No Justice

Today, the so-called US “justice” system found all ten of the “Irvine 11” Muslim students “guilty” on misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt and then disrupting a speech delivered by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine  in February 2010. Two days ago, Troy Davis, a black man accused of killing a white police officer, was murdered by the State of Georgia, despite the overwhelming doubt surrounding his guilt.  A day later, activists highlighted on a 2008 case where a white man and confessed murderer named Samuel David Crowe was pardoned by the same Georgia Parole Board only hours before his scheduled execution.  I am utterly disgusted by the racism evident in these cases.

Some are saying these are sad days for the American “justice” system, but the disturbing reality is that racialized and economically disadvantaged people are constantly targeted and victimized by the system. According to a 2009 report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), black men had an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 US residents, a rate more than six times higher than white men (1,822 inmates per 100,000 US residents).  Black women, with an incarceration rate of 333 per 100,000, were over 3.6 times more likely to have been in prison than white women. Amnesty International research, as reported by Colorlines, shows that death sentences are more likely to be handed out when victims are white. This repulsive racist double-standard can be seen in the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, where a white cop, Johaness Mehserle, shot an unarmed black man and only served less than one year in prison.

In the Irvine 11 case, the horrible criminalization of these students only occurred because they were Muslim.  The Islamophobia engrained in mainstream American politics, media, and society only creates a larger obstacle for the students who were non-violently protesting and speaking out against something the US President never dares to do: Israel’s war crimes, genocide, and sexual violence against Palestinians. Sami Kishawi of “Sixteen Minutes to Palestine” contends that another verdict was reached in the Irvine 11 case:

The court’s decision complements traditional American policy towards Israel and its supporters. The excuse that Israel is forever under existential threat has embedded itself within the framework of the Constitution of the United States. First Amendment rights are no longer guaranteed if an individual is tried for being on the wrong side: for not supporting Israel’s policies in the Middle East, its occupation, its abandonment of the most fundamental form of justice, or its perception of public nonviolent dissent as institutionalized death-wishing festivities. So in a very obvious sense, the verdict is that Israel’s interests stand above the right to express, to speak, to engage, and to openly challenge the injustices confirmed by Oren’s words.

It would be a terrible mistake to overlook the connection between US-Israel complicity in the violence committed against Palestinians and the way Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and others are demonized and discriminated against in the United States.  Defending the rights of Muslims in the United States is intertwined with the struggle against the war machine that needs propaganda, racism, and sexism to fuel and justify its imperialist projects.  White supremacy makes it awfully challenging for the white non-Muslim mainstream to identify with the Muslim students who protested Michael Oren’s speech, regardless of how courageous and admirable they are.  Israel, Michael Oren, and the Zionist supporters are the white heroes in this masculinist narrative, where they are depicted as “victims” of the “dark” and “barbaric” invaders.  They’ve asserted themselves as upholders of “democracy,” freedom, and equal rights for all, especially for women, whereas the “dark” male villain is the over-sexed, savage, and destructive one.  Through racialization, the Muslim, no matter how outnumbered or oppressed, is cast as the “dark Other” who is the mortal enemy of the white hero.  As bell hooks describes:

The notion, originally from myth and fable, is that the summit of masculinity – the ‘white hero’ – achieves his manhood, first and foremost, by winning victory over the ‘dark beast’ over the barbarian beasts of other – in some sense ‘darker’ – races, nations and social castes… In our actual lives the imperialist white-supremacist policies of our government lead to enactments of rituals of white-male violent domination of a darker universe, as in both the Gulf War and the most recent war against Iraq. By making it appear that the threatening masculinity – the rapist, the terrorist, the murderer – is really a dark other, white male patriarchs are able to deflect attention away from their own misogyny, from their violence against women and children.

