I am Officially Published!

Salaam and greetings everyone!

I’m really excited to announce that my work has been published in a wonderful book called “Teaching Against Islamophobia.”  Late last year, I was invited by one of the editors to contribute a chapter about the way Muslims are depicted in mainstream American comic books.  When the editor told me that the book was about teaching against Islamophobia and encouraging dialogue, understanding, and respect, I felt so honored to be a part of it.

My chapter is called “Holy Islamophobia, Batman!  Demonization of Muslims and Arabs in Mainstream American Comic Books.”  It is published as chapter 6 and is 12 pages long.  It also contains references and a brief biography in the back.  You can purchase it on Amazon.com by following this link:  Teaching Against Islamophobia (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education).

Here’s a brief description of the book:

As corporate and governmental agencies march us towards global conflict, racism, and imperialism, this book contends that teachers must have the tools with which to combat unilateral politicization of Arabic and Muslim peoples. Teaching Against Islamophobia creates a pedagogical space for educators to engage with necessary issues and knowledges regarding the alienation of Islamic culture, religion, knowledge, and peoples.

Edited by a WASP, a Jew, and an Iranian, this book confronts the fears, challenges, and institutional problems facing todays teachers. Taking its cue from critical pedagogy, this book is a collection of essays by artists, writers, performers, and educators committed to naming the insidious racism and hatred of those who would isolate and vilify Islam.

It was surreal receiving it in mail and then seeing my name under the chapter title.  The fact that the book is designed for teachers gives me a lot hope that educational institutions will be more conscious and aware about Islamophobia and how it not only impacts Muslims, but also those who are perceived to be Muslim.  I want to deeply thank all of you — my readers — for always showing your support and appreciation.  I cannot express how much it means to me.  Growing up as a Muslim-American and being in high school when 9/11 happened hasn’t been easy, but when I see the diversity of my readers, who are both Muslim and non-Muslim, I know that there are people out there who truly care about bringing change and promoting coexistence.

Insha’Allah (God willing) this is the first of many publications.  I hope to some day write a book of my own, as many of my dear friends are encouraging (read: forcing) me to, lol!

Peace be with you all.  Lots of Love and Light,

~ Jehanzeb

Gene Luen Yang: Why I Won’t Be Watching The Last Airbender Movie

I had to share this comic strip from Graphic Novelist Gene Luen Yang.  Believe it or not, I’ve never seen an episode of the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” animated series, but I hear from friends that it’s absolutely fantastic.  I will definitely be watching it soon.  In the meantime, I cannot support the film, even though I’m a fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s work.  Casting white actors to play heroes of color – characters who are Asian and Inuit – is really unfair and offensive to people of color in general.   Check out the brilliant comic below and be sure to visit Yang’s blog!

Here’s a hi-res pdf version of the comic.

Prince of Persia: The Brother is Brown

As Disney’s “Prince of Persia” is set for release later this week, I’m noticing more people talking about the casting controversy. As I have expressed in my previous posts (here and here), choosing Jake Gyllenhaal to play a brown character is another example of Hollywood’s Orientalist white-washing and ethnocentrism, as well as denying people of color the opportunity to represent themselves. The most common counter-argument I’m hearing is: “Well, ancient Persians were light skinned.” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer even said this, while adding, “The Turks changed all of that.” Ah yes, those bloody Turks and their dark skin! And how convenient for Hollywood, right? I suppose with those “facts,” they can justify the casting of a White actor to play an ancient Persian hero. But wait a minute, why were the ancient Persians in “300” dark skinned? Hmm.

I would like to present examples from the “Prince of Persia” video games to show how the character’s skin color changed over time.

1. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)

I could write a paper or hold a long discussion about how problematic the cover image above is. The Orientalist fantasy element is quite obvious – note the blue eyes, the Arabic script on his sword (this is supposed to be pre-Islamic Persia), and the Islamic crescents on the minarets. There needs to be an important discussion about masculinity as well (note the bare chest, battle scars), which I will be writing more about in future posts (though perhaps not specifically about “Prince of Persia”). Regardless of these problematic elements, the point is that anyone who played this game knows the character was brown and Middle-Eastern.  The game also features an Indian female character named Farah.  She does not seem to appear in the film and, as of yet, it isn’t certain that any of the South Asian characters will be featured.

2. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004)

If there was any doubt about the Prince being brown in the first game, just take a look at how he is depicted in the sequel. In fact, he is darker in this game; brown and Hrithik Roshan-esque, minus the blue eyes. “Warrior Within” also did a better job staying consistent with Zoroastrian/pre-Islamic Persian mythology. I’m guessing someone informed them about it after all of the Arabic in the first game. And of course, the hyper-masculinity and Orientalism needs to be challenged immensely, but my point here is simply about skin color.

3. Prince of Persia: Two Thrones (2005)

Yep. Brown.

4. Prince of Persia (2008)

Whoa. What happened here?

I found this representation to be quite offensive. What’s important to be informed about is that this character is not the same Prince from the previous three games (did I mention they don’t have names?). The creators of the game wanted to explore “another Prince” (who you don’t really learn much about because he has amnesia). The Prince in this game is light-skinned, as you can see. If anything, he looks like he has a summer tan. Though the gameplay is enjoyable and the female character, Elika (who accompanies you the entire game), is dark-skinned, it was a huge disappointment that the Prince looked very White and Euro-American. Arguments that use this game to justify the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal are inaccurate since the film is based on the first game, “The Sands of Time.” Though it does raise an important question as to why this Prince’s skin is lighter than the previous Prince.

Even if there are disputes about the Prince’s skin color, I still do not understand the argument about ancient Persians being light skinned. It simply sounds like an excuse to cover up the fact that a non-Persian was chosen for the role. It is still racebending, white-washing, and Orientalism. And it must be challenged.

UPDATE: Read this hilarious and brilliant article by Arab-American comedian, Dean Obeidallah:  The Prince of Persia was a White Dude?!!

UPDATE 2: Sara Haghdoosti, an Iranian blogger at “The Punch,” has written an excellent piece, Jake Gyllenhaal stole my identity and my video game. Be sure to check it out!

Clarification about skin color: I’m getting some comments about Persians being light-skinned.  I am not disputing this.  I am fully aware that Persians, like many other ethnic groups, range from light skin to dark skin.  This particular post is simply a brief content analysis on the character’s skin color in the video games. I am not saying all Persians are brown; I am saying that the Prince is depicted as brown (see pictures above).  A light-skinned Persian could have been chosen for the role and that would have been fine  I am also not speaking for the Iranian community; I am an advocate for equal and fair opportunity and casting for people of color in general.  I write mostly about the media’s representation of Muslims, South Asians, Afghans, Arabs, Persians, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups.  It is inaccurate to assume or interpret that I am speaking for a community that is not my own.

Muslim-Americans Getting It Wrong on Pakistan

In no way do I support the Pakistani court’s decision to ban its citizens from accessing Facebook and YouTube. As many of you know, restrictions were put into effect after Pakistani officials learned about an idiotic, Islamophobic event on Facebook called “Draw Muhammad Day.” As much as I strongly oppose the event and find it clearly driven by hate and ignorance, I believe the Facebook ban is not only nonsensical and counterproductive, but also an insult to the Pakistani people, implying that millions of citizens would flock to the group and participate if the site is not prohibited. Without a doubt, the blockade of Facebook and YouTube represents the government’s religious insecurity and mistrust of its own people.

However, what puzzles me further is how Muslim-Americans, especially those of Pakistani descent, resort to simplified generalizations and misrepresentations of Paksitan and its citizens. I do not know Arsalan Iftikhar personally, but I have always respected his efforts to speak out against Islamophobia and distortions of Muslim-Americans. Whether on CNN or Fox News and talking to right-wing bullies like Bill O’Reilly, Mr. Iftikhar’s work certainly calls for respect and appreciation.

