Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem

Wow, and I thought I was harsh on Obama.  Isn’t it interesting that there are people on the Left who think Obama is just another Bush, while there are others on the Right who absolutely abhor him because they think he’s a “secret Muslim” (laugh) or the, ahem, “anti-Christ”?  I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Obama is exactly like Bush, but I’m not overly enthusiastic about him either.  Yes, his speech was brilliant and beautiful, but let’s see how he follows up on his words before we start leaping for joy, shall we?

Anyway, I found this clip almost immediately after I watched Obama’s speech in Cairo.   Before you watch it, just be warned that it contains excessive profanity, offensive racial slurs, and homophobic remarks.  It’s also very important to keep in mind that these individuals do not represent the opinions of all Jews.  The people in this clip are obviously ignorant, childish, and poorly educated, so it would be foolish and counter-productive to associate them with Judaism.

At the same time, this video is important to share because it shows the kind of tension and animosity that exists concerning diplomacy with Muslim nations.  Remember when the mainstream western media showed video clips of Palestinians dancing in the streets after the 9/11 attacks?  It created the perception that all Muslims and Arabs rejoice whenever Americans and/or Jews suffer.  It told us that non-Muslim Americans and Jews were innocent and morally superior to Muslims.  Why do we only see Palestinians doing horrible things in the news?  Why don’t we see things like this video clip of American Jews and Israelis making racist comments?  Will that hurt the “good guy/bad guy” image it’s been trying to promote for the past 8 years?

Don’t count on seeing this clip on CNN.

Checkpoint

checkpoint
You watch me closely
With your sniper rifle
A weapon you call security
An instrument I call fear

I show that I am weaponless
As I pass through your checkpoint
Spinning like a whirling dervish
Fearless in this worldly separation

I want to open your eyes
So you can see the unjust persecution
I want you to look into my soul
And listen to the endless cries of desperation

I want you to watch my heart bleed
Every time I pray for Abraham’s children
I want you to hear me gasp for air
Every time a face and name is forgotten

Why are we, brothers and sisters, so torn apart?
Here I cross again, spinning in my Sufi dance
And dancing to the song of yearning
That plays forever in my heart

Like planets dancing around the sun
This is the dance of the celestial heavens
Where even the gunman is invited
No uniforms, no flags, no bombs, no guns

As you watch, I want you to listen:

My Beloved is Here
My Love is Here

My Home is Here

~Broken Mystic~

Critics of U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution Overlook Opportunities for Global Dialogue

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Much is being made about the U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution, which calls upon member nations, including the United States, to combat defamation of religion — Islam in particular.  Critics of the resolution include CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who describes the opposition against the resolution as a “fight for free speech,” author Christopher Hitchens, and Islamophobes around the blogosphere who scathingly label the resolution a step towards “spreading Sharia law to the West.”

The resolution, “Combating the Defamation of Religion,” was adopted in 2007 and “stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.”  Unsurprisingly, religious groups and free-speech advocates in the United States accuse the resolution of impeding on constitutional rights such as freedom of expression.  John Bolton, former U.N. Ambassador, comments:  “It’s obviously intended to have an intimidating effect on people expressing criticism of radical Islam, and the idea that you can have a defamation of a religion like this, I think, is a concept fundamentally foreign to our system of free expression in the United States.”

I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers terming this issue “freedom under fire” and I see a lot of Islamophobes pouncing on it since it “scores points” for their “argument” that Muslims want to “impose Sharia law.”  What I see missing from these reactions are efforts to engage in global dialogue between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.  Rather than recognizing the importance of much-needed dialogue, Lou Dobbs and Christopher Hitchens spend about seven minutes defending freedom of expression, accusing the U.N. of being a “totalitarian” and “authoritarian organization,” and resorting to typical fear-mongering tactics by saying there are “Muslims who are prepared to use violence at the drop of a hat.”  Dobbs and Hitchens present us with a very singular, misconstrued, and stereotypical perspective on the situation instead of acknowledging social problems such as annually rising hate crimes and discriminatory acts against Muslims in the West, which clearly contribute to the formation of this particular U.N. resolution.

The fact of the matter is that this is a very complicated issue.  Personally, I find the U.N. anti-blasphemy resolution flawed.  Although the resolution aims to prevent violence and discrimination against people of any religious background, I believe the defamation laws can be abused by governments.  Individuals should be allowed to express their views and opinions about religions and cultures without worrying about being criminalized.  I am not against the idea of people criticizing Islam; surely everyone is entitled to their opinion, but what I am against is dehumanization and vilification of religions and entire groups of people.  There is a difference between constructive criticism and hate speech, the latter has the potential to lead to discrimination and hate crimes.  One could argue that organizations like the KKK are entitled to “freedom of speech,” but when they advocate violence towards African-Americans, it no longer complies with the American constitution.

