Bangladeshi-American writer Sharbari Zohra Ahmed, a former writer of ‘Quantico,’ talks about the relentless trolling against her in an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Sadia Khalid
The latest episode of “Quantico” featured Hindu nationalists trying to frame Pakistan in a terror plot. Some angry netizens attributed the episode to give rise to “the myth of Hindu terror” in American television; others have personally attacked Priyanka Chopra, calling for a boycott of her shows, her movies and her product endorsements.
ABC expressed regret for stepping into “a complex political issue” while Chopra apologized as “some sentiments have been hurt.”
Chopra, however, wasn’t the only casualty of the rant and rave. Ever since the episode aired on June 1, internet trolls have vehemently blamed the wrong persons, for the wrong reasons. Bangladeshi-American writer Sharbari Zohra Ahmed, a former writer of the show, has been relentlessly trolled for this episode, which she did not even write.
ABC recently apologized for the latest episode of “Quantico.” Do you think we would get similar reactions if Muslims complained about constantly being portrayed as terrorists on American television?
I think that if the outcry was loud and consistent enough, yes, I would say. But it doesn’t occur to people in general in the mainstream media in the United States to apologize. I mean we’re relentlessly portrayed as terrorists or marginalized, overly religious (people). Our identity is so wrapped up in these visual optics, you know. What’s considered a relevant Muslim woman in America in mainstream media? She’s always in hijab. Meanwhile, all the other Muslim women who are not wearing hijab, are irrelevant.
You’ve been heavily trolled for an episode where you weren’t even a member of the writing staff. Why do you think they’ve targeted you in particular?
Oh, it’s very simple. Trolls in general don’t deal in facts, you know. They’re not interested in truths. They’re interested in whatever agenda they have and they’ll push for it at all costs, even if truth is a casualty. So, I guess, the episode was aired in India. There was outrage and in their fervour they went and checked the credits and saw my name among them because I’m a former writer. And they saw the Muslim name and decided: “Oh that’s it.” She’s the mastermind behind this. The fact that they didn’t even bother to check the writing credits, they just went in and did this... Because you know that’s the nature of bullies and trolls.
Do you know if any other staff writer was trolled for this?
I have no idea.
Is the trolling exclusively online?
Yes. It’s mostly on Twitter and on my Facebook page.
What are some of the worst comments you’ve come across since the episode aired?
I’ve been accused of espousing Hindu genocide. The vicious Islamophobia was extremely jarring. I mean I’m sitting in America, you know, dealing with Islamophobia here. I’m absolutely taken aback by the level of vitriol against Muslims in India. I mean it’s incredible. I’m not saying everyone feels this way and I know this is one group of people, like any fundamentalist nationalistic group, but it’s just calling me Muslim agent of anti-Indian propaganda. Most people assumed I was Pakistani. When they figured out I wasn’t Pakistani…
They were a little disappointed?
Yes. They were a little disappointed. But they went after Bangladesh. Somebody, a Bengali named Shujoy Ghosh, said: “She needs to go back to the sewer that is Bangladesh.” The way they talk about Bangladesh, Bangladeshis - it’s just horrible. It gives me such a bad feeling. People are like oh just dismiss it, just ignore them. And of course, they’re not exemplary in all of India. I have a lot of Indian friends, who absolutely do not feel this way; (they are) extremely supportive of me... But the people who were there, they’re loud. They’re loud enough and relentless enough that they got ABC to issue an apology. Think about it. It’s just entrenched in intolerance and bigotry and hatred. It’s horrible.
What’s your take away from the controversy surrounding this ‘Quantico’ episode?
Well, I need to stay off social media (laughs)… This is not unique to India. In the United States white supremacists have come out of the woodwork… In Europe you’re seeing a lot of nationalistic fervour in different countries, the number one bastions of freedom and democracy and still are to a certain degree. But the two largest democracies, India and the United States, appear to be in a grip of nationalistic fervour and bigotry and intolerance and misogyny.
Like one of the trollers targeted a friend of mine who’s defending me and suggested a plotline of “Quantico” that involved my friend’s rape. It’s completely disgusting. So my takeaway is that the world is on fire and arguing with trolls is pointless, but then we must resist this at all costs. We must not argue with them, but we must speak up and out these people saying: “Look, this is what’s happening and we can’t allow our societies to spiral downwards into this.”
I’m still sort of wrapping my head around it. It’s still happeing. As we speak, I’m getting tweets. And another take away is facts and truth don’t matter (to the trolls). People are constantly pushing false news. It’s unbelievable. I repeatedly said I did not write for this episode, I did not write on this show - nobody cares. And they’re digging up tweets of mine criticizing Modi from 2014. I still stand by that. I liken Modi to Trump. I think, you know, they’re both very bad influences.