Sunday, June 27, 2010

more on the ex-muslim industry

In the current political and cultural climate it has become lucrative for many individuals from Muslim backgrounds (and the corresponding cache, authenticity and authority which comes with that) to become critics of Islam and the Muslim world. Recently some of my fellow bloggers have commented on some recent events regarding the ex-Muslim industry.

Marc Manley over at the Manrilla blog, in his entry "Oh, if only I were Dust!" shares a clip of an interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by Tavis Smiley. In a refreshing change of pace, Tavis refused to endorse Ali's generalizations about Islam and counter-balanced her comments with violence carried by Christians in the West. To watch or read the transcript for the entire interview, click here.

The blog Islamicate also had a recent post simply titled: the ex-Muslim industry

Finally, following up on a post of mine, also entitled the ex-Muslim industry which focused on Ergun Caner, then Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary; Son of a Turkish father and Swedish mother, he converted to Christianity as a teenager and became a minister. But after 9/11 he rose to prominence by exaggerating the Muslim aspects of his biography. After a number of both Muslim and Christian bloggers were able to detail inconsistencies in his biography and the story was picked up by the mainstream press, Liberty University was moved to formally investigate the matter and the results were announced this Friday. Basically he lost his position as Dean but he will still be a Professor in the Fall.

I wonder if the fallout from this will affect his brother Emir Caner? Emir is currently President of Truett-McConnell (a Baptist school). I've seen clips of Emir and Ergun appearing together and telling a shared story backing one another up. But as the younger brother it is possible that he was less willing/able to embellish (he was definitely born and raised in Ohio so it was harder to talk about being raised in Turkey).

See also:
the trouble with irshad manji for a take on someone who taps into the same ex-muslim industry money while still asserting a muslim identity.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

umar ibrahim vadillo on gold and paper money

I've read about Umar Ibrahim Vadillo for a while now but I've actually never seen or heard him until recently. He's a part of the Murabitun movement which I've referenced before. In this clip he speaks on the importance of zakat. He is also critical of the use of paper money and favors currency based on gold and silver.

See also: Paper Money: A Legal Judgment by Umar Ibrahim Vadillo

I started to do a little bit a "research" on this subject online and apparently Vadillo's argument has more weight behind it than I first realized. Previously I more or less assumed this was an odd minority opinion only held by the Murabitun. (In some ways that it is still the case, at least in terms of people who are willing to say that paper money is out and out haram) But one can also find older scholars who seem to treat the use of paper money as at least questionable, especially when it comes to paying zakat. It makes me wonder what a truly Shariah-compliant economic system would look like?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

an analysis of the green book

Both Ashaheed M. Muhammad's An Analysis of the Green Book and Why America Hates Qadhafi by Husayn Al-Kurdi give positive uncritical glosses of the Libyan leader and his ideology. The ideals are arguably noble, but I have to wonder how effectively they are being implemented?

al franken on the supreme court

As someone who would have been counted as 3/5 of a human being at the time, I've never really been a fan of the idea that the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted according to the original intent of the Founding Fathers. But in a recent speech, Senator Al Franken does an excellent job of debunking conservative talking points on Originalism (which is actually a novel perspective in American jurisprudence) and so-called activist judges.


Between the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo, the widespread presence of camera phones and the vanishing (or non-existence) of privacy on the internet, it has been "1984" for a very long time now. But now, in yet another Orwellian milestone, 'terror cameras' (i.e. telescreens) have been installed in Muslim neighborhoods in the UK. Originally the government gave the impression that the cameras were for more conventional "crime prevention" but it turn out that the money for the cameras came from a counter-terrorism fund and the cameras were placed primarily in Muslim neighborhoods in Birmingham. Due to local outrage, many of the cameras are currently covered with plastic bags until more discussion can happen with the community... except about 70 of the cameras are hidden and so were not covered so as to not reveal their locations.

