Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Good Muslim, Bad Muslim"

Quote from the beginning and end of Professor Mahmood Mamdani's Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror:

Listening to the public discussion in America after 9/11, I had the impression of a great power struck by amnesia. Acknowledging the epochal significance of the event should not necessarily mean taking it out of a historical and political context. Unfortunately, official America has encouraged precisely this. After an unguarded reference to pursuing a "crusade," President Bush moved to distinguish between "good Muslims" and "bad Muslims." From this point of view, "bad Muslims" were clearly responsible for terrorism. At the same time, the president seemed to assure Americans that "good Muslims" were anxious to clear their names and consciences of this horrible crime and would undoubtedly support "us" in a war against "them." But this could not hide the central message of such discourse: unless proved to be "good," every Muslim was presumed to be "bad." All Muslims were now under obligation to prove their credentials by joining in a war against "bad Muslims. (15)

But if the same Iraqis who yesterday welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein today see American troops as an occupying force, is it not time to question the simplifying assumption that the problem lies with bad as opposed to good Iraqis? If good and bad Iraqis - and good and bad Muslims - are really quasi-official names for those who support and oppose American policies, is it not time to go beyond the name-calling and review policies that consistently seem to erode support and generate opposition? Whether in America, Iraq, or elsewhere, the revitalization of democracy in the era of globalized American power requires no less. (260)

Edward Said quote

"Or is it the case that "Islam" cannot be investigated as we would any other culture or religion because, unlike all the others, it stands outside "normal" human experience, a religion that one can talk about as if it, and everything within it, resembles a psychopathological human being?" (xviii)

"Focusing on Fort Hood Killer's Beliefs Is an Easy Out to Avoid the Deeper Reasons for the Massacre"

An insightful article by Mark Ames at AlterNet. Thanks to Shaykh Abdullah Ali for this.

Today, if you read through some of the forums out of Fort Hood, the anti-war mood is clearly strong and clearly a problem for the authorities. So they'll do their best to paint Hasan as a Muslim loon. The right wing has been trying for years now to equate opposition to the wars with pro-terrorist, anti-American sentiment, and by the poll numbers today, that would make most Americans anti-American terrorists.

The story is still fresh, and there's a lot we don't know, and there are still a lot of conflicting reports and confusion.

Since Hasan will be tried in a military court, the American public will only learn whatever the military wants us to learn. And to a nation slipping deeper into its own amnesiac fog, the last thing we want to learn are the painful, threatening truths.

MANA Condemns Fort Hood Shooting

Lexington, KY (11/06/09) - The Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) is saddened by the Fort Hood incident in which 13 people were killed and others injured. We extend our condolences to the families who were impacted by this tragedy and we join other Muslim groups to condemn the unconscionable violence that took place.

The act committed at Fort Hood was a criminal act and should not be associated with the religion of Islam, nor should it serve as another excuse for the castigation or demonization of Islam and Muslims. Islam does not condone such killings. We pray for justice. It is disheartening and perplexing that a psychiatrist who was trained to provide counseling to troubled soldiers was himself very troubled. Perhaps this is yet another indication of the far-reaching tragedy of war and the horrific toll it takes on the lives of all who are affected by it.

In a recent statement, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, "the protracted military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq - and the repeated deployments of much of America's ground forces - have brought a new focus to the signature wounds of these wars and on the psychological health of the force and their families."

For the Fort Hood families, we mourn their losses and the loss of many innocent lives lost at home and abroad.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wajahat Ali's piece in the Guardian on Fort Hood

No mere factual, evidential explanation could ever justify or excuse in any way Hasan's alleged actions. But it ought to broaden the horizon of those in the media who seem infatuated with the need to pin the blame for this perverse tragedy solely on a man's religious faith and Arabic last name, rather than exploring the possibility of a more complicated truth involving some combination of mental state, divided loyalty or conscientious objection.
Thanks to Haroon Moghul for this

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shahed Amanullah: The pitfalls of filming Muhammad

I remember as an 8-year-old being taken to see the epic film The Message, an account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad produced by the late Moustapha Akkad in 1976 and going on (after some initial controversy) to be a film well-loved by Muslims throughout the world. The film respected Muslim sensibilities regarding portrayal of the prophet (his likeness was never seen on screen) and showed the emergence of Islam as having a positive impact on world history. As one of the only Muslims in my school, that film was a source of pride that helped reinforce my identity and portray vividly the stories I had until then only known from books at my mosque.

