I have always been political minded ever since I was in grade school and always watched the news, read the newspapers and thought hard about the problems of the world. That is why as a kid I never watched cartoons that much or read kids books. My free time was spent studying up on history and politics, playing sports and getting into trouble.
During my teenage years I continued watching the news, reading what I could and trying to find people to converse with about the things I read but couldn’t really find anyone until after becoming a Muslim. As far as I knew there was no political activism out there. I used to think at the time that I as born into the wrong generation and that if I had been around in the sixties I would have been surrounded by anti-war protesters and Black Panthers instead of clueless white kids and black drug dealers.
After becoming a Muslim I ran into people that were active in the Islamic Movement and that is the door in which I entered political activism from those who were active in opposing the dictatorships in Algeria and Egypt and calling for the right of Palestinians and the freedom of Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir. Briefly, through Ismail Royer, I was introduced to some young white activists who were punk rockers, some anarchists, some Communists, and vegetarians but we didn’t really get a long as I saw them for what they didn’t see themselves as and that is a bunch of spoiled rich kids who in a few years would be cashing in on their upper-class white privilege and then just become good liberal Democrats ( at best).
Years went by and I didn’t really think about the American activist scene or get involved with any of the rallies and protests they were having ( and didn’t even know about them) but I did read the some of the Leftists publications out there and was aware of many of the arguments and analysis coming from the Left. I was too consumed wit the problmes of the Muslim ummah.
It wasn’t until I met Tim Kaminski, a Muslim brother and auto worker who was a long time communist trade-union organizer and hardcore-leftist who later converted to Islam, that I began to get involved with activists on the Left once again. The occasion for our meeting, protesting and organizing was the indiscriminate bombing of civilians during the US bombing of Afghanistan. Later I would become involved with issues such as Palestine, Venezuela and the anti-war movement. During all of these campaigns ( and they are still ongoing) I met sincere and committed people who have sacrificed for what they believe to be just and I have respect for those people. Many have paid for their stands with prison time, such as Lynne Stewart, and others are making smaller but very real sacrifices.
However there are real problems with the anti-war movement and the various activist groups that are dealing with many serious issues. As we were gearing up for the war on Iraq in New York City I went to constant meetings, organized protests and rallies. At these meeting I stuck out like a sore thumb. Was it because I have white skin? No, almost all of those at these meetings are white and that is problem number one. Is it because I am a Muslim? Well, maybe. To be sure I was not the only Muslim at many of these meetings but I was the only mainstream practicing Muslim at these events ( or the only Muslim who wasn’t in love with Karl Marx and Manhattan) and there was also a shortage of other people of faith.
If there were Jews at these meetings they were Reformed Jews or Queer Jews or Atheist Jews but not an Orthodox Jew or a serious Jew was at the meetings I attended. There were Christians; but most of them I talked to were not believers. yes they attended a church but they did so to politically organize or to try and hijack the church for their cause but they did not believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. What they did believe is that Jesus was a revolutionary and that he was a man who fought for the poor and was for peace therefore they are true followers of Jesus minus having to believe. They did not believe that they should encourage their churches to follow the moral instruction of the Bible or that they should themselves actually follow the edicts of Christianity. Most of the people that I ran into at these gatherings not only were not religious; but had an extreme hostility to anyone and anything religious. Now I am not setting myself as some pious Muslim because I am not; but to be in a crowd that loves to laugh and joke and poke fun of everything religious as the Muslim that I am made me feel uncomfortable.
Now moving on to the greatest problem with the activists. I realized rather quickly that almost all, and I mean all, of the people that I ran cross had come from affluent backgrounds and had went to the best schools. They ere the children of middle to upper class professionals and they may have read some studies or listened to NPR but they had no real clue about the lives of everyday working-class Americans or those in the ghettos. When I would hear them talk they were completely clueless about the things going on and the plight of real working people. Chances are most of them lived in gentrified urban neighborhoods in homes or apartments once occupied by people of color or working-people and then they head off to a protest to Free Palestine.
When I would sit in on meetings these activists would be talking like the upper-class, eating the food of the upper class, have the mannerisms of the upper-class and then claim to be railing against the system! Many had no financial worries, they were getting trust funds or there families were loaded and appeared to be acting out some rebellion against their parents or something. They bent over backwards to kiss any black persons or Latinos ass ( and now Arabs and Muslims) but the end-game is for the people of color to get down wit their program or get out. I would be the only person in the room with financial probelms, who had done any time in prison and had more friends in prison and the early graveyard than I did at prestigous schools and fancy neighborhoods.
So I asked myself; why are these rooms not filled with union workers and Brooklyn College grads instead of private school grads and trust-fund babies? Why am I the only guy who is blue-collar in this room and why are these people who are supposed to be so enlightened lookin at me like the hired-help? How can these people even begin to organize outside of some urban liberal enclaves when they have a complete hostility to the thoughts and beliefs of ordinary people? They don’t talk like guys in factories or look like them. Most of these activists are bony vegetarians and the females voices are deeper than the average guys. After a period of time I realized that I was just around the disgruntled children of the elite and while many had good intentions most were just going through a phase or just rebelling against their family. Because they had no clue about the problems of workers they could be of no use and they may know everything about Tibet or Palestine but they didn’t know shit about the ghettos right here in America.
The anti-war movement will be real when it is made up of people who are plumbers, laborers, warehouse workers and truck drivers. It will be real when the meetings are full of people drinking American beer or soda and not latte and they are eating burgers and chicken wings and not tofu and really bad hummus. That is when you know that you will be having a movement that can shake the nation.