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A Ramadan Reflection: IANA, the 90’s and a Homeless Brother

I want to tell you the story of a homeless Muslim brother. First off though I must briefly tell the story of the 1995 Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) convention in Dearborn, Michigan. I would meet many major figures in Islam in the West and make some good friends for life including Tariq Nelson. There are those on my Facebook friends list I met at that convention including Abu Noor Abdul-Malik Ryan and Abdul Aziz Suraqah.

Speakers at this convention from America included Sheikh Ali al-Timimi, Jaffar Sheikh Idris, Jamal Zarabozo, Idris Palmer, Mukhtar Curtis, Salim Morgan, and a young dynamic graduate of the Islamic University of Medinah bringing an enthusiastic following by the name of Abu Muslimah of East Orange, New Jersey. On the international side scholars such as Suhaib Hasan from the UK and Abdur-Rahman Abdul-Khalaq of Kuwait attended.

A lot of knowledge was being dropped. Imagine me a kid from St. Louis who attended a masjid where few brothers knew the word fiqh or Aqeedah and had never seen a niqaabi in person now surrounded by Arabic, ‘ilm, beards, niqaabs, and smiles. Being that this was the 90’s and pre-911 you also had a little edge to some attendees. A clueless young American I sat and listened to a private discussion between Taliban reps trying to convince Saudis their group was the right group to invest in. I met the Arab Amir of the Mujahideen in Bosnia and was invited to Kashmir as his guest. This was before I put on weight and I was still in wrestling shape which prompted several brothers to suggest I go overseas and fight.

I drove back to St. Louis with a Palestinian brother, Ismail Royer, and one other person I can’t remember. We left with contacts with other American brothers, cassette tapes, books and memories. One brother I met stood out though.

Brother R was a smooth talking tall and slim cat from DC. Beard was on point, thobe above the ankles, and brand new white socks. I told him I’d be traveling to DC soon to visit Ismail who was attending American University and he gave me his number.

When I got to DC I met up with R. He had a van and worked as a street-vendor mostly selling clothing. He told me he was born and raised in DC, had done some time; but took shahadah, married a Moroccan and was now raising his kids in the Virginia suburbs. He gave me the DC Muslim tour and I put a visual to the places Zaid al-Timimi had been telling me about during our after halaqa sessions at Steak’n Shake. The brother seemed to really have it together and he was respected in the community.

On my several different stints living in DC-VA (which is really a second home to me) I would always see that brother and he seemed to be doing good. A few years ago things began to change. He was having trouble in his marriage. Then he was divorced. Next thing he wasn’t looking too sharp. Then he was homeless. Next thing he was on drugs, begging for money and brothers told me they saw him standing in food lines.

In the DC area you can hardly get an apartment for under $1,000 per month. It’s also been ranked the worst area for non college-graduates in America. Massive gentrification. How does a brother like that get better even if he gets off drugs? And who is even going to help him get clean?

Thinking of Brother R makes me think of so many things. How special the 90’s were in the American-Muslim community, divorce, drug-addiction, gentrification, homelessness and the lack of services we have in our community. I wouldn’t know how to reach him and get him help at this moment. All I can ask for is that this Ramadan you keep Brother R in your prayers.

Gentrification, The Contract With the Community and 50-50-20-15

Gentrification. Everyone knows the word yet how often are the the pros and cons of gentrification really discussed? Recently filmmaker Spike Lee discussed some of the negative consequences of gentrification in Brooklyn and took a lot of heat. Michel Martin, of the recently cancelled Tell Me More program on NPR, chastised former DC Mayor Marion Berry for even discussing the negative consequences of gentrification.

Why doesn’t the media cover gentrification more? It has always been my belief that the media doesn’t cover gentrification because a large percentage of media professionals, especially among the young generation, live on the front lines of gentrification. It is hard for them to be critical of themselves and their neighbors.