The “Combating the Defamation of Religion” resolution was introduced by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  The fact that the resolution stems from a Muslim organization should indicate the importance of dialogue rather than perceiving the idea as an attempt to “impose Sharia law in the West.”  As I mentioned, I do not support the resolution, but I think it raises an important opportunity for Muslim and non-Muslim communities to achieve a richer and empathetic understanding about issues related to vilification of Islam in mainstream media, pop culture, and newspapers.  During the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan in 2007, for example, the Clarion Fund decided to distribute millions of anti-Islamic DVDs entitled “Obsession” to swing states in the U.S.  Although there are those who continue to argue that the film is an exercise of “freedom of expression,” the larger issue that is often ignored is how Islamophobic imagery was distributed on a massive scale.  Whenever Muslims protested against the DVD and wrote letters to their newspapers, they were often accused of being “over-sensitive” or “impeding on American values.”  Muslim voices were hardly given a chance to voice their own opinions about the DVD and how it made them feel.  Instead, their voices were lost and dumped into a box of Islamophobic generalizations.

The argument that people like Dobbs and Hitchens don’t seem interested in is that dehumanization and vilification of a religion and/or entire group of people is an inevitable companion of war.  In other words, in order to successfully rally supporters for war, one needs to establish an immensely contrasting divide between “us” and “them.”  Demonizing the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the Danish cartoons is an example of attacking the very heart of Muslims and reinforcing the “differences” between non-Muslims and Muslims, not just in the Islamic world, but also within the West.  The Danish cartoons also generated such a negative perception and attitude towards the Prophet Muhammad that CAIR (the Council for American-Islamic Relations) mobilized to hold seminars to educate and enlighten non-Muslims about the truth of the Prophet.  Muslims wouldn’t have held educational programs if they weren’t so concerned about the general public’s perception of their religion after the Danish cartoons and riots.  The mainstream media didn’t seem to be concerned with these stories because they were too busy covering the violent riots in the Muslim world.  The inability to empathize with the sentiments of Muslims all over the world (including in the West) represents a failure to establish communication and understanding.

It is important for freedom of speech to be protected, but when Muslim-Americans experience ignorance, verbal abuse, physical assault, and vandalism, it is society’s responsibility to recognize that they, like every other American citizen, deserve to be treated equally regardless of their skin color, culture, and religious background.  Sensitive issues need to be discussed fairly and openly between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, otherwise stereotypes and misunderstandings will continue to persist.  Islamophobic rhetoric and blindly defending “free speech” are just obstacles and barriers that are created to prevent necessary dialogue.  If people like Lou Dobbs and Christopher Hitchens took the opportunity to engage in respectful and open-minded discussions with Muslim-Americans, they may empathize with how Islamophobic material, like the Danish cartoons and the “Obsession” DVD, have been used to bully, harass, and discriminate against Muslims in the West.

In the end,  it is not simply a matter of “freedom of speech.”  It’s a matter of understanding one another better.  The Muslim-American experience needs to stop being treated as something “foreign;” on the contrary it is an American story that isn’t being given enough voice.  As Muslim students, who protested the Danish cartoons in Washington D.C., wrote on their banners, “Freedom of Speech Does Not Equal Freedom to Hate.”

Deconstructing an Islamophobe

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Over at Beliefnet, there are plenty of Islamophobes who have the nerve to blame Muslims and Islam for what happened to Aasiya Zubair. I saw one comment that just really set me off and I couldn’t help but to respond. His original comment will be posted first, and below that, I will paste my little deconstruction. I hope he reads it so he can see how ignorant he is. Maybe he’ll laugh at himself too :P

Original post by Islamophobe (signed under the name “Me”):

Ah, the irony. I can sympathize with Broken Mystic regarding his fears of prejudice in the U.S. Yet as a Caucasian American citizen, I know the reality of the situation – the U.S. is clearly one of the safest and sanest places in the world for people of any color, ethnicity or religion.

Nearly everywhere else in the world, and certainly in the vast majority of Muslim-dominant countries, I would be threatened with much more than prejudice – how about loss of life and limb? How about jail time, beatings and – if you’re lucky – deportation, for foreigners who unwittingly offend Allah vis-a-vis some local “holy” man’s personal interpretation of Muslim Law?

Sad as it is, prejudice is a fact of life. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – historically speaking – you may face more scrutiny in a given situation than another individual. There is no use in dwelling on this fact and repeatedly whining about how unfair life is. Life IS unfair, to all people, at all times, in one way or another. So, moving on.

I’m glad to see Mr. Poonawalla’s commitment to ending violence, regardless of it’s form or location. I would encourage him – and all Muslim Americans – to prioritize even higher the need to address the incredible amount of violence and destruction caused by followers of his religion worldwide at this point in time. I’m no religious bigot. In fact, I could care less which dogma a person follows as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to lead a peaceful, productive life in the manner that I choose.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with most of our major religions at some point, today’s Islam is awash with ignorance, brutality, bigotry, incredibly harsh treatment of women, and a populist movement which seeks to force a particularly nasty strain of the religion on every person worldwide at the point of the sword, the bomb, the bullet, or the stone.

Someday, billions of average everyday people who happen to follow the Prophet but otherwise want nothing more than to lead a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, will wake up and look around at what they’ve allowed their religion to become. It will happen slowly, in small pockets, and it will happen from within. The destruction, the violence, the outright murder will simply become so overwhelming that even the typical “average” Muslim won’t be able to deal with the guilt and shame any longer.

