistic missile, has the potential to reach all the world except for the US East Coast, Western African and Latin America. This still leaves Western Europe, Japan, South Korea and the rest of the US at risk of attack. However, experts doubt the capabilities of the missile to carry nuclear warheads (5). It is only a matter of time before they are capable of mastering the technology required to produce nuclear devices small enough to fit onto missiles (6).

This is a problem that needs addressing quickly, but there’s no certain way of saying how it should be handled. But in my opinion, there’s no imminent threat of complete destruction. Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump are both big personalities who like to project their egos, and it seems a lot like a test of endurance between the two – to see who backs down first.

Nuclear Disarmament

The movement to abolish nuclear weapons is one that has continuously maintained momentum for sixty years. The largest political demonstration in American history took place in Central Park on June 12th 1982, pushing for the abolition of nuclear weapons (7).

Many would argue for favour of dismantling nuclear arsenals because they believe it’d maintain world peace. However, despite all efforts, none of the major superpowers have discarded their nuclear weapons supplies. In fact, the only nation ever known to dismantle their nuclear arsenal was South Africa in the early 1990s.

There’s also financial factors influencing the movement. Between 2010 and 2018, the US will have spent $179 billion on it’s arsenal, averaging at $20 billion per year (8). On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK’s Trident missiles will cost up to £250 million if their life is to be extended into the early 2060s (9).

Where does that leave the security of said nations if they did get rid of their weapons? There’d still be feelings of paranoia, only without the deterrent provided by the nuclear weapons. What’s to stop Kim Jong-Un from attacking the US if they won’t strike back? nuclear #2

It’s a cyclical debate with seemingly no resolution. Humans are destructive, hostile and cautious by nature. It’s only in recent years however, that we have collectively had the power to bring about our own demise.

 

  1.  https://www.ploughshares.org/world-nuclear-stockpile-report
  2.  http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/americans-fearful-nuclear-war-poll/2017/08/11/id/807086/
  3.  https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/node/328996
  4.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21710644
  5.  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/north-korea-testing-nuclear-weapons-170504072226461.html
  6.  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/01/analysts-north-korea-bluffing-icbm-launch-170102184505108.html
  7.  https://www.thenation.com/article/spirit-june-12/
  8.  http://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/us-nuclear-weapons-budget-overview/
  9.  https://fullfact.org/economy/trident-nuclear-cost/

 

The Reality Of ‘Gay Conversion’ Therapy

In a episode of ‘Good Morning Britain’ aired on September 5th, a man advocating for gay conversion therapy was interviewed by hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid. Dr. Michael Davidson did not believe that homosexuality was natural and condemned it as ‘a sin’ and ‘an aberration’. His appearance was roundly condemned on social media and Ofcom received 466 complaints, as there were a significant number of people that felt gay conversion therapy was being promoted (1).

To be fair to ‘Good Morning Britain’, Davidson’s views were not being promoted. In his typical fashion of interviewing, Morgan was vocal in his condemnation of the views being promoted and roundly finished up the interview with “Shut up, you old bigot”.

The reason Davidson had even been invited on the program was to field a debate against journalist Josh Parry. Parry had approached a church in Liverpool, posing as a man struggling with his sexuality. He found that the Mountain Of Miracles and Fire Ministries was offering gay people a chance to ‘cure themselves’ through prayer and fasting.

However, even with the critical light that Davidson was shown in, some felt that his views were still being promoted. A hypothetical situation was often raised, in which a privately gay child with a homophobic family saw the interview and then decided to pursue conversion therapy. And despite the country’s liberal attitudes towards LGBT rights, this is certainly a reality for many living in the UK.

