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Usually I don’t watch the CBS program “NCIS” (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) because I don’t like being bombarded by blatant propaganda which promotes US & Israeli Military aggression (see the image above and tell me if I’m wrong), but I happened to see some trailer’s for the new season’s first episode called “Kill Chain” and it peaked my interest.
The 11th season opens with a US Navy Petty officer being killed; by get this, a US Drone! Now usually, as most of the whole world knows, the US military is the one killing people by drone strikes (over 3,000 people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan alone according to the New America Foundation. You can see the detailed statistics they have here), so I was curious to see how this happened in the show.
The episode begins with the NCIS team investigating the scene of the attack (a public park in the DC area) and interviewing several witnesses. One of the witnesses, who actually saw the drone flying in the air, happens to be a “crazy” man who believes the government is following him. The investigative officer, Senior Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo (played by Michael Weatherly) ridicules the man by asking the man “how long has the CIA been recording your thoughts?” Now perhaps the show’s executive producer, Donald P. Bellisaro thinks the most of his show’s viewers are ignorant of what’s going in the country today, but in case you don’t already know, the NSA (National Security Agency) has been monitoring and spying on their fellow Americans (All of us, not just the “crazy” people or those with foreign sounding names) phone calls, emails and internet use for at least the past 5 years! So who is crazy now, huh?
To Read the Rest of Article Check out Irfan’s Blog on Patheos here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/almihrab/2014/01/ncis-a-case-study-on-us-military-propaganda/
Recently I read Fawaz A. Gerges’ latest book, “Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment?” (2012). Gerges is a professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics & Political Science. I must admit, that I was skeptical at first, and did not think there would be anything new, but after reading it, I was shocked to learn some of the insights on US foreign policy over the past almost 70 years since World War II.
Gerges, who also serves as the director of the Middle East Centre at the LSEP, gives valuable historical context from his very detailed research and interviews with top officials in government as well as in the media. He also includes public statements and important behind the scenes information taken from the memoirs of world leaders such as Kissinger, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Netanyahu and many others.
Some items in Gerges book, such as Israel’s influence on US Foreign Policy may be well known to Arabs and Muslims – especially those who live overseas, but many Americans probably do not understand the full breadth of Israel’s strangle hold on the US Congress and the President of the United States.
Here is a telling paragraph from the book which talks about how after President Obama snubbed Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu for refusing to stop building new settlements and to get back to the negotiation table with the Palestinians, he (Netanyahu) was still greeted as a hero by the US congress:
“Congressmen, too, know the dangers of upsetting the Israel-first school. In March 2010, in glaring contrast to the White House’s icy demeanor, Congress warmly embraced Netanyahu. On the morning after his snub by Obama, Netanyahu was welcomed by the congressional leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties alike. Distancing herself from the president, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and Obama ally, told Netanyahu that Congress fully supported him: “We in Congress stand by Israel. In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.”
This shows how powerful the Pro-Israeli lobby, AIPAC, is when it comes to US Foreign policy. Even after Israel embarrasses the Vice-President of the United States, by making an announcement that Israel will continue its building of settlements on disputed land with the Palestinians, on the same day which Biden arrived in Israel to ask them to reconsider, the US congress does not want to stand up and be united with the President of the United States because he was putting a little bit of pressure on Israel to stop settlements (only temporarily)!
Some may say this may have to do with the Staunch Pro-Israel Republican Party majority in Congress, which could be true, as here is another startling report from the New York Times, which was quoted in Gerges book:
“At the request of the secretary of State and the American embassy, Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress who were visiting Israel in August not to object to the aid ($50 Million from the US for the Palestinian Authority), which, Netanyahu said, would be used for training Palestinian police officers who work closely with the Israeli government. Republican representatives acknowledged that they felt more comfortable receiving the explanation from the Israeli prime minister than from the president of the United States. That the financing request first had to be approved by the House Republicans – many of them backbenchers who were among the eighty-one members of Congress to visit Israel in summer 2011 – demonstrates the power of the relationship between the Republican Party and the Israeli government.”
Not only that, but even news to me, was how leaders of Arab countries, play against each other and try to influence US policy in the Middle East for their own benefit in private, yet in public they decry US foreign policy as being against them. Here is an example quoted in the book, taken from Wiki leaks cables:
“Behind closed doors with US diplomats, Arab leaders, particularly in the Gulf, spoke candidly about their fears of Iran’s growing influence in the region and revealed a level of animosity toward their Shiite neighbor that contrasted radically with their public pronouncements. In the view of the Gulf ruling elite, Iran has replaced Israel as the new enemy. For example, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah told US leaders that Iran posed a grave threat to the kingdom. In a diplomatic cable, the king reportedly made repeated calls for the United States to attack Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.”