Neither the U.S. nor any other military power will have much of an effect on this process. In the short-term, in fact, it will likely result in the kind of backlash we’re seeing today but in even larger numbers. But again, all this (the wars, the terrorists, the violence) is simply a sort of window-dressing that provides a backdrop to the ebb and flow of religious struggles throughout the history of mankind. It’s scary to me how few people understand this. Sooner or later (probably later), as any first year history student could predict, the violence will ebb, the pain will lessen, the conflict will cool, and rationality will begin – however slowly – to re-exert its hold on the minds of the many Muslims who are simply too scared, too ignorant, too poor, too beaten down, or whatever to think logically in the face of the insane mutterings of many of the religions current leaders.

So, here’s my appeal to all of you obviously intelligent and thoughtful people out there: forget about the nay-saying, quit the whining, get past the fear, the threats and the knee-jerk one-liners (e.g., “you won’t find other religions doing that” – read a history book AmWiser, they’ve ALL done it in the name of ignorance at one time or another, and we’re just damn lucky that we live in a place and time where our dominant relgions and social constructs don’t allow the insanity to happen here).

Here’s what you can do with all that hot air you’re expending talking about who’s more peaceful, who’s religion is more charitable, less violent, and more open-minded. Take the time and energy used in that dubious venture and direct it towards a productive effort to counteract the status quo.

Write, speak, and otherwise communicate in any way you can to anyone at all that will listen – but most importantly Muslims like Mr. Poonawalla who have influence and the ability to to use it effectively – the message that only Muslims can solve this problem. Only Muslims will change their own “churh”. Encourage them, one and all, to stand up by the billions in the face of the angry, violent and deadly surge of destruction their religion has become, and denounce it in such a way as to leave no one in doubt about their feelings and their intentions.

Every Muslim Man, Woman and Child has the right and the responsibility to cry out against the evil and the bloodshed propogated on the world under the names of Allah and the Prophet. There is no other way, no simpler path, no magic solution and no other process by which Islam can be redirected towards its original objectives – bringing Man And God closer to one another and preparing the mind and soul of Man to sit with His Savior in peace for eternity.

By whatever name one’s god is called, by whatever words have been used to justify a variety of actions that never were or could have possibly been envisioned by that religions prophets, peace and love are the truest and highest callings of our modern religions. It’s just a fact that some would rather ignore this concept to focus on the minutiae of religious laws, contradictory and difficult to understand sayings, and enmity towards one group or another versus dropping their arms (as in rifles) and spending more time in the synagogue, the church, or the mosque.

It’s really so much more demanding of one’s intellect to become educated, to direct one’s life towards a higher level of understanding about one’s religion, neighbors, and world. It actually takes an effort to think critically about what is important and what is not.

And when millions upon millions of one’s fellow believers are spewing forth filth, ignorance and cruelty in the time honored fashion of the morally bankrupt everywhere – it’s more than just difficult to stand up and speak out. It’s very likely to be dangerous, even deadly.

It’s time for every Muslim to make a choice: to take action to move the religion forward towards more enlightment, or let it erode into a barbaric nightmare of hatred and violence that may last for countless generations.

And, it’s time for every American to stand up against violence and ignorance in every way, including bigotry towards the followers of the Prophet, the vast majority of whom simply want to raise their children in peace, teach them justice, and watch them grow into the adults who will inherit all their hopes, dreams and aspirations. If you are NOT a Muslim, your duty in this time and place in history is to help every Muslim you can to facilitate the dream of all of us who live in the world of sanity – to live a peaceful, prosperous and productive life while seeking wisdom and spreading love througout the world.

I’ll end with a quote from an unknown author that seemed appropriate -

Time will soon teach you what you were ignorant of

Response by Broken Mystic:

LOL @ “Me”

You wrote: “I can sympathize regarding fears of prejudice in the U.S. Yet as a Caucasian American citizen, I know the reality of the situation – the U.S. is clearly one of the safest and sanest places in the world for people of any color, ethnicity or religion.”

Translation: “That sucks that you’re afraid of prejudice, but hey, America is the best country in the whole world so it’s best for you to shut your mouth.”

You wrote: “Nearly everywhere else in the world, and certainly in the vast majority of Muslim-dominant countries, I would be threatened with much more than prejudice”

Translation: “So if I see a Muslim getting beat up in a hate crime in the United States, I’ll just pat him on the back and say, ‘hey buddy, Muslim countries discriminate against non-Muslims all the time!’ Can’t help you with this one!”

You wrote: “Sad as it is, prejudice is a fact of life. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – historically speaking – you may face more scrutiny in a given situation than another individual.”

Translation: “With wars going on in Muslim countries these days, it just sucks to be you! Sorry Muslims!”

You wrote: “I’m glad to see Mr. Poonawalla’s commitment to ending violence, regardless of it’s form or location. I would encourage him – and all Muslim Americans – to prioritize even higher the need to address the incredible amount of violence and destruction caused by followers of his religion worldwide at this point in time.”

Translation: “This was a nice little blog entry, but since I know EVERYTHING about Muslims despite not visiting Mosques on a weekly basis, I’m pretty darn sure that Muslims don’t prioritize stuff and don’t speak out against violence! I know they don’t speak out because I don’t see it on TV! If its not on TV, it doesn’t happen!”

You wrote: “Unfortunately, as has been the case with most of our major religions at some point, today’s Islam is awash with ignorance, brutality, bigotry, incredibly harsh treatment of women, and a populist movement which seeks to force a particularly nasty strain of the religion on every person worldwide at the point of the sword, the bomb, the bullet, or the stone.”

Translation: “Basically, Islam is a violent religion that promotes brutality, bigotry, oppression of women, and forced conversions. I’m a non-Muslim, so I know everything about Islam!”

You wrote: “Someday, billions of average everyday people who happen to follow the Prophet but otherwise want nothing more than to lead a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, will wake up and look around at what they’ve allowed their religion to become.”

Translation: “The peaceful majority of Muslims are responsible for atrocious crimes like the murder of Aasiya Hassan and terrorist attacks like 9/11! Even you Muslim kids who just want to play video games and watch “Twilight” — you should be speaking out against terrorism because you’re Muslim!”

You wrote: “The destruction, the violence, the outright murder will simply become so overwhelming that even the typical “average” Muslim won’t be able to deal with the guilt and shame any longer.”

Translation: “Every Muslim should feel guilty and shame for the crimes that other people did.”

You wrote: “Sooner or later (probably later), as any first year history student could predict, the violence will ebb, the pain will lessen, the conflict will cool, and rationality will begin – however slowly – to re-exert its hold on the minds of the many Muslims who are simply too scared, too ignorant, too poor, too beaten down, or whatever to think logically in the face of the insane mutterings of many of the religions current leaders.”

Translation: “In order to get people to think rationally, we need to bomb the hell out of them until the violence dies down. War is good!”

You wrote: “So, here’s my appeal to all of you obviously intelligent and thoughtful people out there: forget about the nay-saying, quit the whining, get past the fear, the threats and the knee-jerk one-liners.”

Translation: “Here’s my appeal to you over-sensitive Muslims: ignore Islamophobia, stop standing up for your civil rights, stop being so paranoid about racial profiling and the patriot act, and don’t call the police if someone threatens to blow up your Mosque or your car. It’s ok, there’s nothing to be afraid of, America is the safest country in the world!”

You wrote: “Here’s what you can do with all that hot air you’re expending talking about who’s more peaceful, who’s religion is more charitable, less violent, and more open-minded.  Take the time and energy used in that dubious venture and direct it towards a productive effort to counteract the status quo.”

Translation: “Anyone who posted something on this blog hasn’t done a single bloody thing. I know because I am God.”

You wrote: “Write, speak, and otherwise communicate in any way you can to anyone at all that will listen – but most importantly Muslims like Mr. Poonawalla who have influence and the ability to to use it effectively – the message that only Muslims can solve this problem.”

Translation: “I insulted your religion and now I’m going to tell you what to do. You should listen to me because I know what’s best for Muslims.”

You wrote: “Every Muslim Man, Woman and Child has the right and the responsibility to cry out against the evil and the bloodshed propogated on the world under the names of Allah and the Prophet.”

Translation: “Again, I reiterate, like a broken record, every single one of you Muslims — yes even the CHILDREN — are responsible for the violence in the Muslim world.”

You wrote: “There is no other way, no simpler path, no magic solution and no other process by which Islam can be redirected towards its original objectives – bringing Man And God closer to one another and preparing the mind and soul of Man to sit with His Savior in peace for eternity.”

Translation: “Let me sprinkle in some positive things about Islam just so I don’t get called an Islamophobe (even though the positive things I’m saying about Islam completely contradict everything I just said!) God bless Tokenism!”

You wrote: “By whatever name one’s god is called, by whatever words have been used to justify a variety of actions that never were or could have possibly been envisioned by that religions prophets, peace and love are the truest and highest callings of our modern religions.”

Translation: “Let me speak about peace and Love now, even though peace and Love should have led me to visit Mosques on Friday and actually listen to the sermons instead of making lousy accusations here! Yes, peace and Love. You Muslims need to learn about peace and Love.”

You wrote: “It’s really so much more demanding of one’s intellect to become educated, to direct one’s life towards a higher level of understanding about one’s religion, neighbors, and world. It actually takes an effort to think critically about what is important and what is not.”

Translation: “Muslims aren’t educated and can’t think for themselves, therefore I, a non-Muslim, have every right to tell them what to do.”

You wrote: “And when millions upon millions of one’s fellow believers are spewing forth filth, ignorance and cruelty in the time honored fashion of the morally bankrupt everywhere – it’s more than just difficult to stand up and speak out. It’s very likely to be dangerous, even deadly.”

Translation: “Since I don’t see Muslims speaking out against terror on TV, it must be because they’re freakin’ scared!”

You wrote: “It’s time for every Muslim to make a choice: to take action to move the religion forward towards more enlightment, or let it erode into a barbaric nightmare of hatred and violence that may last for countless generations.”

