Wednesday, December 21, 2011

American Muslim Reality TV Challenges Stereotypes

Do all Muslim women wear hijab and all Muslim men sport beards? Are all members of the Muslim faith terrorists bent on attacking the West? Are they all Martians? Are all Muslim women meek and subservient, and their menfolk tyrants? The first ever reality TV about Muslims in America on TLC channel answers these and other questions by breaking down many common stereotypes.

All-American Muslim follows the daily lives of five Lebanese-American Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan--the Amens, the Aoudes, the Bazzy-Aliahmads, the Jaafars, and the Zabans. Ms. Rima Fakih, a Lebanese Shia Muslim resident of Dearborn, won the national beauty pageant last year to become the first ever Muslim Miss USA.

The show premiered on TLC with record 1.7 million viewers in November, earning critical acclaim from The New York Times, USA Today NPR, Time Magazine, The Atlantic and many other publications, according to Washington Post. The first episode, “How to Marry a Muslim,” helped TLC achieve its highest ever Sunday prime-time ratings in more than a year among women from 18 to 34.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the TV series:

1. The student body at Dearborn's Fordson High School featured in the show is overwhelmingly Muslim--as many as 95% of the students are Muslim. The school football team is coached by Fouad Zaban, a Muslim. Muslim members of the football team fast during Ramadan, even on days they have games. At away games, they are sometimes subjected to epithets like f-ing Arabs, terrorists, camel jockeys, etc.

2. In the first episode of the season called "How to Marry a Muslim", Shadia Amen wants to marry a non-Muslim named Jeff, a Catholic. Her choice is something her father and her brother struggle with. But it doesn't stop her from marrying the man of her choice.

3. Nina Bazzy Aliahmad is a miniskirt-wearing leggy blond Muslim businesswoman who shocks her friends and family by announcing that she plans to open a night club during the first episode. Nina is a strong woman determined to get her way.

4. Samira Amen-Fawaz is struggling with infertility turns to religion and decides to start wearing the hijab again hoping that it will help her overcome her problem. Careful choice of fancy hijabs by her appears to be a fashion statement, and surprising to some that hijab and tight clothing are not considered incompatible.

5. Mike Jaafar is Deputy Chief Sheriff of Wayne County where Dearborn is located.

The reaction from the notorious Islamophobes and xenophobes in America has been predictably strong and negative.

Florida Family Association (FFA), a conservative Christian group, denounced the show as “propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.”

Other Muslim bashers in America were quick to add their hateful voices. Pam Geller, notorious anti-Muslim bigot, who has been involved in the anti-Islam protest against "Ground Zero" mosque project chimed in: “Every company is to free to choose where they put their ad dollars. 64 companies have now pulled their ads. And rightly so. It’s is not that the show about Muslims. It is that the show was predicated on a lie and the relentless propaganda of Islamic supremacists.”

The unfortunate effect of the Islamophobes' rhetoric is that Lowe's Home Improvement stores chain caved in and pulled its commercials from the show. Lowe's move was criticized by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, actress Mia Farrow and California state Sen. Ted Lieu, and Simmons offered to buy all remaining spots on the show from TLC. There are fresh reports that the show is now sold out with new advertisers stepping in to fill the holes left by Lowe's and

In a Washington Post blog, John Esposito lambasted the anti-Muslim bigotry in strong terms. He wrote that "the furor over All-American Muslim underscores yet again the extent to which Islamophobia exists despite the adamant claims of its enablers and practitioners that it does not. The fact that one cannot have a single show on a Muslim family without Muslim bashers insisting that portraying a normal family is somehow insidious because the show does not show the “dark side” of Islam demonstrates the extent to which they engage in the creation of a collective guilt, brush-stroking a religion and a majority of its followers with the actions a fraction of 1 percent of Muslims."

Many conservative Muslims have also criticized the show. In a recent call-in show on NPR Radio, some argued that women without hijabs and those wearing revealing clothes do not represent them, while others complained that the show only represents Lebanese-American Muslims who are a small slice of a large, ethnically and racially diverse Muslim population in America.

Talking about the critics of the show on NPR radio, California-based American-Muslim playwright Wajahat Ali said that "it's almost a thankless role for anyone to depict Muslims in the mainstream right now. You can't please people within the communities themselves who, I think, want an unrealistic portrayal of - what I call the avatar of perfection. Or, they need to see their representation, right? So they say like, listen, if that Muslim-American character does not represent me, it ceases being authentic and valid. And I think the - what we have to do instead is say, listen, that is just one story, or some stories, of people who claim to be American Muslim, and I have to respect that space and let them be."

Let's hope that All-American Muslims first season is a great success which leads into its second and third seasons to portray the great diversity of race, ethnicity and thought among Muslims in America. This national exposure on prime-time tv will help demolish all kinds of negative stereotypes promoted by the Islamophobes as part of their hateful agenda against Muslim-Americans.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

NPR Talk-of-the-Nation on All-American Muslim

King's Hypocrisy

Saudi Prince Funding Hate in America

FBI Entrapping Young Muslims

Duke University Study on Muslim Americans

How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation

Early Anthrax Probe of Pakistani-Americans

Violence Against Indians in Australia

First Haji in US Congress

Inside the Mind of Times Square Bomber

Home-grown Terror Plots Seen as FBI Entrapment

Milgram's Experiments on Obedience to Authority


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting commentary in Boston Globe on "family values":

WHICH RACY reality TV show is the most dangerous to traditional American family values? A) “Teen Moms,’’ which follows teenagers as they raise babies out of wedlock or give them up for adoption; B) The “Bad Girl’s Club,’’ which chronicles self-described “bad girls’’ in a Las Vegas mansion; C) “Temptation Island,’’ which features couples struggling to remain faithful as attractive strangers proposition them in exotic locales; or D) “All-American Muslim,’’ which follows Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich., through the travails of everyday life.

The answer is D, according to the little-known evangelical group called the Florida Family Association which aimed an e-mail invective against the Muslim reality show to force advertisers to pull their ads. The reason? Quite simply, because the show portrays Muslims too positively.

The group’s founder is David Caton, a 55-year-old former accountant who has organized protests of Playboy magazine sales and teen television shows that tell kids it’s OK to be gay. Caton complains that the Muslim show, which premiered last month on TLC, “is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.’’ He complains that the show fails to mention jihad or honor killings and only profiles “Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.’’

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of a NY Times story "Radical U.S. Muslims Little Threat, Study Says":

A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.

Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.

The report also found that no single ethnic group predominated among Muslims charged in terrorism cases last year — six were of Arab ancestry, five were white, three were African-American and two were Iranian, Mr. Kurzman said. That pattern of ethnic diversity has held for those arrested since Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

Forty percent of those charged in 2011 were converts to Islam, Mr. Kurzman found, slightly higher than the 35 percent of those charged since the 2001 attacks. His new report is based on the continuation of research he conducted for a book he published last year, “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists.”

The decline in cases since 2009 has come as a relief to law enforcement and counterterrorism officials. In that year, the authorities were surprised by a series of terrorist plots or attacks, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam, Maj. Nidal Hasan.
But the number of cases declined, returning to the rough average of about 20 Muslim Americans accused of extremist violence per year that has prevailed since the 2001 attacks, with 193 people in that category over the decade. By Mr. Kurzman’s count, 462 other Muslim Americans have been charged since 2001 for nonviolent crimes in support of terrorism, including financing and making false statements.

The 2011 cases include just one actual series of attacks, which caused no injuries, involving rifle shots fired late at night at military buildings in Northern Virginia. A former Marine Corps reservist, Yonathan Melaku, pleaded guilty in the case last month in an agreement that calls for a 25-year prison sentence.

Other plots unearthed by law enforcement last year and listed in Mr. Kurzman’s report included a suspected Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, a scheme to attack a Shiite mosque in Michigan and another to blow up synagogues, churches and the Empire State Building.

“Fortunately, very few of these people are competent and very few get to the stage of preparing an attack without coming to the attention of the authorities,” Mr. Kurzman said.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian Muslims make up 14.6% of India's population, almost 50% higher than the 10% of Indian-American Muslim population. In addition, every Indian minority other than Muslims is over-represented in America.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a excerpt of a Aljazeera story on the acceptance of anti-Muslim bigotry in America:

There's an interesting and rather illuminating thought experiment you can perform when listening to media figures and politicians discuss Muslims. Take the recent interview on Fox News of the author Reza Aslan, where the host interrogated him at length about his religious background, at one point accusing him of having "gone on several programmes while never disclosing [he is] a Muslim".

Or take New Atheist ideologue Sam Harris, who has said "We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim", as well as his counterpart Richard Dawkins who has become famous for asking incisive questions like "Who the hell do these Muslims think they are"?

This is all above-board language in today's popular discourse. But as a simple test try replacing the word "Muslim" with "Jew"; or "Muslim" with "Black" in each of these quotes and see how it sounds in your head. Most likely, it sounds significantly less comfortable, normal, and acceptable than it did just a moment ago.

Indeed, it's difficult to imagine how Harris, Dawkins, or the Fox News host who questioned Aslan about his faith could continue as public figures were they to make the same types comments about any minority group other than Muslims. They would've in all likelihood won broad, well-justified, condemnation and even been drummed out of the public sphere for their frank bigotry.

Perhaps they'd have been taken up as martyrs by the fringe-right where such xenophobic language about Jews and Blacks is still commonplace. Instead they've so far been permitted to continue spreading hatred against one of the few minority communities it is still acceptable to negatively generalise, degrade and menace.
Richard Dawkins recently ignited a minor furor by pointing out that "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge". His defenders rushed to point out that his statement was merely a fact and as such there was nothing bigoted about it whatsoever.

Dawkins declaration also happens to be true when you substitute the word "Hindus", "Blacks" or "Chinese" for Muslims here, but his admirers would have had a harder time defending the same statement made about any of these groups without being tarred as xenophobes.
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor explained the fallacies behind this crude chauvinism:

Dawkins, as an educated man, should be well aware of the legacy of colonialism and of simple poverty…. When the Nobel Prize was founded in 1901, the vast majority of the world's Muslims lived in countries ruled by foreign powers, and for much of the 20th century Muslims did not have much access to great centres of learning like Cambridge. The ranks of Nobel Prize winners have traditionally been dominated by white, Western men - a reflection of both the economic might of the West in the past century, preferential access to education for that class of people as well as a wonderful intellectual tradition .

The same reasons why Muslims are underrepresented in the halls of Western scientific achievement are also applicable to essentially every other group in the world besides white males living in Western countries. If there's nothing bigoted about saying it about Muslims, Dawkins and his defenders should come out and make the same unqualified and context-free statements about other groups in society whom they see as not stacking up. The fact that they refuse to do so signals that this has little to do with courageously speaking the truth and more about picking out which minorities it is still safe to bash. .....

Anonymous said...

you don't need to be a "conservative muslim" to denounce this show. i understand wajahat ali is generally an optimistic and upbeat person. however, the majority of muslims in the u.s. at least know what their community looks like and the values and aspirations they hold. and that community would typically include a wide range of national origins. it is against all these that this show is a gross misrepresentation of them. what this show actually reflects is the misfortune that the united states is caught up amid two extremist groups of fascist-nationalists(americanists) and extremist "commie" liberalists. while the former thinks it is 'just wrong' to be a muslim (which includes advocating shariah law and having utmost commitment to muslim principles and philosophies) and the latter simply tries to hide undeniable muslim values in favor of practices of a few non-muslims from somewhat muslim backgrounds(or just formerly muslims). this show is anti-islamic and anti-humanity to the core; it corroborates the totalitarian society that the u.s. runs on where one cannot practice their (arguably more superior) traditional customs, including for example wearing non-revealing clothes, and protest u.s. atrocities abroad, while being "ordinary"

Riaz Haq said...

Those who embrace Islam tend to do so after years of contact with Muslims. (Ms Lewthwaite reportedly had a close relationship with Muslim neighbours during her youth.) Some, mostly women who make up around two-thirds of new believers in Britain, convert because they want to marry a Muslim. Others are fed up with what they see as the bawdiness of British society. Many speak of seeking a sense of community. Prisons have proven fertile ground for conversions for men. Some worry that those who convert in jail are exposed to more radical strains of Islam; others say that Islam's discipline and structure, along with the support they received from other Muslims, helped them to cope with life inside.

