Friday, December 31, 2010

black asgardians... yeaaaaaaah boy!

You may have heard that in the upcoming Thor film the very black actor Idris Elba will play the Norse god Heimdall. (Apparently Flavor Flav's silly Viking cap wasn't just part of a minstrel show. In reality he was laying the subliminal groundwork for a more subversive objective).

Of course, there are some racists who are objecting to the casting decision but (even apart from the basic fact that racism is stupid) if you actually read the comic books there are some interesting reasons to support the unconventional casting.

First of all, the "gods" of Asgard aren't human in the first place so you can't really argue that they are really white or black. In fact, in some parts of the Marvel mulitverse, (the Earth X continuity) the Asgardians are shapeshifting extraterrestrials whose forms change with the perception of others. Secondly, in Marvel Comics' Lost Gods storyline the gods of Asgard are given human identities and in Heimdall's case, he became a Latino man named Donald Velez. Thirdly, in a more recent storyline, after Asgard is destroyed in Ragnarok, Heimdall takes on the form of a Katrina survivor named Ezra. (both personas lost their homes in cataclysmic ways). In any case, the bottom line is based on the comics, the idea of a black Heimdall actually isn't so strange.

Racialicious: Thor Losers: ‘Christian’ Group Aghast At Idris Elba’s Godliness
Guardian: White supremacists urge Thor boycott over casting of black actor as Norse god
The Root: White Supremacist Group Boycotting 'Thor' Because of Elba Casting

Thursday, December 30, 2010

cuba and zimbabwe and hip-hop politcs

The editorial, Cuba and Zimbabwe: Hip-Hop’s Defining Foreign Policy Issue In 2011 by Cedric Muhammad gives an interesting glimpse of the connections between music, politics and Pan-Africanism.

young, muslim and black

better late than never...

Huff Post: Ashura: Shi'a Islam's Day of Sorrow and Inspiration
BBC: Young Muslims urged to give blood during Muharram
BBC: Afghans donate blood for Ashura

What I found most interesting about this is the way that blood donation is being suggested as a "modern" way to replace the self-flagellation which "traditionally" accompanies Ashura.

rumi anniversary

Whirling Dervishes Celebrate Rumi Anniversary

Friday, December 24, 2010

"how come you ain't got no brothers up on the wall?"... oh, there they are...

The Root: The Black Magi and Other Black Religious figures in European Christmas Art

the hajj and the apartheid train

The Hajj and the Apartheid Train: Where Is the Muslim Outrage? by Ziyad Motola reflects on the ways in which modern Saudi society has gone against Islamic ideals of egalitarianism. This is particularly exemplified in the comfortable train which takes Saudi and Gulf state citizens to the holy sites during hajj, while other Muslims must either walk or take the bus,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

qui-gon, islam and narnia

In a recent interview Liam Neeson (who voices the voice of Aslan in the Narnia films and Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars prequal films) has gotten into a bit of "trouble" with exclusive-minded Christians because he said:

Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.

As far as I can tell, many voices in the Christian/conservative blogosphere seem to be taking the position that Liam Neeson is simply stupid, but I would tend to argue that the issue is a bit more complex. On the one hand, C.S. Lewis was obviously a Christian and intended Aslan to represent Jesus, the Conquering Lion of Judah.

But in an old post over at Islamicate you can find a tongue-in-cheek argument that C.S. Lewis is Muslim and that Aslan is best seen as an allegory for Imam Ali (after all, "Aslan" is actually Persian for "lion" and one of Ali's titles is the Lion of God).

More support for Liam Neeson's inclusive position can be found in the Narnia books themselves and how they present Aslan as a being with multiple forms and names. (And a previous Grenada post actually explores the idea, held by some Muslims, that essentially the same light that shone through Muhammad (saaws) shone through all the prophets, including Jesus (as)). In The Last Battle, Lewis seems to endorse the concept of the anonymous Christian when he describes the encounter between Aslan and Emeth (a visitor from a neighboring country who was worshiping "another" God named Tash all his life):

"Then I [Emeth] fell at his [Aslan's] feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, 'Son, thou art welcome.' But I said, 'Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.' He answered, 'Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.' Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, 'Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that though and Tash are one?'The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, 'It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites - I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, child?'

So arguably, according to Lewis, the good deeds of the Muslim and the Buddhist are accepted and rewarded by God, whether they are done in the name of Christ or not.

As a counterpoint, some might argue that Lewis' views about Muslims are suggested in his descriptions of the Calormen who worship the demon-God Tash. Calormenes are described as dark-skinned, with the men mostly bearded. Flowing robes, turbans and wooden shoes with an upturned point at the toe are common items of clothing, and the preferred weapon is the scimitar. Their country is bordered, on the north, by a Great Desert. When people like Philip Pullman (the author of the "anti-Narnia" series, His Dark Materials) criticize the Narnia books as racist, the argument is basically about this group.

So we are left with a weird sort of tension... if we assume C.S. Lewis believes in the concept of the anonymous Christian (or as Matthew 25 says, those who are welcomed into God's kingdom because of how they treated "the least of these") then, at least theoretically, Lewis believes in the salvation of the "good Muslim". On the other hand, his, arguably racist, depiction of the Calormen leaves one wondering how he really felt about flesh-and-blood Middle Easterners, Persians, Africans, etc.

The Guardian: All is well with Narnia (which deals with the Liam Neeson "gaffe") The Last Battle (with a discussion of Lewis' racism re: the Calormen)
This Ain't Livin': Red Dwarf, Black Dwarf: The Racial Overtones of Narnia
Beliefnet: The Lion, the Muslim, and the Dryer by Dilshad Ali

Planet Grenada:
pride of baghdad
the devil and al-hallaj
harry potter and the last review
harry potter and the magic of whiteness
bell hooks v. harry potter

the scholarly hooligan (and kick-ass poet)

Just giving a shout out for Logic the Poet (known as The Scholarly Hooligan on my blogroll). He's been mentioned (without being named) on my blog before (see negrophobia, hope and gasoline and interesting weekend...) but between his blog and some YouTube channel's he's been appearing on the internet more often and so I thought I'd help him get his 15 minutes.... enjoy...

A piece on New Orleans and Katrina called "Purpose Poetry"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

heads up y'all

This Thursday coming up is the 10th of Muharram (Ashurah). It is recommended to fast on that day and to join with it either the day before or the day after.

day after day after day...
muharram facts
more muharram posts
ashurah 1428

Also, happy new year (1432)!

so apparently the elves are black... and muslim

Santa and Pete Poster
Over at Black Improvement Blogging there is an interesting post called Santa's Black Elf. They give a nice summary of some of the European legends and customs surrounding Santa Claus, especially in terms of his assistant/slave Black Peter. Depending on the time and place, St. Nicholas has been assisted by a shackled devil, a Moorish servant, a Black freedman named Peter, or six to eight black men in addition to the diminutive non-union workers (elves) we are familiar with in the United States. In the film Santa and Pete this Black character is apparently portrayed as a Muslim.

And before anyone is tempted to go think that this kind of imagery is limited to white Christianity, you should probably explore the Persian character of Hajji Firuz who is often portrayed in blackface and associated with Nowruz or the Persian New Year.

see also:
the wise men

Sunday, December 05, 2010

kabbalah and jazz

The article, Kabbalah and Jazz: The Mystical Foundation of Improvisational Music reminded me of the film Happy Feet and how every penguin has their own unique heartsong when it says:
In his great work To Heal the Soul, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira wrote that all humans each have their own unique musical ladder -- a distinct melody that allows one to draw down spiritual sustenance into this world. This melody is exclusive and in essence can not be performed by anyone else. He believes that it is so individualized that to use someone else's ladder is like putting someone else's saliva into your mouth to sing. This concept is so ubiquitous, so universal, that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov went as far as to say that each and every blade of grass has its own unique melody as well.

For more reflections on jazz and spirituality from an Islamic perspective.
all that jazz...
the writings of yusef lateef
the philosophy of ahmed abdul-malik

my name is khan (finally saw it)

A few months ago, without actually having seen the film, I had posted some links/letters regarding the movie My Name is Khan and the controversial decision by the Muslim Public Affairs Council to honor the film with its "Voices of Courage and Conscience" Media Award. (see my name is not khan and my name is still not khan ). The film has been described as a kind of "Muslim Forrest Gump" where the hero, Rizvan Khan, a Muslim man with Asperger Syndrome is on a mission to meet the President of the United States and tell him "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist."

Now that I have seen the movie (thanks to the used DVD bin at Blockbuster) I'm in a better position to appreciate what the disagreement was about. I totally see Su’ad Abdul Khabeer's point about the film. It's portrayal of African-Americans in rural Georgia was definitely archaic, stereotypical and problematic. And in spite of the criticisms which can still be made about how Hollywood deals with race, one would be hard pressed to find a contemporary American film which portrays Blacks in such a fashion.

