Eid Mubarak!

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Salaam everyone!

Sorry, I wasn’t able to post anything yesterday because I was out with family and friends, but I just wanted to wish everyone a very happy and blessed Eid.  May Allah accept our fasting and fill our days with joy and beauty!  Ameen!

I would like to share one of my favorite poems by our beloved Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Islamic mystic and poet.  It’s short, but very sweet and beautiful.

O Love, O pure deep Love, be here, be now,
Be all – worlds dissolve into Your
stainless endless radiance,
Frail living leaves burn with You brighter
than cold stares –
Make me Your servant, Your breath, Your core.

~ Rumi

We Are Abraham’s Children

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As the Jewish New Year and Eid celebrations approach this weekend, I wanted to write about something very close to my heart.  Too often, when I discuss social and political issues, I notice that most of the tension between certain communities are fueled by undying stereotypes and misconceptions.  Even some of the most well-intentioned comments I receive are tainted by the prejudices and generalizations promoted mostly by the mainstream media.

I want this to stop.

I can already hear someone saying, “There are always going to be problems.  There are always going to be bigots, racists, Islamophobes, misogynists, and so on.”  Yes, I know.  But that doesn’t stop me from reaching out to people who are receptive to what I feel in my heart.  No one can miraculously change the world in a single day, but we try.  We try because that is our calling; because we’re human beings and we’re all part of each other.

As a devout Muslim, I read and hear stereotypes pretty much every day (if you count the things I read on the internet or see on the news).  For those who know me, you know my story already.  For those who don’t, read my personal reflection on 9/11 to get a brief glimpse.

I believe in the Qur’an.  Not because I was “born Muslim,” but because there was a time in my life when I sincerely searched for God.  I needed to question Islam and the existence of a Supreme Being before I fully believed.  The mere label of “Muslim” and “Islam” is not important to me, but rather the meaning is.  “Islam” means “Submission” in Arabic, i.e. submission to God.  A “Muslim” is a submitter, or one who submits to God.  To be a “submitter to God” is to acknowledge that you are not in control of everything in your life.  It means that you have to surrender your wants and desires in order to experience Divine Love, or spiritual enlightenment.  When one is empty, God fills that void with Divine Beauty.

Reasoning and questioning is important to me, which is why it comforted my heart when my imam once said, “There are no forbidden questions in Islam.”  In Tariq Ramadan’s book, “In the Footsteps of the Prophet,” he talks about how many of the Prophet’s companions would come to him for consultation (peace be upon them all).  The Prophet would say certain statements (some of which were seemingly contradictory) in order to encourage critical thought.  For instance, the Prophet would say, “A strong man is not one who can fight!”  The companions did not understand this, and yet they spoke among themselves to figure out what it meant.  Then the Prophet would reveal, “The strongest of men are those who can control their anger!”  The Prophet would make a seemingly contradictory statement such as, “Help your brother, no matter if he is just or unjust!”  After discussion, the Prophet explained that help must be provided to someone who is doing something wrong; that is a form of expression and faith.

As I became more spiritual, I strove to absorb myself in the meaning of things, rather than practice Islam in its outward and ritual form.  I asked myself, “Why do I pray five times a day?  Is it because my parents tell me to do so, or is it because I truly recognize the spiritual significance of worship, which represents Love for God, humility, and Divine remembrance/mindfulness?”  When I was donating money, as all Muslims are required to do, I asked again, “Why do you donate money?  Simply because it is a commandment or because you truly know the importance of helping a fellow human being in need?”  All of these kind of questions led me to new discoveries about myself, about who I wanted to be, and about where I wanted to go.

My mother always tells me, “Everyone was created by Allah.”  This is how I was raised and it always frustrates me when I receive stereotypical remarks and questions from people.  Questions like, “Do you hate the Jews?” or “Do you hate Christians?”  No, I never heard a single remark like that spoken in my house.  I remember one time, a family “friend” spoke in a very condescending manner to my parents.  This “friend” spoke to us as if we “hated Jews,” and my mother decided to put her foot down and say something.  She explained that Muslims believe in the Torah and the Gospel, we have Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, and even Jesus (peace be upon them all) in our scripture too.  This “friend” did not know that at all.

