I am not going to have time to write until Sunday night more than likely because I will be working like a maniac to get this money from the New Years drunks and insha’Allah I will come home with some good money over the weekend, with no one throwing up in my cab, and then I will take a few days off and go to New York. Like I said before; if you act crazy on New Years Eve you are a really like that all year round but put up a front otherwise and if you are gettin banged by half the team on New Years Eve do not balme it on the booz. Sat safe tonight everyone, the nuts will be out.
In the mood of sharing photos (blame Abu Sinan, he has got me in the mood) I am sharing a group photo I took along with Ismail Royer (click here to read more on the plight of Ismail and what he is doing while serving a twenty-year prison sentence) back in 1993. Amongst those also included in the photo are youth worker Naji Lawrence Adams, cabbie Pi and the late Maurice “Abdul-Muqit” Herd.
The African-American brother, with his young child, is Hammad Abdur-Raheem, a DC area Muslim brother who is in jail as a part of the Virginia 11 paintball case. The photo was taken when I visited him while he was on house arrest before his trial. Click on the link to learn how to help this brother.
The photo of me was taken on a rooftop of the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Anatta. You can see the beautiful Palestinian backdrop behind me. The rooftops of Palestine are a popular place for congregation and socializing amongst friends and family.
I took some photos today of my favorite spot in St. Louis which is the Delmar Loop which extends from the inner suburb of University City into the City of St. Louis on Delmar. The area is kind of interesting and Delmar is the traditional dividing line of segregation in that part of St. Louis. The Loop itself is full of interesting shops, ethnic and eclectic eateries, an indie bookstore and music store as well as a theater that shows indie and foreign films. The two things I love most about the Loop are the facts that in pedestrian unfriendly St. Louis it is pedestrian friendly and that it is one of the few places in St. Louis where you can find people of different races socializing with one another. The Loop caters to everyone from the bourgeois liberal crowd to hip-hoppers and the reggae crowd. Part of the unique nature of U City and the Loop is due to its proximity to Washington University which has a diverse student population from all over the world (but a heavy concentration of New York, Boston and DC are students). Also within proximity to the Loop is the vibrant Orthodox Jewish enclave, upscale neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, apartments from low rent to high rent, and a growing Chinese population just a few blocks away off of Olive. A hidden gym of the Loop is the University City Library, which in my opinion, is one of the best neighborhood libraries in America. I have included a photo of myself to show all the suckas out there what I have for them if they keep messin with me…LOL
I encourage everyone to talk to the elders in their families as much as possible as I did last night. Not only do such talks give you a greater understanding of who you are as a person and your roots; but they can offer you a glimpse into a history that you may know little about and otherwise would have to rely on history books. Last night we were discussing movies and my grandmother began to complain that Hollywood movies today are all filthy and full of sex. I told her that is true; but that sex is a part of life and sometimes sex plays an important role in films and sometimes it is just cheap. Somehow that got us on the subject of war movies and of World War II.
My grandfather is a veteran of World War II and served in the First Marine Division which saw action in the Pacific theater fighting Japanese troops. I told my grandparents “ look at the WWII movies, they all showed American soldiers who looked like they had just stepped out of The Plaza they were so clean fighting battles against the enemy, always winning, coming home in one piece and getting the pretty girl. But, how many young men came home after the war with no legs, without an arm or blinded? How many didn’t come home to the pretty girl; but came home to mental hospitals or nursing homes where they stayed the rest of their lives?”
This prompted my grandmother to join in and say that a lot of men came back from the war with mental illnesses but back then they just threw people into a home. In Vietnam, where her son and my uncle fought, it was well publicized that a lot of soldiers came back and were shell-shocked; but what Americans do not realize is that many came back from WWII the same way and many are probably coming back from Iraq in the same condition.
In 1945, between April and June, my grandfather was a part of the American invasion of Okinawa, the last major Pacific battle of the war, and this battle proved to be the bloodiest battle of the war for the Americans. In one battle America lost more than 12,000 men, Japan and its Okinawan transcripts lost 107,000 and according to reports there may have been 100,000 civilians perish. The battle utilized all branches of the American armed forces and the Japanese responded by air, land and sea. My grandfather told me as he told me before, of seeing the beaches, for as far as you can see, full of dead young men piling up. He told me of friends of his who left the battle blinded and crippled and then he posed the question “what did they ever do about those dumps?” I didn’t know what he was referring to; but apparently the bodies of American and Japanese soldiers where just bulldozed into holes and left in Okinawa. There were too many dead too quickly to do anything else. From an American perspective let’s look at it like this; in three months four more times the America troops died in Okinawa then have dies in three years in Iraq. In my grandfathers opinion; the generals and the politicians had a disregard for the value of the lives of the enlisted men and often would use them as cannon-fodder and he told me of seeing row after row of young American being gunned down on pointless missions.
The difference today, as he tells it, is that the American public will stand up to the government and expect accountability. If Americans believe that soldiers are dying in the pursuit of an unwise cause or that the welfare of the soldier is not respected then they will stand-up and make their voices heard and in WWII there was no such concept amongst the public at-large. It wasn’t just WWII I might add; for thousands of years kings, sultans, and rulers sent young men to die by the thousands with no regard for the humanity of the soldiers. Why is this? Well, for one it can be attributed to the goals of the ruler and the people, secondly to the inability for current warfare technologies to adequately protect soldiers and thirdly due to the fact that the bulk of the dead would normally come from the ranks of the poor in most societies and the noblemen who did die became legends.
When I asked my grandmother about Hitler she said “we knew he was bad but we didn’t know he was extemiating people; we just thought he was out to take over the world.”
Today Americans look back at WWII with some kind of nostalgia, as if it was a fairy tale and everyone did the right thing, and not the brutal and bloody conflict that it was. Like almost all Americans, I do believe that my grandfather fought in a just and essential war, but that does not mean one cannot analyze the history and learn lessons from it. Any comparison between WWII and Iraq is laughable; the world was at danger then due to imperial powers that had the desires, and the capability, of world domination, and they were the aggressors; no such equivalent exists today. It must also be noted that the homefront was then actively involved in the war with air raids drills, neighborhood and school drills, rations, factory conversions and the like. Today no one is being asked to sacrifice, as a matter of fact taxes are being cut, and the public follows the war like a bad soap opera.