But My Name is Khan, is most definitely not an American film It is an Indian-centered film for an Indian audience. So even though most of the film was set in the United States, most of the dialogue was in Hindi or Urdu and most of the subjects/agents in the film were of Indian descent; Indian store owners, professors, motel managers, news reporters, and doctors, etc. (so "of course" the African-American characters will be poorly fleshed out stereotypes).

In fact, it wouldn't really be correct to call it a "pro-Muslim" film. From an early scene in the movie we see Rizvan Khan's mother teach him explicitly that there is no difference between Muslim and Hindu. There are just two kinds of people in the world, good people and bad people. And so we see many examples of "bad Muslims" (e.g. a terrorist recruiter speaking in a mosque, a Muslim couple who are too embarrassed to pray in front of non-Muslims, Rizvan's jealous and then estranged brother Zakir) and good non-Muslims (Rizvan's Hindu wife and stepson, the white couple who befriend them, different Sikh and Hindu Indian-Americans who support Khan on his journey). In fact, we see many more examples of Hindus and Sikhs being victimized in the post-9/11 environment than we see of Muslims. (And African-American Muslims are absent).

Basically I think our evaluation of the film depends entirely on where we choose to set the bar. If we want to compare My Name is Khan to more typical Hollywood portrayals of Muslims (see planet of the arabs) then of course we would say that MNIK is wonderful. And I would actually say that, except for the scenes involving African-Americans, MNIK is basically a fun, entertaining, Bollywood film. But if we demand a higher degree of excellence, and especially if the film is to receive an award from a major Muslim-American organization because of its "courage" and "conscience" I think it is fair to hold the film to a higher standard. And by that standard, the other winners of the 2010 MPAC Courage and Conscience Media Award were more deserving.

In fact, looking at past winners of the award, I'm tempted to think that some other cultural productions and performances are more deserving... Don Cheadle in Traitor for instance or Keith David as Abu 'Imam' al-Walid in the Chronicles of Riddick. Some more controversial alternative choices might be Amir Sulaiman, the film New Muslim Cool, Mos Def and K'naan on Austin City Limits, Lupe Fiasco and others. Lets hope that MPAC is more "courageous" when it gives out awards in the future.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

entrapment or foiling terror?

Democracy Now!: Entrapment or Foiling Terror? FBI’s Reliance on Paid Informants Raises Questions about Validity of Terrorism Cases This is a slightly older article about the Newburgh Four which I had never got around to posting. It seemed timely because of the concerns about entrapment in the Mohamed Osman Mohamud case.

explosive weekend

Speaking of bombs, there have been several "explosive" stories in the news lately which will probably raise some interesting questions regarding how the media covers terrorism and violence from Muslims and non-Muslims.

On the one hand you have the occasional-beer-drinking Somali teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud who was recently arrested in a sting-operation. Mohamud's "plan" was to detonate a van full of explosives near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. But he was never actually in touch with any international terrorists. His "co-conspirators" were FBI agents who gave him inert explosives for the "attack"... so the public was never in actual danger. Of course, there is a question of possible entrapment. In fact, he originally got on the FBI's radar in the first place because his Muslim father was worried about changes in his son's behavior and personality and alerted some government officials. So instead of doing an intervention or finding some other constructive way to direct this confused and restless young man to channel his energy into something peaceful and positive, officials chose to fan the flames, get a notch on their belt, and ruin this kids life for the next couple of decades.

On the other hand you have George Djura Jakubec, a 54 year-old Serbian national and computer software consultant who a was apparently using his home to stockpile the largest collection of homemade explosives (e.g. PETN and HMTD) ever gathered in U.S. history. Authorities are still investigating the case but the explosives involved are apparently so unstable that the investegators are reluctant about rushing into the house. Also, it seems as if Jakubec isn't Muslim so it will be interesting to see whether this case will change the public narrative about Muslims and profiling. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Finally (and this is more of an epilogue to the first story) an Oregon mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud "occasionally" went for prayers suffered an arson attack after it became associated with the failed car bomb incident in the subsequent news reports. (Note, that out of the three situations mentioned, this is the only actual completed act of terrorism.

Let's keep an eye on how each of these stories is covered/presented in the media.

Greenwald: FBI Thwarts its Own Terrorist Plot
Oregon Muslim leaders fear retribution after plot
US probing arson at mosque for ties to Somali case
Investigation Of Giant Home 'Bomb Factory' Suspended Over Dangerous Conditions
Largest cache of PETN explosives found on Thanksgiving Day

Planet Grenada's Past:
on joe (joseph) stack
the murder of george tiller
eric robert rudolph
miami and the seas of david
juan cole on the miami group
amish drug rings or why profiling is really stupid