Challenging the Performance of Masculinity

“Women are dumb,” Bryan* said, “they already have a thousand things going on in their mind about you, so when you ask her out, set a specific date and time; don’t leave it open-ended.” I think I almost choked on my dinner as I heard him advise my friend, Dave.* I did not want to get into an argument since I had not seen Bryan since high school, but his sexist remarks needed to be challenged.

Bryan, who is engaged himself, did not participate in a dialogue with me. Instead, he resorted to personal attacks, profanity and high school “humor.” Every point I made about sexism, male privilege and socialization was twisted into mockery and dismissed as “bullshit.” Dave, on the other hand, was still stressing about how he was going to ask the waitress out. I said to Bryan, “You don’t think there are a thousand things going on in Dave’s mind right now?” Dave nodded and admitted that I was right. Bryan shook his head, “Stop being a pussy, Dave. Be a man, that’s what women want; women want a man, just go and ask her out.”

I always find it disturbing nowadays when I hear someone, female or male, say, “Be a man.” It is an expression that is not only commonly used in our language, but also rarely confronted. Before I delve deeper into social expectations of masculinity, I want to point out what is occurring in the situation I briefly described above.

I am convinced that gender is a performance – something that we do at specific times and in specific circumstances as opposed to something that we have. While our performances are acted upon individually, they are also collaborative, meaning that they are heavily influenced and stylized by the socially constructed norms we and others accept about gender. A lot of the messages we receive about masculinity and femininity, for instance, is shaped, established, and standardized mostly by mainstream media, namely television – our society’s most powerful storyteller, as George Gerbner and other cultivation theorists argue – and also by family, friends, schools, religious institutions, and so on.

When Bryan challenged my friend’s masculinity or “manhood,” the response was reactionary. However conflicted Dave was, whether about his confidence, the time and place of his possible date, or the general anxiety that comes along with expressing romantic interest in someone, it did not matter. His masculinity was being challenged and even jeopardized in front of his friends. In order to demonstrate and prove his “manliness,” he needed to perform it. Of course, this is not to conclude that this was the conscious reasoning in my friend’s mind. My argument is that many of our performances, especially in situations like Dave’s, result from processes of internalization.

For instance, where does this singular idea about what it means to be a “real man” come from? Who is telling us to “man up” and “be a man?” What happens to those of us who do not “man up?” What images and messages are young men receiving and/or internalizing about “masculinity?” How does it surface in their language, behavior, appearance, social interactions, and other aspects of cultural life? In what ways does the model for “masculinity” in White heteropatriarchy affect men of color? These are several questions I have been reflecting on for a while and I recognize that I may not address or answer all of them in this post alone. However, I do find importance in at least putting the questions forth.

If we look at the way boys are raised, we find an unwritten rule about masculinity that is immensely widespread in contemporary American society: Don’t be feminine. As Dr. Julia T. Wood writes:

Early in life, most boys learn they must not think, act, or feel like girls and women. Any male who shows sensitivity or vulnerability is likely to be called a sissy, a crybaby, a mama’s boy, or a wimp. Peer groups pressure males to be tough, aggressive, and not feminine.

It is easy to see the anti-female directive in the way Bryan told my friend to “stop being a pussy.” Whenever men want to degrade, insult, and/or challenge other men, attacks are often made on their masculinity. The insults may be very direct with words like “girlie” or indirect with words like “sissy.” The model of masculinity does not actually teach us what it means to “be a man,” but rather says, “To be a man means to not be female.” Men must do the opposite of what women are stereotypically thought to do: men should suppress their emotions; they must be muscular, strong – physically and emotionally – and confident at all times; and they must not deviate from what society deems as “masculine. It would be irresponsible to ignore the homophobia that strongly accompanies this model as well. That is, one is not only “sissy” and “girlie,” but also “gay,” “homo,” or a “fag.” I remember from my own experience in high school, a lot of young heterosexual men, including myself, were afraid of receiving homosexual labels from our peers because we knew how damaging it was. I even had a friend who was always called “faggot” and eventually got beaten up in the locker room. I was spared because I was good at floor hockey and the only one who scored a goal against our gym teacher. I did not stand up for my friend because I didn’t want to be “faggot,” too.

