Saturday, April 30, 2011

To be able to work is an inherent right

My Friday reflections on the May Day and the "right to work" from an Islamic perspective.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Uneven Contest: Powerful Television & Innocent Children

Sometime back a row erupted between France and the US over television programming. "Too many American made programs are being shown on French television," protested the French. To a casual observer this may sound strange. After all, what is the difference between French and American values? True, the French consider the Americans uncultured but the matter goes beyond culture.

The French argued that American television series were undermining their values; that American programs depicted and glorified violence whose effect would be felt on French society as well. Even when sharing common societal roots, people are concerned about preserving their own values. Imagine the situation when we, as Muslims approach life from altogether a different perspective.

Muslims believe in One God, Allah; they believe the Quran is the revealed Book of Allah through Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace; and they believe in family values. This means no pre-martial sex; abhorrence of violence and waste; no drugs nor alcohol, and respect for elders and love for the young ones. The western value system stands at the completely opposite role. Yet, are Muslim parents in North America aware of the challenge facing them?

It is of paramount importance to know how Muslim children are subliminally being assimilated into the greater North American society. One of the most powerful tools which influences them is television.

Already, Muslim children are used to processed foods and automated living. They are now being trained for 'processed thinking' and 'automated culture', as well, through television.

A parent's worst nightmare is a six to 13-year-old television addict who watches television in the morning before going to school; fixing himself/herself in front of the set as soon as he gets home in the afternoon and gets another dose before going to bed at night. Variety of e-gizmos have turned favorite shows and movies into an endlessly repeatable pastime. Video games have added to the home box's allure.

Children are in love with Barney today which is nothing more than a jumping doll, filled with cute critters and special effects. A child may learn how to force a smile upon himself but that will be the end of learning. Because of indoctrination by the television, children have little patience to pursue anything that requires a steady stream of thought or the linking of one thought with another. It is potentially addictive to undermine a child's imagination. Even these electronic amusements take a backseat in comparison with the kind of passive activity they induce.

This passive experience crowds out other, more active endeavors, such as congregational prayers at home, playing indoors and outdoors with family members, reading, etc. These traditional forms of interaction with children are most definitely not passive. They are all physically, mentally and spiritually active. A child watching television cannot build a model at the same time or let his/her imagination soar in a good book. Instead, they are cut off from participation, imagination, even from the rest of the family. The child's facial expression is transformed. The jaw is relaxed and hangs open slightly; the tongue rests on the front teeth (if there are any) and eyes develop a glazed, vacuous look?

Television reveals to children all of the 'backstage' activity of adults. It exposes children to behavior that the adults have spent centuries trying to hide from children. The average child watching television sees adults hitting or killing each other or breaking down and crying. It teaches them that adults do not always know what they are doing. Revealing the 'secrets' of adulthood has virtually destroyed the notion of childhood as a discrete period of innocence. There are now more adult-like children and more childlike adults!

An average child will have watched 5,000 hours of television by the time he/she enters first grade and 19,000 hours by the end of high school - more time than he/she will spend in classroom. They spend 28 hours a week watching television - more than doing any other single activity except sleeping. Those 28 hours do not include the time spent watching videotapes, playing video games, or listening to iPod's or CDs.

Research has shown that prolonged television viewing by children is associated with more aggressive behavior, lack of creativity, patience, imagination, participation, and physical, mental and spiritual development. So who will correct it and how?

No institution plays a bigger role in shaping the attitude of children than the family. The ultimate responsibility rests with the parents. It is imperative to strictly limit TV watching time and other electronic amusements, and continually monitor children's behavior. At the same time, the influence and impact of the short time they spend watching television should be counterbalanced with other healthy activities such as reading, Islamic quiz or general knowledge competitions within the family and/or friends, games which require thinking, congregational prayers and indoor/outdoor activities with the family. In this way, TV can at least be put into proper focus, if not completely out of the picture, inshaAllah.

Talking with children also helps. 'Not to them, but with them.' Encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas, and to think things through. Let them know that both logical reasoning and creative thought are wonderful accomplishments. Encourage children to read books and to consider their significance in the larger scheme of things.

Avoid 'drilling' your children or forcing them to 'listen' to you. Rather, 'you' should listen to them !

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Racialization of & Racism against Muslim Americans

talk at UCI Law School – April 14, 2011)

I’d like to extend my thanks to the Asian-Pacific American Law Students and the entire team who organized this timely event: examining the racialization of and racism against Muslim Americans.

Assuming that most of you are law students or justice advocates, I prefer tonight to expand the scope of my presentation beyond my grievances as a Muslim and instead have us all think and speak simply as Americans and examine where and how do we all fit in this discussion of racism, hate, and bigotry in our country today.