...converts who turn to terrorism, as Ms Lewthwaite is suspected of doing, are rare. Indeed, the vast, peaceable majority may help to bridge the gap between Muslims and others. In Western countries the growth in converts is part of Islam’s transition from an immigrant religion to a home-grown one.

Riaz Haq said...

CAIR reports that $119 million were spent on funding organized Islamophobia in America from 2008 to 2011. According to our extensive analysis, here are the top seven contributors to promoting Islamophobia in our country:
• Donors Capital Fund
• Richard Mellon Scaife foundations
• Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
• Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust
• Russell Berrie Foundation
• Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
• Fairbrook Foundation

Riaz Haq said...

In 1807, American readers were titillated by a potboiler entitled “History of the captivity and sufferings of Mrs. Maria Martin.” Its salacious story was summed up by its pithy subtitle: “Who was six years a slave in Algiers, two of which she was confined in a dark and dismal dungeon, loaded with irons for refusing to comply with the brutal request of a Turkish officer.”

We often forget that Americans have been thinking about Islam for centuries. In the republic’s early days, Muslims not only accounted for a large part of the enslaved labor force but also often appeared in stories as fearful figures in far-off places—dark hazards to American virtue. These old images help illuminate today’s American debates about Islam.

In the early republic, popular accounts of “Mohammedanism” were largely limited to tales of the capture and enslavement of Americans in Muslim lands. Narratives like Mrs. Maria Martin’s joined fears of North African pirates with titillating plots of kidnapping. They echoed the era’s best-selling accounts of colonists trapped by American Indians.

As the 19th century progressed, some abolitionists began to argue that Islam had things to teach Christianity. Slavery’s foes called slave owners in Muslim lands more fair than their U.S. counterparts.

In 1810, for instance, the New Hampshire Patriot ran a story called “Mohammedan Forbearance,” depicting a Muslim caliph as a model of faith and morality. Even after a slave spills a dish and scalds him, the caliph treats the slave well and later frees him, quoting the Quran to buttress his mercy. This example, the journal says, “might be usefully imitated by the professors of purer doctrines.”

Islam was deployed here as a setting for a morally instructive yarn that sought at once to enlighten and shame its audience. If a Muslim could heed his supposedly lesser religion’s call to free slaves and improve their lot, how could Christians—even if they disdained Islam—not do likewise?

The notion that slavery governed by Islam was more humane than slavery governed by the Gospel was no doubt a fantasy—but a durable one. Seven years later, the Connecticut Courant published a report called “Treatment of Negro Slaves in Morocco,” calling for Christians to learn moral virtues from Muslims. The abolitionists behind the report didn’t deny that many Muslims were slave owners and traders, but they argued that those who prayed to Allah often treated their captives better than did those who prayed to Christ. “The more intelligent [slaves] learn to read and write” and “acquire a partial knowledge of the Koran,” the Courant claimed of slaves in Islamic lands. Their “master exults in having converted an infidel”—and then, like the Patriot’s caliph, sets such slaves free.

Such kid-glove treatment of Islam in the press soon disappeared—due in part, perhaps, to widespread fears from an 1835 Muslim-led slave revolt in the Brazilian city of Bahia, which riveted Americans even outside the slave states. A Massachusetts report was typically breathless: “On the morning of the 25th of January the whole city of Bahia was thrown into a state of the greatest excitement in consequence of an insurrection of the slaves…It was by far the best planned and most extensive rising ever contemplated by those unfortunate beings.”

Later called the Mal├¬ rebellion—from the Yoruba word for Muslim—this slave uprising was a religious battle waged by Muslims against Christian slavery. Many of the dead were found wearing protective amulets made of leather pouches, containing slips of paper upon which were inscribed Quranic verses. It was Christian slaveholders’ worst nightmare—a potential holy war on every plantation....

Riaz Haq said...

Aasif Mandvi and ‘#Halal in the Family’ Test the Sitcom Family Formula for #Muslims in #America

The music, peppy and synthetic, is pleasantly familiar. The living room — front door on the right, staircase going up to the left, couch dead center in front of the camera — is a place we’ve been a thousand times before. The clueless father sports a perfectly hideous multicolored sweater.