Not only does this book give a good historical context, but brings the reader all the way up to the present day, with the closing moments of President Obama’s first term and talks about what he has and has not been able to accomplish in the Middle East and Why.
It is definitely not a “Pro-Obama” book, but a very factual and realistic look at what type of pressures the President has to go through in today’s post 9/11 world of constant terrorist threats, AIPAC and other foreign lobby groups, Anti-immigrant, Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab fears in the Republican majority congress, an economic disaster at home, two (unfunded) wars, and a 24-hours media cycle which is constantly criticizing every move he makes, to name a few!
I highly recommend people to read this book so they can get a better understanding of the world – especially the Middle East and how policies from the 1940’s and 50’s are still affecting US foreign policy today.
Islam and Muslims have been in the news often over the past 11 years. Ever since the tragic events of Sept. 11th, 2001, the US Media has been fascinated to know what the Qur’an – the holy scriptures of Islam, actually teaches and instructs it’s followers to do. Many Muslims, as well as Non-Muslims, unfairly take quotes from the Qur’an out of context and use them to justify acts of violence, ill treatment of people of other faiths, and oppression of women in Muslim countries. Moreover, many practices by Muslims are viewed as Islamic-only.
For example, many people believe that only the Qur’an requires women to cover their head, but how many people know that the Bible instructs women to cover their heads as well, at least when they are praying?
Read the Rest of the Post Here on Patheos
A rare call for understanding
Link TV is a somewhat off-the-beaten-path kind of channel, whose mission it is to show another side of things, to help Americans see another perspective in the hopes of breeding understanding. In an age when celebrity rehab stories often trump issues of national security on the nightly news, LinkTV brings many refreshing new objects of inquiry to the American viewer’s attention: from LinkAsia showing us major developments on the massive Asian continent to Mosaic giving us an extremely well balanced view of news programs from the Middle East, this writer believes LinkTV makes a brave attempt at, and succeeds in, showing the American people relevant things that are glossed over or just ignored by mainstream U.S.
One such program that I wish more people would watch, especially top policy makers in Washington, is, “Bridge to Iran.” This bridge, literally depicted at the beginning of each episode, means to connect the idea in most peoples’ minds that Iran and Iranians are so alien and
strange that everything they do must be bad with the fact that Iran and
Iranians, while quite different from Westerners, are no more mysterious than any other country or people in the world. You do not have to like Iran’s
politics or be a fan of Mr. Ahmedinejad to appreciate this program, which
shares with us stories that we can all relate to, or at least empathize with:
Cinema Encounters in Tehran
This short episode shows us the experiences of young Iranian (and some American) film makers as they prepare for Iran’s first “New Horizons Festival for Independent Film Makers:” Jonathan Yoni Brook (the son of an Israeli immigrant) ventures forth from New York City not only to present his short film, but also to prove to himself that Iran’s people are not the same as Iran’s government; he is joined by Musa Syeed, an American of Kashmiri descent, but whose family originated in Iran. Abbas Amini
is an Iranian who wants to become more familiar with Americans and their
culture, especially film. Mr. Amini is showing off a film about the life of
Iran’s sugarcane farmers. Atefeh Khadeolreza is an accomplished short-film
maker who has attended numerous international film festivals. For this festival she presents a documentary, filmed in Serbia, about mythical beings that supposedly inhabit the forests. Massoud Bakhsi, the film festival’s coordinator tells us in quite-good English the background of the festival and about Iranian youth in general. Ellie Erfani is an Iranian American who chose to return to the country of her parents’ birth, working with the festival as official translator.
To a soundtrack of traditional Iranian instruments, our two Americans navigate their way through a Tehran evening; stumbling their way through a conversation with a pair of mullahs at the movie theater where the festival takes place; men in camouflage motorcycling through the streets; discussing Iranian cinema with the owner of a video store; translating the ubiquitous religious writings found on posters and flags all over the place, one even in Hebrew; looking through a random collection of portraits at an art store, from John F Kennedy to Hazrat Ali; taking in the bazaars, packed as they are into ancient alleyways; eating in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant from steel dishes; checking out a chic mall in North Tehran (the Beverly Hills of Iran) where even chador-wearing ladies bare the tell-tale bandages from plastic surgery . Far from being treated as enemy aliens, our two Americans are welcomed warmly by all they meet, and are invited
to collaborate on a short film with two of the native contestants.
