American Muslims, Foreign Policy

Reposting: “Islam…”

This blogpost on the faces of Islam in Syria by Yasmin Al Tellawy is worth the read:

Islam….

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American Muslims, Chicago

Friday Sermon Blues (V. 1); latest reads regarding Muslim Americana

I hope this doesn’t become a series. It probably will. Yup. You know it will.

I attended Friday prayer this afternoon at a location I shall not disclose so that I do not embarrass anyone or call any person or group out in particular. It’s been a while since I’ve made the commitment to go out and attend the Friday khutba– and anyways I normally have class during the afternoon prayer time slot, but seeing that it was midterms week and classes were on-and-off, I decided to join a local prayer in downtown Chicago. One of the key reasons why I haven’t been motivated in recent months to attend Friday prayer is because the sermons that I usually go to do not fulfill at least one of the two following criteria:

1) I leave the prayer feeling spiritually replenished or uplifted

2) I leave the prayer having been intellectually challenged

Instead, I find myself making this face most of the time when the preacher is giving their half hour monologue:

Image

You all know that face very well, I’m sure. (Her name is Chloe, also known as Side-Eyeing Chloe).

Example. The preacher/imam uses the word “kuffar” (apostates) to describe non-Muslims:

side eyeing chloe

The imam includes every instance of suffering around the world, except any suffering experienced by people who aren’t Muslim, in his final prayer:

side eyeing chloe

The imam spends the whole khutba talking about Masjid al-Aqsa, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, or Burma, being extremely graphic and emotional, again and again and again, every week:

side eyeing chloe

 

The imam talks very passionately about how everyone is misrepresenting Kanye West and how Yeezus was a brilliant album and that Kanye is in fact a genius and that we are all haters:

side eyeing chloe

Etc.

Today I found myself just as disappointed. The imam was a  young Desi/Pakistani/Indian American man. He opened the khutba recalling the beautiful story of Salman al-Farisi, one of the famous companions of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). It’s a remarkable story about personal growth, endurance, and soul-searching– basically, a gold mine of lessons and takeaways. But we as a collective audience were not ushered into this gold mine of lessons and takeaways.

Let me use the NBA for a moment to help describe what happened here. One of my favorite articles on Phil Jackson’s recent employment by the New York Knicks discussed the mismanagement of the franchise, and how its ownership ditches real, organic, proven championship-contender building methods for gaudy, knee-jerky, and irrational decisions. (Examples: throwing away a pretty solid young core to sign Carmelo Anthony; inking Amare Stoudemire, a big man with a history of knee injuries to a $100 million, 5 year max deal; signing Chris Smith, JR Smith’s scrub brother, just to convince JR, one of the least trustworthy, most lazy, and most on-and-off players in the league, to re-sign; picking up Andrea Bargnani.) The author depicts this strategy as akin to walking thirstily in the desert and being presented with the option to drink either champagne or water. Or better yet: you’re allowed to have both! But the Knicks opt for the champagne (max contracts and hiring a septuagenarian with no front-office experience to magically turn things around), and open the bottle of water and spill it all on the ground because “f*** the water.”

These khutbas  feel just like that. We ditch real critical thinking, soul searching, spirituality, and raw openness for cliche, feel-good chest-thumping about how great Islam is and how being a good Muslim will lead to converting everyone around us. Because f*** growth. Here we are with the brilliant, borderline tear-jerking story about this amazing historic figure (and to the imam’s credit, he was a solid storyteller). The speaker DID touch a bit on what he thought were some morals of the story. But he devoted the longer, more memorable parts of his sermon to talking about how by us trying to do good things and being better Muslims, people will notice us more and iA people might ask for a copy of the Quran and iA maybe they’ll get interested so that iA they can make an awkward shahadah in front of a convention hall audience, taraweeh crowd, or, as is the case 98% of the year, in front of the few, the proud, the elderly who do in fact show up to the mosque during Asr time. (And iA there’s a solid convert/revert support system and an inclusive, not-single-ethnically-dominated community to incorporate them! mA)