The family inside this typical American sitcom house, however, is not your typical American sitcom family. When the daughter comes home upset because a classmate has made fun of her on Facebook, she shows her parents a Photoshopped picture of herself wearing a turban and driving a taxi.

“That is terrible!” the father exclaims. “We are not Sikhs!” He continues: “If you’re going to stereotype us, at least get it right. We don’t wear turbans.”

This all-American clan is the Qu’osbys (pronounced like Cosby with a slight hitch) — Aasif, Fatima, Whitney and Bobby — and it’s that rarest of things in popular entertainment, a sympathetic Muslim family at the center of its own show. They’re the heroes of “Halal in the Family,” a web series that went live last week at Funny or Die. A broad parody of the classic family sitcom, it’s the brainchild of the actor and writer Aasif Mandvi and his writing partner from “The Daily Show,” Miles Kahn.

The four short episodes (so far) of “Halal” may not represent a lot of screen time — they average about five minutes each — but in terms of depictions of American Muslims as something other than terrorist suspects, they’re significant. The only comparison that comes to mind is the Canadian comedy “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” which ran for six seasons beginning in 2007.

“We haven’t had it in America,” Mr. Mandvi said last week during an interview at an Upper West Side diner. “Americans haven’t been ready to see an American Muslim family in a sitcom.”

“Someone said to me, why didn’t you put this on television?” he continued. “Because when you’re pitching a sitcom about American Muslims, you don’t want to wait for TV executives to get on board with that. We wanted to just do it, we wanted to put it out there and have people find the funny.”

In “Halal” Mr. Mandvi plays a blustering but well-meaning sitcom dad who’s full of harebrained schemes, to the consternation of his ever-forgiving wife, Fatima (played by Sakina Jaffrey, best known as the Hispanic chief of staff Linda Vasquez on “House of Cards”). Offended that his daughter’s tormentor doesn’t know her Muslims from her Sikhs, he brings the girl to the house for a lecture on stereotypes, complete with offensive visual aids. “Aasif Habib Qu’osby, this might be your worst idea ever,” Fatima declares, but of course it works — the lesson is learned and the two girls head off to the mall.

Riaz Haq said...

Called "that rarest of things in popular entertainment, a sympathetic Muslim family at the center of its own show," by The New York Times , web series Halal in the Family went live last week, showing audiences the lighter side of being Muslim in America.

Aired on website Funny or Die Halal in the Family was conceived of by actor-comedian Aasif Mandvi and his writing partner from popular late night show The Daily Show, Miles Kahn.

Halal in the Family follows an average American-Muslim family of four trying to fit in as they go about their daily life of school, groceries, work and socializing. Apart from Mandvi as the dad, the series also stars Sakina Jaffrey of House of Cards fame as the mom.

“We haven’t had it in America,” Mandvi told The New York Times . “Americans haven’t been ready to see an American Muslim family in a sitcom.”

In a separate interview with The Daily Beast , Mandvi said: "Actually I’m more culturally Muslim than religiously but being Muslim is an important part of my identity. I wanted to make this project because as Muslim, I feel it’s important to counter any form of bigotry, be it anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, etc. These forms of hate share a common denominator of misinformation and intentional fear mongering."

From newspapers to entertainment websites, the series claimed a lot of attention in the US over the past week. Even author and academic Reza Aslan gave the series his stamp of approval.

Riaz Haq said...

Cathie Adams: Grover Norquist 'Showing Signs Of Converting To Islam' Because He Has A Beard

Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum and former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, made questionable remarks about anti-tax activist Grover Norquist during a recent speech on “Radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In a video posted by the Far North Dallas Tea Party and reported on by Right Wing Watch, Adams can be heard saying Norquist is “showing signs of converting to Islam himself," citing his beard as evidence.

"Many of us know him because often times we like what he says about economic issues, but Grover Norquist is trouble with a capital T," Adams says in the video. "As you see he has a beard, and he's showing signs of converting to Islam himself."

Adams brought Norquist's wife -- Samah Alrayyes, a Palestinian Muslim -- into her argument.

"He's married to a Muslim woman, but he denies that he has converted himself. He denies that," Adams says.

Norquist has been the subject of anti-Muslim attacks before. Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy, has accused Norquist of "credentialing the perpetrators of this Muslim Brotherhood influence operation" in the past.

