In one of the most astounding polls I've ever seen, Gallup reported earlier this month that 69 percent of Americans were "following the events in Egypt closely," and 83 percent of them "sympathized with the protesters." When you consider the kind of rampant Islamophobia that's infected the body politic of this country over the last decade, this level of identification with the Egyptian masses is nothing short of, well, revolutionary.
We now have a sports equivalent to this Gallup poll, revealing that we don't need Sam Cooke to tell us that "a change is gonna come." The U.S. Basketball Writers Association just named men's player Arsalan Kazemi of Rice University and women's player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir of the University of Memphis as the co-winners of their "most courageous award." They are being recognized explicitly for challenging Islamophobia, bigotry, and ignorance. No one will ever confuse the USBWA with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. But their recognition of what these two players have faced is a smack-down to every Peter King (the U.S. Congressman, not the sportswriter) and Fox News hack who thinks Arabs and Muslims exist only to be demonized.
The sophomore Kazemi is the NCAA Division I's first Iranian-born athlete. An NBA fanatic in his youth, Kazemi was a hoops prodigy in the Middle East but turned down offers to play professionally so he could take his chances in the States. Because Iran was ensconced as part of the "axis of evil," he had to journey 500 miles to Doha just to get his visa -- but it was all worth it if it meant playing in the same country as Kobe and LeBron.
Kazemi, however, received a rude education on being Muslim in the United States and ironically -- or appropriately -- enough, it happened at George W. Bush International Airport in Houston. After de-boarding his plane and stretching his six-foot-seven-inch body, Kazemi was greeted by three officials who took him into the bowels of the airport to question him for six hours. "I'm not a terrorist," he told them. "If you don't believe me, deport me."
Kazemi then took to hiding the fact that he was born and raised in Iran, just telling people he was from the Middle East. Then an incident at a gas station taught him that hiding wasn't an option. Kazemi told the New York Daily News, "[This guy walked up to me and] said, 'I am going to kill you.' Then he said he was joking. At first, I was scared. If you are me, wouldn't you be, too?"
After that, Kazemi came out of the ethnic closet, out and proud about his heritage. He also went public about his experiences off the court as an Iranian national. Now Kazemi leads Conference USA in rebounds and in field goal shooting. I don't know what's a more amazing feat: his journey, or that he's doing it at Rice University. Either way, it should inspire anyone who thinks Islamophobia needs to be challenged.
As for first-year guard Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, she is the first Muslim woman in history to play Division I basketball with her arms, legs and hair covered. The USBWA praised Abdul Qaadir for having to "deal with anti-Muslim sentiment."
"In high school, someone called me Osama bin Laden's daughter," she told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "It was at Holyoke Catholic. We beat them every time we played them."
As personally and politically confident as Abdul-Qaadir is off the court, she's even better with the ball in her hands. A blur baseline to baseline, Abdul-Qaadir was the 2009 Massachusetts Player of the Year, becoming the first player in the history of the state, male or female, to score 3,000 points. In her debut as an eighth grader, Abdul Qaadir dropped 43 points and never looked back. In her last high school game, she scored 51 of her team's 57 points. Yet still many people could only judge her appearance and not her game. By all accounts, Abdul-Qaadir displays a remarkable patience when questions about her appearance are raised. But she's very clear that they need to be raised with respect.
As she told Sports Illustrated during her senior year, "When some people come at me with, 'Oh, is that a tablecloth on your head?' -- it's like, really, don't. If you're going to have that kind of question, don't ask me. But some people are truly honest in asking a question, like, 'Oh, I don't want to be rude, but why do you wear that?' That's the kind of question I'd rather answer."
Kazemi and Abdul-Qaadir have shown a stunning maturity and perseverance. But even more stunning is the fact that the USBWA has chosen to recognize them for their courage. It's a sign that the Islamophobes may have had their day in the sun, but there are those much more suited to the light of day.
