Ashura In The
Qur'aan And Sunnah
2013, Nov 17 at 11:11 PM
When I thought of Ashura I had always thought about the martyrdom of Imam Hussain(ra) in Karbala but this lecture by Sheikh Imran Hosein puts things in a new perspective for me. I had no idea Ashura actually had it's roots in Musa (as) leading Banu Israel's escape from Firauun by crossing the Red Sea when Firauun at the last moment of life when he was drowning, had the veils lifted from his eyes and finally accepted the truth but by then it was too late for him. So shall it be for the modern day Firauuns of this world such as the United States and israHell. Truth (Haq) shall overcome falsehood (baatil). You'll find this lecture to be very interesting my friend. Enjoy.
Ashura In The Qur'aan And Sunnah
Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein
Just wanted to wish you all a very happy Eid-ul-Adha! May this be a blessed time for you and your Loved ones. May Allah’s infinite blessings fill your hearts on this special day and always bring you happiness!
Eid-ul-Adha, commonly translated as “Festival of the Sacrifice,” is an important Islamic holiday that commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail (Ishmael) upon God’s command. As Ibrahim was about to cut his son’s neck, God intervened to replace Ismail with a sheep to sacrifice instead. Muslims around the world remember Ibrahim’s act of Faith by sacrificing an animal and distributing the meat to family, neighbors, and those in need. Eid-ul-Adha also marks the completion of the Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
I remember watching the horribly racist, anti-Iranian propaganda movie “Not Without My Daughter” in my high school “world history” class (the genius teacher apparently thought that showing us a film that demonized Iranians and Muslims would give us an accurate understanding of Islam, Muslims, and Iran). One in scene particular involved a group of Iranians sacrificing a lamb and the reaction from the non-Muslim characters is disgust and horror. The Iranian husband/father (race-bent and played by Alfred Molina), who goes from friendly, “integrated” Iranian Muslim American to abusive, misogynistic, Iranian Muslim villain (because, you know, he’s getting in touch with his roots when he goes back to Iran), explains to his white wife (played by Sally Field) and daughter that the sacrifice is tradition, but the way in which the scene is shot and edited (along with the gloomy music), Iranian/Muslim bodies are clearly marked with Otherness. I remember feeling very uncomfortable in the room because all of my classmates knew I was Muslim and I could feel their eyes darting to me during this scene (and by the end of the movie, they looked at me like I had a raging Alfred Molina waiting to be unleashed from deep within).
The scene sets up the demonization of Iranians and Muslims that permeates throughout the rest of the film. The point is to characterize Iranians/Muslims as backwards and uncivilized peoples with a savage culture. I remember being self-conscious of this whenever I’d have to explain to non-Muslim friends and peers about Eid-ul-Adha. Because it’s not about savagery, bloodshed, or scaring off children. As Sumbul Ali-Karamali explains in her book, “The Muslim Next Door,” meat becomes halal (permissible) when the animal is killed by “cutting the jugular vein, outside the presence of other animals, and after saying a prayer over (the animal), which evinces the intention of eating it and not killing it for any other purpose.” All of the blood must be drained from the animal’s body as well. According to Islamic law (Sharia), the point of sacrificing an animal in this manner is to minimize pain. As Ali-Karamali adds, “Torturing an animal renders it no longer halal.”
The holiday is about sacrifice, but also about Divine Love and Faith. Ibrahim’s Faith in God is what leads him to make the decision to sacrifice his son, no matter how much it troubled him. The spiritual message of Eid-ul-Adha, particularly about the relationship between Reason and Revelation, is quite significant. That is, Ibrahim was requested by God to defy his intellect, to defy reason and take the life of his own son. It does not make sense to kill your own son and furthermore, murder is prohibited in Islam. Yet Ibrahim made the sacrifice to express his Love for God, and in turn, God intervened to save Ismail. ???
There is a common Sufi theme that joy comes after sorrow. I always saw this as a reference to the Qur’anic verses, “After hardship, there is ease.” This is evident in Ibrahim’s story. Today, there is so much struggle in the world and it’s important to recognize all of the different experiences people have based upon the oppressive forces that exist in our societies. By no means do I ever want to appropriate the experiences of people who have or are enduring pain and suffering that I cannot even begin to imagine. I think understanding our privileges and building social justice movements based on mutual accountability and reciprocity are not just important, but also very integral to the message of Islam. The Qur’an’s message of diversity, for example, emphasizes on getting to know one another, which includes understanding our differences. As the verse reads: “People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another.” (49:13)
It’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed by the injustices in the world. For a while now, I have been turned off by privileged people constantly saying, “Come on, think positively!” or “Why do you have to be so negative?!” as if you’ve committed a heinous crime in being human. I don’t believe in silencing voices or making judgment calls on people who are sharing real and serious experiences with injustice. Because we are human, we need to be there for each other. We need to be supportive, we need to make efforts to understand, we need to let go our egos and practice humility. This is a Love that is conscious, compassionate, reciprocal and non-judgmental. And this kind of Love is needed because to Love others is to Love God. When Ibrahim was commanded to sacrifice his son, he consulted his son for consent first. This act alone shows how much Ibrahim Loved his son, and in turn, Ismail shows his Love for Ibrahim and God by agreeing to it. What we see here is the relationship between Ishq-e-Majazi (earthly Love, or Love for creation) and Ishq-e-Haqiqi (Divine Love, or Love for God). As many Sufis have taught, one of the ways in which Love is expressed for God is through Love of others. Within the context of Ibrahim and Ismail, their Love for each other was also tied to their Love for God, which led them to witnessing the beauty and blessings of Divine Love.
Amidst the struggles all of us have here, there are efforts being made for justice, for healing, for peace. For Love. These efforts will always be there, no matter what the odds are. It is the reminder of the Divine promise that, yes, “after hardship, there is ease,” that keeps the spirit of resistance strong.
Update: Be sure to read The Fatal Feminist’s post on “Eid al-Adha: Commemorating a Dismantling of Patriarchy.” I especially like the point she makes about Ibrahim asking Ismail for consent and how that was an anti-patriarchal act.
I really Love these posters that speak out against cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and racism during Halloween. The campaign was launched this year by Ohio University’s Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS) and has been circulating throughout the blogosphere and social media networks. I’m glad this campaign exists because every Halloween I’m disgusted by the (mostly white) people who choose to dress up as horribly offensive racial stereotypes. “It’s no big deal,” they say, “it’s just for fun, stop being so sensitive!”
As the picture above depicts, racism isn’t hard to find during Halloween. You’ll be walking through your local Halloween store and see costume packages depicting mostly white men and women dressed up in pathetic, westernized perversions of non-white cultures. At Halloween parties, you might be having a good time with your friends when, suddenly, a group of white people wearing shoe polish on their faces burst into the room and, yeah, *record scratch.*
Even though I know racism is alive and well in society, I was a little surprised by the conversations surrounding this campaign. Instead of listening to the people who are hurt by the way their ethnic and/or religious backgrounds are appropriated, mocked, and stereotyped, critics of this campaign have called anti-racist efforts “censorship,” “oversensitive,” and “overreacting.” Several times, a friend and I were called “racist” or “anti-white” by white people who wanted to derail the conversation about racism by focusing on problematic “reverse racist” arguments. Before we knew it, we were being accused of “denying” white people the “right” to perpetuate racist stereotypes about non-white cultures. Seriously? You feel so “oppressed” because you’re being asked to not be racist and make a mockery of another culture? Wow, that must be painful.
Perhaps what is most offensive to me is how concerns about people using other cultures as “costumes” is written off as “oversensitive” and accused of “dividing” people. There’s a “blaming-the-victim” tone in that argument, as if people of color offended by others using their cultures as “costumes” should “toughen up” and “stop being so darn sensitive!” Speaking out against racist stereotypes is about understanding people’s experiences, which includes making the effort to see realities from their perspective. That brings people together, generates dialogue, and works to establish understanding and respect. Arrogantly judging people’s feelings and experiences does not.