The Legal Circumstances

Though conversion therapy is roundly condemned by all counselling and psychotherapy bodies in the UK, a 2009 survey found that 200 of 1,300 medical professionals had offered patients the treatment (2). And though a petition had circulated in 2017 to have the practice outlawed, it didn’t accumulate the 100,000 signatures needed to be debated in parliament (3).

gay conversion #3

In the USA, the situation isn’t much better – only nine states have bans on conversion therapy for minors. However, bills to ban the practice on minors are pending in Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire, to name a few. On the federal level, ‘The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act’ is being pushed to have it banned nationwide. Ted Lieu introduced the bill, alongside another 68 members of Congress, and condemned the practice as ‘consumer fraud’ (4). The bill has been supported by the American Counselling Association and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Elsewhere in the world, the legality of conversion therapy is a mixed bag. Brazil was the first country to have it banned, whereas Israel’s legislative branch rejected a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors. Keeping in mind that many countries don’t even advocate for conversion therapy – they advocate for the murder of people in the LGBT community.

The Dangers

Stories told by people who survived ‘Conversion Camps’ are harrowing:

‘At my mother’s insistence, I went to one “session,” where I met with a “counsellor” who spent a good 45 minutes explaining to me that only prayer would save me from the AIDS I had contracted. I was 17 and had never had sex with anyone. My mom still thinks I have AIDS. She doesn’t answer when I call’ (5)

gay conversion #4‘Later, while being forced to watch gay porn, he would be physically tortured with methods that included being frozen with ice, burned by copper heating coils, and finally, electrocuted – all to create the association between gay sex and torture.’ (6)

‘My friends cousin was sent away to one of these camps. After several pleas to her parents to leave and that it wasn’t working and making her miserable and develop a sense of self loathing she was forced to finish the program, still gay, she committed suicide a month later and in her letter she wrote.’ (7)

These are just some of the accounts shared through the internet, there are likely many more untold stories. Though the attitude of ‘Pray The Gay Away’ in it’s self is inherently harmful, a lot of what goes on behind the gates of these camps is torturous in nature.

gay conversion #1

And the statistics are a testament to that. People who have gone through conversion therapy are 8.9 times more likely to contemplate suicide, 5.9 times more likely to experience depression and 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs (8). Conversion therapy is destructive, harmful and simply don’t work. Exodus International, a infamous ex-gay treatment organisation, closed in June 2013, with President Alan Chambers saying in his apology, “I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope…I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatised parents ” (9)

Conclusion

I must admit that I do take the progress made in LGBT rights for granted. So many nations around the world have criminalised consensual adult relationships, on the grounds of moral or religious decency. The fact that I can freely marry or adopt as a gay man, is something I’m truly only beginning to appreciate.

But there’s still work to be done. As long as people are being recommended for pseudo-scientific treatments to cure something that doesn’t even require treatment, the LGBT community will remain second class citizens. I wholeheartedly support the banning of all organisations operating under the pretence of ‘gay conversion’.

Sadly, the prejudice towards homosexuality run deeper than laws. In the UK, four in ten people admitted they find gay sex ‘unnatural’ (10) and another shocking poll found that 52% of British Muslims think homosexual behaviour should be made illegal (11). The truth of it is, as long as attitudes like this survive and thrive, progress will be a slow slog towards equality and acceptance.

 

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-41174360
2. http://www.stonewall.org.uk/conversion-therapy
3. http://metro.co.uk/2017/03/16/theresa-may-is-refusing-to-make-gay-conversion-therapy-illegal-6514245/
4. http://www.metroweekly.com/2017/04/congressional-democrats-introduce-measure-conversion-therapy/
5. http://www.knowable.com/a/nightmare-stories-of-people-who-were-forced-to-go-through-gay-conversion-therapy/p-3
6. http://www.ranker.com/list/reprogramming-camp-horror-stories/jacobybancroft
7.https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1vdyrd/gay_reditors_who_have_been_sent_away_to_pray_away/cerjrb2/
8. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/28/gay-conversion-therapy-ruins-lives-lgbt-rights
9. http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2013/june/alan-chambers-apologizes-to-gay-community-exodus.html
10. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/homosexuality-decriminalisation-50-gay-sex-unnatural-rights-british-people-believe-same-sex-a7862191.html
11. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/apr/11/british-muslims-strong-sense-of-belonging-poll-homosexuality-sharia-law

Plastic People

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery revealed that 20 million cosmetic surgeries took place in 2014. 20.1% of these took place in the USA, closely followed by Brazil, Japan and South Korea (1).