Which brings me the greatest president tin the history of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In my grandparents narrative; they were surrounded by poverty, misery and near starvation in the 1930’s during the devilish presidency of Herbert Hoover (a Republican) and it was FDR and his New Deal that saved the masses of the people from lives of ruin and despair. So, until today, the are FDR populist Democrats, who have supported the Democratic Party because of issues of class (support of unions, raises in the minimum wage, workers rights, health care issues, social security, etc.) and like a lot of FDR Democrats, including myself, they don’t care for the cultural elitist issues the Democratic Party has now chose to make the top priority while shunning labor and the poor.
It seems as if a Pakistani man, from the same Pakistan as Mukhtar Mai, murdered his eldest daughter for marrying against his will and slit the throats of her three younger sisters because in the future they might do the same. Can someone tell me why this keeps happening in Pakistan? Can someone tell me why is it that Pakistan is supposed to a modern state then why are tribal leaders allowed to give out their own version of corrupt justice? Can someone tell me why the ulama of Pakistan are not more involved in combating this sort of savage treatment against women? It seems as if many fathers in Pakistan do not love their daughters, or if they do that love plays a lesser role to other impulses such as fear, possessiveness, jealousy and group-think.
What will be done? President Musharraf will make a statement condemning the act, the man will be sentenced, and Pakistan will try to ignore the issue. Some mullah may condemn it in a speech; but that will be about it. Amongst Progressive Muslims and the West papers will be written and speeches will be given by people no one in Pakistan has ever heard of that will have about as much effect as shouting on top of a mountain. To combat these types of acts you need education; but you also need the stick. This guy needs to die, in public, and to shame him and his tiny brain he should be forced to walk nude to the center of town with everyone watching before his throat is slit by a female police officer or official.
One more thing, and I can guarantee this, when I go to the Masjid and discuss this with some of my Pakistani friends, they will be in denial. They will say it did not happen, that the Jews in the media are exaggerating it, and they will say this is very rare. The praises of Pakistan will be sung and they will then say, “well this guy went overboard, but most of the time they are killing the zanni.”
On Another Note
Shia political parties are holding rallies in Iraq supporting the election results, the results that anyone who can do math knows are fraudulent, and counter-rallies are occurring in which Sunnis, secular Iraqis, Kurds and others are joining together in calling for an investigation and recount of the elections.
In this land of milk and honey I was released from prison with ten bucks, a bus ticket and a redneck telling me not to come back.
In this land of milk and honey I had no roof over my head making my home the stars at night, Prospect Park, and subway cars.
In this land of milk and honey I experienced hunger sleeping in a dark room with five other men surrounding a space heater in the dead of winter. No utilities on and only cold water to throw over ourselves in buckets.
In this land of milk and honey you can be a CEO and take home fifty million and be a hard worker and not have a place to sleep.
In this land of milk and honey the rich pimp the poor everyday.
In this land of milk and honey black people still are riding at the back of the bus, except now the driver is listening to Hip Hop.
In this land of milk and honey Republicans with names like Van Brooklyn fuck their Mexican maids and then vote to throw the illegals out.
In this land of milk and honey you can work full time your entire life and die of a disease that every Canadian and European would have been treated for.
In this land of milk and honey we cannot afford to care for our old and sick but we can afford useless instruments of mass murder.
In this land of milk and honey we consume nature like an addict consumes their drug of choice.
In this land of milk and honey I am tired of the bullshit.
In this land of milk and honey my blood is boiling.
In this land of milk and honey I really don’t give a fuck anymore.
In this land of milk and honey I’m thinking about taking what’s mine.
In this land of milk and honey I am having revolutionary thoughts.
In this land of milk and honey I am headed for the suburbs.
In this land of milk and honey I see red.
In this land of milk and honey I have revenge on my mind and I walk with the spirit of the native, the mind of the Panther and the body of an avenger.
Umar ben-Ivan Lee
If you want to know what neo-Nazis are saying about the riots in Australia I will direct you to this forum. This has given them hope that they are capable of doing more than jerking off to posters of the Fuehrer. They see this as a show of force by white Aussies and a sign that whites are capable of uniting against people of color once again and driving them out of their lands.
I will say that I have always liked Australia and found Aussies to be pleasant people for the most part and I know that these racist incidents don’t represent the hearts and minds of all Aussies. What they do is give a graphic picture of the serious problems of race that exist in that society which the government doesn’t want to recognize.
It is unfortunate that some Muslims (see the comments section and Umm Zaids eloquent rebuttal), of the progressive mode, have joined in with some in the Australian media and provided some kind of justification to the rioters because the Lebanese immigrants “don’t want to integrate into society” or Lebanese men are “raping white women” and these same apologist would have been attacked and beaten and their families if they would have been on the scene. Does that sound familiar to anyone in America? Study the history of the Tulsa Riots and the Zoot Suit Riots.
I opposed the execution of Tookie Williams because I thought he could do more good to society alive than dead. He was not the co-founder of the Crips and he was no angel so I’m not really sad that he is dead, I just think that the execution was ill-advised. Why not let him live and work towards gang-truces and steering the kids away from gangs? What would that have hurt?
As a child there are no books that I enjoyed more than the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. I am excited about the film adaptation of the first of these books and am looking forward to seeing it while knowing that the film can’t possibly match the excitement that I had as a kid in reading them and imagining for myself what the characters looked like. Because a lot of the book has a Christian undercurrent, a lot of Christian groups in America are supporting the film; and because of this, and the fact that it is a book with a moral fiber and pits good versus evil, much of the secular-elite are railing against Lewis, the books and the film while trying in vain to disguise their hatred for religion.
Over the weekend I had the chance to view two films that both addressed important topics.
