“Coup” A Short Story by Umar Lee

General Sam Berrios stood out among his military peers. Raised in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan by a single Jewish mother Sam had been immersed in civic-engagement and politics from a young age. His mother Sarah Stern, while Jewish, was also in fact an atheist, who believed in the traditional Jewish values of “healing the world.” In college she had joined a campus socialist organization and then traveled throughout many different groups on the left after getting into it with members of a particular group or having some philosophical differences.  In the late sixties she was involved with Students for a Democratic Society and learned to speak Vietnamese and dated a Vietnamese man ( who ironically didn’t share any of her political sensibilities). In the seventies Sarah joined the Socialist Workers Party and became an activist regarding American intervention in Latin America travelling to Chile, Argentina and Nicaragua. At this time she learned to speak Spanish and began dating a Puerto Rican man from Bushwick Brooklyn by the name of Alfredo Berrios. Alfredo was Sam’s father although he hadn’t saw his son more than a handful of times since Sam was a toddler.

Sarah would go on to date a Salvadoran while active in the politics of Central America ( who would molest Sam), several African-Americans during her fight against police-brutality, another Puerto Rican as she traveled to Vieques in support of the closing of an American naval base, and married an Iraqi she met after 9-11 while protesting the Iraq War and Islamophobia. Still an atheist Sarah converted to Islam and now wore a hijab like a traditional Muslim woman while campaigning for gender-equality and gay-rights at the mosque. Just as the leftists of her youth believed getting jobs beneath their qualification level was a good way to get a foot in the door of labor-unions they could influence Sarah now believed converting to Islam now gave her the best opportunities for her activism.

Who Sam was came from his mother. Watching her engage in direct actions against foreign dictators as they traveled to the United Nations to speak, travelling with her as she protested against Lt. Colonel Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings, and her steadfast involvement in a lot of local New York City issues.

When Sam graduated from high school in 1991 he wanted to do something different. His mother had insisted he go to public school and this meant he was getting picked on for being a “fag” and a “nerd” by the African-American and Latino kids at his school. As a form of rebellion Sam would hang out on the Upper East Side with the children of snobs and Wall Street types. Most of them Republicans. His mother hated his friends.

One day while visiting a boyfriend on Brooklyn he got off the Boro Hall subway station in Brooklyn and saw two Army recruiters. The rest was history. Why should poor white kids, those in the South and Midwest, blacks and Latinos be the only ones to serve? Sam enlisted enraging his mother who had raised him on the horrors of the military-industrial complex. Sarah wept for days and even had to be hospitalized for depression. She organized a group of friends to come and try and talk some sense into Sam. He would hear none of it.

Sam attended the State University of New York in Buffalo after basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and was a young officer by the time the second Iraq War came around. Believing on modern-warfare Sam had been against a heavy footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan and favored a reliance on special-forces, drone strikes and the CIA. Growing up in the anti-war movement and being a student of history Sam knew Americans were never concerned about civilian casualties on the other side: but even a few casualties on the American side could make a war unpopular and politically unsustainable.

As Iraq was winding down people who thought like Sam became more and more popular. President Barack Obama was not like George W. Bush. Yes Obama believed in a strong military, had liberal-interventionist advisers, and wanted to sustain American global dominance. Obama just didn’t like protracted military engagements seeing himself how hard it was to wind down Iraq and Afghanistan. Now stationed at the Pentagon Sam had met Obama at a meeting early in his presidency and had gotten the president’s ear. When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed Sam was at a White House dinner celebrating the repeal. When the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional Sam married his Iranian-American partner Ali at the White House.

Despite the deep fondness Obama had for Sam he was actually a Republican deeply influenced by neo-conservative writers and thinkers such as Irving Kristol, Norm Podhoretz, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, David Frum, David Brooks, and others. Socialism, Sam knew, was a failed economic system that was incapable of creating prosperity. Everyone would be equal. Yes, equally poor like Cuba. Liberals failed to grasp the uniqueness of America and the global responsibility to lead- sometimes with force. His own Jewish mother despised Israel as a “Zionist apartheid settler-state” while Sam saw it as a “bastion of Western Civilization in an ocean of darkness”. While his mother railed against gentrification in Manhattan Sam saw market forces at work. He now felt safe in New York and a great city was now a home to great people representing the elites from across American and indeed the world. Growing up Brooklyn had been a dangerous place for Sam to visit. Now it was full of young ( or youthful) creative whites mostly from other cities and instead of dangerous Sam found Brooklyn to be a great adventure. Being a neo-con, and not an old-fashioned conservative, Sam knew it had been a combination of rising housing prices and government intervention by Republican mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg that had led to this gentrification. African-Americans complained and mourned the loss of historic black neighborhoods such as Harlem and Bed-Stuy to wealthy liberal whites, and talked of a “reverse-migration” back to the South.