Being brown, South Asian, and Muslim in a predominately White Judeo-Christian suburban town wasn’t easy for me despite earning some respect based on the talents I displayed in gym, art, and filmmaking classes. During high school and at an age where I was not thinking so deeply or consciously about masculinity, I felt the pressures of doing things that broke from the values I was taught at home. I understand that the South Asian and Muslim communities are not monolithic, therefore anything I say about my experiences and personal decisions should not be interpreted as generalizations about all South Asians and/or Muslims, but my refusal to date and go to the prom was grounded in my personal cultural and religious beliefs. In retrospect, I can interpret how my resistance to dating and school dances were treated as “unmanly” – since having a girlfriend showed other young men that you were, first and foremost, heterosexual and worthy of respect and admiration – and “non-Western.” The attitude I got from many peers was, “He’s not one of us anyway.” Plus, he’s a “faggot.” I remember being laughed at a lot of times when I wore my shalwar kameez to school during “cultural appreciation” days. Young men would ask, “Why are you wearing a dress?” Because White men don’t wear dresses, but apparently South Asian men do.

Within the Muslim community – and I speak from my experiences in my college years since I did not have enough exposure to other Muslims in my childhood – I take note on how financial success is stressed upon for men. The goal is to emulate the example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, but I find it interesting how some Muslim men (but not all) I have encountered discourage what would be classified as “feminine” traits such as showing compassion or writing romantic poetry. Loving, compassionate, and merciful – these were the characteristics of the Prophet, but when we challenge the strict gender segregation practices in Mosques, we hear harsh condemnations from scholars and others who dismiss it as un-Islamic. Men are traditionally taught to control their sexual desires, while women are taught that they are the cause of male sexual desires, hence justifying gender segregation. Men are taught that they represent the community; they are at the forefront; and they play an active role in marriages, while women are passive and pushed to the background. This is not only an example of our male unearned privilege, where we are oblivious to the advantages we have over women, but also an example of stereotypical roles we are expected to fulfill as men. In other words, if a man is not assertive in his community or not the dominant partner in a heterosexual relationship, he will be criticized and stigmatized for it.

The mainstream Muslim community also places pressure on men to focus mostly on establishing a career and being financially independent. Success, on these terms, means men are qualified to get married and support a family. The mufti at my local Mosque once taught young men that their goal should be about pursuing careers in fields that would earn them money and respect. The arts were completely discouraged because, according to him, “no one will marry you.” I wonder how this affects other Muslim men who are artists at heart, but are pressured to study in fields they have no passion for. As a result of these pressures, I believe a lot of Muslim men project an image of content, displaying to others that they are secure and comfortable with their circumstances, no matter how dissatisfied they really are.

I do not deny or exclude the Muslim men who are passionate about their career or ambitions in non-artistic fields, but I still think it is significant to examine how societal and community pressures on men relates to the idealized “strong man” or “tough guy” image, which, in many cases, must be projected to prove one’s “manhood,” not just to other men, but to women as well. It behaves as a shield to hide “cracks in the armor,” so to speak. If a heterosexual man believes his sensitive and/or emotional side will stigmatize him among other men, and subsequently be seen as a “turn off” to women, his defense mechanism is to suppress those traits and replace it with the guise of “toughness” (which I will discuss further in the next paragraph). Especially in the Muslim community, if women are socialized to be caretakers and homemakers, therefore conditioned to seek men who are confident decision makers, career-oriented, and financially independent, why would they want to marry a man who shows his weaknesses and doubts? This leads me to the conclusion that all men, not just Muslim men, are taught to be machines, not human beings. The latter are three-dimensional, flawed, and complex, while the former are programmed to conform to socially constructed codes of one-dimensional and rigid prototypes of masculinity.

Conforming to the “Tough Guise” model is not exclusive or unique to Muslim men at all. This is very prominent in Western society among men in general. Anti-sexist male activist, Jackson Katz, writes about masculinity being a “projection, a pose, a guise, an act, a mask that men often wear to shield our vulnerability and hide our humanity.” In his documentary, “Tough Guise,” he elaborates about the mask men wear:

This mask can take a lot of forms but one that’s really important for us to look at in our culture at the millennium is what I call the Tough Guise. The front that many men put up that’s based on an extreme notion of masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength and gaining the respect and admiration of others through violence or the implicit threat of it.

