They Called Me a “Spic”

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Over the past week, my friends and I have been playing on a new roller hockey court that isn’t too far from my house.  Prior to that, we’ve been playing on a relatively unused basketball court (pictured above) for months, which has been fun for recreational hockey/pick-up games, but we really wanted to play on a better surface and actually use a puck instead of a ball.

We finally found a roller hockey court where a good number of people play at.  Although competitive, no one plays a rough game, there are people of all ages, and unsurprisingly, everyone is White.  Except for me (also pictured above) and my brother.  Being the only person of color at a hockey court isn’t something new to me.  When I played for an in-line roller hockey league in high school, I found myself getting self-conscious about it when people, including my teammates, would poke fun at my first and last name.  I remember one time, a couple of kids I played hockey with called me a “a stupid Afghanistanian” when I was carrying my hockey gear off the court.

I find myself operating under White gaze a lot, if not always, especially when I’m playing hockey with people I don’t know.  I can’t help but think about how they perceive me, a brown-skinned man, playing a sport that is filled with predominately White athletes (at least here in the United States and with what we see in the NHL).  If my friends and I are playing hockey on our old basketball court, I don’t feel like I’m going to be judged if I’m wearing my Pakistani cricket jersey or my Egypt and Turkey soccer shirts.  I don’t worry about it because I’m playing with my friends — people I know.  But when it comes to going on this new hockey court, I feel that if I wear a jersey that says “Pakistan” on it, people will be gunning for me or treating me in a rude way.

Maybe I’m thinking and assuming way too much, right?  Wrong.  Yesterday, before I went to the new hockey court, I swapped my red Egypt soccer jersey for a red Nautica t-shirt.  I figured, “I don’t want to deal with people giving me smack about my shirt saying ‘Egypt’ or making some stupid racial slur or whatever.”  I got to the court, laced up, and said “hi” and “what’s up” and “how’s it going, man” to all of the people there.  Everyone was friendly, conversational, and pretty much just wanted to have fun.  So far so good, I thought.

Since there were so many people, we played with line changes, and I think I played at least six shifts the entire day.  I ended up doing really well too and scored four goals.  When everyone packed up to leave, my friends and I said “good game” to everyone and that was the end of that.  Fun day, right?  Well, today, my friends and I played at the court again and a friend of mine told me, “Oh man, I have to tell you something.  When you scored your second or third goal yesterday, this kid on the bench said, “f****** spic!”  My friend said he was going to say something, but before he could, someone shouted at him and said, “yo, watch your language!”

It kind of messed up the rest of my day.  I’ve noticed that some people at that court try to play more aggressive against me (as opposed to others), and it could be because I stick-handle really well and they’re just trying to steal the puck from me, but then there’s another part of me thinks it’s because of my skin color.  Playing hockey for a long time in my life means I’m familiar with how the frustration and aggression levels can rise when you’re on the losing team or not performing as well as you would like to.  When you factor in a brown guy scoring most of the goals for the other team, would it be wrong to assume that the frustration could build into a racial slur?

The word choice of the person who delivered the racial slur just shows us even more how racists don’t even know who they hate.  It shows how ignorant, childish, and idiotic they are.  I am familiar with the racial slur, I know it’s directed towards people of Hispanic descent, but since this is the first time I was called it, I decided to run a few online searches just to read about it’s origins and use.   Reading about it just made me angrier and I don’t think it’s appropriate to share that information here.

I don’t care if people mistaken me for another race, there isn’t anything wrong with being Latino, Asian, Arab, or anything else.  What is offensive is when people use racial slurs — there is simply no excuse for it.  It’s offensive, it’s racist, it’s flat-out wrong.  If he thought I was Arab, he would have used another racial slur; if he thought I was South Asian (which is what I am), he would have had a racial slur for that too.  The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that I refused to wear a “team Egypt” soccer jersey for the sake of avoiding ethnic/religious stereotypes, but since I’m brown-skinned, I ended up getting stereotyped anyway.  How do you hide your skin color, right?  Thank God that I don’t wish I could hide my skin color, but what about the people who do wish they could hide their skin color just for the sake of avoiding conflict?  Maybe there are times when I do feel that way.

If there is something positive that came out of this, it’s that it reminded me that people of color face similar struggles.  I would say that most people assume I’m Indian (which is correct and incorrect at the same time, lol), but there have been a few people who mistook me for Latino, Arab, and even Greek.  When I hear a racial slur that is used against other people of color, it not only angers me, but also makes me think about the struggles they experience.  There are so many different stereotypes applied to all of us and they are experiences that we all share.  Most of the time, when I’m sharing some of my experiences with racism with a fellow person of color, I feel comfortable because I feel like they can empathize and understand where I’m coming from.  This person who used that disgusting word may have thought that it was “ok” or “acceptable” to use it, but I doubt he understands how hurtful it is.

I try to stay positive about it all.  At least someone on the bench told him to shut up, right?  Much Love to everyone who has experienced any form of discrimination, hate, or racist bigotry in their lives.  Keep your chin up, friends.

Open Discussion: President Obama’s Speech in Cairo

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Also published on Islam on My Side.

President Obama delivered a very moving and powerful speech in Cairo on June 4th, 2009.  The speech focused primarily on improving American and Muslim relations, but also addressed issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I admit that it was heartening and emotional to hear Obama cite so many verses from the Holy Qur’an, as well as referring to the miracle of al-Isra, the Night Journey, in which the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to the seven heavens and met with Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, peace be upon them all.  When Obama said “peace be upon them” after mentioning these Prophets, there was enormous applause from the audience because the attendees, as well as Muslims all around the world, knew exactly what it meant:  Respect.

It was also nice to hear Obama stress on the importance of Islam being part of America.  He acknowledged the contributions of Islamic civilization, particularly in mathematics, science, poetry, architecture, and music.  When he spoke of Israel and Palestine, he emphasized on a two-state solution and recognized the struggles that both Israelis and Palestinians face.  For many Muslims, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is crucial simply because U.S. foreign policy has been overwhelmingly supportive (politically, militarily, and economically) of Israel while vilifying and ignoring the plights of Palestinians.

Although there were many times during the speech where it seemed like Obama was hesitant to acknowledge certain atrocities, such as Israel’s recent airstrike on Gaza, it was at least refreshing to hear a U.S. president recognize the Palestinian humanitarian crisis.  I really liked when he said “children of Abraham,” because that kind of language speaks to the hearts of inter-faith communities around the world.

While citing the Qur’an and reaching out to Muslim majority countries displays the President’s desire to improve relations, it’s important to stay mindful that actions speak louder than words.  As Tariq Ramadan mentions in his recent article, “Obama’s speech to Muslims will mean little if its symbolism is not followed up by concrete measures to restore trust.”  In no way am I trying to deny Obama’s efforts, but rather I’m simply pointing out that I truly hope he follows up on his words.

What are your thoughts?  If you missed the President’s speech, you can watch it below (it’s divided into 6 parts):

Watch Part 2
Watch Part 3
Watch Part 4
Watch Part 5
Watch Part 6

What Are Arabs Supposed to Look Like?

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Justin Abdelkader, the 22-year old rookie center for the Detroit Red Wings, scored two consecutive insurance goals in Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Abdelkader, who was called in as a replacement for an injured Tomas Kopecky, plays on Detroit’s fourth line and is making unexpected headlines with his first, and timely, NHL career goals.

As you can probably tell by his surname (which NHL commentators hilariously mispronounce) there is another exciting fact about Justin Abdelkader: He is of Jordanian descent. The last time I heard about an Arab ice hockey player was when Ramzi Abid (a Muslim of Tunisian descent) played for the Nashville Predators. Abid no longer plays in the NHL, so from what I understand, Abdelkader is currently the only Arab in the league.