We Are Half of Iran’s Population
From a light-hearted expose on a small segment of Iran’s arts
community we arrive at an issue of critical importance: What is a woman’s place in Iranian society? In the run up to the 2009 election, film maker Rakhsan Bani Etemad seeks to bring to all four candidates’ attention the importance of women’s issues and the seeming lack of progress in improving their lot in life, despite promises of such in the constitution written by the then-revolutionary government of Khomeini. Ms. Etemad is successful in this task, gaining an audience with three of the candidates, namely Mohsen Rezaee, Mir Hussein Mosavi and Mehdi Karroubi; the incumbent and winning candidate, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad,
could not be reached for comment.
But what kind of issues exactly did Ms. Etemad feel it
necessary to bring up? After interviewing individuals and coalitions of women, representing a good cross section, a few issues are sore: 1) While after the revolution of 1979, women were forced to take a step or two back, for the most part, women’s lives and role in society have advanced, BUT there seems to be a movement to roll this progress back; 2) Despite the fact that females make up more than half university students, male students are given preference in admission to prestigious academic programs, such as medicine, and they must also contend with ethnic quotas; 3) A woman suffering from an abusive marriage has little legal recourse and must suffer in silence; 4) Almost-non-existent welfare for single mothers and children cause much unnecessary suffering; 5) The misapplication of, “Islamic” law and principles to keep women in an inferior place.
This episode goes to show two things: First, it is not fair
to make a blanket accusation that all Iranian women are oppressed and denied any real opportunity for advancement because when you see the sheer number of female professionals being interviewed, from lawyers to non-profit directors to members of parliament, it is clear to see that women are certainly not shut out of the upper echelons of society. Secondly and conversely, it is clear that the Iranian government does not view women as equal to men. An interesting side note: In Iran, any person may decide to run for elected office, but that does not mean that your campaign will be, “approved,” i.e., that does not mean you will be allowed to actually contest the election. In the 2009 presidential election, 476 people applied, all but 4 were “disqualified.” So while women are treated unfavorably a lot of the time, men certainly share in the shortage of fair treatment.
words, could authoritarian Muslims just be authoritarians who happen to be
Mustafa Akyol is a
journalist for Hurriyet, the number one English language publication in Turkey,
and in my experience, a solid newspaper. In his book, “Islam Without Extremes,”
Mr. Akyol takes on a very ambitious thesis, and over the course of about
three-hundred pages goes from that thesis through many interesting examples to
prove it. His thesis is three pronged: First, the preponderance of
authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world (past and present) is due to cultural
reasons, not anything inherent in Islam; on the contrary, early Islam was really
not authoritarian at all. Second, Islam is used to justify things which really
stem from culture. Lastly, people have lost sight of the fact that the Prophet
(S) was just a man.
“In such a primitive world, what
Muhammad achieved for women was extraordinary.” Karen Armstrong, British
Akyol begins his
book with evidence that far from being an authoritarian book that commands
blind obedience, the Holy Qur’an is the, “divine core,” of a faith that does
ask us to unquestioningly believe in certain things, but also commands us over
fifty times to “reason, to think.” The Holy Qur’an, in his view, did not mark
the beginning of some heavy-handed authoritarian ideas to oppress for all of
time, but an incredible amount of new human rights that turned an inequitable
tribal society on its head. Islam truly represented an egalitarian, human
For the first
time, women were granted inheritance rights. For the first time, the idea that
an “Abyssinian slave” was equal to, perhaps even greater than, a free man, and
that slaves had legal status, were indeed people, made law The Prophet’s last
speech forbade blood feuds, and banished any idea that one race is superior to
another. Even animals’ status was improved, as it was deemed unfair to animals
to overburden them with cargo, and one lady of ill repute was even guaranteed
paradise merely for satiating a dog’s thirst. Ironically, Medieval Christendom
criticized Islam for the rights in conferred on women and slaves, and when the
British came to rule much of the Muslim world, their colonial regulations
stripped many of these rights away.
Abu Hanifa the
businessman vs. Imam Ahmad the land lord
Akyol goes on to
opine that much of what we now consider orthodox in Islam is the result of a
great war of ideas that took place in the early centuries of Islam. In the
early years, followers of the likes of Abu Hanifa founded a school of thought
based on deriving rules from Qur’an, but also in large part from “qiyas”
(reasoning and analogy), and the members of his school came to be known as the
“idea people,” who took hadith with a large grain of salt. In opposition were
the likes of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who scoffed at the idea of any part of the
Qur’an being figurative, and who promoted hadith as the ultimate source of any
information; he is famous for having refused to eat watermelons because he
could find no hadith showing that Rasululah ever ate one. Abu Hanifa and his
ilk were businessmen, entrepreneurs; Hanbal was a land lord. Going further, the
author believes that people like Hanbal are responsible for the current view of
the Prophet (S) as an “all-knowing seer of the future,” despite the fact that
the hadith themselves relate him saying just the opposite.? Also, it is considered that the institution
of the Sunnah (observed actions of the Prophet) have been taken, wrongfully,
from being a general guideline, modest in scope, to becoming a “stagnant force
in history,” suffocating any new thought. Whereas Abu Hanifa considered a thing
to be lawful until proven otherwise, Hanbal considered it haram until proven
The author, being
Turkish himself, spends a lot of time writing about Turkish and Ottoman history
and the way that their religious scholars approached things.? According to Akyol, the Ottoman Empire’s top
religious scholar was known as the “Sheyh Ul Islam,” and that these men took a
rather progressive approach to Islam, granting women many rights, deeming a
handshake with the opposite sex halal and relations with non-Muslims as
acceptable; compare this to tribal leaders in the Hijaz who deemed the
Ottoman’s “apostates” because of these perhaps-liberal ideas. Akyol goes on to
talk about how the Ottomans warmly welcomed Jews from various parts of Europe,
one leading member of their community even encouraging Jewish immigration to
the Ottoman Empire; this stands in direct conflict with hadith that the author
would call deeply suspicious, such as those describing the “evacuation” of Jews
from the Arabian Peninsula. Akyol calls the Ottoman Empire’s time as masters of
the Muslim world a “revival,” not just because of the fresh, practical approach
they took to the interpretation of Qur’an and hadith, and the practical way
they actually governed.
Mr. Akyol goes on
to describe in great detail the battle between Mustafa Kemal’s ultra-secular
regime, which carried on long after his death, and those practicing Muslims,
championed by Said Nursi, who fought for liberty, in an Islamic guise, all the
while rejecting violence and “revolutionary Islam.” This battle cost the a few
Turkish prime ministers their jobs, sometimes even their freedom, sometimes
even their lives, when the army removed them from power for the crime of trying
to slow down, or bring to a halt, the Kemalist agenda. In closing, he describes
how the ruling AK Party has succeeded in bridging Islam and modern prosperity.
He chronicles the plight of three hijab-wearing university students publishing
a book demanding that property stolen from non-Muslim minorities be returned to
them, and that Kurds be treated like full citizens; merely having the freedom
to wear hijab at university was not enough for these young ladies.
All in all,
Mustafa Akyol attempts to use Islamic sources, and also non-Muslim praises for
the liberties potentially inherent in Islam, to convince the reader that Islam
was and still is something that not only does not encourage tyrants, was not
designed to help land lords suppress intellectuals, but was meant to be the
exact opposite. While I believe the author takes some of his points too far,
“Islam Without Extremes” is a valuable addition to modern Islamic political
thought, and I hope that books like this really serve to change how people
think about Islam and liberty.
“There is a great mystery in Islam.
Islam should have been the first free society on Earth; it was the last. It
should have been the first civilization to establish religious freedom; today,
non-Muslims suffer egregious persecution at the hands of Muslims. Islam should
have been the first society to establish equality for women; women who stray
outside their familial code of honor are murdered with impunity. Islam should
have been the foremost to establish humanitarian laws of war, but its empires
have been no different than others, some claim they have been worse.”
“Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered in the contemporary Muslim world and should be implemented in some fashion.”
A simple statement, but one that also has spawned many so-called comprehensive theories on how to merge Islam with politics, each championed by a theorist at the head of one group or another, in one of many countries and times, each trying to overcome perceived obstacles unique to their places in time and space. From Pakistan’s Abul Ala’ Mawdudi and the Jamat Islami trying to find a theological basis for the new Islamic republic to Sayed Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood vigorously working to remake Egypt in their preferred image; from Osama bin Laden’s violent dreams of overthrowing the “further enemy” to the AK Party merely trying to make Turkey into a place where Muslims can practice freely, after decades of ultra-secular military dictatorship. All of these parties agreed that Islam is the key to the betterment of their societies, but, as the author shows very well, the similarities end there.
Can Islam really be boiled down into a political platform? How flexible, if at all, is that platform? Would Muslims truly benefit from their faith being translated into concrete rules and governing documents? Have most, or any, leaders of Muslim nations really endeavored to do any of the above? This is a daunting question to try to answer, yet Professor Mohammed Ayoob of Michigan State does just this. In his book, “The Many Faces of Political Islam,” Mr. Ayoob asks some profound questions, some difficult questions, all the while seeking to answer one fundamental question: What is “political Islam?”
“Deus Vult”-Pope Urban II, 1095
Mr. Ayoob begins his captivating, easy-to-read work by challenging three widely-held ideas about Islam and its being expressed politically:
1) “Islam stands alone among religions as being intertwined with politics.”
On this point, I personally would like to say that if you look at the history of any country, you will see its majority religion used by political leaders to justify aggression. How else could all three-hundred German princely states carry banners saying that, “God is with us?” The above quote, “God wills it,” was used to kick off the First Crusade, against Muslims and Islam.
2) “Islam and its political ideas are monolithic.”
In my own experience, it is easy to see that this idea is baseless: how else
could Sunnis have four major schools of thought, who disagree on some basic
ideas; if this is so, then why do we even feel it necessary to call ourselves
“Sunni” or “Shia?”
3)“Islam and political Islam are inherently violent.”
Mr. Ayoob disproves this by citing that fact that the vast majority of “Islamist” political movements and parties throughout history have been entirely peaceful, no matter how “backward thinking” they may be.
With these first three points, I believe Ayoob will bring all Muslim readers together in agreement, which will be necessary in order to present the profound/difficult questions that come later. Later in the book, Mr. Ayoob asks questions that could be conceived by some as unacceptable for any true Muslim to ask, but when you see the examples from Islamic history that he puts forward, these questions no longer seem so wrong.? The first point brought up is that of the much-revered Islamic “Golden Age,” i.e., the days when the Muslim community achieved spiritual perfection whilst living in Medina, that ideal of Islamic civilization that has always been beyond reach. Mr. Ayoob opines that not only will it never come to pass that this golden age will be relived once more, but that it is indeed not even necessary; according to him,
the mashaikha (the institution of religious scholarship, “sheikhdom”) has also reached this conclusion.
He moves on to “justifying the status quo,” in essence saying that ‘ulema (religious scholars), recognizing that many, many Muslim rulers have been less-than-ideal, have long since prioritized order and security over personal freedom (although economics was not mentioned). The lack of justice is excused by Sunni, and especially Shi’a, by the fact that Islam teaches us that there will not be a pure and true leader until Imam Mehdi comes back, anyway. So are the ‘ulema endorsing the Al-Assads and the Gaddafis? Well, not so much endorsing as resigning themselves to their control; it is true that many ‘ulema have perished on the orders of dictators throughout history, so it is not surprising to see them toeing the line. Another observation Mr. Ayoob makes is the fact that many leading “Islamist” thinkers, like Mawdudi and Al-Banna do not particularly care for Islam’s clerical class, believing that they have made Islam into something fossilized, that they intended to sideline these learned individuals.
I believe Mr. Ayoob’s book is an invaluable contribution to Islamic political theory and is a must-read for anyone who wants to, or just claims to, understand the Muslim world, because it asks some interesting questions, questions that could be considered by some Muslims outrageous, considered by non-Muslims as reassuring.
While it is a noble idea perhaps to dream of Muslims working together in unison, can we gloss over the fact that for about three-hundred years the Ottoman Empire considered Iran a far greater threat than Europe? It is tempting to think that all should list themselves on Facebook as, “just a Muslim,” but do we need to be upset that many feel the need to add, “-Sunni, -Shi’a, -Ismaili,” or whatever else on the end?
Because religious authorities in one country issue a blanket statement, do we blindly accept or take it with a grain of salt? Hassan Banna did perhaps see what was wrong with Egyptian society in the early 20th Century, but would his ideas apply to you and your environment? Is the possession or non-possession of material wealth and power really the ultimate expression of God’s pleasure, or displeasure with you, as Abul Ala’ Mawdudi believed?
One idea, one concept that is widely talked about among Muslims is that of the ideal Islamic state, one that will unite all the Muslim world back into one Ummah (one, united community). Mr. Ayoob takes the opinion that not only will this never happen, if only because the Muslim world today is too vast, too diverse for one state to represent all 1.5 billion of us. I believe history backs up Ayoob’s claim: the ideal Islamic state at Medina lasted perhaps a few decades, but then was transformed into an empire ruled be hereditary kings by only the fourth caliph. In Islamic history, division has been the rule, unity the unfortunate exception.? Ayoob believes that the nation states carved out by Europeans are here to stay, and that even Islamist groups recognized this, hence why they tailor their messages for their particular countries; it is only a minority of people, in the book called “fringe extremists,” who continue to dream of a world covered in a black-and-white banner.