Recently, I noticed the celebration of the “Tough Guise” in the Muslim community when Amir Khan, a British-Muslim boxer of Pakistani descent won the world boxing association light-welterweight title in New York. Interesting enough, Rima Fakih, a Lebanese Muslim-American from Michigan, won the Miss USA beauty pageant around the same time. While much has been said about Rima Fakih – some arguing that her victory was worthy of celebration, despite acknowledging the sexist history of beauty pageants, while others found it exploitative and objectifying altogether – I heard no criticism about Amir Khan and what his victory said about masculinity.

The silence comes as no surprise to me. In fact, whenever we discuss gender issues, most of us think exclusively about women instead of both women and men. The same applies when we discuss race; we think about people of color and leave White people unexamined. Men and what it means to be White, in respect to gender and race, are “invisible” and unchallenged by the mainstream. Elan magazine, an online publication on global Muslim youth, published an article, “Amir Khan Crosses the Pond and Dominates,” which wrote the following about Khan’s victory:

Good news, adolescent American Muslim boys – you have a new role model and he looks just like you except with a much better physique! Someone put his name on a kufi for kids to wear to the mosque or give him his own PS3 title, because I think he’s just about to be the next big thing in worldwide boxing. At least, I hope so.

Not only does the author glorify traits that are typically associated with what society and the dominant culture has defined as “manly,” but he also encourages young Muslims to see Amir Khan has a “role model.” Do we really want to teach boys (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) to look up to someone who is simply known for his physical strength and ability to knock someone out? Is that what constitutes a role model or a “real man?” Do we expect Muslim fathers to hold their palms open for their sons and tell them, “Hit my hand as hard as you can?” If Muslim boys experience Islamophobia and racism in high school, should they behave like Amir Khan, throw on the “Tough Guise,” and try to beat up bullies? Is this really “good news” for adolescent Muslim-Americans or is a perpetuation of everything that is wrong with the way boys and men are socialized? I strongly argue the latter.

I am not trying to make this a religious discussion, but there is a famous Hadith (saying of the Prophet) that says the strongest person is not the strongest wrestler, but rather the one who can control his/her anger. The Prophet condemned all forms of violence and only permitted self-defense (and even that had strict rules). I am not making this point to say boxing is “haram” or to “infidelize” anyone, but rather I’m encouraging us to question the stereotypical messages that boxing sends out about “masculinity” and what it means to be a “real man,” mostly because such messages are immensely popular and prevalent. Why do we praise a man for his toughness and physical strength over a man who is sensitive, tender, and compassionate?

Without doubt there is more to discuss about masculinity and I admit that I am exploring this topic myself. I know I cannot deny how boys and men have been insulted, ostracized, and abused for behaving in ways that exist outside of the tight, suffocating box we call “masculinity.” I know that when boys and men express their doubts, uncertainties, and needs for companionship, Love, affection, and even protection, they are discouraged, ridiculed and forced to suppress their emotions and conceal their humanity. This is a danger to men as much as it is to women because, as Jackson Katz argues in “Tough Guise,” much of the violence in the world, whether against other men or women, is committed by men. We just don’t pay enough attention to gender when we talk about violence. When men are taught to “man up” and get physical to solve conflicts instead of communicating, the correlation between masculinity and violence is unsurprising.

The phrases we use for each other are hurtful and even traumatizing for those of us who are very sensitive beneath the “Tough Guise.” Labels like “sissy,” “pussy,” and “faggot” easily train us to become homophobic and hostile towards anyone who doesn’t fit the “right” model of masculinity. I would also argue that phrases like “nice guys finish last” and “mama’s boy” are also hurtful because they can potentially generate insecurity. The sad part is that we don’t ask ourselves: what is wrong with being a “nice guy,” and opposed to what, a “mean” guy? What is wrong with someone having a positive and healthy relationship with his mother? Does that make him less “manly?”

This box is suffocating. I believe many men feel it too, but may not be able to express it. I also believe a lot of men are convinced that they have to be “tough” and that there is no way out of it; it’s simply how they should be. Maybe, as Robert Jensen writes, it’s best for us to throw this whole idea of what it means to be a “real man” out of our minds. We have to break out of this small box and search for something “deeper, richer, and more satisfying.” We certainly need the help of women, but more importantly, we need help from other men, too.