First run in thenation.com.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
"Kazemi and Abdul-Qaadir: Recognizing the Courage of Muslim Athletes," (HUFFPo) Dave Zirin, Sports correspondent, The Nation Magazine.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
A heartfelt essay Has Egypt’s Hour of Reckoning Come? | IslamToday - English by the popular Sa`udi Arabi`an religious scholar, Sh Salman Oudeh.
These past few nights, I have been unable to sleep. Instead, I have been watching the news, captivated by the events that are unfolding in Egypt. At times, I am overjoyed by the understanding exhibited by the young people who exercise self-restraint and patience while proclaiming their demands, who are aware of the importance of being disciplined and who know they have to preserve their gains by not responding to any provocation.
At other times, I am saddened to watch the paid trouble-makers hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at their brothers, who break up peaceful crowds with horses and camels. They show the baseness of their morality as well as the cruelty of those who sent them, since such riff-raff do not act on their own initiative.
I also feel anxiety. Egypt is moving into unknown territory. Anything is possible right now. We are witnessing something truly unprecedented in the Arab world.
The long-suffering Egyptian people have moved ahead of their political parties, intellectuals, and leaders. They have gone beyond the long-winded accounts and incessant weighing of pros and cons, seeking a better future for their country and their countrymen so they can go forward with the other nations of the world in the quest for knowledge, freedom, development, and cultural advancement.
The protesters deserve better treatment than what the corrupt powers – who fear having to account for themselves – are meting out to them, hoping to distract them from their demand for immediate change by busying them with their own injuries and woes.
They have done everything they can to spoil the people’s positive energies and turn their spirit of optimism and celebration to one of grief and despair. It is as if they are saying: “The road is long, and the challenges are far greater than you anticipated. Turn back and rejoin the ranks of the desperate and frustrated.”
It seems like the corrupt powers simply want to say to the world: “Look at how these people fight among themselves. They do not deserve democracy!”
The fact that the protesters were abandoned and all military and security personnel were withdrawn at a particular critical time is proof that the move was strategically decided at the highest level. This warns us of the dangers that might be faced later on.
It takes vigilance and determination to keep things under control. Egypt is not a commodity that any individual or political party can sell off or break over the heads of its people if it does not get what it wants.
What is happening right now in Egypt – and what just recently took place in Tunisia – is reason to pause and think. This is especially true for those who are in strategic positions and the rulers who think they are immune to change, imagining that this kind of thing always happens somewhere else.
Tahrir Square – or “Liberation” Square – is not a new name. Today, however, it has become a rallying symbol and will remain so whenever there is a political emergency.
Demonstrations are an old idea. They have taken place over and over again during political crises in Arab states, Muslim countries, and throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands of people came out into the streets on account of Gaza, Iraq, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and a host of other causes. Those protests always subsided. The participants went their separate ways without even making a dent in government policy. The demonstration would be featured as an urgent news flash on one of the networks, and that was it – as if it were all just a way for people to vent off steam.
The sorry state of Arab politics is lamented over and over again by intellectuals, reformers, and analysts. The political leaders themselves have started to talk like this, bemoaning political backwardness, but of course without ever identifying who is to blame for it!
Poverty, unemployment and misery are the common talk on the streets of our neighborhoods. Meanwhile, repression and the iron-fisted security apparatus is growing day by day, employing an ever larger cadre of personnel. This is something the rulers are quite proficient at, and which the population knows well to fear. Fear alone is the master of the situation.
Yes, foreign plots are an old thing – but internal conflicts are older still!
The scare tactics that have always been used to keep people from political organization are not working any more. People are seeing regular faces, using spontaneous language, demanding nothing other than freedom, justice, and respect for all human beings.
The miracle is coming in plain, simple speech, not in sophisticated double-talk or words used to promote the particular interest of one or another party or faction.
The major question is: What has changed? What is new in the lives and circumstances of the people that they are willing to act and put themselves at risk, but at the same time do not let their anger to turn them to violence and destructive acts?