I was lucky enough to be one of the 45 Men to be featured in this new book: “All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim”.
I talk about how I became interested in Media Activism work and my struggles (and accomplishments) as the youngest member of my masjid board. The title of my essay is called “The Trouble Maker.” It will hopefully be an entertaining and educational read for everyone.
You can order the book now with a 40% discount on the cover price by purchasing from the White Cloud Press website here: http://tinyurl.com/765ym7q
Below is a Press Release about the Book:
For far too long, the story of American Muslims has been told by others; rarely do American Muslim men emerge as protagonists of their own narratives, representing their religion or depicted in a way other than as violent extremists, misogynists, and irrational, angry, bearded brown men.
Although the United States strives to be a place where its citizens are encouraged to coexist and thrive, the practice of scapegoating often prevails, creating unnecessary economic, social and cultural divides. African Americans, Native Americans, Irish, Jews, Italians, and Japanese have all experienced challenges to their American experience. American Muslims are not exempt, often targets of fear-based attacks, while the media and the entertainment industry all too often serve up negative images of Islam’s followers.
Recent examples of events that have contributed to this negative narrative include:
? The New York Police Department is caught spying on Muslims based on religious activities and without any evidence of wrong-doing.
? 47% of Americans recently polled said the values of Islam are at odds with American values.
? In 2011, 49 bills were introduced in 29 states to ban Shariah law
? 41% of Americans would be uncomfortable if a teacher at the elementary school in their community were Muslim
Co-edited by playwright, humorist, and lawyer Wajahat Ali, All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim (June 2012, White Cloud Press, ISBN: 978-1-935952-59-6, $16.95) highlights voices of an emerging and impactful generation of American men that seek to debunk and re-orient existing narratives of their faith and their community.
The contributors, all under 45 years old, were either born in America or were raised in America from a young age. They are husbands, fathers, brothers, nephews, sons —including a math teacher, a lawyer with the US Army, an emcee and spoken word artist, several comedians, an HBO Def poet, a transgender activist, professors, a doctor, IT consultants, filmmakers, and an engineer.
Reza Aslan, best-selling author and American scholar of Islam, has said of the book: “Here is a chance for American Muslims to seize the mic from the pundits and politicians who claim to know what Islam is and what Muslims want, and to speak for themselves about their hopes and aspirations, their trials and tribulations, and, above all else, their unique identity as Americans. At a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is growing in this country, there could be no more vital book than this.”
For speaking engagements or interviews contact:
Steve Scholl, White Cloud Press
Recently, I watched the whole first season of the Golden Globe Winning TV series Drama, “Homeland” and was both impressed and also disappointed. The cable series which originally premiered in October 2011 on the Showtime channel is based on an Israeli TV series called “Prisoners of War,” But “Homeland” is about an American Marine Nicholas Brody (played by British Actor Damian Lewis from “Band of Brothers”) who is captured in Iraq and his held captive for 8 years, only to be found by a Delta Force raid on a compound belonging to an Al Qaida terrorist (a character named “Abu Nazir” – played by Iranian-American Actor Navid Neghaban). The main protagonist of the show is CIA agent, Carrie Matheson (played by Claire Danes), who is the only person who thinks Brody is a turned sleeper agent for Al Qaida.
“Homeland” is a lot like “24”, with its moments of intense drama dealing with terrorism, politics and relationships between people. The show also has excellent writing and great acting. Because it’s on Showtime, it does contain profanity and adult language as well as some brief nudity – which makes the show much more realistic than “24”.
I was really impressed with the acting of Claire Danes (who won for best actress in a Drama at this year’s Golden Globe awards) and Damian Lewis (Nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes). Claire is very convincing as a paranoid CIA operations officer, who although suffers from Bi-polar disorder (unknown to her supervisors), is the only person who is capable of figuring out what Brody is actually up to. She tries very hard to convince her mentor and boss at the CIA, Saul Berenson (played by Actor Mandy Patinkin) that Sgt. Brody is a sleeper agent who is about to carry out an attack on the U.S. Damian Lewis is excellent as his role as an American Hero turned Potential Terrorist who struggles coming to terms with his wife sleeping with his best friend (who both thought he was dead in Iraq), his two young children who barely know him, and the media and government officials who put him on a pedestal as a “War Hero.”
WARNING SPOILERS BELOW
Damian also did a great job at learning Arabic – specifically Sura Fatiha, for when he recites his prayers early in the morning and late at night (He converted to Islam while held captive for 8 years – and “there were no Bibles around” like he explained to Claire’s character when she questioned him about his conversion).
What I liked about the series is that they try their best to show that Terrorism is not as Black and White as most politicians and leaders (on both sides of the world) try to make it out to be. It’s complicated and involves all kinds of people – from religious, to secular, to family people, to lovers, to government officials, to normal and sane people, who may have been pushed over the edge and sometimes the motive is not politics, but just simple revenge.
In this case, Damian’s character of Sgt. Brody is forced to teach English to Terrorist leader Abu Nazir’s youngest son, while he is held in captivity. Brody has a young son who was only a few months old, when he went off to Iraq for the War, so naturally a bond develops between Brody and Abu Nazir’s son, as they spend a lot of time together. Then, like what has happened in real life many times, a US drone attack, which attempts to take out Abu Nazir’s hideout, misses and destroys a madrassa, and kills all 83 children, including Abu Nazir’s son. Sgt Brody is hurt emotionally by the death of an innocent child he has grown to love as his own, and becomes consumed with anger when the Vice-President of the United States is shown on international TV denying that the drone attack even happened. This is when Brody decides that he wants to help Abu Nazir mete out justice to the United States government for killing innocent children.
What I don’t like about the show, and was disappointed in seeing, was that whenever Sgt. Brody makes wudu (cleaning himself with water before doing prayers), pulls out his prayer rug, or reads Tasbeeh (rosary) on his hands – they play dramatic music in the background and imply that he is doing something sinister and about to kill someone (when in reality he is just praying or getting ready to pray to God). It seems like the writers and producers of “Homeland” are implying that a Muslim who prays is a potential terrorist!
I also found it interesting that the character of Saul Berenson (Carrie’s boss at the CIA) is Jewish (who even talks about growing up as a religious minority in a Christian majority town in the storyline), who is shown to be the most fair-minded, intelligent and respectable person in the CIA. This is not that surprising, because it seems that most of the writers and producers of the show are Jewish, but one would think that they should know better than to scapegoat a whole group of people (Muslims) because of the actions of a few.
I look forward to watching season 2 of “Homeland” (currently being produced), because I enjoy it’s suspense, action and acting, but I hope the writers and producers start to focus less on the “exotic” religious rituals of Muslims, and instead continue to develop the storyline in exposing why people become terrorists and how it can be better understood and in turn better combated.
Originally Posted on ILLUME magazine.
Everyone has been talking about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s Hardware stores pulling their advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim” reality TV show, because of the email campaign from Conservative Christian “Florida Family Association.”
But besides the few email complaints to Lowe’s or signing of petitions online, there hasn’t been much creative response from the Muslim-American community.
That’s when the comedic duo, Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena (of “Outsourced”), along with writer/director Gregoy Bonsignore decided to take matters in their own hands and create the fake ad, “The Un-Aired Lowe’s Commercial.”
We got to talk to the three about why they made the video and what they thought of the controversy about the show.
Why did you guys produce this video?
Rizwan: Myself, Greg and Parvesh were sitting around Parvesh’s place talking about this whole Lowe’s situation and I kept seeing all the reaction all over Facebook and Twitter. So we thought, as artists we can use our creativity, to make a funny video which makes a point about a greater issue. So within an hour of coming up with the idea, we went down to Lowe’s and started filming it!
Gregory (Director of the video): We wanted to do a satirical piece to show the type of “stereotypical scary” Muslims which the Florida Family Association are so concerned are not being shown on the TV program. The video was shot on multiple iphones, in case we got kicked out of the store quickly.
Have you guys watched “All American Muslim” and what do you think about it?
Rizwan: Yes, I have seen it and like it. It’s a typical reality show which shows the daily lives of people and I have been to Michigan before to shoot a film. It’s an accurate portrayal of the people there, who are very friendly and I enjoy the show.
Gregory: I have watched it and although its format is not very unique, it’s subject – Muslim-Americans is what makes it interesting. It shows that Muslims now have their own reality show like other groups about suburban life in America.
Parvesh: ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM seems harmless. Please. Everyone is the same. We are all Americans. Sheesh.