As I watched my male friend Dave hide how conflicted he was about asking someone on a date and then hearing the “stop being a pussy” remark, it made me think about how some deep part of us must be calling for a new model to embrace our humanity. At least, I know this is true for me. There is a longing to be free and not confined to rigid labels or limited by boundaries. To be whole human beings and not the one-dimensional, unemotional machines that society and culture demands of us to be.

* Names changed for confidentiality.

No One “Hijacked” Islam

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Last Thursday, I attended an event hosted by the Muslim Student Association as part of their peace and coexistence week.  The event was about raising awareness and appreciation for the various cultures within the Muslim community.  Muslims read their poems, played music, sang, and gave presentations on Sufism/Islamic spirituality.  There were many non-Muslims in attendance and it was great to hear how previous events during the week had excellent turnouts as well.  As I drove home, I felt like all of us made a huge difference.

When I checked my e-mail that night, a news report about a man opening fire at a military base appeared on the Yahoo homepage.  I prayed, as many Muslim-Americans did, that the shooter wasn’t a Muslim.  The last thing we needed the media to get hyped up about was a Muslim-American murdering fellow Americans in the armed forces.  When the man’s Muslim affiliation was revealed, I was devastated.

My thoughts and prayers went out to the victims and their friends and families.  Simultaneously, as details slowly unfolded and as CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) released immediate condemnations of the incident, I felt like we took one step forward, but then two steps backward.  I am still worried about a backlash on the Muslim community.  Muslim-Americans have been suffering from hate crimes, discriminatory acts, prejudice, and media stereotyping/propaganda since the atrocity on 9/11, and although many Muslim-Americans have been speaking out, polls and surveys have found that negative attitudes and perceptions of Islam and Muslims have been on the increase.

I am not surprised by the Islamophobia that has resulted from this.  It has been going on since September of 2001; what else is new?  In typical Islamophobic fashion, Senator Joe Lieberman called the incident an “act of Islamist extremism.” Despite warnings not to jump to conclusions from Army officials and the President himself, Lieberman concluded:   “There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act,” Lieberman.

In other words, “terrorism” is a term reserved only for Muslims.  Yeah, we’ve been through this lesson before (see my post, “‘Terrorist’ Means ‘Muslim'”).

Conservative author, David Gaubatz, who has labeled President Obama a “Muslim” among other things, explicitly called for “a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.”  If that is not advocating hate and violence against an entire group of people, then I don’t know what is!  Oh, and televangelist Pat Robertson threw in some Lovely words, too:  “You’re dealing with not a religion, you’re dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents [Muslims] as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group.”

Raising suspicion about Muslims, vilifying Islam, and then expecting Muslims to answer or “explain” what happened (as if we have some kind of special “insight” into these things) is reflective of our society’s Islamophobia and inability to use its common sense.  When a White “Christian” man blows up a building in Oklahoma, his religion or race is not put on trial.  As Brian Ross writes:

When a couple of white kids shoot up a school, it is a tragedy, and a search for mental defect. Bring on a shooting at a military base that involves an Arab-American though, and the media does everything that it can to shout “TERRORISM” without really saying it.

Jerry Campbell, the president of the Claremont School of Theology, adds:

As a “Methodist-American,” I do not fear for my safety after a fellow Methodist commits a heinous crime… And the churches of my tradition have no need to renounce the deeds of an outlier when one of our own goes astray.  As a Methodist-American, these are not my realities.  But for Muslim communities, this is their America.

It is a relief to see General George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, expressing concerns for Muslim-Americans, especially Muslims serving in the military.  I have a relative serving in the military and I know these concerns resonate with Muslim-American soldiers deeply.  One of his statements bothered me though (emphases added):

To those members of the United States military who are Muslims, thank you for protecting our nation, thank you for standing up against the people who are trying to hijack your religion.”

It’s clear to me that General Casey Jr.’s concerns are genuine, but I think it’s important to break away from this false notion that Islam has been “hijacked.”  Islam has not been hijacked — not by Nidal Malik Hasan, not by Saddam Hussein, not by Osama bin Laden, and not even by corrupt and wealthy Muslim “leaders” in Muslim majority countries.  Sure, much of the violence committed by those who self-identify as Muslim contain religious symbolism or slogans, but there are many other complex factors that contribute to their violence.  It is not simply religion.