When the entire Muslim community is demonized, the Irvine 11 students are not seen as human beings.  Their “foreign” cultures and religion are “backwards” and “oppressive,” and the only hope they have is for western imperial masculinity to “liberate” them and force them to “assimilate.”  They are “foreign” bodies from societies that behead, torture, veil, molest, and rape men and women, whereas western society is “civilized,” “liberating,” and “free.”  Concealed from this racist socialization is the way Israel and the United States constantly carries out bombing, murder, sexual violence, and economic exploitation against racialized bodies outside and within their borders.  Consider Anushay Hossain’s point about the way Afghan women are used as “emotional tools” in US propaganda to justify its military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The US claim is to “liberate,” but there is nothing liberating about bombing, shooting, and raping Afghan women.

The point here is that US and Israeli war crimes are tied to their domestic State violence and corrupt “justice” systems.  If nations are willing to mercilessly and shamelessly kill, torture, and rape other human beings around the world, then what’s to stop them from targeting their “own” citizens?  What’s sad and quite unsettling about Troy Davis’ case is that he was not a victim of an “unfortunate mistake” nor was his unjust execution an “isolated incident.”  The problem is with the so-called criminal “justice” system itself.  Racialized communities, particularly Native and African American communities, have been long victimized by police brutality and other forms of State violence that is ignored, dismissed, and/or sanctioned by the criminal “justice” system. Troy Davis himself pointed this out in his message to supporters:

There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.

Indigenous women in particular have long fought and still fight the “justice” system’s complicity in the injustice they face. As pointed out by Andrea Smith, Native anti-violence advocates have reported that rape cases rarely reach the federal courts.  Smith elaborates further:

Complicating matters, cases involving rapes on tribal land were generally handed to the local US attorney, who then declined to prosecute the vast majority of cases.  By the time tribal law enforcement programs even see rape cases, a year may have passed since the assault, making it difficult for these programs to prosecute.

Smith also talks about the negative reputation police officers have in Native communities due to countless cases of police brutality.  When law enforcement and “justice” systems are not only suspect of communities of color, but also violent, discriminatory, racist, and sexist against them,  how does it expect to build trust?  I already mentioned the NYPD and CIA infiltrating and spying on Muslim communities in my previous post.  The injustices we have seen in this week, as well as the oppression we are being informed about by brothers and sisters in other communities, should prompt us to challenge the criminal “justice” system.  When cases for Troy Davis, Irvine 11, and others are fought, it is not only a fight against their injustices, but also against the racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc. that infects the system and society at large.  Andrea Smith proposes restorative justice efforts which “involve parties (perpetrators, victims, and community members) in determining the appropriate response to a crime in an effort to restore the community to wholeness.”

While I am saddened, disturbed, and angry by the injustice this week, I took a moment to think about all of the people who went out to demonstrate, to protest, to support, to Love, to cry, and to pray.  As I checked the updates on my phone from work, I saw that other people were doing the same. I noticed all of the people on my Facebook posting status updates and messages of support for Troy Davis and Irvine 11.  When I saw pictures or read reports of people crying after the unjust verdicts, I cried too.  It is that longing and drive for justice that connects us.  The solidarity is heartening and to know that other people feel the same way is important. To know that these people and your friends will always fight is important.

May Allah, the Most High and Compassionate, help us unite our struggles and grant us all justice.

Solidarity with Gaza

Photo by Mast Qalander

As many of you know, Israeli forces recently attacked a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza.  According to Al-Jazeera, nine people have been killed, including a Turkish-American, Furkan Dogan, 19, who was shot four times in the head and once in the chest.  Al-Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, who was onboard the Turkish ship, the Mavi Mamara, when it was raided by the Israeli military, reported that Israeli warships surrounded the Mavi Mamara and fired tear gas and rubber coated steel bullets before Israeli commandos stormed the ship and shot live bullets roughly five minutes later.

Elshayyal was detained before eventually being released by Israeli authorities.  Dozens of the humanitarian activists on the Mavi Mamara were injured and flown home.  Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, announced that relations with Israel will never be the same, while thousands in Turkey demonstrated in the nation’s capital.

This horrible criminal act has sparked protests throughout the United States and worldwide.  My friends and I had already planned a trip to New York city earlier this week for the sake of visiting, but when we heard about the emergency protest being organized in Times Square, we made sure we made an appearance and expressed our solidarity in whatever way possible.  One of my friends, who went across the street to grab a snack, said he heard people shouting profanity and racial slurs, such as “rag-heads,” at the crowd of demonstrators.  It’s no doubt in my mind that these individuals wouldn’t have made such racist and hateful remarks if my friend wasn’t White.

