Responding to Cynthia Ritchie’s Twitter Tirade

Kashif (anti-Islamophobia activist in USA): “Hi John, tragic news, an Islamophobe white supremacist just gunned down a Muslim today in Washington D.C. The killing spree continues. Muslims are being victimized specifically by these extremists.  Would be great if you – as a rights activist yourself – can lend your voice to this human rights cause. We should work together to prevent more killings.” 

John: I am sorry your friend died but I can’t lend you my voice publicly. 

Activist: “As you wish, but since you are a friend, may I privately ask why you are so willing to condemn extremist Muslims in Pakistan for attacking religious minorities there but never say a word against American white supremacists, especially when they hurt Muslims?  Nor do you condemn Trump’s Islamophobic policies and statements?”

John: I am talking to the US government privately and am meeting European government leaders to work on this issue. 

Activist: “Well, all the best. But how do you explain the disconnect bro? A Muslim died at the hands of a white supremacist. Even Trump was forced to condemn it. I don’t understand what the hesitation is. I just want to understand your thought process privately since you are so vocal against the Taliban and ISIS and always condemn the Pakistani State’s policies against its own minorities?”

John: Now you are badgering me and harassing me and bullying me with your continuous DMs. I will not be treated this way. I will do as I will and as I chose.

Activist: Sure. 

John: *Goes on a public rant on Twitter about how the activist is harassing him and badgering him and is working on his “Muslim agenda,” and how many others have complained about how Kashif is very fixated on the issue of Muslims and their rights in America. John then calls for Kashif to be  banned from social media and stopped from writing. His followers respond to the calls with extreme anti-muslim vitriol. 

That was a hypothetical exchange, but eerily similar to one I had in real life.

Just by way of background, Cynthia Ritchie is an American filmmaker who often visits Pakistan for her work. I like the fact that she highlights Pakistan’s beauties in her documentaries. This is why I not only arranged for a screening of her documentary at Harvard University, I personally hosted her at my place in Boston for days. During that stay, she also visited the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Boston as well as the national headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, in Silver Spring MD.  We had many one-on-one conversations on a wide range of issues, including Pakistan’s opprobrious blasphemy laws and  anti-Ahmadi laws, which she readily condemned as criminal. 

But yesterday,  Cynthia Ritchie went on a Twitter rant against me for “pressurizing” her through private Twitter DMs. I often ignore personal attacks, but since Cynthia’s accusations deal with my human rights work, and since they are potentially dangerous and repeatedly misrepresent and misquote me in public, I chose to briefly respond to them.

So, why did Cynthia burst out on Twitter against me?

As a human rights activist, I constantly highlight the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan (just as I lend voice to human rights abuses elsewhere in the world). And as part of this work, I often reach out to such of my friends and activists who I feel might be interested in lending their own voice to these genuine human rights causes . Cynthia, I believed, was such a figure.

For the last couple of years, however, I noticed that Cynthia consistently hesitated to highlight the plight of Ahmadi Muslims, the religious community at the center of the worst religious apartheid in the world today. A few days ago, when news broke of yet another Ahmadi Muslim mercilessly gunned down in Pakistan, I shared the story on social media and sent a link privately to Cynthia.

Cynthia refused to share the news. Seeing that she always hesitated to share any news regarding Ahmadi Muslims, while not hesitating one bit to rightly condemn bad American policies and/or other rights abuses elsewhere, I asked her if there was a specific reason for this. She immediately accused me of being “militant” in approach. Frustrated by her cold response, I asked her to do as she thought was best and left it at that. This was all a private conversation mind you.

A few days following this conversation, another activist and writer, Ms. Christine Fair, called Cynthia out PUBLICLY on her silence re: the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, reminding Cynthia that as a journalist, she had an obligation to report on both the good and the bad side of Pakistan.

This got Cynthia triggered. And for some reason, she chose to come after me instead.