Instead of talking about how it is inherently GOOD to take care of one’s environment, or how it is inherently GOOD to take care of oneself– to not lie, cheat, backbite, or steal, we talk about appearances or the random anecdote “where someone somewhere at Disneyworld once saw me and Brian smile and we explained that it’s Sunnah and I gave him a run down on maqasid as-sharia while we were on Magic Mountain.” For a community that talks so much about what we as Muslims look like, it is amazing that our PR and representation in the mainstream media is as bad as it is today. We could really use some work on the inside. That’s what’s missing– that’s what Salman al-Farisi travelled across the Middle East to find: salvation, purification of the heart, inner-peace, purpose. That’s what I’m looking for when I get myself to go to Friday prayer– something that I don’t want to take for granted or brush aside. I’m really trying.

I know that this is a multi-layered problem that touches on the fact that most of the imams and boards at these mosques or centers are mainly immigrants probably trying to appeal to an immigrant crowd or a community that still has a displaced, immigrant/otherness mentality. God bless the immigrant generation for building our institutions and keeping them afloat. But they’re still pretty much foreign institutions. That’s why you still see the community trying to build mosques that resemble Andalusian or Umayyad-era architecture. Like, guys, we’re in Illinois: we should be building Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-house style mosques with open, green, energy efficient, minimalistic, woody spaces. That’s why you could listen to most of these khutbas and imagine those same khutbas being presented in Egypt or Pakistan (and LOL you probably wouldn’t have to change the language either). They’re not American products reflecting an owned, empowered identity or a sense of rootedness or stewardship in the local city and community. They’re political rallies or “seasonal” sermons, and we’ve all heard them– the same ones– many, many times.

Our products only reflect our nostalgia, a word which in and of itself reflects something very much detached from the present reality. And when we keep hiring good-hearted people simply because they have a degree from Al-Azhar and we keep them on board because they give you a weekly emotional tirade about Syria and Burma and “may Allah destroy our enemies and whatnot,” when we keep running into the same problems but point to Islamophobia as the cause and then pine about the omnipotent “youth” and how they are somehow going to figure everything out on their own and lead our “ummah” one day (should the elders ever give us the authority and time of day), this is what comes to mind:

side eyeing chloe

Thank you Chloe. HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND.

Latest reads regarding Muslim Americana:

It’s a pleasure to share these two pieces by my friends–

Layla Shaikley wrote for The Atlantic about “The Surprising Lessons of the ‘Muslim Hipsters’ Backlash.”

Laila Alawa had a piece in the Islamic Monthly titled “Let’s Stop Talking About Being Muslim In America.

#mipsterz

-Adham

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A few things I like and don’t like (V. 1): on Neo-Cons, caravans, and #SeinfeldInArabia

I’m taking a leaf out of Zach Lowe (one of my favorite sports writers)’s book and starting my blog off with some things I “like” and “don’t” like from this past week. That might also be a bit of me repping my city and its favorite son, Chief Keef. There’s a lot of stuff he doesn’t like. Before we do that, let me just say this: thanks for reading. I look forward to a consistent, fruitful, and perhaps occasionally interesting tenure here for the Shamrock Sheikh blog. Stick around, and maybe we’ll learn something from one another. Or not.

What am I up to at this moment? It’s Thursday night and it’s that time when you’re starting to recover from a front-loaded work week. Midterms just went by and Spring Break starts tomorrow evening. I bade farewell to my younger brother, Mahdi, who is leaving tonight on his high school senior year trip to perform ‘umrah (mini-pilgrimage) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It’s an odd feeling because this would be the first time in memory that I’m in the position of watching him leave. In the past it’s always been me leaving to Washington, D.C. for internships or to Champaign, IL. where my college campus is. This is the sort of experience that throws off one’s internal train of thought, because it’s entirely new. The more we grow, the more we approach the future, the more we begin to face the unknown. Maybe I sound like an old man (and that’s sort of what I’ve always been), but I know that Mahdi traveling alone, graduating high school, going to college, and so on are all wedges that make this fortress called the “present” feel like its collapsing, bit by bit. And that’s not a bad thing at all. It just means we’re growing up and hopefully moving onwards to bigger and better things. And when we get the chance to spend time together and do the things he and I always used to do together– be it going to pancake houses, playing basketball, or figuring out “what we’re going to do” or “what movie we’re going to watch” for 3 hours– those are the times that will mean the world to both of us. Safe travels Mahdi!

——–

So here are some observations I made  this week. I DON’T LIKE: why the hell do we keep throwing the term “neo-con” around so easily? I’m referring to this piece by Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek, titled “How Cold War-Hungry Neo-Cons Stage Managed RT Anchor Liz Wahl’s Resignation.” It’s a fascinating read if your worldview on global affairs is on par with that of a college freshman who watched too many Alex Jones and Illuminati/9-11 Truther videos on YouTube.

By all means, give it a read. As the authors continue to tout in subsequent Twitter wars, they seemingly have a thorough collection of sources to back up their assertion that former Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl’s resignation from the network is all a part of a neo-conservative conspiracy to reignite the Cold War. This article launched a series of rebuttals on Twitter and elsewhere between the authors and several of the journalists and pundits brought under scrutiny by Blumenthal and Khalek. Look it all up on Twitter– follow Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray or the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake to see the debate. Or, for your sanity– don’t follow the debate. This one tweet sums up how some people just never get tired of reliving their middle school days:

My favorite response came from David Weigel from Slate.com, who said that the authors were making much more of Wahl’s resignation than there actual was. This wouldn’t be the first time Blumenthal tried to be our journalist-and-savior. Just a few months ago, Blumenthal tried to smear Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), a group I once worked for, which advocates for Syrian human rights as well as a more engaged U.S. Syria policy. Max’s hypothesis revolved around a series of meetings and speaking engagements that Mouaz participated in at various D.C. think tanks and organizations. And because many of these influential think tanks are backed by neo-cons and pro-Israel donors, and because Mouaz helped facilitate Senator John McCain’s visit to liberated northern Syria, Max posited that Mouaz was in the pocket of these lobbies and was an agent of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.

Or something like that…. Max did everything but talk to Mouaz himself– a man who was born a Palestinian refugee and who as accessible as people in D.C. get. It’s funny: God forbid anyone tries to do something, I don’t know… pragmatic, relevant, and useful with their time in Washington to boost support for increased humanitarian aid to Syrian children and bring about a political solution to the now-regionalized Syrian civil war by providing a level playing field and forcing Assad to the negotiation table (remember: it was the threat of force that bolstered our diplomatic “breakthrough” in getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons). I’m not saying that Blumenthal is off the mark here with the Wahl story. I don’t have access to his “sources” and puzzle pieces. But Max has a history of below the belt moves against people like Mouaz (whose foot alone quite frankly has done more for human rights than Max ever has/will). So there. It makes it hard for me to take writers like him seriously.

Honestly, what I’m learning is that there is a “scotomization”, where people see what they want to see. Look at universal healthcare, for example. Some people see a much-needed reform. Others see big government. Obviously, SOMEBODY has their head up their asses. I guess democracy allows us to sort of not have to inform people of their predicament.

Foreign policy is similar. I don’t look for a world where the United States dominates the international arena and acts as the global police (cliche, I know). I’m sure Max is on the same page as me on that matter. But it’s funny that people like Max and most “progressives” have such a U.S.-centric view that same world. To them, anything that the U.S. does– development, diplomacy, etc– is imperialism. If they see Haim Saban or John McCain or CFR or Kagan or any other name that doesn’t suit their one-dimensional worldview, they cry “neo-con” and attempt to smear them and everything they support by putting them in that camp. If Russia supports and covers up mass-slaughter in Syria, they’ll just say “oh but look with the U.S. did here, here, and here! The hypocrisy!” Jeez. Can’t someone, I don’t know, call out and criticize both U.S. (as is my right as a loyal citizen) AND Russia transgressions and work to support reasonable policy suggestions and solutions for BOTH? Can we try that? Maybe it’s too hard for some people to see all the way from those ivory towers, high horses, and computer screens. But grow a pair and get to work– and you’ll find that there are people willing to work with you and that there’s a process— an imperfect one– to finding progress. One damn centimeter at a time.

The viewership of course is the perfect flock of sheep. I guarantee that 99% of them haven’t seen what Beltway life and culture and operations look like and what it takes to get anything done in that town. You don’t have to agree with 100% of someone else’s views to find mutual interest in working with one another, even for a very short period of time. And you don’t have to sell out your people or principles to do so. For some people, dirt and the axes they have to grind are far more important than human lives, human dignity, and having a world where people can be privileged enough to be keyboard commandos and tear people who try to do good work, like Mouaz, down and throw them into the neo-con pile.

The most ironic part of all this is that for people like Khalek and Blumenthal who judge people like Mouaz and the broader Syrian American community (and many actual Syrians in Syria, HELLO) for supporting U.S. intervention, they ignore that the Arabs who have been fighting for dignity and social justice for a while– namely the Palestinian community– as well as the established Arab names in academia, organizations (like Arab American Institute, ADC, etc), and the blogosphere, for the most part left the Syrians hanging! It would have been great to have THEIR fraternity and support in a small town like D.C. I’m sure that, since they’ve been there for a while now, that they have the resources and connections to help us land a few meetings here and there or something. (What have they been doing there for the past 10 years, anyways? A topic for further exploration should be “do Arab Americans have their s**t together? Are they as a collective body even relevant?”) Sure, a big chunk of that community (Asad Abu Khalil, Ali Abunimah, etc.) started criticizing the Assad regime when the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria started becoming besieged, but most of them will probably never tell you that they want Assad to step down (if they even mention Syria at all in the first place. Scroll through their Twitter accounts and you’ll see the only time suffering Syria brought up is when U.S. military action is in question), or that they renounce support for Hezbollah or Iran which have played integral roles in Assad’s killing machine. Because it’s all about the muqawama, the fantasy of resistance. The resistance was in power for more than 40 years, guys. They still weren’t able to get the Golan Heights back. To hell with your resistance, if it means you throw 100,000+ Syrians under the bus to burn. And to hell to any notion that these people do what they do for social justice and global progress. It’s about ego, ideology, and sometimes the groupies (the crude way I’ll describe the college students who flock to them or “get off” whenever they say something clever about U.S. hypocrisy). I’ll be the first to call out hypocrisy when my country is involved because it’s my country. And that’s the difference. I’m empowered. I’m not going to continue to play victim and appeal to the stubborn ideological crowds. I’m more interested in real work.

As the Arabic saying goes, “the caravan keeps moving, while the dogs keep barking.”

Some people have actual ideas, facts, history, and policy suggestions to discuss. Here’s something I DO LIKE:

I wish we could keep the conversation at this level. We agree, disagree, debate, and watch as history unfolds. Someone will be totally wrong, and we can let them know “I told you so” on Twitter when it’s all said and done. That’s what it’s all about, guys. We should not be about creating an echo chamber where no one takes us seriously. Seriously. Let’s keep the conversation where it matters, and not keep digging for what’s probably not even there (not to say that Blumenthal and Khalek are 100% wrong about Wahl, of course. I didn’t see Wahl denouncing the Kremlin’s covering up of Putin’s support for Assad. But you get my point.)

——-

One more thing that I DO LIKE: My #SeinfeldInArabia tweets. Come on fellas. I was on a roll this week. It might not have been conducive to a successful midterm exam week, but hey, perhaps a future in comedy/writing is a solid Plan B:

Even Marc Lynch liked them:

Sarah was on the verge of tears:

We’ve all been there, guys.

-Adham

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