The beautiful thing to me about Islam has always been its universal message of peace.  I feel that when I read the Qur’an, when I pray, when I speak about it, and when I interact with people.   When I am confronted with accusations about anti-semitism from people who don’t even know me, it bothers me a great deal.  If they knew anything about Islamic theology, they would know that insulting Judaism would be considered heresy.  But even that aside, any kind of bigotry or hatred towards any group of people is just inhumane.

As I mentioned, I believe in the Qur’an, which also means I believe that Abraham is the Prophet and father of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  About two years ago, I was standing in the “religious” section of my local bookstore, and another customer saw me looking at Islamic books.  She was looking at the Bibles.  She kindly asked me, “Now, you guys don’t believe in Jesus, do you?”  It turned into a friendly conversation lasting about 45 minutes.  The moment I mentioned the Abrahamic connection, I could tell it was something she didn’t know before.  Before we parted, she thanked me for speaking to her and even admitted that she didn’t have many good thoughts about Islam prior to meeting me.

I remember driving home that day with a smile on my face.  It was more than a good feeling.  There was something at the heart; something deep and spiritual.  I truly believe it is this connection we all have since we’re from the same Source.  If we really believe that we are brothers and sisters of one another, then we need to start acting like that.  No more of these stereotypes, accusations, and prejudices.

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a famous Sufi, once wrote:  “Separate from yourself that which separates you from others.”

I wish we all could do this.  I do my best.  I know when it comes to political issues like Israel and Palestine, many Muslims, Jews, and Christians are divided.  I have some friends who disagree with me when I criticize Israel, but they won’t go as far as calling me an “anti-semite.”  Other people though, i.e. people who don’t know me personally, will make those accusations.  Their comments are fueled, of course, by the stereotype that “Muslims hate Jews.”  These stereotypes divide us.  The lack of dialogue and communication divides us too.

Look at how often we emphasize on our differences and how little we spend time with each other.  As some of you know, I am working on an inter-faith short film about Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and the first thing I noticed was how similar we are.  Yet so many people don’t make an effort to realize this.  When I look at what’s going on between Israelis and Palestinians, I cannot help but reflect on the history of that beautiful place we call “The Holy Land.”

Muslims, Christians, and Jews coexisted for centuries in the Middle-East.  For hundreds of years, Palestine was under Muslim-rule and the Jewish and Christian minorities flourished.  When the Crusaders invaded in 1099, they slaughtered not only the Muslims, but the Jews and Arab Christians as well. The Jews were expelled from the city under “Christian” rule.

Almost 100 years later, a Kurdish Muslim leader named Salah Al-Din recaptured the city of Jerusalem. In doing so, he did not kill a single Christian civilian after taking control of the city.  The Churches and Synagogues were not destroyed, and the Jews were invited back into the city.

Salah Al-Din had a Jewish physician in his court named Maimonides (or Musa ibn Maymun – his original Arabic name).  Maimonides was the leader of the Jewish community in Cairo, and he also taught fellow Jews that if there wasn’t a Synagogue to pray in, then they were permitted to pray in Mosques.  This is the kind of relationship Muslims and Jews had with one another.

Prior to Muslim-ruled Spain, the Jews were being persecuted by the Catholic Visigoths. When the Muslims came, the Jews were allowed to practice their religion peacefully and they even held high positions in government. Abdel Rahman III had a personal physician who was Jewish; his name was Hasdai ibn Shaprut. The fact that Hasdai ibn Shaprut cured Abdel Rahman III when he was sick represents the coexistence that flourished among Muslims and Jews.  Samuel ibn Naghrela was another Jewish man in Muslim-ruled Spain (Al-Andalus). He even became a general who led Muslim armies! Hostility towards the Jews started up during the Catholic reconquest of Spain.

In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand ordered the Spanish Inquisition, which killed thousands of people, mostly Jews. After years, they decided to kill and expel the Muslim as well. The Jews fled Spain and found refuge in Muslim lands, namely the Ottoman Empire.

I know there is a lot tension today and a lot of heated debates about Israel and Palestine.  I know you may not agree with me on everything, but I want us to find some way to break through the barriers and establish the kind of coexistence and friendship that our people have enjoyed for centuries.  I want us to celebrate our history together.  I want us to talk about spirituality and faith, and what it means to be Muslim, Christian, and Jewish.