Now, as my own son turns 8, I may have the opportunity to return the favour. The Guardian reports that Barrie Osborne, one of the producers of Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, is planning to produce an English-language biopic of the Prophet Muhammad. This comes on the heels of news from last year of a similar movie by producer Oscar Zoghbi, a planned remake that hews close to Akkad's seminal film.

As much as I might appreciate and encourage the interest in making films about Islam or Muslims, however, news of these films give me pause. Osborne apparently told reporters that the goal of the film is to be "an international epic production aimed at bridging cultures" that "will educate people about the true meaning of Islam". But the world that The Message was released in was very different, both in terms of public perception of Islam as well as in the type of film that Hollywood tends to put out today, and such films may not have the positive effect (in the west, at least) that the producers intend.

The Islamic prohibition against portraying the prophet (or his voice or shadow) worked in the simpler days when The Message was made. With today's audience and in today's times, no amount of CGI could curb the frustration audiences would feel in pushing the boundaries of that more than 30-year-old film without a depiction of the main character driving it. The traditional approach to depicting the prophet, in part, pushed Islamic art towards the literal and geometric. We may have to accept that it also rendered a serious biopic with this subject matter nearly impossible.

But it's not just about the filming techniques, it's about the story as well. The expectations for such a film among western audiences today would be quite different from the era of The Message, when the movie-going public knew relatively little about Islam. Such a film in today's environment would have to touch on controversial and complex topics that have been discussed even among non-Muslims such as Aisha's age at marriage, the impending Sunni-Shia split, and the treatment of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in order to be considered anything other than a whitewashed history lesson. While such complex issues can be properly parsed in history books, it is hard to imagine their treatment in the short span of a movie contributing in any meaningful way to the current discourse. The average viewer, to pick one example, will likely not be able to reconcile the myriad battles that the prophet led for both survival and conquest with the current position by Muslim leaders that Islam poses no threat to the west.

There are many other rich stories in Islamic history that could easily make the transition to an epic, entertaining film. At the time of his untimely death in 2005 at the hands of a suicide bomber in Jordan, Moustapha Akkad was planning a movie about the life of Saladin and the Crusades. "Right now, Islam is portrayed as a terrorist religion," he explained. "Because a few terrorists are Muslims, the whole religion has that image. If there ever was a religious war full of terror, it was the Crusades. But you can't blame Christianity because a few adventurers did this."

In addition to Saladin, there are scores of other untold tales from the Muslim world – the travels of explorer Ibn Battuta, the reflections of mystic Jalaluddin Rumi, the antics of 13th century jester Mulla Nasruddin – that have yet to be shared with western audiences through film. So why bother remaking a classic?

Filmmakers wanting to "educate people about the true meaning of Islam" would have a greater degree of success in following the late Akkad's example and telling stories about Islam and Muslims that come from more unexpected sources.

In the Guardian UK, November 4th, 2009.

Quote from Dr. Umar

Without enlightened educational institutions that attract talented students and in the absence of curricula that impart a mature understanding of modern thought and realities, it is unlikely that a sophisticated understanding of the Islamic religious tradition can ever be fostered. Without careful examination of their original historical context, the thousands upon thousands of dusty manuscripts and old books preserved in Islamic libraries will remain little more than interesting fossils of history. Until classical Islamic learning is made meaningful to contemporary Muslims, it is difficult to fault those who question its relevance.
-pg. 11 of Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah in the fourth Nawawi paper: "Innovation and Creativity in Islam"

The deep reservoir of Islamic knowledge + Context & Relevancy

It has been one of the goals of the Zaytuna Institute, with which I am proudly affiliated, to use the deep reservoir of traditional Islamic knowledge to provide insight into and solutions for our contemporary condition. By traditional Islamic knowledge, I refer not only to the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition (Sunna), but also to the wealth of jurisprudential and exegetical writings that have helped to insure the historic integrity and continuity of the Islamic project. I also refer to the methodological tools that have allowed for a flexible, practical, and dynamic application of Islamic law. Only by immersing ourselves in that reservoir will Muslims be capable of making an intelligible contribution towards addressing the challenging issues of our times.

However, that knowledge is not applicable in a vacuum. It must be applied in the context in which we find ourselves: the context of advanced western civilization. That being the case, we must have knowledge of this civilization and its intellectual tradition. Only then can traditional Islamic knowledge be relevant and make an effective contribution to the ongoing advance of human civilization.

"Book Exposes Now-Defunct "Ugly Laws" Against the Disabled"

Thanks to Yusuf for this article on a book by UC Berkeley professor Susan Schweik called The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (2009) from NYU Press :)

Alhamdullilah we read selections from it in my 'Poverty of Literature' class and it is, as you can imagine, deeply disturbing..

