Tag Islam

Unity Production’s Creative Video Response to Islamophobia

From Unity Productions comes a powerful testimonial of the 1.8 million Muslim Americans who are as “every-day” as the rest of us. All cliches aside, they’re our doctors, our police, our teachers, and our first responders. To paint this diverse constituency of millions with a broad brush of prejudice because of the actions of a dozen or so zealots, is not only to do so ignorantly, but also does our democracy as a whole a great disservice.

Despite all the measures this country has taken to further freedoms of expression we continue to live in a time of religious intolerance. Though some people’s anger is not completely misplaced, especially in cases where selective applications of religion further sexism, racism, homophobia, speciesism and other actions that directly infringe upon the rights of others, these legitimate grievances should never justify blindly ignorant or hateful actions. Through respectful discourse we should always challenge repressive elements of any social group, and its even ok if people feel offended while they sort things out, but when people cherry-pick negative attributes from a specific religion and then proceed to scapegoat that religion as a predicate for all the world’s problems we begin to traverse down a slippery slope of bigotry and xenophobia that can only end in disaster. Words do have power, especially in timultuous times. One need not look further then the recent attacks in Norway to see the vulgar fruits of seeds planted by hate-mongering bloggers and far-right pundits.

We live in a media-driven culture with an increasingly homogenized narrative. One that habitually trumps sensational lead-lines while passing on surrounding factual foundations because they are less inflammatory or take too long to explain in a 30 second segment. This habit has created a Hollywood-like news cycle infatuated with explosions, scandal, and falls from grace. In this cycle we almost only hear about Islam when it is conflated with terrorism, explosions, conflict, or the repressive elements of a minority’s interpretation of Sharia. Perhaps explaining these conflations is contributing to this cycle of xenophobia as well?

 

 

< The Sparrow Project has printed these benefit t-shirts in an attempt to combat Islamophobia.  Proceeds raised from the sale of these shirts will benefit victims of hate crimes.

 

Less newsworthy, but far more important facts remain under-reported. Xenophobia is running rampant across America and around the world. Racist evangelical conservatives who separate “Allah” from the “God” of the Christian New Testament, disregard the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic (a language which shares many words with Arabic including “Allah,” as the word for God) and are ignorant of the glaring fact that all of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths worship the same single deity. The term “Islamist” is a term fabricated by right-leaning pundits and bloggers like Glen Beck, Michael Savage and Pamela Gellar, who attempt conflate non-violent Muslims with fascists. Moreover, Jihad means to “strive” or “struggle,” and this term can include everything from one’s personal struggle with alcoholism to a wider social struggle against oppression from a dictator or governing body, the true definition of Jihad is completely divergent from the contemporary adaptation of the word repeatedly used by the mainstream western media. Despite popular western belief, most fundamentalist Muslims do not endorse violence as part of their Jihad. Moreover, most Muslims are not fundamentalists.

However, these less sensational facts don’t support the right-leaning media’s hysterical narrative that at times could appear to exist for no other purpose then to perpetuate a climate of fear of Muslims and to further justify preemptive US military actions in Islamic countries. When the habitual focus of media outlets on both the left and right leave little space for factual dialogue surrounding Islam, its merits, its practitioners, and its tremendous beauty then the onus is on us to create our own inventive grassroots responses to Islamophobia and racism. The Sparrow Project applauds Unity Productions for developing this hard-hitting video short where vulgar soundbites from Michael Savage and similar Islamophobes are juxtaposed against the dominant message of beauty, peace, love, and solidarity.

 

Johnny Cash Could Teach Peter King a Thing (or two) About Prison-Born Terrorism Plots

Yesterday Congressman Peter King held his second hearing into radicalization within Islamic communities in the United States. This hearing focused on the potential for radicalization within the state and federal prison industrial complexes, specifically highlighting a conspiracy by four California men to wage war against the United States through attacks against military recruitment facilities and other targets in and around Los Angeles in 2005. One of the four men, Levar Washington, who pled guilty to his involvement in the plot was confined to the same secretive federal prison program I was confined to in 2008 for my involvement in an animal rights protest campaign. Levar and I became friends while incarcerated together, we were both young, we were both vegetarians, we would work out together every day, we would discuss spirituality, politics, and every Friday we would sit together and watch animal planet’s ‘Whale Wars’ show on the prison TV. It was an unwritten code in prison to not ask much about someone’s case unless they brought it up in conversation first, so I never learned about Levar’s charges until one afternoon he opened up to me…

Levar, a once-outspoken member of the Rolling Sixties Crips had spent his adolescent and teen years in the California juvenile corrections system, he eventually turned 18 and served the remainder of his time on the yards of some of California’s hardest state penitentiaries — Pelican Bay, CSP, Sacramento, and Folsom State Penitentiary. His life on the yard was one of constant oppression, violence, and sorrow. Levar would spend weeks and sometimes months segregated in the “Hole” or “S.H.U.” (Secure Housing Unit).  It was in the hole at Folsom State Penitentiary that Levar first picked up the Quran. Also segregated to the hole at Folsom was Levar’s future co-conspirator Shakyh Shahaab Murshid (born to the name Kevin James) and during their time together in the hole Kevin turned Levar onto Islam and onto a secret organization he founded in 1997 called Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS) Arabic for The Assembly of Authentic Islam. Levar’s foiled terror plot years later was to be claimed by JIS according to a pre-drafted press release FBI agents found on the floor of his apartment during his arrest.

Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison.  ”Folsom Prison Blues” Cash’s song about the daily oppression of prisoner life highlights the desperation of men living behind Folsom’s walls.   It was from this yard, rife with oppression, that Levar Washington and Kevin James allegedly hatched their 2005 failed terror plot.  Cash’s words resonated with the Folsom men and prisoners everywhere, a stark contrast to the xenophobic rhetoric Congressman Peter King and some of his hand-selected witnesses used when trying to quantify prisoner radicalization.  King and the “expert witnesses” displayed that the lens from which they view these serious issues through, retards their ability to confront real life issues of oppression and violence that impact all of us…

For Levar the Qur’an answered his questions about justice, it gave his life a new meaning, it healed old wounds, and his relationship with the text was purely restorative. Peter King’s witnesses made an attempt to argue that it was the cherry-picking of the scripture itself or Islam by it’s very nature that led Levar down the path that eventually ended with his involvement in a terror plot years later. King’s hearings did so without fully acknowledging the oppression, violence, and conflict that enveloped Levar Washington’s life prior to his introduction to the faith. It may be easier for King to scapegoat a religion and chase fictitious bad guys in a system he does not fully understand then begin to address the all-too-real looming problems of disempowerment in inner city communities, xenophobia, failing foreign policies, poverty, and lack of education. All of these factors enable and encourage radicalization to a greater extent then religious scriptures do.

King however is not alone with his approach. How often do we as a culture search for quick fixes to myriad ailments while disregarding our need to make lifestyle changes that challenge our personal comfort. From deeply personal individual battles with cancer to the global war on terror, human responses to these acute onslaughts are almost always reactionary and seldom preventative. Amidst the immediacy of our tragedies we rarely question what brought us to those malignant moments –instead we desperately reach for quick fixes– surgery, chemotherapy, torture, carpet-bombing. In the global war on terror preventative medicine is often practiced as pre-emptive military action, rendition, entrapment, torture, and sanctions. These means never challenge the cultural roots of the problem and often actually serve as a tool for recruitment. Like flourishing bacterial cultures in a petri dish, terrorism is a symptomatic cultural reflex that can be easily seen growing out of its own hospitable environments. Levar Washington is a reactionary by-product to poverty, oppression, and a life of incarceration, not a terrorist recruit of the Quran. Until King begins to acknowledge the predicate problems that spawn terror plots he will continue chasing his own xenophobic tail, will continue to offend America’s beautiful Islamic communities and will continue waisting US taxpayer money.

