Saturday, June 27, 2009

michael jackson - they don't care about us

MJ at his most controversial (at least in terms of his music). Before the song "They Don't Care About Us" was even released, Michael Jackson was accused of antisemitism due to his use of the lyric: "Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don't you black or white me". Jackson argued (rather reasonably) that the intention of the song as a whole is opposed to prejudice and oppression and the disputed lyrics should be viewed in that context.

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In an interview with The Guardian, Spike Lee puts his finger on a certain inconsistency in how the video was treated:

And you wonder if [Spike Lee] regrets any of them [various controversies he's been involved in]. His verbal disembowelling of Quentin Tarantino, for example, after taking offence at the latter's use of the word "nigger" in his 1997 caper Jackie Brown? He's already answering by the time I've got to "Quent-".

"Oh, I don't regret that at all. And to put the record straight, because a lot of people never got the whole story... I never said that Quentin Tarantino should not be allowed to use the word nigger. My contention was that his use of it was excessive. You know, Harvey Weinstein [co-founder of Miramax, Jackie Brown's financiers] called me up and said he wished I'd leave this thing alone. And I said, 'Harvey - would you ever release a film that on so many occasions used the word kike? He just cleared his throat and said, 'No.' So, it's like, 'Oh - you can't say kike but nigger is OK?' "

He lets the question hang. But he's not done yet.
"And then of course they say, 'But Tarantino's an artist, he's just expressing himself.' Well, if we're talking about artists, let's talk about..."

Everything slows with the realisation of what's coming next.
"Michael Jackson. Because, forgetting all that other shit for a minute, in the song They Don't Care About Us, Michael Jackson said 'Sue me, Jew me, Kick me, Kike me.' What happened? He was ripped apart by Spielberg and David Geffen, and the record was pulled from the stores. So, Quentin Tarantino says nigger and he's an artist, but Michael Jackson says kike and it can't be exposed to the public?"

So what's he saying? Are they both acceptable, or neither? "All I'm saying is why is it OK for Quentin Tarantino to say nigger and not for Michael Jackson to say kike?" His point, at least what I think is his point, is well taken: I really am starting to wish he'd stop saying kike. "So that's the question," he says. "Why is one OK and one not?"
I think part of an answer has to do with the fact that various communities have different notions and sensitivities when it comes to deciding what is really offensive. For example, I don't know a Jewish analogue to a spoken word piece like "Niggers are Scared of Revolution" let alone the prevalence of the n-word in contemporary hip-hop. (And as the line goes, "You can't complain if you are dancing to it.") A second (and more important) factor has to do with the relative political power of various communities and their ability to impose their sensitivities on the public. (For example, I don't think anyone has ever gotten in trouble for using "gyp" as a verb but then again Gypsies/Roma have almost zero visibility or political power in the United States.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

blue-eyed devil

I just recently finished Michael Muhammad Knight's book Blue-eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America put out by Soft Skull Press. The book is definitely worth reading but I think I would have felt better about it if I had checked it out of the library instead of buying it at Border's. The work is essentially a travelogue documenting Knight's journey's across the United States on what amounts to an Islam-in-America sightseeing tour. To be honest, I was massively impressed by the breadth of the book but he left me wishing for more depth.

He visits the annual ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) convention (twice) where he claims to have stink-palmed Cat Stevens (Yusef Islam) and Siraj Wahaj. He goes to the tombs of Elijah Muhammad, W.D. Fard and Alexander Muhammad Webb (probably the first white American convert to Islam). He meets with Azreal (one of the first white Five Percenters who followed "Father Allah" Clarence 13x). He builds with other Five Percenters in Harlem/Mecca. He goes to the compound of the followers of Malachi Z. York (or whatever he is calling himself now). He attends PMU's female-led prayer. Has dinners with Farid Esack and Irshad Manji. He has tea at Peter Lamborn Wilson / Hakim Bey's house. He visits Malcolm Shabazz (Malcolm X /El Hajj Malik Shabazz's grandson) in prison. And throughout he stops at both Sunni and Shia masjids as well as meeting with various followers of Elijah Muhammad.

