City of Brass

City of Brass

Let’s do something

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

One of the oldest voices in the Islamsphere, Umm Zaid, has penned a courageous screed excoriating her fellow muslims to take a stand and do something (paraphrasing Todd Beamer, hero of Flight 93) about extremism and terrorism. I will not excerpt it, it deserves a full reading on its own. This is my response to a dialog that I think we do, as a community, need to have with ourselves.

I think that the overall sentiment of muslim Americans is in line with her call. But saying “let’s do something” is not, in and itself, doing something. What looks on the face of things to be doing nothing – living our lives as loyal citizens, teaching our kids the true universal values of peace and tolerance of Islam, striving to contribute in a civic sense to our communities, muslim and non-muslim alike – is actually doing Something, a great deal of something.

It is because muslim Americans are so integrated into the fabric of our beloved nation that we are not as fertile ground for extremism as, say, muslims in the UK (recall that the London subway bombings were a home-grown Islamist act of terror and not akin to 9-11 in that regard).

When a muslim American calls themselves a moderate muslim, that is doing something – its emphasisizng the extremism of the jihadists’ claim to faith. When we argue against the term Islamofascism, it’s doing something – it’s objecting to giving the fascists the use f the term Islamic to cloak their actions. When we objectto racial profiling and the increased curtailing of our rights and civil liberties, that is doing something – it is fighting for the very ideals of freedom that the terrorists would deny all of us.

Where Umm Zaid’s argument goes astray is in ascribing too much importance to the dissonant voices of counterculture Islam, the equivalent of the Che Guevara idolism that is more heir to the radical leftism of the Vietnam era than of any true mainstream muslim doctrine. She points to voices on the internet defending bin laden and shrill attacks by email, but the Internet is a tool for amplifying the extreme. Go outside, visit a mosque, talk to people in the Islamic community and you will see a people united against the threat, resolute and vigilant.

In a sense, Umm Zaid is recycling the silence libel. But at some point we as a community need to stop being obsessed with what our fellow countrymen think or fear, and look inwards, and strengthen the core. And rising Islamophobia also plays a role here in obstructing all of us from our common objectives.

I thank Umm Zaid for raising the issue, and I am sure the Internet trolls will punish her for it, but I think we as a community are mature enough to have a discussion about it without falling into the stereotypes that the Islamophobes have prepared for us.

UPDATE: Discussion at Talk Islam.

a couch potato Ramadan

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

The lighter side of Ramadan in the Arab world – soap operas:

Ramadan translates into big bucks for Arab satellite channels.
Millions of dollars are spent on special programming, much of it
comparable to Western soap operas, to entertain the masses during their
sunrise-to-sunset fasts.

One program, the popular Syrian
production “Baab El-Hara” — “The Neighborhood Gate” — offers high
drama focused on a family feud. A man and his pregnant wife are
separated as their mothers fight it out, with each mother-in-law trying
to teach the other a lesson.

The woman misses her husband and
wants to go back to him. The husband kisses his mother’s hand and
promises her he’ll do only what she wants.

The soaps showcase
social traditions mixed with melodramatic characters and enough twists
and turns of events to last the entire month of fasting.

Yikes, Ike … Remembering Rita

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the Gulf Coast region – especially my family there and all the friends I accumulated over the 9 years I spent living there before moving to Wisconsin in June 2007.

It looks like Ike is going to hit Houston and Galveston hard:

Ike_091208.gifI pray that this storm has as little effect as Hurricane Rita did. I
still vividly remember the nightmare of our Hurricane Rita experience,
and that was just the evacuation and city-wide shortages of gasoline,
milk, eggs, etc for weeks afterwards. There wasn’t even any monster
rainfall with Rita, though she was a Category 5. A few years earlier,
though, Tropical Storm Allison turned Houston into a gigantic bayou,
causing billions of dollars to infrastructure and buildings, and
irreplaceable loss of research and data at the Medical Center.
Hurricane Ike is more analogous to Allison than to Rita – the primary
concern is a storm surge of 20 feet in the Galveston lowlands, and then
area-wide severe flooding throughout Harris county. Unlike Rita, Ike
hasn’t been deflected at the last minute, and given Ike’s far greater
extent (500 miles wide!) even if Ike were to be deflected by the hand
of God now, Houston would still get hit.

I had actually blogged the whole ordeal of Hurricane Rita (whenever access permitted) back in 2005 when we were evacuating and dealing with the post-Rita mess. I had chronicled the events as follows:

Rita’s comin’ to Texas, folks
(Sep 19, 2005). I was one of the very first Texas bloggers to declare
that Rita had our number. That post was updated numerous times over the
next couple of days as the reality began to sink into the wider media.

Batten down the hatches
(sep 21, 2005). I started planning our escape route. At that point in
time it wasn’t clear whether my wife, a resident at UTMB Galveston,
would have to stay on duty or not.

update
(Sep 22, 2005). A grueling 9-hour drive to go 60 miles. We were part of
the largest evacuation in US history, the great mother deity of all
traffic jams. A nightmare of overheating brakes and low gas and
frustrating cell-phone outages and endless mile after mile of highway,
one foot at a time.

contraflow
(Sep 23, 2005). Having escaped Galveston county, but still in northwest
Harris, we were deciding whether or not to try and make it to san
antonio or not. We ultimately decided to stay in Katy rather than take
our chances on the highway and repeat our experience of the previous
day.

shelter in place (same day, 23rd). The evening of landfall. We went to our community masjid for shelter, anticipating the worst.

the power is ours
(late that evening, 23rd). A report from the masjid, waiting out the
storm. It became pretty clear that evening that Rita wouldn’t pose the
threat we all feared – thanks to the divine providence of a sudden
change in Rita’s course.

Houston makes it through (Sep 24, 2005). A guest post from my friend Taha. We made it safe and sound and Taha expresses the thanks we all felt.

sitting dry
(that same day, 24th). We did lose power but only for about 10 hours.
We returned to my inlaws’ place in Katy and now begin the waiting for
normalcy.

Aggie joke (Sep 26th 2005). Some welcome humor at Texas A&M alumni expense.

Houston reawakens
(same day, 26th). The city comes back to life, though finding eggs and
milk was pretty hard. We were glued to the radio listening for when the
local WalMart would reopen!

home (Sep 27, 2005). Made it back to my house in Galveston, where apart from a few shingles, everything was ok.

My
posts didn’t get into a lot of detail about the preparations we made to
leave our home, the work involved in getting it all back together
again, etc. Overall it was a grueling and insane week, one I’d never
want to repeat. We were truly blessed to have escaped with as little damage and injury, and as much sanity intact, as we did. I pray sincerely that the good people of the Gulf Coast fare as well now as we did then. In this month of holy Ramadan, may our prayers be amplified accordingly for their sake.

UPDATE: Ubu has been hurricane-blogging extensively at Houblog. He’s way better prepared for this than 99% of the rest of the Houston metro.

Sarah Palin on God

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My Beliefnet colleague Rod Dreher watched the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson and came away a bit less than impressed. He described her performance as “scripted and overprepared” which doesn’t bode well for assuring the independent vote that McCain must court to win. Personally, I haven’t watched the interview but I did read the excerpted transcripts online, and I was actually somewhat reassured by her answer to at least one question:

GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, “Our national leaders
are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.” Are we fighting
a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.

PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s
words when he said — first, he suggested never presume to know what
God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak
God’s words.

But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments,
was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time,
but let us pray that we are on God’s side.

[...]

GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln’s words, but you went on and said, “There is a plan and it is God’s plan.”

PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for
this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great
potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with
inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe
that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of
happiness.

That, in my world view, is a grand — the grand plan.

You know, that makes sense. Her original response that the war in Iraq was God’s plan echoed President Bush’s clumsy reference to the war being a “crusade”. This clarification, and evocation of Abraham Lincoln, sit well with me.

Another aspect of the interview that I also liked was her characterization of the big picture:

GIBSON: We talk on the anniversary of 9/11. Why do you think those hijackers attacked? Why did they want to hurt us?

PALIN: You know, there is a very small percentage of Islamic believers
who are extreme
and they are violent and they do not believe in
American ideals, and they attacked us and now we are at a point here
seven years later, on the anniversary, in this post-9/11 world, where
we’re able to commit to never again. They see that the only option for
them is to become a suicide bomber, to get caught up in this evil, in
this terror. They need to be provided the hope that all Americans have
instilled in us
, because we’re a democratic, we are a free, and we are
a free-thinking society.

Granted, she did not answer the question, but I like what she had to say here (emphases mine). Whether McCain’s administration would actually put deeds to these words, or follow the Bush example of rhetorical commitment alone,

Now, while I was pleased by these answers, the rest of the interview seems to have been a complete mess. The biggest glaring problem was that she seemed utterly unaware of what the Bush Doctrine was (and this was after her intense cram sessions in prep for the interview!). Her answer with respect to Iran and Israel was blatantly canned, she was completely wrong about previous VP’s experience, and her insistence that she had zero hesitation when asked to join McCain came off as smug and arrogant.

Will the interview make any real difference, however? I don’t think so. Not until the debates will we really see anything she says have an impact one way or another. September is still Palin’s alone.

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