Anyone who has studied Edward Said or postcolonial theory would argue that most of the violence in places like Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan are a result of post-colonialist liberation ideologies.  Palestine is occupied by the oppressive Israeli military, and Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaded, bombed, and occupied by US forces.  It is impossible to imagine such war and chaos without resistance.  The military superpowers cannot stomp the boot of oppression upon the oppressed and expect them to submit without retaliation.  As we have seen, resistance from those parts of the world express themselves in religious manners — shouting “Allahu akbar,” citing the Qur’an and Hadith, and even interpreting the conflict as some sort of “cosmic battle.”  Similarly, there are complex factors to be taken into account when one questions the motives of Nidal Malik Hasan.  They do not justify or excuse his actions, but they make us see a larger picture instead of making ridiculous accusations that the religion of Islam had something to do with it.  Hasan acted upon himself, not because a religion “told him” to do so.  His opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear, but murdering fellow Americans is not the Islamic way of dealing with this situation.  His decision to murder was his own as an individual and his case should be treated as such.

No one has changed the Qur’anic text.  No one has replaced the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, with another religious figure in our Islamic tradition.  Islam, like any religion, can be manipulated and used by extremists for their own radical ideologies, but the actual message of the religion is not closed off to interpretation.  It is open for interpretation, and it has been for centuries.  And perhaps the most important point of all, the overwhelming majority of Muslims — an estimated 1.5 billion people — are non-violent and interpret Islam as a peaceful religion.  How can Islam be “hijacked” when the majority of its followers do not resort to violence?

Muslims have never stopped defining themselves.  Islam is our way of life and no one “hijacks” that from us.  No one bars us from Islam or forces us to change the way we believe about our faith.  Furthermore, our identities are not limited to the stereotypes and Islamophobic nonsense spewed out by bigots and media personalities alike.  I am a Muslim, and I am also an American.  We have multiple identities just like everyone else.  Only now are we hearing about the 20,000+ Muslims serving in the military, but why did we need a horrible act of violence to occur in order for us to see this fact?  Why do we only need to ease fear and  “suspicion” about Muslim-Americans when murders are committed by members of all ethnic and religious groups?

Muslims around the world continue to speak out, as they always have been.  Acclaimed Muslim-American author, Kamran Pasha, has written a brilliant piece called, “The Big Lie About Muslim Silence on Terrorism.” His post includes an extensive list of Muslim leaders and organizations that have condemned violence all over the world.  If we were to accuse the non-Muslim White population of being inherently violent against other races or religious groups over the centuries, media and society would be demanding for their organizations to speak out and condemn the actions of those who share the same religious or racial background.  If we looked at the religious affiliations of those who committed murders, robberies, and other horrible crimes, we would be saying, “Christianity has been hijacked,” or “Judaism has been hijacked,” or “Hinduism has been hijacked,” and so on.

No one “hijacked” Islam.  If anything has been hijacked, it is our own common sense, otherwise we wouldn’t be so quick to generalize about a religion or an entire group of people before a sensible fellow comes along and helps us come to the realization that, “oh yeah, we don’t expect non-Muslim White people to answer for crimes and murders committed by other non-Muslim White people!”

Gee, why didn’t we think of that before?  How’s White privilege, for starters?

Hate Speech is Not Free Speech, Mr. Wilders and Mr. Horowitz

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It is absolutely appalling that Temple University, an institution of higher learning, would allow a blatantly Islamophobic propagandist like Geert Wilders to spew his hate speech on campus. My initial reaction upon hearing this, I must say, was the following: Would Temple University invite KKK members to speak on their campus as well?

Mr. Wilder’s scheduled visit, Tuesday, October 20th, is sponsored by some on-campus clubs, but there is one off-campus organization that stands out the most: The David Horowitz Freedom Center. Yes, this is the same David Horowitz who organized “Islamofascism Awareness Week” on some college campuses because, according to him, most universities in the United States are “bastions of liberal indoctrination.” I believe that is code for something like: “We need to indoctrinate students to think like me!”

But I will get to Mr. Horowitz later.

Geert Wilders, who is trying to promote his anti-Qur’an, um, “short film” or “documentary,” is not the kind of person who tries to code his hateful, xenophobic, and Islamophobic views. On the contrary, he is quite blunt about what he believes about Islam.

For instance, Wilders has gone on record to say the following:

Islam is not a religion… the Qur’an is a book that calls for hatred, that calls for violence, for murder, for terrorism, for war, and submission…We should also stop pretending that Islam is a religion…the right to religious freedom should not apply to Islam.