Imagine how damaging and injurious the experience would be for a Mexican student to see his/her white peers dressing up as Mexicans on Halloween, imitating Mexican “accents,” and acting in ways that mimic media stereotypes about Mexicans. Imagine how offensive and harmful it would be for a Muslim student to see his/her white peers dress up as “Muslim terrorists” and act accordingly to media stereotypes. Imagine how hurtful and terrible it would be for a black student to see his/her white peers shoe polishing their faces to look black, especially considering the loaded racist history blackface has in the US. Think about how traumatizing all of these experiences can be. Furthermore, the white people dressing up as Mexicans, Africans, Arabs, South Asians, East Asians, Native peoples, and so on, don’t have to deal with the marginalization, discrimination, stereotyping, demonization and other forms of oppression that those groups face on a daily basis. When white people say people of color are “overreacting” or being “hypersensitive,” they are not only asserting their “authority” and “credibility” on what is to be deemed appropriate or offensive, but also defining the realities of people of color. The dismissal of anti-racist concerns is an insult to their intelligence, which also reinforces the racist logic that the dominant group must speak for and define minority groups.
And when people say they’re “not racist” and actually “care” for the people they’re using as “costumes,” they should be informed about the struggles communities of color face. If you say you care about people of color, then fight racism in education, law enforcement, politics, media, and so on. Show solidarity with these communities and speak out against the stereotypes that have been normalized about them. Solidarity in social justice struggles expresses more care for the community than using their culture(s) as “costumes.” You say you care about Muslims? Then when Muslims tell you that your “suicide bomber costume” is offensive, you should put your “costume” aside, along with your ego.
There are a lot of amazing posts on this subject and instead quoting from all of them, I will share a few links below. Please take the time to read the posts, especially if, for whatever reason, you still don’t understand why cultural appropriation and using race and culture as “costumes” is offensive.
I hope everyone has a safe, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and bigotry-free Halloween! ???
1. Don’t Mess Up When You Dress Up: Cultural Appropriation and Costumes
2. Native Appropriations: Open Letter to the PocaHotties and Indian Warriors this Halloween
3. Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?
If you’re going to advocate for social justice and organize in your community, you need to be actively resisting the potential reproduction of oppressive hierarchies. In other words, if you’re going to fight against capitalism, for example, don’t create a discriminatory “chain of command” reminiscent of the very system you’re fighting against! This includes being conscious of offensive and harmful imagery, language, slogans, and so on. Reproducing racist, sexist, classist, and ableist hierarchies within social justice movements isn’t uncommon, sadly, and if we don’t challenge oppression within organizing, the struggle itself will be undermined. How can you bring about “revolution” when you’re benefiting off of the people you’ve marginalized, excluded, exploited, and stigmatized? Where is the “change” when people are still struggling against oppression, even within social justice groups?
It is always discouraging to see oppressive hierarchies surface in our own communities because these are spaces that are supposed to be safe. Recently, I noticed a status message that shamelessly insulted and degraded Muslim activists who have been criticizing the Obama administration. It isn’t necessary to name this person, though it is disturbing how some people who claim to be “representing” the Muslim American community feel so comfortable ridiculing others. The message included sexist, masculinist remarks like, “American Muslims need to grow some balls and join the electoral system,” and “American Muslims need to grow up and stop being cynical,” and “American Muslims need to stop whining and victimizing themselves.” When I critiqued the sexist language used by this person, I received a reply that didn’t address any of my points. Unfortunately, the person who wrote the message didn’t take responsibility for his sexism either. Instead, I was told I “misunderstood” what was meant to be a motivational message to get Muslim Americans to participate in “American democracy” and not “whine” about Islamophobia.
I’m not interested in attacking or denigrating this person. I bring up the discussion only to critique the victim-blaming and heteropatriarchal politics that exists in our community. Indeed, there is a lot to deconstruct when you hear someone say, “American Muslims need to grow some balls” and accompany the statement with remarks like “grow up” and “stop whining.” As many feminist critiques have pointed out, sexist language makes women invisible and reinforces heteropatriarchal domination. Telling Muslim critics of the Obama administration to “grow some balls and join the electoral system” removes Muslim women from the discussion and, subsequently, from the voting process. Furthermore, “grow some balls” means to “man up,” which is code for anti-female directives such as “don’t be/act like a girl” (because girls are inferior to boys and men, so if you act like them, you lose your “manhood,” your “natural inclination” to be “superior”). Since male-centered language asserts problematic universalist ideas such as the term “man” equaling “people” (and vice versa), Muslim critics of US wars only consist of men who “lack the balls” to do “macho” stuff, like voting to get president Obama re-elected. Subsequently, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-imperialist critiques of the administration are characterized as “whiny,” “childish,” “angry,” and “self-victimizing,” which are all code for sexist perceptions of so-called “feminine” traits, i.e. “sissy,” “girly,” “oversensitive,” dwelling in “self-pity,” and so on. Because women are not part of this conversation, the “Muslims for Obama” are “manly” men, whereas Muslims criticizing Obama are the “girly” men.
Unfortunately, anti-racist and anti-war activists are not outside heteropatriarchy either. bell hooks offers a feminist critique of Paulo Freire’s book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” because of its “tendency to speak of people’s liberation as male liberation.” hooks points out that Freire, like other brilliant political thinkers, including Frantz Fanon, Albert Memni, and Aimi Cesaire, “speak against oppression, but then define liberation in terms that suggest it is only the oppressed ‘men’ who need freedom.” Missing from their incredibly important works about “colonization, racism, classism, and revolutionary struggle” are anti-sexist politics. By no means is this saying that their works are not important or significant. In fact, as hooks points out, the works are still valued by feminist activists, but with the understanding that focusing exclusively on heterosexual male liberation perpetuates sexist oppression and must end. Centering analysis and language on men resisting racist, classist oppression erases women’s struggle against racism, colonization, sexual violence, and misogyny (not only within their communities, but also outside). It is also worth noting that hooks discussed her concerns with Friere, who “supported wholeheartedly this criticism of his work and encouraged me (hooks) to share this with readers.”
Within white-dominated feminist groups, harmful language arises out of failure in resisting discriminatory hierarchies and acknowledging different histories. AF3IRM, a transnational feminist and anti-imperialist organization, expressed concerns about the “SlutWalk” movement by addressing “the issue of sexual violence and continuing victimization of rape victims by police,the justice system and other agents of authority.” AF3IRM and other women of color called upon “SlutWalk” to reexamine its use of the term “slut,” which carries a long history of exploiting and oppressing women of color around the world. In their statement to “SlutWalk,” AF3IRM write:
Our collective transnational histories are comprised of 500 years of colonization. As women and descendants of women from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, we cannot truly “reclaim” the word “Slut”. It was never ours to begin with. This label is one forced upon us by colonizers, who transformed our women into commodities and for the entertainment of US soldiers occupying our countries for corporate America. There are many variations of the label “slut”: in Central America it was “little brown fucking machines (LBFMs)”, in places in Asia like the Philippines, it was “little brown fucking machines powered by rice (LBFMPBRs)”. These events continue to this day, and it would be a grievous dishonor to our cousins who continue to struggle against imperialism, globalization and occupation in our families’ countries of origin to accept a label coming from a white police officer in the city of Toronto, Canada.Another recent example of using offensive language in social justice organizing can found in the “occupy” movements that began on Wall Street. Many indigenous communities in North America have stressed in their critiques that the land being “occupied” by anti-capitalist activists is stolen indigenous land and already occupied. Under occupation, racism and sexism are wielded as weapons against the colonized, therefore use of the term “occupy” dismisses histories and realities of those who live under colonial occupation. Resistance to this criticism, which is meant to make the movement stronger by centering anti-colonial politics, represents the ongoing cultural genocide of Native peoples. That is, Native peoples are thought to be “extinct,” therefore their struggles against colonialism and sexual violence are “not important enough” to get the white-majority “occupy” activists to reassess the language it uses. Recently, the “occupy” movement in Albuquerque, New Mexico decided to change its name to “(Un)occupy Albuquerque” out of solidarity for Native communities. As one writer explained:
For many indigenous people, the term ‘Occupy’ is deeply problematic. For New Mexico’s indigenous people, ‘Occupy’ means five-hundred years of forced occupation of their lands, resources, cultures, power, and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn’t.Beyond the way sexist language reinforces maleness as the “norm,” which is undoubtedly important to critique because it eliminates women from, well, existence, there are connections that need to be made between sexist language and the heteropatriarchal system which is foundational to the United States. Cherokee feminist-activists Andrea Smith argues:
It has been through sexual violence and through the imposition of European relationships on Native communities that Europeans were able to colonize Native peoples in the first place. If we maintain these patriarchal gender systems in place, we are then unable to decolonize and fully assert our sovereignty… Implicit in this analysis is the understanding that heteropatriarchy is essential for the building of US empire. Patriarchy is the logic that naturalizes social hierarchy. Just as men are supposed to naturally dominate women on the basis of biology, so too should the social elites of a society naturally rule everyone else through a nation-state form of governance that is constructed through domination, violence, and control (emphasis added).If we apply an anti-colonial analysis to sexist language and the heteropatriarchal nation-state, we can see how arrogant and pompous statements like “America is the greatest nation on earth” are very masculinist because they promote absolute domination and self-entitlement to rule, invade, bomb, and occupy other countries. When Muslim American community leaders assert that Muslims “proudly” played a role in the “founding” of America, they are aligning themselves with the built-in structures of heteropatriarchy and colonialism, as well as dismissing the fact that many of the Muslims they refer to were African slaves forced to this continent. What does it mean to be the “greatest” nation on earth? Who determines “greatness” and why is it so important for America to be the “greatest”? I am reminded of when a good friend told me, “Women have no country” and that the building of the nation-state is masculinist, as is evident in the way it flexes its military power.
With this in mind, it is very telling when certain individuals, particularly those who believe they have more authority than others in their communities, resort to sexist language in effort to defend and deflect criticism of the heteropatriarchal nation-state. When anti-war stances are shot down with degrading insults, it becomes that much easier to brush the person off as some “whiny,” “cynical,” and, um, “ball-less” nuisance. Sexist language often intertwines with ableist slurs like, “you’re crazy,” “you’re delusional,” or “you’re just being hysterical.” Because women are perceived in heteropatriarchy as “weak” and “irrational,” ableist words like “crazy,” “delusional,” and “hysterical” are easily assigned to them, and especially more damaging to women with dis-abilities.
Masculinity, on the other hand, is synonymous with being “rational,” “brave,” and “courageous.” When heterosexual male community organizers ridicule anti-racist feminists and assert themselves as “more practical,” they are reinforcing sexist masculine notions that anyone who disagrees with them is “hysterical” and an “emotional reactionary.” They’re not “thinking with their head.” If these anti-racist feminists are women, the attitude is, “Of course they would say that, they’re women.” If these anti-racist feminists are men, the attitude is, “What a bunch of pussies.” Interestingly, if being masculine is all about “toughness” and “bravery,” then what is to be said about the countless number of women who often put themselves in danger to fight not only against misogyny and sexual violence, but also against racism and colonialism? What is to be said about the Native women and other women of color who not only fight sexist oppression in their own communities, but also actively challenge the nation-state itself? As bell hooks says, “Struggle is rarely safe or pleasurable.” Working within the colonial framework, telling people to “shut up” about their criticism of Obama and join the “voting system” (as if voting ever abolished racism, sexism, classism, etc.) only serves to maintain, not disrupt, established power structures and “secondary marginalization,” which is described by Smith as politics premised on the “most elite class” furthering “their aspirations on the backs of those most marginalized within the community.”
It is understandable if the reality of struggle rarely being safe bothers us because it reveals the lack of support and solidarity. No one should ever feel compelled to put themselves in danger for their God-given human rights. I point it out here to emphasize on heteropatriarchy’s dangerous use of language and how its sexist labeling degrades, vilifies, and erases (rhetorically or violently) anything that doesn’t conform to the heteromasculine status quo. If we are going to fight sexist language, the established hierarchies need to be decolonized, and society must base its principles on interconnectedness, mutual accountability and reciprocity, and liberation for all people. I recall the words of Cellestine Ware:
Radical feminism is working for the eradication of domination and elitism in all human relationships. This would make self-determination the ultimate good and require the downfall of society as we know it today.The downfall of sexist language is very much part of the revolution she calls for.
Islamophobes think they have it all figured out. After they read the works of anti-Muslim pseudo-intellectuals and propagandists, they become self-proclaimed “experts” on Islam. The message they absorb from their favorite Islamophobe stars can be easily summarized as: “Islam is evil and must be wiped off the face of the Earth. Furthermore, every single Muslim on the planet is plotting to take over the West (read: world) and any Muslim who claims otherwise is lying. Yes, this includes your Muslim friends, who you shouldn’t be friends with anyway.”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard Islamophobes and some well-intentioned non-Muslims make this argument whenever Islamophobia is addressed. The purpose, of course, is to derail conversations about Islamophobia and racism. I’ve noticed the pattern of this response for quite a long time in workplaces, classrooms, on internet forums and blogs, etc. You can picture the scenario involving an Islamophobe telling a Muslim that “all terrorists are Muslim.” The Muslim is insulted and calls the remark “racist.” The Islamophobe steps up into the Muslim’s face and says, “It’s not racist! Islam is not a race, idiot!” He turns around and walks away, claiming victory for himself and starts high-fiving his buddies, who are like, “Oh man, you are so effing awesome! You shut that Mozlem down!”
I wonder how Islamophobes expect Muslims to react after they make this pathetic argument. Are we supposed to look surprised and realize, “Oh my God, Islam is not a race? Really? You mean I’ve been practicing Islam this whole time and didn’t know it was a religion?” Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious, we know full well that Islam is not a race. We know Islam, like any religion, is open to people of all racial backgrounds, including to those who are white (*gasp*). However, what is also true is that Islam is racialized by white supremacist settler states, which means Muslims are cast as threatening racial Others.
In her book “Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics,” Sherene Razack describes the process of race thinking, which is a “structure of thought that divides up the world between the deserving and the undeserving according to descent.” Within the context of Muslims in settler states such as the US and Canada, Razack explains that race thinking is articulated when presidents and prime ministers of white-majority nations talk of the “American values” or “Canadian values” they are defending in the “war on terror.” Reinforced in this narrative is the notion of “culture clash,” which emphasizes on cultural difference between “the European majority and the Third World peoples (Muslims in particular).” Since “culture clash” focuses on cultural difference and racism, white societies declare the “superiority of European culture,” which is “imagined as homogenous composite values,” by triggering stereotypical associations with Muslim-majority countries (Razack uses “the veil, female genital mutilation, arranged marriages” as examples of these associations). Reproducing this duality of “us versus them” where “the West has values and modernity and the non-West has culture,” Muslims are easily marked as racial Others that are antithetical and inherently opposite to the West. As Razack explains, “cultural difference, understood as their cannibalism, their treatment of women, and their homophobia, justifies the savagery that the West metes out.”
We see this sharp contrast in mainstream western media representations of Islam and Muslims. Muslim men are consistently seen as dangerous brown-skinned and bearded men holding assault rifles, rioting in the streets, shouting “Allahu akbar,” and burning an American or Israeli flag. Through this same lens, Muslim women are seen as veiled, oppressed, and sometimes dangerous, but also as victimized bodies that need to be rescued by western imperialist intervention. Through this racialization process, racism surfaces to demonize Islam and Muslims and treats them as “threats” that need to be exterminated. Razack, drawing upon Michel Foucault, states that “racism enables us to live with the murderous function of the state and to understand killing of Others as a way of purifying and regenerating one’s own race.” In order for racism to function this way, race thinking must unite with bureaucracy, i.e. when “it is systematized and attached to a project of accumulation, it loses its standing as a prejudice and becomes instead an organizing principle.” As Foucault articulates:
The fact that the Other dies does not mean simply that I live in the sense that his death guarantees my safety; the death of the Other, the death of the bad race, of the inferior race (or the degenerate, or the abnormal) is something that will make life in general healthier: healthier and purer.Razack elaborates on how systematized racism against Muslims operates:
In our time, one result is a securitized state in which it is possible to know that ‘the passenger who has ordered a special meal is non-smoking Muslim in seat 3K’ and to arrange for that passenger’s eviction from the aircraft. Racial distinctions become so routinized that a racial hierarchy is maintained without requiring the component of individual actors who are personally hostile towards Muslims. Increasing numbers of people find themselves exiled from political community through bureaucratic processes in which each state official can claim, as did Adolf Eichmann about arranging the transport of Jews to Nazi Germany, that he was only doing his duty. In the ‘war on terror’, race thinking accustoms us to the idea that the suspension of rights is warranted in the interests of national security.
Captured in the phrase ‘they are not like us’, and also necessarily in the idea that ‘they’ must be killed so that ‘we’ can live, race thinking becomes embedded in law and bureaucracy so that the suspension of rights appears not as a violence but as the law itself. Violence against the racialized Other comes to be understood as necessary in order for civilization to flourish, something the state must do to preserve itself. Race thinking, Silverblatt reminds us in her study of the Spanish Inquisition, usually comes clothed in an ‘aura of rationality and civilization.’Indeed, by making demonization of racialized Others an organizing principle and social norm in mainstream media and politics, as well as asserting that white-dominated societies are “more rational” and “deserving,” the atrocities and brutalities committed by the west are conveniently erased. We can see how systematic race thinking is to the white supremacist settler state when ongoing genocide against Native peoples is made possible through established laws and accepted norms that Native communities are “vanishing.” After all, the United States could not exist without the genocide of Native peoples. Since 1492, white colonialists and settlers demonized Natives as “savages” and by the mid-1800s, they declared “Manifest Destiny,” which perpetuated the belief that the United States not only had the right to expand their culture and steal land, but was also destined to. The message was/is clear: Natives must be killed so that white settlers can live. As Maythee Rojas describes, “this concept of white supremacy and domination became actively employed to remove people from their lands and force them to assimilate to a Euro-American society. As a result, physical bodies became a primary target.”
It is this legacy of colonialism, imperialism, and genocide that continues today, not only within settler states like the United States, but also in its wars against Muslim-majority countries. After 9/11, the Bush administration reproduced the idea that Western Christian values are “superior” to non-Western culture by propagating the idea that the US was attacked because “we are free.” Former vice president Dick Cheney confidently stated on national television that Iraqis were going to greet invading and occupying American soldiers as “liberators.” Under the Obama administration, war and occupation in Afghanistan advances while drone attacks have killed over a thousand in Pakistan. As racist war propaganda dehumanizes Muslims and Islam, US soldiers bomb, shoot, torture, and rape Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani bodies. As racist discourse about Islam grows (i.e. it is a “violent,” “misogynistic,” “oppressive,” and “backwards” religion), mainstream white feminist groups took the opportunity to express their support for the war in Afghanistan, claiming that US invasion would “liberate” Afghan women. The American soldiers murdering and raping Iraqi and Afghan women not only contradicts these claims, but also points to a disturbing reality of sexual violence being integral to war and colonialism. As Andrea Smith reminds us, “If sexual violence is not simply a tool of patriarchy but also a tool of colonialism and racism, then entire communities of color are victims of sexual violence.”
It is significant to draw connections to the way demonization of Muslims leads to such sexual violence and brutality by Western occupying forces in Muslim-majority countries. Muslim lands are considered “dirty,” “backwards,” and “hostile,” making the land violable. Muslim men must be killed while the racialized bodies of Afghan or Iraqi women, like their land, become violable and penetrable for Western masculinist power and possession. That is, since Muslim women are oppressed, who better to save victimized and racialized women from culture than the “civilized European” who represents “values” and “modernity”? Razack explains:
Saving Brown women from Brown men, as Gayatri Spivak famously put it, has long been a major plank in the colonial ship since it serves to mark the colonizer as modern and civilized and provides at the same time an important reason to keep Brown men in line through practices of violence. In the post-9/11 era, this aspect of colonial governance has been revitalized. Today it is not only the people of a small white village in Canada who believe that Muslim women must be saved. Progressive people, among them many feminists, have come to believe in the urgency of saving Muslim women from their patriarchal communities. As a practice of governance, the idea of the imperilled Muslim woman is unparalleled in its capacity to regulate. Since Muslim women, like all other women, are imperilled in patriarchy, and since the rise of conservative Islam increases this risk (as does the rise of conservative Christianity and Hinduism), it is hard to resist calls to ‘save the women.’Muslim women are not the property of Muslim men, therefore the imperialist notion that Muslim women need to be saved suggests they are helpless and don’t have a mind of their own. This is not to downplay the sexist oppression and misogyny Muslim women endure and fight against in Muslim-majority countries, but rather to point out the misogyny inherit in colonial savior fantasies. Meanwhile, Muslims living in settler states are marked as threatening racial Others that need to be stigmatized, profiled, incarcerated, put under surveillance, etc. Since the settler state determines who belongs and who doesn’t, and who must live and who must die, immigrants of color, as Smith argues, “generally become targeted as foreign threats, particularly during war-time.” She adds, “Orientalism allows the United States to defend the logics of slavery and genocide as these practices enable it to stay ‘strong enough’ to fight these constant wars… For the system of white supremacy to stay in place, the United States must always be at war.”
At this point I would imagine the Islamophobe getting impatient and not buying this whole “racialization” business. I’ve tried to explain this several times to people who have left such comments on my blog: “Race has nothing to do with religion, nothing to do with Islam.” Most of the time, there is no response from these commenters, but when there is a reply, it’s typically an childish ad homimen attack. “Islam is not a race, dammit!” they shout while (probably) jumping in the air and stomping the ground out of frustration. Aside from the sources I’ve cited to counter their argument and personal experiences with Islamophobia, I remember how I saw this play out at a talk. Earlier this year, I was one of two guest speakers at a local university hosting an event on Islamophobia in the West. When a room about 40-5o students were asked to write down what first came to mind when they heard the words “Muslim man,” the responses were consistent with the racialization I discussed above. Non-Muslim students wrote the following: “Arabic,” “turban,” “Middle Eastern,” “dark-skinned,” “beard,” “violent,” “aggressive,” “controlling,” “prayer rug,” “terrorist,” etc. When they were given the same instructions for the words “Muslim woman,” they answered: “Veiled,” “headscarf, “oppressed,” “brown,” “shy,” “obedient,” “religious,” “serious,” “exotic,” etc.
What became clear from the responses was that non-Muslims associated Muslim men and women with racialized stereotypes. When it was my turn to speak, I walked in front of the room and announced, “I am a Muslim man.” I apologized if I frightened anyone and explained that I shaved my facial hair in the morning and left my turban at home. I got a nice laugh from the audience, but it was interesting how some of the non-Muslims made flying carpet fallacies and weren’t disturbed by the Islamophobia in the west. When some students told me later that they didn’t think my use of the word “racism” was appropriate because, um, “Islam is not a race, dammit!,” I reminded them of the racialized stereotypes they made in their responses about Muslim men and women.
Yes, Islam is not a race, but the mainstream discourse and perception of Islam and Muslims in media, politics, and law casts Muslims as racial Others, clearly pointing to the contrary. Having said that, when Islamophobes try to derail a conversation about Islamophobia by arguing “Islam is not a race,” they are also dismissing how oppressive power structures and hierarchies operate in the white supremacist settler state.
Today, the so-called US “justice” system found all ten of the “Irvine 11″ Muslim students “guilty” on misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt and then disrupting a speech delivered by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine in February 2010. Two days ago, Troy Davis, a black man accused of killing a white police officer, was murdered by the State of Georgia, despite the overwhelming doubt surrounding his guilt. A day later, activists highlighted on a 2008 case where a white man and confessed murderer named Samuel David Crowe was pardoned by the same Georgia Parole Board only hours before his scheduled execution. I am utterly disgusted by the racism evident in these cases.
Some are saying these are sad days for the American “justice” system, but the disturbing reality is that racialized and economically disadvantaged people are constantly targeted and victimized by the system. According to a 2009 report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), black men had an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 US residents, a rate more than six times higher than white men (1,822 inmates per 100,000 US residents). Black women, with an incarceration rate of 333 per 100,000, were over 3.6 times more likely to have been in prison than white women. Amnesty International research, as reported by Colorlines, shows that death sentences are more likely to be handed out when victims are white. This repulsive racist double-standard can be seen in the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, where a white cop, Johaness Mehserle, shot an unarmed black man and only served less than one year in prison.
In the Irvine 11 case, the horrible criminalization of these students only occurred because they were Muslim. The Islamophobia engrained in mainstream American politics, media, and society only creates a larger obstacle for the students who were non-violently protesting and speaking out against something the US President never dares to do: Israel’s war crimes, genocide, and sexual violence against Palestinians. Sami Kishawi of “Sixteen Minutes to Palestine” contends that another verdict was reached in the Irvine 11 case:
The court’s decision complements traditional American policy towards Israel and its supporters. The excuse that Israel is forever under existential threat has embedded itself within the framework of the Constitution of the United States. First Amendment rights are no longer guaranteed if an individual is tried for being on the wrong side: for not supporting Israel’s policies in the Middle East, its occupation, its abandonment of the most fundamental form of justice, or its perception of public nonviolent dissent as institutionalized death-wishing festivities. So in a very obvious sense, the verdict is that Israel’s interests stand above the right to express, to speak, to engage, and to openly challenge the injustices confirmed by Oren’s words.
It would be a terrible mistake to overlook the connection between US-Israel complicity in the violence committed against Palestinians and the way Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and others are demonized and discriminated against in the United States. Defending the rights of Muslims in the United States is intertwined with the struggle against the war machine that needs propaganda, racism, and sexism to fuel and justify its imperialist projects. White supremacy makes it awfully challenging for the white non-Muslim mainstream to identify with the Muslim students who protested Michael Oren’s speech, regardless of how courageous and admirable they are. Israel, Michael Oren, and the Zionist supporters are the white heroes in this masculinist narrative, where they are depicted as “victims” of the “dark” and “barbaric” invaders. They’ve asserted themselves as upholders of “democracy,” freedom, and equal rights for all, especially for women, whereas the “dark” male villain is the over-sexed, savage, and destructive one. Through racialization, the Muslim, no matter how outnumbered or oppressed, is cast as the “dark Other” who is the mortal enemy of the white hero. As bell hooks describes:
The notion, originally from myth and fable, is that the summit of masculinity – the ‘white hero’ – achieves his manhood, first and foremost, by winning victory over the ‘dark beast’ over the barbarian beasts of other – in some sense ‘darker’ – races, nations and social castes… In our actual lives the imperialist white-supremacist policies of our government lead to enactments of rituals of white-male violent domination of a darker universe, as in both the Gulf War and the most recent war against Iraq. By making it appear that the threatening masculinity – the rapist, the terrorist, the murderer – is really a dark other, white male patriarchs are able to deflect attention away from their own misogyny, from their violence against women and children.
When the entire Muslim community is demonized, the Irvine 11 students are not seen as human beings. Their “foreign” cultures and religion are “backwards” and “oppressive,” and the only hope they have is for western imperial masculinity to “liberate” them and force them to “assimilate.” They are “foreign” bodies from societies that behead, torture, veil, molest, and rape men and women, whereas western society is “civilized,” “liberating,” and “free.” Concealed from this racist socialization is the way Israel and the United States constantly carries out bombing, murder, sexual violence, and economic exploitation against racialized bodies outside and within their borders. Consider Anushay Hossain’s point about the way Afghan women are used as “emotional tools” in US propaganda to justify its military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The US claim is to “liberate,” but there is nothing liberating about bombing, shooting, and raping Afghan women.
The point here is that US and Israeli war crimes are tied to their domestic State violence and corrupt “justice” systems. If nations are willing to mercilessly and shamelessly kill, torture, and rape other human beings around the world, then what’s to stop them from targeting their “own” citizens? What’s sad and quite unsettling about Troy Davis’ case is that he was not a victim of an “unfortunate mistake” nor was his unjust execution an “isolated incident.” The problem is with the so-called criminal “justice” system itself. Racialized communities, particularly Native and African American communities, have been long victimized by police brutality and other forms of State violence that is ignored, dismissed, and/or sanctioned by the criminal “justice” system. Troy Davis himself pointed this out in his message to supporters:
There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.Indigenous women in particular have long fought and still fight the “justice” system’s complicity in the injustice they face. As pointed out by Andrea Smith, Native anti-violence advocates have reported that rape cases rarely reach the federal courts. Smith elaborates further:
Complicating matters, cases involving rapes on tribal land were generally handed to the local US attorney, who then declined to prosecute the vast majority of cases. By the time tribal law enforcement programs even see rape cases, a year may have passed since the assault, making it difficult for these programs to prosecute.Smith also talks about the negative reputation police officers have in Native communities due to countless cases of police brutality. When law enforcement and “justice” systems are not only suspect of communities of color, but also violent, discriminatory, racist, and sexist against them, how does it expect to build trust? I already mentioned the NYPD and CIA infiltrating and spying on Muslim communities in my previous post. The injustices we have seen in this week, as well as the oppression we are being informed about by brothers and sisters in other communities, should prompt us to challenge the criminal “justice” system. When cases for Troy Davis, Irvine 11, and others are fought, it is not only a fight against their injustices, but also against the racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc. that infects the system and society at large. Andrea Smith proposes restorative justice efforts which “involve parties (perpetrators, victims, and community members) in determining the appropriate response to a crime in an effort to restore the community to wholeness.”
While I am saddened, disturbed, and angry by the injustice this week, I took a moment to think about all of the people who went out to demonstrate, to protest, to support, to Love, to cry, and to pray. As I checked the updates on my phone from work, I saw that other people were doing the same. I noticed all of the people on my Facebook posting status updates and messages of support for Troy Davis and Irvine 11. When I saw pictures or read reports of people crying after the unjust verdicts, I cried too. It is that longing and drive for justice that connects us. The solidarity is heartening and to know that other people feel the same way is important. To know that these people and your friends will always fight is important.
May Allah, the Most High and Compassionate, help us unite our struggles and grant us all justice.
You know it’s serious when I write a trilogy.
I wanted to write this piece around the time Osama bin Laden was found and killed by US special ops forces last month in Abbottabad, Pakistan. When the news was announced by President Obama, I remember seeing my Facebook news feed flooded with updates about Osama bin Laden being dead. Some friends were jubilant, some were claiming “victory,” some uploaded pictures of Obama as their profile picture, while others, like myself, were outraged by the excitement. Amidst the “U-S-A” chants, the flag-waving, and the “God Bless America” demonstrations outside of the White House, people seemed to forget about the millions of Iraqi and Afghan bodies murdered by US wars after 9/11. Oh, and the 900+ Pakistanis killed by the Obama administration’s drone raids.
Over a million deaths later, the US war machine finally killed the one man they claimed to be hunting for and now there are doves flying everywhere, carrying “world peace” banners? At least, that’s how the joy made it sound. It was as if the murders of all the Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghans, and Pakistanis were magically erased. People were celebrating as if it was the end of war itself. Some Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians were adding their voices to the choir, as if Islamophobia and racism was suddenly going to disappear.
President Obama’s speech was insulting enough, with ridiculous claims like:
On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.As I mentioned in a recent post, there was no “color-blind” unity after 9/11. The “one American family” 9/11 narrative that Obama and others love to romanticize about completely eliminates the reality of Islamophobia. No mention is made about the Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans, Sikh-Americans, South Asian-Americans, and those perceived to be Muslim who had and continue to endure traumatizing experiences with racism, discrimination, vandalism, harassment, and hate crimes. In her article, “Bin Laden’s Death: Why I Can’t Celebrate,” Valerie Kaur writes:
Even if I wanted to celebrate, I’m too busy worrying. Today, many Sikh, Muslim, and Arab American families, brace for violence, concerned that Americans will target those who “look like” the Osama bin Laden we just destroyed. We didn’t bring Osama bin Laden to trial, after all. We killed him before we captured his body. So why would vigilante Americans wait for the law to take care of the “terrorists” in their midst.On September 15th, 2001, just four days after 9/11, three men, a Muslim, a Sikh, and an Egyptian Coptic Christian were murdered by white racist Islamophobes. The names of the victims: Waqar Hasan, Balbir Singh Sodhi, and Adel Karas, respectively. Mark Stroman, the murderer of Hasan, also shot Rais Bhuyian, a Bangladeshi, in the face and then murdered Vasudev Patel a few days later. Hate crimes against Muslim-Americans skyrocketed to 481 reports after 9/11 and the number of discriminatory acts and hate crimes have been annually increasing since then (for more detailed accounts, statistics, and sources, read this older post).
The last time a sudden burst of nationalism rallied us against America’s turbaned and bearded enemy, an epidemic of hate crimes swept the country. In the yearlong aftermath of 9/11, the FBI reported a 1700 percent increase in anti-Muslim violence. At least 19 people were killed in hate murders. In the last decade, we have seen resurgences of hate violence whenever anti-Muslim rhetoric reaches a fever pitch, as it has since the firestorm around the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” last election season confirmed to politicians that they can use anti-Muslim sentiment to win political points.
I appreciated some of the commentaries I read about the death of bin Laden and how it wouldn’t mark the end of war. But then came that dreaded phrase again, from both Muslim and non-Muslim alike. “Terrorists hijacked Islam.”
A Yahoo News article, Muslim Americans still find acceptance elusive in the wake of bin Laden’s death, highlighted on some of the experiences with Islamophobia, but some Muslims claimed Osama bin Laden “hijacked our identity.” In another article, Osama bin Laden is considered responsible for Islamophobia. I am still coming across blog posts and articles that make the same assertion.
As I wrote in Part 2 of this series, the claim that Islam was “hijacked” by terrorists implies that violent extremists speak for the overwhelming majority of Muslims. It not only serves to justify demonization of Islam, but also glosses over serious racist double-standards that exist in our society, such as never asking white Christians to answer for atrocities carried out by other white Christians, but always demanding Muslims to do so. Unlike white non-Muslims, Muslims are treated as spokespersons for the estimated 1.5 worldwide Muslim population, as well as the diverse cultures that make up the community, and must “prove” to western societies that they are “domesticated,” or rather the dominant culture’s definition of a “good Muslim,” i.e. uncritical of US policies, hostile towards Muslim-American civil rights groups like CAIR, committed to fighting religious extremism to “protect Americans,” and never making a peep about Islamophobia and racism in American society. If Muslims do not pass the “good Muslim” test, they get categorized as “bad Muslims,” or “radical,” “suspicious,” “militant,” “anti-west,” etc.
Mahmood Mamdani, author of “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim,” describes this dichotomy:
When I read of Islam in the papers these days, I often feel I am reading of museumized peoples. I feel I am reading of people who are said not to make culture, except at the beginning of creation, as some extraordinary, prophetic, act. After that, it seems they just conform to culture. Their culture seems to have no history, no politics, and no debates. It seems just to have petrified into a lifeless custom.Diversity within Islam and Muslim communities is not recognized (in fact, it is non-existent) when the good Muslim/bad Muslim dichotomy is employed through the “terrorists hijacked Islam” narrative. It becomes the Muslim’s responsibility to fight the religious extremists and take back Islam – only then, we are told, will Islamophobia and terrorism end. Essentially, the burden is on Muslims to become superheroes overnight and save the world. Yeah.
Even more, these people seem incapable of transforming their culture, the way they seem incapable of growing their own food. The implication is that their only salvation lies, as always, in philanthropy, in being saved from the outside.
When I read this, or something like this, I wonder if this world of ours is after all divided into two: on the one hand, savages who must be saved before they destroy us all and, on the other, the civilized whose burden it is to save all?
Arguing that Osama bin Laden is “responsible” for Islampohobia is awfully problematic because it implies Islamophobia didn’t exist prior to 9/11 and that racists cannot be blamed for their Islamophobia. This argument caters to the flawed logic that people are responsible for their own oppression. That is, one shouldn’t blame Islamophobes for hating Islam or demonizing Muslims in mainstream media, for example, but instead, one should blame Muslims who are “giving Islam and other Muslims a bad name!” This basically says people’s prejudices and racism is not of their own doing, but rather of the “otherized” group (in this case, Muslims) that they are targeting. Islamophobes simply “don’t know any better” because the vast majority of Muslims aren’t “setting a good example,” therefore they’re absolved of being held accountable for their Orientalist stereotypes!
If Osama bin Laden caused Islamophobia, then why did Islamophobia and Orientalism exist prior to 9/11? Mainstream European and American discourse on Islam was tainted by racist, Orientalist stereotypes – everything from “Islam was spread by the sword” history lessons to images of veiled Muslim women to charges that the Qur’an advocates war against Christians, Jews, and every other non-Muslim on the planet. Jack Shaheen’s book, “Reel Bad Arabs,” covers over 900 Hollywood films that demonized Arabs, Muslims, and Iranians, and all of these films were made well before 9/11. Some films that come to my mind are “True Lies,” “Not Without My Daughter,” “Executive Decision,” “The Delta Force,” and the atrocious “Rules of Engagement,” which is one of the most racist films I have ever seen. Who “hijacked” Islam when these films were made? Is the Muslim community to blame for the way white Hollywood filmmakers demonized them? Who “hijacked” Islam when Dante Alighieri, the 14th century Italian poet, condemned Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali (peace be upon them both) to Hell and eternal, gruesome punishment in his acclaimed “Inferno”? Were Muslims to blame when many medieval Christian leaders and writers believed Islam was the “Devil’s tool” to “destroy” Christianity?
I believe this is an incredibly important point because if we blame Osama bin Laden for Islamophobia and “hijacking” our identities, we are telling non-Muslims, as well as ourselves, that Islamophobia generated from within our community. The reality is, Islamophobia does not exist because of Osama bin Laden. Islamophobia exists because of white supremacy. One needs to understand how racial hierarchies operate within systems of oppression to get this point. So many times, in general conversation, I will hear people say, “You know, I was in the store and the man behind the counter was asking this black lady what she wanted to order…” or “My friend got into a fight with this guy on my baseball team and he was from Puerto Rico; he had the accent and everything…” or “Yeah, a cashier at another store keeps telling me about all these Asian women who come in with envelopes filled with coupons.” We hear people of color being racialized and politicized all the time. Notice how none of the expressions I shared tell us about the race of the “man behind the counter,” “the friend” on the baseball team, or the “cashier.” We assume they are white because white represents the “default race.” White people are seen as complex, diverse, and multi-dimensional people, which is why generalizations are made about “Asian women with envelopes filled with coupons,” while nothing is said about the white people who also shop with envelopes full of coupons. No one says, “Oh man, look at these white people with all their coupons.” Their race isn’t a factor, they’re just seen as being “weird.”
While Muslims represent a religious community and not a race, white supremacy has created a racialized profile for Muslims: dark-skinned/brown, turban, bearded, Arab. Here is an example of how this racialization works: If a white guy robs a store, it’s “oh, did you hear about the guy who robbed the bank this morning?” If he was Muslim, it would be, “some Muslim guy robbed the bank!” The “Muslim” will be imagined as brown, bearded, shouting in Arabic, and wearing a keffiyeh around his face. As the aforementioned hate crime incidents show, non-Muslim folks of color (like turban-wearing Sikhs or brown-skinned Hindus or Arabic-named Egyptian Christians) are targets of Islamophobic, anti-Muslim hate. If you are Arab, you are perceived to be Muslim, even if you are not, and if you are Muslim, you are perceived to Arab, even if you are not. If your name is Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or South Asian, you are perceived to having a “Muslim name.” If you are a brown Hindu man with a goatee and at the airport, you will be perceived as being Muslim. This is how the logic of Orientalism works and, in the words of Andrea Smith, “marks certain peoples or nations as inferior and deems them to be a constant threat to the well-being of empire.” She elaborates:
These peoples are still seen as “civilisations”—they are not property or the “disappeared”. However, they are imagined as permanent foreign threats to empire. This logic is evident in the anti-immigration movements in the United States that target immigrants of colour. It does not matter how long immigrants of colour reside in the United States, they generally become targeted as foreign threats, particularly during war-time. Consequently, orientalism serves as the anchor of war, because it allows the United States to justify being in a constant state of war to protect itself from its enemies. Orientalism allows the United States to defend the logics of slavery and genocide as these practices enable it to stay “strong enough” to fight these constant wars. What becomes clear, then, is what Sora Han declares: the United States is not at war; the United States is war. For the system of white supremacy to stay in place, the United States must always be at war.This is why Islamophobia exists – because of Orientalism, white supremacy, racism, war, hate. We don’t blame Jews for anti-Semitism, do we? We don’t blame African-Americans for anti-black racism, do we? To reiterate and re-emphasize from Part 2: What of Timothy McVeigh, the Crusader language of Blackwater, and even the religious justification George W. Bush used to invade Iraq? When was the last time you heard someone say “Christianity was hijacked”? Or, what about the JDL (Jewish Defense League) former Chairman, Irv Rubin, and group member, Earl Krugel, who were arrested 3 months after 9/11 for planning bomb attacks on a Mosque in California and on the office of Arab-American US representative Darrell Issa? Did anyone say “Judaism was hijacked” by these extremists?
If others do not say “Christianity was hijacked,” or “Judaism was hijacked” or “Hinduism was hijacked,” then why are we, the 1.5 billion Muslims, expected to say that about our religion? Like any religious group, Muslims need to challenge the problems within their community, but it doesn’t mean we have to conform to how others, particularly the dominant culture, label us (and I argue that the phrase, “Islam was hijacked,” is one that we have internalized). It doesn’t mean that we should ignore the double-standards of white supremacy and never speak out against the demonization of Islam and Muslims.
The idea that a small group of people can take control of our religion is absurd and completely denies the voice that we as a majority have. Osama bin Laden doesn’t represent the majority of Muslims. We are an immensely diverse community, there is debate going on, and there is a lot of work to do, but we don’t need to give in to Orientalist intervention. We don’t need Orientalist racism, war, or imperialism to “rescue” or “define us.” We are constantly defining ourselves.
A lot has happened since I wrote my last blog post. I’ve been busy with a few projects, so I haven’t been able to blog about some of the important issues in the world right now (France’s niqab ban, the death of Osama bin Laden, the anti-Muslim attacks immediately following Osama’s death, the ongoing uprisings in the Middle East, etc.). With regard to Osama’s death, a few of my Muslim friends informed me about experiences they had in their schools and workplaces. They were asked by white non-Muslim peers, “Were you upset about Osama’s death?” or “Are you mourning his death since you are a Muslim?” The question is absurd and assumes that Muslims felt “sad” that bin Laden was killed. There was another appalling report I read about a Texas algebra teacher insulting a Muslim student by telling her, “I bet you’re grieving.” The student, a young Muslim woman, asked, “What are you talking about?” The teacher replied, “I heard your uncle died,” referring to Osama bin Laden. The student was brought to tears because of the teacher’s obnoxious remarks and obvious prejudice. A Muslim friend texted me and said it feels like 9/11 all over again, referring to how Muslims felt on edge (and still do) about receiving offensive, ignorant and often racist remarks from non-Muslims (and I have to say that it is utterly absurd and insulting that President Obama would say we were all “one American family regardless of race and religion” in the days following 9/11. Muslims, Sikhs, Arab-Americans, and those perceived to be Muslim didn’t enjoy any sort of “color-blind unity” after 9/11 and the reports of hate crimes, vandalism, and discriminatory acts committed against them testify that).
I’ve had some stressful and sometimes painful conversations about race and Islamophobia with people over the past few weeks. Some of these people I know personally and some I don’t know at all. What I’ve noticed for a very long time now is that conversations about race makes people very uncomfortable. Because in the United States, to talk about racism is to be seen as “confrontational” or even “racist.” The attitude about racism in the mainstream is that racism is a “thing of the past” and “doesn’t exist anymore.” As a result of this socialization, there are several ways people derail conversations about race. I was challenging white supremacy in one conversation, for example, but all I kept hearing in counter-arguments was that I was “generalizing about white people” or being “anti-white.” In another conversation, a white feminist kept accusing me of “reverse racism” because I was critiquing the way white feminist movements have historically been oppressive, racist, and exploitative, specifically to women of color. This same white feminist said I was bringing up “color” for “no reason,” as if racism, sexism, classism, ableism and other forms of oppression aren’t interlinked. Finally, there was another discussion where a white Christian man, who claims to promote peace and coexistence between Muslims, Christians, Jews, and all peoples, was advocating for imperialism in Muslim-majority countries. He claimed there was a “just cause for war, civilian casualties or not.” When I called his comments insensitive and disgusting, especially because he was speaking for a country that isn’t his own and dismissed civilian casualties as if it wasn’t a big deal, he got extremely defensive and accused me of having a “personal vendetta against the West.”
I see all of these reactions as dismissing a disturbing reality about racial hierarchy, white “privilege” and power, interlocking oppression, power relations between the West and Muslim-majority countries. Rather than challenging white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, the society in which we live, the focus of every conversation shifted towards personal attacks against me. The goal in each case, whether deliberate or not, was to silence anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist politics.
One of the main problems about mainstream discourse about racism is that we’re taught that racism only exists in extreme forms. That is, it is only racism when someone uses the “n” word, when KKK members throw on white sheets over their heads and go out to lynch a black person, when racists proclaim they support slavery, when neo-Nazis praise Hitler and the holocaust, etc. Of course all of these things are racism, but racism still exists today in both overt and covert forms. The disturbing growth of Islamophobia in the west is evident of how racism and bigotry is still very much alive. Racism against Muslims (and even though Muslims are not a race, they have become racialized by white supremacy), African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, and other racialized peoples is seen as acceptable due to the way racism hides behind terms like “political connectedness” and “race card.”
Another major problem is how fragmented people on the Left are. Those of us who identify ourselves as human rights activists, feminists, anti-racists, anti-capitalists, anti-war advocates, and so on, are caught in petty ego battles that stop us from moving forward. Celebrity activism and creating hierarchies within our movements is driven shamelessly by narcissism and undermines everything we claim to be standing up for. I’ve heard so many discouraging stories in the past few weeks about movements that oppressed, excluded, marginalized, or even discriminated against other groups of people. A friend and I were speaking about the racist history of feminism in the United States and how feminist movements were largely dominated by white women from privileged class backgrounds, many of whom, as mentioned earlier, marginalized, oppressed, and exploited women of color. Women of color still face racism within white-dominated feminist movements and spaces. A recent example of this is with Toronto’s “SlutWalk,” which was formed after a Toronto police officer told a group of students that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Although “SlutWalk” intends on fighting against dangerous sexist stereotypes and victim-blaming politics, a recent critique titled “SlutWalk: A Stroll Through White Supremacy” exposes the way white women within the movement are marginalizing and silencing the voices of women of color. I’ve seen Facebook comments where people have attacked this piece and accused the author for “splitting hairs.” And of course, there are folks accusing her of being racist and “anti-white” (because whenever a person of color fights racism, they are being “anti-white,” right? It’s appalling how the author is attacked for challenging white supremacy, as if racism isn’t a serious issue at all! “Reverse racism” arguments are used to deny privileges and dismiss serious concerns and experiences – it is essentially another way of telling someone to “shut up!” One particular person on Facebook argued that the author is hating on other women more than the oppressors. Obviously what this critic fails to recognize is how dismissing racism within feminist movements actually serves the oppressors and that oppression exists within groups, too. If we don’t confront racism, sexism, classism, ableism in our own groups, how are we going to confront it at large?
When I read and hear such defensiveness from privileged white people, it makes me realize how difficult the struggle is. Being a heterosexual male of color, I don’t want to appropriate the pain that women of color endure – it’s not something I can imagine – but I do acknowledge my own experiences in how I’ve been discriminated against not just by white men, but also by white women, including white women feminists. Some friends of mine have referred to me as a “male feminist,” but after a lot experiences, a lot of reading, and a lot of listening, particularly to women of color (all of which I am still doing), it encouraged me to challenge the simplistic and generalized language we use about gender and feminism. If there are women of color who are not comfortable with self-identifying as “feminist,” then how can I? (I’m not saying we shouldn’t use the term, I am specifically questioning the way male privilege allows men to use the term without thinking about the experiences of women of color). Other male feminists have written about their journey to feminism and how they believe it is the solution to patriarchy and misogyny. The problem I have with this presentation of feminism is that it’s very simplistic and doesn’t critique the racism and power dynamics that need to be confronted within mainstream feminist movements and discourse. When we say “men and women,” which men and women are we talking about? White men and women? Black men and women? Brown men and women? Homosexual men and women? Disabled men and women? And if homosexual or disabled men and women, are they white or of color? Using general language about feminism and gender only ignores the other significant factors like race, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. that determine our experiences. Muslim feminists, for example, have been on receiving ends of hostile attacks from arrogant white non-Muslim feminists. I’ve lost count of how many e-mails and comments I’ve received from white non-Muslim women telling me that “Islamic feminism is an oxymoron.” Like non-Muslim women of color, Muslim women, especially those of color, have also been silenced due to Islamophobia and racism. Even worse, there are white non-Muslim feminist groups like the “Feminist Majority Foundation” that support Orientalist wars in Afghanistan rather than supporting the women’s rights groups that exist on the ground (I’ve written about this before on my blog).
What’s even more painful for me is when I feel discrimination from people of color and/or fellow Muslims. In a couple of recent cases, I have felt this. Some Muslims are too busy playing “biddah” and “shirk” police rather than supporting their fellow Muslims who protest against Islamophobic speakers that preach hate on college campuses (in one particular case, a leader of a Muslim student group felt it was “better” if Muslims “ignored” an Islamophobic speaker than to actually speak out and protest against the talk. While I don’t believe Muslims are obligated to behave like spokespersons for Islam, I think it’s important for the Muslim leaders in our communities to support the Muslims who actually put themselves in harm’s way to fight Islamophobia, racism, sexism, etc.) Then there are Muslims who perpetuate Orientalist stereotypes and the demonization of Muslims of color when challenging sexism and misogyny within Muslim communities. It is important for us Muslims to dismantle patriarchy and strive towards ending sexist oppression, but in some unfortunate cases, generalizing about Muslims and some of the cultures that comprise our community and then passing it off as “fighting sexism” only serves Islamophobia and western superiority complexes (I’m not in the mood to name names in this post, but there are published Muslims out there who speak out against sexism while supporting racial profiling and Peter King “hearings” that reinforce distrust and suspicion of the Muslim-American community – of course, this receives a stamp of “approval” from white non-Muslim Islamophobes who think the only acceptable Muslims are the ones who “assimilate” and serve the interests of the ruling class). Unfortunately, there are “establishment Muslims,” as Huma Dar describes in her enormously comprehensive and brilliant piece, “Of Niqabs, Monsters, and Decolonial Feminisms,” that support racist, oppressive policies against Muslims (e.g. French Law banning the niqab/face veil) while claiming to support “reform” and “gender equality” in their communities. I will continue to write about misogyny, male privilege, male supremacy, and sexist socialization in Muslim communities, mostly based in the US, while remaining conscious of racist assumptions made by certain white men and women alike who think as if white people aren’t also complicit in patriarchy and sexist oppression and exploitation. I’ve written several posts on this blog that challenges misogynistic Muslim men, but what bothered me later was how some people felt it was “ok” to make racist generalizations about Muslim men of color. Like in any community, issues like the objectification of women, domestic violence, and male domination needs to be discussed openly, but I also felt it was a failure on my part for not having an anti-racist analysis in those posts. The point isn’t that we should make a choice between talking about racism or sexism. It’s not one or the other. Racism and sexism are interconnected. Failure in recognizing this shows when we see anti-racism plagued with sexism or feminism plagued with racism.
While I was stressing on these points with someone and talking about how US wars and propaganda use the struggles of Muslim women as sympathy tools to (1) Orientalize all Muslim women as veiled and oppressed, (2) demonize all Muslim men, (2) uphold ethnocentric, western supremacist ideologies, and (3) invade, bomb, and occupy Muslim lands (and killing, bombing, raping Muslim women in the process), my “tone” was called into account. In other words, since my tone was fiercely critical of US imperialism, I was told I should be more “witty” and use “sarcasm” to win the “hearts and minds” of the person I was debating. This is the “tone argument,” which another blogger beautifully identifies as a “logical fallacy” where “you object to someone else’s argument based on its tone: it is too angry, too hateful, not calm enough, not nice enough, etc.” Furthermore, the “tone argument” isn’t concerned about whether or not the truth was spoken. It is used to “derail and silence” and “dismiss you as an unreasonable person.”
Ok, I wrote more than I anticipated on writing. The real reason why I wrote this post was to introduce this important and amazing piece that was published on “People of Color Organize!” It’s titled, Fourteen Ways Your Racism is Showing. It is written from the perspective of a black woman and addressed to white feminists, but I think it can be applied to other racialized and stigmatized peoples. Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t to perpetuate the “shared oppression” narrative – certainly, all of us experience oppression differently due to our race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Anyway, I’ve pasted the entire post below. I hope everyone finds it as important and helpful as I did.
Your racism is showing when we are invisible to you; an afterthought solicited to integrate your white organizations.
Your racism is showing when in frustrated anger, you don’t understand why we won’t do your racism work for you. Do it yourself. Educate yourself. Don’t ask another Black woman to explain it all to you. Read a book
Your racism is showing when you pay too much attention to us. We resent your staring scrutiny that reveals how much we are oddities to you.
Your racism is showing in your cowardly fear of us; when you send someone else to talk to us on your behalf, perhaps another sister; when conflict resolution with us means you call the police. When you ignore what the police do to Black people and call them anyway, your racism is showing.
Your racism is showing when you eagerly embrace the lone Black woman in your collective, while fearing, resenting, suspecting and attacking a vocal, assertive group of Black women. One Black woman you can handle, but organized Black women are a real problem. You just can’t handle us having any real power.
Your racism is showing when you comment on our gorgeous “ethnic clothing or ask us why we wear dreads when we are perfect strangers to you. Would you do the same to a white stranger wearing Ralph Lauren and a page boy? These are also ethnic styles.
Your racism is showing when you demand to know our ethnicity, if we don’t look like your idea of a Black person. We are not accountable to you for how our bodies look. And we don’t have to be “nice” to you and tolerate your prying.
Your racism is showing when you insist upon defining our reality. You do not live inside our skin, so do not tell us how we should perceive this world. We exist and so does our reality.
Your racism is showing when our anger makes you panic. Even when we are not angry at you or your racism, but some simple, ordinary thing. When our expressed anger translates to you as a threat of violence, this is your unacknowledged fear of retribution or exposure and it is revealing your guilt.
Your racism is showing when YOU, by your interference, will not allow us to have our own space. We realize you never expected to be denied access to anything and any place, but sometimes you should stay away from Black women’s spaces. You do not have to be there just in case something exotic is going on or just in case we are plotting against you. In these instances, you are not just uninvited guests, you are infiltrators. This is a hostile act.
Your racism is showing when you cry, “Reverse discrimination!” There is no such thing. Only privileged people who have never lived with discrimination, think there can be a “reverse.” This means thatyou think it shouldn’t happen to you, only to the other people it normally happens to — like US.
Your racism is showing when you exclaim that we are paranoid and expecting racism around every corner. Racism inhabits this society at a core level. Ifwe weren’t constantly on our guard, we, as a people, would be dead by now.
Your racism is showing when you daim you have none. This economy and culture would not have existed without slave labour to build it. The invasion and exploitation of the Americas depended upon the conviction that people of colour were less than human. Otherwise, we could not have been so cruelly used. You grew up in a racist society. How could you not be racist? You cannot simply decide that racism is “bad” and therefore you are no longer racist. This is not unlearning racism. Black people could not afford to be this naive.
Your racism is showing when you think that all racists are violent, ignorant, card-carrying Nazis. You are fooling yourself, but not us, if you think that racism refers to the unconnected, isolated, “just-plain-meann actions and attitudes of bad people. Most racists are nice folks, especially in this country. Racism is systemic and cannot be separated out from this culture.
We do not want to witness or dry your tears. Yes, racism hurts. It hurts you, but please do not entertain the notion that it hurts much as us. Racism kills us, not you. Your tears will not garner our sympathy. We are no longer your property, therefore we will no longer take care of you. We don’t want to see your foolishness, so take your racism work to your own place and do it there.
TO WHITE FEMINISTS, BE YOU LIBERAL, RADICAL, SEPARATIST, RICH, OR NOT-YOUR RACISM IS SHOWING. YOU CAN EXPECT TO HEAR FROM VOCAL, ORGANIZED BLACK WOMEN WHO WILL BE IN YOUR FACE ABOUT IT.
- Carol Camper, “To White Feminists” Canadian Woman Studies, 1994