(Portrait of Persia’s Prince Abbas Mirza c. 1820. From his bailiwick near the Russian border he dispatched educational missions to Europe, sponsored translations of key European works and imported metal casting techniques and the printing press)
I shared this anecdote on February 4th and I’m bringing it up again, because this month I want focus on Islamophobia in the west.
I was chatting with a guy today and my studying Arabic came up. He cautiously asked me about my opinions of Islam. I told him that I’ve never met a Muslim that I didn’t like (not totally true, I’ve met A FEW Muslims I didn’t like) and gave my fair opinion, ya know, that they’re people. He seemed relieved. He told me that his wife is Muslim and that he was asking because his boss “doesn’t trust Islam” and “thinks Muslims are dangerous.” Though not too surprising, this is always disheartening to hear. What really struck me though, was that he had a lot of compassionate understanding for his boss. More than the boss deserves. He told me that this person was “just shell-shocked” after being a marine for XX years.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this sort of compassion from Muslims and their community. They’re so mistreated here. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to the cruelty, fear of, and disregard for Muslims in this country and the west in general. There’s a lot of kindness and solidarity, but too much callousness. Despite all this, despite being the victims of a long lists of western and American injustice, so often the cruelty is met with compassion — a lot of sadness and confusion too — but real compassion and mercy. It really moves me. Almost to tears. It then makes me angry. Furious at anyone who express enmity to the people of this faith. And that, in turn, embarrasses me. These Muslim victims of oppression respond with powerful compassion, but this little privileged man gets furious. What a mess.
In Islamophobia I see a greater and lesser evil. The greater evil is the most critical and refers to the effect that this fear and hatred of Muslims has on the Muslims themselves. The anecdote above is one such example that fits on a spectrum spanning the infliction of terror and insecurity, outright attacks on Muslim symbols and institutions, actual violence against Muslim people, and the founding of a cultural background that enables torture, more than a decade of war, and the near complete disregard for Muslim lives.
The lesser evil begs attention too. That evil is the one that harms those who hold the prejudice and it wounds twice. First it wounds in the way that any prejudice twists and corrupts its bearer’s heart. Fear and hatred of the other stokes and exacerbates a very ugly part of the human psyche. What’s worse is that the sense of superiority it cultivates can be intoxicating and addicting. This is why, I think, folks who give in to a prejudice like Islamophobia have such a hard time letting go. The other wound is that it robs the prejudiced person of a rich and profound culture. I have an infinite appetite for beauty of this world. I pity any who close themselves off to a treasure in favor of the poisonous intoxicant of prejudice.
I intend to devote some time to both evils, but the greater evil is of more importance. Islamophobia hurts people; makes them feel unwelcome and unsafe. My relationships with Muslims (friends, teachers, mentors) has instilled in me a sense of loyalty and I take any abuse personally. The way these people have been woven into my life has instilled in me a sense of duty and it is incumbent on me to find ways to engage and extract Islamophobia for their defense. I’m not under any illusions, but a sure path to failure is not to try. Nor do I have any white savior complex, but a mere need to try and do a simple kindness.
Like any prejudice, Islamophobia thrives in ignorance. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do what I can to shed some light on this subject with an emphasis on history, Orientalism, western imperialism and its aftermath, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and terrorism. This is both to provide some resources for anyone interested and to help me organize my thoughts on the matter so I can conduct better dialog with folks in the future.
An added component each week will be an article or piece about the greater problem of prejudicial thinking. What enables it? From where does it derive its strength?
I should add that the Muslims world is expansive, but most of my research and experiences regard the Arab states, spanning the Middle East and North Africa, with a some supplement on the Ottoman-Turks and central Asian peoples.
Middle Eastern Imperialism, Reactions, and Aftermath
In my view, the starting point to a political analysis of the Middle East and North Africa today is the history of Western imperialism. Few parts of the world have been spared this scourge and this region is no different. Most imperialists stories are variants on this narrative: a violent conquest and subjugation justified by an imperial rhetoric of racial and cultural superiority, imposition of an autocratic command structure, a siphoning of the colonized region’s natural resources and labor, a consistent violent suppression of popular resistance, and eventual “decolonization” in the mid-20th century.
Decolonization in quotation marks because these imperial powers often leave behind autocrats with western ties, populations traumatized by violence, a cultural inferiority complex, economies structured to be reliant on the former imperial power, and oftentimes a large western military presence. Indeed, while these states are nominally independent today, they sometimes strike little contrast to 19th and early 20th century colonial structures and forms of indirect rule, which begs the question: is the age of imperialism really over?
For the Reading List:
Christopher de Bellaigue’s The Islamic Enlightenment, is a book about the Middle East’s struggle against and response to western imperialism. Andrew Lycett’s review breezes over the relevant history and the important cities and leaders covered in the book. This book covers some west-alternative giants: Said Qutub, Hassan al-Banna, and al-Afghani. I studied these three intellectuals in an Contemporary Islamic Thought class at the University of Jordan. For nyone serious about understanding the political landscape of the middle east, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Arab anti-imperialist sentiments, these three intellectuals are required reading and de Bellaigue’s book appears to be great starting point.
