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Is the Muslim Ban Turning into an Africa Ban?

The Platform - Thu, 19/04/2018 - 00:39

As the US Africa Command expands operations, the geographic focus of Islamophobic rhetoric and immigration restrictions will follow suit. 

In early January, Donald Trump once again managed to top his own record of offensive vitriol when he referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and the entirety of the African continent as “shithole countries.” He was having a conversation with lawmakers about a potential bipartisan immigration deal, including protection for vulnerable immigrant populations, when he made the racist comment. His ensuing remarks further underlined the economic logic behind his words, when he opined that the United States should solicit more immigrants from “places like Norway” and that Asian immigrants were more likely to bolster the country’s economy. In other words, Trump values immigrants according to their capitalist potential to bolster white supremacist American capitalism: if they don’t make the country whiter, then they at least have to make the white elite richer.

On the surface, Trump’s racist finger-pointing at African and Latin American populations as hailing from “shithole countries” doesn’t seem connected to the Islamophobic fearmongering we associate with the Muslim Ban, which primarily targets Arab countries. However, the shifting of the Muslim Ban country list westwards into central Africa has created a direct geographical overlap between the seemingly separate strands of xenophobia.

This geographic overlap opens our eyes to the shared economic agenda behind the racist “shithole” comment and the Islamophobia of the Muslim Ban: in its essence, the Muslim Ban is just another mechanism for excluding people from countries that have borne the brunt of economic exploitation under the capitalist world system. Trump’s “shithole” comment reveals the core capitalist logic that both created and sustains American white supremacy. In what follows, I give some more background on the Muslim Ban and explain how its pivot westwards into central Africa signals an age-old process whereby countries are economically exploited, politically repressed, criminalised on an international scale, and then banned.

In late September of last year, the Trump administration announced its third version of the “travel ban,” more accurately dubbed “Muslim Ban 3.0” by protestors. The first version blocked immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as refugees from Syria. The second version removed Iraq from the list. The third version then removed Sudan, but added its Saharan neighbor Chad. Just one week later, four US soldiers were killed in Niger, the country located just west of Chad: the soldiers were not killed in response to the ban, but the close timing of the two events is not exactly a coincidence either, given the recent timeline of American military activity in the region and its political context.

Both the ban on Chad and the presence of US special operations military forces in Niger are indicative of a larger trend in which the geographical apex of American intervention is increasingly shifting towards Central and West Africa – specifically the Lake Chad Basin and greater Sahel. This trend traces back to the Obama administration in 2008, when the US Africa Command (Africom) was created to confront Al-Qaeda in northern Africa. Africom subsequently played a role in the Libya crisis. By 2014, the US had trained and equiped counterterrorism units in Libya, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger; that year, Obama asked Congress for $5 billion more to expand operations. As of 2018, there are US drone bases, security coordination arrangements, weapons conduits and special operations forces across the region. Despite this, their presence remains opaque and journalists have struggled to gain access to even the most basic information, like lists of base locations.

The soldiers’ deaths in Niger thus came as a surprise to the American public. Elected officials from both political parties were likewise unprepared for the news, claiming that Congress has been kept in the dark about the extent of special operations in the region. Media quoted a number of politicians sternly announcing their intent to investigate the situation. However, they seemed more upset over their political exclusion than the violence clearly escalating in Niger. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham condemned the secrecy but embraced the expansion of violence, explicitly condoning increased military operations in Africa and more lax criteria for kill strikes.

But has Congress actually been excluded from the long years of warmongering that brought us to this point? In 2002, Senate voted overwhelmingly for the post-9/11 “Authorisation of Military Force” bill that gives the military a carte blanche to secretly send the Armed Forces anywhere and everywhere in the name of the War on Terror. In September 2017, mere weeks before the Muslim Ban 3.0 was announced and the soldiers were ambushed in Niger, Senate voted 2:1 to reject an amendment designed to revoke the authorisation.