"We are in a war, and [Norquist] has been working with the enemy for over a decade," Gaffney wrote in a January 2011 op-ed.

Norquist has spoken out against attacks on Muslim Americans, notably calling GOP efforts to halt plans for an Islamic community center and mosque near the destroyed World Trade Center site "a distraction from a winning game plan."

Riaz Haq said...

Glenn Beck’s terrifying new book: 300 pages of #Islamophobia dressed up as scholarship … via @Salon

Glenn Beck would like to tell you about Islam. Sure, he’s a walking conspiracy generator who’s been wrong nearly every time he parts his lips: wrong about Obama’s SS-like “civilian national security force,” wrong about Obama’s FEMA camps, wrong about Obama using the postal service as an evil spy network, wrong about the Boston Marathon attack being a Saudi affair, and the seemingly countless breathlessly alarmist warnings over the years. But, hey, even a broken doomsday clock is right once an apocalypse, and Beck’s really done his homework on this one, a study of how Islam is going to destroy us all: “It IS About Islam: Exposing the Truth About ISIS, Al Qaeda, Iran, and the Caliphate.”

Beck chooses to end the nearly 300-page book with a three-word paragraph that serves as a tidy tl;dr to reveal his position once you’ve already made the mistake of reading the whole thing. “All lives matter,” concludes the book, as if the Christian nationalism throughout needed a final splash of racism. In a nice symmetry, the final white reactionary note recalls the scene on which the book opens: Thomas Jefferson prophetically consulting the Quran before he became “the first American president to go to war with Islamic radicals” in the 1801 war with the North African Barbary states, essentially the United States’ first foreign war.

Beck shocks his readers with a revelation by the Barbary ambassador in 1786 to Jefferson and his eventual presidential predecessor, John Adams: the Islamic Barbary armies used Quranic scripture to permit the enslavement of a portion of enemies captured in battle. Africans enslaving Americans?! But that’s the wrong way around! And relying on pro-slavery scripture that isn’t the Bible? Beck, so eager to construct a narrative in which the Islamic hordes have always pounded the innocent American gates, casually overlooks the horror of the transatlantic slave trade, of which Jefferson was no small beneficiary, and the Biblical means of its defense. Instead, it’s the North Africans who are presented as Quranic savages, while the far, far worse Christian savagery in America was at that very moment unleashing two world-historical horrors: genocide and the slave trade, both reliant on the era’s white Christianist worldview. (Which isn’t to say that Christianity is to be blamed for the twin horrors, any more than 9/11 and ISIS’s crimes can be pinned on Islam, or Stalin’s mass murder can be blamed on atheism. Tyrants and terrorists will use whatever is available in the cultural milieu to justify and buttress their actions.)

The pages in between those white Christian nationalist bookends present a sprawling mess of contradictions, not unlike a religious text itself, full of intense feeling and certitude but never quite explaining everything in any sort of way that satisfies reason. Beck emphasizes the title’s verb: It is about Islam, not its errant practitioners, its misinterpretations or its crass use in the service of national power. No, Islam as a religion is the problem, asserts the book’s cover. But the pages inside find Beck hedging against that blanket condemnation of 1.3 billion believers with qualifications, which he turns right around and negates with more absolutist indictments.

Riaz Haq said...

How Robert Mercer exploited America’s populist insurgency.
By Jane Mayer

He (Patrick Caddell) has not worked directly for the President, but at least as far back as 2013 he has been a contractor for one of Trump’s biggest financial backers: Robert Mercer, a reclusive Long Island hedge-fund manager, who has become a major force behind the Trump Presidency.

During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise. Among these efforts was public-opinion research, conducted by Caddell, showing that political conditions in America were increasingly ripe for an outsider candidate to take the White House. Caddell told me that Mercer “is a libertarian—he despises the Republican establishment,” and added, “He thinks that the leaders are corrupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the country.”

Trump greeted Caddell warmly in North Charleston, and after giving a speech he conferred privately with him, in an area reserved for V.I.P.s and for White House officials, including Stephen Bannon, the President’s top strategist, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Caddell is well known to this inner circle. He first met Trump in the eighties. (“People said he was just a clown,” Caddell said. “But I’ve learned that you should always pay attention to successful ‘clowns.’ ”) Caddell shared the research he did for Mercer with Trump and others in the campaign, including Bannon, with whom he has partnered on numerous projects.