We must realize that we are entering into a new phase of public awareness and a growing sense of the rights that other people around the world enjoy. It has become the right of each person to ask: Why am I excluded from these rights? Why am I the exception?
A human being is, after all, a human being. Everyone around the world has the same basic aspirations, needs, and hopes. This is the “revolution of hope” where people, after truly becoming aware of the what others enjoy, have begun to demand the same for themselves. They see their rulers as actively obstructing them from their aspirations, or at the very least not leading them faithfully in the right direction.
This growing awareness coincides with monumental changes in the technological landscape. It might be safe to say that communications technologies have exceeded the control of the world powers which created them. It is not a certain thing that the one who creates a tool will be able to control it.
Global communications networks, the video culture, the Internet, twitter, Facebook, YouTube... all these new media resources have facilitated the growth of new social groupings, of sharing and consolidating opinion, and connecting between people. Political association is no longer limited to the forming of a political party.
With the new media, eager young people can entertain ambitions that few before them could imagine: to have the solidarity of millions behind them, sharing a common outlook and strategic vision.
Withholding technology from the people or restricting their access to it is an old way of doing things, and it does not work. It merely inflames the people and makes them all the more resolved. It also makes them feel contempt for those who need to suppress them and curtail their freedom.
They are what I call the “Republic of the Marginalized”. There is a new spirit enlivening the hearts of the Arab peoples. We must acknowledge this – and rejoice in it. This is an historic opportunity for all those who wish well for the Arab world, a truly historic moment.
None of this comes as a real surprise. This did not happen by pure chance. All the critical factors have been in place and developing for a long time. It is just that we might not always be able to see the where things are headed until after they have unfolded. Then there are those who will use any fraudulent means to make the status-quo seem inevitable, so that when events begin to unfold, the gullible are taken aback.
I have noticed that there is a serious lag in the understanding of developing situations and appreciating of what they entail. This causes political players to hesitate too long in doing what needs to be done. They might finally offer a few concessions, but then it will be a case of too little, too late. The popular momentum will have gone too far to accept what might have once been sufficient. Nothing but meeting the people’s full demands will then suffice.
We should note that the most likely time for a revolution to happen is not when things are at their worst, but just when things begin to improve. The French Revolution was preceded by twenty years of the best political and economic success the country had witnessed for centuries. When things start to get better, people begin asking themselves: Where was all this yesterday? Why are we only seeing it now? This is an historic moment if it is accompanied by the right spirit, the right communications, and that “spark” which sets it off.
I therefore address all the Arab countries. I declare that I wish the best for all of them, every last citizen. I even wish the best for those who have up to now been oppressive and dictatorial… but they should realize that no state of affairs lasts forever.
These countries need to look where their feet are treading. They need to realize that the particular motives of each revolution are different, but the destructive consequences are the same. As Dr. Sa`d al-Otaybi said: “We need to revolt against the causes of revolution.”
None of the leaders can afford to delude themselves into thinking they are special, saying: “That is going on over there” or “We are not Egypt or Tunisia.” No one can go on thinking that Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, or the Gulf States are different than anywhere else.
Before you hear the outcries and demands being proclaimed on the streets in these countries calling for the fall of the regime – before you go rushing off to your security apparatus that may or may not help you – please proclaim your commitment to substantial and radical reform. It is not enough to throw a few crumbs at the people.
There will be those who will have to leave office and some others who will be able to stay on in honorary positions so that the people will be able to choose new leaders who are prepared to be accountable, responsible, and subject to the law.
We must learn this lesson well before it is too late. We have witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt that a spark set off in one place can catch fire elsewhere in an instant.
We need a new relationship between the ruler and the ruled, one that is not based on fear and coercion, but on recognition, partnership, and respect.
Security measures are appropriate for use only against violence. However, with those who are unarmed and who have shrugged off fear with forbearance and resolve, a different approach is required.