Translation: “The fate of the world depends upon the choices that Muslims make.”

You wrote: “And, it’s time for every American to stand up against violence and ignorance in every way, including bigotry towards the followers of the Prophet, the vast majority of whom simply want to raise their children in peace, teach them justice, and watch them grow into the adults who will inherit all their hopes, dreams and aspirations.”

Translation: “Yeah, here’s my shield against being labeled an Islamophobe. After all, I’m an intellectual man, if I only spoke badly about Muslims, I wouldn’t look very educated!”

You wrote: “If you are NOT a Muslim, your duty in this time and place in history is to help every Muslim you can to facilitate the dream of all of us who live in the world of sanity – to live a peaceful, prosperous and productive life while seeking wisdom and spreading love througout the world.”

Translation: “O’ non-Muslims, help the Muslims, just like I am by telling them what to do. Tell them what to do because they cannot think for themselves and there are no such things as Muslim leaders. Only we, non-Muslims, can lead!”

You wrote: “I’ll end with a quote from an unknown author that seemed appropriate – ‘Time will soon teach you what you were ignorant of’”

Translation: “Oh shoot, this quote actually just backfired on me! ‘Time will soon teach ME what *I* was ignorant of’”

PWND.

Hollywood Vilifies Muslims and Arabs Yet Again

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I seriously just wanted to come home today and escape from all the politics and racism in  the world.  Just for two hours.  Is that too much to ask for?

As I drove home from college, I decided to stop by at the video store — a place I haven’t been to in forever — and I browsed around for something to rent or buy.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I went home.  Or, at least, I tried to go home.  I ended up getting stuck in massive rush hour traffic.  I was literally 5 minutes away from my house, but I couldn’t get there because there was only one road open!  So it ended up taking me about 45 minutes to get home, and I’m not exaggerating!

Anyway, I wound up seeing “Taken” tonight because I heard one of my favorite filmmakers, Luc Besson, produced and wrote it.  I haven’t seen a Luc Besson film in the longest time and that’s because he rarely directs movies now.  When I was in high school, I was obsessed with his filmmaking style.  I absolutely Loved his visuals, they were really in-your-face and profound.  I was obsessed with “The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon, the Professional,” and “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.”  None of these films are in my top ten anymore, but at the time, I remember being so inspired by his work that I found myself emulating his style in my own short films.  I was recently showing some of my work to one of my best friends, and I was pointing certain shots out and saying, “Oh, that shot was inspired by Luc Besson!” or “That’s a Luc Besson jump cut!”

So yeah, why not check out what ol’ Luc Besson is up to these days, right?  “Taken” is pretty much about a retired U.S. government special forces operative (played by Liam Neeson) who tries to reestablish his bond with his 17-year-old daughter.  Then one day, she wants to go on a trip to Paris with her best friend, but her father doesn’t approve.  “It’s a dangerous world out there” he basically says.  Of course, she doesn’t listen to him and neither does his ex-wife.  “I’m going to be fine” the daughter says; “she’s 17-years-old, give her some space!” the ex-wife says.  Finally, he gives in and allows his daugther to travel overseas.  And surprise, surprise, she ends up getting kidnapped!  This is what happens, of course, when women don’t listen to men, right?  They get kidnapped by women-trafficking Albanians when they go to France.  It’s priceless when our fearless protagonist informs his ex-wife about their daughter; she has the “oh-my-god-I’m-such-a-stupid-woman-who-should-have-listened-to-my-ex-husband” face.

At this point in the film, Liam Neeson immediately transforms into an indestructible killing machine.  Cracking necks, twisting arms, chopping throats, breaking knees, knifing stomachs, shooting people in the head, parrying punches like Neo, and dodging bullets because evil foreign bad guys couldn’t possibly have the kind of shot accuracy that White people have.  Yeah, he pretty much does everything that Jason Bourne and James Bond does.  At first we think the villains are Russians.  Oh great, I thought, Russians.  Like we haven’t seen that before.  Then it turns out to be Albanians.  Oh wonderful, even better since most Albanians are Muslim.  Now this really ticked me off because my brother has a lot of Albanian friends and my cousin is getting married to an Albanian, insha’Allah.  And now I see them depicted as women-trafficking criminals?  There’s no mentioning of Islam, but there are plenty of close-ups on their “crescent moon and star” tattoos.  Hmm, I wonder what that means?

The same stereotypical images are cultivated again:  “White guy, who is also the protector-of-females, against dark-skinned people, who also happen to oppress and sell White women.”  It’s just the same old garbage recycled again and again.  How many times have we seen this dance before?  Why are we still funding movies like this?  And the worst part of the film is how it supports and glorifies the Guantanamo Bay torture tactics (pictured above).  The scene is disgustingly ethnocentric as our James-Bond-wannabe protagonist electrocutes the hell out of the Albanian character and talks about how it’s so much easier to torture in France since, as opposed to third-world countries, the power doesn’t go out.  After relentless torture, he gets his answers out of him.  Then he kills him.  Hey, torture works!  Maybe they should keep Guantanamo Bay open after all.  Thanks, Luc!

At the end of the movie, our invincible hero finds that his daughter gets purchased by an (drum roll) Arab!  Of course!  How can you make an action-packed suspense thriller without beating up some A-rabs!  Yes, a final showdown with Arabs.  Wonderful.  I think Luc Besson must have been stuck on an ending until co-writer Robert Mark Kamen came up with the ingenious idea of Arab thugs.  Luc probably got so excited, “Yeah, yeah!  Throw that in there!  People Love that s***!”  I Love the fact that the hardest guy to beat up is the dark-skinned, bearded Arab guy (who happens to have a hairstyle similar to mine, so I’m double-offended!).  It’s kind of like those video games where you reach the final boss of the whole game and he just takes forever to kill!  As they fist-fight with some insane choreography, the Arab — oh snap!! — whips out his curved Arabic blade.  Here we go, clash of civilizations right here!  But then Liam Neeson overpowers with his bare hands and forces the knife back onto him!  Dude, he stabbed the Arab with his own medieval weapon!  And of course Liam Neeson wins because, after all, he’s the main character and he’s Liam Neeson.  No one can kill Liam Nesson.   Unless you’re Darth Maul.  Or Batman.  Or some random Crusader in “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Ok, so he has died in other movies, but we know he wasn’t going to die here because Mr. Luc Besson needs to establish his point:  Good guys always prevail over Muslim and Arab scum, women should never divorce their secret government operative husbands even if they’re not around most of the time, and no one should travel overseas because the United States is the best and safest country in the whole wide world.  Not even Luc Besson, even though he’s French.

Oh I should also point out that the film likes to toss in some random Black guys for Liam Neeson to beat up.  They literally come out of nowhere!  It’s like you see him fighting Albanians, but then, whoa! Where’d that Black guy come from?!  Before you can think more about it, he gets thrown off a building or smashed through a window.  “Yes, we need some Black people in this movie,” Luc must have thought.  “Because we want Black people to watch this movie.”  Yeah, ok.  *sigh*  I just don’t get it.  I was so depressed and angry after watching this movie that I couldn’t help but feel like my efforts aren’t worth anything.  I felt like my short films, research projects, activist work, and critiques are insignificant because no matter what I do, Hollywood always has their monster-budget that will produce anything that rakes in the dough.  I felt like writing a letter to Luc Besson, but what good will that do, right?  He won’t care if he loses a fan.  Who am I?  No one.  Just some random Muslim guy whose opinion doesn’t matter.

I really just wanted to escape tonight.  I wanted to get things off my mind and just be entertained.  Once in a while, it’s nice to watch a film that isn’t so absorbing.  It’s just really discouraging how ethnocentric and racist a film can be.  All one needs to do is look at the imagery:  White man in a foreign country that is infected by other foreign people:  Albanians and Arabs.  Seriously, can I have a moment to smile?  I don’t think many people understand what it feels like to feel so uncomfortable in a movie theater when the film itself vilifies your people.  I don’t think many in the White non-Muslim community get that.

But what does Hollywood care about all of this?  Absolutely nothing.  They’re swimming in money.  They could care less about who they offend.  I’m so sick and tired of it all.

So utterly sick and tired of the unapologetic arrogance, ethnocentrism, racism, and Islamophobia…

South Asian Unity: A Priority for India and Pakistan

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Like everyone, Muslims are saddened and horrified by the recent Mumbai attacks. However, unlike everyone else, Muslims find themselves defending their religion from stereotypes, misconceptions, and bigoted accusations. It’s not an easy burden to live with — especially in Western countries like the United States — when the media not only scrutinizes and vilifies your religion, but also criticizes you for “not doing enough” to speak out against radicalism.

What’s worse is the division I’m seeing within the South Asian community, Indians and Pakistanis in particular. I was shocked and appalled at the excessive amount of anti-Islamic and anti-Pakistani bigotry written in discussion boards of South Asian internet forums and group pages on Facebook. Not only are fingers being pointed at Pakistan, but also at the religion of Islam, which has been accused continuously for teaching “hatred” and “waging war” on non-Muslims.

First, why is Pakistan being blamed when there is hardly any evidence? As we have seen in the last eight years, jumping to conclusions has resulted in foolish and deadly consequences. The fact that Indian authorities almost immediately accused Pakistan of being behind the attacks indicates that they deny and dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism. Tariq Ali, who is a Pakistani novelist, historian, and political campaigner, recently pointed out that the Deccan Mujahedeen — an extremist militant group based in India — made a claim to the Mumbai attacks. In his article on “Counter Punch,” Mr. Ali writes:

“The Deccan Mujahedeen, which claimed the outrage in an e-mail press release, is certainly a new name probably chosen for this single act. But speculation is rife. A senior Indian naval officer has claimed that the attackers (who arrived in a ship, the M V Alpha) were linked to Somali pirates, implying that this was a revenge attack for the Indian Navy’s successful if bloody action against pirates in the Arabian Gulf that led to heavy casualties some weeks ago.”

When I looked at my local newspaper, the article on the Mumbai attacks used the following words to describe Pakistan: “volatile,” “rival,” and “archrival.” And I’m sure many of us remember President-elect Barack Obama warning Pakistan that if they are “unable or unwilling” to fight terrorism, then the U.S. will invade the region (which they already have under the Bush administration).

This hostility and antagonism towards Pakistan is irresponsible. For one, Pakistan has been fighting Taliban militants in North-Western Pakistan since 2004, and according to “Times Online” Pakistan has lost about “1,000 soldiers fighting militants in border mountains that have never come under the control of any government.” Thomas Houlahan wrote a brilliant piece for “The Middle-East Times” titled “Pakistan: Separating the Facts from the Myths” where he criticizes the media for reporting a lot of misinformation about Pakistan. He writes:

“Pakistan has lost more civilians in the war on terror than the United States; Pakistan has lost more troops killed in fighting insurgents than every foreign contingent in Afghanistan combined. These facts fly in the face of the misinformation bandied about that Pakistan is soft on terror.”

Houlahan has also pointed out that “more than one in four insurgents killed in the Afghanistan/Pakistan insurgency (4,500 of 16,500) has been killed by Pakistani security forces.” Last night, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Asif Zardari, appeared on Larry King Live and stated that Pakistan had no involvement with the Mumbai attacks. Furthermore, Zardari insisted that he looked forward to building peaceful relations with their Indian neighbors. Despite these facts and condemnations by Pakistani officials, one must question why the media and even the newly elected President of the United States are skeptical about Pakistan’s commitment to the “War on Terror.” Pakistan has been doing America’s dirty work since September 11th, 2001, and has suffered on several occasions for it. We seem to have forgotten about the recent Marriott Hotel bombing in Pakistan on September 20th, 2008.

To see this kind of division and hostility take shape among every day Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and others is discouraging and unsettling. None of us are responsible for what happened in Mumbai and none of us are trying to justify what happened, but when the media starts to influence our fellow South Asians into thinking that “Islamofascisim” or “Islamic Jihad” is simply about killing non-Muslims, particularly Hindus and Jews, then it is imperative for us to engage in mature and civilized dialogue. Because of the fact that a Jewish Center was attacked in India, many perceive this attack to be an “attack on the West,” but what’s so problematic about this assertion is that it completely ignores and overlooks the real factors involved.

Before I continue, it is important to understand that I am not justifying what happened in Mumbai or anywhere else. It’s not about justification, it’s about understanding, and only through understanding can we find the root cause of the problem and develop real strategies to solve them. Rather than chanting war slogans like “Bomb Pakistan!” why don’t we ask intelligent questions as to why an atrocity like this happened? If there is anything that I expect the West and other nations to learn, it’s this: Bombing another nation will only make matters worse; it radicalizes people and creates more violence. This is evidenced clearly in the Iraq war.

Has anyone bothered to ask, “who were the militants” or “who was in that hotel” or “what drives such people to attack innocent people?” Many right-wing pundits will simply say these militants are driven by the teachings of Islam. This kind of ignorance generates mythologies. Mythologies such as “Hindus and Muslims have been fighting for centuries.” Really? Since when? Widespread violence between Hindus and Muslims didn’t start until the 19th century. Prior to that, Muslims, Hindus, and others enjoyed coexistence in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. This is not to say there wasn’t any violence – of course there were under particular Muslim rulers – but for the most part, large scale violence between the communities occurred after British colonialism. Other mythologies formulate, such as “Jews and Muslims have been fighting forever.” Again, since when? Much of the antagonism and wars between Muslims and Jews started during and after the creation of Israel. Prior to that, Muslims and Jews coexisted for centuries, especially in Jerusalem. Before Muslims ruled the city, Jews were exiled out of Jerusalem. Muslim leaders like Umar ibn al-Khattab and Salah Al-Din invited the Jews back into the city (may God be pleased with them).

Without understanding the struggles of Muslims in regions like Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even India, we won’t be about to solve the problems. But what’s frustrating for many Muslims is that the media only uses the word “terrorism” for one group of people: Muslims. In 2002, over 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the Indian State of Gujarat, while hundreds of Muslim women were gang raped. The worst part is that the government was complicit in these horrible crimes and many of the victims have yet to receive justice. Where was the mainstream western media when those atrocities were committed? Did we hear the media call the assailants “Hindu extremists?” Over 200,000 Muslims were butchered in the Serbian genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, but the Serbians were never called “Christian terrorists.” When over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcefully evicted out of their homes by the Israeli military, the Israeli soldiers were never called “Jewish terrorists.” When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the media neglected to report that he was a member of the extremist “Christian Identity Movement.” The Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings never provoked people to point fingers at a religion or even use the word “terrorist” to describe the shooters, but if the perpetrators were Muslim, you could count on the media to label them “Muslim terrorists.”

So why does the media ignore horrible acts of violence when they are committed against Muslims? Why does our government refuse to make efforts to understand why terrorism occurs in the first place? What is probably more disturbing than anything else is government-sponsored terrorism because it hides behind the guise of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “justice.” When things are made more systematic and acceptable, the more chances it has of being unnoticed.

Lastly, more than anything, Indians and Pakistanis have to stop pointing fingers and blaming each other. We can’t allow that kind of hatred and prejudice to present itself in our communities. We have to stand together, ask the right questions, and find the root cause of the problems. Only then will we be able to effectively prevent horrible atrocities – committed by all groups of people – from happening again.

Salaam, Namaste, Sat Sri Akal, Peace.

~Broken Mystic~

Rudy Giuliani’s Islamophobic Remarks

As I was driving home from school the other night, I tuned into NPR and listened to the various speeches at the Republican National Convention (RNC).  I found most of the speeches to be pretty typical and generic; nothing out of the ordinary or spectacular.  Sometimes, I really don’t understand how some American citizens (or citizens of any country) can be so trustworthy of politicians who constantly glorify the candidates they favor.  I understand support, but when you glorify someone, you paint such a perfect image of them, as if they are saints, super-human, or without faults.  And in the realm of politics, who would want to elect a leader who admits his/her flaws?  We want to vote for perfect people, right?  After all, that’s what leaders are “supposed to be,” right?

When we glorify people, we are subsequently erasing their flaws and humanity.  We are making them equivalent to Prophets (depending on your interpretation of Prophets) and even, to God Himself.  We don’t see them as human beings like ourselves; instead, we perceive ourselves as inferior, incapable, and imperfect compared to the leader.  This is why we turn to them, because we believe they possess traits, characteristics, and skills that we lack within ourselves.  This is the brainwashing of politics that I absolutely despise.  Even some of the greatest leaders that I admire like Salah Al-Din and Haroun Al-Rashid had flaws.  In fact, I admire a leader more so when he/she admits his/her mistakes.  Malcolm X for example was never afraid to announce his mistakes, and his actions reflected the kind of leader who was open and receptive to learning and improving.

As my thoughts wandered on these issues, I heard loud applause and cheers when the former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, walked on stage.  At first, he made the expected remarks and criticisms of the Obama campaign, and he even encouraged the audience’s disrespectful mockery of Obama’s experience.  A few moments later, Giuliani made remarks that reminded me why I sometimes feel so insecure living in the United States.  For four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the term “Islamic terrorism,” he said loudly, while the audience booed at the Democratic party.  “I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe they will insult someone. Please tell me, who they are insulting if they say, “Islamic terrorism.” They are insulting terrorists!”  Thunderous cheers and applause followed.

As I was driving past the street lights, the gas stations, the department stores, and the neighborhoods, I felt so disconnected from everything; like I didn’t belong.  I felt like I couldn’t recognize anything for a moment.  I couldn’t help but feel discouraged, powerless, and subordinate.  The fact that thousands of people agree with Giuliani’s statements is probably the most disturbing thing to me.  It represents how prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance exists in a significant portion of the United States.  It’s too obvious for people see how the word “Islamic” automatically associates terrorism with the religion of “Islam,” and yet, Giuliani is able to follow up with some ridiculous statement that doesn’t make any sense at all!  “They are insulting terrorists”?  First he mentions “Islamic terrorism” and then he says it insults “terrorists.”  All he did was omit the “Islamic” part in the last sentence!  How hard is it to see the hypocrisy, the manipulation of words, and the brainwashing?  How hard is it to see the Islamophobia?

No, Mr. Giuliani, saying “Islamic terrorism” insults the 5-7 million Muslims living in the United States, as well as the estimated 1.4 billion Muslims around the world.  It not only reinforces misconceptions and ignorance about Islam, but it also implicates that terrorism is only conducted by Muslims.  When the Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Omaha mall shootings occurred, the shooters were not described as “terrorists.”  When some Israeli soldiers bulldoze Palestinian homes, harass and murder civilians, or launch rockets into Lebanon, they are not called “terrorists.”  When some American soldiers rape young Iraqi girls, torture prisoners, and deliberately kill innocent civilians, they are not called “terrorists.”  But you can surely count on the fact that if the shooter of Virginia Tech was Muslim, the headlines would have been labeling him a “terrorist.”

As the RNC crowd cheer and applauded Giuliani for these remarks, I felt so outnumbered and hated just because of what I believe.  I felt so hated just because of who I am on the outside and on the inside.  These kind of fear tactics and word associations are what generate divisions, hatred, and violence.  It doesn’t help our society at all, especially with the way our foreign policy is now.  If you support the Republican party and Giuliani’s statements, how do you answer for this?  How can you prove to me that his remarks don’t promote Islamophobia?  How can you assure me that this will not trigger more hate crimes, stereotypes, and discriminatory acts that Muslims, including myself, experience?

Politicians say they are right with us, the people.  They say they understand the hardships and struggles that we endure.  They say they know what it’s like to pay for high gas prices or search exhaustively for a job.  They say that they’re by our sides, but the truth is, they’re not.  They don’t present themselves as fellow commoners or citizens.  They present themselves as perfect and flawless people.  They present themselves as all-knowing entities who can make declarations, laws, and judgments in a disturbingly Divine manner.  They present themselves as gods.

~ 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~

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