The Peace Process

I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, it’s too controversial in this country to talk about Israel or Zionism, and it’s easier to pretend that it doesn’t perpetuate the longest standing current day human rights crisis in the world.  It would, I’m sure, make many of us more comfortable if human rights activists could just stop reminding us that Israel is a modern day Apartheid state with Jim Crow laws, and we wouldn’t have to face the fact that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israel lobby) is pushing for a constant pro-Israel agenda in our country on the backs of millions of brown Palestinian children.  (See The Israel Lobby, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.)  But being a brown Muslim vegan woman, it just wouldn’t feel like my every day life if I didn’t take on the most uncomfortable and heinous injustices in the world.  I’ve lived in Palestine so I have a special duty to never forget.

 

I don’t even get hopeful, excited or even mildly interested now whenever a new “peace” process starts, because I know the game and the story.  We need only look back to see our history repeating itself to understand that these peace talks are never meant to create peace.  They are meant to keep the cycle of violence going until it can reach its ethnically cleansed conclusion.

 

So a bit of history: Zionism is the idea that Jewish people are the racially superior chosen people who deserve the exclusive right to all of historic Palestine.  Now I must be clear that not all Jewish people think this, and many including Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, the Neturei Karta and countless others are outspoken critics of this racism and won’t allow it to happen in their name.  Modern day Zionism’s father Theodor Hertzl had the vision back in the late 1800’s that Jewish people needed a homeland that was ethnically and racially Jewish.  The World Zionist Organization (WZO) founded in the late 1800’s set their eyes on historic Palestine (at that time occupied by the British) as one day being exclusively a Jewish homeland free of its Palestinian inhabitants.  This vision included “from the river to the sea”, meaning from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes all of historic Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).  This vision was made reality in 1948 when the British mandate ended, the UN along with the British betrayed the Palestinians out of a promise to their homeland and partitioned Palestine into two states (one exclusively Jewish, one Palestinian), and Zionist forces captured even more than the already unilaterally unjust UN partition plan and murdered and pillaged over 400 Palestinian villages, driving out those who were able to survive the onslaught into neighboring nations Lebanon and Jordan or to the east and west of historic Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) where many still reside in refugee camps to this day.  The current day occupation was finalized in 1967 when Israel fully seized control over the remaining Palestinian lands the West Bank and Gaza.  (For an excellent account of the history Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle, chapter 4).

The Zionist vision of claiming all of historic Palestine (which includes current day West Bank and Gaza which have been touted as the future Palestinian state) still remains in effect.  Israel has never had and will never have any intention of relinquishing any of this land to Palestinians for the creation of a future state since claiming all of the land has always been the mission, hence the ongoing 60 plus year occupation.  This is also why Israel has never officially declared its national borders since their land grab is unfinished.  In order to enforce this slow land grab, Israel has in violation of the 4th Geneva Conventions heavily carved up the West Bank with illegal settlements with the intention of annexing the land.  The Israeli settlements slowly claim this settled land, deliberately located on top of the largest water aquifers in the West Bank (Ariel settlement for example), in order to take the land and the majority of the water for Israel.  It is also no coincidence that the Apartheid Wall (which has been ruled unlawful by the International Court of Justice for where it confiscates Palestinian land off of the 1949 armistice line or “green” line) snaking through the West Bank deliberately encircles the settlements on the Israeli side of the Wall, again particularly Ariel, in order to steal the water and land from the Palestinians.  The fact that a temporary freeze on these illegal settlements is somehow a bargaining chip or bonus point for Israel just demonstrates how far we have fallen in understanding what is really happening on the ground in Palestine.

 