Amidst the massive protests nationwide, it seems that Obama is only giving Israel a “slap on the wrist” for the murder of humanitarian activists.  It is crucial to understand that this incident represents a symptom of a larger problem.  The blockade on Gaza, which limits Gazans from receiving proper necessities, such as food, water, electricity, and medical supplies, must be lifted.  It is absolutely outrageous that Israeli apartheid is being tolerated in the 21st century and the fact that US politicians and many in the mainstream American media refuse to condemn Israel is extremely disturbing.  It’s easy to see how the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla disrupts the peace process and provokes potentially violent reactions, but it’s even worse when war criminals are not held accountable for their actions — silence only fuels more anger and hostility towards Israel and the United States.

Elsewhere, president Obama continues to advance the war in Afghanistan and orders drone attacks in Pakistan.  Al-Jazeera released a report from a United Nations human rights official, Philip Alston, who urges the CIA to end the drone strikes in Pakistan. According to Alston, “CIA personnel could be prosecuted for murder under the domestic law of any country in which they conduct targeted killings, and could also be prosecuted for violations of applicable US law.”

Where is the “change?”  In all of this violence and injustice, we also see millions of Americans protesting and raising awareness about what’s happening internationally.  I went to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla rally in Philadelphia the other day and video-taped the entire protest.  Below is a clip from the protest, where Gaza Freedom marchers shouted “shame” to a small group of Zionists.  Resolving this conflict should not be about hate and violence, it needs to be about working towards peace.  The criminals must be condemned and held responsible, while the people — Muslims, Christians, Jews, or whatever you might be — need to come together and work at building a solution.

Anyone who attends the Gaza rallies or watches the videos I posted from the Philadelphia protest will see the incredible diversity of people who condemn Israel’s blockade of Gaza and military occupation of the Palestinians.  There are Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists, and many others standing in solidarity with the people of Gaza — this is not about “Muslims versus Jews” or “anti-Semitism.”  This is about calling for peace and an end to the violence, injustice, and occupation.  This is about coexistence for the children of Abraham.  May God help us reach that understanding and establish that kind of Love in the world for all people.  Ameen.

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.”

Jesus was a Palestinian and Why it Matters

Because of modern alarmist reactions to the word “Palestine,” many non-Arabs and non-Muslims take offense when it is argued that Jesus was a Palestinian (peace be upon him). Jesus’ ethnicity, skin color, and culture often accompany this conversation, but it is interesting how few people are willing to acknowledge the fact he was non-European.  A simple stroll down the Christmas aisle of your local shopping store will show you the dominant depiction of Jesus: a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, White man.

Islamophobia and anti-Arab propaganda have conditioned us to view Palestinians as nothing but heartless suicide bombers, “terrorists,” and “enemies of freedom/democracy.” Perpetual media vilification and demonization of Palestinians, in contrast to the glorification of Israel, obstructs us from seeing serious issues such as the Palestinian refugee crisis, the victims of Israel’s atrocious three-week assault on Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009 , the tens of thousands of homeless Palestinians, and many other struggles that are constantly addressed by human rights activists around the world. To speak from the perspective of the Palestinians, especially in casual non-Arab and non-Muslim settings, generates controversy because of the alignment between Palestinians and violent stereotypes. So, how could Jesus belong to a group of people that we’re taught to dehumanize?

When I’ve spoken to people about this, I’ve noticed the following responses: “No, Jesus was a Jew,” or “Jesus is not Muslim.” The mistake isn’t a surprise to me, but it certainly reveals how ignorant much of society still is. Being a Palestinian does not mean one is Muslim or vice versa. Prior to the brutal and unjust dispossession of indigenous Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel, the word “Palestine” was a geographic term applied to Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, and Palestinian Jews. Although most Palestinians are Muslim today, there is a significant Palestinian Christian minority who are often overlooked, especially by the mainstream western media.