We read in the Qur’an: “Then, when We decreed (Solomon’s) death, nothing showed them his death except a little worm of the earth, which kept (slowly) gnawing away at his staff: so when he fell down, the Jinns saw plainly that if they had known the unseen, they would not have continued in despised toil.” [Sūrah al-Saba`: 14]
The Earth has been eating away at the stick of intimidation, and the people have begun to wonder why they have been so long patiently enduring the domination of those who have been leaning all the while upon a big rotting stick on the verge of collapse.
In the Arab world, totalitarian regimes provide people with no means to live, work, and earn a livelihood except through its channels. This means that when the regime falls, it takes the masses of people down with it.
This is why we say: It is best for all people to rise above their hatreds, animosities, and grudges. They should refrain from prosecuting people for their past policies or political connections. Our Prophet’s example still applies, like when he gave amnesty to Quraysh upon his taking power in Mecca, saying: “Go. You are free.” This is the ideal solution which allows everyone to get beyond their past, change their convictions and allow for things to be established in a new way.
We should remind each other to pray to Allah to protect the Egyptian people, keep them secure, and safeguard their future. May He bless them with what is best and restore them to their position of leadership and precedence in the Muslim world, and in the Arab region particularly. We ask Allah to safeguard all the Muslim lands and guide their leaders to what is in the best interests of the people. May Allah protect the countries from instability, civil strife, and dissention. Allah is indeed the best Lord and Protector.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
The New York Times published an op-ed by Essam El-Errian, a leading member of the Egyptian Islamic revivalist organization know as the Muslim Brotherhood. Among the interesting points that he makes in the essay, the following caught my attention:
As our nation heads toward liberty, however, we disagree with the claims that the only options in Egypt are a purely secular, liberal democracy or an authoritarian theocracy. Secular liberal democracy of the American and European variety, with its firm rejection of religion in public life, is not the exclusive model for a legitimate democracy.
In Egypt, religion continues to be an important part of our culture and heritage. Moving forward, we envision the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, which are central Islamic values. We embrace democracy not as a foreign concept that must be reconciled with tradition, but as a set of principles and objectives that are inherently compatible with and reinforce Islamic tenets.
Monday, February 07, 2011
An interesting article.
Apostate Politics: How Some Recanted Muslims Have Bolstered Militarist US Policies
By Samer Araabi, January 10, 2011
Originally published in Right Web
One of the more infamous cases is that of Ahmad Chalabi, the darling of the neocon crowd during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq who, after his return to Iraq, leveraged his wealth and connections to become a major political figure there, often to the embarrassment of his erstwhile comrades.
More recently, there has emerged a cadre of high-profile individuals from the Greater Middle East who, unlike Chalabi, have turned against Islam and embraced their lives in the West. In doing so, they have adopted views strikingly similar to some of the more hawkish factions in U.S. politics. Notable examples include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and Nonie Darwish, all known for their vociferous condemnations of Islam, their affiliations with prominent neoconservative organizations, and the anger they have aroused from both Arabs and Muslims worldwide. Though the research and analysis produced by these self-styled “apostates of Islam” often has limited scholarly value, they have played an important role in providing a purportedly moral justification for Western military campaigns in Muslim countries.
Adopting the Clash of Civilizations
The background of many of theses apostates, including the three mentioned above, follow a common pattern. As natives of Arab or Muslim countries, they have each experienced pivotal events that shaped their perspectives on their countries of origin and religion. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali emigrant who once served in the Dutch House of Representatives and now works as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was raised in war-torn Somalia, where she was subjected to the appalling practice of female genital mutilation. Wafa Sultan, the Syrian-American author of A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam, grew up in Syria where, in her words, “the tentacles of the Saudi octopus” had nurtured religious fanatics who murdered her university professor. For Nonie Darwish, the Egyptian-American founder of Arabs for Israel, it was the death of her father, killed by an Israeli parcel bomb while organizing Palestinian resistance in Gaza, and the pressure put upon her to take revenge.