For Sam it was the whiter New York the better. The “hip” white neighborhoods were LGBTQ friendly and were full of the kind of fancy coffee shops, restaurants, and bars he liked to hang out in. Blacks and Latinos brought crack, danger, fried chicken joints, inauthentic Chinese restaurants, low quality pizza, and bodegas selling junk food.

Technically Sam was Latino while under Jewish law he was considered Jewish as he was born to a Jewish mother. Sam felt more white than Jewish. He definitely never felt Latino.  It was while drinking at a bar in Tampa, Florida with an old white colonel Sam began to think differently.

“Look son I grew up in Alabama. In America you can’t get away from race. Some people know the right things to say and now how to clean it up a little bit and all that sure. At the end of the day though this country is about race. It can be to your disadvantage and it can be to your advantage. Look at Obama. Shit he had never met more than a handful of African-Americans in his life until he went to college. He came from a white family. Went to expensive white schools. Lived around whites and Asians. Obama’s mind is thoroughly white. When he got to Chicago and tried to run for office a real black man, an old Black Panther, named Bobby Rush kicked Obama’s ass and his supporters called Obama a whiteboy backed by Jewish money. Obama and his wife knew he had to get blacker and that’s when he started attending that black church. It wasn’t because Obama had a great love for blacks. Sure he had an interest and he had been reading and studying race for years but that wasn’t it. Obama knew he needed blacks to get elected and they could be a base of support. He had to black it up. Well you Sam you don’t speak Spanish. You gotta freakin learn. The military is looking to promote Latinos. More and more of our recruits are Latinos. You fit the bill son. The anti-gay stuff will fade with time. That’s the direction the country is headed and a high-profile gay officer will be good for image.” The old redneck colonel sad his face reddened with the consumption of beer.

When Sam was promoted at such a young age over so many other much more qualified generals President Obama introduced him as the “first openly gay male general and our first Latino Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff”.  Obama knew he could score points for the Democratic Party by checking off the Latino and gay box: but the real reason he promoted Sam was they saw together eye to eye on military matters and had similar family backgrounds. The two men identified with one another. Leftist mothers, absent fathers, the development of mature political philosophies in college, and the bi-racial identity.

Sam had oversaw the arrest and capture of Edward Snowden in Venezuela. After the Congressional hearings on the National Security Agency monitoring program, which were just for political theater anyway,  Sam had a major hand in organizing the transfer of the program to the Pentagon and was a major supporter of it. In other matters the two men saw eye to eye as well including their shared enthusiasm for drones.

With the 2016 Presidential elections months away President Obama had consulted with Sam while the two men were both in Cairo visiting President Mohammed ElBaradei. ElBaradei had first been installed by the Egyptian military-junta that had overthrown the democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2014 President ElBaradei had been elected with less than 20% of Egyptians in the elections because most parties and candidates were banned from running by the military ( who had written the new constitution with the help of American, British and Israeli experts in the field of law).  With unemployment at an all time high, corruption out of control, more than 200,000 political prisoners in prison, and more than 100,000 dead from political-violence, and the generals amassing billions of dollars in wealth, ElBaradei was seeking an American aid package to end the civil-strife.

“The people are in the streets. The Islamists are on the rise. They are calling for free and fair elections. We all know what happened last time. Can we agree we don’t want that again?” ElBaradei asked.

“Absolutely. We can all agree we don’t want the return of democracy.” Obama said nodding his head.

“If I may intervene.” Sam said.

“By all means.” ElBaradei responded.

“I agree with both of you. Egypt is not ready for a true democracy and a dictatorship is better than the Muslim Brotherhood. Absolutely. Our support is crucial using our technology to track Islamists phone calls and emails and drone strikes when needed. You gotta do your part though. You got what? Two or three billion in wealth? The generals another fifty or so? You gotta spread the wealth. Throw some bones to the people. Stimulate the economy. When you get economic growth and people living good they won’t be in the streets or calling for democracy. Look at China.” Sam said.

“Yes, we are working on that.” A fidgeting ElBaredei said.

“You cooperation in closing the Gaza crossings and tunnels has been most useful. Major factor in leading to the civil-war in Gaza. They are so busy fighting among themselves they have no time to fight the Israelis.” Obama said.

“Yes, anything we can do to help, as I just told the Israelis on my last visit. What about your situation in America? Are you really going to let Rand Paul become president? He is an American version of Morsi. Will bring “illiberal democracy”.” ElBardei said.

“We are trying our best to see he does not win. These elections are tough though. America isn’t Egypt. We can’t just ban parties and candidates by military edict.” Obama said with a smirk on his face.

Later that night Obama and Sam enjoyed a glass of wine and talked about the November election. A series of campaign gaffes had led to the vanishing of Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls. Rand Paul was now in the lead and promising to end the surveillance programs started by Bush and Obama, work to repeal the Patriot Act, bring American troops home, stop the drones campaign and end aid to Israel and Egypt. On the domestic front he promised massive tax-cuts, smaller government, the repeal of Obamacare, privatizing social security, and scaling back the government’s role in civil-rights issues.