Furthermore, Congress is deeply complicit in the Libya crisis that precipitated the current surge of violence in the Sahel region. With US support, NATO imposed its no-fly zone on the same day that African Union leaders were slated to fly in to Libya and negotiate the terms of a peaceful transition with both Qaddafi and the opposition government. The immensity of this thwarted moment in Pan-African diplomacy would become painfully clear over the following two years, as multilateral war erupted in Libya and spilled over the border into Mali. The flood of arms from Libya to neighboring Sahel states enabled Boko Haram – a militant organisation in northern Nigeria – to rapidly expand across the Lake Chad basin between 2012 and 2014. Since May 2013, the conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces has displaced 2.3 million people, with at least 250,000 fleeing Nigeria for Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

All of this is to say that the current US presence in Chad and Niger is just the latest episode of post-9/11 American interventionism. In a recent New Yorker article, journalist Ben Taub describes a pattern in which the United States backs a repressive government like that of Chad’s President Déby in the name of stability, but in doing so actually exacerbates the conditions of social breakdown and support for armed groups. Kenyan writer Nanjala Nyabola concurs: “In the name of this ‘Stability Doctrine’, foreign governments… bolster the short-term status quo, even if that means disregarding visible discontent and overlooking state abuses. They pick power over protesters.”

Given that the UN is currently providing aid to those displaced, Taub argues that people have come to rely on conflict as the only consistent cash cow in a region where fishing and agriculture has been decimated by climate change. He writes, “Travelling through the Lake Region, I got the impression that almost everyone there—and especially those in the Presidential palace—has a stake in Boko Haram’s continued existence as a distant, manageable threat.”

In conclusion, Chad is not on the Muslim Ban 3.0 list because it’s a “state sponsor of terror.” On the contrary, it is one of the United States’ most steady allies in the region, currently hosting a major base camp for drone operations. While the exact reasons for its inclusion on the list have not been publicly confirmed, it seems that certain factors are preventing Chad from adequately screening its citizens before issuing travel documents. According to a 2017 report by Amnesty International, over the past year Chad has cut civil society and army wages, sparking widespread protest followed by a wave of state repression and incarceration of human rights activists. Essentially, in a strong-man security state, everyone beyond the government is suspect: if stability is bought, then the officials who line their pockets are the only ones with stable loyalty.

From this perspective, the Muslim Ban has come to its fullest bipartisan, capitalist expression by banning immigrants from Chad, a country whose people successfully staged a national strike in 2016 to protest their president and to demand a constitution. If there is one thing the American empire despises more than terrorism, it’s the thought that African people might get free and throw a wrench in the corporate plunder of their continent.

If there is one thing the American empire despises more than terrorism, it’s the thought that African people might get free and throw a wrench in the corporate plunder of their continent.

In fact, African organising has the potential to not just uplift African people, but also to halt the destruction that fossil fuels and weapons industries inflict on all of us, all around the globe. Numerous powerful countries are setting their sights on Africa right now because the continent has a vast untapped resource base: will those riches be dedicated towards the sustainable development of the continent, or will they be siphoned off to sustain American polluters and weapons manufacturers?

As Pan-African community leader Ahjamu Umi wrote about local resistance in both Chad and Niger: “People in the US are programmed to view the US as the centre and initiator of everything in the world. The truth couldn’t be farther from that. These uprisings in Africa are the current steps towards fighting for one unified socialist Africa to cement the final battle against imperialism on the world stage.”

The silver lining of Chad’s addition to the Muslim Ban is quite literally putting Chad on the radar of international solidarity, prompting students like myself to ask questions and look for answers. Now that we are increasingly connecting the dots between Western military intervention, extraction industries, autocratic national elite, the making of “shithole countries” and immigration policy, I hope this understanding will translate into more effective organising that recognises the shared economic roots of both domestic xenophobia and international imperialism.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the March-April 2018/1439 edition of Islamic Horizons, a quarterly magazine published by the Islamic Society of North America.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Berlin Film Festival 2018: Theatres of War, Terror and Faith

The Platform - Sat, 14/04/2018 - 13:34

There is hope yet for the Berlinale with this year’s selection of films, from a real-time depiction of Anders Breivik’s slaughter to a French film exploring religious beliefs.

The Berlinale is a strange film festival. One may find the line-up of the main competition often disappointing, especially if compared to other prestigious European film festivals such as Cannes and Venice. And yet the programme – most notably the Panorama and Forum selections – also offers plenty of gems revealing themselves almost by accident. It is a unique festival experience that is at once infuriating and extremely exciting. This was the penultimate year for Dieter Kosslick, festival director since 2001, and questions have been raised about the future of the festival, which, many argue, will need to raise its game in order to compete seriously with Cannes and Venice. Having said that, I know many critics who would happily skip their annual trip to the Croisette, but would never miss Berlin. The Berlinale may lack the glamour of its European counterparts but showcases a matchless mix of exciting experimental and political works, an extremely diverse array of international films, skilfully curated retrospectives of classics and Europe’s most important film trade fair – the European Film Market – which celebrated this year its 30th edition.

The Berlinale opened with the international premiere of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, the much-awaited stop-motion movie set in a dystopian Japanese island that brings together a stellar ensemble voice cast including Bill Murray, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton and Yoko Ono. Anderson went on to win the Silver Bear Best Director Award, while the unexpected winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film was Touch Me Not by the Romanian director Adina Pintilie. A quasi-fictional documentary exploring alternative sexual practices and forms of intimacy, Touch Me Not left several critics underwhelmed.

It is still too early to know which of the films shown in Berlin will be released outside of the festival circuit. But there is certainly plenty to be excited about. My personal favourite was Theatre of War (orig. title: Teatro de Guerra) by Argentinian theatre maker Lola Arias. Thirty-five years after the end of the Falklands/Malvinas war, Arias invites a group of British and Argentinian veterans to face each other as former enemies. Rather than simply sharing their memories with us, the veterans restage them. Forming a theatre ensemble, they re-enact battle scenes, look together at photographs, maps and newspaper clippings, and talk to each other about their experiences at war. In a number of extremely touching scenes, the British veterans speak in broken Spanish to the Argentines; the Argentines answer back in their hesitant English. The exchanges are charged with an almost child-like desire for connectedness. In another poignant scene, a former British captain restages a military action that resulted in the killing of several Argentines. The captain holds in his arms a wounded enemy, who, just before dying, tells him in English of a trip to Oxford he had taken years earlier. The British veteran wishes the man had never spoken English to him. It is an image that torments him in his sleep, one that he will never be able to forget – he tells us.

Theatre of War does not try to look for reconciliation between enemies. Arias changes the perspective through which we normally look at wars, giving an active voice and an embodied presence to ordinary men who were sent to fight by their own countries, often without much choice, as it was the case for the Argentines who had to serve under conscription. The film may be said to restage the theatre of war, but its actors are certainly no puppets, their compassion, vulnerability, and fears so vividly present in front of our eyes throughout the film. Like Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, Theatre of War is a film that raises important questions about what it means to restage on screen some of history’s most painful chapters by involving directly some its actors – be they survivors or perpetrators – and about the responsibilities of the filmmaker in this process.

The most awaited film of the festival – and arguably the one that most stunned the Berlin audience with its re-enactment of the horrific mass killing that saw 69 teenagers die in Norway in 2011 – was Utøya. For 72 minutes (the actual duration of the slaughter on the island of Utøya), the film follows, in an unbroken single take, Kaja and the other teens at the Labour party youth camp where the slaughter took place, from the time they hear the first gunshots and run for their lives, to the arrival of the first rescue boats. While the camera always stays with Kaja, the audience never sees the attacker but only hears his gunshots. The shaky hand-held camera, as we follow the teens run through the forest, is likely to make viewers feel dizzy. While watching the film, I fought the temptation to leave the cinema, as I was feeling pretty sick. But I realised that this is precisely what one is supposed to experience: the gut-wrenching sense of what it might have been like to be on the island during the slaughter. The gunfire intermittently echoes in the distance, the film replicating the precise number of shots Anders Breivik fired on the island.

While other reconstructions of the Utøya slaughter have been announced in Scandinavia (a TV series is due for international release soon), questions remain on why Poppe thought it was worth making this film. During an excruciating sequence of the film, we see the teens asking why it is taking so long for the Norwegian authorities to get to the island to stop the slaughter. But apart from that, no other significant questions seem to be raised. Is Utøya simply celebrating the lives of teens like Kaja? And yet one wonders what spectators gain from re-living this kind of stomach-turning viewing experience. The film has been hailed as a tribute to the courage of the young victims of Utøya. Perhaps it is supposed to be a cathartic experience for the survivors, the screenplay being based on accounts given by them. At the end of the screening I attended, the director, Erik Poppe, explained that he made the film by working closely with the survivors and the families of the victims, and that he sought their approval before the film’s release. Still, one may ask why the fictional drama – bringing together melodramatic tones and the heart-pounding pace of the thriller – was preferred to the documentary form.

I loved The Prayer (orig. title: La Prière) by French actor and director Cedric Khan for its brave, unprejudiced approach to the difficult themes of religion and drug addiction. Set in the French alps, the film follows a young man called Thomas (played by Anthony Bajon, who went to win the best actor award) who arrives at a religious rural sanctuary. Here, several young men are trying to kick their habit with a mix of hard labour in the fields and prayer. Thomas’ integration in this community is far from easy. This rural sanctuary seems to have banished any form of pleasure or self-indulgence, and all its members are prevented from being alone at any time. Thomas eventually accepts the rituals of this sanctuary, until he meets sister Myriam (played by Hanna Schygulla), the foundress of the sanctuary, who asks him whether he truly believes in God and whether he is happy. Thomas answers “yes”. Sister Myriam repeatedly slaps him in the face, as she knows that this is not true. It is a disquieting moment, one that potentially undoes the very sense of order that Thomas has worked so hard to achieve in his new life. While, on the one hand, the film asks its viewers to understand the comfort that praying to a God one does not believe in might bring, on the other, this unsettling moment seems to pose the question of how to be truthful to oneself in the face of those protective social, moral and psychic narratives that prevent us from sinking lower and lower.

Other festival highlights included Boys Cry (orig. title: La terra dell’abbastanza), the first feature film by the young Italian twins Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, a crime film set in the Roman outskirts. The film’s sophisticated visual style and the emotionally nuanced performance of the two lead actors, Andrea Carpenzano and Matteo Olivetti, impressed many critics, and are likely to guarantee the film’s general release outside the festival circuit. Other two films to watch out for are Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot starring Joaquin Pheonix who gives once again a phenomenal performance playing a quadriplegic cartoonist from Portland, and The Heiresses (orig. title: Las herediteras), a drama with an exclusively female cast that explores the precarious hierarchies and privileges of Paraguay’s upper bourgeoisie through two older lesbians who have fallen on financial hard times.

Despite its unassuming style, Berlin’s annual celebration of international cinema remains the industry’s most significant festival in Europe and welcomes audiences 10 times as large as those of Cannes. Last year, 79 high-profile filmmakers signed a letter harshly criticising the current festival’s leadership and calling for a fresh start. With Dieter Kosslik on his way out, the prospect of a new direction for the festival leaves many hoping that, in the near future at least, the curation of the program will look less scattered.

The 68th annual Berlin International Film Festival took place from 15 to 25 February 2018:

Photo Credit: Berlin International Film Festival

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Monster Mash Within Pacific Rim Uprising

The Platform - Fri, 06/04/2018 - 19:23

Despite stylistic shifts Uprising retains the dynamism and sentiment of its predecessor

If you’ve kept up with my work, or glanced at my Twitter, or spent any period of time with me at all, you’ll know two of my passions are robots and monsters. I could wax poetic about how they represent mankind’s innovative spirit or the power of inhumanity in a flawed human world, but I mostly think they’re really cool.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, having as it does both robots and monsters, set my young heart ablaze in 2013 and is still one of my favourite films of all time, particularly for how it even made me care about the relationships between the human characters in a film about robots fighting monsters. It was such a neat, focused story with such a satisfying end that I was content to have the movie on its own without any additional media. So, when a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, was announced, I went into it without any real expectations beyond, “John Boyega in a Pacific Rim film? Yes please.” I was taken on an unexpectedly engaging ride.

Uprising takes place 10 years after the events of the first film, and follows Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of hero and Jaeger pilot Stacker Pentecost, as he trains new Jaeger pilots and navigates his own identity in a world that no longer makes sense. The apocalypse may have been cancelled, but stories never end happily ever after, and Uprising shows another side to the conflict that defines this universe – of the scars left by war, of the heavy shadows of legacy left by the dead. This is a world that is hurting, with lives shattered by conflict in ways that can’t be fixed with giant robots.

Uprising deconstructs the principle guiding messages of Pacific Rim, but in doing so also makes sure to construct new ones – it asks questions, but also provides answers. It calls into question the sentiments of the first film, but makes them stronger in the process. Yes, Uprising maintains that unity is important, but it’s not seamless. Sometimes it can be hard and painful and ugly. People don’t fit together easily, and our lives are tapestries of hurt and trauma. But together, these tapestries can be woven together into something that is perfect through its imperfections. “We have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other,” Stacker says at the climax of Pacific Rim, and Uprising shows the strength of his convictions by pushing them to the limit.

Much like its predecessor, Uprising is as much about the relationship between people as it is about robots and monsters, and this film brings with it some interesting new dynamics. Jake Pentecost is a charming scoundrel, and John Boyega brings a lot of emotion and conviction to the role as well as some impeccable comedic chops. His co-stars and fellow pilots, Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) have really fun dynamics with Jake, emphasising the messages of unity through their confrontations as well as their cooperation.

It’s not all new blood, though. Rinko Kikuchi makes an appearance as pilot Mako Mori to pass the protagonist baton to Jake, while fan-favourite scientists Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) bring back their great dynamic in this film with some interesting shifts.

One place where the differences between Uprising and Pacific Rim are most apparent is through the visual language. Where Guillermo del Toro’s version of this world was drenched in darkness and rain, with heavy mechanical movements and shadowy shapes in the dim distance, Uprising seems to draw more from kaiju films of old and Japanese sentai, with a heavily saturated palette and brighter, more kinetic action. There’s less gravitas here, but it works well for the story being told – gravitas is something for the old world, and the new world doesn’t try to live up to those aesthetic ideals. It owns its vibrant look as confidently as Pacific Rim’s world owned the grit and grime, and makes for some truly spectacular displays and a visual language that manages to set itself apart from the blue-and-orange tedium of a lot of similar films.

One thing I will say is I wish the Jaeger designs in Uprising had been as inhuman and diverse as those in Pacific Rim. It makes sense from a world-building perspective that newer robots would be sleeker and more humanoid, but a part of me really missed memorable design choices like Cherno Alpha’s massive reactor hat or Crimson Typhoon’s crablike aesthetic (Legendary, if you’re hiring, I know a whole lot about character design and robots). Uprising’s Jaegers do get more screen time however, and the monster designs are infinitely more interesting, as much as I loved the kaiju from the first film. Clearly, the aliens decided to step up their game over the 10 years.

Pacific Rim Uprising sits on the shoulders of giants, but doesn’t get too comfortable up there, taking the foundations laid by del Toro’s epic to tell new and exciting stories. It’s perhaps not as focused as the first film, and the stylistic shifts have evidently not been universally well-received, but I got the impression that the Uprising crew had ambitions far beyond a forgettable action flick.

There’s a lot of love for the world of Pacific Rim on show in Uprising, and a lot of sincerity that helps fill in any gaps in the narrative. There’s reverence for what came before, but this reverence also manifests in the way Uprising tries its utmost best not to tread on the toes of the original, allowing both films to exist as unique entities as well as parts of an evolving universe.

Does it top its predecessor? No, but I don’t think it needs to. Did it make me want to go back into the cinema and watch it again? Absolutely.

With thanks to Empire Cinema in Walthamstow

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Categories: Muslim blogs

“We Must Keep Moving”: Martin Luther King Jr and Student Activism at Howard University

The Platform - Thu, 05/04/2018 - 19:29

Dr King linked universal social struggles and inspired a generation of students

Martin Luther King Jr is the embodiment of patriotism and a symbol of what it means to stand up for what you believe in even when the odds are against you. In today’s media, patriotism is often equated with blind fealty to the nation. However, King was an example of what this author believes is true patriotism, having the strength to hold your country accountable and demand it to be better and be true to its ideals. As we remember his life and legacy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination it is important to remember this: King was a man who stood for justice and demanded that the United States live up to its ideals. The whitewashing of King’s legacy has made him seem tame to contemporary observers who would rather look to people such as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Malcolm X or the Black Panthers. However, King’s actual influence and radicalism cannot be denied if we just look at historical events. The message of Martin Luther King Jr and the importance of his message is exemplified by his speeches to the students of Howard University in Washington, D.C. The impact of his message is evident in student actions that were inspired by his words. Just as King’s words should not be taken out of context from the content of the actual speeches he gave, they should be considered together with such actions.

Martin Luther King Jr visited the campus of Howard University several times. Each time he encouraged the students to fight for their rights while adhering to the message of non-violence. In 1964, King gave the annual Gandhi Memorial Lecture. The event featured King and several other luminaries including noted writer James Baldwin. It was Baldwin who set the tone for the event asking three pointed questions for discussion. He stated, “How much provocation can a non-violent fighter take before he breaks into violence? Or if he can hold himself in check during the campaign is he more prone to become violent afterwards… how long can we not fight back?”

King’s speech was a response to this query. He said, “Non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice.” He encouraged the young people to rise above the hatred of white supremacists who sought to deny them equal citizenship. “One must rise to the heights of being able to accept blows without retaliating.” He went on to explain what this means, not as a passive acceptance, but as a mode of survival without internalising toxic emotions such as hatred: “Hate is dangerous. It is as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated… Non-violence means that you refuse to engage in external physical violence, and… in internal violence of (the) spirit.”

Protecting one’s spirit meant practicing love. “There are three kinds of love. The love I speak of… is a love of understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” This was the message from King to the young people of Howard University. It was speeches like this and the call of non-violence that inspired the afore-mentioned Stokely Carmichael nee Kwame Ture to coin the term “Black Power” while a student at Howard. Carmichael, who graduated from Howard in 1964, would go on to join and become a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

The breadth of King’s message was on full display when he spoke again at the University’s Charter Day Celebration on 2nd March 1965. In his speech he called on the students to rise up and fight to make a better world. He called on them to end “the world’s three towering evils – racial injustice, poverty and war.” He called on the students to not give up even when all seemed lost. He said, “we must keep moving”. That is what we should remember about King and his message. It was not a narrow message focused completely on making the better simply for African Americans. He wanted to make a better world for everyone. That was the essence of his lauded “I Have a Dream” speech. It was also the message he carried to every protest and battle of the civil rights movement.

The universality of his message spoke to young people, and inspired them to be active and stand up to injustice. King was not simply a man fighting for the civil rights of his people – he fought to make the world better for everyone. This led him to join efforts to end the Vietnam War. His Poor People’s Campaign linked the struggle of African Americans to the struggle of poor whites and to others battling to survive under the crushing weight of poverty. This message of the universal struggle and an effort to bring various groups together made King an enemy in the eyes of the J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. However, to millions around the country, this message was an inspiration indicating that change could come.

This was no more clear than on the campus of Howard University. Inspired by King and others, the students held numerous protests across the campus. Students protested the Vietnam War and America’s involvement. To get their message across they interrupted Charter Day exercises and burned two figures in effigy outside of Douglas Hall – the programme’s speaker, General Lewis Blaine Hershey, who was the director of the Selective Service System, and James Nabrit, then the Howard President. They even took over the University’s Administration or “A” Building to demand change at the university in March of 1967.

King’s legendary oratory inspired thousands. It is why Joann Gibson Robinson and the Women of the Montgomery Improvement Association called him to Montgomery, Alabama, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott to be the face of their movement. It is also why he received international praise including the Nobel Peace Prize. A symbol of King’s international recognition remains on the campus of Howard University. A bust of Mahatma Gandhi presented to King by the Indian Embassy sits on display in the Historic Founders Library. This bust, along with a bust of King himself, stands as a reminder to students of the power of non-violent, peaceful protest. It is a message that remains relevant today as young people march for change after recent US school shootings and as Black Lives Matter (BLM) brings attention to the killing of unarmed black men.

It is interesting to see the parallels between BLM and the earlier movement led by King, both of which have had non-violence as a tenant. Like King’s movement, BLM is vilified in the press and by conservatives as the cause of the violence against them. According to those in power, the civil rights movement was built by outside agitators, and similarly, according to officials in Ferguson, BLM protests were cause by outside agitators. Paradoxically, they were each also told that silence will make their problems go away – that if they stop agitating then justice will eventually come. This preposterous notion haunted the civil rights movement and continues to dog the BLM movement today.

On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, we must remember King for his universal message of peace and non-violence. We must remember that this message was not “tame” but radical. It was radical in that it called people to fight for change but also maintain their morality. This was a tough battle in the face of vehement hatred and the frequent indignities faced by African Americans and other minorities. As King stated, “Hate is dangerous. It is as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated.”

Image: Courtesy of the Howard University Archives

Categories: Muslim blogs

On “Punish A Muslim Day”

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Thu, 05/04/2018 - 01:27

Now that “Punish A Muslim Day” has passed uneventfully we should really take stock of the general immaturity permeating our community. This nonsense should never have seen the light of day. It is like the so-called movie denigrating the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) several years back. It had less than one hundred views on YouTube until we Muslims went into a frenzy and provided it with free publicity by expressing our “anger” all over the internet. Two weeks later it had over ten million views. We have to learn to let this nonsense die its natural death in the obscure corners of cyberspace.

Furthermore, the threat against Muslim is no less today that it was yesterday. If someone seriously wants to harm us they are not going to advertise it. Hence, we have to be vigilant everyday. We should also not assume that there are so many mean spirited people out there that they would be moved to openly respond to such a vile provocation -if they even knew about it. If a handful of mischievous clowns know that they can work our community into a frenzy by throwing out something like this we will never see the end of it.

As we commemorate the passing of the great civil rights giant Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., why not get worked up to dedicate ourselves to carrying on his work to eradicate the evil triplets of racism, militarism and materialism from our society? These evil triplets constitute an enduring threat to all of us. They are punishing rich, poor, black white, Americans, foreigners, Muslims and others. Are the only threats motivating us those we perceive to be specifically against our community?

As our country slips into a dangerous phase of intensifying identity-based tribalism, we have much work to do in contributing to tearing down the walls being erected to divide us and building the foundation of a union based on the God-given human bonds and rights that unite us. That is difficult and consuming work befitting a community that sees itself as the heirs of the prophetic legacy. We don’t have time to waste with nonsense.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Women’s Day 2018

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 10/03/2018 - 07:33

International Women’s Day​ is on 8th March. The day has been set aside to celebrate the social, economic and political accomplishments of women. March is a most appropriate month for such a celebration. In the northern hemisphere, March signals the arrival of spring and the blossoming flowers whose colors and fragrances announce the rebirth of the land. Women, like the flowers of spring, adorn our lives and have been chosen by Almighty God to deliver into the world the young souls whose presence marks the regeneration of our human family.

Usually, when western Muslims speak of women and Islam, we speak of the rights and opportunities Islam afforded women in the economic, social and political realms long before similar developments occurred in Christendom. There is nothing wrong with such a narrative and it helps to normalise Islam to people in the west—both converts and others who are seeking to better understand a sometimes controversial world religion.

Hence, we will mention some famous Muslim women, whose exploits reflect the lofty social status Islam afforded to women. The accomplishments of women among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah’s blessings be upon them) in this regard, are well-known. Khadija’s financial and moral support to the Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him), and his mission were critical to the success of the fledgling Muslim community. Aisha’s learning and leadership gave her a standing in the early community that rivals that of her male contemporaries. Umm Salama’s wisdom and decisiveness broke the impasse that confronted the believers at Hudaybiya. Nusayba’s heroic defence of the blessed Prophet during the height of the Battle of Uhud is legendary. Hafsa, the daughter of Umar bin al-Khattab, at the time of her father’s death, was entrusted with the protection of the standardised rendition of the Qur’an, considered by some to have been the greatest trust ever vouchsafed to anyone in the history of the Muslim community (Allah’s blessings be upon them).

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