But I must challenge the comments he made about Pakistan in his latest piece on the CNN opinion page. Mr. Iftikhar paints a harsh picture of Pakistan in the very first sentence:

For a country that has produced five military dictators in 60 years, mourned the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and struggles continually against its own militant extremists who have killed thousands in their own nation, Pakistan has absolutely picked the wrong fight by banning Facebook and YouTube because of an idiotic virtual campaign called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”

Mr. Iftikhar went further to argue that the country did not live up to its name, pointing out that the word “Pakistan” means “Land of the Pure” when translated from Urdu. “There has been nothing pure,” he writes, “about the downward sociopolitical spiral of this nuclear-armed, Third World fledgling democracy of 172 million people over the last several years.” He cites former US ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, who describes the region as terrorized by extremists. Mr. Iftikhar closes with the following:

Instead of conjuring up stupid controversies like the recent bans of Facebook and YouTube because of some silly drawings, the 172 million citizens of Pakistan should focus their political attention and economic resources on educating their women, improving their rule of law system and truly understanding the repercussions that come with ominously naming your country the “land of the pure.”

I will not dispute the social, political, and economic struggles that confront Pakistan. Indeed, they are real. However, what surprises and appalls me is that there is not a single mentioning of the U.S. intervening, exploiting, and attacking Pakistan. Mr. Iftikhar’s article is titled “Pakistan should ban extremism, not Facebook,” but he does not address the root of the extremism. He only touches upon the symptoms of a larger problem. Yes, Pakistan has an unfortunate history of military dictators and while it is important to hold those leaders accountable for their criminal actions, it is also crucial to acknowledge that the US largely supported and funded those dictatorships.

When the United States was hell-bent on fighting Communism, the government subsidized General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most ruthless military dictator, who was trained in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and later stationed in Jordan to train soldiers during the Black September operations, which resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths and causalities. The US-Pakistan alliance monetarily and militarily aided the Mujahedeen resistance movement in Afghanistan against Soviet invasion. Not only were extremists and militant groups supplied with US weapons and trained by the CIA, but the jihadi manuals were also printed in Nebraska.

I have repeatedly pointed this out in previous posts, but after September 11th, then President Pervez Musharraf was given an ultimatum from George W. Bush: “You’re either with us or against us.” Pakistani British author Tariq Ali has also emphasized on this next point: former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage threatened to “blow Pakistan back to the stone age.” Pakistan’s cooperation with the US, as well as fighting in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) has resulted in violent antagonism towards Pakistan from tribal groups, militants and extremists.

In other words, the war in Afghanistan is spilling into Pakistan. The invading Taliban groups view the Pakistani government as complicit with US war crimes, not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq and Palestine as well. This has resulted in devastating attacks on Pakistan, which has caused so much suffering on the Pakistani people themselves – Sufi shrines being destroyed in Peshawar, the bombing of girl’s schools, sporadic bombings in Peshawar, Lahore and other parts of the country, etc.

President Obama, who frequently criticized the US for supporting Musharraf during the presidential campaign, is not only financially backing President Asif Zardari – a man who is reviled by the majority of Pakistanis – but also escalating troops in Afghanistan and carrying out deadly drone operations in Pakistani tribal areas. In fact, it was reported by Pakistan’s Dawn Media Group that over 700 civilians were killed by drone attacks since Obama took office in 2009. According to PressTV, an estimated 300 people (and counting) have been killed in 42 drone attacks in 2010. Not to state the obvious, but that is a lot of people! Zardari and Hamid Karzai of neighboring Afghanistan both welcome Obama’s policies in advancing the Afghan war and continuing the drone attacks, respectively.

Yet it seems that President Obama receives little to no criticism from Muslim-Americans, specifically those who are in Washington or work in civil rights organizations. I often hear peculiar arguments that seek to justify his policies. There are those who even question the number of casualties from the drone attacks (to which author and activist Jeremy Scahill has refuted). Others have argued that leaflets were sent to those areas, so all of the Pakistani civilians should just leave. Funny, because I never heard such excuses when Israel bombed Lebanon in 2006 or Gaza in December-January of 2008-2009.

The reality is that human rights violations still occur under Obama’s administration – in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. In February, US soldiers raided an Afghan home and killed three innocent women – two of whom were pregnant – and then tried to hide the evidence by digging the bullets out of the dead bodies. Earlier this month, 20 people were killed in another drone attack in Pakistan. With such injustice, how does one expect there to be no violent backlash or retaliation at all? Do people easily forget the murders of their Loved ones?

It would be inaccurate to say extremism and corruption does not exist among certain Pakistani religious leaders and politicians, but excluding US attacks and military operations in the region would be just as misguided. As Tariq Ali has stated in several of his talks, the US presence in Afghanistan is not the solution, it is part of the problem and it is having a disastrous impact on Pakistan. Drone assaults on tribal areas only generates a culture of revenge, intensifies the violence, and endangers the lives of Pakistanis, as well as Americans (see: Time Square).

Extremism does not manifest out of thin air. Ignoring the US as a key factor is a misrepresentation of facts and simplifies the radicalization of extremists and militant groups (similar to how Bush advocates used to say, “They hate us because we’re free”).

Not all of the 172 million Pakistani citizens support the ban on Facebook and YouTube. I would argue that the vast majority of Pakistanis object to it – and I base this on the nation-wide demonstrations that helped reinstate the chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, as well as the gathering of over one hundred thousand people who observed the 250th anniversary of the divinely inspired 17th century Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah. Though I doubt Mr. Iftikhar was implying that 172 million Pakistanis weren’t doing anything about educating women and improving their ruling systems, I think it was unfair that he didn’t mention their efforts.

As for Pakistan not living up to its name, “Land of the Pure,” I cannot really disagree with Arsalan Iftikhar. However, I must ask: which country is, if any? Which country in the world is the shining example of justice and liberty for all? Sure, there is enough to criticize about the “Land of the Pure,” but let’s not dismiss the facts, the US-Pakistan relationships, the dynamics of power, and the deadly repercussions of military intervention and exploitation.

And surely, that turns our attention to the problems we have here in the “Land of the Free.”

This Prince is Not Persian

It makes sense that I am seeing “Prince of Persia” posters at bus stops and malls. The movie is set for release later this month. It does not make sense, however, that I am expected to believe Jake Gyllenhaal is Persian. He is not. In fact, I will not even address his character as “The Prince” in this article (or anywhere else for that matter). I will just call him Jake.

“Hey, look, ‘Prince of Persia,’” my brother said, pointing at the movie poster.

“You aren’t going to see that, are you?” I asked.

“Pfft, yeah right, I’m not going to watch that racist s&#%!!”

Jake and Disney, the studio responsible for this racebending/whitewashed atrocity (surprise, surprise), seem to have their fair share of fans and supporters. On internet forums and threads, I see fans writing things like, “Ooh Jake is so hot,” or “I Love Jake Gyllenhaal,” or “I’m so glad they chose him to play the prince!” I saw one comment where someone called the casting racist and the response was, “Get over it! He’s hot!”

As I wrote in last year’s post about the film, the level of ignorance is disturbing. It reminds me when the film “300” – a White supremacist’s wet dream – was released and many viewers spoke about the “hotness” of Gerard Butler as a way of covering up the film’s disgusting racism. In that film, which I have written extensively about, you may recall that the Persians were not only portrayed by people of color, but also horribly demonized without apology. Now, when the Persians are the “good guys,” they are played by lovely White people.

The first insult is that people of color, in this case Persians and South Asians, are not attractive people. They cannot be “hot.” I know I am not the only person who has heard White people say, directly or indirectly, that dark skin is not attractive as light skin. The second insult is that heroic Persian and South Asian characters cannot be played by real Persians and South Asians. They don’t know what it means to be “heroic.” Only White people do.

This is blatant Orientalism. Jake is the Orientalist, he is not the Persian. He embodies the West’s history of domination in the East, where the “Oriental,” the “other,” must be spoken for, must be represented by the West, by the White man, and must be feared or even hated. The “Oriental” is obliterated into non-existence and not granted the freedom or access to represent him/herself. This is an example of what the late Edward Said called “positional superiority,” i.e. the White Westerner can exploit the East in such a manner simply because it can.

But, as some fans complain, Hollywood needs to sell tickets. It needs to make money. Poor Hollywood. Oh, then I guess that makes everything “ok.” So what if there was a missed opportunity to break rising stereotypes and misconceptions about Middle-Easterners and South Asians. I’m sure brown people and real Persians understand that Jake and Disney need the money, right?

No. While some fans and viewers drool over Jake’s fake prince, I propose that protesters join forces with Racebending.com, which has been raising awareness about the whitewashing in “The Last Airbender, “ and boycott this film. We shouldn’t give money to a greedy industry that does not even allow minorities to represent themselves.

Be sure to read the post I wrote about the film last year.

UPDATE: Read this hilarious and brilliant article by Arab-American comedian, Dean Obeidallah:  The Prince of Persia was a White Dude?!!

UPDATE 2: Sara Haghdoosti, an Iranian blogger at “The Punch,” has written an excellent piece, Jake Gyllenhaal stole my identity and my video game. Be sure to check it out!

Clarification about skin color: I’m getting some comments about Persians being light-skinned.  I am not disputing this.  I am fully aware that Persians, like many other ethnic groups, range from light skin to dark skin.  The only reason I say “brown” is because the character is depicted as brown in the first three video games. My argument, like Dean Obeidallah’s, is that talented Persian and South Asian actors (the female lead from the video game is Indian) should be allowed to play protagonists in box office hits (Ben Kingsley, who is half-Indian, plays the role of a villain, similar to how Dev Patel, another Indian actor, is playing the villain in “The Last Airbender.”)  A light-skinned Persian could have been chosen for the role and that would have been fine.  I am also not speaking for the Iranian community; I am an advocate for equal and fair opportunity and casting for people of color in general.  I write mostly about the media’s representation of Muslims, South Asians, Afghans, Arabs, Persians, Native Americans, and other ethnic groups.  It is inaccurate to assume or interpret that I am speaking for a community that is not my own.

Muhammad


O’ Prophet,

Tonight, I feel the fullness of your soul,
the miracle of your blessed existence
from so many centuries past,
it transcends all barriers of space and time
and like a sudden, mystic fire that I cannot name,
I feel your eternal memory
burn this heart of mine.

I want to find you somewhere
maybe in a dream, an alternate reality,
perhaps in those secret places
that mystics often pen about
in their impassioned poetry,
or sing in ecstasy about
in whirling dances.

I want to hold your gaze
and imitate your expressions;
I want to watch the way you walk,
I want to emulate your smile,
I want to talk the way you talk,
I want to give the way you give,
forgive the way you forgive,
kneel as you kneel,
bow as you bow,
mimic every detail.

I want to kiss your hands
and listen to those sweet words
that descend from the Heavens
and flow through your spoken lips;
I want to hear those words sing
and put ease to all of my fears;
I want to feel their light
like hot breath
blowing into
my ears.

I want to live in your presence
and that of your family’s;
teach me friendship, companionship,
guide my longings to patience,
show me the vastness of your soul,
the universe that is inside you,
let me see the infinite beauty
that makes you the beautiful Lover and Friend
to all of humanity
and to the Supreme Being
that brought us here.

O’ Prophet,
You change the whole world
and then say you are an ordinary man.
You spark this burning in my heart
and cause tears to stream down my face
even though so much time keeps us apart
and still, you say you are ordinary.

No, beloved.
You are not like the rest of us,
you are Chosen,
the veil through which starlight shines
Zeb-un-Nissa said,
‘You are the very torch Divine.’

I believe her.
Because someone like you
is too humble to speak so highly of himself.

But we know, ya Muhammad, we know
how special you truly are.

Peace be upon you.

~ Jehanzeb