The narrative is that cities were dying. White-flight had created a problem of crime, a declining tax-base, failing schools, and vacant housing and white people came to the rescue. These white people are heroic saviors and the infallible generation of millennials coming to save the cities not only should be welcomed there interests should also be put above all others.  Never in these discussions are the issues of affordable-housing and family-upheaval examined. Nor is the question of Americans having to commute hours to work because they cant afford to live in the city or folks being outright priced out of metro areas discussed.

Now there are a lot of things about gentrification that are problematic and can be debated; governmental-support, policing, racism, insensitivity, the lack of respect for existing residents, the refusal to support minority and “non-hipster” businesses, a cultural relationship with dogs that is not universal many feel is imposed upon them, bike-lanes in controversial places, and the list goes on.

One area where I think we can come to so agreement though is employment.  Travelling throughout the country and visiting gentrified neighborhoods and seeing businesses that cater to hipsters one thing is apparent; the employees are heavily white and few have lived in the neighborhood for any great length of time. These are neighborhoods that have suffered for decades from lack of businesses and jobs and then jobs finally come to the neighborhood and instead of hiring locals they hire mostly white newcomers.

Despite couching itself in progressive and “green” rhetoric a quick examination will show you gentrification and hipsterism succeed due to two things; racial-solidarity and class-solidarity. Not very progressive and not very new.

In any city you will find most of the gentrification crowd are coming from affluent white suburbs. Even when they move into the city and into neighborhoods where people of color are a majority you will find it common they will go out of their way to support white-owned businesses that cater to their class. The flannels may be on, bodies may be covered with tattoos, the Bentley may have been traded for a bike, and pants may be tight; but at the end of the day most are bringing the same racial and class biases as their fathers in the country club had.

A real step that can be taken to soften the negative consequences of gentrification is to create a Contract With the Community. This contract would help end the discriminatory hiring practices of many new businesses and create jobs in the community for the people who actually need them. Instead of unemployed liberal-arts grads from places like the suburbs of Kansas City getting hired at new businesses in places like Bed-Stuy Brooklyn you will see those from the Marcy Projects getting hired.

50% From the Neighborhood

50% People of Color or Under the Poverty-Line

20% Ex-Offenders

$15 Minimum-Wage

The Contract With the Community. Local businesses could volunteer at first to sign the contract at which point they’d be given a “Hood Certified” endorsement. Local governments could be lobbied to make such a contract an ordinance in cities across the country struggling with discrimination. This contract could make a major difference in the lives of many Americans.

 

 

 

 

Red Hook Summer: A Spike Lee Masterpiece and Historical Timepiece

 

Red Hook Summer finds Spike Lee back in his beloved Brooklyn and I have been waiting for this for a long time. I have long been a fan of Spike Lee and loved his work and he is best when he is doing Brooklyn. Yet, the Brooklyn of Do The Right Thing and Crooklyn is rapidly vanishing. Gentrification is turning former black Brooklyn neighborhoods, the cultural foundation for Lee’s work, hip-hop, black Sunni Islam and a thousand other things, into white neighborhoods. Whites from suburban New York and the wealthy suburbs of every city in America (and the international-elite) are moving in and African-Americans are heading back down south to Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas in a reverse-migration. I have been eagerly awaiting for Lee to address this topic and he does so masterfully in this film.

Jules Brown plays Flik Royale a thirteen year-old boy from Atlanta who has been sent by his mother to spend the summer in the Red Hook Projects with his grandfather Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (brilliantly played by Clarke Peters of The Wire and Treme fame). Flik is growing up in Atlanta- the Black Mecca as it is called, in a life of privilege and attends private-school. While the Bishop is steeped in black culture, the church, and the love of Jesus, the boy is a part of a young generation of black kids embracing an American monoculture which, at the center, technology and gadgets are placed.

