This peculiar community that I find myself a vague and increasingly alienated part of teaches that when a Muslim woman raises concerns about spiritual, physical or sexual abuse on the part of influential men in our midst, it is the right and duty of every Muslim to spread the accusation far and wide that she is definitely a liar, a fantasist, a political pawn and heretic, and conversely in the case of the alleged abuser to restrain their tongues, giving them seventy excuses, support and unbridled benefit of doubt.
Of course the just response to every accusation is not to believe that it is necessarily true, for both women and men are capable of lying, mixing truth and falsehood or otherwise misrepresenting the facts. Rather the response is to take every accusation seriously and investigate it with a fair and open mind.
Many a man has had his life destroyed by the false accusations of a woman, it is true. But simultaneously, many a woman’s life has similarly been destroyed by false accusations, awful abuse and the disbelief of those entrusted to care for them. A movement which says ‘believe every woman’ is not very helpful at all. But one which says ‘listen to every woman’ or ‘investigate every claim’ is naturally fair and sensible.
The hysterical way in which this community deals with troubling accusations at present does nothing to serve the cause of justice. Far from investigating claims fairly, the first line of defence is character assassination, made definitive by the mobilisation of a network of influential Muslims across continents, each of whom send a clear message to the masses of Muslims that follow them: these accusations are pure make-believe, borne of the political machinations of our enemies. From there on, the one raising concerns does not stand a chance of a fair hearing from their own community. It is hardly surprising then, that many end up going elsewhere for support.
Of course, most Muslims are imbued with a natural aversion to spreading gossip and slander, and are therefore cautious when news of this nature reaches them. But that caution is meant to cut both ways: to respect the accuser’s rights as much as the accused. To go on a rampage wrecking the reputation of the accuser is just as damaging. How do we expect justice to run its course if we let emotions drive us to take a definitive stand on claims we have no firm means of verifying and a stance which immediately anathematise those bringing unpalatable accusations and complaints?
How do we begin to address the startling levels of abuse in our communities — and particularly the abuses of people who have got themselves into positions of influence amongst us — if we can’t even give those bringing complaints a fair hearing? How do we begin to make a positive difference in our communities and begin to heal, if we can’t even lend an ear to those in need when they come to us asking for help? If we are to continue in this vein, don’t then be surprised if people who hate us take up the cause in our place — don’t be surprised if those who stand in solidarity with victims of abuse are our fiercest opponents. When we abdicate our responsibilities, be sure that others will soon stand in our place.