Syriana deals with oil politics and the middle-eat while following three characters; George Clooney who plays a CIA agent who ran undercover operations in Lebanon in the 1980’s and is currently doing operations in Iran before he is asked to go back to Lebanon, Matt Damon who plays a financially analyst whose child dies in a Gulf Arab state where he is working for a Swiss firm and becomes involved in royal family politics, and Jeffery Wright who plays the part of an investigator working for a big oil company in order to who is helping to try and ease problems with a Senate investigation over the issue of bribing the government of Kazakhstan.
There are some interesting issues at play; there is a radical young Muslim sheikh who preaches against the West, and the film shows two of his young and unemployed followers (falsely giving the impression that the majority of people join such movements out of poverty), there are meetings with Hezbollah leaders in Beirut (the Hezbollah leader says “I Like America; there are ten-million Muslims in America”) and there are the politics within the Gulf riyal family (which I guess is supposed to be Saudi Arabia).
Matt Damon challenges the elder prince who is more statesmanlike as to why the Arabs are wasting their money. He tells the prince that the West thinks that one-hundred years from now the Arabs will live just like they did one-hundred years prior; scraping by and living a harsh desert life. The prince agrees, but reminds Damon that it is America who has encouraged the insane financial polices of the Arab States because their mass-consumption of their products. Because this prince supports a greater-relationship with China the US opposes him and supports the corrupt younger prince who is completely in the hands of America. Does this sound familiar anyone? Can anyone say King Faisal or Mohammad Mossadegh? The US today pompously criticizes the finical-policies of the rich oil thiefdoms while they have been the ones who have encouraged and facilitate such habits and this has been done, as the film highlights, in particular by big oil; the home of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
The film is worthwhile and it connects the dots pretty well. It has its shortcomings and feeds in to a number of stereotypes at times; but it does a good job in giving the viewer some facts and letting us think them through ourselves and come to our won conclusions.
Protocols of Zion
Marc Levin, along with his father, does a good job in exploring anti-Semitism in America in this film which starts at ground-zero and takes us all over the US and the world. For those of you unfamiliar; the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is a famous forgery against Jews that was more than likely produced by the secrets service of the Russian Tsar in the late nineteenth-century. The protocols tell of a diabolical plot for Jewish world-domination using a variety of means and this forgery has been accepted as fact by many in the West and in the Muslim World. In the US it was first published by Henry Ford (of automobile and the Ford Motor company fame) in Dearborn, MI. The protocols were made into a TV mini-series in Lebanon as well and have been printed prominently in the Egyptian press.
Levin states that he was inspired to make this film by hearing constantly about the 4,000 Jews who did not show up for work on 9-11 and about other stories of that nature that has become increasingly popular all over the world. He particularly was inspired by a conversation with a young and articulate Egyptian cabbie in New York who told him: don’t you know its all in the book (referring to the protocols)”.
Levin interviews the National Alliance leader Sean Walker from the neo-Nazi groups headquarters in West Virginia. Walker, a fairly intelligent young man, gives the moderate face of the version of violent version of anti-Semitism that is preached (and sometimes practiced) by the National Alliance and Levin fails to call him on this; but of course he was at their compound. The leader proudly shows off the Nazi flags, boots with swastikas on the back of them, Mein Kampf copies, and the Protocols of Zion which was sold out.
Traveling to St. Louis, where I currently live, Levin interviewed Frank Weltner aka/ the Couch Potato who hosted a radio show for years on WGBU radio were he promoted anti-immigrant views, anti-black views, and anti-Jewish views. Weltner operates the Jew Watch website that promotes a variety of conspiracy theories and has been linked to the National Alliance, the Council of Conservative Citizens and other white-radical groups in the past. His show is no longer on WGNU, but he continues to be prominent in white-right circles.
Young Muslims are interviewed in Paterson, NJ (where I used to work) and in Sunset Park Brooklyn, NY (a few blocks from my old home). It is here where Levin manages to find a group of hyper young men who are full of rage and more than willing to act stupid in front of the camera. Can I blame these young men? No, not really, since I know that they are full of rage and at that age I couldn’t have articulated myself that well either. In Brooklyn Levin is attending a rally called in order to address the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin (the former spiritual leader of Hamas). Several hundred people attended the rally at a catering hall in Brooklyn and emotions were high and Levin was able to capture that spirit. A newspaper publisher in New Jersey is also interviewed who published the protocols in Arabic in his publication and an interfaith Muslim leader is interviewed. The interfaith guy spoke very well of himself and addressed the issues of a double-standard when it comes to anti-Semitic and Islamophobic speech; the newspaper publisher made an ass of himself.
In the film Levin frequently shows footage of the Lebanese mini-series on the protocols and footage of Islamic rallies in places like Baghdad calling for the death of Jews. Mixed in with this are the stories of Daniel Pearl and his beheading and other stories of the like. Here I believe there are some shortcomings as Levin fails to put much of this into context. There is no doubt, the Arab media is irresponsible in its promotion of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and this should be addressed, but the rallies in Baghdad and other places should be seen in more of a political context that does not accept the spirit of what was aid but puts it into context. The footage of the famous speech of former Malaysian Prime Minster Mahatir Muhammad is also shown in which he alleges that Jews run the world.
All of this is shown to take us back to New York. In New York Levin interview people on the street, and this is so New York. The people he interviews are real New Yorkers, which remind me of New York, and are not some latte drinking and tofu eating Woody Allen groupies in Manhattan or Williamsburg. An African-American group is interviewed who claims that Jews run America, oppress the black man and run New York and one of them asks who is the mayor, who is Michael Bloomberg of course who is a Jew, and when Levin asks about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor for eight-years, the guy responds “ listen to his name Jew-liani”. Anti-war protesters are interviewed, most of them Jewish, and Levin shows scuffles and arguments at ground zero between various groups. He also talks to the man in charge of the recovery of bodies from Ground Zero, who happens to be a cantor at a local synagogue, and they give the names of a number of Jews who were killed on 9-11 and talks to the widow of one of them.