The next generation cannot be raised to fear someone who is practicing a different religion, and no child should have to feel alienated or discriminated against because of their religious affiliation.  That is not the kind of future we should seek.  The words expressed here by 12th-13th century Sufi, Ibn ‘Arabi, is what we should seek:

O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka’bah,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur’an.
I follow the religion of Love:
whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

I believe that peace and Love is all Abraham ever wanted for us.  I believe that is what God wants for us.  And I know anything is possible when we believe with all of our hearts.  Happy Rosh Hashanah and Eid Mubarak in advance.  For my friends on the blogosphere, consider the documentary on Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) below as a gift and celebration of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian coexistence.

Salaam, Shalom, Shlama, Peace.

~ Jehanzeb


Israel Does What?

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Check this.

Danish-American actor, Viggo Mortensen, is one of many artists taking a bold stand against the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and its commemorative spotlight on Tel Aviv.  According to Judy Rebick of Canadian Dimension:

This is the first time that TIFF has held a City to City spotlight and the spotlight is on Tel Aviv, a city that is symbolic to Zionist Jews of Israel’s success and to Palestinians of the ethnic cleansing that took place to found that state of Israel.

The Toronto Declaration has over 1,000 signatures of filmmakers, writers, and musicians alike, including Danny Glover, Julie Christie, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte, Naomi Klein, and Naom Chomsky.  Here’s a surprise:  They’re being vilifed and demonized.

Filmmaker Robert Lantos goes as far as calling the protest a  “gang of well-fed, fashionable bigots” who just want to “stifle voices they don’t like.”  He asserts that Naomi Klein et al “have taken a page straight out of the fascist propaganda handbook.”

Hmm.  In Robert Lantos’ article, he states there was no such thing as a Palestine.  Wow, so did the world begin in 1948, Mr. Lantos?  I suppose your “point” erases the fact that over 700,000 Palestinians were evicted and forced out of their homes.  Speaking out against military occupation and oppression is propaganda, but denying the existence of another group of people is not?

Mortensen, who is best known for his role as Aragorn from “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy, wrote some strong words about the Israeli government in a recent blog entry explaining why he decided to sign the Toronto Declaration:

[The statement objects] to the festival singling out Tel Aviv (which was merged with Jaffa to form a single municipality in 1950) for special recognition when the government of Israel continues to flout international law, essentially acting unilaterally as a rogue state in very much the same manner that the U.S. government did under George W. Bush

I signed the statement in question, along with people like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, and many other thoughtful citizens from various countries (including a number of Israelis) some of whom have suffered from very real censorship and blacklisting. The statement does not promote the boycotting or censorship of any artist or movie from Israel or anywhere else. Those who have attacked the statement with that accusation are simply spreading misinformation and, unfortunately, continuing the ongoing successful distraction from the issue at hand: the Israeli government’s whitewashing of their illegal and inhumane actions inside and outside their legal national borders. There was nobody outside the cinema objecting to anyone going to see “Ajami”. In fact, there was nobody doing anything other than going to see this and other movies being shown at the Scotiabank complex, or just walking on down Toronto’s Richmond Street.

The sad part is that all of this may come to a shock to many of Mortensen’s Republican fans.  I know because I know some of those fans.  When “Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King” was released, some of my Republican friends boasted about how the film paralleled with current events and how the United States – “the bastion of the free world” – needed to defend itself in the same manner as portrayed in the films (interesting enough, co-star John Rhys-Davies drew similar parallels and made bizzare Islamophobic remarks).  I know they’re alarmed by this statement of their beloved Aragorn, the courageous and fearless leader of “the great men of the west.”

“I can’t imagine why a Jew would kill an innocent civilian,” my White non-Muslim friend once said.  I fired back, “But it isn’t hard for you to imagine a Muslim killing an innocent civilian, right?”  The second I said that, he knew he made a flawed statement.  He realized immediately that he was conditioned to categorize Jews and Christians as the “good guys” and “upholders of democracy,” as if they’re immune to carrying out atrocities and terrorism.

Like many people, including anti-racist activists, writers, and academics, it is taboo to criticize Israel.  Criticizing Zionism is automatically equated with anti-semitism.  If you criticize Israel, it not only means you hate Jews, but it also means you support terrorism.  And terrorism, as discussed in a previous blog post, can only be carried out by Muslims and Arabs.

Yes, yes, innocent Palestinians died in Gaza, but Hamas made Israel do it.  It’s Hamas’ fault.  Israel cannot be blamed.

This is the brainwashing of Israel’s propaganda machine.  Every time we’re silent about Israel’s atrocities, whether out of fear, ignorance, or reluctance, we’re giving in.  I have seen many others claim to be anti-racist and anti-oppression academics, but they will keep their lips sealed when it comes to Israel.  Why?  Because they’re afraid of the “anti-semitism” label.

You want to see a bold stand against oppression?  Look at Toronto filmmaker and long-time gay activist John Greyson who wrote an open letter to TIFF and pulled his short film, Covered. Such artists inspire those who stand for social justice everywhere.  Look at the solidarity movements taking place in Palestine every day – activists, filmmakers, journalists, and inter-faith members alike who work so hard to raise their voices and even risk their lives for a brighter future.

Accusing the protest of being an “attack on the heart and soul of Israel” is a pathetic attempt to turn the tables and demonize anyone who dares to criticize the Israeli government’s war crimes and illegal military occupation.  Such protests should encourage dialogue, not lousy ad hominem attacks.  Open your ears and hearts for once, and listen!

Toronto Declaration – Co-sign.

Peace and Solidarity.

A Muslim Reflection on September 11th

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Dear Readers,

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I remember the students and faculty members at school talking about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, but everyone was getting mixed messages.  Finally, in my algebra class, my teacher blurted out the truth, but before I could even process what she said, a classmate sitting next to me said, “Is it those damn Palestinians again?!  They should be wiped off the face of the earth!”

I had been on the receiving end of racial slurs before, but this was different.  This was an attack that killed nearly 3,000 people.  I prayed that the people who did this were not Muslim.  I wanted to confront my classmate, but I didn’t know what to say to him.  I was 17 years old, I never stood up for myself before, so what was I going to say to him?  I didn’t do anything.  I said nothing.  Suddenly, the door opened and they called my name.

My mom was coming to pick me up from school.

My mother was in tears.  She was frightened and told me the country was under attack.  I asked her why she pulled me out of school and she said, “Because I don’t want someone to beat you up.”  I knew what that meant.  The media was already saying that Muslims were behind the attacks.

When we got home, my mom and my friend’s mom were incredibly distraught.  My mother couldn’t even stand on her feet.  She wanted to know if there was something she could do.  My friend’s mom said, “We have to say our prayers.  Don’t worry, we have a brave and God-fearing President and he’s going to take good care of our country.”  As an aspiring filmmaker still in high school, I felt inspired.

I popped in a VHS tape into my VCR (remember those things?) and started recording broadcasts about September 11th.  I listened to people deliver sweeping speeches to rekindle our spirits and remind us that America will not fall.  The media replayed footage of the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground over and over again.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was there before.  In that building.  With my family.  I see those buildings all the time when we travel to New York.  I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t there anymore.

My friend and I even took all of this footage and put together a short commemorative video for the victims of 9/11.  We were working on a short film at the time and we put a huge American flag on our website in honor of those who were killed and lost their lives trying to save others.

But soon, things turned ugly.

Racism, hatred, bigotry, and violent threats pushed me out of the video project we were making.  When kids at school mentioned how Arabs were being discriminated against, I heard one of my classmates say, “I don’t care, they deserve it.  Most of them are assholes anyway.”  I found my voice for the first time in my grade school experience, but it was confused and premature:  “No, they’re not!  You don’t know what you’re talking about!”  My lips were trembling, my hands were shaking, and I felt like I was going to break into tears.  A girl came to my defense and told the other kid to shut up.  It felt good.  To speak up.  But it also scared me.

Another kid called me “Osama bin Laden” while we were playing volley ball in gym class.  “Why did you call me that?!” I shouted across the court.  “What are you, racist?”  He ignored me until we went to the locker room.  While I was changing, he shoved me and I nearly fell hard against the lockers.  “C’mon, p***!” he shouted.  “F***ing Arab, what are you going to do?!”  One of the gym instructors broke it up and told him to calm down.  I don’t know what I was going to do.  I never fought anyone before.

I looked at the American flag on the website my friends and I posted, and for the first time ever, I felt like an outsider.  I felt like I didn’t belong.  I hated everything that Osama bin Laden did to the United States.  He made it worse for people like us.  The crazy thing is that before 9/11, I had no idea that people like bin Laden existed.  But why are people mistaking me for him?  Why were they associating my religion with him when I was proudly wearing my American shirts and waving my American flag?

I went to Pakistan in early 2002 and listened to what many Pakistanis had to say.  They said it was a horrible atrocity and prayed for all the victims, but they also told me about the atrocities that Muslims suffered, not just in Pakistan, but all over the world.  I never really gave the issue of Palestine much thought before, but I started to read more.  I listened more.

I prayed more.  For everyone.

My religion – it became more than a label to me.  It started to become my “way of life.”  If I wanted to defend myself in school, I needed to know what I was defending.  When I returned to the United States, I was more outspoken than ever before.  I made sure that I told people that Islam was a religion of peace and that the 9/11 attacks had nothing to do with Islam.  A kid in class looked at the newspaper and said, “What kind of name is that?!  Why do they have weird names?!”  I opened my mouth and asked him “What kind of name is [his really long last name]?”  He was silent.  The teacher told me to step outside.  She started to lecture me instead of him.  “Maybe you can educate us on why those people have those kind of names?”  Um.  What?

“Those are just their names.  That’s how the names are.”  What kind of answer was she expecting?

Another student made fun of Arabs in my psychology class.  I called him out on it.  I called him a “racist scumbag.”  The teacher told me to step outside.  He asked me if I needed a place to talk.  I told him, “No.  I want you to correct him on making those racist statements against my people” (I was Arab that day).  He told me, “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him.”  The next day, I was called to an office I never been to before.  It was some kind of school counselor who asked me if I needed help with socializing with classmates.

They all missed the point.

I experienced racial slurs and ignorant questions almost every day at school.  There was only one teacher who actually listened to what I said and did something about it.  Someone was playing anti-Muslim song in my “website design” class and after I told my teacher about it, he shouted at the students playing the song.  He took the time to speak to me after class and offered genuine support.  He told me he would address the students about it next class.  I believe he did.

My cousins had their tires slashed and windows smashed.  Another group of cousins had their cars pounded by baseball bats.  Most of my cousins were telling me stories about anti-Islamic bigotry and slurs they received; similar to my own experiences.  I asked my dad that if we’re Americans, then why aren’t we treated like Americans.  My dad told me to just ignore the racism and don’t talk about politics and religion.

My parents started to hide their ethnic and religious identity.  When non-Muslim guests came to our house, we hid the Islamic decorations.  My parents and I got into heated arguments about this.  Many times, they would bring me to tears.  I was being taught to feel ashamed of being Muslim.

I carried on with my filmmaking hobbies.  I was making a “Batman” fan film of all things at the time, and people started to stop us from filming.  People were calling the cops on me and my friends.  They were worried that there was going to be a terrorist attack.  That’s what the cops told us.  My friends were all White.  I was the only brown guy.  We all knew that people were calling the cops because of me.  My friend started to get all cinematic on the cops until they threatened to arrest all of us.

My next film was about a man who goes insane after a serial killer murders his wife.  The movie is about vengeance mostly, but it has a strong spiritual message as well.  I threw in a post 9/11 metaphor in it, criticizing the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It pissed my Republican friend off.  I didn’t care.

We were filming one night  and one of the neighbors looked out the window and panicked.  They first asked us what we were doing, but I noticed they were eying me.  I explained were just filming an independent film, but the man simply said, “I’m calling the cops on you right now!”  I didn’t care.  I filmed the scene anyway.

Three cop cars came and told us to pack our things up and go home.  The next time we filmed, a cop had to stop traffic to get to us.  I was glad that this was near the end of the film I was making.  I needed to do something different, something beyond a metaphor.  I needed to be direct and tell a story about the Muslim-American experience.  So I did.  And those are the kind of stories I’ve been telling since.

I heard people on the news vilify Islam, as if it was acceptable to hate an entire group of people.  I heard my friend’s mom preach Christianity to us and indirectly tell us that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a “false prophet.”  I listened to these same “friends” and “neighbors” rave about Jews around me and my family as if being Muslim automatically means “you hate Jews.”

Today, I speak out against Islamophobia as much as I can.  I was discriminated two years ago at my workplace after a customer called me a “terrorist” and I reported it to CAIR.  They helped me win the case, but it took a while for me to realize, “Wow, I was actually discriminated against because of my appearance and religious affiliation.”  I wrote a 21 page research paper on Islamophobia in post 9/11 America and was just moved to tears when I read all of the incident reports that we never heard reported by the mainstream media.

Throughout the years, I have seen other atrocities in the world receive very little attention (and sometimes, none).  The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan received plenty of media attention, but very little was said about the innocent Iraqis and Afghans who were killed.  We saw the prisoner abuse in Guantanamo bay, and yet, people debated endlessly on whether or not “torture” was acceptable during war.  I think about the 2006 bombings in Lebanon and how Israel was defended so proudly by right-wing Americans and George W. Bush.  I think about the nearly 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza last winter.   These are all atrocities and people will never forget them, just as Americans will never forget 9/11.

Today, I feel my soul screaming at all the chaos in the world – the intolerance, the bigotry, the apartheid, the hate, the racism, the apathy, the ignorance, the cowardice, the injustice, and so many other things that are just pleading to die out.  There must be hope and a brighter future because that is all there is to live for.  We create the future.  Right now.  Today.

I am an American.  No one can take that away from me.  I am a Muslim.  That is the eternity of my being.  I am a Pakistani.  That is my blood, ancestry, and history.  I am a human being — connected to all of you, no matter what your religion is, what your skin color is, or what your gender is.  I will not fall into despair.  If you can listen, like I do, then you know the earth is crying for peace.  It is begging us, for once, to behave like decent human beings.  It is the least we can do to make up for all the damage that has already been done.

Salaam/Peace,

~ Jehanzeb

p.s.  Head on over to “Islam on My Side” to read my other post, “Muslim-Americans Remember 9/11 and More.”

Newspeak: “Terrorist” Means “Muslim”

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After I parked on campus, a bumper sticker on the car next to me caught my attention:  “Support Israel! Fight Terrorism!”  Nice way to start off my day, right?  I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t the sticker just say ‘Fight Muslims/Palestinians’ because that’s what it really means anyway?”  If I had seen the owner of the car, I seriously would have confronted him/her with this question.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the word “terrorist” is synonymous with “Muslim.”  It is a term that evokes stereotypical images of non-White, oriental garbed, angry, and irrational Muslims who have absolutely no motive other than to kill and conquer (White Muslims are seen as brainwashed “terrorists”).  Even Muslim women cannot escape the stereotype, regardless if they wear hijaab or not.  This is Orwellian Newspeak at best, courtesy of the George W. Bush administration, where language is restricted according to the aims of the totalitarian government.  Amusingly, critics of President Obama accuse him of implementing Newspeak because he refuses to use the word “terrorism” when addressing conflicts in the Muslim world, but this is quite ironic since the Bush administration used the term (and other invented words like “Islamofascism”) to simplify complex realities.  In other words, the word “terrorist” limits freedom of thought and speech because it completely vilifies and dehumanizes the opposition — it generates no sympathy or empathy and brainwashes the masses into thinking “Muslim terrorists” hate the West because “we’re free” and “democratic.”  It is restrictive vocabulary because alternative perspectives on “terrorism” result in criminalizing the individual who criticizes the government.   Besides, Bush’s “Patriot Act” has more disturbing parallels with “Big Brother” in Nineteen Eighty Four than Obama’s alleged “Newspeak.”

Onward, I can guarantee that if you asked non-Muslims in your local town/city what comes first in their mind when they hear the word “terrorist,” most will respond with either “Muslim” or “Arab” (or “Osama bin Laden”).  Just a run an image search on google for “terrorist” and you’ll see the results are associated with Islam and/or Muslims.

Later in the day, I attended my “International Studies” class where we began our lesson on Spain.  The professor had to bring up the attacks on Madrid.  I knew it was coming.  She said, “Do you all remember when those terrorists attacked those poor people in Madrid?”  All I can think about was how the word “terrorist” means “Muslim.”  Everyone in the room knows exactly what group of people the term refers to.  No one needs to ask, “Who were the terrorists?” or “Where were the terrorists from?”

