They Called Me a “Spic”

jzovechkin2

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.

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 ~

Personal Attacks on Muslim Feminists and Islam

Something that I probably can’t stand the most is when people make judgments about another person simply based on his/her skin color, ethnicity, religious background, gender, sexual orientation, etc. When we are young, we are taught to never judge someone based on these things, and yet all you need to do is turn on the news to see grown adults making ridiculous generalizations about an entire group of people. But it’s not just in the media, it’s in our workplaces, our class rooms, our communities, and especially here on the blogosphere. It hurts me even more when my friends are on the receiving end of personal attacks from people who behave as if they know all the facts on things such as feminism and religion.

I have been reading many personal attacks on Muslim feminists lately — certain people are saying that one cannot be Muslim and feminist because Islam is such an “oppressive” and “misogynistic” religion. First, it’s ridiculous how they project their hateful and negative sentiments about Islam onto the author(s) and make personal attacks against her/him, as if they have some authority on declaring who can be a feminist or not. Second, it’s absurd how they speak of Islam in this manner without considering that there are millions of Muslims all over the world who follow it devoutly. Thirdly, it’s insulting how their extremely childish and immature behavior makes them believe they’re making scholarly and educated statements when in actuality, all they’re doing is promoting ignorance and intolerance. It’s as if they want to exclude the views of Muslim feminists and not even bother reading what they wrote. In their mind, it seems like there is only one set kind of feminism, and the notion of a Muslim feminist is completely incompatible with their definition. Rather than having intelligent discussions, they’ll make pathetic personal attacks, very similar to how a high school bully picks on someone different than him/her just to boost his/her low self esteem. If someone doesn’t make any personal attacks against you, then why in the world would you make personal attacks and insults against them on your blog? They’re not wishing death upon people or calling for violent rebellions or anything, so why are you making personal attacks when you don’t even know them? It is really unfair for those individuals who are getting misjudged and attacked.  What disgusts me even more are the two-faced bloggers out there who will post nice comments on an article written by a Muslim feminist, but then go to another blog and talk smack about her/him. On one blog, they say it feels like their favorite feminist magazine got “hijacked” just because it defended the hijaab as a choice and then they call a Muslim feminist blog “ignorant” and unqualified for being “feminism.” Yet, when these Muslim feminists post their articles, these same bloggers will behave all “nice” and “respectful” to them.  I remember an Iranian Muslim feminist who once said about the Iraq war: “If a man rapes me, I don’t want his help later.” If you think you have the absolute and unalterable definition of feminism and that Muslim feminists do not fit in that little box of yours, then why do you persist with fake “polite” comments? Are people really not ashamed of themselves when they behave in this manner? I’ve seen this kind of behavior in high school, I wouldn’t expect it from self-proclaimed feminists.

Some of these critics devote all their time to “exposing Islam” as a “violent” and “oppressive” religion. Whenever you try to explain to them that Islam is a peaceful religion, some of them will respond with links and reports of atrocious and violent acts committed by Muslim in Muslim countries, while others will respond more antagonistically and even curse you out: “stop telling me Islam is peaceful. We don’t buy it!” One person even told me that I’m insulting them every day in my prayers because I’m denying the “sonship and divinity” of Jesus, peace be upon him! That’s my cue for stopping the conversation immediately because it’s just a serious waste of time. It’s sad at how some of these people build a wall against you — they don’t want to look at you as an individual, they are looking at your label. Even if you speak about how Islam has changed and impacted your life for the better, they will still pull out those links and point fingers at what other Muslims are doing. Some will even sub-categorize you and say, “oh well you’re one of those ‘good’ and ‘liberal-minded’ Muslims” which pretty much says that you represent the “minority” in their mind, therefore your words aren’t really worth anything. In actuality however, the majority of Muslims are peaceful and friendly human beings.