BBC News: Birmingham terror cameras

"i guess, michael jackson was right, you are not alone" (part two)

"i guess, michael jackson was right, you are not alone"
who watches the watchers?
you are not alone

Thursday, June 17, 2010

imam zaid beyond petroleum

In Beyond Petroleum Imam Zaid Shakir writes:

[T]he Qur’an not only encourages a large degree of ecological consciousness and enlightened practices, it also warns us of the consequences of our neglect. We read:

Corruption has appeared in the land and sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought. Thus, that He may give them a taste of what they have perpetrated, in order that they return.
(Q. 30:41)

The eminent companion, Ibn ‘Abbas, mentioned that one of the meanings of this verse is that the sea would cease yielding its harvest because of the sins of humans. We live in a time when we have already seen a precipitous decline in the yield of the sea. The evolving crisis in the Gulf of Mexico threatens to destroy the seafood industry of that region. This decline can be attributed to our sins in both the metaphysical and physical sense.

imam zaid shakir on marriage

A number of other bloggers have linked to this piece under the name "The Ethics of Chivalry" but it appears on Zaid Shakir's own website with the title: Higher Ground for Our Marriages. Here is an excerpt:

Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtlessly pursues it vanities. This is something the chivalrous young man mentioned at the outset of this essay understood. It is an institution that helps a man and a woman pursue the purpose of their creation: to glorify and worship God and to work, within the extent of our capabilities and resources, to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those we will leave it to. This role is beautifully captured in the Qur’an, The believing men and women are each others supporting friends. They enjoin right, forbid wrong, establish regular prayer, pay the poor due, and they obey God and His Messenger. They expect God’s Mercy. Surely, God is Mighty, Wise. (9:71)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

takin' it to the streets 2010

Wow, I was actually blessed with being at the very first Takin' It to the Streets many years ago and it is amazing to think about how much it has blown up since then. As some have been suggesting, the time/space continuum may tear and Chicago will ascend into a ball of light...

Takin' It To the Streets Website

Summer events celebrate Muslim American spirit

more on helen thomas

Just a round-up. The first two items make the double-standard faced by Helen Thomas a bit more obvious by pointing out "acceptable bigotry" by other talking heads in the media. The third is self-explanatory. The fourth gives a more comprehensive transcript of the original exchange with Helen Thomas.

Also, just so that it is said in the universe, I was struck by how ageist the original negative reaction to Helen Thomas was. It was more than bizare to me how much those claiming to be responding to one form of prejudice were willing to engage in another.

1. Retire Ari Fleischer, Chuck Schumer & More: Bigots & Hypocrites Who Sent Helen Thomas Packing Now Need to Pack Their Own Bags
2. Helen Thomas – Double Standards Running Rampant
3. Anti-Israel Does Not Mean Anti-Semitic
4. Lazy Reporters, Politicians and Comedians Bring Helen Thomas Down as an Unquestioning Project Cheers

thoughts on the karate kid

I just saw the remake of The Karate Kid the other night. Themes of globalization were front and center. An African-American single mother from Detroit has to move to China due to her job being transferred. The film was full of beautiful scenes of the Chinese countryside as well as city life. Temples, the Forbidden City, crowds of people doing Tai-Chi in the park. Plus there were a few obligatory humorous outcroppings of Western culture in the film: Spongebob Squarepants on television (dubbed and subtitled so that Jaden Smith's character couldn't understand). And the demure violin-playing Chinese girl getting her groove on to Lady Gaga.

Jackie Chan's performance was competent but I felt his own martial arts skills were wasted against the teenage bullies. I would have wanted to see at least one face-off between him and the head of this film's version of the Cobra Kais.

Jaden Smith's performance was also respectable. My main complaint: I wish his character was more likeable but he ended up acting like a brat for much of the movie, especially in the beginning. Also, his reluctance to learn Chinese in China was not a good look. (I mean, even the blond American kid who befriends Jaden's character early in the film manages to learn Chinese! Jaden's character doesn't speak any significant amount of Chinese until he needs to be nice to the cute girl's parents.)

