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The cast and production team behind “Honor Diaries,” the new documentary that probes violence against Muslim women including genital mutilation and honor killings, fear a backlash from a prominent American Islamic advocacy group could undermine their cause.
The film showcases nine Muslim women who speak about their experiences with honor practices, forced marriage at young ages and the denial of education. Some of the women are victims or have family members who were victims and describe the painful and up-close realities they endured. The film weaves the experiences of honor violence victims together with commentary from activists and experts.
But the film has run up against sharp criticism from the Council for American Islamic Relations, which has alleged in a social media campaign that it is an attempt to smear Islam.
“I am disappointed because what I can see by the reactions is that the people who are condemning the film have not seen it,” said Heidi Basch-Harod, a human rights activist and one of the film’s producers. “They are self-censoring, even. They aren’t giving themselves or others the chance to engage in dialogue and meaningful conversations about issues that are important.”
CAIR convinced officials at University of Michigan to cancel a screening of the film last week, and a CAIR official confirmed a second screening was canceled at the University of Illinois. CAIR has since made attempts to shut down additional showings.
“They utilized tactics of censorship,” said clinical therapist Zainab Khan, who appears in the film, giving her expertise as an activist for global women’s rights. “It’s completely dangerous and shows their mode of operation: bullying, scapegoating, censoring, avoiding issues.”
But CAIR officials say they didn’t censor the film, they simply told sponsors the people behind the documentary are not presenting the issue fairly, and the sponsors chose to cancel the screenings.
“The screenings were not canceled by CAIR,” said spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. “They were canceled by the screening sponsors after they were informed of the hate agenda and Islamophobic history of the film's producers. Replacement events dealings with this issue are now being planned with the screening sponsors and actual representatives of the American Muslim community.”
Hooper, who did not elaborate on the replacement events, said his group is against the practices detailed in the film, which he said are not consistent with Islam.
“American Muslims join people of conscience of all faiths in condemning female genital mutilation, forced marriages, "honor killings" and any other form of domestic violence or gender inequality as violations of Islamic beliefs,” Hooper said. “If anyone mistreats women, they should not seek refuge in Islam. The real concern in this case is that the producers of the film, who have a track record of promoting anti-Muslim bigotry, are hijacking a legitimate issue to push their hate-filled agenda. “
Across the globe, four girls are circumcised every 60 seconds, according to human rights experts. More than 125 million women and girls have been the victims of genital mutilation in the Middle East and Africa since 1989, and by some estimates, 13 females are murdered every day in the name of honor.
Supporters of the film question if CAIR’s stated concerns about the treatment of women are genuine, given that the group is seeking to silence the project. They note that CAIR has well-chronicled ties to terrorism, citing the fact that CAIR in 2007 was named in a list of unindicted co-conspirators in a case accusing the Holy Land Foundation of providing funds to terror group Hamas. CAIR was not charged with a crime and has long denied any wrongdoing.
Khan, who has worked extensively with survivors of domestic violence, primarily in the South Asian community, said no one should try to silence the women who speak out in the film.
“The goals of the film were to break the silence about honor based violence, to give women the courage and motivation to speak out, to address the misogyny that exists within societies, to educate people that these issues actually occur, and to remind people that when women’s rights are violated in a society, nobody wins,” she said.