Wednesday, April 28, 2010

south park, the "four morons" and cnn

From Loonwatch: South Park, the “Four Morons” of Revolution Muslim, and CNN’s Epic Fail provides still more important background to the South Park controversy. Including:

1. The founder of Revolution Muslim (Yusuf al-Khattab born Joseph Cohen) wasn't just a typical young modern secular young adult who happened to be Jewish but he was living in Israel as a Zionist settler and a member of the right-wing Shas party. Then in less than three years he and his family converted to Islam and he went back to the US to found Revolution Muslim.

2. Even in the Muslim world, images of the prophet are not unheard of and the ruling on their impermisability is neither universal nor absolute. (Although it is obviously dominant).

3. The Salman Rushdie Affair was partially exacerbated by political contests between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Similarly the Danish cartoon controversy wasn't just about depicting the prophet but the fact that many of the depictions were caricatures which relied on racist imagery or contained underlying messages which were bigoted towards Muslims. (And hate speech is illegal in much of Europe).

4. Christians have their sacred cows too. For example, the play Corpus Christi which depicted Jeuss as a homosexual has been cancelled several times due to Christian death-threats. And apparently witch hunts are on the upswing in some of the Christian parts of Africa.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

south park, censorship and depictions of muhammad (saaws)

1. First, to put the issue in perspective: over the run of the series there have been 5 South Park episodes to deal with images of Muhammad (saaws). The first came out before the Danish cartoon controversy and was irreverent but still basically positive. (Muhammad along with other major religious figures were part of a superhero team called the Super Best Friends which fought against the suicide cult of Blainetology.)

2. The other 4 episodes (two 2-part stories) were written after the Danish cartoon controversy. And even though controversies around depicting the prophet Muhammad formed a central element of both plots, neither story actually showed Muhammad on-screen.

3. Let me emphasize: The recent South Park episode (both as originally intended by the South Park creators and after Comedy Central chose to modify the episode) never included images of Muhammad in the first place. If Comedy Central was purely concerned for the safety of their employees they could have emphasized this fact in some kind of disclaimer and pointed out that they actually didn't break the taboo regarding images of the prophet. Instead they decided to draw attention to the episode by bleeping out every mention of the name of Muhammad and then extensively censoring an entire speech (on free speech no less) which didn't even include Muhammad's name.

4. The New York-based Revolution Muslim (the "radical" Islamic group serving as catalyst for the current controversy) never actually threatened the creators of South Park or the staff at Comedy Central.

Their actual message reads:
We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.

5. Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR has apparently suggested that Revolution Muslim is part of a conspiracy to make Muslims look bad. I wouldn't necessarily go that far but I have noticed that the only members/spokespeople from the group which I've seen on tv or online have been young white converts (mostly Jewish) and I can imagine how they might feel extra pressure to prove their Islam by adopting radical positions.

6. It is also important to view this issue in a larger context. There is not a simple dichotomy between a "free" Western world and a non-free Muslim world. We should note the "sacred cows" which exist in the West and the constraints on speech.

7. In previous posts I've already mentioned how Comcast quietly censors some of the content it provides to subscribers or how the corporate media in general doesn't always give important stories the attention they deserve.

8. And in Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, Chomsky actually argues that in the US full freedom of speech isn't really achieved until the late 1960s or the early 1970s. Before then, laws like the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Smith Act put limits on even peaceful speech. For example, Eugene V. Debs spent 10 years in jail for speaking out against the Wilson administration.

Even the famous "clear and present danger" test was really more a matter of the glass being half-empty. The test comes from the case Schenck v. United States. The ruling from this case is also the origin of the statement "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." But what most people (myself included) don't always realize about this case is that in it, the Supreme Court actually upholds the conviction of Charles Schenck for distributing leaflets against the draft. In other words, merely expressing the political opinion "Hey, maybe the government shouldn't draft its citizens" was viewed as the clear and present danger.

It wasn't until 1964 that the Alien and Sedition Acts were explicitly ruled as unconstitutional. And it wasn't until 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio that the Supreme Court rules that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action. (btw, this is a line that Revolution Muslim is careful not to cross.)

9. In Europe, of course, one of the sacred cows is the Holocaust and so many European countries make compromises with freedom of speech through laws against Holocaust denial.

10. My point with the last few items is just that every society (including the West) is struggling with free speech and its limits and in no society is the right to free speech pure and absolute. Even in the West, we are moving along a continuum and the most we can say is "this is where we are".