Lee gives us a glimpse of project life and the life of everyday New Yorkers. Pissy elevators horrifying Young Flik ( which I remember well from living in the Brownsville Projects and also remember them often containing shit from time to time), the Bishop heading to C-Town for discount groceries and to USA Chicken for fast-food. NYC is home to many ghetto fried chicken chains including USA, Kennedy, Crown, New York and Luther’s. These may seem like minor aspects: but these two choices show the life of an average New Yorker who doesn’t eat out every night, is looking for a deal, and has to shop for groceries. Even with gentrification there are far more New Yorkers living a C-Town and Crown Fried Chicken lifestyle than there are living anything resembled in Hollywood or TV.

Not growing up in the church, and without his father who was killed in Afghanistan, Flik gets a good dose of Jesus and the Good Book from his grandfather. The grandfather gets down behind the pulpit giving rousing sermons mixing social messages with Bible verses and Flik gets some more once back at his grandfather’s apartment. The Bishop is old school and old school in America, especially in the black community, is Christian. All roads lead to Jesus for him and he preaches this message on project street corners, to thugs, and Mookie delivering pizza, and whoever else will listen. Flik is a part of a generation that is in church at a much lower percentage and religion is not promoted in the mainstream culture instead often finding ridicule. The history of how the black church has been a rock in the stormy and bloody waters of black American history is lost on Flik as it would be lost on most kids his age. He wants to play with his I-Pad 2 and get back to ATL with the quickness.

The Bishop is preaching to a dwindling flock. This is a product of the gentrification Lee alludes to: but there are other factors as well. Brooklyn has been the home to black Sunni Muslim movements including the Dar al Islam, Muslims of the Americas and the Bed-Stuy mosque of Imam Siraj Wahhaj for decades. Islam is at an advanced stage in the black community of Brooklyn and with that has eroded the universal spiritual leadership of the church. It aint the only game in town. In addition to Sunni Muslims there are others on the scene: pseudo-Islamic groups like the 5 Percenters and the Nation, Hebrew Israelites, Black Nationalist churches, teachers of traditional African spirituality, and a new black affluence that may shun traditional religion and praying to a picture of a blue-eyed fair-skinned Jesus. The Bishop is competing against all of this even if the film doesn’t show this. The Bishop is also the product of a more traditional black culture, that demanded respect for your elders, and Flik comes off more like bratty suburban white kids I have known who have no respect for their elders.

Chazz Morningstar played by Toni Lysaith is the same age as Flik and while working at the church with him becomes his guide to Red Hook. A Red Hook that is increasingly divided between black (and Latino to a lesser extent) residents of the projects and affluent whites buying the homes in the neighborhood. Flik, ill-adjusted to project life makes stupid mistakes like trying to take photos of a crew of Bloods on his I-Pad 2. Chazz and Flik adventure through the streets and enjoy messing up the fresh-poured concrete of a white homeowner who chases them. The friction between black youth and the affluent white homeowners is real. That scene may not be. From my experience these white “urban pioneers” (who borrow a term commonly associated with genocides) are scared of their own shadows and wouldn’t chase a toddler down the street. Their rage is saved for calling the police and neighborhood association meetings.

A powerful line in the movie is, in a discussion of life with Chazz, Flik speaks of the “white people who don’t want us around.” This forces the viewer to think of the psychological affects this must have on the black children of Brooklyn. Success, “turning around the neighborhood” and whatever other phrase has at its core the removal of the poor and people of color. Their removal means success and their existence is seen as blight by its very nature. What affect must this have on a child’s self-image? Then you look at black youth acting out and things such as the Knockout King game (were mostly black youth attack random whites, mostly yuppies, as a part of a sick game) and wonder are they related? The Bishop in a later discussion with his “lady friend” and the mother of Chazz discusses reverse-migration in light of gentrification. The Bishop drops a line, and I don’t know it exactly, that alludes to people leaving New York for the south and losing something. This is what I have been wondering for years. As blacks leave the brownstones and tenements of pedestrian cities and the cultural heartland of hip-hop, Sunni Islam, neo-soul and so much else special will this culture survive in the bland and generic suburbs of Atlanta and Charlotte? I doubt it. Yet, at the family-level, this means little to the family who cannot afford the high cost of living in New York and can sell a house for a million or two and go down south and buy a new home with a two-car garage for two-hundred grand or less.