The farce of Israel’s “peace” offers is evidenced through the numerous peace talks and Israel’s offers for a “two state solution” consisting of chopped up pieces of land.  The Israeli offers of a state would be as is, the West Bank carved up by settlements where Palestinian villages would not be connected, making up a “swiss-cheese” like state, and the Gaza Strip would be as is, this open air prison physically amputated from the West Bank.  Oh and you can forget about Jerusalem.  Any two state solution offers from the Palestinians proposing a state in the West Bank and Gaza based on pre-1967 borders without the illegal settlements cutting up the land (and supported by numerous UN resolutions) in whole are roundly rejected by Israel.  And Palestinians are always left to blame for rejecting the Israeli proposal of a “peace” offer, that also includes banning the future state of Palestine from ever having an army, being able to trade openly with their neighbors, and with Israel reserving the right to control their airspace and national borders.  In other words, still an occupation.  Not to mention these redundant peace processes constantly revolve around a dead solution.  The two state solution is not even an offer of a real contiguous, autonomous nation, and is reminiscent of the South African model of an occupying power negotiating an ethnically pure state on the lands already stolen from an indigenous population while offering the original inhabitants a separate but not so equal state on the worst parts of the land left.  These negotiations do not dare mention the one democratic, secular state solution where one’s rights are not based on one’s race or religion but rather on the fact that they are humans with inalienable rights to democracy and self determination.  One person, one vote.  If we have learned anything from U.S. and South African Apartheid history, it is that separate is never equal.  (For a detailed explanation of the one state solution, see Ali Abunimah’s book One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse.)

Yet Israel knows that by offering these crumbs to the Palestinian leadership, it will be rejected as any people would reject this offer, Israel will be allowed to claim that they offered “peace” while not offering to dismantle illegal settlements, stop the deliberate shooting of children, strangulation of water and access to farm land (read: access to food and the only source of employment left for Palestinians), the air strikes, the siege on Gaza, and provide medical care as is the legal requirement of an occupying body, and Israel will somehow still come out the victor.  All the peace negotiations have ever been about is placating the international community and the Palestinians while Israel continues its land grab, genocide and ethnic cleansing until one day Israel will fulfill the WZO vision of claiming all of historic Palestine free of Palestinians.  It’s simply stalling, a delay tactic, a diversion from what is really happening.  Israel and Israeli companies are also making vast sums of money with this perpetual occupation and genocide and the requisite weapons and security technology.  (See Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, chapter 20).  So it’s a win win for them.  And the cycle continues.

 

The important conclusion to take away from all of this is to understand that all the misery Israel inflicts on Palestinians is deliberate, not just out of racism but out of the intent to make life so miserable for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and occupied Gaza Strip that the Palestinians will be driven out of the their homes and the land will be free for Israel’s taking.

I do live in hope that one day these so called peace negotiations will actually talk about peace, about Israel ending its brutal 6 decade long occupation of Palestine, 6 decade long Apartheid regime, and allow the refugees living in camps for up to 62 years to come home, as mandated by the UN and international law.  (See for example UN resolution 194).  If for no one else, I hold this hope alive for so many of the Palestinian children I met while living in the West Bank who dreamt of being able to at least travel to the neighboring village to see their families, to visit Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aqsa, to be free of Walls and checkpoints, to not lose another friend to Israeli sniper fire.  And to simply have an innocent childhood.  That is, for those who are left alive to have that hope.


- Bina Ahmad is an attorney, human rights and animal rights social justice activist.  She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and an Ahmadi Muslim, a heavily persecuted sect in Islam.  She has worked on social justice issues her entire life, and worked with organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the New York branch of the ACLU, Al-Haq (the oldest Palestinian Human Rights NGO based in Ramallah, West Bank), and PETA.  She strives to make the connection between human and animal oppression, and hopes you will join her in the struggle
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Race and Religion as Red Herrings

“Post-racial America.” Remember that term? Just two short years ago, when many progressives believed (or convinced themselves—I humbly admit that I was among this group, and broke my rule of never voting for a Republocrat) that Barack Obama was not, in fact, a marionette of Goldman; Blackwater; Boeing; General Electric, et al, this was a slogan of the proverbial dawn after the stygian horror of the Cheney presidency. Well, the hangover has hit hard, on many fronts and, true to form, post-racial America has proven itself to be as virulently racist as always; an ignominious tradition remains unbroken.

 

Throughout our history, different groups have been identified by the ruling class as “other,” as hostile to the virginal and perfect American way. First were the indigenous, who were dealt with in the most pragmatic way possible: they were deceived and exterminated. When Adolf Hitler, that paradigm of all things nefarious, once claimed that he admired the Americans because they/we saw a racial problem and solved it, it is time to take a sobering inventory of the nation’s record on race.