Alt.Muslim: South Park and the freedom to blaspheme By Aziz Poonawalla
TAM: South Park Cartoon and the Muslim Lunatic Fringe by Sheila Musaji
No freak-out over South Park by Zahed Amanullah
On the Danish cartoons from a while back: the dirty dozen

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

when is a conservative not a conservative?

For a while now I've been thinking about political labels and how we use them.

1. Firstly, our public language for describing the range of political opinion is pretty impoverished. Right/Left and Conservative/Liberal is too simplistic. For example on the "right" we have a number of different partially-overlapping groups: conservative, neoconservative, paleoconservative, social conservative, fiscal conservative, fascist, Republican, libertarian, Neo-Confederate, etc. You also have some on the "right" aren't really advocating for a vision of society with any depth, they are basically just anti-liberals (e.g. The Party of No),

2. On the "left" you have liberals, Democrats, Greens, progressives, different flavors of Anarchism and Socialism, pro-labor types. You also have folks who want to level the playing field, especially around certain issues: gender, race, orientation, religion, etc.

3. In the past I've argued that in some basic ways Islam leans to the left (see take a step to the left) especially if you focus on race and class. The community of Muslims is in principle a transracial brotherhood and the ideal Muslim government is a kind of welfare state which, while allowing private property, puts a number of ethical constraints on the use and abuse of wealth.

4. On the other hand, I was recently reading about the more traditional wings of the conservative movement (e.g. Paleoconservatives) and was struck by how one could argue that in a philosophical and abstract sense Islam is "conservative" as well. The idea of following the sunnah of Muhammad (saaws) in ones personal life, building society on the pattern of Medina, following a madhab and other forms of traditional scholarship are basically conservative moves.

5. When Muslims look to the past, we mainly mean precolonial times, e.g. Andalusia or the Ottoman Empire.

6. Another positive kind of "conservativism" which is often connected to Islam is Perennialism / Traditionalism

7. Of course when modern American "conservatives" look to the past for models of an ideal society they generally mean pre-Civil Rights era, or pre-New Deal, or in some cases pre-Emancipation.

8. Even on the Right, I would argue that very few are genuine conservatives in original sense of following Edmund Burke's thoughtful criticism of the French Revolution. In fact, the self-identified "Conservatives" on Fox News and in the Tea Party probably shouldn't even go under that name. They are more accurately described as anti-liberals.

9. I'm in the middle of reading a collection of Chomsky talks and interviews called "Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky" and I'm intrigued by how he calls himself a libertarian (among other things). That's actually a part of what sparked this post. We should try harder to understand the precise meanings of various political terms and use them correctly. Terms like "libertarian" and "conservative" should be appropriated by the Left when they apply.

10. On the other hand it is bizarre to me how multiple voices on FOX have been arguing that Fascism is a left-wing ideology. Even less coherent is the term Islamo-Fascism. It is like they don't care about what words mean and have basically resorted to name-calling.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

my name is not khan

Dear Concerned Muslim American Community Member:

As Salaamu Alaykum. In February of this year, a new Bollywood film, My Name is Khan, opened in U.S. theaters. Although it is claimed that the film promotes tolerance and understanding, My Name is Khan presents our diverse and dynamic American Muslim community through a "Good Muslim/Bad Muslim" lens that does an injustice to our community and reproduces racist stereotypes about African Americans. For a cogent review of the film, please read Su'ad Abdul Khabeer’s article “Khan Breaks New Stereotypes (but Reinforces Old Ones)” featured on

Despite the problematic depictions of Muslims and non-Muslim African Americans in My Name is Khan, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has decided to honor this film by awarding it the prestigious Voices of Courage & Conscience Media Award at the 19th Annual MPAC Foundation Media Awards on May 1, 2010. This is particularly alarming because of MPAC Foundation’s stated goal of honoring media and artists committed to positive portrayals of Islam and Muslims, promoting diversity and social justice issues, and inspiring action. Yet, it is precisely because of the trust many Muslim Americans have placed in MPAC that we cannot let this kind of dehumanization and historical erasure go unchallenged.

Yesterday, April 14th 2010, a letter was sent to MPAC's Executive Director, Staff, and Board of Directors by a collective of concerned American Muslims to express disappointment with their choice and urged the MPAC Foundation Board to rescind the award. Please see the attached letter to review the detailed critique of the film, the reasonable demand made of MPAC, and the list of Original Signatories. MPAC’s leadership has stated its willingness to seriously consider the letter’s contents and the support it garners. If you would like to add your name to the list of Signatories, please email your name and organization (or location) to We will periodically update MPAC with the extended list of new signatories.

We have been informed that the MPAC Foundation Board will be convening within a couple of days to make a formal decision on their response to the film critique and the reasonable demands, which we believe to be both morally and ethically correct. Leading up to the Board decision, we invite like-minded individuals to contact the MPAC Los Angeles Office to express their concerns with MPAC Foundation's decision to honor My Name is Khan and for them to reconsider their actions. You can contact MPAC by calling (213) 383-3443 during business hours (PST), or email the MPAC Communications Director at Our expectation is that the force of our collective voices will empower MPAC to make the choice that reflects their broader organizational goals and legacy––to rescind the Award. Insha’Allah, this will also present an opportunity for some much needed consciousness-raising around issues of race, class, media and civic engagement in the Muslim American community.

FiamanAllah y Pa’lante,

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer
Princeton University

Arshad I. Ali, Ph.D.
UCLA Graduate School of Education

Jihad Saleh Williams, MPA
Congressional Muslim Staffers Association

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

queloides / keloids


Queloides/Keloids is an art exhibit that seeks to contribute to current debates about the persistence of racism in contemporary Cuba and elsewhere in the world. The exhibit will be hosted at the Centro Wifredo Lam in Havana (April 16-May 31, 2010), then transferred to the Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh (October 8, 2010- February 27, 2011). The twelve artists invited to participate are renowned for their critical work on issues of race, discrimination, and identity. Several of them collaborated in three important exhibits in Havana between 1997 and 1999 (titled “Keloids I”, “Keloids II”, and “Neither Musicians nor Athletes”). The last two were curated by the late Cuban art critic Ariel Ribeaux. All these exhibits dealt with issues of race and racism in contemporary Cuba, issues that had been taboo in public debates in the island for decades.

“Keloids” are wound-induced, pathological scars. Although any wound may result in keloids, many people in Cuba believe that the black skin is particularly susceptible to them. Thus the title evokes the persistence of racial stereotypes, on the one hand, and the traumatic process of dealing with racism, discrimination, and centuries of cultural conflict, on the other hand. Queloides/Keloids includes several art forms--paintings, photographs, installations, sculptures, videos--and offers novel ways to ridicule and to dismantle the so-called racial differences.

claim that all terrorists are muslims ignores history

The American Muslim: Claim that all terrorists are Muslims ignores history - updated 4/7/2010 by Sheila Musaji is a pretty extensive and varied set of links on non-Muslim religious violence and/or terrorism.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

who are "they"?

Who Are ‘They’? by Imam Zaid Shakir

To a large extent, “they” are simply a microcosmic mirror image of the extremist violence perpetrated by a hegemonic state dominated by elites that have reserved the right to use high-tech military machinery to systematically decimate countries, rip apart their social fabrics and directly or indirectly kill hundreds of thousands of people, as has happened in Iraq.

In that country, “they” might be the relative of someone who died of typhoid or diarrhea from drinking sewage-contaminated water because “we” thought it a noble stratagem of war to destroy that country’s sanitation system during the 1991 Desert Storm operation. “They” might be someone whose home was blown away during the “Shock and Awe” campaign that inaugurated the current war in March 2003. Maybe “they” know of Abeer Hamza al-Janabi, the 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was gang raped by a company of US Army soldiers, who then murdered her and her entire family, including her 6-year-old sister, Hadeel, and burned their bodies to hide the evidence of their gruesome crime.

Perhaps “they” are from Afghanistan. Maybe the callousness “they” display toward life is a reflection of the callousness we displayed when we built the “Jihad” movement to repel the Soviet invaders of that land during the 1980s, and after accomplishing that mission callously walked away, leaving the country to endure almost a decade of murderous anarchy that culminated in the rise of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Perhaps the alienation “they” display is a pathetic parody of the Mujahideen “we” created.

Maybe “they” are rotting in a slum in Casablanca or Cairo, or festering in a classroom in Lagos or Lahore, and “they” have seen images from Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Gaza. When “their” anger is combined with the angst generated by globalized economic forces “they” cannot understand, forces that have marginalized and in some cases rendered irrelevant their lives and their religion, the two sources of meaning in the world “they” thought “they” had inherited from “their” forefathers, “they” are easy prey to skilled recruiters who promise “them” both meaning in this world, and a free pass to Paradise in the next by mindlessly striking out at what “they” are led to believe is the source of “their” misery.

“They” probably have never stopped to reflect on how violence is used by neofascist pundits and politicians to advance a climate of fear and misunderstanding that makes it more likely that even ordinarily well-meaning Americans will support policies that will lead to more bombing, maiming and murdering of Muslims—and eventually others—all around the globe. For this small minority, “their” obsession with Islam as a political ideology probably renders “them” totally oblivious to the religious message of Islam as a historical world religion that advances the sanctity of life, especially the life of innocent, noncombatant peoples, the refinement of the spirit and patient, dignified, principled resistance when confronted with the usurping vagaries of “their” fellow humans.

see also:
In These Times: Why Do They Want to Do Us Harm?
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

haki madhubuti forced from chicago state university

Chicago Sun-Times: Infighting, injustice at Chicago State by Mary Mitchell.

Based on what I've read above and elsewhere there is more than meets the eye in this particular conflict so I'm not taking sides except to say that it is sad that someone of Haki Madhubuti's status is leaving Chicago State. I used to work there myself many moons ago and have thought about going back. But reading about the above situation is making me feel a little less positive about the climate on campus.

obama guantanamo escape

Obama Guantanamo Escape is a silly point-and-click game which is part of a series (available in both English and Spanish) by Inka Games. Apparently, Bush the Second dons an Obama-mask an is running the country while the real Obama has been thrown into Guantanamo and has to figure out how to get out.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

thoughts on the hutaree

I wanted to be eloquent at first but now I think I should just speak:

1. I don't like guns. I've seen the bad side of having them around in my family and probably wouldn't have one in my home.

2. That said, I can see the theoretical value of militia-like organizations. For example, Robert F. Williams' classic Negroes With Guns gives a persuasive argument for the importance of Black armed self-defense in the racist South. Later, inspired by Williams' example, the Black Panthers add to the argument in their own way. However, in 2010 Post-Obama America, it doesn't seem like guns are a necessary tactic in terms of African-American empowerment.

3. The problem with the Hutaree and the other Christian militia groups is not that they are into guns but that they have an unrealistic narrative of American history which is basically patriarchal, jingoistic and racist (and on top of that, they have guns).

4. Some American Christians want to distance themselves from the Christian militias and say that the Hutaree are non-Christian. I think this is ridiculous. Of course the Hutaree are Christians. So are the other Christian militias (racist or otherwise). So is the Klan. So is The Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. Of course, in 21st Century United States the views of such groups aren't representative of mainstream Christianity. But every family has their black sheep.

5. Like any living thing, Christianity changes and develops over time and the line between extreme and mainstream changes with it. For example, the beliefs held by the Klan may seem extreme now, but they were probably fairly typical in the pro-segregation, pro-slavery Christian churches during the earlier part of this country's history.

6. In a similar way, the Crusaders, who were certainly approved by mainstream Christianity in their day, are not all that different from the Hutaree in the sense that their concept of Christianity has been combined with a literal physical preparation for military conflict.

7. The Bible is a rich book and is complex enough that one can use it to almost defend any position. One can certainly make an argument that the central message of Christianity is love and not violence. On the other hand it is also easy to point to the genocidal commandments of Deuteronomy which were vividly executed in the book of Joshua or Samson's suicide attack against the Philistines/ Palestinians described in the book of Judges to find messages with a more martial content.

afrolatinos: the documentary

This is a trailer for an upcoming documentary on the Black diaspora in several Latin American countries. Judging from the trailer, the documentary seems like it is probably well-made but I honestly doubt if much of it will be terribly surprising. What seems more interesting (at least to me) is that the production company behind the film , Creador Pictures seems tao be behind a number of smaller projects (videos and documentaries) which focus on specific examples of Afrolatin culture (e.g. Panamanian reggae, Colombian hip-hop, etc.)

excerpt from the acts of john

Thus, my beloved, having danced with us the Lord went forth. And we as men gone astray or dazed with sleep fled this way and that. I, then, when I saw him suffer, did not even abide by his suffering, but fled unto the Mount of Olives, weeping at that which had befallen. And when he was crucified on the Friday, at the sixth hour of the day, darkness came upon all the earth. And my Lord standing in the midst of the cave and enlightening it, said: John, unto the multitude below in Jerusalem I am being crucified and pierced with lances and reeds, and gall and vinegar is given me to drink. But unto thee I speak, and what I speak hear thou. I put it into thy mind to come up into this mountain, that thou mightest hear those things which it behoveth a disciple to learn from his teacher and a man from his God.

Acts of John, 97