While ahead in the polls Paul was dogged by the chattering classes and media-elites. Anderson Cooper on CNN grilled him for being weak on gay-rights and when it was discovered he once used the word “fag” in college it led to several days of non-stop media coverage on the issue culminating with Paul going on 60 Minutes to apologize. A gay-rights activist poured a bucket of pink paint on Paul as he left the CBS studios. As soon as that scandal was over it was discovered his wife had a cookbook by Paula Deen in her kitchen. That led to the Rev. Al Sharpton camping out in front of the Paul home for a week leading a rally of thousands and broadcasting his MSNBC show from there. Paul had to go on a “tour of black America” with Jesse Jackson and drop about $500,000 to ease that scandal. The next scandal occurred when Paul told Bill Maher he believed in a literal Heaven and Hell and Maher twisted his words to say only Christians were going to Heaven. This led to protests by atheists, Jews, liberal Muslims, and others at Paul events. Paul visited synagogues and mosques to ease that controversy.

To make matters better Paul agreed to a prime-time interview with David Gregory on NBC. This created another scandal when Paul said he had never been to a Broadway show or an art museum. This led to a cover story in the New Yorker “Can We Live With Paul: An Egyptian Option.”. The basic argument was American democracy had evolved. When this country was in the early stages only wealthy white landowners could vote. Eventually all white men could vote. Then African-Americans could vote and then women.  The American voting franchise had expanded really until the 2013 court-ruling scaling back the voting rights provisions of the civil-rights act. The New Yorker article argued democracy should be tolerant of everything except “intolerance” and painted Paul as being similar to ex Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and an intolerant religious-fundamentalist. In an effort to preserve a liberal democracy the state had the right to prevent illiberal figures from taking office even by extra- constitutional moves. After all a consensus had developed since the Snowden leak America was living in a “post constitutional era” and the media-elites and chattering classes had formed a supportive consensus that the loss of privacy and civil-liberties and increased  use of drones at home.

In Manhattan, DC, Hollywood, or San Francisco saying you were voting for Paul could get you kicked out of a party. Chris Matthews said on his show “when I think of this guy anger just shoots up me leg”. Day after day the media railed against Paul. Still he led in the polls.

Sam and his hubby Ali had got their own reality TV show on the Bravo Network and it was a hit. The show was named “The Fab Gen and Ali”. It followed the home life of the couple and their three children. One boy imported from a Cambodian orphanage, another boy from Burundi, and another boy from Colombia.  Oprah was such a fan of Sam she started a weekly TV show with the two of them interviewing popular figures in American life and discussing current issues.

It was on the show with Oprah that Sam first discussed the Egyptian Model in public.

“Some may ask do we really want to go from President Barack Obama, the man who gave us gay-rights and a path to a Green America, our first African-American president, to a man with a troubled history on matters of race and civil-rights? A man who at the same time has stated he will make things easy on the terrorists by scaling back the Bush-Obama policies? Obama represents a New America. The America of Paul has come and gone. They had their day.” Sam said on the air.

This took the national conversation to the next level. The Egyptian Model was discussed almost daily on NPR ( who had a special hard-on for Paul after he said he would cut all funding to the Cooperation for Public Broadcasting). Many on MSNBC, CNN and in the major dailies got on board with the Egyptian Model.

The day before the election, with Paul holding a double-digit lead in the polls, Obama called Sam in for a meeting.

“Do you think it is really possible? Will the American people accept it?” Obama asked.

“They accepted drones, the NSA, and the Patriot Act, why would they start caring now? Sure a small minority will: but if we are truly following the Egyptian Model we can just lock up the troublemakers and close hostile media outlets. You are talking about 500,000 people at most. We have more than enough capacity we can easily house that many people in our prisons.” Sam said.

“If Egypt can do it surely we can do it.” Obama nodded in agreement.

That afternoon President Obama addressed the American public from the Oval Office informing them of his decision. Meanwhile Sam began a purge of the Pentagon of conservatives and a similar effort was going on at the Justice Department. A coordinated effort squashed the protests around the country and by Tuesday Paul and 20,000 of his supporters were in jail.

Outside of a few dissenting voices the American media was in agreement. Praising Obama for being visionary and Sam as a George Washington like military figure. Liberal democracy had been saved. Fundamentalism and extremism defeated. President ElBaredei called Obama to congratulate him on his actions. General Sisi of Egypt called Sam to congratulate him. Hillary Clinton was not happy though. Obama decided if he was going to suspend the Constitution he might as well just stay in office himself.

(BTW, before I get it, I am not a supporter of Rand Paul)

How the Bush Years Began For Me and How The Obama Years Will Begin

Eight years ago on inauguration day I was not in the best of places. I woke up early and was kind of nervous. I got up, took a shower, prayed, and then went to a room where a TV was playing CNN.

I had no real idea of where I was going to go that today and sat alone with my thoughts. Sensing my dilemma three guys I knew came up to me to cheer me up; Lorenzo, a soldier in the Gambino crime family from Brooklyn, Johnny a Polish pimp out of the Irish neighborhood of South Boston, and Tommy a sometimes Muslim brother and heavy player in the black neighborhoods of Staten Island.

We talked for a while and they all gave me advice (Tommy seemed to encourage me to resume a life of crime). Then a corrections officer came and escorted me to another building where I changed clothes and received a paper bag full of my belongings. Another CO came and escorted me out of that building to a van and he drove me to a bus stop where a bus would take me from rural central Pennsylvania where we were at to another city where I could transfer.

I did not know where I wanted to go. I didn’t really have a home anywhere and did not have a solid plan for making any money. In my heart I wanted to go to DC to join the protesters who were gathered to challenge the inaugural of George W. Bush. Many, such as myself, believed that he had fraudulently won the election. I had lived in DC before and studied there; but from experience I knew it was a tough place to get a job.

I first went to Philly and decided not to go to DC as I sat a McDonalds and spilled a strawberry shake all over myself. Eventually I ended up in St. Louis and by that time W was the Prez. A few weeks later I was in NYC sleeping in subway cars and then at a masjid in Brooklyn with no heat I the cold winter until I found steady employment.

That is how the W years began for me, not so good. A lot has happened in those 8 years and the nation has been changed forever. I do not recognize the Muslim community of today that is how different it is. 9-11, the War on Iraq, the Patriot Act, and all of that has just totally changed what it means to be a Muslim in America and that for me is the biggest tragedy of the Bush years personally.

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If Obama is Serious About Justice He Will Do More Than Close Gitmo

Good,  Obama is ordering the gulag at Gitmo to be closed. My next question is will he order the Justice Department to take a fresh look at the political prosecutions of Muslims in America? There are two facilities in America known as the American Gitmo’s (Florence ADX in Colorado and USP Terre Haute in Indiana). Will Obama order that the brothers in these prisons be given new trials or there cases be at least looked at? If he is serious about cleaning up the image of America will he pardon Sheikh Ali al-Timimi or at least launch an investigation into his unjust prosecution by the government? Will he commute the sentences of brothers such as Seifullah Chapman and Abdur-Rahman al-Amudy who are serving draconian sentences? Will he have the Justice Department investigate the circumstances around the arrest and conviction of Imam Jamil al-Amin? Will he order the Justice Department to free the money they stole from Muslim charities and allow Muslims in America to raise money for the aid of our suffering brothers and sisters around the world?  If he is really interested in justice, and not just window dressing, these are things that he will do.

Barack Obama and the Message of Gaza

Studies have shown that more than 80% of American-Muslims (including myself) voted for Barack Obama in the presidential election. It is also known that the Palestinian issue is one of the most important issues to a lot of Muslim voters in America. For this reason I have said for months that the Muslim honeymoon with Obama will end once the Palestinian crisis flare up and Muslims find out he is more on the lines of another Bill Clinton than someone who can bring a just resolution to the conflict.

Personally I have no faith in the Obama Administration with regards to Palestine. He is first and foremost a politician who cut his teeth on the ethnic and neighborhood politics of Chicago. Politically, whether it be right or wrong, he will see no benefit in taking a more Pro-Palestinian stance while one-fifth of Democratic donors are Jewish and a pro-Israeli mainstream media would attack him if he took a more just stance. This is compounded by the fact that Hillary Clinton will be the Secretary of State and Dennis Ross will be her advisor.

We are getting a sneak preview now as Obama remains silent as Israel mercilessly attacks the people of Gaza militarily after systematically starving the people for months. This is contrasted by his forceful condemnation of the Mumbai attacks. Combine these two things with the fact that Obama has promised a fool-hearted increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan to fight the insurgency (which itself is fueled by the occupation). All of this together means that as I am looking at it today Obama will be bad for most Muslims in most places in the world unless he can bring peace with Iran, Syria, and really leave Iraq.

So, why would I vote for someone who I think will be bad for most Muslims? Well, Obama may be bad for most Muslims but he is by a number of degrees better than a unilateralist and neo-conservative Republican Administration with Evangelical leanings would be.

But, even though I think Obama will be better, that is not why I voted for him. I knew that Obama would be no treat for Palestinians and Muslims worldwide. However, as I live in America and my family lives in America I had to vote for who would improve the condition for me, my family and the Muslims in America first and foremost.  This means I had to focus on issues like healthcare, the economy education and other matters first. Just as the people in Gaza vote for who will do the best for them in their lives first I did the same thing here in America.

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Obama: A New President for a New America

Due to time and fatigue I will be brief in my analysis of the election. As you can see from my electoral map I was a little too optimistic on a few states (although my home-state of Missouri looks like it is going to a recount it is so close).  At the end of the day though Tuesday November 4, 2008 will go down as one of the greatest days in the history of America. It will be right up there with July 4, 1776 (the day America declared independence from England), June 19, 1865 (the day all slaves were freed in America), the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Presidency in November of 1932 which brought about the New Deal,   Victory Day for the Allies in Europe when Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 7, 1945, the signing Voting Rights Act in August 6, 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson after the campaigning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the Civil Rights Movement,  and now the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency of the United States of America.

Yesterday I worked long and hard bringing voters to the polls. At 6:00 AM I brought an election judge to the Wohl Center on North Kingshighway at Dr. Martin Luther King and there were already about 500 people in line to vote (all of them black). All day I witnessed long lines of people of all ages and colors and enthusiasm before I came home to watch the results on television with a couple of close friends and Muslim brothers and my wife. One voter will however stick in my mind forever. At around 1 PM as I was waiting for a voter to finish and give a ride back home I witnessed a young man drive his 97 year old African-American grandmother to the polling place at 725 North Euclid. She was too frail to get out of the car so the ballot had to be brought to her. I just thought to myself what has this woman seen in these 97 years and did she ever think she would see this day?

When victory was announced I took in the awesome scenes on MSNBC from Grant Park in Chicago, Spellman College and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, 125th Street in Harlem, Times Square in Manhattan, and in front of the White House ( where my dear friend Omar Rosario was calling me on his cell phone).

I was numb and in shock; America had just changed. There is now, as Spike Lee stated, a B.B. (before Barack) and an A.B. (after Barack) in America in which time will be judged.

Message to American-Muslims on the Eve of the Election

The night before last a police officer who had been on the job for decades was shot and killed in his squad car. His car was parked in a spot I frequently parked at and from all reports a deranged man just approached the car and began firing.

Last night a man rode in my cab who several months ago had been a strong young man and UPS truck driver. As he sat in my backseat he had no legs, was unemployed and could not walk. One day he had been coming home from work with a friend and co-worker when his truck was hit in the back. When he got out of the car to exchange insurance information with the other driver he was ambushed by the passengers in the other car and shot 7 times. His passenger was killed. The gunshot wounds led to lead poisoning and my passenger’s legs had to be amputated and last night I was taking him to visit a dying friend he had met at the hospital. He said that the accident has helped to put his life into perspective and that he would be at the polls on Tuesday at 6:00 AM sharp to cast his ballot for Senator Barack Obama.

Last Tuesday I gave my wife a ride to the Board of Election Commissioners to cast an absentee ballot. She is 5 months pregnant and did not want to stand in the long lines on Election Day. I sat out in the car and did not plan to vote early because I wanted to be at the polls on November 4th and be a part of the experience. However, while sitting in my cab, I thought about all of the things that can happen in a week and how everything is decreed by Allah. We are not the masters of what will happen and we cannot control events. So I said to myself that while Allah has blessed me with my health and freedom that I should go in and cast my ballot for Obama because I may never have another chance to do this.

This is a vote I felt good about. I do not consider Obama to be the lesser of two evils. I consider him flawed like every politician (and indeed every human) but also as a man that can change America as we know it for the better and can change the image of what it means to be an American. I see him as a man who has got people interested in politics who previously have never voted or even watched the news. Passengers in my cab, shift workers at fast food joints, cabbies, Muslim brothers who have never voted before, are all enthusiastic about Obama. Hip-Hop clubs throughout America, once one the most apolitical of places in America (with the exception of the relatively few more conscious joints) will host hundreds of election watching parties throughout America come Tuesday night.
There are those who are not excited about Obama; such as the guy in my cab the other night who said Obama would push reparations and Black Power and put Farrakhan in the cabinet and the guy who told me that he was dressing as Obama as the Taliban for Halloween (the night where you can see most clearly the cultural and moral decay in America from the frolicking to the bigoted costuming).  Others, on the idealistic left fringe of American life and reality, will not support Obama because he does not match up with their ideological purity (and let’s face it the vast majority of these voters are wealthy white liberals, and those seduced by them, who will be fine no matter who is in office).

The Muslim vote has the possibility of being crucial in a number of states; Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio. All indications are that the vast majority of Muslim voters will be voting for Obama (although Muslim Republicans are not dead especially in the South Asian community).  An Obama Administration will not be perfect for Muslims, and it will not be perfect for some Muslim causes such as Palestine, but on the core issues of civil-liberties, health-care, education, diversity in America and creating a more equitable and just society Obama will be right there with us.

MANA sent out a group email on the election. It included a piece by Imam Zaid Shakir that I did not quite relate to and a well-written intelligent piece by Yasmin Mayaan binti Bobo considering the 200th or something presidential run of Ralph Nader, the man who brought you W and thus the Iraq War and GTMO, and Cynthia McKinney who lost her congressional seat in Georgia and based on that defeat is running for the highest office in the land. McKinney has been a friend of Muslims but so has my grandmother that does not mean I would throw away my vote and vote for her (although she would get about he same amount of votes as McKinney if on the ballot). McKinney and Nader represent the politics of idealism and Obama represents the politics of consensus which is a more mature and responsible outlook.

It is the piece by an elder statesman of Islam in America, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in New York, which I will most encourage readers to read. He encourages Muslims to a make a mature, responsible, non-idealistic vote for Obama based on a number of factors. Imam Talib came of age before there were Muslims Republicans and Muslims who confuse the Prophet ( PBUH) and the Sahabah as a band of politically-correct Marxist hippies. He has a purely American-Muslim take on the race and he comes down decidedly for Obama.

Tuesday I will begin work around 5AM insha’Allah taking election judges to the polls and I will stop working around 6PM to come home and watch the results with a few Muslim brothers. The results from the East Coast will come in first and if Obama wins Pennsylvania , maybe with the help of the large Muslim population in Philly, then we will know he will have  a good night. If he can win in Virginia or North Carolina then we will know this election is over and again the Muslim vote may be the factor in these states.

Sarah Palin’s “Real America” and the One of Barack Obama

On Friday I had worked for 20 hours; only stopping for the essentials such as gas and jumma prayer. My day began around fajir and did not end till the wee hours of the morning on Saturday. After going to sleep for a few hours I got up in order to attend the Barack Obama rally on the grounds of the St. Louis Arch.

Along with me came my wife and her two children, but unfortunately we were not able to make it in time as we had been given some inaccurate information. We were told that Obama would speak at 1 and as we pulled up on Memorial Drive at quarter to 1 we could hear Sen. Obama wrapping up his speech with a “God bless you St. Louis”. For the next 30 minutes we sat in a traffic jam and moved about 100 feet. Democratic spokesmen estimated the crowd to be at around 175,000 people (one of the largest in American history).

I do not know the exact number of people who gathered in this battleground state yesterday, but what I do know is that the crowd looked like America. I saw the young and old, black and white, people of all faiths, and people dressed in many different ways. The diversity of this crowd represented a candidate, and a Party, that has on its agenda expanding the American franchise to all people. And, while the Party and candidate may not be perfect in all positions, it is the Party of inclusion. For me this means that I can show up at the rally as a white Muslim man who drives a cab and wears a big beard with my African-American wife in hijab and two children and not feel out of place  This does not mean that I am in complete unison with all of those in the crowd or that I have become a cultural liberal and an adherent to the San Francisco madhab (  as prominent Muslim leader who was here last weekend has saying with regards to homosexuality, and without one grain of evidence from Khitab and Sunnah,  ” what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is not our concern…it is between them and Allah”).  What it means for me is that on all levels as a Muslim, as a working-class American, as someone in a multi-racial family, and as someone who grew-up poor and estranged from the mainstream of American society, I can feel at home at a Democratic rally even if I am with people who may not agree with me on a lot of things. The party has a big tent and I am cool with being under that tent with people of all walks of life.

I say all of this because the divisive campaigning of Sarah Palin has been eating away at me for the last several weeks. She is using the most divisive rhetoric of anyone on a national ticket since the days of George Wallace. This has been pointed out already by conservative writers such as Peggy Noonan and David Brooks; but both Noonan and Brooks came short in analyzing all of the connotations of the conservative populism of Palin.

Yesterday, while that diverse crowd of people gathered in St. Louis to hear Obama, Palin was busy saying that the “patriotic parts of America”, would support McCain implying that people in Blue States were somehow not authentically American.  Today Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri followed up on that by saying American values are more apparent in small towns and rural areas as people “get ready for deer hunting season”. Indeed after the VP debate a few weeks ago Palin also had a rally and I sat in my cab for several minutes watching the crowd walk by before I saw one African-American woman and a Desi couple; but I saw many that could have been mistaken for deer hunters.

Real Americans, in the minds of Palin and Blunt, do not live in the Northeast, West Coast, or Upper Midwest. Real Americans also do not live in cities. The only places “real” Americans live, in the world of Palin and Blunt, are small towns, rural areas, and suburbia (and mostly the areas of exurbia that Karl Rove focused heavily on). These areas have become the strongholds of the GOP, and as was said in 2000 of Bush, “he won every county with a cow in it”.

These areas tend to have two things in common in that they are very religious and they are overwhelmingly white (and most of these areas in most states are around 100% white). So the subtext to the “real American” message of Palin is that real Americans only live in areas that are all white. So by default, the vast majorities of African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews and Asians are excluded from the privileges of being seen as real Americans by Palin and many conservatives.

While these areas Palin may find “the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans” it is also a fact that very few non-whites feel comfortable living in these idealized communities, and that most are highly suspicious of outsiders or people who think, look, or pray a little different than them. Because of this demographic reality, the populism of Palin and the conservatives becomes an ideology based on suspicion of the other as not being fully American and race becomes central to the outlook. Not that there aren’t non-whites who are swayed by this populism, of course there are and we even have Muslims swayed by this, but this is called delusion. People who just want to be loved and accepted often do not ask that they be respected first; it is the politics of house servants.

The white conservative populism is also fueled by Christian, mostly Evangelical, populism. This gives this movement not only a regional and racial component but a confessional one.

The forthrightness to which Palin brings this argument is new for mainstream politics. But all one has had to do for the last several years is listen to conservative talk-radio, watch FOX News, go to sites like Freerepublic and LGF, listen to country music, and it would be obvious that this populism is rampant.

Real Americans are white, real Americans pray to Jesus, real Americans drive trucks and SUV’s, real Americans support the war, and everyone else is a foreign enemy on this soil; so goes there thinking. People like my grandfather, who served as a marine in World War II and is a veteran of the Battle of Okinawa, have not got this message that they are not real Americans; because he is a Democrat, union member, product of the inner-city, and an Obama Supporter who cannot fathom how anyone would not see him as an American.

Unfortunately for people like me and my family, those who share the view of Palin are more than a few and we are going to need every vote to count come November 4th in order to defeat the white Christian populism of Palin and the GOP.

I will leave you with the words of General Colin Powell from today on Meet the Press who illustrates everything I have been trying to say in these brief words,

“Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That’s not America. Is there something wrong with a seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion that he is a Muslim and might have an association with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

“I feel particularly strong about this because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay, was of a mother at Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards – Purple Heart, Bronze Star – showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn’t have a Christian cross. It didn’t have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith.

And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life.”

Next Article: Leave ACORN Alone: A message from a Disgruntled Ex ACORN Community Organizer

Obama and The Lesson of The Two Hijabis

There has been a lot of optimism and hope from young people about the campaign of Barack Obama. Particularly I know of a lot of young Muslims who are very excited about the Obama campaign. In fairness I am one of those people. I think Obama represents change and a breath of fresh air. Obama is a man of big ideas and I think he just may be the man to bring about some of the significant changes we need in this society and put away the old America and usher in the new era.

 

Having said that I do not necessary look at politics as something that can deliver everything the people need in order to make change. True change comes from the bottom up. Change can be nudged along or inspired from the top at times and there are certain things that can only be done from the top but change is something from the bottom up.

 

There are a lot of Muslims, and non-Muslims, who are waiting on some messianic figure to rise in order to make everything alright. Muslims are looking for a khalifah who cannot make salaah, fast or worship for us and cannot from the top down reorganize dysfunctional Muslim societies without Mao-like massive brutality. Americans are looking for one man who can redo some of the ills that have plagued this society from its inception and it is not possible for one man or a group of men to do all things in the system that we have. I except very little from politicians I vote for and if I get anything I’m surprised.

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Obama Has Won and I’m Excited

For the last several weeks I have been real tired of this election process and have been paying less and less attention to it. After last night however and the all but certainty that Sen. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency I am once again enthused.  As I have stated before I am an Obama supporter. Contrary to what some on Islamophobic websites have stated my support for Obama has nothing to do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. I support Obama because I believe that he represents a real change in American politics and to the ideals of where a president can come from and what he should look like.

Race has been the central issue in American public life since this nation was founded and to have a black man in the Presidency of the United States will make a strong statement about where the nation is and what it can aspire to. It will send an image of America to the world, which is mostly non-white, as an open and diverse nation in contrast to the phony John Wayne image that Bush likes to portray.

This is not just about Obama and his blackness. This is also about who he has been as a man. This is a man from humble middle-class roots, who lived in Indonesia as a child, is an Ivy League grad yet worked as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and is married to a black woman from the South Side. Yesterday on TV Mitt Romney made fun of his background as an organizer; but to me it is one of the best things about Obama. When guys like Romney laid people off men like Obama stood up to help them when they could have been getting rich.

On the core issues that Americans care about the most; the economy, health-care, education, and the war Obama has the best stance on the issues. Is he perfect? No, he is not and no politician is and anyone looking for perfection in politics and is more than two years removed from college needs to grow-up.  I also vote first and foremost for issues right here in America and who will be best for me, my family, and the people closest to me. I do not expect a Palestinian in Gaza to think of what is best for Americans when they head to the polls and I do not think of them before my family. Issues in the Muslim World and ending the war in Iraq are important and need to be dealt with in a better way by America but those issues take a backseat to me to what is going on right here. I want to know who is going to help get ex-offenders jobs, who is going to bring us universal health-care, who is going to make education more equitable and relevant, and who can bring people of all races and religions together.

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Rev. Jeremiah Wright Tells His Side on Bill Moyer’s Show

For those of you who did not get a chance to watch the hour long interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright  on  Bill Moyers Journal on PBS you missed an excellent show. Wright, whose sermons at his south side Chicago church Trinity United Church of Christ where Sen. Barack Obamais a member have been used as a wedge-issue against Obama. Obama has had to distance himself from his minister of over 20 years and Wright has become a vilified figure in the corporate media and a favorite target of the right-wing.

 

In this interview the public got to see a lot more of Rev. Wright which is a lot bigger than the limited version that Americans have seen on cable news shows and Youtube. They saw the story of a man who grew up the son and grandson of Christian ministers in Philadelphia, studied the ministry at Virginia Christian Union, went to Vietnam as a marine, prepared President Lyndon Baines Johnsonfor surgery in his capacities as a cardio tech, graduated from Howard University in DC, and then went to Chicago to  study religious history at the University of Chicago.

 

It was in Chicago that he took over pastoral duties at a small church of 87 members that and built it into a 5000 member church. What was the message that led to such growth? It was a message of community service; soup kitchens, job training, counseling, youth mentoring, tutoring kids, an HIV/AIDS ministry, and other things. On the south side of Chicago, which in the 1980′s (and even today) was decimated by drugs, gangs and violence the vision Rev. Wright had for the church was one that extended beyond the four walls of a building.

 

The Rev. Wright also addressed the issue of whether his message was exclusionary and was not inclusive of white people. Now, for one, I found this allegation that his church excluded whites to be somewhat comical because it assumes that whites were lining up in the south side of Chicago to come to his church. But, in case the jury is still out, Rev. Wright said he has a multi-racial and multi-ethnic congregation.

 

What Rev. Wright made clear was the following; his church was in the black community and addressed the unique needs of the people it served, he sought to give his congregation a positive view of their African roots and connect it to their Christian faith, and the Black Value System was developed to address the problems that existed amongst the people.

 

In addressing his “God damn America” statement he said what a lot of people have said in that white America does not know or understand the black church; because if they did they would know that the kind of sermons that Rev. Wright gave are par for the course in many black churches.

 

When he made this statement on the Sunday after 9-11 which he has been electronically lynched for what did he mean? He meant that in a nation that was built on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, practiced genocide against the Native American people, practiced legalized apartheid, bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, burned Vietnamese alive, bloodily occupied the Philippines, supported apartheid South Africa, blindly stood with Israel even to her own determent, how should it come as a surprise when one day the “chickens come home to roost.” Rev. Wright, like myself and a lot of other people, love America but we recognize her sins and that these sins have consequences.

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Obama Campaign, Muslims, and a Race of Demographics

In researching the results from the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary I came across this article from al-Jazeera on Pennsylvania Muslims and the Obama campaign.

 

I agree with the fundamental argument of the article that Muslims in America have coalesced around the candidacy of Barack Obama. Personally I don’t have any friend that I know, who votes, Muslim or non-Muslim that is not supporting Obama and every Muslim I talk to who is voting not only is supporting Obama but has a seething hostility towards both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Even in my family everyone is voting for Obama with the excpetion of my grandparents who are for Hillary ( and this fits a pattern).

 

In this Muslims are a part of a trend that is becoming clearer by the day in this election and that is the fact that this is an election of demographics. PA was a state that Clinton could win because demographically it favored her and, just as this happens on the local level in every election cycle, the Democratic Party is divided by race, class, and now even religion on a national level. As I have mentioned before this is why in New York City the Republican Party has carried the last 4 elections for mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city because the Party is so divided by race and ethnicity.  In St. Louis there are two Democratic Parties and one is white based on the south side and the other is black based on the north side, in DC where I am now there is a very liberal globo white Democratic Party and there is the African-American faction of Marion Barry,  and I could name 50 other cities at least with similar racial divisions in Democratic politics and today this is playing out on the national level for all of those in maybe Utah and Maine who didn’t know that the progressive Democratic Party is often divided by the regressive issue of race and ethnicity.

 

Demographically, despite his huge advantage in Philadelphia amongst black voters, Pennsylvania was not a good fit for Obama. The groups that are consistently voting against Obama; old white people, white blue-collar voters, Asians, white women, Mexican-Americans and increasingly Jews made up a big percentage of the population in the state.

 

PA, like a lot of other states in the rustbelt and Midwest, when you leave the urban areas that may themselves be suffering from urban decay, is full of small towns that have been hit hard by globalization and the new economy. These voters yearn for a better time in America and see Clinton as the person that can usher the old days back in and see Obama as a candidate of change and change has not been good for them.

 

African-Americans needed change to emerge form segregation and state-repression, Latinos needed change to be accepted into mainstream American society, Muslims need change today to restore our full rights as American citizens; but that is not the case for blue-collar and older white Americans. They did not need change as the status-quo benefited them and every time a change has come in their lifetime their status has been lessened.  They are trying to preserve as much of their cherished old way of life as they can and the last thing they want is a black man with a funny name coming in town talking about more change.

Obama, in my mind, has almost no chance at all of winning the white blue-collar vote in November against McCain who will be pimping his service and captivity in Vietnam to the fullest. If he can’t beat a liberal-elitist woman with no roots in anything who supported NAFTA and free-trade and the war then what chance does he have at winning this vote over GI Johnny?

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