For me, I would never insult another religion or an entire group of people and I just find it really disturbing how they are people out there who actually don’t see anything wrong with doing that. If you hate the religion of Islam and you meet a Muslim in public, are you going to speak to him/her as an individual or are you going to speak to the stereotype? In social psychology, we use the term “ambivalent racism” for people who will show respect and affection to those outside of their group affiliation, but deep down, they will still carry those prejudices and perceptions that the person is a “heretic” or “deviant” or even “inferior.” I’m sick of people saying they hate Islam, but don’t hate Muslims because their “argument” is that good Muslims aren’t truly practicing Islam, since of course Islam is “inherently violent.” Again, these are faulty generalizations and false assumptions about people. It’s also insulting because it suggests that Muslims are brainwashed and oblivious to how their religion “truly” is. When they make these kind of remarks, it makes me want to ask: How do you know that the person you’re criticizing doesn’t know everything about Islam? Or let me frame it this way: How do you know that you know everything about Islam? Sure, there are apostates, where most Islamophobes like to get their “information” from, but just because someone is an apostate doesn’t mean they are experts on Islam. Wanting to “learn” about Islam from them is just pretty much saying that you want a negative (sometimes severely negative) lesson on Islam. If I wanted to learn more about Judaism, I will speak to someone who truly practices it and follows that path, not from someone who is an ex-Jew. You cannot deny the experiences that a person has with his/her religion just because you don’t believe in it. The majority of Muslims find peace and beauty in Islam — it is a source of strength, Love, and wisdom for them. I have friends who have left Islam, and they are living their lives peacefully and happily, they even still have Muslim friends. They don’t devote their time spreading hatred about it, but unfortunately there are those who think they need to do that. But I ask, as a human being, how is marginalizing and vilifying an entire religion going to help make a better society?

I truly believe every religion essentially teaches us to be good human beings. The violence and oppression committed in the name of religion is a very complex issue and it cannot be simplified the way that many Islamophobes simplify it. Without understanding factors such as culture, tradition, politics, history, theology, etc., it’s very difficult to not generalize about people. I’ve explained what cultural responses are in my entry, “Jerusalem Cries for Peace,” and how violence and radicalism only escalates after foreign invaders bomb another country. It’s not about forgiving, it’s about understanding. And understanding is something we do very little of. We as human beings need to make this world a better place, we need to promote more understanding, communication, and dialogue. Saying that one group of people or one religion is the problem is not going to solve anything. It will only crumble your relations with other human beings.

The Truth is there is no need for separation. The differences we see between one another is, like any other form of division, merely an illusion of the outward reality. Some of us are too stuck in our belief systems that we forget the purely spiritual foundation of our faiths. Whether you speak of Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or Buddha (peace upon them all), their experience with the Divine is what unites their Souls. These enlightened human beings shared something in common, they were all revolutionists and fought in the battle against the selfish, material world, in order to bring people to the World of the Unseen. Just because we have different beliefs doesn’t mean we cannot get along. It doesn’t mean we have to resort to personal insults and false accusations. It doesn’t mean we can vilify an entire religion and group of people. What is wrong with accepting people for who they are? Isn’t that what Love is? Accepting people for who they are, not for who we want them to be?

Those guided well on their paths should not point fingers and criticize another person simply because he/she is following a different religion. Hatred and over-generalizations towards an entire group of people reflects insecurity within one’s self. The flaws we see within others are merely flaws you see within ourselves. The journey of a human being is one of Expansiveness, of Growing, of Compassion, and Self-Discovery. When we achieve this, we become Loving towards those around us, we become tolerant and accepting. Open-mindedness is not being exclusive to one group of people or one way of thinking, but rather it is learning the ability to open your heart and become a Compassionate, Expansive, and Loving human being. When you understand this, you will discover a portion within yourself that you may have never known existed. There will be no conflict between your beliefs and other people’s beliefs anymore.

Let people ~Be~ Happiness and peace never hurt anyone.

~ 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~

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers