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City of Brass

In my essay The Burka and the Bikini, I argued,

The bikini and the burka are so far to the extremes that they meet
again. They both serve to reduce women, from a person, to an object. In
the case of the burka, that object is “slave”. In the case of the
bikini, that object is “sex”. The burka is forced upon women, for fear
of consequences, whereas women are induced to wear the bikini, out of
desire for consequences. But in both cases those consequences are to
please males.

The bikini and the burka can both be used by women as expressions of
power and independence
. The burka, or ridah, or hijab, can be a
powerful weapon of modesty, if chosen freely (and in fact, it is in
Western countries like America that Qur’anic modes of modesty in
women’s dress do finally take on the meaning they were intended to
have, because of the freedom of choice. America is the greatest Islamic
country on earth). Likewise, the woman wearing a bikini solely out of
her personal pride in her appearance has turned the bikini into a
weapon of self-expression.

This sentiment earned me a great deal of critique, I am proud to say. The view that the burka is not necessarilyily oppressive, and that the bikini may be so, is one that threatens the basic cultural-supremacist narrative of Islam as barbaric / West as enlightened.

To argue that Islam offers the potential (admittedly, largely unrealized in most of the present-day Islamic world) for more meaningful women’s rights than Western feminism is a kind of cultural blasphemy. That’s why at least one person felt compelled to express their dissatisfaction via anonymous postcard to PostSecret:

It is encouraging to see the dogma of bikini as liberation is being questioned. The burka and the bikini are just pieces of cloth, nothing more. What matters is why they are worn – and who makes the decision.

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 www.CallingIslam.com 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.

Already
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
told.

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.