The reaction towards people who receive cosmetic surgery has been mixed. On the one hand, you’ll see many tabloid magazines shaming celebrities for having plastic surgery, as shown in the headlines below.

However, the media also profits off insecurities. Photos of wrinkles, cellulite and other natural signs of human ageing are shamed and ridiculed in the press. It’s a strange oxymoron – almost as if somebody can simultaneously shamed for receiving surgery to alter a ‘fault’ that they were previously being ridiculed for.

Julie Chen, an American news anchor, made headlines in 2013 after admitting to having received blepharoplasty. Blepharoplasty is a operation in which the eyelids are re-positioned, usually undertaken to restore the correct functioning of the eyelids. However, Chen openly admits that she went through with the procedure to advance her own career, feeling that she wouldn’t advance because of her ‘Asian eyes’. plastic people #3

Interestingly, when she made this revelation on ‘The Talk’, she received a round of applause from the audience and an exclamation of ‘Fabulous!!’ from co-host, Sharon Osbourne. It was a decision that was entirely encouraged, almost indicating that all women from a East-Asian background should alter their appearances. There was no incentive to change attitudes about East-Asians, and to me, came across as an endorsement of cosmetic surgery.

It’s bizarre that this happened. If a media outlet had praised skin-bleaching, they would have rightfully been lambasted and criticised. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it myself – encouraging somebody to get plastic surgery to fit into a beauty standard seems morally wrong on multiple levels.

The health ramifications of plastic surgery can also be troubling. Model Alicia Douvall, a tabloid attraction for her 350 cosmetic procedures, made headlines with a startling revelation. Despite being told that her ‘bum implants’ were leaking silicon into her body, she was still hesitant to have them removed, even though she risked dying and leaving her children motherless (2).

plastic people #4

On first glance, I was appalled by this. It seemed utterly selfish. Surely, it was worth having sagging skin if it meant being able to stay alive.

But then I thought about the psychological ramifications of it. Douvall suffers from body dysmorphic disorder, meaning she’ll spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about her own appearance.

The psychological effects of plastic surgery are interesting and varied. People who often seek it are shown to improve along several fronts – including feelings of anxiety, depression and self-esteem. However, another study suggested that people with unrealistic expectations about their plastic surgery will end up in a worse place mentally (3).

It’s a difficult subject on some levels – you wouldn’t wish for somebody to continue existing in a state of devastatingly low self-esteem. But I do feel that encouraging plastic surgery seems like a form of enabling, much in the way that you wouldn’t tell a person with anorexia that they’re fat.

More research needs to be done to look into the emotional reasoning for why people seek physical perfection. What is influencing their decisions within society? Is it the media, or the people that surround them, that shaped their self perception?

 

1. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-international-society-of-aesthetic-plastic-surgery-releases-global-statistics-on-cosmetic-procedures-300108852.html
2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-4058678/Alicia-Douvall-suffers-backlash-revealing-s-reluctant-remove-leaking-bum-implants-vowing-turn-cosmetic-surgery.html
3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hollywood-phd/201403/does-plastic-surgery-improve-emotional-well-being

The Meaning Of Diana

Having been born in 1998, I have lived my life in the shadow of Princess Diana. I never saw her on television, never felt invested in her life or experienced the uproar surrounding her untimely death. The first time I even heard her name, in a year 6 History lesson, I thought she was a pop star.

But even twenty years on from her death, she still somehow holds the public attention. Whether it’s through television specials celebrating her life or tabloids running conspiracy theories about the car accident that shortened her life, the ‘People’s Princess’ has been a central figure of British pop culture.

I’ve never really understood the fascination with Diana. In this article, I want to look at why she’s so revered, and what that illustrates about Britain in the modern era.

Saint Diana?

“She was a wonderful and a warm human being, although her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy. She touched the lives of so many others in Britain and throughout the world with joy and with comfort. How many times shall we remember her in how many different ways – with the sick, the dying, with children, with the needy?” – Tony Blair (1)

If one were to read this short snippet of the former Prime Minister’s speech, they could assume he was talking about Mother Theresa. Some of the language used by Blair is reminiscent of the way Catholics would talk about saintly figures. He even states that ‘people everywhere, not just here in Britain, kept faith with Princess Diana’.

A glance at Diana’s Wikipedia page does reveal an impressive body of charity work. She was the president of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. She was the patron of numerous charities including Landmine Survivors Network, the British Lung Foundation, the British Deaf Association and Parkinson’s Disease Society. It was even said, by Stephen Lee, director of the UK Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers, that “Her overall effect on charity is probably more significant than any other person’s in the 20th century.” (2)

diana 3

Something often appreciated about Diana is her work with victims of AIDS. During the 1980s, AIDS was a widely stigmatized disease, associated with homosexuals and drug users. As such, people who contracted the illness were subjected to family abandonment, abuse and discrimination.

diana 2In April 1987, Diana opened the UK’s first HIV/AIDS unit that exclusively cared for patients suffering with the virus. She shocked the world when she shook the hand of an AIDS patient, without wearing gloves. At the time, many believed the illness could be spread through bodily contact and as a result, shunned those carrying the virus.

Despite the insistence of Queen Elizabeth that she focus her attention on something ‘more pleasant’, Diana persisted. It’s hard to say how much she changed perceptions on AIDS, but she certainly was part of the process that humanized people suffering with a strange and often fatal disease.

‘HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug: Heaven knows they need it’ – Princess Diana

 

The Royals At Large

It’s an often cited opinion that Diana saved the Royal Family. She is credited with bringing them into the modern age, bridging the gap between the elite and their subjects. In the modern day, William, Kate and Harry are continuing this trend with their open discussions on mental health.

However, there is an argument to be made that Diana is a largely fabricated character.

In the aftermath of her death, the streets were lined with mourners. Public crying was frequently seen, almost as if people were mourning a close family member. Writer Christopher Hitchens recalls that anybody now publicly bemoaning her death was shamed, and in the few weeks of mourning, Britain became a ‘one-party state’. diana 4

Hitchens, being a republican, may have a bias against Diana. In describing her as a ‘simpering Bambi narcissist’, he makes this perfectly clear. But his criticisms of the media coverage aren’t entirely without merit. For the media to claim that a whole nation is in mourning is quite a over-riding statement, as there were surely many who didn’t really care either way.

The extent to which Diana was mourned appears reminiscent of a religious figure and even deviates into fanatical behaviour. A supermarket that stayed open the day of Diana’s funeral was hit with several bomb threats – even though the store managers were going to donate the proceeds to charity.

Something that seemed to be forgotten in the wake of her death was that Diana was a mortal being. She had been fortunate enough to have her platform to help others, because she’d married into a family revered for their bloodline.

Conclusion

Looking beyond the pageantry of royalty, the media beatification and the public outpourings of grief, Diana’s story is a sad one.

Dying at age thirty-six, leaving behind two young boys, is certainly a tragedy for all involved. Her failed marriage to Charles, whilst tabloid fodder for many years to come, reflects a sad story of a young woman roped into a loveless marriage. On a human level, Diana is sympathetic and certainly has admirable traits.

Though she was given the prestigious title of ‘Princess Of Wales’, Diana was essentially a celebrity in the same vein as Michael Jackson or Jade Goody. Though they worked hard on causes close to their hearts, the degree to which they were glorified in death is somewhat jarring at times.

To some, Diana might represent a more sanitized vision of Britain. One in which a country is unified behind a friendly figure, as she shakes hands, cuts ribbons to hospitals and accepts bouquets from young girls.

I do wonder how long the fascination with Diana will persist. Of course there’s a heightened attention now, due to the upcoming anniversary of her death, but who’s to say it’ll be any different in the future?

Perhaps as the exclusives and conspiracies continuing pouring out of the papers, the interest in her life will only increase. In the greatest sense of irony, Diana may as well be living, because she continues to be hounded by the media.

diana 5

1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/diana/blairreact.html
2) https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/mar/30/diana-princess-wales-royal-rebel-legacy

The Kids Aren’t Alright – Mental Illness and Young People

‘One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness….in my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls’ – Carrie Fisher, ‘Wishful Drinking’ 

 
It’s a curious contradiction that a society that attempts to shed light on mental illnesses still remains one that shies away from it. Despite the media campaigns urging those suffering to speak out, many are still suffering in silence. That’s because limiting and ultimately harmful views of mental illnesses are still prevalent throughout societies.

 
There’s been several times where the weight of the stigma really struck me. Moments where somebody described suicide as ‘selfish’, said they’d urge somebody with depression to ‘snap out of it’ or described somebody suffering with problems as ‘mental’. From my experience, the people who make such comments are the ones who have no experience with mental illnesses. They aren’t suffering from one themselves, or they haven’t been the source of support for a sufferer.

Mental illness is also used as a weapon to further serve agendas. A conservative commentator were pick to point to studies showing that liberal-minded people are more likely to be mentally ill, commenting ‘we’ve long subscribed to the notion that leftists are freakin’ bananas…but now it looks like there’s empirical evidence’ (1). Using mental illnesses to attack political opponents not only furthers the stigma, but demeans the opinions and values of the mentally ill, as if they’re completely incapable of holding any.

 The statistics are harrowing – 20% of adolescents experience a mental illness problem in any given year and 10% of children have a diagnosable mental problem (2). Much is made of the prevalence of mental illnesses in the younger generations there is often accusations of unfair bias against the youth in this circumstance. However, multiple studies do show a rise in anxiety and depression since the 1960s. Although teenage suicides have decreased since the 1990s, this can be credited to the introduction of modern anti-depressants in that period (3).

 
Why are young people more likely to be subject to mental illness?

 One therapist suggested that the modern generation are over-parented, meaning they can’t handle the responsibilities of adulthood. He points to cases of thirty year old patients who are barely able to comprehend the thought of having a job (4).

Psychologist Peter Gray placed the blame on public schools, saying the emphasis on high grades is ‘almost designed to produce anxiety and depression’ (5).

A lot of blame has also gone towards social media, as it’s often blamed for stimulating feelings of envy and inadequacy.
m-h 2

Whatever the cause may be, there is a crisis facing us, and it’s one we should direct our attention to.

Though there is a great deal of work that needs to be done, there are often bumps in the road that hinder progress. Government cuts to mental health services have been huge – the spending on children’s mental health services falling by £50 million. 84% of NHS counselors, therapist and psychoanalysts warned this would mean children would find it more difficult to access help (6).

Mental illnesses also shouldn’t be thrown about as a buzz-word. Feelings of passing sadness shouldn’t be referred to as ‘feeling depressed’. Moments of natural nervousness doesn’t mean you’re suffering with anxiety. Liking to have a clean desk isn’t justifiable for you to exclaim “Oh my god, I’m so OCD!”

 
It’s a multi-layered issue, and this article reflects that. I’ve jumped around from topic to topic, because there’s so much I’d want to say about it. But nothing as important as what I want to finish this article with.

People with mental illnesses don’t need your judgement. They don’t need your condescending attitudes, your half-hearted sympathies or your belittling comments. What they do need is your support, your understanding and above all else, help.

 

Life After Terror: An Interview With Sohail Ahmed

Salman Abedi.

Khalid Masood.

Khuram Shazad Butt.

Sohail Ahmed could have joined this list of homegrown jihadists. But just before he followed through with his plans to launch an attack on Britons, he had a change of heart. And since then, he has worked to raise awareness about extremism, granting interviews to American pundits such as Rachel Maddow and Megyn Kelly.

Sohail was kind enough to grant me a interview, which took place on the 12th and 13th of July, through Facebook messenger. We discussed his upbringing, his views on the current political climate and how his repressed sexuality played a part in luring him into Islamic extremism.

All views expressed are his own.

 

  1. ‘At what age did you realize you were gay? And how did you initially respond to that?’ 
    That’s a bit of a complicated question. And I guess there’s two answers to it. I first realised I was attracted to the same gender when I was about 8 years old. I didn’t think of it much then. I thought it was normal. I thought everyone felt that way. I mean I didn’t have peers to compare to, as I was pretty much one of the first in my class to hit puberty. Later on, I’m not exactly sure when, I realised what these feelings were all about, and I realised that it wasn’t ‘normal’ at all. I guess this happened within 3 years of me figuring out my feelings for other guys. I was ashamed of my feelings and I thought there was something really wrong with me. I felt an immense sense of guilt that I carried with me everywhere.
    The second answer is that I realised I was properly gay when I accepted myself as gay. This was because before that I had been taught that being gay wasn’t even a thing, in that Allah didn’t make people gay. So before that, I thought it was just a phase or something, or from the devil, or that I was possessed. I was 22 when I fully accepted myself as gay and realised that what I was was natural and actually a real thing, and not just a figment of my imagination.
  2. ‘Do you think this feeling of shame was rooted more in cultural expectations or in your religious upbringing?’
    I think both. Cultural and religious. Growing up in east london gay was not easy at all. When all you’re surrounded by is gang culture and violence. And of course religious too. I was extremely religious. And I would constantly hear that the punishment for homosexuality is to throw gays off the roof.
    I mean, once my mother even said to me, point blank: if you turn out gay I’ll kill you.
    Of course, by then, I knew I was attracted to guys. So you can imagine how I must have felt.
  3. ‘Which form of Islam did your parents adhere to?’ The form of Islam that is officially followed in Saudi Arabia: Salafism. It’s also known as Wahhabism.
  4. ‘How different would you say it is to Islam as it’s followed by Muslims outside of Saudi Arabia?’ 
    Depends on which kind of Muslim you compare them to. But I guess, on average, to say that Salafis are far more extreme in their views would be a fair and accurate comment. They’re also generally far more adherent and religious generally speaking.
  5. ‘Do you believe that first and foremost, it was the isolation caused by being gay in a Muslim family, that pushed you towards extremism?’
    No, I do not think that was the primary factor. It was one of the factors, but definitely not the primary factor. The main factor that led to my increasing radicalisation was the family environment, the form of Islam I was brought up with, the mosques I attended, the books I read… in other words my entire religious education.
  6. ‘And during this process of radicalisation, did you feel like it was happening to you solely? Or did you see a ripple effect of sorts?’ 
    I wasn’t the only one. There were others around me getting radicalised too. Both by themselves, and as a result of myself teaching them what I had learned. For instance one of my friends, who ended up saying things like, “we need another 9/11”, he described that I had taught him everything he knew about Islam. Now I hadn’t taught him the whole 9/11 stuff, but I had taught him the basics of salafism… and one thing led to another.
  7. ‘Do you feel like socio-political factors of the time strengthened your hand in a sense? Did events such as the invasion of Iraq enable you to justify this view of Islam to yourself?’  
    Certainly. But it wasn’t just the Iraq war… it was the Afghanistan war too. And it wasn’t just the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it was the way the scholars and imaams would present those wars as being part of an all out war against Islam, which of course is ridiculous. But then, I believed it. Because that’s what my religion taught me. It taught me that there was this never ending war between Islam and the ‘kuffaar’.
    See, the thing is, even a justified war against a Muslim majority country would have been presented as part of a war against Islam
  8. ‘So under those circumstances, hating the west and Britain in particular would seem quite reasonable and certainly justified’ That would be a fair statement to make. However, I hated Britain and the west even before the two wars post 9/11.
  9. ‘What age were you at that point?’ I was around 16 to 17 years old at the time
  10. ‘And that was around the stage you contemplated a terrorist attack upon London?’ Yes it was
  11. ‘How do you even get to that point? How do you get to a stage where killing innocent people seems justified?’

    That’s quite a complex question. There are a number of things that contribute to it:

    A lifetime of indoctrination to hate

     

    Being indoctrinated regarding war, jihad, and martyrdom

    Extreme religiousity

    Political grievances

    Living in an extremely insular community

    Feeling connected to and identifying with people who live in another part of the world as opposed to the people you live with, ie identifying with ummah politically and militarily and not with Britain