A group of Evangelical Christians are interviewed at the end of the film and historical Christian anti-Semitism is addressed. We also hear the words of Mel Gibson, and his father (who said all the Jews in Poland didn’t die because they were in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Sydney) and the discussions of a group of Evangelicals, who have just watched The Passion of the Christ, who tell Levin that he is doomed to hell if he doesn’t accept Evangelical Protestantism, but they love him.
The film is emotionally concluded at a Brooklyn cemetery where Levin, along with his father, stand at the family tomb where his grandparents are buried.
Race Riots Down Under
I am also keeping an eye on the race riots in Australia aimed at people of midle-easetrn descent in Sydney over the weekend where thousands of white Aussies gathered on beaches and attacked anyone who looked different including Muslim women. Do you think they asked these Muslims if they were “wahabbis” before attacking them?
I had a crazy night and didn’t make that much money. I had eight no-goes (those are when people call for cabs but are not there when you show up) and that ruined my night. The bad weather was another factor in the night being slow I guess; but I did get a few decent trips like taking s stripper to work, a Scottish bartender home and an older nurse to the supermarket and waited on her. So those few long-trips helped me from not having a complete disaster. I wonder what people think when they order a cab but are not there when I get there? Do they not realize they are costing someone time and money? Tonight all of these trips were in wealthy neighborhoods and I had in my mind a picture of arrogant yuppies who could give two-fucks about some working stiff who gets paid to schlep them around. The only thing positive I had out of last night is the fact that I was able to get some good work done on a film project I am working on with a local St. Louis filmmaker. Before the night was over I got stuck on the same street as a shootout/ murder scene and it took me forever to get off the street . Oh well, I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be a good night.
In the meantime these are some good reads;
When I lived in Brooklyn there were Masjids everywhere. You could be in walking distance to a Masjid from most Brooklyn neighborhoods and of course that was very convenient. Working in Manhattan it was also usually very easy to find a Masjid or musela to walk to for Jummahu prayer. When Muslims visit NYC, and in particular Brooklyn and Queens, they are always amazed at how many Masjids there are and think that the Muslims of NYC are so lucky to be served by so many Masjids. Of course, because there are so many Masjids and Muslims numerous Muslim organizations have formed around every issue you can think of in New York.
When you go to the Midwest there are fewer Masjids and fewer Muslim organizations. Muslims have to drive farther to get to the Masjid unlike NYC where most people walk to the Masjid and there aren’t organizations set-up around obscure issues (like Left-handed Bed-Stuy Muslims Unite or Crimean Crown Heights Muslims or whatever). This used to be something I would complain about a lot. And to a certain extent it still is, but there is a benefit to this as well.
In NYC and many places in the Muslim-heavy Northeast there are a lot of Masjids for a couple of reasons in addition to the large Muslim population; every Muslim group has its own Masjid (Sufi tariqas, Madhkalaee Salafis, neo-Salafis, general Sufis, Ikwanees, Tabliquees, and more) in addition to the different ethnic Masjids like Albanian, Bengali, Yemeni, Egyptian, Pakistani, Turkish, West African and other kinds of Masjids. So every one basically has their own spot and that’s their turf more or less. In the Midwest, because the Muslim population is much smaller and spread out, everyone prays at the same Masjid no matter what there particular outlook on the deen is or ethnicity and you can see the diversity of the ummah within the Masjid. When organizations are formed they are usually formed with the entire community in mind in the Midwest as well.
The second reason there are a lot of Masjids in the Northeast is because of infighting. Brothers look at twenty Masjids in South Brooklyn for examples and say masha’Allah not knowing that perhaps half of those Masjids were formed because of infighting and bickering at previously existing Masjids. The issue the Masjid is founded on is often something religious in nature and it is often the result of a power struggle or someone getting I Wanna be Imamidous. So while many Muslims benefit from being able to attend more Masjids closer to their homes there is a definite downside.
Many times, perhaps most of the times, new Muslim organizations are founded when it would better serve the community if those founding the new organization would put their resources and energy into bolstering previously existing organizations. Organizations already exist, such as MAS, CAIR, ICNA, the MAS Freedom Foundation and others that are already doing a good job in the community but need more support. If there are issues that you feel these organizations are not adequately addressing the best way to deal with that is by becoming a part of these organizations and affecting change from the inside. As a rule; more organizations means more division within the community.
This brings me to the topic at hand, which has been posed on other blogs; do we need a new Muslim organization for Muslim converts in America? Normally I am opposed to forming new organizations, and if I was in a local community and trying to work on this issue I would probably go to my local Masjid or MAS chapter and see if they could address the issue, but I am not inherently opposed to this type of organization and nor am I for it.
In America I would like to see more unity within the Muslim community and less organizing around ethnic and racial identities so I am absolutely, with no reservations whatsoever, opposed to any new Muslim organization that is founded based on the need to serve and advocate on behalf of white Muslim converts. I am equally opposed to any organization, no matter what their ethnic and racial status, that promotes the idea of an “American” Islam (and I know those who have been discussing such a new Muslim organization also oppose the idea of an American Islam).
If the issue is specifically dealing with Muslim converts of all racial backgrounds then I could think about supporting such a group. However, in my opinion, it would be better if such a group could work with pre-existing Muslim organizations. One of the ideas I have been advocating for years is a Muslim Big Brother and Big Sister program that would pair new Muslims with existing Muslims who have demonstrated a commitment to the deen and the community. A bureaucratic Muslim organization with a website and some pamphlets cannot possibly replace a one-on-one relationship with a Muslim who can nurture the new convert into the deen.
There can be agreement amongst all that something has to be done to deal more effectively with issues involving converts and I have heard conversations on this topic for years but have seen little action.
I had a four-hundred pound women who wore four jackets get in my cab and, unfortunately for me, she lived uphill and as the ground was full of snow it was a rough time getting uphill. She later told me that she normally catches a cab home from work because it is tough for her to make it uphill and she told me that if she fell she may not be able to make it back-up. A few days ago I had a man, who must have weighed like seven-hundred pounds or something, and his head looked like a ping-pong ball on top of a massive frame, and it took him five minutes of a mighty struggle just to get in the cab, and he struggled so hard that he shit on himself. Now I am in perfect shape by no means; but how is it possible to get that big? Where is Dr. Maxtor? Can you get that big just from eating or is it a result of other medical conditions?
Later I had a very pleasant middle-aged black woman who told me she was working two full-time jobs just to get by. We fretted about the price of heating our homes (I didn’t tell her that I’m so cheap that even though its five-degrees outside I don’t have my heat on at home) and the lack of jobs with pensions and the eminent demise of social security. What will old people do in the future we asked? Just rot away? Or will we have to change our American lifestyles and start living with two or three generations under one roof and have extended families all living in the same neighborhoods so we can watch after one another? That would actually be a good idea as opposed to the spread-out families (or no families) we have now. One thing I told her; a worker who retired from my company twenty-tears ago is getting a $2,000 a month pension and had full healthcare when they drove and we get shit!
Later I got a crazy woman I don’t wanna talk about and picked-up some regular riders. Because of the snow and cold-weather it was kind of slow; but that didn’t stop a group of females college students I saw walk down the street with tank-tops and mini-skirts on. Hey, pneumonia that’s no big deal as long as I get to go clubbin tonight!
Ismail is currently serving a 20 year sentence for his role in what the government refers to as the “Virginia Jihad Network”. As part of their ongoing series on Muslims in America the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published this letter from Ismail to Jon Sawyer. In reading this letter you can see the brilliance of Ismail and witness for yourselves the tragedy of this treasure of American Islam being away from his wife, four children and the community.
I still remember the day I first met Ismail. He was a teenage punk-rock singer who walked into the Masjid with a baseball cap covering his dreads with an Arabic tattoo on his arm (reading freedom). Ismail walked up to me and said “hey man what does Islam say about revolution?” The brother next to me said “Islam is a revolution”.
The journey began from there as Ismail would take shahadah a few weeks later and we would strike up a very strong friendship. We came from different worlds; I came from a working-class world and was surrounded by thuggery and negativity in my youth and he came from upper middle-class affluence. He went to the best of schools and I went to the worst of schools and he was a punk-rocker and I was a hip-hopper. We learned a lot from one another, I know I learned a lot from him, and our friendship took us all over the country. Rabbis were interviewed, punk rock concerts gone to, cities explored and a host of other adventures. His mother would sometimes ask me if I was homeless because I spent the night so much at his home. My blue-collar grandparents found Ismail, or Randy as they called him, a little bit-odd but they always liked him and my grandmother has been very upset about his situation.
Before this ordeal, that has been painful to so many people and not just Ismail and his family, Ismail had previously worked for CAIR, MAS, and AMC and was a committed activist who was greatly beneficial to the Muslim community. His involvement in Bosnia and Kashmir, and his alliance with Muslim groups in those nations who use violence as a means of defense and possibly liberation depending on how you look at it, landed him and more than a dozen other Muslim brothers in the DC area in prison (Ismail correctly points out in his letter that only he and Ibrahim al-Hamdi had any connection to any groups and that no one ever threatened the US or were connected to groups that had any negative stance towards the US). Please make duah for Ismail and his family and all of the suffering Muslim political prisoners and their families.
Also, and I do not have the time to do it now but I will in the future, refute the viscous lie that these brothers are in prison because of Sheikh Ali al-Timimi. I will write on this topic in the future and Ill send a complimentary copy to Imam Johari.
Abu Sinan has recently started a conversation about the treatment of white Muslim converts in the Muslim community in the United States. He argues, correctly, that white converts often do not have an easy time finding a home within the Muslim community upon entering the deen. They enter the deen with the sincerity and vigor of a new convert and then quickly find out that a lot of Muslims are just lousy and that many may not be able to culturally relate to them and others may just look at them with suspicion.
There are stereotypes out there about the white Muslim convert; there is the stereotype being circulated by the yuppie Muslim crowd over at Muslim Wake-Up that white men come to Islam because they want to become the “other” and to reject their historical white privilege in society and be looked upon with suspicion and that men and women come to the deen because they are marrying Muslims. Both of these neglect the fact that many, if not most, white Muslims come to the deen after long spiritual and theological journeys that leads them to believe that Islam is the truth. Those who have suspicions of the motives of white Muslims, particularly the Muslims (or those who were born to Muslim parents who may or may not be Muslims), are in reality saying that Islam is an inferior deen to Christianity, Judaism and secular humanism and that for any white westerner to reject those faiths for Islam somehow has some sort of mental or spiritual deficiency.
To be sure white Muslims enter the deen and do not have a group to immediately gravitate to like African-American Muslims do and the Muslim immigrant groups. Most of these white converts come from backgrounds were they may have not had a lot of experience in dealing with non-whites and if they did it was on their own terms and they come from an American mindset and mentality about how to live their lives which is alien to a lot of existing Muslims. The younger generation of white Muslims also has some of the characteristics of their generation, good and bad, like being more open to other cultures and races and studious while possibly coming form households and schools that didn’t believe in discipline which helped to create sarcastic brats who have never been told no. Myself I didn’t really have many of those problems since I grew-up estranged from the white community more or less and didn’t have any white friends when I entered Islam (or prior to that), the only white friends I were to get in my life were white Muslims like Ismail Royer, Suhaib Webb, Tim Kaminski and others for many years to come. I was used to being the minority amongst African-Americans so it was no big deal for me, in fact it was a real treat, for me to enter a community with so much ethnic and cultural diversity and I never had any problem making friends with Arabs, Indo-Pakistanis, Malaysians, Somalis, Turks and others. At times there are cultural things that I just don’t get, or think is nuts, but I don’t dwell on those things and would rather concentrate on what we have in common.
It is my belief that white Muslims are not seeking to become “the other” when they enter Islam but because of religious conviction, like the Sahabah before us and many others, we forfeit our white privilege for the sake of Allah. You cannot be a Muslim, and definitely not a sincere Muslim, and be fully accepted at the table of white America. Those on the right will look at you as some sort of white nigger or anti-American wanna-be terrorist (no matter how many statements you make to placate them) and those on the left will look at you as backwards, misogynistic, homophobic and unenlightened mortals.