For me, the most valuable aspect of the book was its discussion of who Fard was and what happened to him after he went into "occultation". Some other important points are his account of Malcolm Shabazz's (sad) life and Knight's behind-the-scenes insights on the "Progressive Muslim" movement. The rest of the book is well-written and interesting in its own way but often feels like being forced to watch a slide show from someone else's summer vacation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

an intimate look at hip-hop's jihad

‘New Muslim Cool,’ a new PBS documentary, shows how young Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 era are deepening ties between hip-hop and Islam

by Suad Abdul Khabeer

Real hip-hop heads know that Islam and hip-hop have been longtime friends, feeding off each other’s energy. Muslim ideals of self-respect and social change have inspired some of the greatest emcees, and hip-hop is giving voice to the dreams and daily struggles of a generation of Muslims. This cross-pollination between Islam and hip-hop is vividly illustrated in a new documentary, New Muslim Cool, which premieres tonight on PBS.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, New Muslim Cool chronicles three years in the life of Hamza "Jason" Perez, a Puerto Rican Muslim, family man, emcee, interfaith prison chaplain and social activist.

So why is Hamza’s story called the New Muslim Cool? Because he is part of a generation of young Muslims who are coming of age in a post-9/11 America. They are tackling questions of race, faith, freedom and even, as Hamza does, questionable intrusions by the FBI. They unapologetically choose God and country; they are doing American Islam with style.

And then, there’s the music. Citing influences such as Malcolm X and Pedro Albizu Campos, Hamza and his brother, Suliman, bring together the best of who they are. They use hip-hop in the great music traditions of the African Diaspora. The music seeks to speak to the harsh but sweet realities of everyday life; to encourage an elevation of the spirit, and to inspire a commitment to social change.

Set in Pittsburgh, Pa., the film opens with Hamza’s words (played over a hip-hop track by his group, M-Team): “I would always have two consistent dreams my whole life; one, that I was gonna experience death at the age of 21, the other that I was gonna be in jail, and then, both of them came true.”

He describes his conversion to Islam at the age of 21 as a “death of all my past, the negative.” Hamza finds Islam on the same street corners where he hustled as a drug dealer, and as a Muslim, he returns to the streets to offer a way out to the “30 below”: young, black and Latino men under age 30 who see drugs as their only path to the American Dream.

Inspired by his spiritual awakening, Hamza seeks to “move the crowd” as he himself was moved. And in many ways, his story is the quintessential hip-hop track, a journey from the rags of ignorance and desperation to the riches of knowledge and empowerment.

Eventually, Hamza does make it to jail, but it is not as an inmate as he had anticipated. Instead, he winds up as a chaplain providing spiritual guidance to prisoners of all faiths.Yet, Hamza’s story also extends beyond his religious community. His struggles echo the realities of many young Latino and black men. His mother, Gladys Perez, is a single parent who worked two jobs to keep her children in Catholic school and off the streets in a local community that lacked the economic, educational and political resources to support her.

In the face of these familiar circumstances, Hamza, then only known as Jason, chooses a likely path, drug dealing, which he later successfully rejects. Yet, Hamza’s gritty life story also has its softer side. Pushing back against two popular stereotypes—sexist Muslim men and absent “baby daddies”—Hamza is lovingly building a blended family, made up of his two children from a previous marriage and his African-American wife, Rafiah, and her daughter. In the film, he is seen cracking jokes as he rubs his abuela's feet. It is a story resonating beyond Muslim and hip-hop audiences. At numerous screenings, whether national or international, it is clear that viewers are moved deeply by Hamza’s growth as a Muslim and as a man. Because at its core, the New Muslim Cool is about the struggle to respond to adversity with your better self. It’s about finding beauty in the least expected places. Set over the treble and funk, it tells a story we can all relate to, about the complexities of what it means to be imperfectly human. New Muslim Cool premieres on PBS tonight. Check local listings.

Suad Abdul Khabeer is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.

see also:
new muslim cool
new muslim cool (trailer #2)
boricua rappers drop anti-imperialist album
more M-team

Friday, June 12, 2009

heru in jamaica

Here is a roughly two hour discussion/interview/talk with Heru (whom we've talked about before) for a Jamaican TV show. Topics include: anti-black violence in Jamaican music, homosexuality in dancehall, the roots of Rastafari and Halie Selassie, the significance of Obama's election, and in general he gives a pretty good articulation of a (not "the") Pan-African outlook on politics, economics, and current events. He has a lot of positive things to say which are worth thinking about. At the same time, it was weird for me to hear his affected "Jamaican" accent. I imagine that he's either making a conscious choice to speak that way because of his involvement in dub and reggae or he's picking it up honestly because of how much time he is spending in the West Indies or with working with Caribbean people. He touches a little on his own religious beliefs but I would be really interested in hearing an indepth discussion of Ausar Auset (if that's the path he is on)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

mos def: no hay nada mas

From his new album "The Ecstatic", here is Mos Def rapping in Spanish (I think he sounds like Tego Calderon):

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

bart simpson's ex commits suicide? Scientologist and Nancy Cartwright Ex, Steve Brackett Jumps To His Death — Cover Up and Conspiracy To Follow

According to, Steve Brackett, the ex-boyfriend/fiancee of Nancy Cartwright, killed himself last month by jumping from a bridge. Of course, any death is a tragedy, especially a suicide. But according to Glosslip the Church of Scientology was initially promoting the cover story that Brackett died in a head-on collision.

Some have argued that the cover story was a way to show compassion to Brackett's family while others have suggested cover story was put out because Brackett was at a relatively high level in the Church and his suicide would belie Scientology's promise of spiritual advancement.

More specifically, Scientology claims that the main cause of human misery is something called the "reactive mind" and by following the practices of Scientology (and in most cases by paying for expensive materials and services) one can eliminate the reactive mind and reach the state of "clear". After reaching "clear" one can continue on to the OT (operating thetan) levels where one is supposed to be able to "control or operate thought, life, matter, energy, space and time" whether he has a body or not. These higher Operating Thetan levels are numbered OTI, OTII, OTIII, etc. up to OTVIII (currently).

For comparison, according to Scientology Jesus (as) was a "shade above" clear but not quite an operating thetan while Tom Cruise and John Travolta are at OTVII.

But going back to Brackett, he was also at one of the operating thetan levels where he should have moved beyond the reactive mind and the ultimate cause of unhappiness. (Which raises the obvious question of how someone who had progressed past clear could be driven to the point of suicide).

Monday, June 08, 2009

mevlevis in miami

I finally went to my first local Mevlevi gathering. So far I think that it will be good for me on multiple levels. One of the many interesting things about the group is that most of the participants are Latino and almost everyone is Spanish-speaking. I grew up going to a Spanish/English bilingual church and it was interesting to "be religious/spiritual" in Spanish again. It was sort of a spiritual homecoming of sorts.

Friday, June 05, 2009

obama speech in cairo

Huffington Post: Obama Speech In Cairo (VIDEO, Full Text)

i love hip-hop in morocco

I Love Hip-Hop in Morocco is a documentary film project about the hop-hop scene in Morocco and the attempt to organize the first Moroccan hip-hop music festival. Very Grenada-esque. It never ceases to surprise me how much hop-hop has been able to spread to other societies, adapt and innovate.

see also: planet grenada and islam and hip-hop

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

the murder of george tiller

You may have heard of how this weekend Dr. George Tiller became the most recent victim of Christian (specifically anti-abortion) terrorism in the US. It will be interesting to see how this form of terrorism will be treated by the general public and the current administration. I wonder if, had this occurred under George W. Bush's rule, the government would have declared members of militant right-wing groups in the US as "enemy combatants" and sent them to Guantanamo?

In the wake of Tiller's murder, most anti-abortion groups and many individuals have strongly condemned the murder of Tiller and have acknowledged some of the excesses of the pro-life movement, but at least a few (e.g. Fox personality Bill O'Reilly and Operation Rescue founder George Terry have given comments which ranged from the ambiguous to unapologetic.

What I found really disturbing was a bit of analysis from an LA Times piece, "Abortion doctor George Tiller is killed" as follows:

UC Davis sociology professor Carole Joffe said that the worst period of violence against abortion providers was during Clinton's tenure, and that attacks dwindled under President George W. Bush, when the movement had an ally in the White House. But now, with a president who supports abortion rights and a Democratic Congress, she said, some abortion foes may be feeling hopeless.

"When social movements feel they're not getting anywhere, they get desperate," she said, adding that the vast majority of antiabortion activists reject violence. "This is deeply tragic but unsurprising."

So does this mean that for the rest of Obama's tenure we can expect more and more of the fascist/ militant/ racist /far-right wing crazies to come out the woodwork?

Planet Grenada eric robert rudolph
LA Times: A history of violence on the antiabortion fringe
Huffington: Bill O'Reilly Crusaded Against George Tiller For Years