These traumatic experiences helped convince these women that Islam was immoral and dangerous. They abandoned what they perceived to be a “backward culture” in favor of the “enlightened values” of the West. Hirsi Ali abandoned religion altogether. Darwish converted to Christianity. And Sultan asserts that “I even don’t believe in Islam, but I am a Muslim.”
These “crusaders against Islam” are also often characterized by a Manichean worldview pitting the West against Islam. They tend to broadly portray Islam as a homogenous system of highly conformed practice, wherein singular experiences can be extrapolated to explain the broader culture. All three borrow language from Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis to depict the collision between these “opposing forces.” Sultan has stated that “the clash we are witnessing around the world is … a clash between freedom and oppression.” Hirsli Ali describes “the clash of values between the tribal culture of Islam and Western modernity." And Darwish refers to Islam as “an attack on civilization itself by haters of civilization.”
These apostates also frequently adopt a certain presumptuous arrogance in their statements about Islam and its adherents that non-Muslim westerners would likely find difficult to pull off. Hirsi Ali, for example, has spoken repeatedly of “the tragedy of the tribal Muslim man” who has fallen prey to “the grip of jihad,” claiming that “the only difference between my relatives and me is that I opened my mind.” Sultan has claimed that the Crusades were simply the logical reaction to “Islamic religious teachings.” And Darwish has frequently spoken of the “culture of death” in the Middle East.
Adopted by the Right
The hawkish right in the United States has heavily promoted the writings of these women, who have subsequently joined the ranks of neoconservative organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, and the Middle East Media Research Institute. Unsurprisingly, these groups share many of the views of their new pundits: an unapologetic defense of all things “western,” a perceived moral duty to protect the civilized West against Islam, and a willingness to use all means necessary to achieve this objective. Commenting on this pattern, Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out that those keenest to “help” the oppressed people of the Middle East are also those most eager to bomb countries in the region.
These apostate Muslims and their neocon colleagues have developed tight, symbiotic relationships. Rightwing institutions provide platforms and legitimacy, allowing otherwise little known individuals to rise to positions of international prominence. None of these so-called experts have produced serious scholarship or careful analysis of actual political effects, aside from personal or anecdotal experience. And their main value, at least in terms of political discourse in the United States, appears to be that, as former insiders, they can provide a sheen of legitimacy to the Islamophobic tendencies of their rightwing supporters.
A similar phenomenon can be seen with the growing prominence of Western-born Muslims who, although not apostates, promote hawkish U.S. policies toward the Middle East. One such figure is Zuhdi Jasser, a Wisconsin-born practicing Muslim who is a member of the neocon-led Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) and founder of the group American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser is quoted on the CPD website, saying: “Only freedom-loving devotional American Muslims can lead an effective counter-jihad from within the Muslim community. The future of American liberty and the free world as we know it depends upon the moral courage of anti-Islamist Muslims.”
The Militarist Agenda
The views expressed by these apostates tend to bolster some of the more hawkish U.S. Mideast policies. For example, Hirsi Ali’s August 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “How to Win the Clash of Civilizations,” advocated a “divide-and-rule” strategy to protect “our civilization” from destruction. She goes on to praise “The greatest advantage of Huntington's civilizational model of international relations … [is that] it reflects the world as it is—not as we wish it to be. It allows us to distinguish friends from enemies.” In earlier article, she called for a continued military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, implying that any withdrawal would have “jihadis dancing in jubilation.”
Nonie Darwish has railed against the willingness of Western countries to “appease … and assimilate” Muslims, since “all mosques have an anti-American and an anti-peace message” based in a “culture of jihad, tribalism and terror.”
Even more alarmingly, Wafa Sultan has publicly stated that “1.3 billion Muslims … have to realize they have only two choices: to change or to be crushed,” implying that the “pressure” may have to take the form of “atom bombs.”
