Ismail, Hammad and Jerusalem

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.


St. Louis Photos

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

Conversations with My Grandparents

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.

Review of Syriana and Protocols of Zion 

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.

Bills and the Arab Corner-Store Owner

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.

End of Suburbia

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.