When you enter Islam you become a minority within the Muslim community as a white Muslim. So who does the white Muslim gravitate towards? As the faith in Islam and the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of His Messenger Muhammad (sas) is the commonality between all Muslims then the white Muslim should, and does, gravitate towards those who are sincere in the deen. The Sunnah is full of examples of the importance of Muslims socializing with one another and Islam is a communal faith and therefore interacting with the believers not only increases your faith but it helps you learn more about the deen and how it is practiced (but you have to be careful who you are around because you can pick-up some bad things as well).
The white Muslim is often exploited by those in the community who cannot wait to put that white face in front of the cameras or in some key position at the Masjid. They particularly go for the clean-shaven white man with an America –sounding name or a white women with long blonde hair named Suzy who can represent the community; but may not even know al-Fatihah. Many Masjids are made-up of and ran by immigrant Muslims who have inferiority complexes to whites many who have relationships with the white West going back to colonialism. The white female convert is often pursued with the vigor of a government contract from Halliburton. Sisters will get inundated with dozens of wedding proposals within months of becoming Muslim and the community often does not do a good job in protecting these sisters from unscrupulous characters taking advantage of their naiveté.
Other times the white Muslim is looked upon with suspicion at the Masjid and in the community, particularly from my experience in Arab circles. There exists a large-segment of the Muslim community who are obsessed with Jews and the CIA and think that if you are white and want to be around people as stupid as they are that you must be some sort of spy. Of course this is a laughable; the American Muslim, white and black, has made hijrah to Islam and the Muslim-immigrant has made hijrah to a land of non-Muslims. More than anything in the word most of these immigrant Muslims want to stay in the US to make this good money, and while they may have some anti-American rhetoric or complain a lot, most will do anything for anybody to stay in America and if anyone should be looked at with suspicion it should be them and not the white Muslim who has an American passport and citizenship and cant be threatened with being sent to the gulags of Hosni Mubarak or Bashar al-Asad.
There is another type of white Muslim I run into frequently who is the butt of jokes because they are overzealous and fanatical in their approach to the deen. They end up running to the desert to study with Sufi sheikhs, or to the mountains of Yemen to study with Salafi scholars, or whatever and then come back to the US and are almost too much to bare. The mutawwa of Saudi Arabia is their model I guess and they come to the Masjid and chastise all for being in error in a zealous manner, which may or may not be true but there is a certain etiquette to maintain, and are looked at by those who remembered them coming to the Masjid when they were not even Muslim and dint even know how to make wudhu with humor. In my opinion we should be easy on these Muslims who are young and immature in the deen because at least they are making a sincere effort to seek knowledge of the deen.
You also have the experience where the new Muslims of all colors are heavily recruited by all in the Muslim community. At one point or another I was approached by the Jamat at-Tablique (repeatedly), Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Sufi groups, Shia, al-Ikwaan, and anything else you can think of. Alhamduduilah for me that I was blessed to have great teachers like Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Basheer and Sheikh Ali al-Timimi (please make duah for him) and inspirers like Imam Siraj Wahaj.
The new white Muslim that I am seeing and hearing about more and more often is the so-called “progressive” and “reformed” minded Muslim. These are white Muslims who are educated and more often than not come from middle to upper-class backgrounds who wish to be Muslim, or have some connection to the deen, without changing their yuppie lifestyles. They seek an Islam that is compatible with the coffee-shop crowd and the sidewalk sandwich-eaters. For them they want the endorsement of the Muslim community and the likes of Woody Allen (the child molester). Practices and beliefs within Islam that prohibit them from fully integrating into this secular urban and affluent lifestyle they wish to pursue are disregarded or refuted. The Quran and Sunnah no longer has authority over their lives; rather authority is given to academia, Western philosophers, pop culture, humanism and in general everything un-Islamic. In this pursuit of a reformed Islam they find allies in those second and third generation immigrant Muslims who were born to parents with inferiority-complexes and were sent to the best American schools and surrounded by white students their entire lives and were always made to feel like the “other” even if they bent over backwards and desperately sought the acceptance of their peers. More than anything, more than wanting to be a Muslim, they want to be accepted as equals amongst the latte and tofu crowd in Manhattan, Georgetown, Cambridge, Hyde Park, South Beach, Hollywood and the like. They are gravitating towards secular America, a secular America that is extremely hostile towards all religion and people of faith, and there is no place for sincere religious practice in these circles.
Like the Reformed and Conservative Jews before them these progressive Muslims (white or not) seek to maintain the name Muslim; without actually believing in the religion or adhering to its principals. Islam is based on the belief in the Kalima and not based on what your name is or where your parents came from. In Judaism if you are born to a Jewish woman you are Jew; there is no equivalency in Islam. If you do not believe in the deen you are not a Muslim. There is no such thing as a “secular Muslim” and the like. I should also point out that much of this progressive movement has come out of a fearful reaction to the wrath of white America after 9-11. Muslims couldn’t wait to jump up and proclaim their peacefulness after 9-11 and while those who took the arguments of the right and became Muslim neo-cons and the like those who felt the stinging critique of the secular-left towards Islam couldn’t stand being out of the fold and sought to create a movement to immunize themselves from the scorn of the cultural-elite. It is also interesting to note, on a historical note, that Reformed and Conservative Judaism are in crisis as that movement has led to a mass exodus from the Judaic faith and Reformed and Conservative synagogues are now seeking ways to become more orthodox in their approach. The same can be said of Christianity; where liberal mainline-protestant denominations continue to see a decline in their memberships while Evangelical churches are rapidly growing. A faith based on no faith cannot succeed.
All of these problems and obstacles haven’t stopped many white Muslims in this country from achieving excellence in the community.
You have scholarly white Muslims who have excelled in the learning of the deen like Suhaib Webb, Salim Morgan, Musa Richardson, and Hamza Yusuf. The Islamic University of Median and Um al-Qurra in Mecca have dozens of white Muslim students at this time as did the schools of Sheik al-Zindani and Sheikh Muqbal in Yemen in the nineties. Within the Muslim community in America there has been no hindrance towards these white Muslims achieving positions of leadership. Then you have those who have done very well on the activist front such as Ibrahim Hooper and Ismail Royer and sisters like Sheila Musaji (who has gone off the deep end but nonetheless she ahs a track record) and Ingrid Matson. Of course you also have the thousands of households of white-Muslims all over the US that are silent success stories every day as these Muslims strive along with their families to practice the deen in a society that is often hostile.
Islam is a universal religion for all of humanity. The Messenger of Allah (sas) was sent as a mercy to mankind as the Quran states. The Quran and the Sunnah is of equal value to all peoples of the earth. For us as white Muslims it is important that we do not let any of the negativity from within the Muslim community, deviant ideologies or pressure from non-Muslims distract us from our goal of living lives in adherence to Islam which in these days is hard for anyone.
Recently Umm Zaid has been writing about the problems between Arab-Muslim liquor/corner/ bodega owners and the community in African-American and Latino neighborhoods. This highlights the fact that throughout America in the ghettos there are thousands of these stores owned by Arabs and they are almost all in black and Latino areas. In New York these stores are owned by Yemenis; but in most of the country they are owned by Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Syrians.
These stores are located in poor communities of color not because the store owners hold in particular animus against people of color; but for the following reasons; first it is easy to start a business in these areas because it is much cheaper and these are areas where Americans do not wish to do business in, the locals in the communities do not have the financial resources for the most part to start their own businesses, these areas are often dangerous and the job itself is dangerous so many established people don’t want to do it, the way of doing business in the hood is very informal and much more similar to the way of doing business in the Middle-East than the very tight and regimented way of doing business if they go to middle-class white America.
When the Arab immigrant is looking to do business in these areas, and he is more than likely being aided by someone already there, he is looking for something that will be a guaranteed source of profit and the corner store that sells snacks, drinks, lottery tickets, deli items and tobacco products will make good money if it is in a good location especially if it can accept food stamps; but it can make great money if it sells beer and liquor. It’s just that simple and the motivations are financial in nature; the deen is never taken into account.
Once they are in the store doing business then they branch out and try to make as much money as possible, sometimes legally and sometimes illegally, and many of these brothers go to jail for things such as food stamp fraud and selling stolen merchandise that they buy off of customers.
Some of these brothers after a period of time gain a little Taqwa and don’t want to do business any longer in selling swine and alcohol and so they look for another kind of business and I have seen this many times. They open up beauty supply stores, gas stations, dollar stores, cell phone stores or florist shops. All of these stores remain in black and Latino communities.
Others continue their lives in the corner stores and they raise their sons in these stores and their sons are influenced heavily be the pimps, hoes, crackheads, dealers and jackers who are in and out of the store all day and that is what they grow-up and become. The entire time their family is telling them, “don’t be like the abid”. Abid is the derogatory term used for blacks by Arabs and when asked where their store is these bothers will tell you “fil haya tul abid” meaning the place of the slaves.
For these brothers Islam doesn’t even enter the equation. The Muslims in the community, the African-Americans especially, may see this as an Islamic issue; but the store owners don’t. They feel that they are doing business amongst non-Muslims and in a land of kuhfr. When they go home they often do not tell the people what they do for a living in the US and the families really don’t care since they are desperately depending on the money that is being sent to them from the sale of Colt 45, Olde English, Thunderbird, Night Train, Black n’Milds, Swisher Sweets, Kools and Newports.
One often hears two myths about these brothers; the first myth is that the government is giving them money and helping them start businesses which is not the case at all (in fact in most places the government makes it as hard as possible and many of these brothers have almost no dealings with banks), and the second myth is that these brothers were “took out” (out of the deen) since coming to America; in fact most of these brothers had never been observant Muslims even back home wherever that is.
Which brings me to Bills. Bills was a store I use to hang-out in front of sometimes when I was like 14 or 15. It was owned by a Palestinian couple who called themselves Bill and Sandy. A group of my friends and I used to stand on the side of the store all day and drink forty ounce bottles of beer and cheap wine we had bought out of the store (which was actually bought by neighborhood drunks who we let keep the spare change for buying it for us) and Bill never minded that we hung-out on the side of his store and didn’t care that from time to time we were committing crimes on his property. He was cool with us and we were cool with him. That was until one day one of my friends named Ernest got mad at Sandy and asked her “are you bald or something bitch, what the hell do you got under that thing (meaning the hijab)”.
Later that night we were all standing on the side of the store and we were drunk and smoking weed when Bill pulled his car up and got out of the car and walked towards us with his pistol pointed at us. He said over and over “motherfuckers you talk about my wife?”
We all said “no, we love Sandy.” Bill walked off and let us be and that was that. After I became Muslim I visited the store because I wanted to talk to him but it was closed.
When I was in Palestine I asked the Grand Mufti what he thought about these stores and he told me they were haram; but that I couldn’t apply it to any specific cases. Meaning, in the typical Arab fashion, I will condemn it as long as it isn’t practiced by a prominent family in which case can I collect my taxes please.
What happened in Oakland, CA recently where African-American Muslims raided a store and smashed its merchandise has made national headlines; but this has happened many times before and there have even been suspicious murders of these store-owners in the past. The only thing different now is that this is on tape; if the news had tapes of every time Muslim brothers in Brooklyn got into it with the Yemenis on Fulton Street that could run a news marathon.
Many of these stores, in places like Brooklyn, are the exact same stores that a generation or two ago were owned by working-class Jews and one African-American brother I know calls the Arabs “the new Jews”. But, like many Jewish immigrants before them, these Arabs are willing to neglect the adherence to their religion in pursuit of a piece of the American pie for themselves and their families. It isn’t right and we should Islamically condemn it, and Dawah should be made to these families, but at the end of the day it is about money. Most of these Jewish former store-owners sent their kids to college and sold their stores when they got older as their kids became educated professionals and this is what the Arab store-owners should be doing. Unfortunately, I am seeing that when the sons get older he opens up his own store and the problem just gets bigger and bigger and many of these parents are telling their kids not to go to college because they already have a business waiting on them.