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"For Muslim poor, a shameful admission"

On the corner of Dundas and Chestnut Sts., Ahmed dumps a handful of pennies and quarters on the sidewalk, and begins counting his day's earnings.

"Asalamu alakum, can you spare some change?" he shyly asks two men as they rush past him and into Masjid Toronto, a downtown mosque.

A former teacher, Ahmed left war-torn Iraq five years ago for Canada. "I came here but couldn't find a job, couldn't make money," he said. "Now I am homeless. I live in a shelter."

The exact number of Muslims in Toronto who live below Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off, the country's unofficial poverty line, is difficult to determine, as socio-economic data is rarely gathered through the lens of religion.

But among those on the front lines in the Muslim community, those who work in mosques, community centres and the few charitable organizations, there is growing concern about the magnitude of poverty in the community, the lack of resources available to deal with the problem, and the reluctance – among all social classes – to admit the problem even exists.

For the Muslim poor, an admission of poverty is shameful. To the rich, the problem is invisible, or at least not so obvious when compared to the stark conditions of poverty they have seen back home.

"It is a cause for concern," said Uzma Shakir, former executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, and member of the Colour of Poverty campaign. "The repercussions of poverty and systemic poverty are not just economic but have serious social impacts as well," she said.

"Already we can see the formation of ghettos in some parts of the city," said Shakir, referring to neighbourhoods where overt race-based poverty is glaringly obvious, and where halal meat stores are in abundance.

The scant data available paints a troubling picture of a growing community of nearly 300,000 Muslims, which includes a mix of refugees, recent immigrants, and those who settled in Canada decades ago.
Read the rest here

From the End of Richard Wright's Black Boy

I finished reading Richard Wright's Black Son (part one and two) this afternoon alhamdullilah!

Definitely highly recommended.

Just a few quotes from the very end:

I headed toward home along, really alone now, telling myself that in all the sprawling immensity of our mighty continent the least-known factor of living was the human heart, the least-sought goal of being was a way to live a human life. Perhaps, I thought, out of my tortured feelings I could fling a spark into this darkness. I would try, not because I wanted to because I felt that I had to if I were to live at all.

Well, what had I got out of living in the city? What had I got out of living in the South? What had I got of living in America? I paced the floor, knowing that all I possessed were words and dim knowledge that my country had shown me no examples of how to live a human life. All my life I had been full of a hunger for a new way to live...

If this country can't find its way to a human path, if it can't inform conduct with a deep sense of life, then all of us, black as well as white, are going down the same drain...

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.
-pg. 384-5

Subhana Allah, what at ending!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Richard Wright on Race & America

So poignant in the face of claims of a "post-racial" America:

As I, in memory, think back now upon those girls and their lives I feel that for white America to understand the significance of the problem of the Negro will take a bigger and tougher America than any we have yet known. I feel that America's past is too shallow, her national character too superficially optimistic, her very morality too suffused with color hate for her to accomplish so vast and complex a task. Culturally the Negro represents a paradox: Though he is an organic part of the nation, he is excluded by the entire tide and direction of American culture. Frankly, it is felt to be right to exclude him, and it is felt to be wrong to admit him freely. Therefore if, within the confines of its present culture, the nation ever seeks to purge itself of its color hate, it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion. If the nation ever finds itself examining its real relation to the Negro, it will find itself doing infinitely more than that; for the anti-Negro attitude of whites represents but a tiny part - though a significantly significant one - of the moral attitude of the nation. Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves it conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness. Am I damning my native land? No; for I, too, share these faults of character! And I really do not think that America, adolescent and cocksure, a stranger to suffering and travail, an enemy of passion and sacrifice, is ready to probe into its most fundamental beliefs.
-pg. 273 of Black Boy (1944) by Richard Wright

Related to this is Tim Wise's Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama

Bruce Lawrence's Review of "Dying for Heaven"

A new work advancing a radical theory of the motivation behind suicide bombers is almost bizarrely off the mark. Stitching together thought and observation from disparate and often dissonant sources, Georgetown theology professor Ariel Glucklich's book would be laughable were he not a consultant to the defense community.

Dying for Heaven makes a mockery of both religion and death, transforming holy pleasure into a dirge of contradiction and Islamophobia. No laughing matter, it should be treated as a symptom rather than a solution to American (dis)engagement with Islam and Muslims.

Interestingly, I just saw on the Amazon page that this book carries blurbs from Ahmad Rashid and Carl Ernst...