As I ran searches to learn more about Abdelkader’s ethnic background, I came across many comments on internet forums and fan websites that said, “He doesn’t look Arab at all” or he is the “least-Arabic looking person with an Arabic last name.” These comments reminded me of an article I read a few years ago called “What Does a Muslim Look Like?” by Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American Muslim, where she writes about the stereotypical images of Muslims that many non-Muslims expect to see based upon limited media coverage and representation. I saw one comment on a forum that read, “[Abdelkader] definitely doesn’t look Muslim.” No, Abdelkader is not Muslim, but even so, what is a Muslim supposed to look like? Islam is a religion open to all people, regardless of ethnicity. There is no such thing as a “Muslim look.” In response to those who say Abdelkader “doesn’t look” Arab: What is an Arab supposed to look like?

Confusion regarding Abdelkader’s appearance and Arab background stems from the stereotype that all Arabs are dark-skinned. What seems to be overlooked (and perhaps unknown to many people) is that the Arab world consists of 25 countries populated by cultural, religious, and genetic diversity. It’s not uncommon to see some fair-skinned Arabs like Justin Abdelkader in countries like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. For history buffs out there, this shouldn’t come to a surprise since those regions were colonized and ruled by Western imperialism and empires several times throughout history (Romans, Greeks, Crusaders, French colonialists). On the other hand, Arabs from North Africa (like the aforementioned Ramzi Abid) and the Gulf areas tend to be darker-skinned.

Of course, this is not to say all Arabs from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan are light-skinned. For instance, there are some Syrian Muslims at my Mosque who are blonde-haired and light-skinned, and there are some who are dark-skinned. What also needs to be factored in is the possibility that Justin Abdelkader’s grandmother is not Arab, since it is only reported that Justin’s grandfather is Jordanian. Regardless, when we make statements like, “He doesn’t look Arab,” we’re reinforcing the stereotype that Arabs have a certain or specific “look.” It also underlines the immense amount of influence that the media has played in shaping our perception of Arabs.

At the 2009 CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) banquet in Springfield, Pennsylvania, Arab-American comedian, Dean Obeidallah, pointed out that since he doesn’t fit the stereotype of how an Arab is “supposed to look like,” many people have made racial slurs about Arabs around him. When he told them he was Arab, they replied, “You don’t freakin’ look like it!”

On a positive note, it’s great to see an Arab-American like Justin Abdelkader making a notable presence in the NHL. The recent spotlight on him is an excellent way to break stereotypes about Arabs, especially for those who may not personally know or interact with many Arabs.

Enjoy watching his awesome first goal in game 1:

Why Are You Silent?

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It is in this direction you refuse to look
As if doing so would alter your faith in “hope” and “change”
As if standing up for the oppressed is something as simple as “choosing sides”
As if speaking up for the murdered would threaten your “political outlook”

It is here, amidst these ruins of dead children
You dare to even shed a tear
As if mourning for Arab blood were forbidden
As if flags could dictate what hearts should feel

It is here, where blood is on the inside and outside
You sit at your desks and dinner tables
Arguing and debating like a bunch of fools and cowards
Over the meaning of “genocide.”

It is here, where Palestine is crying and bleeding
She asks: What have my children done to you
To cause this reclusive silence?
How much louder do they need to keep screaming?

What did they do to you to make you shut your mouth?!
What did they do to you to make you close your eyes?!
What did they do to you to make you cover your ears?!
What did they do to you to make you ignore their desperate cries?!

What did they do to you to make you get so offended
When all someone did was beg you to speak for them?!
What did they do to you to make you so blind
From realizing this atrocity needs to be condemned?!