 

Today, the targets du jour are what I call the unfortunate M&Ms: Muslims and Mexicans. Of course, African-Americans, women, socialists and LGBTs, to name but a few, are always conveniently present as the majority’s punching bags, but the headliners in today’s newspaper of hate are the aforementioned. To anyone who doubts this, I simply point to the two main race/religion-based controversies garnering most of the nation’s attention: that vile piece of legislation, SB1070 and the 9/11 mosque controversy.

 

That some of these people are simply malevolent souls, drinking from the trough of hate, is undeniable. Most, however—and this I must believe, or else my fight is futile—are terrified people being misled by the power structure which has manipulated their very real fears to serve a status quo. This is an American tradition as ingrained as baseball and the Fourth of July. During the early independence period, many of the veterans of the revolution; people who believed in the lofty ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the gentry who simply wished to keep their ill-gained wealth, rather than share it with King George III, expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the new boss was, in fact, the same as the old boss. These defrauded souls (rightly) identified the problem as one of class. Naturally, they felt solidarity with enslaved Africans and the beleaguered indigenous. Here, arguably, is where the concept of racial identity was introduced into the American consciousness. The elite made a concerted effort—and succeeded—to deceive the white underclass that, through Draconian Calvinism, they too would raise their standing; that their identifying on class lines was erroneous and that their race made them superior. This was a flawlessly executed example of the British practice of divide-and-conquer. After two centuries, it appears that the student has outdone the teacher.

Sadly, nothing has changed. I engage, exhort and excoriate some white members of my class, yet still they adhere stubbornly to the canard that “anyone, regardless of status, can be president in the US,” and all the implications of that sad platitude; that naïve Algerism. I receive looks of disdain when I mention class-consciousness. These fellow victims of an iniquitous system subscribe to the lie that race and religion are the salient issues. Instead of looking upward at their enemy, they look laterally, at the very people of all races and faiths who are trudging with them through the morass created by those above. They are mesmerized by the diversions of race, ethnicity and religion.

 

Unless we are Choctaw; Arawak; Cherokee; Mohican, et al, we are all (with the exception of my African-descendent brothers and sisters whose ancestors were brought here, against their will) immigrants. Nobody has any right to own land, anyway; this is as preposterous as the idea of owning the air or the rain. Still, as this unhappy and exploitive system remains in place, it would be good to remind my white siblings that they are all children of immigrants.

 

As for the supposedly sacrosanct status of Ground Zero and its immediate environs, where is the outrage over New York Dolls, the strip club, just two blocks away? The McDonald’s within the same proximity? As a greater mind than mine has elucidated, this latter filthy entity has purveyed more suffering and death than any of the malignant souls behind 9/11 ever could hope to achieve. By the spurious logic of Donald Trump and his attendant cast of clowns, there should never be a church constructed in Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh identified himself as a Christian. Do we see the illogic? The hypocrisy?

 

The elites have once again succeeded, but there is time. Race and religion are red herrings. The real issue—the truism that makes the capitalists shudder in their overpriced shoes—is class. When we, the 95% majority are galvanized and unified, justice isn’t far away.

“I Love The Mosque” T-Shirts Benefiting Victims Of Hate Crimes { recently in the press }            Praise From New York Times Art Director Steven Heller & Print Magazine !,   Essay Challenging Xenophobia by Sparrow’s Andy Stepanian for The Huffington Post

 


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on http://sparrowmedia.net .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Adham the Father of Sayaaf

Please Check Out Andy Stepanian’s Article this week on Huffington Post, Share It With Your Friends, & Leave Comments on the Huffington Post Blog So That They Will Continue to Pay Attention To This Important Story!

“Before Abu-Sayyaf was an inmate in a secretive US political prison called a ‘Communications Management Unit’ Abu-Sayyaf was a computer programmer for a software company in Florida. Abu-Sayyaf was an immigrant, he attained rights as a US citizen, he gave back to his community, to his co-workers, he generously donated to UNICEF, and he gave much of what he had to people outside of this country, specifically to children in Bosnia…”

(to read the full story click here)

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