She turns around when she is met with jeers in the street. She contacts young people that are trashing her or write threats to her on Facebook – not to start a dialogue, but to remind them that the internet records everything – and that a moment of rage can destroy their future. Khaterah Parwani sees her work as a battle for human rights requiring everyone to donate a plank to the project.
Impatient is a word that comes to mind when listening to Khaterah Parwani describe her work. When she compares herself to her close colleague Sherin Khankan, the two can be read as opposites. The way Sherin sees is it, time is an important factor when you work for change. Khaterah, on the other hand, is more like a storm driving through the offices demanding change here and now. Ultimately, it comes down to Sherin saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day …
- and then I say: Rome can be built in a day. We are those same women that we put our faith in and, all of a sudden, our lives have marched past us. It has to happen now!
Building bridges between people is not just about being accommodating and giving time, says Khaterah Parwani. Interpersonal relations force you to constantly go into discussions with your opponents.
- You don’t have to build bridges to people who won’t place the next plank, but confrontations push things and make people move. I admire people who are moveable.
Khaterah Parwani is getting used to other people’s opinions. A post on Facebook is often the object of a heated debate. After several interviews and articles about her fight against patriarchal norms, parts of the Muslim society have made her one of their enemies. Attacks are aimed at her role as a public debater, but also at her personally.
She has experienced everything from being called a whore, being spat at and threatened – in some cases even by members of criminal groups – and no matter how high the risk she always turns around and faces the confrontation.
- Everyone senses when you are genuinely interested. When I finally turn – no matter how menacing somebody acts – it is because no one from the elite of society debaters turned around when I myself was young and angry. They walked on to their next column, their next news broadcast, next stage. I am talking about structures and problems regarding this young guy in particular, so it’s only natural that I should be interested in listening to his honest opinion. I would rather take ten conversations – or discussions – with a guy like him than anybody else, any day.
Khaterah takes a deep breath and quickly adds,
- People on the edge of society never get more furious when you look them in the eye. I’ve been in situations that would cause others to demand protection, but the truth is that I can’t help but seeing them as my younger brothers. I grew up under the same conditions and in the same environment and know these people all too well. They may not notice that when I put my foot down, but I am working for a better future for us, the people on the bottom, giving us more freedom and privileges.
Provocation and threats should never be met with humiliation, revenge or hatred. This seems to be an important message for Khaterah Parwani.
In the specific cases where people are writing threats on her Facebook wall, she reacts by deleting the comment and sometimes even contacts the sender telling him to think about his life in the future.
Some politicians take screenshots and expose a threatening comment, but this can destroy the person behind. This young man might grow out of his anger and change the course of his life drastically. But the internet records everything and if a future workplace googles his name to find the exposing post of a public debater they might not give him a job interview. It becomes a vicious circle.
- You don’t make demands by exposing and humiliating people. You simply confirm their prejudices about you, she states.
Combining demands with understanding is Khaterah Parwani’s recipe to save a generation of people where battle lines are quickly drawn between “us” and “them”. In her own words, her work concentrates on securing equal opportunities, ultimately meaning basic human rights. It is a battle without compromises and she feels obliged to place herself in the hail of bullets.
- If you guard and cherish your personal freedom, you have to guard the freedom of others as well, she declares.
Searching for her own religion hasn’t been a journey without its problems, but most of her life Khaterah has been a skeptic. As an adult she has finally made peace with her doubt and feels inspired by Sufism – the philosophic and spiritual movement within Islam that made a historic riot against the Pharisaical versions of our existential journey, she explains.
Today, she lives her life within religious and cultural crossings with a man who belongs to the Amadiyya community within Islam and even has Jewish ancestors.
- People who believe that religious dogma and cultural norms are legitimate obstacles for the love between people have resigned themselves to existential idleness. It is obvious why love is so terrifying to those people. If there is one thing in this world that can blow our ideas and mindsets, it’s love, and there is a reason for that. Being that love has the strength to break down walls and rules. Maybe we should worship that energy instead of all the obstacles, she concludes.
Born 1984. Background in law from Copenhagen University. Leader of Lifehack, an organization that works for equal rights among young people with minority backgrounds; especially regarding topics like social control, sexual liberation, physical and mental abuse. Spokesperson and legal adviser at Exitcirklen.
In 2017, Danish newspaper Politiken placed her in a top 10 of most important voices in Denmark. Multiple award-winning feminist (Susanne Gieses Mindelegat, Friendship Award SOS Against Racism, Most Powerful Feminist in Denmark, etc.). This year, along with Exitcirklen, she received the KAFKAT Prize of legal policy.