Last night I had the chance to view the film End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream at the University City Public Library which was sponsored by Subterranean Books. The film features a variety of experts in the fields of energy and makes the connections between dwindling oil-resources, the expansion of suburbia, US war policy, and health and environmental concerns.
This documentary tells the story of the beginning of suburbia in America. In the late 1800’s and the beginning of the 1900’s the first American suburbs were built and were planned with main streets and generally had the same kind of planning that American citied did and were accessible to the entire community. These suburbs allowed the upper-middle class to get away from the city and still be in sustainable communities.
Next came the street-car suburbs and for those of you unfamiliar with streetcars and have only seen them on post cards of San Francisco streetcars used to be in every major American city and were the major source for public transportation in much of America. Streetcars lines before World War II were built to go outside of the city limits ( although only slightly) and wherever there was a streetcar stop a small suburb would develop around it would be made up of the upwardly mobile.
Then came the Second World War, an event that would change America and the world forever, and when the millions of Americans returned from battle overseas in 1945 and 1946 they all sought to buy homes as they were getting married by the millions. This created a housing crisis in American cities and massive suburbs were built all around the nation. The promise of suburbia was the promise to get away from a dirty and crowded urban life and move into a more country and rural farm-like setting. Of course, as the film points out, suburban living has nothing to do with country farm living because these suburbs have actually taken away farmland and destroyed local ecosystems. There is also no connection to the land in suburbia outside of mowing the lawn and planting flowers; no one is living off the land. What the documentary doesn’t take into account is the fact that there was in fact a housing shortage in the late 1940’s and much of the 1950’s and that new housing was needed; the proper argument should have been that if new suburbs were to be built they should have been built in a sustainable and environmentally and socially friend way.
During this period there was also an almost complete gutting of many American cities as the population, resources and businesses fled and those left in the city often were living in sub-standard conditions where their had once been prosperity in the cities. This coincided with a large influx of African-Americans from the South in the Great Migration (which the film did not point out) and African-Americans, who until then had been a mostly rural and Southern population, flooded Northern and Midwestern cities.
From the 1960’s and through the 1980’s saw white flight in response to this African-American migration (which the film also did not point out) and white families fled to suburbia in search of schools that were not full of black children. Because of the newfound poverty in the city many cities also became havens for crime and became very violent and still more families, black and white, fled the city for those reasons.
The new suburb was not based on any kind of a central grid and did not have community integration and neighborliness as a model; rather it was built to shield people from one another and to discourage close-knit neighborhoods and instead of streets that were connected and easy to navigate the cul-de-sac became the norm. The cul-de-sac became an island of isolation from the rest of the world where you could raise your family without any outside influences, and not be forced to deal with other human beings and you could be the king of your acre.
This suburb that exists until today is based on one thing; cheap energy, i.e. cheap oil. Why is this? Because you can no longer walk anywhere, there is nothing in walking distance, most of suburbia is not served by public transportation, people now routinely drive up to an hour a day or more to get to work, drive dozens of miles to go shopping and are not close to anything they do so the automobile is central to their lifestyle. The only way this lifestyle can be sustained is with an abundance of cheap oil and natural gas and as those resources decline suburbia will be in trouble, that is the point the film makes, and I agree with this assessment to a point. I believe that the modern-suburban lifestyle will be in danger in the future, but I believe that those affluent and self-insulated suburbs will be able to maintain their position but they will become more local oriented and less dependent on urban centers for work and entertainment. The other suburbs, those where the middle-class now lives, will become the new slums of America as those with money will either flee to the cities where there is sustainable community living or flee to the outer suburbs. In my opinion these will also be the political fault lines; those in the once again prosperous cities will be on the left and those in the secluded and isolated deep suburbs will be on the right and in the middle will be the poor.
The new suburban slum will be much worse than any slum America has ever seen. Why is this? Because suburbs, as a rule, and certainly the middle-class and poorer suburbs, do not have very good or durable architecture. Go into NYC, DC, Chicago and St. Louis and you can see that the urban slums may be poor, but the buildings remain in very good condition because they were built to last. The suburban buildings and homes were not built to last and if they are not well-maintained quickly become sub-standard. Cities also are better equipped to deal with social and community problems and the suburbs are not. These will be the new American slums that will look like the shantytowns of South Africa; the poor will head into the city to serve those at the sushi and latte bars and will head the other direction to serve the fast food restaurants and big box stores.
The film does a good job of pointing out the fact that as energy resources decline in the world their will be a fight for these resources. The Project for a New American Century and other neo-conservative groups have made it clear that for America to militarily and economically dominate the world it needs to control the world energy resources and the biggest source of these resources is in the Middle-East and the Caspian Sea region ( most of these areas are populated by Muslims). While, I agree with the film that US policy in these areas is heavily driven by oil (and in other regions such as Venezuela and Bolivia) I don’t believe that oil is the primary rationale for the war in Iraq; rather I believe that the war against political Islam (i.e. the democratic will of the people) is the main rationale. This also leads to the conclusion that as nations such as China, Japan, India and Brazil become more militarily powerful they will be more aggressive in their confrontations with the US over energy. Also, as the energy crisis gets bigger globalization which is dependent on cheap energy, will find it difficult to survive in the manner in which it is currently practiced.
The film praises New Urbanism, the trend back to the city and the need to urbanize the suburbs, and I also am in praise of this movement. It neglects to mention that many families today, who cannot afford private schools or afford to live in safe urban neighborhoods, are all but forced out of the cities and this feeds into the problem. Cities all across the country are becoming revitalized as the educated and affluent flock back to them, the key is however, in not displacing the residents who are already in the cities and making sure the city can be a home to people of all economic and racial backgrounds and thus far New Urbanism has been lackluster in this area. Metro areas such as the DC area (Northern VA and Southern MD) and Southern California that are heavily tied to suburban living and the automobile, if a new technology is not invented, will resemble the massive suburban slums of Latin America in the future.