Comments like these are given more weight because of the identities of the sources. By vilifying the aspirations of the societies they’ve left behind, their discourse takes on an air of “truth to power,” safe from charges of neo-colonialism or western exceptionalism. Their hyperbolic pronouncements have consistently been used to buttress conservative arguments for war by creating a pretense that “people from the region” support such actions. Publications advocating tougher, more aggressive policies in the “war on terror” often rely on narratives provided by these figures, in ways reminiscent of Chalabi’s “intelligence” on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Amir Abbas Fakhravar’s claims of impending Iranian collapse.
There is a certain paradox in the effort to rely on indigenous opinions to justify policies, while ignoring the overwhelming condemnation of such perspectives by the vast majority of the indigenous people themselves. And yet, these figures are repeatedly held up to mirror and confirm the predetermined opinions of war-hungry organizations eager to validate their destructive agendas.
The New Face of Orientalism
Early this year, David Frum, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush who famously coined the “Axis of Evil” phrase, hosted a posh gathering in northwest Washington D.C. to honor Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her “strength,” “courage,” and “intelligence.” Though attendees were limited for “security reasons,” Hirsi Ali was surrounded by fellow neocons, discussing topics from the “liberation of Iran” to the “religious extremism” behind the Gaza flotilla. The respect afforded by militarist ideologues to Hirsi Ali and her compatriots is palpable, based almost solely on the ability of these figures to validate simplistic perceptions of the Muslim world as violent, backward, and dangerous.
Just as diehard Cold Warriors viewed all socialist countries as a single, threatening entity, these apostates and their rightwing supporters have reified the Islamic world into an undifferentiated mass. They conveniently lump the disparate strains of Islam, the competing visions of Muslim identity, and the blurred and fluid boundaries of the Middle East, into a single—and threatening—unit. But in reality, the “Muslim world,” if such an entity can be said to exist, would encompass not only the Deobandis of Pakistan and the Wahhabis of the Gulf, but also Sufi mystics in Konya, Druzes in Lebanon, Shafi’i in Indonesia, and countless others.
Additionally, this monolithic view leaves little room for positive developments, such as the creation of democratic institutions in 23 Muslim countries. And it seems to have blinded these apostates to the injustices that have resulted from U.S. military interventions. This view also fails to account for the many actors and organizations throughout the Greater Middle East who may disagree with Western policies for reasons not derived from religion or culture, such as the secular PFLP in Palestine or the Free Patriotic Movement in Lebanon.
As The Economist notes in its review of Hirsi Ali’s autobiography Infidel (Free Press 2007), the lives of “Muslims [are] more complex than many people in the West may have realized. But the West’s tendency to seek simplistic explanations is a weakness that Ms. Hirsi Ali also shows she has been happy to exploit.”
The Irony of Demonization
There is an irony underlying the careers of these recanted Muslims—namely, that the very same western policies they refuse to condemn often spur the resentment they ascribe as cultural backwardness or religious fervor. The anger and protestations of Muslims are often more rooted in rational considerations than Western militarists are willing to admit. Muslims, like any other group, possess layered identities, any aspect of which can be aroused in anger. As M. Junaid Levesque-Alam of the Crossing the Crescent blog explains, “When three planes hurtled into national icons, did anger and hatred rise in American hearts only after consultation of Biblical verses?”
Indeed, the very existence of icons such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and Nonie Darwish falsifies to a great extent the notion of a monolithic Muslim world. Their ability to react and rebel against their environment, as well as the variety of Muslim responses to their work, demonstrate the diversity of thought and opinion within Muslim society. Portraying Muslims in a simplistic and negative light may be a useful tool to build popular support for military campaigns. But in the long term, ignorance and stereotyping will only serve to undermine any policy objectives in the region. A more thoughtful foreign policy would be one that is grounded in dialogue, interaction, and the drive for understanding—not demonizing and finger-pointing. The sooner the U.S. public confronts this reality, the sooner peace can be achieved in the Middle East.
Samer Araabi is a Right Web research assistant and a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus.