City of Brass

The hajjis have begun to arrive home. Among them were Rep. Keith Ellison, the first muslim elected to Congress and now the first US elected official to have ever performed Hajj.

The Democrat from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional
District traveled to the Saudi Arabian city along with about 3 million
people. The journey is a lifelong dream for many Muslims.

“It was transformative. It was a wonderful experience,” Ellison
said in a telephone interview today. “I learned a lot about myself,
about my faith.”

He said that word soon got around that he was a congressman —
some people had recognized him from TV — and he wound up talking to
groups of 60 or 70 people.

“I didn’t want to turn it into a politics thing,” he said. “I
was trying to play it low. I really wasn’t trying to play the role of
the public official.”

Ellison said he talked to the groups about “the importance of
calling on your spiritual journey, and that whether you’re a postman or
businessman or a congressman, we all need to do what we do better. With
more purpose and more focus, and a greater sense of serving humanity
and looking out for the poor and stuff like that.”

It’s interesting that Ellison’s status as a Congressman was cause for mini-celebrity. It speaks, I think, to the tremendous reservoir of hope and goodwill that muslims worldwide have for the United States, despite near-universal condemnation of our foreign policy over the past 8 years. As Ellison notes, he was also approached by many who were eager to express their hope about Barack Obama’s election:

People were encouraged about the role the U.S.
will play under President-elect Barack Obama, Ellison said. The fact
that Obama’s middle name is Hussein and he had a Muslim father came up
in conversation.

“People think that the (incoming) president might have a higher level of sensitivity,” Ellison said.

We truly are at the cusp of a new era in American-Islamic relations. However, we have to be careful about setting expectations too high, as well…

There’s also a nice article from last year in the LA Times, “personal trek, with millions” about a group of California muslims who went to hajj. This year, an NBC producer and author named Kamran Pasha, also blogged his Hajj experience.

This is brilliant – muslims in Florida have launched a campaign whereby they run ads on the side of public transport buses, inviting people to call a phone number and talk to a fellow citizen who is muslim. The idea is to foster personal links and engage in one-on-one dialogue between people, not PR teams:

For eight weeks, the Dade and Broward County
transit systems will display colorful banners about Islam on the sides
of 120 local buses. Floridians of all faiths are invited to call
1-888-ISLAM-55 or visit the website to discover
accurate information about Islam and Muslims.

Even though
we have been speaking out, many of our fellow Americans have not heard
us; now they can. This project creates an avenue for dialogue and
friendship. Through a direct line of communication all Americans will
be able to make an informed decision about Muslims and Islam.

on the second day of the campaign an upset individual, whose call ended
up in my queue, asked why Muslims wanted to dominate the world by
converting everyone to Islam. After a 20-minute discussion we parted as
friends: a Christian and a Muslim who found we had more things in
common than different. Stereotypes were dispelled and the truth was

With all good things come challenges. Not only
will there be success stories but also difficult stories. For example,
the first caller I talked to was so livid about the campaign that his
language was littered with profanity.

We will not change the mind of every caller, but we will create bridges with those interested in exchanging views.

This is the sort of innovation that the chapters of CAIR are great at doing – I have long argued that for all CAIR’s ineptitude at the national level, the state and local chapters do meaningful work. I still think it would be wise for CAIR to compile data on anti-semitic incidents in collaboration with the ADL, but that’s another topic.

(via John Burgess, who has a low opinion of CAIR)

Related reading – my post on Muslim Advocates, a muslim civil rights group that is filling the void left by CAIR’s national leadership. I also discuss potential ideas for reforming CAIR to be more effective.

Thabet exposes the elephant in the room regarding the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes by British police a few years ago:

Which leads to me to a point not even the most harshest critic of the establishment has raised yet. The unmentioned racism. I remember this incident soon after the failed attempt to bomb Stockwell tube station
(I had just come back from a horrible stint offshore in the North Sea,
so remember that whole week very well). There were repeated news
reports on television about the dead man being “Pakistani-looking”.
Yet, the police were after Hamdi Adu Issac
(or Osman Hussain), who is not Pakistani but Ethiopian. They all look
alike right? What is even more absurd is Jean Charles De Menezes was Brazilian. And not even a black- or otherwise dark-skinned Brazilian. Look at the picture the Met Police used in a health and safety case
to defend their actions. What is similar about them? They have two
eyes? A nose? Mouth? Ears? Some hair?! Not surprisingly, in the
aftermath of the De Menezes killing (extra-judicial state execution),
De Menezes was accused of being an illegal immigrant (which, as far as
I know, he wasn’t). I wonder who put that rumour out?

Immigrant. Brown-skinned. Pakistani-looking. “Foreign”. Enough to
get you shot dead even though those with the power to take your life
have not bothered to properly verify who you are.

The jury was forbidden from ruling that de Menezes’ death was unlawful, so they did the best they could and returned an “open verdict”. Simply put, the government is trying to evade justice, and de Menezes’ killers are above the law. That’s why thabet keeps referring to the murder as an “extrajudicial state-sanctioned killing”.

Related: the original BBC story about de Menezes’ murder from three years ago.

To be honest I find this rather insulting and pathetic:

An Iraqi reporter set off pandemonium Sunday by hurling two shoes atPresident Bush during a news conference that was the centerpiece of hissecret good-bye visit.

Bush was cool under fire and prevented an even bigger incident bywaving off his lead Secret Service agent, who was prepared to extracthim from the room.

The president successfully ducked both throws. Photos show him withhis head down near the top of the podium.  The embarrassing incidentmarred a visit meant to show off the improved conditions since thetroop “surge” dramatically reduced casualties to U.S. troops.

“This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog,”the journalist shouted, Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times reportedin a pool report to the White House press corps.

Myers reported that the man threw the second shoe and added: “This isfrom the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”

Now, I’m not one to suggest that the Iraq War was a good idea, or that Iraqis should be grateful to Bush for any reason. The United States toppled Saddam, but also turned Iraq into a cauldron of violence, and in so doing made ourselves less safe as well. Further, President Bush is ultimately the man who made the call to go after Iraq instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan, so blaming him for present Iraqi misery is fair.

However, all of that said, it is also true that the Iraq War did put Iraq on a very different trajectory fro the dictatorial stasis it was locked into. Alone of the Arab states, it now has an opportunity (though not a guarantee) to evolve towards a truly republican mode of government. It may yet fail, but the potential is there. Even Egypt, the next most “free” Arab nation, is still fundamentally a (sometimes) benevolent autocracy, with political power embedded in the Mubarak dynasty. In Iraq, there are still strongmen and corruption and all sorts of bad things, but now for the first time in a long time, the Iraqi people have a say. It’s up to them what they make of it. If they are so blinded by hate of Bush that they do not see the meaningful difference – that there is, for the first time, hope – then they will forfeit that opportunity and return to stasis. I hope that Iraqis are not as cynical as that, for their sake and ours.

And, frankly, throwing a shoe at a visiting head of state is just rude. No one could have dared do such a thing under Saddam; at least journalists are free to register their discontent. But doing so in this manner was unprofessional and childish.

UPDATE – here’s video of the incident:

Related – I have a series of posts at Nation-Building blog about withdrawal from Iraq, including my main argument about the blood cost of doing so, . Also relevant is the CSIS paper by Anthony Cordesman, “The tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq” (PDF).

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