What do you guys think of the reaction from groups such as the Florida Family Association and Corporations such as Lowe’s who have pulled their advertising from “All American Muslim”?
Gregory: I’m not really surprised with the reactions and totally bigoted response from some of the public, because there is not enough education about Islam in America. But for a corporation like Lowe’s to react in the way they did, is totally unacceptable.
Rizwan: The biggest shock for me was that Lowe’s sent a letter to the Florida Family Association thanking them for pointing out the concerns of the show and asking them to pull their advertising. It’s not okay that they caved in this way.
Parvesh: Lowe’s pulling their spots is silly and just so dumb and really foolish for a major company. I liked Lowe’s. I used to love their ads that added the letter T to the end which became Lowe’sT. Ha. Bad Lowe’s. They should apologize!
Do you think there is any correlation with how “Outsourced” was cancelled and the reaction that “All American Muslim” is getting, that the American public is not ready to see different ethnic and religious groups on TV?
Rizwan: There was also a loud and vocal minority who expressed some hatred about Indians and having a show like “Outsourced” on mainstream TV. There were also some facebook hate groups and websites which made threats against us, but I don’t want to be pessimistic about it. It was only a small, yet vocal, minority. We did not get any advertisers pulling ads from “Outsourced” and there was a good amount of viewers, but we just ran out of time to increase our viewership.
Parvesh: OUTSOURCED getting pulled doesn’t really have any racial correlation, In my opinion. We just got bad ratings when they moved us to 10:30pm for a show that became popular with families. Bad scheduling killed the show but we gotta move on.
Gregory: As a writer and director myself (Greg was a writer for the show “Lie to Me”), I feel that TV tends to normalize things. From past shows which had African-Americans and women early on, it helps the viewers to get to know these different types of people which they may not normally get to interact with. I believe it’s important for more shows about Indians, Arab-Americans and Muslims to be on mainstream TV. We are currently working on a TV pilot about a Muslim American family which we are pitching to producers and hoping to get into development soon.
This review was originally written on Caffeinated Muslim.
Review by Bushra Burney
The last time I was at the airport, I went through security and was told that a female agent was going to come by and pat down my hijab. Passenger after passenger passed me by, picked up their stuff from the conveyer belt, and stared at me. I’m sure they were wondering what was up as I stood there for an amazingly long period of time in my socks. I never had to wait this long for a patdown before! Where was the TSA lady who was meant to make sure I left my serrated knife at home and that it wasn’t hidden in between the strands of my hair? Not allowed to move or even get to my luggage for a long period of time, I felt like I was on display and felt humiliated.
However, I’d much rather have that happen than go through any of the experiences contained in the book Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice.
Edited by Alia Malek, who also interviewed most of the people in the book, Patriot Acts compiles first hand stories from people who had been maligned to some degree due to the after effects of 9/11. The compilation has all types of stories, some worse than others, that include accounts of incarceration, bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
The first narrative sets the tone of the book rather quickly with the testimony of Adama Bah, a now 23 year-old girl who grew up in the U.S. after moving from Guinea, West Africa with her family when she was just two years old. In 2005, when she was 16, she was taken from her home along with her father and was kept in a detention center for 6 weeks for suspicion for being a terrorist. The problem was that the suspicion stemmed from nothing and she had to endure less than stellar conditions in the center, complete with strip searches, for no reason in particular. The entire episode left her jaded about the country she considered her home.
Not all of the narratives end on the same note though. Rana Sodhi, a Sikh business owner, went through the pain of losing two brothers who were murdered in hate crimes after 9/11. With all of the work and outreach he did in regards to the murders, he became inspired to think of his community at large rather than just himself.
There are probably more than a few people who get caught up in the “Kill ‘em all!” mentality when they think about Arabs and Muslims. The issue is that a lot of people have suffered because of misplaced blame (and I’m just talking about those who consider America their home, not the hundreds of thousands* of innocents killed abroad in wars from the past decade). The majority of us don’t know about these stories and that’s where Patriot Acts steps in. With some of the accounts, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the narrator wasn’t able to acquire a lawyer who cut through red tape. With some of the other narratives, it’s quite evident that education is still needed in this country to curb Islamophobia, especially with the heartbreaking story of the little girl that had to deal with ignorant teachers in her district**.
At the very least, you should check out Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice to discover what has been going on in this country and whether or not any of this actually makes you safer. This book teaches us that it’s more important than ever to stay informed and educate ourselves. We can still be American patriots while still retaining our principles.
*Some sources place this figure at well over a million.