How Our Freedoms Come At The Cost Of Others

Why do some folks “hate us for our freedom”? As ridiculous as the statement is, it’s even doubly ridiculous in that “why” is never posed to this question. While I’m reserved in giving simple explanations to complex issues, I do feel we, as Americans, are often negligent in recognizing that many of our so—called “freedoms” come at the expense of others. White supremacist-, “MAGA”-, alt-Right Trump supporters often espouse their hate for immigrants, particularly of the brown and poor varieties, but they too lack the courage and the honesty to ask, “why are so many coming here to work?” or, “Why have their economies failed?”. Many will offer an even simpler and more dehumanizing rebuttle that they — poor and brown-skinnedimmigrants — ought to go back to their respective countries and fight or sacrifice to make them great, as supposedly Americans did (or allegedly stiil do) in the country’s infancy. But these racist and historically inaccurate summaries simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Rob Dunn, in his new book, “Never Out Of Season”, reminds us why so many people, from locations such as Central America, are coming here to work: because we sabotaged their economies. Dun relates,

“Elected in 1950, Jacobo Arbenz was Guatemala’s second democratically elected leader. He proposed to redistribute abandoned banana land to poor farmers in the country and paid United Fruit Company twice what it had paid for the land. Arbenz believed that this would be the first step in creating a better country for his people, a democratic country. The United Fruit Company had other plans. Its leaders persuaded the US government to authorize the CIA to overthrow Arbenz as part of Operation PBSUCCESS. The director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, and the secretary of state, his brother, John Foster Dulles, were both friends of executives of the United Fruit Company. They had even done legal work for the company earlier in their careers. The Dulles brothers helped to convince president Dwight D. Eisenhower of the need to overthrow Arbenz. It was a secret and, from the perspective of the United States, successful coup. As a result, Guatemala’s democracy slid into decades of military dictatorship and a brutal civil war. That war would cost the lives of more than two hundred thousand Guatemalans, many of them at the hands of government security forces. The coup also set back democracy in other countries in which the United Fruit Company wielded power. However one attributes blame for these horrors, they, too, are part of the story of the Gros Michel banana.”

Perhaps the resentment that America earns is not quite so irrational as we’ve been led to believe. Dunn’s work makes you look at the breakfast fruit we all so innocently enjoy every morning in a diffent light.

Notes

Dunn, Rob. Never Out Of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future. New York. Little, Brown and Company. 2017.

Dangling Carrots

A brother asked me on Twitter,

My response was thus:

American Muslims: we are going to have to confront some unsavory truths many of us don’t want to face. Today’s attack at Ohio State University only highlight this issue. Many Muslims will not want to admit it but while there are many racists and anti-Muslims bigots who will piggyback on tragedy, many non-Muslim allies will find it difficult to support us when it’s not clear (A) what we stand for and (B) what’s a reasonable course of action to deal with this problem of violent behavior of people who are potentially are, or appear to be, compromised by ISIS rhetoric.

In earnest, we are caught unawares, but not for unexplainable reasons. By and large the American Muslim community has become a stage, a public performance of piety, when in reality we don’t know each other well. We have no idea what our respective hopes and fears are. And if we’re that out of touch with one another, imagine how out of touch we are with the rest of America (and how it’s out of touch with us)?

As for solutions, well, first, we must admit that it’s a complicated problem. For starters, Muslims need to reconsider their position on who’s coming from where, to the US, specifically as it relates to Muslims. This will undoubtedly make many Muslims uncomfortable, especially given how many of us take our marching orders and directions from so-called liberal allies. Many American Muslims fail to realize an important caveat in our relationship with liberal America: those same liberal allies who want total open immigration don’t have to deal with the fallout when it come crashing down on the American Muslim community. They will not have to face the social and political fallout of such policies. In addition, American Muslims need to work to hold their government more accountable. What do I mean? Well, how many times as a “bad actor” been reported by the culprit’s family (Boston, Orlando, just to name two incidents) only to have the government fail to capitalize on that intel (Mr. Trump – you see!, Muslims are spying, ahem, “reporting” when we see something “bad” but nothing comes of it!)? This is unacceptable. These failures also result in the continued scapegoating of the American Muslim community as all being suspicious and culpable to terrorism. Sound familiar? This very same process of criminalizing Muslims is the same apparatus that has been criminalizing Black folks since they were “set free” by Lincoln. This only furthers my point which states that part of the reason why many non-Muslim Americans believe you can be radicalized by going to the mosque is because we don’t own that narrative. We have turned that over to our well-intending (or perhaps, not) liberal allies.

Additionally, American Muslims must confront the reality that the Muslims who came to America in the 1960’s are not of the same stripe as some of those migrating here today. The world has changed and the Muslims have been immensely changed by those histories, and seldom for the good. Many of us, well intending, look upon the Muslim world as one Ummah, which incontrovertibly we are. But because we are one religious collective does not mean we are all the same. Can a young Muslim girl or boy raised in the suburbs of Chicago or Detroit be the same as a young Muslim reared amongst famine and doctrinal strife, to say nothing of the effects that colonialism has had upon their collective psyche? What effect would having one’s people drone striked into oblivion have on a young man from Mogadishu? I am not blaming the victim; indeed, we must strive for these factors to be taken into consideration—in the same way that when whites commit public acts of violence their past and family histories are considered—in understanding the whole. No, this must be acknowledged and dealt with.

So what is the root cause of our feckless response to continued targeting of our community? I believe its genealogy can be traced back (again) to certain aspects of our community believing that all whites, and especially the government, are benevolent and have out best interests at heart.

I believe the Muslim community must play a greater roll in helping to determine who is going to be a part of it (not CVE!). By and large we have not been consulted in this process. Instead, “experts”, whose credentials often read like a rap-sheet of anti-Muslim (and sometimes anti-Black) darlings. How can these folks possibly be left to make decisions on our behalf?

Lastly, we must resist the temptation to deliver a “loyal” American Muslim who, in exchange for promised securities and social acceptance, will only sing the praises of its owner. Is America truly the land of golden opportunity? Is the United States military truly a force for good in the world? The American public cries foul at public acts of violence when perpetrated by non-whites but feigns amnesia that it also dropped two!, not one, but two! atomic bombs on civilian populations in Japan. How did the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave justify sending black soldiers off to die in a war of which, upon their return, they would be subjugated to violence and tyranny by their own government? This is the kind of American Muslim I fear our government so dearly wants to co-opt. And sadly, I feel far too many of us are ready and willing to make that deal.

So yes, there is a way forward, but it will be neither easy nor convenient.

Scourge of Secular Capitalist Islam – A Response

Brother Naeem wrote a passionate post over at his blog. As my comments were too long, I decided to write them here.

as-Salaamu ‘alaykum, Naeem. I can see that you are indeed struggling to reconcile some issues that are very near and dear to you. Let me provide a bit of food for thought.

I am often disheartened when I hear Muslims giving such harsh criticisms of American Muslims, or as you have put it, “the whole American Muslim project”. I believe part of this interpretation of realities comes from an uncritical and unrealistic examination of Muslim history. Let me elaborate. It seems that when God chose Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, or any other country, to enter into Islam, its non-Muslim history has somehow become lost and inconsequential in the shuffle. It is very easy and convenient to think of Egypt as a Muslim country now, but what was Egypt’s transition like, from a non-Muslim polity to a Muslim one? What struggles did Egypt have to go through to negotiate this transformation? Even to this day, there are folk holidays still in practice such as Shams an-Nasim. To be direct, it seems to me that when Muslims look upon the enterprise of Islam in America it’s always viewed as accidental or incidental. Never it is look at as the qadr of Allah: it’s never seen as quintessential. Perhaps if we were to have patience and a more realistic view of the situation, we would see that Islam in America is very young when compared to other pockets of Islam around the world. It has also grown and developed in a highly unique way, very different than how Islam developed in Senegal or Malaysia. Yet, we seek to uphold a paradigm of success based on Saudi Arabia or some other imaginary location that embodies a supposed timeless Islamicity. Not only is this position not fair to Islam in America, it is even detrimental to the growth and development of Islam in America.

While the article’s observation is critical, I feel it lacks a “critical responsibility” as one scholar put it. It is very easy to say “no” or “nay”, but it takes foresight, forbearance, and a certain amount of emotional commitment to the cause to say “yea”. Perhaps you have been in Saudi Arabia too long; it is your new home. When one has been absent for so long, fondness fades from the heart. This is not to say that there is nothing to be critical about when it comes to American foreign policy, culture, or politics, and yet, just about every other Muslim polity has been and is guilty of the very same things you condemn America for:

“Maybe it’s the unquestioning adoption of capitalistic maxims which finds American Muslims enslaved by their struggles for better jobs, bigger homes, and nicer cars; Maybe it’s the callous attitude of American Muslims striving for the American dream while participating in a system that is ravaging the entire world, politically, militarily, economically, and environmentally”.

Tell me where the vast majority of Muslim countries are not attempting to do the very same? What are the political policies of most so-called Muslim countries? What are their environmental standards [if they have any at all] and practices? Not only do I disagree with the above statements but I find them to be blunt generalities, wielded to obtuse effect. “Maybe it’s the callous attitude of American Muslims striving for the American dream”. Where do you derive your justification for branding all American Muslims as callous? I ask where and how because you give no distinction; no nuance to your accusation. What seems to be at place here is a misappropriation of observations. What else do you expect Muslims in America to do? Should they sit around and wait for the Qiyamah? Are we not entitled to earn economically sound and viable livings, doing the best we can to navigate our existential reality? It seems like when our Gulf cousins are driving Bentleys and Land Rovers, so long as they have a white thobe and shamagh, they’re keeping it Islamically “real”. What would you have American Muslims do? Make hijrah? Drop out of their karif schools? Quit their kafir jobs? How will you support us? Can we all move to Halal Arabia? The issue at hand here is not Secular Capitalist Islam, Suburban Capitalist Islam, or any other chic neologism, but rather that there remains a strain of Muslim thought that is engaged at denouncing the validity of Islam in American while they have obviously chosen to put their stock in other ventures by either moving abroad or staying here but checking out. My advice would be this: if you’re happy in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or Utopia-bad, then check your uncritical advice until you’re willing to put up some of your own personal capital.

Enough with all the dear Abbey letters,

Taking Our Rightful Place of Leadership In the Muslim World

In the last several years, I have had conversations with a number of leading Muslim scholars—American and foreign—who recognize and advocate the ascension of American Muslims to the role of leadership in the Muslim world. I concur with this observation, not out of heedless pride or nationalism, but because I believe American Muslims are in a unique place to affect real change in the Muslim world; a world that now includes the United States. I will list a few reasons why I agree with their opinions: American foreign policy and how it impacts Muslims around the world; American domestic policy and how it impacts the lives of Americans at home; educating and interacting with the broader American public to not simply state but demonstrate the willingness on the part of Muslims in American to engage the society and invest their human, intellectual and creative capital in the society. These are but a few reasons I believe that American Muslims have the greatest chance of affecting American geopolitical strategies which have the potential to impact the lives of Muslims abroad and at home. What I have written here is more than a laundry list: it is a clarion call to American Muslims to take up the role of leadership that has been foisted upon us and make the most of this boon. In fact, it can be argued that if we do not take up this baton, that it will not only be our children here in America who will suffer, but the Ummah as a whole. I leave this small bread crumb trail with some thoughts of Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University, in a 2006 review of Vartan Gregorian’s book, Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith:

“Today, America is undoubtedly equipped with the best resources in the West to study Islam in terms of the range of scholarship, universities, and research cohorts it can boast, even though more is always welcome. And yet ironically, its public discourses and public policy communities—let alone government—display the most anemic symptoms when it comes to knowledge about Islam and Muslim societies.”