At a time when most Americans were uninformed, misinformed, or simply afraid of Islam, Thomas Jefferson imagined Muslims as future citizens of his new nation. His engagement with the faith began with the purchase of a Qur’an eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s Qur’an survives still in the Library of Congress, serving as a symbol of his and early America’s complex relationship with Islam and its adherents. That relationship remains of signal importance to this day.That he owned a Qur’an reveals Jefferson’s interest in the Islamic religion, but it does not explain his support for the rights of Muslims. Jefferson first read about Muslim “civil rights” in the work of one of his intellectual heroes: the seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke. Locke had advocated the toleration of Muslims—and Jews—following in the footsteps of a few others in Europe who had considered the matter for more than a century before him. Jefferson’s ideas about Muslim rights must be understood within this older context, a complex set of transatlantic ideas that would continue to evolve most markedly from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship.
– From “Our Founding Fathers included Islam,” adapted from a book by Denise Spellberg
- How Can White Americans Be Free? (Salon)
It’s clear that we as Black and Brown Americans, are still recovering from the racist indoctrinations of the past 500 years. Though laughable it sounds, white Americans, too, have suffered from this crime. As our country began and brown races were systematically denied the right to be human and so internalized the role of the savage, white consciousness bullied its way into objectivity. The white mind became the unbiased mind that objectively observed all the rest. This is called The Default: The belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective experience and white consciousness is the standard consciousness unless otherwise specified. White culture, and American culture as a whole, suffers from the tragedy of whiteness as the default setting.
Being The Default keeps white Americans from being liberated because it denies them a specific identity by absorbing them into neutral blankness. This creates a lonely detachment from the rest of the world. Being The Default is the largest privilege granted to white Americans, yet it is so deeply entrenched it is the most invisible (we cannot see the edges of the atmosphere, but it exists). Whites benefit from being The Default by having inherent legitimacy in a way that’s denied to people of color. Their experience of life is “normal.” Whites are free from the constant awareness (and subsequent constant paranoia) of existing in another person’s world. Because The Default has so successfully dominated our subconscious, because our egos have been shaped by it from the moment of birth, we perpetuate it in micro ways while fighting inequality with more obvious actions. The silent poison continues to poison. Whiteness as The Default keeps brown people in subjugation by convincing them that every part of their being, physical, spiritual and emotional, exists within a white narrative. When you are made to exist within something you are forced to be smaller than that which contains you. This is precisely the basis of racist thought. Brown existence, brown consciousness is smaller.
- Do You Even Hear Muslims When We Condemn Violence? (The Huffington Post)
So let me start with the standard roll call: As an American Muslim, I condemn all violence in the name of religion. Terrorism has no religion and Islam is no exception. If the Tsarnaev brothers are guilty of the Boston bombings, then I hope they are brought to justice.
Is that condemnation clear enough? Because I’m pretty sure a whole lot of people instead read “blah blah blah blah blah.”
Here’s the deal. It is a shame that we had to employ 9,000 officers, put our lives on hold for five days, and sacrifice $1 billion in Boston revenue to catch these culprits. It is a shame that Muslim women were assaulted in retaliation, and that’s even before we knew who the suspects were. And it is a shame I received threats of anti-Muslim violence and that even my non-Muslim but non-white friends called me, fearing for their safety.
And now the public lynching and double standards against Islam begin. Mental illness was the culprit during Newtown, Conn., Oak Creek, Wis., and Aurora, Colo. More than 70 percent of America’s 64 previous mass shooters were white American men. But not one pundit, nor any politician, nor any Muslim has ever asked why White Americans or Christian Americans are not aggressively condemning these acts of terror. After all, why ask such a ludicrous question? Anyone with a functioning cerebrum could comprehend that these terrorists represent only themselves.
- My Path To Citizenship, And The White House (USA Today)
Last week, a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight” introduced a new immigration reform measure. Their bill would continue to strengthen our borders, fix the legal immigration system and provide a path for the 11 million undocumented to register, pay taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else before they could get on a path to citizenship.
Unlike the 1986 law, this approach is tougher and also expands employer verification so that those doing the hiring are compelled to own up to their responsibilities. It’s the right approach.
For many immigrants, there was never a path to come legally. But they’re here now; they’ve put down roots. They’re not looking for a handout, just a chance to work hard and do the right thing.
President Reagan once said that “Latinos are Republicans. They just don’t know it yet.” In that spirit, I would argue immigration reform is the conservative thing to do. Conservatives just don’t realize it yet.
- Why We Must Remember Rohwer (HuffPost Impact)
One of the audio kiosks is placed just about at the site of the crude barrack that housed my family and me — block 6, barrack 2, unit F. We were little more than numbers to our jailers, each of us given a tag to wear to camp like a piece of luggage. My tag was 12832-C.
I have memories of the nearby drainage ditch where I used to catch pollywogs that sprouted legs and eventually and magically turned into frogs. I remember the barbed wire fence nearby, beyond which lay pools of water with trees reaching out from them. We were in the swamps, you see: fetid, hot, mosquito-laden. We were isolated, far enough away from anywhere anyone would want to live.
Today, I recognize nothing. The swamp has been drained, the trees have all been chopped down. It is now just mile after mile of cotton fields. Everything I remember is gone.
The most moving of the sites is the cemetery. As a child, I never went there, yet that is the only thing that still stands from Rohwer Camp, except for a lone smokestack where the infirmary once operated. The memorial marker is a tall, crumbling concrete obelisk, in tribute to the young men who went from their barbed wire confinement to fight for America, perishing on bloody European battlefields. That day, I stood solemnly with surviving veterans who had served in the segregated all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in all the war.
- Brittney Griner And Race, Gender, Sexuality And Sports (Gradient Lair)
Men’s sports are always treated with higher regard than women’s sports, period. No announcement from a female athlete is going to generate the attention that an announcement from a male athlete does, regardless of what the announcement is. Such a division is clearly seen in men’s NCAA sports versus women’s, let alone in professional sports. (Even in Olympic sports, male sports get more primetime coverage [outside of volleyball, track and gymnastics] and while most can easily cite Usain Bolt as the fastest man in the world, do they know that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the fastest woman in the world? They’re both Jamaicans. This gender issue isn’t even accounting for the racist [and sexist] media issues regarding Olympic sports.)
Female athletes are always assumed to be lesbians unless the media and public deem that they meet an almost hypersexualized version of femininity to derail such homophobic assumptions for misogynist ones. Further, the sheer act of being physical and competitive (as in sports) are associated with patriarchal notions of gender, so women engaging in sports is often viewed as being “male-like.” (We see the same type of rhetoric regarding women in combat, for example.)
At least 15 members of the Congressional Black Caucus are questioning why the 50,000 diversity visa program was ended in the “gang of eight” immigration reform bill formally introduced yesterday. Many members view the diversity visas as one of the few ways African and Caribbean immigrants can become American citizens.
At their Wednesday, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) briefed other members of the CBC on diversity visas and the “merit based” point system language in the immigration bill that is said to be a replacement to the diversity visa program. The diversity visa lottery was ended and replaced with a “point system” that evaluates immigrants on a merit based system. Education and ability to speak english, among other things, is used to evaluate an immigrant’s value to the U.S.
One member, Rep. Don Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) said early in the week that he will not vote for an immigration bill without the diversity visa lottery. ”I’m not voting for it if diversity visas are not in there,” Payne said flatly. “I’ve told my constituents that unless the diversity visa lottery is in the bill that’s where I draw the line.” On March 15, Payne held a conference focusing on the concerns of Liberian immigrants on Capitol Hill.
Payne may not be alone. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) also says she is very unhappy that the diversity visa program was ended in the “gang of eight” bill. Members wondered why a program with 50,000 slots was eliminated when the larger issue is the 11 million people currently living in the U.S. undocumented.
“My question is why would you take it out? Tell me one good reason?” said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL).
By Guest Contributor Deepak Sarma, cross-posted from The Huffington Post
The bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon are a terrible tragedy and a chilling example of the worst kinds of misanthropic human behavior. I weep for the families and friends for those immediately affected and for those whose lives and memories have forever changed.
I hope that they catch the perpetrator(s) of this crime.
But I worry, especially after inciteful and potentially dangerous rumors, momentarily validated by the NY Post, that automatically point the finger at (an) international terrorist(s), who, is/are in the imaginations of those easily deluded, brown-skinned. The subsequent and unavoidable racial profiling is a slippery slope toward a lynching mentality where color/ethnicity/race (all imagined categories largely invented for economic exploitation and advantage) is proof of guilt, and where all who are imagined to be part of that imagined category are inescapably complicit.
Here’s what should have happened in the 17 years since then: Cape Town, the country’s oldest city with its reputation for being cosmopolitan, ought to have led the way in racial unity. It didn’t happen. Far away from verkrampte Pretoria and even more conservative Bloemfontein, Cape Town failed us. Her people withdrew into their racial enclaves and passed each other warily on the street.
I spent two and a half years in Cape Town before I fled for Johannesburg, like so many other black professionals (ahem). It wasn’t just the stories you’d hear about people of colour being turned away from nightclubs, or how the only other black people in your work place were generally the cleaners. It wasn’t even the near complete absence of racial integration.
What drove me slowly mad was how racism was an elephant in the room that you could not talk about. How white Capetonians would cringe and turn away when the topic came up, or look at you in blank confusion and ask why you were so obsessed with race. It was how, yes, there is racism everywhere in South Africa but in Cape Town it is not possible to even discuss it. And how Cape Town, with its pristine beaches, its lofty Parliament buildings and history of activism, was somehow supposed to be better than that.
And in our haste to one-up each other in the Being Right game, South Africans have singularly failed to stop and listen to each other. It’s the black professionals like myself who fled the city, generally for Johannesburg, and didn’t consider what the glib statement “Cape Town is racist” really meant, and how a generalisation like that was itself prejudiced.
– From “The black professional is not dead,” in The Mail & Guardian.
By Guest Contributor Nicole Cunningham Zaghia, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch
One of the main criticisms of TLC’s All American Muslim was that the show’s characters were representative of only a small part of the American Muslim community. If you felt that way, then a great antidote is Me, the Muslim Next Door, a web documentary produced for Radio Canada International. Filmed in Montreal and Toronto in both English and French, Me the Muslim Next Door is over two hours of audio, video, and still photography, broken up into 4-6 minute segments, with each of the show’s participants having several segments. These segments took place in the participants’ personal landscapes – at home, on the street, with their families.
Fakhraie grew up in a family where religion was respected but not forced on her or her younger brother, Anayat, 24. Her father, born in Iran, did not practice his faith. Her mother, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, studied religion with another woman but didn’t attend services.
“I was raised as a white girl with a funny last name and a foreign dad,” she says. As an adolescent, she was “the black cloud” over her parents’ house. “I was sullen. I hated everything.” Today she says she and her family are close, but her brother, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, remembers her black cloud days.
“At Christmas, we’d be opening presents and she’d be sulking in the corner,” he says. “She didn’t want anyone to take pictures. ‘Do we have to do this?’ she’d complain. She embodied the quintessential teenager angst.”
“I was a ‘why’ person,” she says. “I always wanted to know why.” Why, for example, was her father so strict with her when it came to boys? An avid reader, she began reading about Persian culture, which led her to the subject of Islam. She kept on reading. When she got to college, she read Fatima Mernissi’s “The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam.”
“I could be a feminist and a Muslim,” she says. “I was a feminist before I knew what a feminist was.” Fakhraie’s mother was the family breadwinner and her dad was “Mr. Mom.” She remembers being upset that her mom came home from work and picked up household chores.
“It was like a double shift,” Fakhraie says. “Fairness has always been an integral issue with me.”
–Excerpted from Fatemeh Fakhraie: A Feminist Muslim Breaks Stereotypes
Photo Credit: Utne
By Arturo R. García
It is frustrating and disappointing to catch hell in mainstream society for being Muslim and also within the Muslim community for being African-American. When I am not perceived as an oppressed Muslim woman in need of liberation, I am seen as an ignorant and potentially unruly black woman.
– Jameelah Xochitl Medina, PhD candidate and author, excerpted from I Speak For Myself (via The Christian Science Monitor)
At a time when America’s Muslim communities are constantly under scrutiny by both the media and political figures, I Speak For Myself is an especially relevant – and especially necessary – work.
Edited by Maria Ebrahimji, an executive producer for CNN, and Zahra Suratwala, a writer and business consultant based out of Chicago, ISFM is a collection of 40 essays by American Muslim women. And I’m pleased to no end to report that among them is our friend, recognized badass and editor of Muslimah Media Watch, Fatemeh Fakhraie, whose essay was highlighted in MMW’s own review of the book:
Perhaps put most intimately by Fatemeh is the theme of longing for the country of our parents as a means to getting closer to our identity. She writes,
“Searching for himself and a better life drew Baba away from the Islamic Republic of Iran; searching for myself and my roots draws me nearer to it. Yet in reality, it is not the republic I am drawn to. Rather, I am trying to get nearer to my father through this land where my ancestors are buried.”
Other reoccurring themes include birth names, balancing hyphenated identities, the need to be validated by both Americans and Muslims and, of course, hijab.
While these themes seem to be woven, to some extent, into each narrative, the narratives themselves are varied in scope.
We’ll have more on ISFM in the coming days, but for now, we want to encourage you to order the book here.