The dominant narrative in the mainstream media not only distorts and misrepresents the Palestinian struggle as a religious conflict between “Muslims and Jews,” but consequentially pushes the lives of Palestinian Christians into “non-existence.”   That is, due to media reluctance of reporting the experiences and stories of Palestinian Christians, it isn’t a surprise when White Americans are astonished by the fact that Palestinian and Arab Christians do, in fact, exist.  One could argue that the very existence of Palestinian Christians is threatening, as it disrupts the sweeping and overly-simplistic “Muslims versus Jews” Zionist narrative. It is because recognizing the existence of Palestinian Christians opposing Israeli military occupation, as well as Jews who oppose the occupation, is to reveal more voices, perspectives, and complexities to a conflict that has been dominantly portrayed as “Palestinians hate Jews” or “Palestinians want to exterminate Jews.”

Yeshua (Jesus’ real Aramaic name) was born in Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the West Bank and home to one of the world’s largest Palestinian Christian communities.   The Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world, marks the birthplace of Jesus and is sacred to both Christians and Muslims.  While tourists from the around the world visit the site, they are subject to Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks.  The Israeli construction of the West Bank barrier also severely restricts travel for local Palestinians.  In April of 2010, Al-Jazeera English reported Israeli authorities barring Palestinian Christian from entering Jerusalem and visiting the Church of Holy Sepulchre during Easter.  Yosef Zabaneh, a Palestinian Christian merchant in Ramallah, told IPS News: “The Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank doesn’t distinguish between us, but treats all Palestinians with contempt.”

Zabaneh’s comments allude to the persistent dehumanization of Palestinians, as well as the erasure of Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims.  By constantly casting Palestinians as the villains, even the term “Palestine” becomes “evil.”  There is refusal to recognize, for example, that the word “Palestine” was used as early as the 5th century BCE by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.  John Bimson, author of “The Compact Handbook of Old Testament Life,” acknowledges the objection to the use of “Palestine”:

The term ‘Palestine’ is derived from the Philistines. In the fifth century BC the Greek historian Herodotus seems to have used the term Palaistine Syria (= Philistine Syria) to refer to the whole region between Phoenicia and the Lebanon mountains in the north and Egypt in the south… Today the name “Palestine” has political overtones which many find objectionable, and for that reason some writers deliberately avoid using it. However, the alternatives are either too clumsy to be used repeatedly or else they are inaccurate when applied to certain periods, so “Palestine” remains a useful term…

Deliberately avoiding the use of the name “Palestine” not only misrepresents history, but also reinforces anti-Palestinian racism as acceptable.  When one examines the argument against Jesus being a Palestinian, one detects a remarkable amount of hostility aimed at both Palestinians and Muslims.  One cannot help but wonder, is there something threatening about identifying Jesus as a Palestinian?  Professor Jack D. Forbes writes about Jesus’ multi-cultural and multi-ethnic environment:

When the Romans came to dominate the area, they used the name Palestine. Thus, when Yehoshu’a [Jesus] was born, he was born a Palestinian as were all of the inhabitants of the region, Jews and non-Jews. He was also a Nazarene (being born in Nazareth) and a Galilean (born in the region of Galilee)… At the time of Yehoshu’a’s birth, Palestine was inhabited by Jews—descendants of Hebrews, Canaanites, and many other Semitic peoples—and also by Phoenicians, Syrians, Greeks, and even Arabs.

Despite these facts, there are those who use the color-blind argument: “It does not matter what Jesus’ ethnicity or skin color was. It does not matter what language he spoke. Jesus is for all people, whether you’re Black, White, Brown, Yellow, etc.” While this is a well-intentioned expression of inclusiveness and universalism, it misses the point.

When we see so many depictions of Jesus as a Euro-American White man, the ethnocentrism and race-bending needs to be called out.  In respect to language, for instance, Neil Douglas-Klotz, author of “The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus,” emphasizes on the importance of understanding that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not English, and that his words, as well as his worldview, must be understood in light of Middle Eastern language and spirituality.  Douglas-Klotz provides an interesting example which reminds me of the rich depth and meaning of Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi words, especially the word for “spirit”:

Whenever a saying of Jesus refers to spirit, we must remember that he would have used an Aramaic or Hebrew word. In both of these languages, the same word stands for spirit, breath, air, and wind.  So ‘Holy Spirit’ must also be ‘Holy Breath.’ The duality between spirit and body, which we often take for granted in our Western languages falls away.  If Jesus made the famous statement about speaking or sinning against the Holy Spirit (for instance, in Luke 12:10), then somehow the Middle Eastern concept of breath is also involved.

Certainly, no person is superior to another based on culture, language, or skin color, but to ignore the way Jesus’ Whiteness has been used to subjugate and discriminate against racial minorities in the West and many other countries is to overlook another important aspect of Jesus’ teachings: Love your neighbor as yourself.  Malcolm X wrote about White supremacists and slave-owners using Christianity to justify their “moral” and “racial superiority” over Blacks. In Malcolm’s own words, “The Holy Bible in the White man’s hands and its interpretations of it have been the greatest single ideological weapon for enslaving millions of non-white human beings.” Throughout history, whether it was in Jerusalem, Spain, India, Africa, or in the Americas, White so-called “Christians” cultivated a distorted interpretation of religion that was compatible with their racist, colonialist agenda (see my post on Christopher Columbus for more details).

In my discussions about Jesus being a person of color – a Palestinian – I encounter the argument that Jesus is depicted as Asian in Asian-majority countries, as Black in Black churches and homes, as Middle Eastern in Middle Eastern countries, etc.  While it is true that people of color portray Jesus as their own race, it is highly unlikely that these depictions will ever become the dominant, mainstream, and normalized image of Jesus. This speaks volumes about institutionalized white supremacy, as well as the way white supremacist ideologies operate as national and global systems of oppression.

And here we are in the 21st century where Islamophobia (also stemming from racism because the religion of Islam gets racialized) is on the rise; where people calling themselves “Christian” fear those who are darker skinned; where members of the KKK and anti-immigration movements behave as if Jesus was an intolerant White American racist who only spoke English despite being born in the Middle East! It is astonishing how so-called “Christians” like Ann Coulter call Muslims “rag-heads” when in actuality, Jesus himself would fit the profile of a “rag-head,” too. As would Moses, Joseph, Abraham, and the rest of the Prophets (peace be upon them all). As William Rivers Pitt writes:

The ugly truth which never even occurs to most Americans is that Jesus looked a lot more like an Iraqi, like an Afghani, like a Palestinian, like an Arab, than any of the paintings which grace the walls of American churches from sea to shining sea. This was an uncomfortable fact before September 11. After the attack, it became almost a moral imperative to put as much distance between Americans and people from the Middle East as possible. Now, to suggest that Jesus shared a genealogical heritage and physical similarity to the people sitting in dog cages down in Guantanamo is to dance along the edge of treason.

When refusing to affirm Jesus as a Palestinian Jew who spoke Aramaic — a Semitic language that is ancestral to Arabic and Hebrew — the West will continue to view Islam as a “foreign religion.” Hate crimes and discriminatory acts against Muslims, Arabs, and others who are perceived to be Muslim will persist.  They will still be treated as “cultural outsiders” and “threats” to the West.  Interesting enough, Christianity and Judaism are never considered “foreign religions,” despite having Middle Eastern origins, like Islam.  As Douglas-Klotz insists, affirming Jesus as a native Middle Eastern person “enables Christians to understand that the mind and message” of Jesus arises from “the same earth as have the traditions of their Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers.”

Jesus would not prefer one race or group of people over another.  I believe he would condemn today’s demonization and dehumanization of the Palestinian people, as well as the misrepresentations of him that fuel white supremacy. As a Muslim, I believe Jesus was a Prophet of God, and if I were to have any say about the Christmas spirit, it would be based on Jesus’ character: humility, compassion, and Love. A Love in which all people, regardless of ethnicity, race, culture, religion, gender, and sexual orientation are respected and appreciated.

And in that spirit, I wish you all a merry Christmas. Alaha Natarak (Aramaic: God be with you).

Israel Does What?

viggomortensen

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.

Newspeak: “Terrorist” Means “Muslim”

arabwoman1

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)