The beauty of the ghetto is ever-present in this film. A woman in the wheelchair dedicated to her garden and the Gospel even after having lost a child. The church organist doing his thing and the volunteers who staff the fledgling church. There is a stereotype of the black preacher as the Bentley-driving, jewelry-wearing, pussy-crazed con-artist making a living passing the plate to poor church members. There are many preachers who work hard to fulfill this stereotype and see their role as little more than using Jesus to get paid and there are those on TV such as Creflo Dollar who have taken it to the next level. Yet, there is another story. The story of struggling congregations, like Lil’ Peace of Heaven Baptist Church of Red Hook, who operate on a shoestring budget and it is the love of Jesus and the people and not the love of money that keep their doors open. These congregations, and there are many urban mosques like this as well, are kept open by the sweat of the people.

While the Bishop and his Grandson butt heads, even over the down home food of the grandfather and the vegan food of Flik, and gentrification looms in the background there is another pressing issue. The Bloods Crew (or “set” as we would say in St. Louis) led by Box played by Nate Parker. The Bishop doesn’t give up on Box, as he preached to his dead mother and to him as a boy, but tries to protect Flik from him. The reality of Box and his Bloods crew is that while normal everyday life is going on in the Red Hook Projects, or any ghetto in America, there is in the background hustlin going on and with that a culture of violence and death that children grow up with and working and old people have to navigate through to survive.

The friendship of Flik and Chazz grows and it is a kind of an innocent and old-school crush I would like to think still exists in this era of middle-school threesomes and blow-jobs being the equivalent to a handshake for many teens. Flik seems to warm on Red Hook and the church as his grandfather shows his more human side after being dressed down by Sister Sharon (played by Heather Simms) about a false romanticism about the good ‘ole days and burying your head in your ass in the name of religion. Then, it all blows up.

I will not spoil the movie or give away any details. Church pedophilia rears its ugly head. This in and of itself may shock many as pedophilia is often associated with the white church: but without saying it another message of this film is yes this happens in the black church as well (it happens in the Muslim community as well and there is the same tendency to cover it up).

Although controversial, I find the way Lee deals with pedophilia to be masterful. It comes at the height of a moving and beautiful religious service and it comes as a huge surprise that startles the viewer. You get the predictable reactions: some refusing to believe the allegation, others condemning the perpetrator to hell, and a straight-up ass whoopin. The other two directions of the film are what I find genius.

First, the sexual-predator admits his guilt and the abuse is shown. Some critics have complained about this as unnecessary. Garbage. If it happens in real life and it is a part of the story it needs to be on film. While the audience is squeamish and uncomfortable the reality of what happens to children is being exposed to them. Feel bad seeing it? It’s a lot worse feeling it.

Then, after horrifying audiences by showing the abuse, the character is redeemed- and this is the most Christian part of the film. The man admits his guilt, admits he was sick, admits there was a cover-up, and proclaims he has been cured and saved by Jesus- and the help of a doctor. Society may never forgive you, your victims may curse you: but the powerful message of a loving God is that He will forgive you if you come to Him, repent and turn from your wicked ways. The sexual predator knows he has been redeemed and yet knows the world will still judge him for his worst deeds despite his good deeds.

I highly recommend this film. Go and see it. Not from the bootleg man, not from some download from the internet, go and support it with your money. Take your cheap lazy ass to the theatre to ensure quality film, that speaks to our souls, will continue to be on the screen and that the work of the great Spike Lee, and those after him, will continue.

How To Know if You are a Rhodesian

Rhodesians are a segment of the Globo population. Globos are urban yuppies who are the victors in globalization and have come to the cities and replaced the poor, union-workers and working-class in general who are the losers in globalization. It is a variation of the term Bobo (Bohemian bourgeois) that David Brooks of the New York Times uses. Rhodesians are the segment of this group who settle in the poor and minority neighborhoods and who open the places up and make it safe for other whites to come in (these shock troops are often artsy types and gay males) and inherit the vision of African colonizers such as Cecil Rhodes and thus the name Rhodesians.

You are a guy and you are walking around wearing capris

You are a guy and you wear tight t-shirts that show off your bony body

You work for six bucks an hour at a shitty job just to get your parents off your ass who are paying your rent (which is probably at least a grand to 2 grand a month)

You are scared to ride the subway at night unless you are with a group.

You eat all-natural food, and may even be a vegetarian, but eagerly support the normalization of sex-change operations and non-traditional child-bearing methods.

You consider yourself a liberal but you hate your black and Latino neighbors and the only time you enjoy seeing people of color is when they are serving you overpriced food in Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn.

You hate poor people; but have chose to live in a poor neighborhood, but don’t worry; in a few years they will all be gone.

You move in to the neighborhood six months and you are trying to tell people who have lived there 20,30, 40 or 50 years what kind of door knob and door they should have on the home they bought.

You profess to hate manly men but have the cops on speed dial; people who otherwise you would consider to be brutish cavemen.

The pets that you pamper and treat like royalty that you parade down the street get better healthcare then 80% of the neighborhood.

Dumb Terrorist, Ayman and UBL and Outrageous Housing Costs

If the accounts in the media are true, and University North Carolina graduate Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar in fact committed an act of terrorism by driving a rented SUV into a crowd of students then he has to be the dumbest terrorist in the world. Now I would not condone any terror attack in America for any reason and do not endorse any method of terrorism; but damn, you mean to tell me that this fool couldn’t come up with a better idea for committing a terror act than driving his car into some anonymous students? I thought there are websites out there that could teach you how to be a better terrorist or something. This fool is going to spend the rest of his life in prison not for being a terrorist but for being an idiot.

Daily News on Ayman and UBL
Every once in a while almost everyone will say something that I agree with. President Bush said some things I liked about the Dubai Ports deal and even the late Rabbi Meir Kahane drops some gems in his books. Ayman Zawahiri is quoted in the New York Daily News as saying that the Danish cartoons and the reaction are a symbol that the values of society have changed and that “Muhammad (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh) are no longer sacred in society….and the holocaust and homosexuality are.” Now I agree with him to a point; the cultural elites who control the media and most of what we read have an utter disregard for all things sacred and religious and there is nothing they love more than disrespecting religion and religious figures. It is also true that the cultural elite have tired to make homosexuality something sacred and will try and intimidate anyone who will question homosexuality and try and blackball them ( in other words anyone who will publicly say what almost everyone believed fifty years ago before the secular elites hijacked academia and the media). In regards to the holocaust I will disagree with Zawahiri as I believe that the public cannot allow those who would openly deny factual events to get a pass.

The paper also quotes a Pakistani businessman in jail in Guantanamo Bay as saying that Usama bin Laden referred to himself as a prophet. That is something I find hard to believe and anyone familiar with Islamic akeedah, specifically the branch that bin Laden and many of his followers come from, it would be almost impossible for UBL to claim that and not get his head chopped off.

Are We Living on the Same Planet???

So yesterday I read online that a 4 bedroom home is on sale in Brooklyn for 1.6 million and it is described as a “steal” and I ask myself if I am living on the same planet as these people. Do you know what kind of monthly mortgage payments you have to pay on that? To be a 1.6 million house you have to be rich and I just cant see how that many people are making that much money. I think that most of these people buying these overpriced urban homes, which they then put a ton of money in after they buy it, have to be some kind of trust fund babies or they are juts spending all their money on their homes. That was reinforced last night on the subway as two annoying Bobos were talking about the steal they got in Brooklyn Heights. What is the steal? An apartment for $4,700 a month!!! Now I know I am not living on the same planet.