When my professor mentioned King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, her choice of words were quite interesting.  “They finally got rid of all those Arabs.”  Did she really just say that in an “International Studies” class?  I suppose “Christian” and “Jew” is equated with democracy and “good,” while “Arab” and “Muslim” are “dictators” and “evil.”  I raised my hand and told her, “You forgot that they got rid of the Jews too.”  She replied, “What?”  I added, “The Spanish Inquisition.  They didn’t just expel the Muslims, but they kicked all of the Jews out too.  They killed a lot of Muslims and Jews.”  Students in the class started to laugh for some reason.  My professor simply replied, “Oh yeah, you’re right.  And we’re going to get to that, I’m just saying that the Arabs got there around 711 and it took a while to get them out.”  I didn’t take that response too well.  I said, “Wow, that sounded biased.  First of all, they weren’t all Arabs.  Second, the Muslims were actually integrated in the country and they coexisted with the Jews and Christians.”  I heard a girl on the other side of the room say, “Shut up.”   Figures.

Yes, I will shut up so that the professor can brainwash us into otherizing the Muslims, but then again, the brainwashing isn’t really necessary because we’re already conditioned by the media to think that Muslims are “misogynistic terrorists” who want to destroy Western civilization as we know it, right?  How convenient for my professor.

About a week ago, a friend and I were speaking about Pakistan.  Then, the inevitable question came, “Are there terrorists in Pakistan?”  There’s that word again.  But what does “terrorism” mean?  Let’s do a quick exercise in semantics.  According to Dictionary.com, “terrorism” means:

(1)  The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.  (2)  The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.  (3)  A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

Ok, let’s look at what happened last Winter when the State of Israel launched relentless airstrike attacks on Gaza which not only bombed homes and two UN schools, but also killed over 1,400 Palestinians.  Yes, that is a lot of people!  Is this not “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce” aka “terrorism?”  Yet, you would never hear someone ask the question, “Are there terrorists in Israel?”  (unless, of course, they’re asking about the Arab and Muslim citizens in Israel).  Why?  Because we’re conditioned to perceive Israel and the West as the “good guys” and “upholders of democracy.”  It’s all about reinforcing “us versus them.”  As Bush said, “You are either with us or against us.”  There is good and evil.  There is no gray area.

If the shooter of the Virginia Tech school was Muslim, the headlines would have been screaming “Terrorist Attacks Virginia Tech,” and everyone would know what it meant.  Recently, a radical White man opened fire in a Holocaust museum.  He was called a neo-Nazi, and rightfully so, but we all know that if the man was Muslim, he would have been called a “terrorist.”  When certain US soldiers tortured prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, why wasn’t that called “terrorism?”  Or what about the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the US invasion — why is that not called “terrorism”?  What about the recent murder of Marwa El-Sherbini — was her non-Muslim killer called a “terrorist”?

To elaborate more, I must cite myself from a previous post I wrote:

In 2002, over 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the Indian State of Gujarat, while hundreds of Muslim women were gang raped. The worst part is that the government was complicit in these horrible crimes and many of the victims have yet to receive justice. Where was the mainstream western media when those atrocities were committed? Did we hear the media call the assailants “Hindu extremists?”

Over 200,000 Muslims were butchered in the Serbian genocide against Muslims in Kosovo, but the Serbians were never called “Christian terrorists.” When over 700,000 indigenous Palestinians were forcefully evicted out of their homes by the Israeli military, the Israeli soldiers were never called “Jewish terrorists.”

When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, the media neglected to report that he was a member of the extremist “Christian Identity Movement.” [I]f the perpetrators were Muslim, you could count on the media to label them “Muslim terrorists.”

The reality is that the meaning of the word “terrorism” should not be restricted or assigned to a particular group of people — that is sheer propaganda.  Terrorism exists all over the world, it happens every day, and we’re all victims of it.  Since Republican Newspeak has conditioned us into thinking “terrorist” means “Muslim,” I believe it’s time we either stop using this word or we use it accurately.  When Israeli soldiers oppress Palestinians, that must be condemned as an act of terror.  The more we use “terrorism” for Muslims and Arabs, the less progress we make.  Worst of all, liberals, democrats, anti-war activists, and even Muslims and people of color engage in Newspeak without even realizing it.

It is time to reflect on the words we say and understand their meanings otherwise the propaganda of “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” will only continue.  Only through understanding can we generate solutions that make the world a better place.

(Photo Credit: Obey)