Yeah.

These words came directly from his mouth at a so-called “Free Speech” summit in Florida. If you’re skeptical about the quote I cited above, click on the link below to watch the video and hear Mr. Wilders say it himself:

Geert Wilders Declares Islam is Not a Religion

The fact that Mr. Wilders was banned from traveling to England should be enough to indicate how hostile his views and attitudes are towards Islam and Muslims (although recently, the ban was overturned and now Wilders apparently believes he has accomplished something with, well, hate speech). He is not someone who is genuinely interested in any kind of intellectual, inter-faith, or inter-cultural dialogue. In addition to accusing Islam of not being a religion, he demands to end Muslim immigration and propagates that Western culture is “better” and “superior” to “Islamic culture.” He argues that Islam “threatens” the West’s “Judeo-Christian values,” ignoring the fact that Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is also an Abrahamic faith! He calls for all Muslim schools in the West to be shut down and he wants to tax Muslim women who wear the hijaab (or “head-rag” as he described it).

Upon hearing about this event, Muslims like myself are outraged that organizations and clubs on the Temple University campus invited Mr. Wilders to speak. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) expressed their concerns to the university via a strong and solid letter to the institution. CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, was contacted immediately by many local Muslims as well.

Here is where David Horowitz and his band of Islamophobes come into the picture.

Horowitz not only wrote a pathetic reply to the MSA, but also made incredibly offensive and inflammatory accusations against the student organization and implied that it “supported terrorism.” Other Islamophobic blogs are vilifying the MSA with absurd titles like, “Wilders Event at Temple University Attacked by Muslim Student Association” or “Jihad is Joined at Temple University.”

It isn’t difficult to see how Horowitz tries really hard to hide his Islamophobia. Rather than saying “Islam,” he will refer to it as “Radical Islam.” Rather than saying “Muslims,” he will tag it with the word “extremist.” In other words, he is very careful at how he phrases things because he likes to hide under the guise of not being racist, prejudice, or xenophobic.

But poor Horowitz doesn’t seem to realize that his Islamophobia and filthy racism is quite obvious. In his reply to the MSA, one can easily see that he is regurgitating his cliched anti-Muslim rhetoric rather than actually defending Geert Wilders. It is because it is impossible to defend Wilders and present him as a non-racist or non-Islamophobic speaker.  So Horowitz opts to do what he does best: twist the facts and lie.  Shamelessly.

In his letter, for instance, Horowitz writes:  “Geert Wilders…has been an outspoken critic of Islamic terrorists and Islamic attacks on Jews and other religions.”  Actually, Wilders has been outspoken about his hostile and antagonistic views towards Islam in general.  As I cited earlier, Mr. Wilders does not believe Islam is a religion, nor does he believe it deserves religious freedom.  That is not being an outspoken critic of terrorism or extremism, it’s being a hatemonger of an entire religion and group of people.  There is no such thing as simply hating a religion, but not the followers.  Generalizing and vilifying Islam is the same as demonizing the people who follow the faith, no matter how much Mr. Wilders and Mr. Horowitz want to convince (read: brainwash) their readers and viewers otherwise.

Horowitz lies again in the next paragraph of his letter:  “It is the height of hypocrisy for the Muslim Students Association to accuse Geert Wilders of spreading hate or anyone of being a hate group.”  Really?  Can you prove to us that Geert Wilders isn’t spreading hate about Islam?  Wilders expresses his hate explicitly when he says the Qur’an is “fascist” and that all Muslim immigration must be stopped.  I wonder how Horowitz would defend the video clip of Wilders saying that Islam should not be called a religion or deserve religious freedom.  The hypocrisy is in Horowitz’s own words.

Horowitz vilifies the Muslim Student Association by accusing it of being founded by a “Muslim terrorist organization.” It’s a pathetic and shameful attempt to discredit the hard work that Muslim students do on their campuses to organize inter-faith and/or inter-cultural events. Horowitz and Islamophobes alike do not want Muslim-Americans to speak up or defend themselves. Intellectual, well-educated, and well-spoken Muslims challenge the stereotypical and orientalist image of Muslims that Islamophobes want non-Muslims to have. Horowitz et al vilify and demonize CAIR because they do not want non-Muslims to see CAIR as a human rights organization, but rather as a “suspicious” and “dangerous” one.