After the Citizens United decision, in 2010, the Mercers were among the first people to take advantage of the opportunity to spend more money on politics. In Oregon, they quietly gave money to a super pac—an independent campaign-related group that could now take unlimited donations. In New York, reporters discovered that Robert Mercer was the sole donor behind a million-dollar advertising campaign attacking what it described as a plan to build a “Ground Zero Mosque” in Manhattan. The proposed building was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero. The ads, which were meant to boost a Conservative Party candidate for governor, were condemned as Islamophobic.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a link to a Stanford study on media bias in covering Pak nuke program

"Studying media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear achievement, it becomes clear that a certain amount of propaganda was used to make Pakistan appear threatening. The fact that Pakistan developed the technology was not what shaped the articles, but rather how this information was presented to the reader. In a sense, the propagandists were looking to turn Pakistan into an enemy of sorts, a country to be feared, instead of embraced.

One method used to by propagandists to create an enemy is through the technique of social proof. One way in which we process information is by observing what other people are doing that are similar to us or linking them to social norms. "When we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct" (Cialdini 106). Since it is almost impossible for the common American to be an expert in nuclear cause and effects, he looks to what others say as a means to form his opinion. This allows him to be persuade to an ideology not of his own. Furthermore, it is possible to rely on past stereotypes as form of linking one idea to another group.

For example, articles that took such an approach attempted to use a subset of social proof, where one casts the enemy by declaring it to be a friend of an already established enemy. For instance, in order to persuade the American public to think of Pakistan in such terms, media will link Pakistan to historically defined United States enemies such Libya, Iran, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. This tactic plays on the principle of social proof in which people look for justifications to quickly form their beliefs. Thus, linking to a country America already has shared beliefs about quickly allows one to associate and project the existing beliefs on the new group, which in this case is Pakistan.

An article in the Washington Post took such an approach by starting with a quote from the Iranian Foreign Minister, congratulating Pakistan. "From all over the world, Muslims are happy that Pakistan has this capability," the Minister was quoted at the start of the article (Moore and Khan A19). By beginning with this quote, the article ensured a link would be established between Iran and Pakistan, playing off the propaganda theory of similarity, in which we fundamentally like people who are similar to us and share our beliefs, values, and ideas. Therefore, an object deemed as bad or dissimilar will make all associated objects bad as well and allows the media to use social proof and similarity to create an enemy as friend of enemy. Arguably, the presentation of this quote may be deemed important factually for the development of the article, but the placement of the quote right at the start of the article strongly suggest propagandistic intentions."

Riaz Haq said...

Their ‘Ask a Muslim’ project went viral. Now they have a travel show about Islam in the U.S.
Rapper-activist Mona Haydar and husband Sebastian Robins star in ‘The Great Muslim American Road Trip’ for PBS

Mona Haydar and Sebastian Robins felt they had a deep understanding of Islam. But filming “The Great Muslim American Road Trip,” a docuseries that will air on PBS this summer, made the married couple realize how much more they had to learn.

Haydar, a Syrian American rapper and activist whose music videos boast millions of views on YouTube, grew up Muslim. Robins, a writer and educator, converted to Islam after they met. The show follows the couple as they traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles via historic Route 66 in September. Along the way, they learned about Islam’s roots in America, explored nearby Muslim communities and took in the sights. In Chicago, they met with Muhammad Ali’s daughter Maryum Ali and toured the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) to learn about structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan, known for his work on the innovative tubular design for high-rises. On more than a dozen stops, Haydar and Robins visited with restaurateurs, doctors and authors.

“This is a deep passion of ours; it’s our faith and our practice,” Haydar said. “And it really felt like this epic quest of learning and finding the clues and piecing them together.”

The couple garnered widespread attention for their “Ask a Muslim” project, following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015. Outside a Cambridge Mass., library, they set up signs that invited passersby to “talk to a Muslim” and ask them questions over free doughnuts and coffee. Haydar’s song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)” was also named one of 2017’s best protest songs by Billboard.

By The Way talked to the Michigan-based couple about the goals of their show, how the trip informed their feelings about identity and assimilation, and how they handled the long drive.

Q: How did the idea for the show come about?

Mona: It was an interesting call we got asking us if we were interested in taking a road trip across the country, and we kind of hopped on the opportunity. Having been a couple for almost a decade, and parents for basically eight of those years, for us it was an exciting opportunity to explore a little bit of Route 66 and also our own relationship.

Q: What did you learn about the Muslim American experience along the way?

Sebastian: I feel like from beginning to end, it was really kind of mind-blowing and -opening for us.

Mona: Our son listens to audiobooks, and he loves the ones about mysteries and solving the mystery. And it actually felt that way a little bit of the time to me, where we were on this epic quest to unearth the hidden secrets. We’re both highly educated people, and we both somehow were not educated at all about this particular topic.

Q: What do you hope viewers take away from the show?

Mona: I hope people laugh at us. We’re very kind of corny and we have our little inside jokes, and I hope that people feel let in on that because I think we’re funny and I think we have a funny rapport and banter. I hope that that’s what people take away, feeling a human connection in a time where so many of us were isolated for so long.

Sebastian: We really wanted to use that journey as a lens for something bigger. I hope people can kind of see that story through us, [with] us as this lens or this magnifying glass or this reflection booth, to tell the story of a group of people that has largely either been ignored or maligned. I don’t mean just celebrities like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, who deserve all the research and stories and movies they can get, but the people who are running restaurants, the people who are rebuilding mosques, the people who are —

Mona: Doctors and serving their communities.

Riaz Haq said...

'Stranger at the Gate' short film shows how kindness can change a would-be terrorist's ways

Former Marine Richard “Mac” McKinney was determined to bomb the local Islamic center in Muncie, Indiana. But the kindness he was shown there not only made him drop his plans but eventually become a member of the community.

The story is told in the short film “Stranger at the Gate” which has just made the shortlist for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short Film.

We revisit Robin Young’s September 2022 conversation with McKinney and Bibi Bahrami, co-founder of the Islamic Center of Muncie.


A Veteran’s Islamophobia Transformed, in “Stranger at the Gate”
In Joshua Seftel’s documentary, a community recollects how a would-be terrorist made—and then abandoned—a violent plan.\

Joshua Seftel, the director of “Stranger at the Gate,” was going to be a physician. As a young man, he planned to travel the world in the ranks of Doctors Without Borders. His father was a doctor, and, as a boy, Seftel watched him save people’s lives. During a gap year between college and applying to medical school, a professor approached him about a story in Romania. With a borrowed video camera and some fund-raising, Seftel made the film “Lost and Found,” an unflinching look at the country’s state-run orphanages. “Wow,” he thought, “filmmaking, when you do it right, can be really powerful.”

In his new documentary, Seftel brings the camera home and follows a personal drama that embodies a societal collision. The film opens on a teen-ager addressing the camera. “Most of the time when I tell people this story, they tell me that they don’t believe me,” she says. The speaker, Emily McKinney, is the stepdaughter of the man at the center of the documentary, Richard (Mac) McKinney. Emily is referring to Mac’s plan to set off an I.E.D. at a mosque, the Islamic Center of Muncie, Indiana.

Mac, a white combat veteran, describes his twilight tour in the military during the early and violent years of the global war on terror, and his abrupt return to small-town Indiana, in 2006. Re├źntering civilian life, he became livid, and obsessed with the local Muslim community. During the periods he describes as “between being drunk and sober,” he brainstormed how he could attack Muslims—an action he thought of as continuing to protect his family and serve his country. His answer was to make a bomb. He describes making a plan for how he could “get the most bang for my buck” by targeting his local mosque, where he hoped to injure or kill at least two hundred worshippers. When he set out on a reconnaissance mission and visited the mosque—“to get the proof” of their threat—his story took a surprising turn.

McKinney met the Bahrami family, co-founders of the center and themselves refugees of the Soviet Union’s ill-fated war in Afghanistan; and Jomo Williams, a Black local convert. The relationships were not easy ones—“These people were killers,” McKinney remembers thinking—but the members of the mosque saw that McKinney was troubled, and welcomed him.