In fact, that leads me to an intriguing question: Does the film end up being an (African-) American version of Avatar / The Last Samurai / Dances with Wolves where the (African-) American boy who knows nothing about Kung Fu (or Chinese) ends up beating the natives in a Kung Fu competition? Is this really an old story in blackface? Or is something fundamentally different because the character in this role is Black? (Some leftists might ask the same question about Obama and U.S. foreign policy) When I stop to think about it, previous martial arts films with black protagonists (Red Belt, The Last Dragon, Ghost Dog, etc.) tend to have a different sort of dynamic; the hero respectfully uses an Asian tradition against either white or black opponents.

Some other questions which are created by transposing the story to China: In the original film it was easy to argue that the Cobra Kais, led by a racist American Vietnam veteran, were teaching a distorted form of karate. But in the remake's portrayal of China, knowledge and practice of martial arts is shown as ubiquitous, and the "Cobra Kais" are quite popular. So are they practitioners of "real" Kung Fu? Also, in one key sequence Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) takes Jaden's character to a temple to learn the source of his Kung Fu and drink from the mystical dragon well. But again, they are in China, don't the other Chinese kids in the kung fu competition have teachers who can tell them where the dragon well is?

Chinese Martial Art

Hyphen Magazine: Pat Morita's Daughter Calls for a Boycott of the new Karate Kid movie

Sunday, June 13, 2010

thoughts on helen thomas

Here is the exchange that got Helen Thomas into trouble and led to her "decision" to retire.

Rabbi DAVID F. NESENOFF (Founder, Any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today, any comments on Israel?

Ms. HELEN THOMAS (Former Columnist, Hearst News Service): Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

Rabbi NESENOFF: Ooh. Any better comments on Israel?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman: Helen has one.

Ms. THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land. Not German. It's not Poland.

Rabbi NESENOFF: So where should they go? What should they do?

Ms. THOMAS: They can go home.

Rabbi NESENOFF: Where is their home?

Ms. THOMAS: Poland...

Rabbi NESENOFF: So the Jews...

Ms. THOMAS: Germany.

Rabbi NESENOFF: You think Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?

Ms. THOMAS: And America and everywhere else.

1. I believe in free speech. I'm even happy to live in a society where individuals are able to make bigoted remarks without legal repercussion as long as there is space for more progressive voices to call out bigots on their bs.

2. Unfortunately, in terms of mic access in the popular media, there is an imbalance and some voices are constrained while others are not. Most recently, of course, we see this in the recent situation involving Helen Thomas where she is "encouraged" to retire while on a regular basis (Patrick Buchanan, Mike Huckabee, and others are able to make bigoted comments, especially against Arab/Muslims, with a great deal of impunity.)

3. I actually didn't know that Helen Thomas was Lebanese-American until this controversy came up and I'm not sure how I feel about how it is being used now. Several of the articles, columns and pieces have been mentioning Thomas' background and one can argue that it is relevant to the subject matter. On the other hand, one could argue that it is an example of playing the "race card" in order to discredit her objectivity much in the same way that anti-Obama folks would emphasize his middle name.

4. Thomas' comments were so offensive, primarily because they evoked the memory of the Holocaust but in reality, that was entirely unintentional. TODAY, there is no Holocaust in Germany and Poland and there certainly isn't one in America.

5. In spite of the offense, I think there is something salvageable in what Helen Thomas said and it would be worthwhile trying to find ways to express it more diplomatically.

6. The simple question: Where are you from? can either be answered briefly with a country or city. Or it can be answered with a 5 minute historical ethnography. In the case of Jewish citizens of Israel, answering the question can involve a rather tangled story. The oversimplified version would be to say that Jews are originally from ancient Israel. They left for a while. And now they are back.

7. Of course, in most cases "a while" is the nearly 2000 year period book-ended by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD and the founding of modern Israel in 1948. So the ancient Jews spent hundreds, if not thousands of years, in different countries, learning new languages, intermarrying into new nations, adopting new cultures, etc. In addition, some Jews are descended from groups like the Khazars who converted to Judaism in large numbers and actually have little physical connection to the people of ancient Israel.

8. So how many centuries does it take to be "from" somewhere? Is 100 years enough? 500? 1000? 1500?

9. At least in the case of Ashkenazi (literally German) and Sephardi Jews (literally from the Iberian Peninsula), at some point, they became European and have been that way for centuries. So Zionist project is arguably the last vestige of European colonialism in the region. This would especially be true in the case of Jewish settlement in the Occupied Territories which is actually a violation of international law (and is probably what Helen Thomas was referring to when she said that the Jews ought to go back home).

10. As a thought experiment, I wonder what the reaction would have been if , during apartheid, in the wake of some move by the South African government analogous to the flotilla attack, especially one where a US citizen was killed, an American journalist said that white South Africans needed to go back to the Netherlands. How would that have been received? How should that have been received?

(more thoughts later...)

Daily Kos: Helen Thomas Referring to Ashkenazi in "Poland', "Germany" Remark

Real News: Nader says reinstate Thomas

Huffington Post:
In Defense of Helen Thoms: On Apologizing to Apologists
If Helen Thomas, Then Why Not Pat Buchanan?
Good thing we've got a "free press" here

Jews should leave Palestine and return to Europe, top U.S. journalist says

Helen Thomas went over the top, but why is she gagged in the land of the free?

In Helen Thomas case, the world sees a taboo being enforced

The cautionary tale of Helen Thomas by Mark LeVine

100,000 Former Soviet Jews In Israel Return To Russia
Where Do France's Jews Belong?

Hebraization of surnames
Ashkenazi Jews
Sephardi Jews
Mizrahi Jews
Arab Jews

Friday, June 11, 2010

is lost racist? (part two)

For some more analysis of the tv show Lost, this time through an Asian/Asian-American lens, you might want to check out

Racialicious: Why I Still Watch Lost by Bao Phi
Into the Next Stage: Tragedy On ‘Lost’ by Guy Aoki

see also: is lost racist?

Friday, June 04, 2010

on critical self-definition

Washington Post
Guest Voices: On Faith
By Su'ad Abdul Khabeer
Department of Anthropology,
Princeton University

Critical Self-Definition is the most significant challenge facing American Muslim communities today. This challenge is the product of an all too popular conversation on "Muslim pathologies" i.e. a "culture of terrorism" created by institutions and individuals who benefit materially from demonizing Muslims. Unfortunately, under the pressure of this pervasive discourse many American Muslims have let this external narrative determine how they see themselves and what their communities' priorities should be.

Thus, the challenge before us is to reclaim our sense of who we are from those who believe the benefits of being American belong to only a chosen few. When Muslims engage in Critical Self-Definition we act in the world according to our own terms, rather than compelled by external threats of violence and marginality. What are these terms?

They are principles and values rooted in the Islamic intellectual tradition and the lessons we learn from the everyday work of being Muslim. Yet this process of definition on our own terms must be critical. It demands that we are serious about what it means to do the messy and difficult work of introspection. This means that Muslim communities must be open about our shortcomings, bound not by a fear of "airing dirty laundry" but by a deep commitment to eradicate social ills in our communities such as racism, misogyny, and elitism.

It also demands that rather than accept the "culture of terror" wholesale, we must critically examine the claims being made against us and stay alert to the way this narrative reinforces structural inequalities which bar not only American Muslims, but other historically excluded communities of Americans from engagement in all sectors our society. This type of consciousness allows Muslim communities, even while under the harsh glare of the spotlight, to resume the work of being human because at its root Critical Self-Definition is the refusal to relinquish our humanity.

This refusal to be anything less than fully human means the challenge of Critical Self-Definition is productive and as a result becomes one of American Muslim communities' greatest opportunities. Being fully human creates the possibility for creation and innovation, the room to take risks, to stumble and to try again, to work with passion and conviction toward the ultimate goal of humans everywhere: true emancipation.

Su'ad Abdul Khabeer is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.

secret chords and qawalli

Over at Killing the Buddha, there is an interesting piece called A Cold and a Broken "Hallelujah" about the Leonard Cohen song 'Hallelujah' and how it has been appearing repeatedly in a sanitized form on American Idol and some of the other singing reality shows. To be honest, I'd only heard the song in passing before (primarily on a West Wing episode) and didn't really pay much attention to the lyrics until now but I have to say it really is a beautiful song.

The best version by far is Jeff Buckley's:

For me, the song raises a number of interesting questions about the sinlessness of prophets in Islam.

For those who aren't aware, both Sunni and Shia assert as a dogma that all the prophets were to some degree protected/prevented from sins. A common Sunni position is that prophets were free from comitting major sins but that prophets may commit certain minor sins or make errors in judgement. Shias, on the other hand, seem to go a little further and tend to assert that prophets are free from committing sins of any kind. In any case, Muslim polemics on the Bible tend to discount some of the more scandalous aspects of the Biblical accounts (Noah getting drunk, Lot getting drunk and committing incest, Solomon committing idolatry, David committing adultery, etc.)

At the same time, there are some Muslim scholars who have a looser perspective on this subject. For example, The Word of Islam edited by John Alden Williams quotes from a Maturidi creed which states: "Errors of the prophets are in the things they did before the revelation, such as the marriage of David to the wife of Uriah the Hittite". And apparently some of the early Muslim scholars accepted at least the broad outlines of the Biblical version of David and Bathsheba.

Another interesting perspective (which is arguably more in line with the paradoxical tension, implied by the Leonard Cohen song, between sinfulness and sanctity) comes from Abu Sulayman al-Darani who wrote: "David (saaws) did not perform an act more beneficial for him than a misdeed. He continued to flee from it toward his Lord until he reached Him. Hence, the misdeed was the cause of his fleeing toward Allah, away from himself and the world." I would suggest that this dynamic, a sinful minor fall followed by the major lift of repentance and forgiveness is precisely the "secret chord" which was so pleasing to the Lord.

This idea is also vividly expressed in hadith:

Muslim Book 37, Number 6620:
Abu Sirma reported that when the time of the death of Abu Ayyub Ansari drew near, he said: I used to conceal from you a thing which I heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Had you not committed sins, Allah would have brought into existence a creation that would have committed sin (and Allah) would have forgiven them.

The sexual aspect of the song Hallelujah (especially Buckley's version) got me thinking about Song of Solomon and Rumi and mystical love poetry generally. And surprisingly enough Buckley's own musical explorations led him to Qawalli and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Somehow it just makes a lot of sense that the person who sung "Hallelujah" would also say "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is my Elvis."

from Grenada's past:
last man to enter paradise
kings (part one)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"drop the bomb"


This solution had actually occured to me way back at the beginning of the Deepwater oil spill but then I thought "I'm not a petroleum engineer so what do I know?"... More than I realized apparently.

In a recent piece at The Daily Beast, Christopher Brownfield points out that the Soviets have been using explosives for years as a way to deal with runaway oil wells. The same thing was also pointed out by Jeremy Hsu over at the Christian Science Monitor. And what actually prompted me to blog on this idea is the fact that this morning I heard someone call into a radio show and make the same suggestion.

Especially given the failure of BP's previous attempts to stop the leak, and the fact that even the current attempt at a "solution" will actually increase the flow of oil into the Gulf in the short term, and will at best merely slow down the flow of oil until August, perhaps we should look at a more radical solution which could shut the well decisively.

Now, I'm still not a petroleum engineer so I still can't say if this approach has a good chance of working or not. But I do hope that the idea is given due consideration based on the technical/scientific merits and a concern for the environment without any regard for BP's bottom line or future profits.

The Christian Science Monitor: Why don't we just drop a nuclear bomb on the Gulf oil spill?
Crooks and Liars: Is it time to blow up the leaking Gulf oil well? BP doing its best to keep that option under wraps
The Daily Beast: Nuke the Oil Spill
Arran's Alley: Is BP Trying to Save the Well Instead of the Gulf?
BP Oil News: Nuke the Gulf oil spill, says expert
NPR: Placing Blame For The BP Oil Spill

"a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth" or why germany (and by extension, the rest of us) are in afghanistan, iraq, etc.

A country like Germany with a heavy reliance on foreign trade, Koehler said, must know that "in emergencies military intervention is necessary to uphold our interests, like for example free trade routes, for example to prevent regional instabilities which could have a negative impact on our chances in terms of trade, jobs and income."

Reuters: German President Defends Military Action