Racism is as old as America. It was that vicious racist ideology and practice of White supremacy that left its permanent scar on all spheres of American life since its founding. The earliest slave traders propagated seeds of racism in the most formative days of this nation.

The problem of bigotry in the twenty-first century remains the problem of the color line -- not just Black but every ethnic and racial group and all the possible combinations – now compounded by the new dynamic of racism based not only on color but religion.

For our purposes tonight, we’ll focus on the religion is Islam, …. “the religion that is evil” as Jerry Falwell declared. “It is the religion of pure hate,” according to Falwell’s minion, Deborah Pauly, city councilmember of Villa Park, which she proclaimed loudly at a recent hate rally in Yorba Linda.

I will not deny that there has been racial progress in America but I would dare you to deny the lingering legacy of white supremacy in America. It is deliberate, it is visible, and it is a poison to our society.

To engage in a serious discussion tonight about racism and hate, we must begin not with the current problem of Islamophobia but with the flaws of American society – flaws rooted in historical inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes. How we frame the terms for discussing hate and bigotry shapes our perception and response to these issues. As long as Muslims are viewed as “they,” the burden falls on Muslims to do all the internal moral work necessary to become part of “us”. The implication is that only certain people can define what it means to be American, and the rest must simply fit in. Well, I have news for you America: I am ME and I refuse to fit in!

It is not necessarily only our actual skin color that has been the source of our separation of races; it’s also our attitude. Historic figures such as Malcolm X have made great studies of the language of hate in our society. Naturally, his experiences with Whites in America had shaped his attitude. But despite his ethnocentric view of Whites and Blacks, it was the Whites with blue eyes who helped him in the desert of Makkah to judge humanity by virtue of their attitude and not by color. Whites in America treated Malcolm as sub-human but the non-American and non-European Whites in Makkah transformed him from Malcolm X to El Hajj Malik Shabazz. Indeed, attitudes matter.

So now it is the attitudes of politicians, pundits and also of the populace that has given birth to this new wave of Islamophobia, a prejudice borne of historic racism in America impregnated by today’s economy and fear of the “other”. It appears, my brothers and sisters, that we Muslims are now the “other.”

However, more than a century before al-Qaeda, there was “Al-Klan” – the Ku Klux Klan! More than a century before Usama bin Laden, there was the Grand Wizard Nathan Forest. It was not in the caves of Afghanistan but at a convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1867, the Klan was declared as “the Invisible Empire of the South.” In their night raids, KKK did not cry out Allahu Akbar - but they burnt crosses on the lawns of churches and public spaces. Shall we tally these acts on a terrorism scoreboard?

About two years ago, in early 2009, Ali Mohammad, a father, husband and an Imam for the high desert Muslim community, was burnt alive in his own house while tied to a chair. It is well you should gasp. It was reported that on the walls of his house graffiti was painted that said: "F*** you Arab," "KKK”, “sand n**er”, and "go home Arab".
A few months later a Mosque in Cypress was vandalized with graffiti, reading, "F**k You”, "we're going to kill you”, and "US Military is going to kill you all."
And on the evening of February 13, 2011 in Yorba Linda was a replay of the morning of Sunday, November 14, 1960 when five little girls braved the mob and entered into McDonogh #19 Elementary School, in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana.

At the Yorba Linda event on February 13th, as I was tending the main door, a young Muslim girl, clinging to her father’s chest asked me this:“What do we do after the program – how do we go back to our cars without being beaten up by these people?” I clenched my fist, bit my tongue, hid a tear in my eye and replied to this young Muslim: “Don’t you worry my little sister. We will still be here and they will be gone.”

I did not live the ugly sixties but I am reminded of a poet, philosopher, activist - Leroi Jones (later named Amiri Baraka after conversion to Islam) who reflected on those times: “It is hard enough to be a human being under any circumstances, but when there is an entire civilization determined to stop you from being one, things get a little more desperately complicated. What do you do then?”

I wonder if the young girl I spoke with on February 13 asks herself the same question: “what do I do now?”

Friends … She may or may not ask that question, but I find myself asking it on behalf of many young Muslims in schools or answering the many mothers who find their car vandalized after they return from shopping (as it happened in Anaheim) and so many of our community members whose Mosques are vandalized (two of them within these past few weeks – as recently as one yesterday in Los Angeles) - “what do we do now?”

I ask you the same question: “what would you do differently than what Muslims in America are doing today?”

It is in the search for the answer to this question, my friends, I invite you to commit tonight to be fiercely vigilant and humbly virtuous in our collective efforts to meet the formidable challenges that face us in our country today. For most of us, it should be an urgent question of power and morality. For Muslims, it is an everyday matter of life.