Check your local bookstore, because Frick Amazon, emirite?
“The Death of Expertise”, Tom Nichols, The Federalist
None of this ignorance stops people from arguing as though they are research scientists. . .This subverts any real hope of a conversation, because it is simply exhausting — at least speaking from my perspective as the policy expert in most of these discussions — to have to start from the very beginning of every argument and establish the merest baseline of knowledge, and then constantly to have to negotiate the rules of logical argument.
Disclaimer: I am not a federalist and take some issue with technocratic conclusions that may or may not be implied, but this article articulates a problem I’ve frequently come up against.
Just about every confrontation I have about Islam comes down to this. Me against an almost complete lack of baseline knowledge. I agree with the author, it’s absolutely exhausting. What’s worse, is how this sort of problem has been playing out, especially recently. The natural and fair response to someone arguing from an imagined authority is to refuse them. Why waste the time? Especially considering how these kinds of people often aren’t arguing in good faith; just want to troll or harass and offend their ‘opponent’.
Unfortunately, ignoring trolls and people arguing in bad faith fuels their culture. I had a family member once retort with that “snowflake” insult, something like ‘Uh-oh, Jimmy’s mad someone disagreed with his worldview”. On a larger, more alarming scale, is how trolls take this refusal to engage as a evidence that they must be right. A friend recently showed me how there are reddit threads devoted to this sort of thing.
This leaves us in a sort of lose-lose situation. Open a dialog with a troll and you fall into a trap of an insulting, unwinnable argument. Refuse this dialog and stoke the flames of ignorance. My best conclusion at this point is that it is worthwhile to hone my debate skills and engage, using tactics to attempt encouraging civil dialog. If its on social media or in an online forum, at the very least anyone else who reads may be able to tell who is reasonable and who is a troll. What do you think?
“Julie Johnson: A Legacy of Song“, Bethany Blitz, The Coeur d’Alene Press
The late Julie Johnson spent time teaching in about every elementary school in the Coeur d’Alene School District plus some middle schools. Her passion and joy spread like wildfire to everyone around her.
Now, eight years after her death, her influence is still celebrated at the annual Julie Johnson Jamboree.
“You Shouldn’t Blame Islam for Terrorism. Religion Isn’t A Crucial Factor in Attacks”, Mehdi Hasan, The Intercept
The common stereotype of the Middle Eastern, Muslim-born terrorist is not just lazy and inaccurate, but easy fodder for the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam far right. Consider the swift reaction of White House official Sebastian Gorka to the horrific terror attack in London last week. “The war is real,” he told Fox News while the bodies of the victims were still warm, “and that’s why executive orders like President Trump’s travel moratorium are so important.”
“Meet the Palestinian-American Chef Fighting Cultural Appropriation in Food”, Mona Khalifeh, teenvogue
Abeer Najjar is a South Side Chicagoan, Palestinian, Muslim, chef. Abeer is American.
She is the epitome of what a modern-day American looks like. When you strip away the identifiers, at her core, Abeer is a foodie. From an early age, she had a passion for food. Abeer envisioned having her own cooking show, and while the rest of us were watching Rugrats, Abeer was watching Julia Child. Growing up in the cultural metropolis that is the South Side of Chicago, the typical Palestinian fare Abeer was accustomed to at home was influenced by the foods and cultures of the African, Latino, and Asian friends and neighbors she was surrounded by. Those influences made their way into not only her mother’s cooking but also her own as she took the helm in her home kitchen.
Islamophobia and Antisemetism
“The 712-page Google doc that proves Muslims do condemn terrorism”, Arwa Mahdawi, The Guardian
It happened in history class. Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old American Muslim student at the University of Colorado, was supposed to be discussing the Crusades with the man sitting next to her. Within a few minutes, however, he was crusading against Islam.
“Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims,” Hashmi’s classmate told her. What’s more, he complained, not enough Muslims were making a stand against terrorism.
“Two charged with hate crime for attack on Arab teacher outside AIPAC conference”, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two men were charged with a hate crime for an assault on an Arab teacher allegedly carried out by members of the Jewish Defense League outside this week’s AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C.
“More Gazans sick from polluted drinking water, says utility chief”, Sakher Abou El Oun, The Times of Israel
GAZA CITY (AFP) — More and more Gazans are falling ill from their drinking water, highlighting the humanitarian issues facing the Palestinian enclave that the UN says could become uninhabitable by 2020.
“Israeli Soldier’s Explosive Tell-All: “Palestinians are right to resist”, Abby Martin interviews Eran Efrati, Empire Files
“Thousands of Palestinians March to Commemorate Land Day”, Activestills, +972
Hundreds of Palestinians took part in marches across Israel on Wednesday and Thursday to mark “Land Day,” commemorating the six Palestinian citizens killed by Israeli forces in 1976. The events began on Wednesday in a torch-lit march in the northern village of Deir Hanna, and continued Thursday, when hundreds marched in Sakhnin, Araba and Deir Hanna, as well as in the occupied territories.
War and Peace
“Iraq: Civilians killed by airstrikes in their homes after they were told not to flee Mosul”, Amnesty International
Hundreds of civilians have been killed by airstrikes inside their homes or in places where they sought refuge after following Iraqi government advice not to leave during the offensive to recapture the city of Mosul from the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), said Amnesty International. Survivors and eyewitnesses in East Mosul said they did not try to flee as the battle got underway because they received repeated instructions from the Iraqi authorities to remain in their homes.
Climate Change and The Environment
“After therapy dog refuses to drink, San Diego unified finds lead in water”, Gary Warth, The Los Angeles Times
A dog’s reluctance to drink from a bowl in a San Diego classroom led to the discovery of lead in the school’s water system, and testing of all pipes in the San Diego Unified School District will begin soon.
“David Rockefeller: An Alternative Obituary”, Erik Wallenberg, Jacobin
As a child growing up in a mansion on 54th Street in Manhattan, David Rockefeller remembered roller-skating with his siblings down Fifth Avenue trailed by a limousine in case they got tired. Rockefeller and his family, which included billionaires and politicians at all levels of government, spent a lifetime ensconced in this kind of luxury. At the time of his death on March 20, Forbes estimated that the 101-year-old Rockefeller’s investments in real estate, share of family trusts, and other holdings stood at $3.3 billion.
“IBM’s CEO wrote Trump a glowing letter. Employees responded with a list of demands”, Jack Smith IV, Mic
When IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, wrote a glowing letter to President Donald Trump after his inauguration, it landed poorly, to say the least.
Many used the opportunity to remind the public that IBM collaborated with the Nazis throughout World War II. One senior content strategist quit, writing an open letter about Rometty’s “tacit endorsement” of Trump’s platform.
State Violence and The American Carceral State
“17% Of The Prison Population Has Hepatitis C, Here’s how that could Change”, George Lavender, In These Times
Hepatitis C affects an estimated 1% of the general population but 17% of the prison population. Until relatively recently, treatment for the disease had extremely limited success rates and highly unpleasant side effects. That’s changed with the introduction of new drugs that are significantly more effective at treating the disease.
Unknown Minstrel: Week 4
by Daniel Suhre
A few years back I went to a venue in Washington, D.C. called Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel to see one of the more popular local groups against my better judgement. I’ll keep them nameless here, but it turns out they were opening for a group unknown to me called Those Darlin’s.
Having very little expectations, as well as a general skepticism towards the Nashville commercialized Americana terrain they were skirting the edge of (albeit in a grunge rock context), I was not looking for much more than a few overpriced beers and a laugh or two.
The group blew me away. The creative energy and guitar chops from the two frontwomen was nothing new, but something about the drawl of lead singer Jessi Zazu mixed with a free flowing, organic feminism really delivered a punch in the vein of Kitty Well’s It wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk Angels or Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me. Listen to That Man (perhaps their response to Gore’s own feminist anthem) performed live:
The group is no longer. Creative differences brought them to the decision to part ways in late 2016, and a week after getting back from their final tour Jessi was diagnosed with cancer. If the outpouring of love in the form of donations to crowd fund her recovery is any indication, the group had a huge cult following and a lot of love in the music community.
Of course, nobody should have to crowd fund their right to medical treatment. #MedicareForAll
Your Essay/Post/Blurb/Whatever Here
I think news blogs are a good idea. I want more people to start doing them. That means you. I want you to start a news blog and include a regular blurb, editorial, or essay that I can add to my blog here. I’ll do one for you in exchange. It is a good idea. So, any interest in starting a news blog? Please contact me. Or tweet @jp124blog
“Get Out”, Jordan Peele
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
This week I saw Jordan Peele’s Get Out
This horror movie is a nightmarish “Meet the Parents” in which a black man, Chris Wallace (Daniel Kaluuya), goes to meet his white girlfriend Rose Armitage’s (Allison Williams) family on their rural estate. Throughout the film, Chris is subjected racial insensitivies of increasing severity. The first few are benign and can be laughed off, like when Mr. Armitage goes out of his way to say wink and say he’d have voted for Obama a third time, but these insensitivites quickly progress to outright objectification. All of this against a backdrop with some rich, symbolic mise-en-scène.
In my view the social commentary outweighed the scares, but that was no problem as this movie has an important message about cultural appropriation and being black in a white social context. And that’s not to say that the movie isn’t thrilling. Rather, director Peele brilliantly elicits the title phrase from its audience. Throughout the film I couldn’t help urging Chris to “Get out. Get out! Get the fuck OUT!”
Great directorial debut from Jordan Peele. I highly recommend it and am eager to see what more he has to offer (Rumor has it, it might be live action adaptation of Akira).
I’ve caught up on the effort to memorize all the nations and capitals. This week’s additions are:
Antigua and Barbuda — St John’s
Bahamas — Nassau
Barbados — Bridgetown
Dominica — Roseau
Grenada — St. George’s
Saint Kitts and Nevis — Basseterre
Saint Lucia — Castries
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — Kingstown
Trinidad and Tobago — Port of Spain
Thank you for scrolling