Yes, with all this blood and death
I see you look the other way
With all this murder and madness
I see you turn and walk away

Not your concern, not your child
Carry on with your everyday life
Someone else’s problem, someone else’s job
Not your war, not your strife

Yes, with all this terror, all this wailing
All you can say is “I’m not educated enough”
Or “I don’t know the history”
As if that had anything to do with human empathy

Yes, with all this bloodshed and slaughter
You remain oblivious to how many lives it took
With all this horror and mayhem
It is in this direction you refuse to look

~Broken Mystic~

American Politics: No Place for Headscarves

This is a little overdue, but I need to write about it anyway. Last Wednesday in Detroit (June 18th), during Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign, two Muslim women wearing traditional headscarves (commonly known as “hijaab”) were refused to sit directly behind Obama’s podium. The Muslim women, Hebba Aref and Shimaa Abdelfadeel, were accompanied by their friend Ali Koussan, Aref’s brother Sharif, and a young lawyer, Brandon Edward Miller. The three men were asked by a volunteer for the Obama Campaign if they wanted to sit behind Obama; they replied in the affirmative but mentioned they were with friends. Upon seeing the Muslim women, the volunteer explained to the group of Muslim attendees that “because of the political climate and what’s going on in the world and what’s going on with Muslim Americans it’s not good for her to be seen on TV or associated with Obama.”

I wonder if the volunteer really knew what is “going on with Muslim Americans.” Hate crimes and discriminatory actions towards individuals of Muslim, Middle-Eastern, and South Asian descent have escalated on an annual basis. Along with the Human Rights Watch, the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) observed that prior to 9/11, forty-eight hate crimes towards Muslim-Americas were reported in the United States, but in the days following the terrorist attack, that figure skyrocketed dramatically to 481. Reported incidents of discrimination, harassment, and violence against Muslims amounted to 602 in 2002, 1,019 in 2004, 1,522 in 2004, 1,972 in 2005, and 2,467 in 2006 (CAIR). The context of these hate crimes and incidents consist of murders — including non-Muslim individuals with a South Asian or Middle-Eastern background — physical and verbal assaults, and numerous cases of vandalism directed towards Mosques, convenience stores owned by Muslims, and homes. I wonder if this volunteer for the Obama Campaign knew about the Sikh father who was shot to death at a gas station because he was mistaken for being a Muslim. I wonder if this volunteer knew about the countless Muslims who have been killed and brutally beaten just because of their religious affiliation or ethnic background.

Hebba Aref, who is a graduate student of Michigan Law School, expressed her disappointment at the rally. “I don’t want to be called something I’m not, but I felt like… everyone was treating this accusation of being Muslim as though it were some sort of crime or sin,” she told reporters.

As Obama delivered his message on unity among races, Aref described her difficulty in hearing his words. “As he’s saying it, I’m thinking, ‘Well, wait a minute, I was obviously … profiled and discriminated against an hour ago.”

It is frustrating for me, a Muslim American, to hear about these (seemingly) endless incidents of prejudice towards Muslim Americans. If it’s not “good” for a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf to appear on television with Obama, then is it not “good” for the hundreds of Muslims to continue their campaigning for Obama? Aref said: “I was coming to support him, and I felt like I was discriminated against by the very person who was supposed to be bringing this change, who I could really relate to… the message that I thought was delivered to us was that they do not want him associated with Muslims or Muslim supporters.” So where they do the Muslims belong in this campaign? Ah, I know! Let’s put them at the back of the bus!

Seriously, it’s like one of my friends telling me that they don’t want to hang out with me or be associated with me just because I’m wearing a necklace that says “Allah” in Arabic, or because I’m wearing an Islamic T-shirt. It’s even more frustrating how Islamophobia is being used to disrupt Obama’s campaign. As many of you know, Obama has been accused of being a “secret Muslim” just because of his family’s background and his middle name, “Hussain.” It’s really scary and disturbing how there are actually people out there who believe this. “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” showed clips of West Virginia voters calling Obama a “Muslim,” a “non-Christian” and as eloquently put by one woman, “he’s a Hussain, and I’ve had enough of Hussain!” Another woman said, “He is of another race, and I guess I am a little scared of his race, because we have so much conflict with ‘em.”