And in some cases death.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Perspective from West for the Middle East

The revolutions in Middle East today are rooted in two historical calamities of the last century.

The first major historical calamity is Colonialism – (from middle to the 90’s of last century) - divided the entire region into colonial entities delinking the historically linked peoples and communities whose language, culture & faith for the most part was shared.

For example, Syria became a French colony and Iraq was occupied by British and neither people were able to travel, communicate or trade with eachother.
Another interesting example of colonialism is in South Asia which was although occupied by only one foreign power - British - but yet the populations of India and Pakistan were kept separate and hostile to each other.

The second major historical calamity is the Cold War era – another source of delinking the countries and dividing the societies. Countries that were together for centuries became enemies.

For example, Turkey was (& is) part of NATO and Syria was pro-Soviet. And Yemen became a divided population – partly Communist and partly traditionally Islamic. Same was the case in South Asia – India embraced Soviet Union and Pakistan was courted by the United States.

We may say that the uprisings & revolutions in Middle East now are a “delayed historical correction”. They should have happened in the late 80s and 90s just as it happened in the Eastern Europe.

Post colonialism and cold war, the West preferred that the Arab countries remain in the hands of authoritarian regimes – primarily for their geopolitical interests – that is now framed in the name to prevent the “Islamist radicalism” for the good of regimes and the population!

So the foreign colonial masters were replaced by domestic dictators – yet serving the foreign colonial master. Populations knew all along of the “grand chess game” (Brezenski) but the yoke of oppression was on their necks and the barrel of the gun on their head that kept them quiet but angry.

And what we see today is that anger … among ordinary Arabs – may they be Tunisians or Egyptians or Libyans or Syrians who are totally determined to help history correct itself – they are simply reclaiming their own dignity and restoring their right to their own resources and destiny.

Of course there are four other important factors that contributed to the unfolding of uprisings & revolutions …

first demographics … a phenomena termed as “the youth bulge” – that has been itching to challenge the powerful - unlike their parents & grandparents … for example the data indicates of the youth under age 24 in Yemen at 65%, Saudi Arabia and Iraq at 62%, Iran at 59% and Algeria at 57%.

When we examine the social movement[s] of the past – we will always find two major components in its success – (1) that the youth plays a major part in bringing about a change and (2) that they are dozed in or inspired by either spirituality or nationalism.

second the birth of internet - connecting the people across the region “digitally” despite of the (artificial and) physical barriers throughout the region
… diversion for a minute – the geographical arrangement of the Middle East is almost diametrically opposite to the geographical model in Europe – (a) although it’s smaller in size than Middle East – yet it’s declared as a continent – (b) most European countries have their distinctly unique culture unlike in Middle East, (c) most Europeans have their own language (French do not speak Dutch) unlike in Middle East, and (d) now Europe is a Union without barriers (for the most part) and Middle East has been kept divided …

So the physical but artificial barriers that were erected in Middle East post colonialism – that still remains alive and well – are now broken by the digital age … people are no longer subjected by the censorship of “foreign perspectives” on one hand while on the other hand conditioning the populace with the “propaganda” best suited for the continuity of dictators ….

third – the 24X7 media first from CNN & then to Al- Jazeera (1996) – a phenomena that, despite its brief history, has changed the face of a formerly parochial Arab media and the political equation in the entire Middle East. We can confidently say that there is a pre-Al Jazeera and a post-al Jazeera era in Middle East.

The walls erected by Colonialism and the Cold War are now broken, near completely !

fourth - social media – a 21st century phenomena … Facebook & Twitter did not invent courage but undoubtedly facilitated the “deepening of courage” and “broadening the courageous” --- as is abundantly evidenced in the unfolding revolutions in Middle East.

Digital media (Internet, Satellite broadcast & the social media) is now a paradox for the dictators … the very medium that enabled them to stifle change has accelerated it.

Now all of the Middle East is set on an irreversible course of change – most important of which, I believe, is complete absence of fear and near total presence of courage. No people can ever progress and prosper without these two basic aspects in any human endeavor.

People in the Middle East have now figured out the recipe for their destiny. Question is how we in the West will respond to their intense passion to be simply free and fight for the right of self determination.

We must now understand that these societies were bound to reconnect themselves some day …. their communities, tribes and ethnicities after all share a common destiny.

Patronizing would simply not work.

We need to undertake four simple but equally important steps.

• First save lives and protect property.
• Second help them to restore a level of new-normalcy.
• Third assist them in rebuilding what is lost.
• Fourth work with them as equal partners for the greater good.

Without these four equally critical steps, I am afraid we will be seen as an opportunist and hence will be dealt as such.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Museum of Intolerance does it again!