U.S. Muslim voters are election-year outcasts

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Civil rights lawyer: ‘American Muslims feel slightly politically radioactive’
The Associated Press

Lepers. Untouchables. Politically radioactive.

These are ways American Muslims describe their status in an election year when Barack Obama’s opponents are spreading rumors that he is Muslim, when he is Christian, and linking him to terrorists.

So when Colin Powell, a Republican, condemned using Muslim as a smear — a tactic he said members of his own party allowed — there was an outpouring of gratitude and relief from American Muslims.

“That speech really came out of left field and really shocked us,” said Wajahat Ali, 27, an attorney and playwright from Fremont, Calif. “The sense is that it’s about time. He said something that needed to be said.”

The retired general, who was President Bush’s first secretary of state, made the comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” as he broke with his party to endorse the Democratic nominee for president. Powell noted in last Sunday’s broadcast that Republican John McCain did not spread rumors about Obama’s faith, but Powell said he was “troubled” that others did. Continue reading

Sour note for American Muslims in election campaign

Reuters – A woman hugs her child after taking the oath of citizenship to become an American citizen during a U.S. …

A woman hugs her child after taking the oath of citizenship to become an

CHICAGO (Reuters) – These are uneasy times for America’s Muslims, caught in a backwash from a presidential election campaign where the false notion that Barack Obama is Muslim has been seized on by some who link Islam with terrorism.

The Democratic White House candidate, who would be the first black U.S. president and whose middle name is Hussein, is a Christian. Son of a Kenyan father and white American mother, he spent part of his childhood in largely Muslim Indonesia. Continue reading


Imam Zaid Shakir
“Radicalism is the realization of marginalization”
Imam Zaid Shakir might seem like a rock star, but he is one of America’s most influential Muslim scholars. He speaks to us at length about politics, extremism, and an emerging Muslim American identity.
Imam Zaid Shakir, an African American convert to Islam and one of America’s most influential and popular Muslim scholars, commands a rock star following – legions of enthralled and inspired Muslims filling rooms to standing only capacity waiting to hear his words. It represents a fascinating and dynamic phenomenon illuminating the resurgent identity of an educated, spiritual, religious and political Muslim American identity emerging from the post 9-11 era. Shakir, a student of the civil rights era and an educated scholar of political science and traditional Islamic jurisprudence, casually interjects tidbits of political theory, economic reform, critical race theory, Arabic, traditional Islamic philosophy and religious didacticism within his rhetoric. altmuslim’s Wajahat Ali spoke to the highly sought scholar, referred to by his students as a “new Malcolm X” for Muslim Americans, for a discussion on the “Clash of Civilizations,” the 2008 presidency, religious extremism, and an emerging Muslim American identity.I want to repeat a section from your most recent essay regarding the presidential elections:

“As long as we politely skirt the fundamental problems plaguing our country, starting with the superficiality of our race relations, Obama’s candidacy and possible election do not represent any real change, they represent a re-entrenched status quo, and illustrate the sort of duplicity that would hound Dr. King as a traitor and communist at the end. The election of an African American, or a woman for that matter, without an associated “revolution of values” will do no more than possibly delay, but will not stave off, this country’s inevitable spiritual demise.”

What exactly, in your opinion, comprises a true “revolution of values” within the modern American political and cultural climate?

SHAKIR: I think a true revolution of values would include having the ability to consider the interests of people nationally and internationally. And on the basis of that ability being able to deem certain policies that historically have been an integral part of American political life – as being unacceptable. Right now, here in California and in other states, we are facing a massive fiscal crisis. There are massive budget cuts. Immediately, there are talks of cutting education, cutting therapeutic and preventive programs for the youth and for poor people. But, there is no discussion of cutting the military budget and changing our foreign policy.

Those are clear domestic implications that accrue from billions of dollar spent on the war. If you spend that much money on the war, you have trouble finding money for other things requiring far less expenditures. The values that don’t challenge the war machine dictate that we will have an unending series of boogeyman to go after. They might be Muslim – in recent history most of them have been Muslim, but not necessarily and not all of them amongst the list of the people we’ve chosen to demonize and then justify military action against. I mean in the ‘80’s, we had Maurice Bishop – that threatening, potential superpower of Grenada.

(Laughs) Right.

We had Manuel Noriega of Panama. We burned an entire quarter of the city just to potentially kill him, and as to be expected, he wasn’t harmed, but a large section of Panama City was burned down. When it was over – from that misadventure – we had over 3,000 dead people. So, these boogeyman, most of whom are friends and associates and operatives and assets however you want to term it, at one point of their career might not necessarily be Muslim.

At one time it was Khomeini, then it was Maurice Bishop, then Noriega, now it’s Ahmedinajad. Who is it going to be tomorrow? Who knows? But it will be someone because of the logic of maintaining that “machine”, the logic of renewing those contracts dictates that those armaments have to be used, those bombs have to be dropped, those bombs have to be dispatched, those cruise missiles have to be launched. Otherwise, those companies that make them will go out of business.

So when you have this massive business, this massive infrastructure, this massive expenditure and massive profiteering that goes on during war, then there is tremendous international and domestic consequences. So, a revolution of values would have to challenge the complacency with this arrangement. A revolution of values will have to give equal value to every human life. We can’t just determine that the lives of some people, like the lives of Muslims in Sudan might be “worth” saving [as opposed to the] lives of Muslims in Somalia – where we have almost single handedly one of the gravest humanitarian crisis in Africa today by facilitating and encouraging the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which undermined one of the few periods of stability they had in recent history. So Somalian lives don’t matter [to us], so we can impose situations on them that will lead them to starvation and refugee status. But, the lives of Muslims in Darfur matter because the politics play out in a different matter, or, the lives of Muslims in Darfur matter, but the lives of non-Muslims in Congo don’t matter. They’ve been dying at far more horrifying rates due to that ongoing conflagration.

We need to give equal value to all human beings. Unless we do that, we will ignore some situations where there is tremendous human suffering, and address other situations where there might be suffering of a lesser magnitude. I’m not justifying that some suffering is more justified than others. It’s all bad is what I’m saying. Unless we have a view of life that it is all bad and that it is all unacceptable, and that we wont engage in policies that encourage it here but discourage that suffering there, but instead, we will do something that will discourage suffering everywhere.

This is a human project. As human beings, we must seriously challenge the idea of “the national interest.” I seriously believe the whole idea of the “nation state” is an outdated and atavistic concept. It had its day, it served its purpose, but now due to the nature of the world, the shrinking of the world, globalization, integration, modern communications, we literally now live in a global village. So, now we must seriously consider a political arrangement that transcends the nation state. Right now, the nation state is for the elite who dominate the state. That might be here in US, in Saudi Arabia, in Europe, in Kenya – the elite that dominate the nation state. It’s an arrangement that the nation state monopolizes the legitimate use of force where that aspect is used to protect and advance the interest of those elites who dominate the state.

If we thought in global terms, in universal terms, we wouldn’t hesitate to begin to make serious changes in the way we do things here as it relates to the economic and ecological damage that ensues from the American way of life. Unless we can begin to think in human terms and develop ideas of human interests to replace national ideas, I think we are in for more of the same.

Let’s relate these ideas to the current political climate. The Muslims came out en masse in 2000 and voted for Bush as an interest group. In 2004, they went for Kerry. Now, most are confused looking for direction. In light of what you just said, what is the best option for Muslim Americans in the 2008 election? Furthermore, is a Muslim interest group, a voting majority if you will, the next political step for Muslim Americans in flexing their cultural muscle? Is there some hope their voices will be heard and it will resonate in changed foreign and domestic policy, or are these votes simply wasted on candidates who will do nothing to change the conditions of prejudice, exclusionism, and war mongering?

I think it’s a flawed system. One of the flaws is that there is no proportional representation. That virtually eliminates minor parties and political actions no matter how attractive their message might be. Some Muslims are attracted to the policies of Ron Paul, but they know he is not electable. Some Muslims are attracted to Dennis Kucinich on principle, but they realize he is not electable. So, a lot of Muslims are attracted to Obama. In that article you quoted, I wasn’t trying to attack Obama or discourage Muslims from attacking Obama. I was making the point that this is the same attitude towards race that manifested itself in a sort of duplicity that was used to assess the career of Dr. King – of what were acceptable actions worthy of being “glorified” with a national holiday and what were unacceptable actions that we don’t even talk about in the mainstream.