I understand the complexity of this matter, and I am sure it is very difficult for Obama to balance things out without scaring the right-wing extremists or offending Muslim-Americans. On the bright side of things, Senator Obama contacted Ms. Aref and Ms. Abdelfadeel via telephone and offered his apology. In response, the two Muslim women wrote the following letter to the Obama campaign:

At the rally for Senator Obama in Detroit on Monday, June 16, two volunteers denied us seating behind the stage the Senator would soon take. The volunteers informed us that we were not allowed to sit in that area due to the hijab, the headscarf that each of us was wearing.

This incident was unfortunate and extremely disappointing. Senator Obama has called us each to personally convey his deepest apologies and acknowledge that this was inexcusable. We both immensely appreciate the Senator’s phone call and his commitment to remedy this issue. We commend him for displaying qualities befitting an effective President. We acknowledge that this injustice has been taken seriously and that Senator Obama does not tolerate discrimination against Arabs, Muslims or any community. We are assured that he and his staff are committed to upholding the principles of justice for all peoples and bringing about change we can believe in. The infringement on our rights occurred and has been addressed; now we are ready to move forward. We will continue to support Senator Obama in his campaign and wish him the best as the race continues.

Obama follows up with a statement through his Senate office:

I reached out to Ms. Aref and Ms. Abdelfadeel this afternoon. I spoke with Ms. Abdelfadeel, and expressed my deepest apologies for the incident that occurred with volunteers at the event in Detroit. The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign. I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background. Our campaign is about bringing people together, and I’m grateful that Ms. Abdelfadeel accepted our apology and I hope Ms. Aref and any who were offended accept my apology as well.

I personally accept the apology by Senator Obama, but at the same time, I think the two Muslim women should be offered to attend another Obama rally and be permitted to sit directly behind him and appear on television, as they were intended to. What do you all think?

I just think that these incidents are very insulting towards the Muslim community and I think it’s really important for American politics to confront this issue openly. I hope this recent story increases more awareness about the stigma Muslim Americans are facing in the post-9/11 era. I was surfing the web and found this blog entry written in response to the incident by Daisy Khan, a Muslim American Woman:

“One day, we may see American Presidents, male and female, wearing turbans, yarmulkes, and hijabs. Our nation’s foundation rests on a legacy of diversity and respect for difference, and Senator Obama’s person, candidacy, and message reflect this very legacy. Perhaps some of his staffers and volunteers need to step back and reflect on exactly why they work for this historic campaign.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Salaam/Shalom/Shlama/Peace

~ Broken Mystic~

Dunkin’ Donuts Bans Rachael Ray Commercial Because of “Jihadist” Scarf

This is nothing but shameless racism. I really hope more people speak out about this because it is not only outrageous, it also reflects the ridiculous amount of paranoia and xenophobia that’s tarnishing our society. Yesterday morning, I heard about Rachael Ray’s new commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts getting pulled because of complaints from the right-wing blogosphere, specifically from the notoriously anti-Islamic and xenophobe Michelle Malkin. What were the complaints about? Well, according to Malkin, the black-and-white colored scarf worn by Rachael Ray in the commercial heavily resembled the keffiyeh, which she defined as the “traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.”

Are you kidding me? The commercial was yanked because of a black-and-white patterned scarf with paisley designs? The bigots from the right-wing were so offended and worried that Dunkin’ Donuts was “promoting terrorism” or “Palestinian jihad” because their sponsor wore a scarf? In response to these complaints, Dunkin’ Donuts wrote:

“Thank you for expressing your concern about the Dunkin’ Donuts advertisement with Rachael Ray. In the ad that you reference, Rachael is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design that was purchased at a U.S. retail store. It was selected by the stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we will no longer use the commercial.”

Possibility of misperception? So if someone perceives the scarf as a Palestinian scarf, it is subsequently a “terrorist” or “jihadist” scarf?

When will the Islamophobia end?

First of all, the scarf worn by Rachael Ray was not a Palestinian scarf, and as argued on The Young Turks radio program: So what if it was?!