The fact that Horowitz and his Islamophobes slandered the Muslim students at Temple University is very disturbing and sickening. It clearly shows the sheer amount of hatred that is filled in their hearts because before they even spoke to a single member from the student club, they went ahead and criminalized them. Rather than acknowledging that the MSA at Temple University held a fundraiser dinner during Ramadan to raise money, food, and awareness about those who starve in the world (including in the United States), Horowitz and the Islamophobes accused the MSA of “advocating terrorism” and “jihad.” As a result of these accusations, the MSA has been receiving hate mail, which totally refutes what Horowitz wrote in his letter:  “Temple MSA refers to the fact that security will be necessary at the event as proof that Geeert Wilders is dangerous.”

Yes, hate mail and death threats mean nothing to David Horowitz when they’re made against Muslims.  Based on Horowitz’s relentless attacks on Muslim organizations and civil rights groups, the only good Muslim to him is probably a dead one.  I have seen MSA’s across the nation organize events for multicultural and multi-faith understanding, and I have seen so many non-Muslims support our efforts.  I haven’t seen anything like that from Horowitz and Wilders.  Horowitz talks about “tolerance” in the last part of his letter, but has nothing in his portfolio to show for it.  All we have seen is hate, propaganda, Islamophobia, stereotypes, and generalizations.  How does that benefit society or make us less fearful of one another?

Only those with cold-hearts would say such hateful things without even engaging in any sort of communication or dialogue. The Islamophobic blogs and websites are only concerned about perpetuating the paranoia and fear that Muslims “want to take over America.” Many of these Islamophobes are the same people who believe Barack Obama is a “secret Muslim” in the White House.

The freedom of speech does not apply when it is turned into hate speech. And hate speech is nothing else but inciting hatred, prejudice, and violence against a particular group of people. This is the reason why Geert Wilders should not be permitted to speak at Temple University. By allowing him to speak, the university would not only be welcoming a hostile learning atmosphere for its Muslim students, but it would also be violating its own anti-discrimination policies.

If Wilders and Horowitz really care about their “Judeo-Christian values,” as they so often proclaim, perhaps they would benefit from a simple lesson by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:

“Do you not Love your Creator? Love your fellow beings first!”

Reza Aslan to US: Leave Us Alone

This is a recent clip from CNN where Reza Aslan schools Alexander Benard on whether or not Barack Obama should be more outspoken about the current situation in Iran. Sometimes, I’m amazed that people like Alexander Benard can appear on television. Earlier in the clip, you see John McCain expressing his support for the Iranian protesters and acting like the Iranian people respect him. This is the same man who was singing “Bomb Iran” during his presidential campaign! Does he really think that people will forget that?

Alexander Benard states that the President of the United States speaks on behalf of the world. Says who? Did American Presidents all of a sudden become Presidents of the world? Isn’t this reinforcing the notion that America is a bully nation that goes around policing other states? The US has no credibility in Iran anymore; the people don’t forget the CIA-backed coup in 1953 when a democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossedegh, was ousted for the sake of re-installing the pro-western Shah. The Shah’s dictatorship only led to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeni and the subsequent Islamic revolution. And we all know in recent times how the Bush administration has been very hostile towards the current regime in Iran.

People like Alexander Benard need to get over their western savior complex and pay attention for once. I’m glad Reza Aslan shut him down and schooled him on a country that Benard doesn’t know anything about. All one needs to do is use their common sense: If the United States mingles with this situation, Ahmadinejad will use it to his advantage and it’s going to get very ugly. Look at Pakistan, for example. The Taliban invasion of Pakistan is retaliatory to the Pakistani military, which was forced into the region by the US. The Taliban accuse the Pakistani government (and anyone else who doesn’t agree with their radical ideology) of being complicit with the war crimes of the US. Ahmadinejad will do the same thing if the US interferes; he will associate Mousavi with the west and it will seriously create potential for increased violence.

I’m really fed up with these groups who suddenly “care” about Iran, when only a few months ago, they were pounding the war drum against them. I don’t understand how they can shamelessly appear on television and have the “guts” to talk about Iran. I heartily agree with Aslan. This is something that needs to be left to the Iranian people.

This Isn’t Just About Cricket

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Scoring 51 runs from 34 balls and taking two important wickets, Shahid Afridi (pictured above) led Pakistan into their second-consecutive Twenty20 World Cup final after a marvelous all-around performance against the favored South Africa team on Thursday, June 18th.  Cricket commentators and analysts are calling this a “fairy tale” story for Pakistan, a country that has been facing immense adversity from the Taliban invasion, U.S. drone attacks, and negative media coverage.  The stunning performance and incredible display of teamwork from the Pakistani cricket team has shone a positive light in the hearts of millions of Pakistanis worldwide, showing the world that there is more to their country than just politics and turmoil.

After the victory, former test captain Moin Khan told Reuters, “Cricket has always been a big binding force in our country and the team’s success in the World Cup has helped lift the spirits of the people.  The last few months have been very hard for the people and many of us carry psychological scars of the innocent lives lost in these terrorist attacks. But for now we have something to celebrate and look forward to.”

Indeed, the last few months have been very difficult for Pakistan, and many Pakistanis who live outside of the country, like myself, feel heartbroken not only because of the Taliban invasion or the bombings in Lahore and Peshawar, but also because there are so many stereotypes and misconceptions about Pakistan and its people.  It’s wonderful when people are able to share and celebrate their culture, but lately, it’s been difficult to speak about my culture without having to deal with questions about terrorism, the Taliban, or even Osama bin Laden.  Being Muslim, the “Islam and terrorism” association is something I’ve been dealing with since 9/11, but now, since I feel more connected with Pakistan, the negative perceptions have worsened.

Unfortunately, most non-Pakistanis, especially in the west, have a very vague and limited understanding of what the country is actually going through.  The general impression seems to be that Pakistan is unstable and that a war is brewing between radical militants (like the Taliban) and the Pakistani government.  The Pakistani public, however, are left out of the picture.  Rather than pointing out that the majority of Pakistanis are very anti-Taliban, most of mainstream media is filled with Islamophobic rhetoric and a lot of misinformation, especially regarding whether or not the Pakistani government has been cooperating militarily with the United States (the fact that Pakistan has lost more civilians and soldiers than the United States in fighting insurgents doesn’t ever seem to be mentioned by the mainstream media or even the Obama administration).  Neglecting the voice that represents the majority of Pakistan is really irresponsible journalism and it’s one of the reasons why so many western stereotypes and misconceptions persist about Pakistanis.

The reason why the latest news about Pakistan’s cricket team is so significant is because cricket receives a lot of media attention in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Australia, and the fact that Pakistan has reached the final during a time when its country is enduring so many struggles is remarkable alone.  It not only breaks stereotypes, but also helps restore some dignity and respect to Pakistan’s tarnished image.  It’s unfortunate that cricket hardly receives any media attention in the United States (since it doesn’t have a team), but perhaps a victory for Pakistan in the final would inspire (at least some) media coverage of it, considering that the Pakistani athletes have promised to donate their earnings to displaced people in the North West Frontier Province.

As many Pakistanis know, cricket is not just another sport.  It’s almost like the country’s second religion.  When I watched Pakistan defeat South Africa yesterday, I saw Pakistanis rejoicing in the crowd, young boys and girls with Pakistani flags painted on their cheeks and waving their green banners, people of all ages dancing and cheering into video cameras more jubilantly than I’ve probably ever seen them before  — these are the images of Pakistanis that I am familiar with.  Although most of the Pakistanis in the crowd were British citizens, I believe that all Pakistanis, no matter where in the world, knew exactly why they were cheering.  It wasn’t just about cricket.  It was about something more than that.  It was about inspiring hope, answering to the critics who said Pakistan’s reputation was destroyed after the attacks on the Sri Lanka cricket team, and showing the world that Pakistan has a place in the world where the majority of its citizens want stability and peace in their country.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this emotional while watching a cricket game.  Whether it’s Shahid Afridi’s gritty and competitive attitude on the pitch, or Pakistanis marching in the streets to reinstate the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, or even large demonstrations against the Taliban, it all reveals that despite the problems that confront the country, the Pakistani people have heart and are not the “enemies” as western media often depicts them.  It is something they deserve appreciation and respect for.  May Allah keep Pakistan safe from both internal and external forces that only want to destroy it.  Ameen.

Good luck on Sunday, Pakistan!  In the meantime, enjoy the clip below from Pakistan’s recent victory over South Africa: