The actor/director/activist Ben Affleck won a lot of fans by standing up for Islam against the “racism” of TV talking head Bill Maher. In a much circulated segment from Maher’s show, Affleck grew outraged at Maher’s sweeping characterizations of Islam as a culturally backwards institution. Affleck’s passion was clear and he fiercely defended a religion whose millions of peaceful practitioners have been victimized in the court of public opinion by radicals who commit violence in the name of Islam.
But in Pakistan Today, a Pakistani woman who admires Affleck’s intentions accuses him of being unable, or unwilling, to hear. Affleck’s heart was in the right place, but “What you really did though, perhaps inadvertently, was silence a conversation that never gets started,” writes Eiynah. She points out that it’s great to defend “misrepresented Muslims and stand against the Islamophobes.” But Eiynah, a woman persecuted by religious fundamentalists, states that “Every time we raise our voices, one of us is killed or threatened.” She writes to Affleck in her open letter: “What you did by screaming ‘racist!’ was shut down a conversation that many of us have been waiting to have. You helped those who wish to deny there are issues.” And then there is Eiynah’s last line, which echoes in mind: “If I were allowed to meet a man that is not my father, brother or husband unchaperoned, I would have loved to discuss this over drinks (which I am also not allowed to have) with you.”