  1. Cynthia claimed that I run the news portal, Rabwah Times. Fact: I do NOT. (LIE or genuine ignorance)
  2. Cynthia accused me of saying: “if you are not with us, you’re against us.”  She is free to show me where I said that. I did NOT. (LIE )
  3. Cynthia accused me of using “anti-Pakistan activists” to malign her. I am flattered at her suggestion that I have power over Christine Fair (whom she had another Twitter spat with) and activists of her stature. As an adult, Ms. Fair is responsible for her own words and actions. I am ONLY responsible for what I say and do.  I have always addressed Cynthia with respect, even when frustrated with her lately.
  4. Following her online fit, there was a flurry of anti-Ahmadi messages directed at me (and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) by her Twitter followers. She did not condemn any of them. What is worse is she engaged in the same propaganda, accusing me of working for the “Ahmadiyya agenda,” a label often used by Sunni extremists to malign and silence the work of Ahmadi rights activists. If condemning murder is Ahmadiyya agenda, I urge every human being to jump on the wagon. Some of her followers called for outright extermination of Ahmadi Muslims. The atmosphere got ugly pretty quick. And Cynthia enabled it, not once condemning the hate directed at Ahmadis. 
  5. Cynthia also ascribed the following statement to me, “Don’t wish me peace if you cant suppot me.” LIE.  Instead, in our conversation, I used the words “my rights,” not “me.”  And by “m rights,” I was referring to the rights of the persecuted Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. I stand by my words.  I do not need the symbolic peace of anyone who blatantly refuses to speak for the peace of my murdered countrymen and throws them under the bus. 
  6. Cynthia claimed I was “aggressively pressurizing” her. How do private requests to condemn the murder of an Ahmadi Muslim translate to “aggressive pressurizing?”
  7. Cynthia went on to accuse me of spreading #fakenews, i.e. that the reason she doesn’t share anything on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims is because some of the news has turned out to be false in the past and she needs time to verify. This is a weak cop-out.Firstly, I would like her to show me ONE news item on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan that I shared and that turned out to be false. But more disturbingly, what she is implying is that for the last 2 years, there is not ONE news item on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims that she was able to verify? For someone who readily condemns Ameican policies boldly, this comes across as desperate appeasement of Pakistan’s extremist circles.
  8. Cynthia went on to say that various “Pakistani-Britishers,” “Think Tank Writers in Washington DC,” and other “Westerners in the entertainment industry” have complained to her about me.  Once again, I am flattered at the influence I have in Washington. I am able to use think tanks and pressure them at will. Interestingly, she did not have any names to share.  I am ready to bet my life these are all Sunni Supremacists whom I regularly call out for their active or tacit endorsement of #AhmadiApartheid in Pakistan. Of course, I am thorn in the way of such people because I will not shy from calling out their role in abetting human persecution. Cynthia shared a message from someone about how I was “thrown out” of a WhatsApp group. The group’s name was “Jinnah’s Pakistan.” It had 11 members. I was “thrown out” because I wouldn’t stop referring to Ahmadis as Muslim and refuse to give in to their demands to not bring up Pakistan’s minority rights issues, and instead focus on India’s treatment of its Muslim population. I have also been thrown out of facebook groups that espouse anti-Muslim hate and open Islamophobia. What does that prove?

And while Cynthia was agitated against my “Ahmadiyya agenda,” and misquoting and misrepresenting me,  Islamabad’s High Court was busy announcing a further clamp down on Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims. Cynthia didn’t say a word on that either.

I know Cynthia privately disagrees with the blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan and has claimed to be taking this up with multiple governments (including Pakistan and KSA), but it still confusing for human rights activists why she would be so defensive at a simple private request to condemn the murder of an Ahmadi Muslim.

Anyone who wants to be identified as a credible minority rights activist will have to put their money where their mouth is. In this regard, the question at the heart of the controversy remains. And more people are asking it now. This question will go nowhere.

PS: I shared a password-protected draft of this piece with Cynthia through email earlier to see if she wanted see my point of view, and if she’d be willing to have an offline conversation in case of a misunderstanding. She refused to talk and shared the password publicly on Twitter. This post is therefore public now.