Religious Dispatches – Notes and Reflections on MLK 2013

The following is the audio from today’s interfaith service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at LaSalle University:

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا مُوسَىٰ بِآيَاتِنَا وَسُلْطَانٍ مُبِينٍ

“We sent Moses with Our Signs and clear authority.” Qur’an, 11: 96.

I had to pleasure to speak alongside Dr. Robin L. Smith, author of the upcoming book, Hungry: The Truth About Being Full; Youssef Kromah, a.k.a., Seff al-Afriqi; and Reverend Todd Johnson, pastor of First Immanuel Baptist Church. My thanks to Michael Smith, from the Communications department at La Salle University and the rest of the LaSalle staff.

9/11 2011 – Say Good-Bye to Diversity [?]

Here it is. My 9/11 post. I had been avoiding this issue, not because I haven’t had thoughts on it, but primarily because I haven’t really had the venue to speak my mind. But while laying on my couch, giving Pnin a cursory reading before my term begins, an e-mail flashed across my iPhone and a very long and complicated conversation jumped off inside my head. Here is the short form.

In truth, I had not wished to address 9/11 for a number of reasons. First, after having spoken with my father and agreeing with him, I feel the imagery surrounding 9/11 and its veneration is insensitive to those who did lose family and loved ones. Over and over, for a decade, these families have been forced to have their loved one’s final moments played out, over and over again, with little to no regard to the sanitizing and sterilizing effects it has on the masses [repeatedly witnessing the deaths of nearly 2,800 people] not to mention the agony of seeing your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor, mowed down and destroyed needlessly. We could do with a lot less instant replay and a lot more reflection. While this post is not the time nor place, I must repeat it again: Technology is not neutral.

Another reason, not wholly unrelated from the previous sentence’s final thought, is the lack of sound and critical dialog over the entire phenomenon of 9/11 and what spawned from it. No, this is not a clarion call for conspiracy theories: I admit, there are things about the “how” of 9/11, but if we’re honest [Muslims] we don’t have to strain ourselves to come up with the “why”. This is not an indictment of Islam: I am a “practicing”, 5-times-a-day-praying, Ramadan-fasting, zakat-paying, House-of-God-visiting Muslim. I do not subscribe to such popular buzzwords as “Islamic” terrorism [as there were no orders to terrorize in the final Revelation that was sent to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him]. But, sadly, there are some Muslims who do seek to instill unjustified fear into the hearts of folks simply because they can’t reason their way out of a wet paper bag.

Happening now: Wolf Blitzer discusses how Sunchips bags are noisy while the news reads below: '14 people killed when vehicle plugs from cliff in Nepal'.

This lack of dialog however, should not be seen as something isolated to the tragic events of 9/11. In truth, America has abandoned intellectual discourse in the public sphere a long time ago. This is aided by technologies such as sound bites, 24/7 CNN-style “Situation Room” nonsense, where meaningful information is massacred into entertainment [another plug for technology is not neutral]. But to help put this philosophical and ethical crisis into the broader context, I will talk about 9/11 from the perspective of tolerance and belonging.

Tolerance: a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

That is a dictionary definition of tolerance. But that is no longer what tolerance means in America. Instead, diversity has come to be seen as the antithesis of democracy, of tolerance, and thus, unity has devolved down into a make-shift uniformity. You can be diverse in America, so long as you’re just like me. Only problem is, who gets to define “me” [what ever happened to “we” by the way]? From what I can tell, it’s a particular strain of whiteness to be frank. A strain of whiteness that would like to harken back to the pre-Civil Rights days, when Whiteamericans didn’t have to live under the yoke of racial suspicion, but that’s another story for another day. So how do we maintain one of our civilizational core values of diversity when everything we do threatens its very existence?

One of the proofs that we are sadly rolling downhill to the formation of a monoculture is in the adoption of Islamophibic rhetoric by Blackamericans [and other “minorities as well]. Blackness has been on the ropes ever since 1964 and now it looks to be down on one knee; the ref’s count stopped at 6, but one more body blow like that and…

You see, it’s very difficult these days to adhere to Blackness [or any other category that defies the false universal of white values]. Even our President, who no doubt was partially elected by some of his constituents because he was black, dares not discuss race openly. He was seen as a chance to change what had seemed written in stone. And yet, as has been in the [sound bite] media lately, there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction on how this President speaks on race, let alone addresses anything near it with a ten-foot pole. Why am I talking race? Weren’t we just discussing 9/11? Yes, we were, and we still are. You see, 9/11 has put Muslims in a very nasty little corner [albeit, one they helped decorate, if not create]. One must pledge allegiance to the Flag, unwavering allegiance that cannot afford to include any criticism of the State Power: after all, we do not wish to bite the hand that’s feeding us [our own hand], right? Can we mourn all of those who died on 9/11? White? Black? Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist? Can we also mourn those who died as a result of 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially the former, that was shown to have had no links to the 9/11 perpetrators? The simple answer is: No.

The greatest public tragedy of losing Martin Luther King Jr. was not his cowardly assassination, but was the assassination of everything he truly stood for. While he did call for and hope for the day when “little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls”, he was not calling for the abolishment or abandonment of blackness [race] nor the abolishment of diversity, in order to bring that dream to fruition. King was very much invested in black self-worth and dignity. Sadly, once his face was immortalized on that postage stamp and built a thoroughfare through every ghetto in America with his name on it, the nuances of his speech have long been lost. I say this because the same tragedy that had been enacted upon King is now being enacted upon Muslims and upon America as a whole: the insidious attack on diversity. Decriers of Muslims inability to assimilate to American society often evoke King’s words to demonstrate the “innate” goodness of America: See! Black folks and white folks can all get along [I’m thinking of a name here now, someone who lived in L.A.]. It’s these MOOZ-LUMS who hate democracy and hate our values. And yet we also find Muslims co-opting King’s language as a weak demonstration of our supposed support [I do believe we support it, it’s just I think the gesture is weak] of King’s/America’s values. But when diversity is re-defined as that which makes us incompatible, then how can truly function in a society where, all rhetoric aside, we are all quite different [ethnic/racial/religious groups]? This is why, as I try to tie up a loose end here, I see Blackamerican politicians rallying to the banner of anti-Muslim sentiment: If diversity is the problem, and I’m black, then where else do I have to go [thought Herman Cain]? A ha! If I abandon my Blackness [in the name of post-racial, multi-racial etc.] and flock to the banner of uniformity [a.k.a., the false universal], then I might just have a place in this new fantasy land [that is, again, until these white folks take a second look at me and realize I really am black – but there’s time to squabble of the spoils of victory later].

In end and in short, Muslims must return to the proper dialog of diversity and shout it loudly. The current dialog on religion in America wishes to root itself in our Abrahamic faiths and yet none of us [Christians, Jews, or Muslims] refers to ourselves as Abrahamites, or refers to our religion as Abrahamity. No, we are Christians [of one stripe of another], we are Jews or we are Muslims. We should feel comfortable, we three, to speak and articulate our distinctness without feeling we are abandoning our shared values [including Abraham being a central figure to our three faiths]. Perhaps then, when we respect [our own and each other’s] diversity and not see it in opposition or contradiction to unity [finding mutual values that we can raise above the fray], perhaps then, perhaps just then, we’ll all mourn as one, the dead of 9/11 and the death of bigotry.