This past February students in the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at UC Irvine deliberately disrupted a talk by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the US, as he attempted to justify the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008/2009.
The 11 students who disrupted Oren by shouting him down were arrested. Afterwards, Muslim students and other Palestine solidarity activists attending the event walked out and held a protest outside.
Recently, Lisa Cornish, the Senior Executive Director of Student Housing, and other university officials at UC Irvine have recommended the 1-year suspension of the MSU. In addition, MSU members must complete 50 hours of community, no MSU officers will be allowed to be an “authorized signer” for any other student groups, and if the MSU is allowed to re-register for official status in 2011, it will be placed under a one-year probation.
One argument goes that it invites retaliation on the whole Muslim community threatening their religious freedom. The problem with this argument is that it places the sins of white supremacy and empire squarely in the laps of Muslims and solidarity activists who choose to resist. There is a faulty assumption here that the occupations of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the racist attacks on Muslims in the US are a result of organized resistance on our part. This is completely backwards. Oppression doesn’t result from our resistance; we resist because we are oppressed.
There has been a lot of debate about James Cameron’s movie Avatar. This film describes a private mercenary force like Blackwater colonizing a forest planet named Pandora sometime during the 22nd century. The indigenous people of this planet, the Navi’i, rise up and drive them out; in the process some of the colonizers switch sides and join the rebellion. Some see this story as a “noble savage” myth that perpetuates racist stereotypes of indigenous people. Others see it as a criticism of ecological destruction and a warning of what will happen if we don’t learn how to live in harmony with the natural world. Some see it as a white guilt fantasy and an example of liberal racism because it involves a white man leading a revolt of oppressed people. Others see it as an inspiring story of anti-colonial armed struggle; (an Anti-War activist friend of mine said that Cameron was able to do what the anti-war movement has not been able to do: to encourage millions of Americans to root for the defeat of the US military.) In any case, this movie has been seen by millions of people and has broken records as a holiday blockbuster, so it is clearly striking a chord with everyday people in this time of economic crisis, ecological fear, and colonization efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and elsewhere. For that reason, it is important for activists to carry on these debates because if we misunderstand the appeal of this movie we could be misunderstanding where our coworkers, friends, and neighbors are at right now.
A year ago, In Soo Chun, a Korean-American custodian at the University of Washington poured gasoline over his body and lit himself on fire in front of the office of the university’s president. Several students rushed to try to put out the fire in vain. In Soo Chun soon passed away.
The media dismissed him as deeply troubled, following the lead of UW public relations rep Norm Arkans. There was no effort to ask why he chose such a public way to die. There was no effort to ask whether it had to do with the poor working conditions many UW custodians face. There was no effort to ask whether In Soo Chun was attempting to carry on a tradition of self-immolation that has been a central part of the Korean labor movement.
I work closely with an organization called International Workers and Students for Justice, a group of rank and file UW custodians and tradespeople. IWSJ held a memorial on the one year anniversary of In Soo Chun’s death at which they asked these difficult questions. A video of the memorial can be found here. A publication of workers’ writings dedicated to In Soo Chun’s memory can be found here and here.
As insomnia kicks in, another profound piece of writing (I hope) is produced. I only get exciting ideas to write about in the middle of my sleep- surely, it’s divinely inspired. It’s like the Tupac line from Ghetto Gospel, “Never forget, that God isn’t finished with me yet//When I write rhymes, I go blind, and let the Lord do his thing.”
I dedicate this entry to all my friends and family from my former home church in Seattle. It’s hard to write this and not think about the past five years of what could have been had I continued ‘growing in Christ’ with you all. I ask that you will be patient as you read this, as I’m sure much if not all of this note will provoke some kind of offense, and genuinely welcome and encourage your comments at the end.
A second audience I want to address here are some of my progressive friends who do listen to hip hop, but intentionally limit their listening to ‘underground’, ‘political’, and ‘socially conscious’ rap—artists like the Blue Scholars, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Mos Def.
I think the title of this piece is really fitting, because I wish to say that hip hop, in its entirety, including its most violent incarnations (i.e. gangsta rap, horrorcore), has rekindled my spirituality when I had completely abandoned God by providing me an alternative conception of Christianity and faith that was understood and embraced by people struggling against a system that had marginalized them from the political process and from economic opportunities. Hip hop has also taught me so much about the world and has given me so much purpose to what I do as a community organizer. Continue reading Hip Hop Has Saved My Soul (and Spirituality)→
Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam, has taken official society by storm with her attacks on the culture and politics of the Muslim and Arab world. As a South Asian lesbian who grew up alienated attending a Muslim school in Canada, she represents a multicultural voice in solidarity with the great liberal values of the secular state. Her message and identity are marketed as the latest, best selling popular criticism of “Islamic fundamentalism.”
In promoting her book and ideas, she has spoken on cable news shows, in the official papers, at Washington think-tanks and Zionist audiences throughout North America. Manji claims to be taking up a project of self-criticism and innovative thinking in the Muslim community. The inspiration for her criticism is the “enlightened” states and societies of the West, in particular the U.S. and Israel. To her audience, she is the quintessential “Good Muslim.”
The Irshad Manji phenomenon can perhaps be understood in three ways. First, it is an extension of the logic of liberal multicultural racism. Second, is the attempt to refine a general liberal racist doctrine based on secular chauvinism, which has justified imperialism for more than a century, in the battle to consolidate Western control of the Middle East. Third, like the shallow white male conservatives who falsify the history of democratic traditions from Ancient Greece to Judeo-Christian ethics, Manji falsifies the history of the Arab world and Islamic traditions. She posits a “free” secular West where in fact worship of God is generally subordinated to mayors and police chiefs. This is contrasted to an imaginary Middle East where Allah mandates “tyranny” and where all independent thinking is crushed. Manji, like all good imperialists, tells us lies about the history of those we wish to be in solidarity with and about our own history. Continue reading The Trouble with Irshad Manji→