    A major world event or events to push you over the edge

  12. ‘Had you gone ahead with the attack, what would have happened?’ I think people would have died. Honestly, I can’t bare to think about it. I’ve had nightmares about this stuff.
  13. ‘And was that what prevented you from going through with it? That emotional barrier, that feeling of human empathy and compassion?’ Yes. It was that. On a deep level, despite the years of indoctrination, I guess my true human self came out. It felt wrong. It felt bad. So I backed out. I started looking for interpretations within salafi Islam that said that terrorism was impermissible. They weren’t hard to find, as most salafis, despite them being very extreme, still believe terrorism is impermissible within Islam. So yeah, I backed out.
  14. ‘And was it after this point that you came out to your parents as gay?’A while after that actually. About 6 years later. At this stage, I wasn’t even out to myself.
  15. ‘Just to give some sense of a timeline, how old were you when you contemplated the attack and how old were you when you came out?’ I was about 16 when I contemplating carrying out an attack. And I was about 22 when I came out to myself and a to a select few of my friends, all of whom were Muslim.
  16. ‘How did they respond to your revelation?’ Surprisingly not as bad as I would have thought. All of them were, relatively speaking, okay with it. As in none of them stopped talking to me. I only came out to my closest friends of course.
  17. ‘But your parents weren’t as open to what you had to say’
    No, they weren’t. At all. In fact, I didn’t even come out to them, they found out, which I guess was worse.
  18. ‘How did they find out?’ Well, by this stage, I had left Islam altogether, and I was having an argument with my parents about something related to women’s rights or something, and in my anger, I just blurted out, “you know what, I’m not even sure if Allah exists anymore”.They kicked me out of the house right there and then. So I packed my bag and found the cheapest hotel I could find to stay over. And went there. It was somewhere near Soho of all places. So what happened is that my dad, who is good with computers, used the wifi router to check my internet history. And… well… the words ‘gay’ and ‘porn’ should complete the rest of the story.
  19. ‘What has been the most rewarding part of your life since turning away from extremism?
    I think I’d say, appearing on international media and getting my voice heard from extremism, to LGBT rights, to even the then US presidential election.
    But even more than that I’d say I’m proud of the fact that I have helped young gay Muslims come to terms with themselves, from across the world, who happened to come across my work and then decided to get in touch with me.
  20. ‘Do you feel like your integration into the gay community, coming from a place of sexual repression, has been a easy one?‘ No. I wouldn’t say it’s been easy. I wouldn’t even say I’m ‘integrated’ as such even now. I’m not very active on the scene. I have never been to a gay club. I guess I just kind of live my own life.
  21. ‘You identified as being culturally muslim for a time. What was the significance of this label as a gay man who’d grown up in a religious household?
    The cultural Muslim label was about making the statement that I do not believe in Islam yet remaining attached to it for culturally speaking. It was basically me saying, I don’t believe, but Islam still forms a big part of my identity. And it did.
  22. ‘So that label still stands in a sense? Or have you distanced yourself from it?’ It stands, but in a far weaker. Now, my opposition to Islam and particularly to the practices and beliefs of Muslims around the world, far outweighs my cultural connection to Islam. So yes, while the cultural Muslim label does still stand in a sense, it would be far more accurate to describe myself as an Ex Muslim.
  23. ‘Since denouncing extremism, have you received messages from people with similar stories?’ 
    Yes I have. I actually even know and am friends with a gay salafi.
  24. Who do you think is better suited to tackle the problem – Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May?’ 
    I personally think Theresa May is better suited to the job
  25. ‘Why do you think that? A strength of hers or a weakness of Corbyn’s that sways your opinion?’ 
    A weakness of Corbyn. Before becoming leader of the labour party Jeremy Corbyn had gone out of his way to support extremists of all colours, albeit mostly indirectly.
  26. ‘And you feel that’d limit his abilities, if he were to become prime minister, to tackle the problems we face due to international terrorism?’ I wouldn’t say it limits his abilities… but it does put his loyalties and values in question
  27. ‘And in trying to end this interview on a precise note, what’s one thing the English government must do if they want things to improve with regards to our terrorism situation?’ Become less liberal in their approach to extremism and Islamism. It is obvious by now that liberalism, as understood and practiced today, does not have the necessary tools at its disposal to fight Islamism. Up till now, we have used illiberal foreign policies to maintain the peace and the post world war 2 order. Now, the world’s problems are coming to our doorstep. We can no longer rely on foreign policy to deal with the world’s – our – problems.