That sort of duplicity determines the viability or lack of viability of Obama as a candidate. That was the main point I was trying to make. I think Muslims first of all must ask if we are going to see ourselves as a progressive, social group looking at the interests of Muslims in the progressive sense, or are we looking at ourselves as a progressive human group who are looking at the interest of humanity and then using our potential strength in the political process?

First of all we have to sit down and hammer out an agenda. If you don’t do that, then it’s meaningless. It’s meaningless for half of Muslims to vote for Clinton in one primary, and then half for Obama in another primary. Each side neutralizes the other half. Or, at end of the day, half the Muslims fear Republicans will bring more wars in Middle East, but they are attracted to conservative moral values, then half vote for McCain and other half for Romney. It becomes meaningless. So, if we’re just merely participating in the political system to fulfill one’s civic duties, then there can be other ways of doing that other than voting. Voting is not the only way. It is not the end all of political participation, and voting in national campaigns, specifically, there are other ways to be politically active and make a positive impact in someone’s life.

If we are going to participate in these national contests, the first thing is incumbent on us to do is sit down, talk, and first of all determine why are we in this: to advance a system that will ensure greater liberty and even greater freedom to practice Islam? If that is our priority then we will find ourselves making political alliances with groups whom we have fundamental differences with in terms of our core values, such as gay and lesbian groups. Our strategy would dictate we are cooperating with gay people because the same sort of liberties and constitutional guarantees that would ensure the right of gay people to do their thing and function and exist in this society without the threat of physical violence, hate speech being aired to encourage violence against their group, those sort of policies would provide us protection as Muslims.

It’s very important for us if we are saying we are specifically looking at policies that will ensure to most successfully raise our children and pass on our core values. Then, we might be inclined to vote Republican, because we can say, “Well, we don’t really care because it doesn’t immediately affect me if this is basically a vote for the perpetuation of the war machine.” That’s why it’s very important to sit down and hammer out what are the core values that we want to emphasize in terms of committing ourselves to a political candidate. We might even want to exercise a punitive vote, we make sure those groups that support policies that are antithetical to Muslims, we make sure they move out and we don’t care who wins.

So who does Imam Zaid Shakir say is the candidate to support in 2008?

I think there is promise in Obama based on some of his pronouncements. And perhaps what I mention about race relations is that it won’t scuttle his candidacy, but that remains to be seen. I’m still honestly looking at this situation and assessing where it would be best to place a particular emphasis. But, it’s slim pickings out there.

A sexy term that has been used and abused for the past 10 years is the “Clash of Civilizations.” We’ve seen the rise of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, the war against Iraq, the racist diatribes of certain pundits against brown folk and Muslims, the anti Semitism and prejudice of Muslims towards certain Europeans and Jews; we see terrorists in London: Pakistani, Britain doctors; we see educated Arabs attacking the WTC; we see extremists murdering Dutch filmmakers and people violently protesting cartoons; we hear about Muslim terrorists in Spain, in Indonesia, in Pakistan; we hear Muslims say “Islam means Peace.” In face of all these examples, isn’t “Islam is Peace” just empty rhetoric? How do you, or can you, if at all, convince the masses that Islam is anything but violent and reactionary, and that we are not in the throngs of a clash of civilizations?

I definitely don’t believe there is this clash of civilizations going on for a number of reasons. Number one, Islam and Christianity are articulations of the same civilization, basically. Meaning that in the classical manifestation they are rooted in Hellenistic traditions. Classical Islamic thought was, philosophically, predicated on Aristotelian logic and Neo-Platonic philosophy. That was the same basis for Christian scholasticism. If you look at the Christian doctrine, you’ll find many Christian theologians, such as St. Augustine, saying verbatim what Muslims were saying. They’re saying the same thing. They were both rooted in the same area of the world, the Mediterranean. If you go further East, you hit the Mesopotamian, similar in terms of influence. Then, you look at the work of Muslims in Spain and Sicily and the establishment of Islamic universities. They were a direct inspiration for and had seeds of the European Renaissance. So, if you look at these two religions if you will, they are articulations of the same civilization: they are rooted in monotheism.

So, it would be very difficult, historically, to determine and separate these two. They developed in the same part of the world – socially, culturally in terms of their core values. I mean there are very little differences between a Palestinian Muslim and a Palestinian Christian.

This whole idea of neatly, compartmentalized, cultural regions and then setting up a clash between them – the world just doesn’t work like that. So, scholars like Samuel Huntington advance this whole idea of a civilization clash, revising historian Bernard Lewis’ ideas in the early 90’s. Lewis focuses on the fall of the Soviet Union that unleashed the forces of the clash, if you will. He was also writing in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War. It behooves them to analyze that on the basis of this Clash theory. If they did, it would not argue favorably in support of the theory.

You have Christians and Muslims coming to together not to fight each other, but to fight against third parties. You have the British and the Americans joining with the Kuwaitis and Saudis fighting against the Iraqis. You see the main supporters of the Iraqis are the Russians and to a lesser extent the French. The world is filled with nuances, with gray areas that defy these terms.

Also, if you are talking about a clash of civilization, you should be able to demonstrate it historically in terms of some of the theories, sub theories if you will, associated with the main theory. One of them is that sharing a common civilization mitigates the intensity of wars that do occur. Recent history rejects that idea. The first and second World War, focusing on Christian Europeans mostly fighting against Christians, was among the most bloody conflagrations this world has ever witnessed. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was one of the most costly conflagrations in terms of loss of life that the Muslim world has experienced. So, where is the mitigating effect of sharing a common civilization? So, it’s very important to look at things as they are and take the time to work through the nuances and understand the complexities.

In spite of all this, you must realize many people say and will say, “Even if what you say is correct that Islam has science, a rich civilization, poetry, arts, Rumi, Sufism –fine, we’ll accept that, it’s granted. Nonetheless, we still have terrorists, Muslim terrorists in the 21st century. Where did Islam’s spirituality go? Why is Islam’s piety now measured by radical extremism and political militancy?”

Well, again, we have to look deeper than the surface. I believe what you said is very relevant. Why do we have this problem in the 21st century – emanating from some Muslim individuals? I was talking about it in the context of a “civilization,” which is bigger than an individual, an individual terrorist, or radicals, or small cells of potential terrorists and radicals whose radicalism pushes them to violence. A civilization is bigger than that.

A more telling question getting to the root of it is the following: Is this Islam or is this individuals and groups who’ve been radicalized? In the New York Times, even [conservative scholar] Fouad Ajami raises the questions that these terrorists might not be possessors of a whole civilization. My response is that they are not the possessors of any civilization. They’ve been radicalized by social forces, by economic forces, by political forces that they have very little control over.

An aspect of radicalism is the realization of marginalization. The realization that there is no larger venue, if you will, whereby one can begin to think of influencing the politics that are leading to one’s frustration. So they think they can’t rely on any nation state actors, so if we have a “clash of civilizations” then where are the nation states that are mobilizing millions of Muslims, not just a few a thousand Muslims? Where are the nation states that are mobilizing millions of Muslims telling them to expand their civilization at the expense of other civilizations, or to undo civilizations that don’t represent their values and teachings of Islam? Where is that happening? That’s what I’m saying. Civilizations are large, deep, historical forces. They are not small groups.

So, it’s one thing to quote verses from the Quran or traditions from the Prophet to justify one’s actions, but it is another thing to say these are the reasons for taking these actions. If Islam wasn’t there or the Quran, the forces of globalization, of political occupation and domination, would push many individuals associated with these groups to act anyway and justify it the way the Tamil Tigers justify it in their response to foreign occupation and domination of another religion. Or, how some of the youth in Kenya justify it by believing it to be an encroachment of their rights and undermining of their participation in the political process. These are just some examples of political violence, some which involve extreme reactions like the suicide bombing campaign in the past of Tamil Tigers in a group where there is no Islam. So, in the Muslim world if there was no Islam, you’d still have a lot of these radical responses because the underlying socio-political forces that are pushing people to act in desperate ways, they would still be there. And humans beings, at the end of the day, are human beings.

Speaking of “modernity” and continuing on the ramifications of your comments, we have this assumption that Islam is incapable of adapting to modern times. In fact, many suggest the Muslim reliance on following the traditions of the Prophet and his companions is turning the clock back 1400 years. Thus, they think this is proof of Muslims as relics of a fossilized age incapable of adapting to a modern age. Thus, Islam is stunted and not compatible with the problems of modern era. Muslims trying to be Muslims according to the ideology of Islam is akin to burying one’s head in the sand as the world passes them by. People say evidence of this is the scientific and technological advancement of Europe and the technological decline of Muslims. What’s your response to that assumption?

The technological advancement of Europe, which was an anomaly in human affairs, hasn’t just rendered the Muslims backwards and non competitive, but it also has rendered parts of Latin American “backwards.” Those are Christians, Catholics in Latin America. So, if you look at it and make comparisons between Muslim nations such as Turkey, and the comparisons in technological sophistication between oil rich nations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and even Iraq before the war, then not Islam but the war set it back thousand wars. If you compare the oil producing nations in the Muslim world with oil producing nations in the non-European parts of Africa or Asia, then you find Muslims are extremely competitive. So, it’s unfair to make a comparison between Islam and Europe, or Muslims and Europe. You compare the technological advancements of Europe to Muslims in the third world, but you don’t make comparisons between Muslim and non Muslim people in the third world – to do that makes the point that Islam, specially, is responsible for their backwardness. The same forces that render Guatemala or Costa Rica or Uruguay or Paraguay – the same forces that render those nations backwards are the same forces that render Muslim nations backwards.

Let’s take it from a globalized view to a more personalized view, the actual practice of the religion itself. People say Muslims follow a religion that is now 1400 years old; they still don’t eat pork, they are averse to interest; they have long beards and wear traditional dress; they are relying on this crutch of a 1400 year old tradition, thus even in the practice of their religion they are incompatible with “modernity.” Your thoughts?

[Islam gives Muslims] some grounding to give meaning to their lives in many instances. Suppose there was no Islam in Iraq – You’d probably have massive suicides after a million of their people have been killed, after four million people have been internally and externally displaced, after their entire modern nation state with its education, farming institutions, exports to other nations, agricultural produce and oil, technological advancements: they have all been leveled and unraveled.

To be placed under United Nations sanctions and watching a million of your children die, half a million admitted to by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Watching your babies die, being forced to drink sewage infested water because your sewage treatment facilities have been bombed. If you didn’t have Islam there to give people their sense of spiritual grounding, I mean, no telling what you’d have there in terms of the types of resistance and suicide rates you might have. So, Islam has given Muslims a lot of spiritual grounding.

I think a lot of informed religious people have privately said, and I’ve heard this myself, that you should be thankful you haven’t had this type of enlightenment, because it has destroyed our religion. The issue of “modernity” is a function of modernization in a technological and industrial sense, which is largely based on where you are situated in a European dominated global economy. If in that economy, you are situated in a place that, for a number of reasons, allows you to make advances in technology, then it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, or Christian, or whomever you are.

You can look at close similarities at Turkey and Brazil in terms of industrialization and the factors that undermined their efforts to industrialize. Another comparison between Venezuela – in terms of what they could do with their oil wealth and the realm of possibilities available to them – and Iran, which was fairly populous like Venezuela, but what they were able to do. Look at a small oil producing country and its ability to translate that wealth into a large degree of infrastructure and development, and make comparisons to small Muslim and non Muslim countries without that regard.

You can see what lack of religion had led to some people to in terms of psychological trauma they are experiencing, in terms of alienation. How did the whole social fabric of Rwanda fall apart and lead people to kill each other in the massive numbers you see? No external intervening cause for that. Why hasn’t a Muslim country gone through that genocidal episode? So, there are lot of positives thing you can point to that Islam has contributed. Praying 5 times a day isn’t a crutch that will keep people from modernizing. There are lot of deep historical forces that determined who modernized.

To take this question a little deeper, many students of history have noted that if not for the bubonic plague that broke out in the 14th century, many assume that Muslims would have been the first nations to “modernize.” Why? All the factors were there – Muslims were at the heart of the globalized trading system extending from Scandinavia to China, whose heart lay in Egypt. The Muslim Middle East had the silk roads which converged with all the sea routes. Muslims experienced tremendous and very elevated scientific thinking at the time. What broke this momentum? The bubonic plague that traveled throughout the system and hit the core of the system, the heart of the Middle East, it devastated the heartland. Because of the nature of the settlement patterns in Europe, the impact wasn’t as severe, thus that region was able to be the first to rebound from that age and enter into a process that aided development.

The plague had a negative impact on the momentum of Muslim technological advance that was developing. Another totally unexpected development was the massive source of gold and silver from the New World. Europeans were able to exploit that new, unexpected source of wealth. Not only unexpected, but totally free! It was being taken completely for free. Then, you also add to that the colonization of the New World and the development and use of slave labor, free labor in developing the economic resources of the colonies of the New World. All of that wealth: the gold, the produce of slave labor, all of that coming to Western Europe where at that time the primary Muslim actor, such as the Ottoman State, was experiencing a fiscal crisis. All this money was invested in research and development, money used to orchestrate dominant trade relations with other partners – all of that is occurring at one time. So, there are a lot of deeper historical factors that aided the advancement of Europe and that worked against other nations when that money was discovered. Viable economic relations were developed exclusively between Western Europe and the new colonies of the Americas. Muslims used to be the heart of the trading region, now they belong at the periphery. Western Europe, which was at the periphery, now is the heart between the Muslim world and the new Americas.

In 1453, when Constantinople was captured, the Muslims did it because like the French they adopted the use of cannon technology that other Hungarians and other Christian powers were developing. There was no hesitation to adapt that technology. So, what happened that destroyed that willingness to adapt, that willingness to adjust to current situations? What undermined that? Something happened to change the attitude. So, there is a lot of work and study we have to do if we are going to conclude what are the real factors that can answer any of these questions. Many times we find that religion is not the sole, determining factor, it is a factor, but in many instances it is not central factor.

I need to address this controversial New York Times quotation attributed to you:

“Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,” he said. “I think it would help people, and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it’s helped a lot of people in my community.”

Doesn’t this reaffirm and justify the fear of Americans that Muslims in America are loyal only to Islam, and their ultimate goal is the complete “Islamization” of America, thus making Muslims and their culture incompatible with democracy and the “West?”

(Sarcastically) Uh, no. That was part of what I said. This reporter was with us for 3 months, so there’s a lot of cherry picking [with the quotations] there. That quote, if you see what preceded that, is in the context of a very structured – I mean – if you see the quotation marks “quote” “unquote” “quote” “unquote” introducing very evocative ideas that I didn’t mention at all, such as [discussions on] the Taliban and Sharia [Islamic Jurisprudence] – and then contextualising that to give that impression.

What I said was I respect the right of all people to make the decision about how they want to live their life. As a Muslim, I’d want every Muslim to be a Muslim, and I think every Muslim would feel that way. But, I respect the right of a Christian to believe the same thing. I think every Christian wants everyone to be “saved” so everyone can go to heaven. Everyone should be free to choose whatever they want to believe. That’s what I said. If that statement is problematic then the first amendment is problematic.

All I’m saying is everyone should be free to advance their ideas and to accept or reject the ideas of others. Period. That’s all I was saying. When I said that there wasn’t any controversy. I specifically said this to this reporter that I made the same statement at an Inter-faith conference in the context of sitting on panel with representatives of other religions. That was the origin of that statement. I said “We’re all here and we are presenting our ideas. As a Muslim, I’d like all of you to become Muslims. But as Christians, I respect you might want everyone to be Christians. But what is important for us is to be able to share our ideas and work for a system where people can be free to choose.

There is a problem of race relations within the Muslim American community: Muslim on Muslim crime, if you will. Often most Muslim conferences talk about “Unity” yet we traffic in stereotyping and racial prejudice that is rampant within the American Muslim citizenry. What causes this?

As Muslims in this country there are lots of factors that work to create divisions at a fundamental level between communities whose populations are rooted in immigration and communities of converts: African Americans primarily, but increasingly Latino and Caucasian-American. From an immigrant perspective you have people in many instances who are coming to America, who have been, historically, attracted to her through “brain drain politics.”

People who were successful on their own right, people able to pass very rigid entrance exams in their respective countries – they were very privileged and talented individuals. When coming to this country, they found the universities to be very receptive, and the brightest were given scholarships and education. When you have that degree of talent, it becomes very easy to assume anyone, who just works hard and gets ahead, makes it the way “I made it” – and not to look at the some of the factors that work against everyone getting ahead just like in the country where you come from. In that country, there were, say, only 5000 seats for education, but there were millions who couldn’t pass the high school exams, and millions who couldn’t pass the junior high exams.

So, there is a tendency when one is successful to forget the realities that render a lot of people unsuccessful – to use those terms. Coming with those attitudes and seeing people whom you assume had the same opportunities you had in this land of opportunity – it works towards creating very narrow minded attitudes that are very shallow in terms of really understanding the dynamics at work in the lives of many people from different racial, ethnic groups. Those prejudices play themselves out in the mosques.

In addition, many of our societies are plagued by racialized thinking. You see a lot of color consciousness in a lot of Muslim societies – Syria and to a lesser extent Sudan. Pakistan and India where lighter skin people are looked in a different light than darker people. The daughter who has lighter skin, even if her features aren’t as attractive as the darker skinned daughter, she gets all the marriage proposals.

She’s the number one draft pick.

Yeah, so then you come to this country and you see a lot of African American Muslims and you have this built in mechanism to project the inherent, intrinsic racialist, racist attitudes towards those people. These create a lot of discomfort when the two groups come together and this is perceivable. Especially at those who are considered to be at the lower end of the economic spectrum. It is very important for Muslims to acknowledge this and not be in a state of denial regarding a lot of these racialist attitudes, color consciousness, and social economic snobbishness – it’s real!

You have those attitudes, you have that tension, and then you have a desire to exclusively pursue those interests. Each group is pursuing its respective interest and not looking at how coming together in certain areas could strengthen certain communities, especially in this indigenous, racial divide. So, when each group is selfish, then the everyday life activity and organizational activities of the other group becomes irrelevant.

You get a phenomenon like 40,000 people in Chicago for an ISNA conference [the largest Muslim American conference in America] and less than 1% of that is African American Muslims, even though 35% of American Muslims are African American. Or, you have Warith Deen Muhammad’s convention [Elijah Muhammad’s son] and over 99% of attendees are African American, because people feel it is relevant to their circumstance and identity. We have, as Muslims, stagnated ourselves in terms of how we organize ourselves, our interests and those advancements that deepen these divisions. We need to transcend this because we have so many ways we can help each other and strengthen each other.

Malcolm X when he went to Hajj had an observation that I don’t deny: that people of different groups tend to congregate and gravitate towards ones who are similar. Urdu speakers go to Urdu speakers, Spanish speakers go to people who speak Spanish for example. Should there be a level where we can recognize this and even celebrate it? This is part of what the Quranic message encourages: “We made you into nations and tribes.” It’s a reality, it’s a cultural reality. But shouldn’t there be a higher level where we can identify some common issues that no individual group or no individual ethnic collectivity has the power to address individually? And then come together at that level to those larger issues that affect all of us? So, it’s important for us to mature to a point, where as you said, as opposed to empty cries for unity that totally ignore the sociological basis of the separation that exists in the community are replaced by a mature call for creating common agendas that don’t seek to eradicate the existing divisions, but seek to glorify and celebrate those divisions.

But, on the other hand, look at a higher level of interest where our collective resources are needed. For example, challenging the spread of prejudicial and hateful attitudes towards Muslims. That’s a massive project. The people spreading those ideas are spending lots of money, publishing books, dominating talk radio, getting their voices on major media outlets like Fox and others. So, to compete on that level and put out a countervailing message, is going to take a tremendous amount of resources that no one community possess. It will taken a common agenda, a common message, a common strategy and pooling of resources, such as a nationwide legal endowment with lawyers on retainer with ongoing research into civil rights and human rights issues that are relevant to Muslims in this country – like a NAACP legal fund but for rights of all Muslims. Responses as a community to those situations in a very effective manner: fueled jet plains loaded with resources to supply medicine ready to fly anywhere in the world for example. That’s what we are capable of doing as Muslims if we are to come together and think at a higher level and not confine our activism to issues that are specifically germane to “my corner and segment” of the Muslim community

Most know that in the 2004 elections, the issue of “moral values” was statistically shown to be the most important issue for voters. However, what was underreported was that under moral values, “materialism” beat out gay marriage and abortion as the most prevalent problem according to voting Americas. Discuss the materialism of America and Muslim communities and how it has, if at all, contributed to a spiritual decline.

Materialism is going to the idea of a “revolution of values.” In this country, we must take a hard look at why we have such a wasteful life and what are the implications on others. Why should 5% of the world’s population be consuming 30% of the world’s resources? There’s no way we can justify that. Why do we need 3 bathrooms when the whole time we were living in our apartment with one bathroom there was no argument or fighting? Why do we need 11 ft ceilings when we are 6ft tall? Why do we have to drive a Hummer or an Escalade, and we say we are getting this for my wife so she can feel safe when she is only 5’6″ and weighs 140 lbs? Why does she need a Hummer and why contribute to the waste that it involves?

We need to consider this Earth has a finite resource base. What examples are we setting for others? We’re saying to be successful we need 2.5 bathrooms, you need to have two cars. For example look at China, they are chasing the American dream, they will say, “I need two cars.” Look at consequences of 300 million Americans living like this, and what will happen with one billion Chinese living like this? One billion Indians? This is madness. China is literally destroying their eco-system to make the “industrial” advantages they are making. Taiwan has already destroyed their eco-system. This is sheer madness. We must realize local is better. Localized communities. We live close to places we work in, we grow our food close to communities we live in, we buy and shop close to community we live in which cuts down on the massive costs of moving and packaging goods. We must realize there is a finite amount of resources, and as Muslims one of the great objectives of our Divine Law is preserving children, to preserve the future of our children.

It’s very important to think what kind of world we are going to leave our kids, and if these children are denied the opportunity to walk in an oak or redwood forest. Their ability to even breathe might be compromised – deforestation, polluting the ocean, a tremendous drop off in Salmon and the possibility that in 5 years Chinook Salmon will be gone. To never see a salmon run, to never walk in a forest, to never see a polar bear, because they are all extinct due to our activities and our greed. It is very, very troubling. What sort of world will we leave our children? Is it all get rich quick, develop, industrialize now and forget about the consequences for future generations? That’s a dangerous attitude to take.

The core value we have to change is the materialist nature of our life and the impetus to own, to shop. We have a looming recession. How are we going to stave it? We are going to give a taxpayer $600 rebate so they can go out and shop. Anytime anyone is going to get money, they are going to shop. They won’t save the money for the kids. They won’t give that money to charity, or to help the less fortunate. They will go out on a shopping spree. The whole premise is dangerous and deeply flawed and it’s important for us now to challenge those premises and look at the deep, ecological consequences of those premises.

In the end you are only one man. Yet you have millions around the globe looking up to you, following your advice, calling you the “next Malcolm X for the Muslims” – for any man this is tremendous pressure and immense weight on their shoulders. I feel like you are like Frodo from “Lord of the Rings”. Surely, moments of doubt have crept in your mind and you have asked yourself “Why me?” or “I’m not worthy.” How do you confront this reality: your scholarly obligations and duties, your own weaknesses, and the weight of people’s impossible expectations thrust upon you?

We had a lesson last night on just accepting whatever Allah gives you and give that it’s full right. Basically, in summarizing the text, the author said, “Be wherever Allah has placed you.” So, if you are placed in a situation with some public exposure and influence, then be responsible and do that to the best of your ability. If you are placed in obscurity, then be content with that and give that it’s full right and fulfill the right that you owe to everyone in that situation.

One of the ancient sages said, “Whoever seeks to have a public face, then that person is a slave to publicity. And whoever seeks to be hidden away and be obscure, then that person is a slave to obscurity. And whoever seeks Allah, then the two states are equal within him and her.” We pray that we can seek Allah and that whatever we are challenged with us in this world, whether it involves fame, popularity, or shame in the eyes of people, but as long as you’re right with Allah, to give each situation it’s full right and to make Allah the ultimate objective of our striving. Not our ego, nafs. Not the pleasure of people, but the pleasure of Allah. If we are sincere in making that our attitude and orientation, no matter what Allah challenges us with, we will rise to that change. Inshallah [God willing].

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, and recent J.D. whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. His personal blog can be found here and he can be reached at  wajahatmali@gmail.com.

Sleeping cell

Perhaps if we know our enemy, we will know ourselves and become the “good Muslim” and the “good American.” Too bad most of us are sleeping.

Friends. Neighbors. Husbands. Terrorists. Muslims. Darkies.

The last two descriptive nouns (Muslims and Darkies) were added for dramatic effect by yours truly, however the first four (Friends. Neighbors. Husbands. Terrorists.) accompany the faces of four non-Muslim actors playing Al-Qaeda-esque would be “Islamist”, terrorist, fundamentalist, Mohammedan Jihadis (pick adjective of your choice) on the poster for Showtime’s new, not so original series, “Sleeper Cell.”

In the past century, Hollywood’s illuminating portrayal and characterizations of Muslims, Arabs, and token Darkies have comfortably existed somewhere between grossly racist, obscenely simplistic and laughably absurd. Responding to the evolving cultural-political ramifications of the “War on Terror,” the two co-creators of “Sleeper Cell” (both non-Arab and non-Muslim) decided not to board the stereotype train, and instead held auditions for a new, multicultural, United Colors of Benetton- terrorist squad. The hooked, bulbous nosed scimitar wielding ogre from the “Aladdin” cartoon and irrational, darkie Palestinian terrorist has transformed into a more heterogeneous, chameleon personality: the hero (Darwyn), an African American convert to Islam playing an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the terrorist cell; the cell’s leader, an Arab extremist posing as a Jewish security analyst (played by Israeli born Jewish actor Oded Fehr, whose resume includes exotic but heroic Arab darkie in the mind numbingly inane blockbuster “The Mummy”); Tommy, the white convert and obvious John Walker Lindh foil, whose liberal, Berkeley parents failed him; a former European skinhead who finds “peace” by embracing extremist ideology; a Bosnian ‘mujahid’; and finally an Egyptian-American who also conveniently teaches high school science. The kicker? The respective members of this multicultural death squad all seamlessly blend in American society as high school teachers, tour guides, security consultants, and grocery-store employees – basic all American jobs held by average Americans who all happen to be Muslim – and potential holy warriors. The point? Your neighbor could be your enemy. The enemy is here. But where?

(Cue dramatic music, extreme close up, and a flash of thunder).

Structurally, the show resembles a routine fast paced, race against time suspense thriller. Our hero, Darywn, concealing his secret identity as an FBI agent, acts as willing participant in the cell’s increasingly illegal and violent activities with the intent of ascertaining and stopping their final “passport to heaven” suicide mission (releasing toxic, deadly gas in the middle of a packed, baseball stadium to inflict maximum damage to the “infidels.”)

Showtime took a page from Fox’s “24” public relations snafu and wisely decided to repeatedly highlight that “Sleeper Cell” is not meant to defame or dishonor Muslims and Islam. Before the show’s premier, Showtime aired a 30 minute “making of” special entitled “Sleeper Cell: Known Your Enemy.” Alongside the “rah-rah-rah” publicity boost for the upcoming show, this special included a ten minute not so subtle “We swear we love Muslims, please believe us” segment, which included the translation and proper pronunciations of words such as “Allah hu Akbar” (God is Greatest), “Al Qaeda”, and “Jihad.” Furthermore, the interviewees, composing of actors, the creators, and special advisors, regurgitated the recycled, fossilized theme of “See? We’re showing there are bad Muslims, but also GOOD Muslims, too! We love darkies also!” Robert Greenblat, president of Showtime, recently stated that in the show “there are positive portrayals… and negative portrayals, which is reflective of the world” advocating the need for people to realize the complexities of our social, world climate consisting of “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims.” Noble intentions, indeed, but how to celebrate and highlight the “good” Muslim, when the good Muslim’s entire actions, existence, rhetoric, and behavior are juxtaposed as defensive and offensive reactions to the overwhelming focus on the irrational violence, seething hatred, anti Americanism, and obscurant fanaticism of his “bad Muslim” peers?

Kamran Pasha, one of the hired writers and an American Pakistani Muslim, at least acknowledged this predicament: “Of course the risk always is, even if we show a positive Muslim hero, some people may walk away thinking their next door neighbor is a sleeper cell member.” To say that “some people” might think this is an understatement considering the non stop barrage of negative images of Islam, Muslims, and Arabs has so thoroughly penetrated the psyche of Americans that merely mentioning “Islam” and Arab” elicits a mental image of “terrorism” and “”extremism.” As an example, a recent poll showed that 50% support the President’s controversial secret wiretapping of private conversations, which arguably, lies outside the proper scope and procedure of the 4th amendment. As HL Mencken once wrote, people would rather feel safe than be free. Americans would readily barter their own civil liberties such as the right to privacy, in exchange for the mere illusion of safety and comfort, even though this gamble might jeopardize their guaranteed freedoms. (We are a “freedom loving” country are we not?)

But it’s ok. Why? Because the President is going after “them” and not “us,” even though “us” includes Muslims, Arabs, Hindus, Sikhs, light skinned blacks confused as Arabs, Mexicans confused for Middle Easterners, and pretty much anyone with the slightest, vaguest connection to “questionable activity.” It even includes someone like international renowned peace activist and former singer Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), who was denied entry into the US in 2004 after being placed on a “national security watch list.” What were they watching? A repeat of the VH-1 special highlighting Islam’s conversion? Or maybe a hidden Al Qaeda message encrypted in Islam’s famous hit ironically titled “Peace Train?” No one knows, but you can rest assured dangerous elements such as Yusuf Islam, who never received a proper, official reason for being included on this list, are being vigilantly “watched.”

In fact, the Showtime special unknowingly and ironically emphasizes this fear-inducing ignorance while attempting to educate the public about Islam. During the “making of special,” the strong, comforting but purposeful narrator informs us that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, with 1.2 billion faithful worldwide, and up to 6 million practicing in America. Then, the narrator’s voice turns deadly serious and foreboding, and the voice warns us “The number of terrorists? Unknown.”

(Cue hysterical shrieking and mass panic now).

One can never know whether entertainment puff pieces like this sincerely wish to “bridge cultures” together by juxtaposing “good minority” against “bad minority” to emphasize the “true peaceful” nature of Islam, or to merely avert a potential PR disaster thus offering this type of verbal fellatio instead. However, this method and technique of subtly advocating an agenda though frivolous entertainment, which masks a potential Public Relations “accident,” is nothing new.

The time tested strategy goes something like this: Identify, Categorize, and Exalt the character traits of the model minority by pitting “the good” minority against the “bad” minority as a learning template for all minorities to follow. Examples: Asians are model minorities compared to Blacks and Mexicans. Why? They are supposedly apolitical, culturally assimilated, passive, successful, and they don’t rock the boat. Blacks, and now Mexicans and Middle Easterners, are violent, aggressive, breed- happy, and anti-intellectual. In the realm of cinema and television, characterizations of “good darkie” include the passive, happy, dancing darkie whose sole existence serves to help white people with their golf swing (Will Smith in “Legend of Bagger Vance”), their romantic pursuits (Aunt Mammy fussing over Scarlett in “Gone with the Wind”), or act as a colorful sidekick accessory (Hajji Baba for Johnny Quest, Kato for Green Hornet, Colin Powel and Condi Rice for George Bush).

However, in their sincere but short sighted attempt at fairness, the creators of “Sleeper Cell” use a serious, practicing African American Muslim, Darwyn, played well by Michael Ealy, whose greatest career accomplishment, according to this writer, is dating Halle Berry (On behalf of all men, we salute you, Ealy). The actors, trying their best with a flaccid script, interject the script occasionally with “Islamic infotainment” pop ups to teach the non Muslim audience about Islamic culture and religion (Jihad, The Battle of the Trench, The 15th night of Shabaan are explained), and also to differentiate b/w the “good” and “bad” Muslim. Sadly, the convenient infotainment mixed inelegantly within the script comes off as unrealistic and trite. Why would a practicing Muslim “fundamentalist” feel the need to explain the significance of the 15th of Shabaan to fellow Muslims who already know? It’s reminiscent of a recent movie “Stealth” where intelligent, military advisors are reminding each other what a prime number is. Again, these robotic conversations remind Muslims of no other Muslims, because no one, and I assume even terrorists, talks like a walking Wikipedia. Furthermore, the 15th of Shabaan (“Layatal Baraa”), a night primarily used for prayer and reflection, is used by the terrorists in the show for the “unveiling” of their terrorist plot. Again, a peaceful, spiritual tradition is juxtaposed to a violent terrorist act.

This methodology of using “good minority” to fight “bad minority” in order to celebrate diversity perpetuates the illusion of inclusiveness and fairness, but in reality puts a colorful, Flintstones, “don’t worry be happy” band aid on the festering sore that is racism, stereotyping and bigotry. Also, it simultaneously forgives and condones certain unsavory and “dirty” policies of the administration.

See? Blacks never had it that bad during slavery or the racist, post Reconstruction South. They just complain too much and want reparations and fried chicken.

See? We always loved Asians, so much so we passed multiple exclusion acts, such as Chinese exclusion Act of 1882, even though the Chinese composed only .002 percent of the nation’s “then” population. (The Act was passed to assuage concerns about maintaining white “racial purity.”)

See? Muslims, Arabs, minorities, and darkies just whine and whine and nag, life is good – relax! Allow for the extension of the Patriot Act, Secret wiretapping, Guantanamo detentions, and racial profiling, which is thriving according to Lawrence A. Greenfield, former head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), whose findings released last April without news release confirmed widespread racial profiling of “ethnic” minorities by the police. (Greenfield’s prize for unearthing racial disparities in America? He was demoted – after refusing to delete this information at the behest of the current administration.)

Torture is as common as sliced bread on the hit Fox show “24”, which follows a day in the life of agent Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland) who successfully foils terrorist plots season after season using abuse, intimidation, and violent threats. Non lethal torture, such as placing sterilized needles underneath fingernails, finds its greatest advocate in lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a self proclaimed defender of civil liberties. His “ticking time bomb” theory asks, “if you had to torture a suspected terrorist to gain whereabouts of a ticking time bomb, wouldn’t you invade that human liberty for the sake of saving thousands of lives?” Even though the ticking time bomb hypothetical is merely that – a hypothetical – it can serve as a “what if” reality that allows for the very real abuses of human liberties and rights, but that’s acceptable, since it assuages us.

In reality, the report of the heinous, S&M-style torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison propelled the FUBAR, public relations disaster resulting in the administration, American pundit puppets, and military personnel distancing themselves from such “un-American” behavior as to retain and regain the beleaguered trust and respect from much of the shocked “A-rab” world. You know a situation is bleak when Senators such as John McCain (R-AZ) proactively initiate an anti-torture ban to prohibit the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment of any detainee in US custody anywhere in the world, even as the administration tried for months to severely weaken the ban’s potency and credibility.

What does the “good Muslim” do? Should he speak out against unfair actions or risk the Scarlet letter of being labeled “apologist” and “soft on terror?”

In this era of mistrust, paranoia, and deception, it’s of no surprise that over 50% of Americans responding to a CNN poll think their elected officials are corrupt. This poll comes in reaction to the revelations of the Abramoff-bribing scandal linking the recently indicted lobbyist to several prominent members of Congress. Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center Poll, only 35% of Americans believe that the news shows they watch and hear daily on the TV, Internet, and radio “get the facts straight”. Who is our modern-day Walter Cronkite, once voted the most trusted man in America? Who is our cultural Jimmy Stewart, reminding us “it’s a wonderful life” after all? They’ve been replaced by single minded ideological puppets, most of whom are now very blond and very leggy, who tow the respective propaganda of their masters at the expense of accuracy, research, and ethics (The New York Time’s convicted journalist -for – hire Judith Miller’s involvement in the Valerie Plame case comes to mind). Are they to blame for the increasingly negative worldview of American foreign policies, or are the citizens themselves to be blamed for their inattention, submissive complicity, and general apathy?

Should the good Muslim stay hidden or should the good Muslim throw his stick in the middle and offer his 2 cents?

For those Muslim Americans constantly pillorying the “media” for painting them negatively, they have to take a hard look in the “say it ain’t so” mirror. Unfortunately, the actions and rhetoric of a few misguided Muslims provide the ideological ammunition for critics and enemies to fire against them. It’s like the Siphai army voluntarily loading their Enfield rifles and handing the rifles over to the British to efficiently use them for the Siphai’s execution. Pakistan recently fuels the “Muslim misogynist” engine with tragic tales of violence and abuse against innocent women, such as Mukhtaran Mai, who in 2002 was the victim of a gang “revenge rape” order by her local village counsel due to criminal actions allegedly committed by her younger brother. President Musharaf and cronies, in a complete reversal of their “enlightened moderation” stance, reportedly banned Mai from traveling to speak about her experience due to fear her tale would tarnish his administration’s mirage of a reputation. The PR disaster that followed only likened Musharaf”s blind eye to the Bush administration’s “shove it under the bed and burn the bed” mentality which seeks to suppress rather than uncover tales of abuse for fear of negative publicity. Recently, the world witnessed the unrepentant Pakistani Muslim Nazir Ahmed publicly admit to slitting the throats of his three young daughters and their 25-year-old stepsister to “salvage his family’s honor” due to allegations of adultery. Apparently, the Jahil (Urdu and Arabic for “grossly ignorant”) scholars and contemporaries of his local village, akin to several villages unfortunately, piggyback their misogynist, violent insecurities and tribal traditions on the burdened shoulders of a phantom, perverted version of Islam that never existed during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and hopefully will find no new converts in the near future. The misogyny is parallel to the misuse of “jihad” to condone terrorist actions clearly violating the sanctioned boundaries of ethical combat as permitted by Islamic Shariah (the law). Yet, the single minded, “us vs. them”, confrontational rhetoric (sound familiar, America?), provides the ideological nourishment for politically minded individuals whose zealous spine is supported by a perverted self motivated interpretation of dogma condoning reprehensible acts of violence. (Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, Al-Zawhiri, 9-11, London Subway bombings, Spain + Mali bombings).

Due to the gross inequities exhibited by this arcane behavior by Muslims against Muslims and Non Muslims, words of tolerance, peace, and women’s rights ring cheaper than a flea market bargain. The blatantly xenophobic and prejudiced questions aimed only at Muslim applicants taking the recent German citizenship test provide justified outrage, but can one honestly blame them for asking potential Muslim citizens (The following are actual questions):

“Your daughter or sister comes homes and says she has been sexually molested. What do you do as father/mother/brother/sister?”

“What do you think if a man in Germany is married to two women at the same time?”

It must be comforting for test takers to note that providing the wrong or false answer to these questions can result in a “loss of (German) nationality, even after years, and even if this means that I (the test taker) will become stateless. ”

Should the “good Muslim” get Cliff’s notes before the test and make sure to give the correct answer word for word to pass?

Even “hall of fame” liberals, such as Gloria Steinem, a near prophet for some feminists, jumps on the prejudiced bandwagon, recently quoted lambasting Mr. “Playboy” himself Hugh Hefner: “Now’s he’s going around with four young women in their 20s instead of just one. It’s sort of Moslem, actually.” Considering less than 5% of Muslims engage in polygamy, it soothes the stereotypical soul to know a so-called vanguard for civil rights and defender of minority struggles such as Ms. Steinem can use the religious identity of 1.2 billion as a slanderous description of a noted womanizer and lothario. Can anyone imagine the reaction if Steinem had said “It’s sort of Jew, actually”? Hopefully, some sane reporter would kindly suggest a retraction, apology, or at least a clarification. To counter these ignorant, wholesale assumptions with proper Islamic legal foundations and cultural context in an intelligent, rational manner would be revolutionary, especially for a Muslim, who would immediately be deemed “an apologist,” “stealth Islamist” (aka undercover jihadi), or worse, “uppity.”

Instead, the “good Muslim” sits back, mindlessly nods, applauds, and allows the progressive ideologue, whose enmity for Islam is outmatched only by the neo-conservatives, to rail on “Islam” and “Islamists” and “Moslems” backwards mentality and barbaric actions, with evidence amply provided by the Muslims themselves. For true progress, Americans and Muslims should highlight the rampant, yet hidden, abuse of women in their respective countries instead of demonizing one another in an effort for moral high ground and cultural superiority. Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey. Next time Steinem hears a domestic abuse case, maybe she should say: “It’s sort of Muslim… actually, well, it’s sort of American, also.”

So, what should the “good Muslim” do? In “Sleeper Cell,” the good Muslim Darwyn infiltrates the cell, tips off the FBI at the last second, and subverts a major national catastrophe. His reward? A beautiful white woman who happens to be a single mother to the most adorable kid in the reality of make believe TV. The show ends with Darwyn praying (incorrectly, I might add – Muslim advisors, where were you?), and peacefully smiling upon his completion. The show recommends, “Know your enemy.” If indeed this is the ideological battlefield for the 21st century, a simplistic “Clash of Civilizations” as heralded by Samuel Huntington, an “us” vs. “them” fight on domestic levels (liberal vs. conservative), and the war field (Coalition of the Willing vs. Axis of Evil), a “good Muslim” vs. the “bad Muslim,” then we must follow the sagely advice of Lao-Tse who wrote the classic “The Art of War.” The most skillful warrior in battle is not only one who knows his enemy, but one who knows himself.

In an era of media manipulation, political scandal, ideological punditry, cultural cinema stereotyping, and a festering environment of distrust and paranoia, who are we, as Americans, in this war on terror? For the Muslims, both American and abroad, if the true meaning of jihad is “struggling against the self-commanding nafs (the id, selfish vain desires) and the true meaning of Islam is “peace” and “submission to God’s will” then why do our hypocritical actions and rhetoric belie the tolerant, multicultural aspects of our religion we supposedly hold dear?

Perhaps if we know our enemy, we will know ourselves and become the “good Muslim” and the “good American.”

Too bad most of us are sleeping.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright based in Northern California. His most recent production, ”The Domestic Crusaders”, was featured on altmuslim.com in July 2005. This article was originally published in KONCH Magazine.

And will the real Muhammad please stand up?

With a sigh of resignation, a fist pumped in rage, and both hands brought together in hopeful supplication, I humbly ask, “Will the Real Muhammad please stand up?”

“Who here is petrified of Muslims,” a Pakistani American Muslim man calmly asked the 90 or so assembled law students of UC Davis King Hall Law School for a special lunch time meeting entitled: “Minority Reports: Representing the Un-represented.” (For lovers of irony: King Hall, named after revered civil rights leader Martin Luther King, counts 1% of all its 2004 incoming student body as African Americans). Given the stifling restraints of self-imposed politically correct nooses people choose to wear, I was not surprised when none of the enlightened raised their hands in response to my question.

“You all are excellent liars. You will make excellent lawyers,” I replied.

“If I wasn’t a Muslim American, and I was your Average Joe America, I would be terrified, petrified, freaked out of my mind about these fun-do-mentalist, terror-rist, extreme-ist, anti-Semitic, Women-hating, tali-boning, bearded, hairy, smelly, leering, oil guzzling, turban wearing, magic carpet flying, Sand niggers.”

And those words, spoken swiftly, coolly, and calmly, connected like a brutal uppercut smashing (or at least partially revealing) their carefully constructed masks of racial “enlightenment.”

These words did not sprout forth from the rage filled, Bile spewing gut of a knee jerking, reactionary loon – a standard description routinely used by “media experts” to publicly pillory any person guilty of “exporting” an unpopular sentiment. Rather, the rhetoric accurately portrayed the image I, as an American, would sincerely hold of 1.2 billion members of the human race in the year 2005 if television media, academic history books, Hollywood movies, and governmental rhetoric were my crash course tutorials on all things “Moslem” and “A-rab.”

Let’s do a summary, shall we? According to the FBI, CIA, and the 9-11 Commission report, 19 hijackers happened to have Middle Eastern backgrounds, 15 of them hailing from our oil-in-ally Saudi Arabia. In retaliation, we have liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, two “Moslim” countries, from evildoers, with Iran, Syria, and an assortment of other hostile, Muslim neighbors on the way. However, our commitment to the Wahabbi-based Saudi regime, mostly responsible for the dissemination of Muhammad Ibn al Wahhab’s puritanical and re-visionary interpretation of Islam, remains firm and intact. Even though the administration eventually conceded Iraq had no tangible connection to the Twin Tower attacks, USA Today reported nearly 70% of Americans believed otherwise. I guess a Saudi is an Iraqi is an Arab is a Muslim… is a terrorist. Oh well, sucks for me – and 1.2 billion other people.

Furthermore, to bolster not only national security but also foreign relations with our Middle Eastern “neighbor”, we hold detainees as “unlawful combatants” to bypass international laws and customs in Guantanamo Bay, which has been called the “Gulag of our times… in violation of international laws,” according to Amnesty International. The administration and its henchmen scoff. The “liberal” media, including Newsweek, is so liberal that it prematurely and embarrassingly retracts its May 9th story at the commands of its superiors, in which it described the desecration of the Quran by interrogators who wanted to rattle detainees by placing the Holy Book in the toilet. (The Administration later conceded there were several valid reports of Quran desecration.) This was another “Spring time” musical for the haters. “Protests in the Islamic world,” exclaimed the headlines! “Look at those barbarians: so violent, so angry!” complained the pundits. “Why do they react so violently? It’s just a book! Jeez, do they take it that seriously?” asked the genuinely baffled reporters. A simple dialogue with any practicing Muslim with even the most elementary rhetorical skills would have revealed, that yes, Muslims do take desecration of their Holy Book seriously. However, I guess allowing an intelligent Muslim voice to emerge amongst the high-pitched, paranoid shrills and shriekings of non-Muslim “experts” would have been truly radical and “undemocratic.”

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

But who needs Muslim voices when you have liberal and conservative pundits. Erudite and compassionate visionaries, such as Ann “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” Coulter, or academic Bill “I wouldn’t read the book (the Qur’an). And I’ll tell you why I wouldn’t have read “Mein Kampf” either,” O’Reilly, who subtly equate the religious text of 1.2 billion people with the racist, supremacist ideology of one Adolf Hitler. In the lucrative world of Islam-bashing, it’s comforting to know that even conservatives and liberals can set aside their differences to participate in this “Springtime for Haters” musical. For example, “pay for play part time liberals”, such as Christopher Hitchens and Alan Dershowitz are heavily involved in this gig. Dershowitz, promoted as a renowned legal scholar and civil libertarian, wrote the pro “non lethal torture” book “Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge.” Specifically, in a 2003 CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Dershowitz describes a civilized method of non-lethal torture, such as placing a “sterilized needle underneath the nail,” which he concedes would “violate the Geneva Accords, but you know, countries all over the world violate the Geneva Accords. They do it secretly and hypothetically, the way the French did it in Algeria… I think we would want to do it with accountability and openly and not adopt the way of the hypocrite.” At least we’re openly torturing people now, instead of burying the reports behind the walls of Abu Ghraib; surely, this is a sign of progress. Furthermore, in his essay, “The Rules of War Enable Terror,” Mr. Dershowitz declares “Democracies must be legally empowered to attack terrorists who hide among civilians.” Does this include people of white skin color, such as Timothy McVeigh and members of the Militant Militia? Would Mr. Dershowitz allow this method on, say, Israelis caught spying on the US? Or is this special VIP treatment reserved solely for Muslim and “brown skinned” Americans suspected as terrorists? Even though I’m honored by the lavish attention, I’ll respectfully decline this humble offer.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

Perhaps we must seek the wisdom of Christopher Hitchens, who vociferously supports Bush’s “War on Terror” thereby significantly ensuring a steady stream of Dead Presidents in his bank account and increased exposure and public visibility on television news programs. He laments the use of the word, “Islamaphobia,” which I’m assuming refers to the irrational fear, ignorance and hatred of Islam and Muslims, which he argues is a “cheap propaganda tool” used by “soft defenders of Islam.” Shhh, let’s not tell Mr. Hitchens that last year marked the highest number of harassment, violence, and discriminatory acts against American Muslims ever recorded by Council on American Islamic Relations, with a near 70% increase in hate crimes over 2002, representing a three fold increase since 2000. Or, how about the story of Mr. Gagandeep Bindra, an Indian Sikh, who was called “Osama” and seriously injured by three teenagers found guilty of ethnic intimidation in 2004? And what do we say to an honorary Sikh priest, Rajinder Singh, who was attacked for wearing a turban in New York? I guess you don’t even have to be a Muslim to get beat down like Muslim nowadays. I wonder what Mr. Bindra and Mr. Singh would say to the Hitchens of the world regarding the “cheap propaganda tool” of “Islamaphobia” which lead to their assault? I guess we’ll never know because those voices are never heard.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

The detractors will now predictably chime, “but look, we do allow Muslims to speak. We love Irshad Manji, see? Ha! Fie on you, you cantankerous rabble rouser!” Irshad Manji, like most info-tainment prostitutes, turns her tricks by playing the “pathology” game: where the token minority, aka “the good minority,” is hired to absolve certain individuals, institutions, and accepted norms, which directly contribute to discriminatory practices and racism, by blaming the collective minority as responsible for its own inferiority. Irshad Manji, a self proclaimed lesbian feminist South Asian Muslim refusenik, (if you can say that 5 times in a row you get a cookie and a national book tour), wrote the scholastically inept, “The Trouble with Islam,” offering her unsought wisdom on how to “reform” Islam. Considering she lacks even the most remedial credentials to be certified an “Islamic scholar,” and that her book and politics have been shunned by the vast majority of the Muslim ummah (community), it is utterly not surprising that she, nonetheless, received the “Valor” award from the Simon Weisenthal Center, the “chutzpah” award from Oprah Winfrey, and feminist of the “21st century” award from “Ms. Magazine,” for her brave, enlightened, and “liberal” approach to Islam. Her major reform, you ask? “The major reform for which I am calling,” say Manji, is “all about questioning the divinity of the Koran. This is still the great unspoken taboo within Islam.” This is perhaps a “taboo” because all Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shiite, hold that believing the Quran as the uncreated word of Allah as revealed unto Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a crucial aspect of one’s iman (Faith and beliefs). With paid henchmen such as Manji, the real Islam-haters simply sit back, light a cigar, and relax their feet as their Siphai army wages their “crusade” for them. Or, they can always rely on an “expert” on Islam, such as Pat Robertson of the 700 club, who says, with a straight face no less, that Muslims worship “a moon god.” If Muslims are truly the “Phantom Menace” then all these characters must surely represent the “Attack of the Clones.”

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

And so we roll on. With nearly 5-8 million Muslim Americans, you would think surely one reasonable voice, representative of at least most Moderate Muslims, would emerge? You would think… incorrectly. So what if Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, with the most rapid converts being African Americans and women? So what if over 75% of the Muslim community is not Arab, with the most populated Muslim country being Indonesia (note: not Arab), followed by Pakistan (note: not Arab)? Who needs their academic scholars, historians, or religious scholars when we have Bernard Lewis, the de facto “scholar” on all things Islam, Arab, and Middle East, who happens to be a white, Jewish European born in London and preserved by Princeton? Then, there’s the The Arab Mind, the bible for the neocons on Arabic/Islamic behavior, written by Raphael Patai, another non-Muslim, European scholar who stereotypically generalizes that Arabs value “honor” above all things, and specifically feel “shame” through sexual humiliation. “At the institution where I teach military officers,” retired U.S. Army Col. Norvell De Atkine writes in the book’s foreword, “The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction.” With cultural instructions such as these, the successful interrogatory humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib should come as no surprise.

And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?

So, we return to our modest meeting at UC Davis, where I rattled off some of these references and data to an audience that incredulously looked at me with skepticism for daring to mock their “understanding” of Muslims in America. However, the light bulbs began to click and the untrusting glances turned to nodding agreement when I brought it full circle in light of American history. In America, Muslims haven’t always been the only “outsiders,” the only obscurant anomalies magically appearing amongst the civilized masses, or the only fossil relics of a primitive backwards-Neanderthal mentality. I remind them of the 110,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans rounded up, profiled, and interned during WWII. I remind them of a time when racial tensions resulting in Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, barring Chinese immigration for 10 years; then extended by the Geary Act for another ten years in 1892, and by the Extension Act of 1904. If I could revisit this speech, I’d tell the Asian American audience members to be careful and vigilante, because they’re next. Check out the cover of the July Atlantic Monthly featuring a stern, black and white photo of a militant Chinese solider with the heading, “How we would fight China” by Robert D. Kaplan. The great challenge of the twenty-first century, according to Kaplan, will be figuring how to shape – rather than fall prey to – “China’s inevitable economic and military rise.” But never fear, or rather keep fearing, because it’s not just those wily Asians or those oil guzzling turban heads or those crack addled black folk – there’s more! Let’s not forget 1798, where the Federalist dominated Congress passed The Naturalization Act, a law aimed at curtailing the citizenship and immigration of the Irish and French who were sympathetic to Republican politics. Last I checked, people of Irish descent are now considered “white,” so the darkies weren’t the only ones who suffered discrimination. I guess the history of racism in America is truly multicultural.

Unlike some of these groups, the Muslims, the Morlocks de jour, have yet to find a powerful voice to help educate the American public as to the realities of the Muslim American existence. Currently, I liken our condition to a puppet head placed on a media screen whose tongue is ripped out and whose strings are pulled by a sadistic puppet master joyfully assailing us left and right by both the “left” and “the right.” The hard “Right” hates the Muslim because you aren’t white or Judeo-Christian and you, representative of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers, attacked America. The hard “left” hates you because you are part of an organized religion, have certain beliefs contradictory to radical feminist and gay ideologies, and are representative of the 19 Middle Eastern hijackers who attacked America. And you, the Muslim, the terrorist, the extremist, who was once the “Jap,” and also “The Kike,” and also a “Chink,” and even a “Sand Nigger,” can never win because you always have to prove your loyalty. Defend the validity of your faith! Defend the validity of your text! Defend the validity of the entire 1400 year history and actions of a brilliant Islamic civilization which gave us the creation of Algebra, the poetry of Hadrat Jalaluddin Rumi, the best selling poet in America, the Canon of Medicine by Avicenna used by Europeans for centuries, the mind of Ibn Khaldun, the founder of the philosophy of history and sociology, and most importantly the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), whose name in Arabic means “the most praised,” and is shared by more people than any other name in the world today.

But in this game of modern day dodge ball, everyone looks for an easy scapegoat to hit and assail. The contributions of Muslims to the human race are rarely if ever mentioned. Instead, we get daily reports and images of an enraged mass of people, like the Orcs from “The Lord of the Rings,” frothing at the mouth, inexplicably yearning to destroy America for no other reason save their hatred for all things “democratic” and “western” as outlined by their savage, backwards “customs” and “beliefs.” Is it really surprising then to read the results of the Cornell Report, which revealed that 42 percent of “highly religious respondents [and 27 percent of all respondents] believe that Muslim Americans should register their whereabouts with the government at all times? Not surprisingly, 26 percent of these respondents were unfamiliar with the terms Allah and the Koran.

And so I awaken each day to find the Muhammad’s gradually erased by the “Mo’s,” the Nasir’s slowly replaced by the “Nas’s,” the Salims eradicated by the “Sal’s,” the Murads hiding behind the “Michael’s.” As I encounter the variety of “closeted DL” Muslims at the shopping malls, department stores, grocery shops, and other arenas of daily life, I am reminded of the Korean American “Tammy’s” hiding behind her newly reconstructed eye lids, the African American “Tim’s” masquerading under a surgically trimmed nose, the Iranian American “Ayeesha’s” hoping to assimilate brilliantly with her fake blue contact lenses. And with a sigh of resignation, with a fist pumped in rage, and both hands brought together in hopeful supplication, I humbly ask:

“And will the Real Muhammad please stand up?”

Wajahat Ali, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, is the writer of ”The Domestic Crusaders”, a two-act play about Muslim Americans with its showcase premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre this July 15th. This article was originally published in Konch Magazine.