Second, don’t people realize how racist Michelle Malkin’s remarks are? Can’t they see the racist undertones; can’t they see the dehumanization of a people, the sheer vilification of a people? According to people like her, anyone who wears that scarf is a “murderous Palestinian jihadist.” If Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t want to offend anyone in their commercials, then how come they don’t realize that they’re offending the Muslim and Arab community by agreeing with Malkin’s racist interpretation of the scarf?

The scarf, or keffiyeh, is a traditional Arabian headdress – it has no association with terrorism. I have worn the keffiyeh numerous times, I have friends who wear it, I have family members who wear it – should people point fingers at us and brand us terrorists?!

I am sick of the mainstream media treating Muslims as if they are sub-humans, as if our community has absolutely no worth or place in society. History has taught us that dehumanization of “the other” (in today’s world, the Muslims) is an essential process that occurs in the media on a daily basis in order to propagate war. Just look at how dehumanized the Muslims have become ever since this ILLEGAL, INHUMANE, and GOD-FORSAKEN WAR began. The interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrated our Islamic Holy Book, the Qur’an, by flushing them down the toilets, the Danish cartoonists vilified our Prophet (peace be upon him) by depicting him with a bomb strapped to his turban, radio show bigots like Michael Savage lead an all-out onslaught against Muslims, instructing people to curse out Muslims in public and deport them from the United States, and now after we have seen the vilification of our Holy Book, the vilification of our beloved Prophet, the vilification of our community, we see the vilification of clothing that a certain ethnic group wears. The keffiyeh is not even an exclusively Islamic scarf, it is Middle-Eastern – not all Middle-Easterners are Muslim! Not even all Palestinians are Muslim!

If commercials should be banned just because of their dress, then why don’t we ban all the depictions of Jesus wearing a Middle-Eastern headdress, or depictions of Moses and the other Prophets wearing the Middle-Eastern headdress?! (Peace be upon them all) Let’s become fascists and outlaw all religious symbols, religious clothing, and religious slogans! No, but Malkin and her band of bigots will only argue that Muslims are the terrorists in the Middle-East and we, the U.S., must defend ourselves if we want to “preserve” our freedom and liberty. In response to Dunkin’ Donuts, Malkin writes:

“It’s refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists.”

Is anyone else just as outraged by Michelle Malkin’s blatant racism? Since the majority of employees at Dunkin’ Donuts are Indian, Pakistani, Egyptian, Iranian, and Latino – why don’t we just ban them too from the workplace? After all, if we use Malkin’s logic, these are people who are stealing our jobs (Indians), terrorists (Pakistanis), terrorists (Egyptians), holocaust-denying terrorists (Iranians), and illegal immigrants (Latinos). See how effective stereotyping is? We don’t need to judge people based on their individuality or on our own experiences with them, we can learn enough from their ethnicity!

Seriously, this type of alarmist and xenophobic behavior is extremely offensive and disturbing. The media neglects the Muslim voice – we are the community facing an annual increase in hate crimes and discriminatory acts since 9/11, but people like Malkin downplay it. According to her, the hate crime incidents and reports are “exaggerated,” and Muslims are just “victimizing” themselves. Yes, Ms. Malkin, tell us that our clothing is terrorist clothing, tell us to keep silent when some racist bigot calls us a “rag-head” or “dune coon,” tell us to shut up when Muslim countries are bombed, tell us that women and children and other innocent people in Iraq or Palestine or Afghanistan have no right to defend themselves.

How sick and twisted is this country becoming? I feel sorry for Rachael Ray because now she will be associated with that scarf and “terrorism.” Imagine if all of us wore the keffiyeh in response to this ridiculous, alarmist, red-scare-of-the-21st-century; imagine if people actually woke up and felt motivated to do something about our society – imagine what could be accomplished.

Michelle Malkin is a racist in every sense of the word. Muslims will not stop being Muslims, they will not stop wearing their traditional clothing, and they will not let Islamophobes change their lifestyles. So go ahead, point fingers at me when I’m wearing my keffiyeh, and call me a terrorist. I will not care. The hate is on you.

Salaam/Peace

~ Broken Mystic ~

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