September 11: 10th anniversary

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, I thought I’d share a few links I came across recently.

Back in May, we read a short piece from Facing History and Ourselves about Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” who was captured after 9/11. In this video, his mother and the mother of a man who died in the World Trade Center talk about their “unusual friendship”:

It’s very common, when these discussions come up, for someone to ask why “moderate” Muslims don’t speak out against “radical” or “extremist” Muslims. The answer to this is that they have, many many times. But statements of condemnation aren’t always considered newsworthy, so we don’t hear always about them. This is one of many pages listing some of the Muslim organizations that issued statements condemning Al-Qaeda’s actions on September 11. It’s an older link, so some of the pages have moved, but a little browsing will take you to a lot of information about Muslim responses to terrorism. Here’s another link collection.

But it’s also appropriate to ask, as Ali Eteraz does here, if Muslims should be asked to condemn terrorism in the first place: “If you want a Muslim to condemn terrorism, realize that he has done so by not engaging in it.” We rarely ask members of other groups to condemn acts based on shared race or religion (and when we do, we should stop). The same standard should apply to all.

I also liked this article, by Stephen Jay Gould, published two weeks after the attacks:

Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ”ordinary” efforts of a vast majority. We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses…

Teach #Tahrir

FYI: I’ve created another site called Teach #Tahrir, for teachers using new media to teach the Arab Spring. Although it’s aimed at teachers, I know some of you have been following events in the Middle East and you might be interested in some of the videos, web sites, and other materials I’ve linked to there.

I would also welcome any suggestions you have for sites you think would be interesting to other high school students. I’m open to anything (comics, photojournalism, graffiti, mash-ups, podcasts, posters, video games, blogs)… anything but textbooks. 🙂

1,001 Nights

Way back in 2002, I wrote an article about Hollywood images of Muslims (you can read it here). One movie I criticized was Aladdin. (I should say here that I don’t think Aladdin was nearly as bad as the pile of action movies featuring Muslim terrorists, but it had some problems.)

A while back I got an e-mail from Shabnam Rezaei, a children’s television producer who had read my article. She said she was working on a new animated series based on 1,001 Nights, and that she and her team “have tried very hard to stay true to the tales and do the exact opposite of what Disney did in Aladdin.”

This is a trailer from the series:

And here the producers talk about the project:

What do you think?

When in Rome

  I was in Rome recently and noticed a couple things I wanted to share. One was the acceptance of various cultures and ethnicities there; frequently, we would see men and women wearing turbans, hajib, kippah, and other religious garments. Nobody looked twice at these people, as should happen, but this made me think about America’s response to followers of other beliefs and religions. In America, these people tend to draw judgment, stares, or even fear from others simply because of the association we have grown to have with foreign religions, such as Islam, and terrorism. I couldn’t help but think that people in Europe are much more open minded and accepting of other beliefs, cultures, and ways of life than we tend to be in America. Any thoughts?

Also, it was interesting to see the social position of women in Italy. One of the most common sites in the city was the motorcycles that men AND women would ride around the city, especially to and from work. It was really cool to see the social acceptability of women riding motorcycles around the busy city streets, as it is generally assumed that anyone riding a motorcycle in America is male, for the most part.  And not only did these women ride their motorini confidently through the city, but they did it while wearing nice suits, dresses, jackets, and heels! I know it’s kind of random 🙂 but I personally found this to be pretty cool, and vastly different from the concept of motorcycles (especially with women) in the States.

Thoughts? This was my first trip out of North America so I’m not sure if this is any different from other places in Europe or the rest of the world.

What is Terrorism?

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the tragic attacks in Norway.  As if the incident wasn’t awful and appalling on its own, the media response made it even more terrible.

The always unbiased news network FOX was very quick to blame Muslims for the attack despite knowing no details.  #blamethemuslims was even trending on Twitter one day!  So what, a building blows up in Europe therefore Muslims MUST be behind it, right??

Wrong.  The terrorist was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Catholic, Norse man.  Yes, that man is a terrorist.  But he is not a Muslim.  People seem to think that the words are synonyms.  Like when I say the KKK are terrorists people are like “They’re not terrorists, they’re just a cult.”  Um, if you use violence to intimidate a specific nation or group, then news flash – you’re a terrorist!

Another example: a man angry at the IRS crashed his plane in the Austin office last year.  Before the attack, he posted a suicide note criticizing America.  The disdain for his country was evident, and he intended to crash his plane as a statement to anyone connected to the IRS and as a big F U to America.  That guy’s got to be a terrorist for sure, yes!  No!  The police refused to call the act terrorism.  Instead, they deemed it a civilian criminal act.  People argue that since he was an American citizen, he couldn’t be a terrorist.  However, several of the Muslim terrorists discovered have been American citizens themselves.

So basically, if you’re white then ergo you’re not a terrorist???

I know

This doesn’t have to do with our goal, but a friend of mine and her family started a charity several years ago to raise money for cancer research.

I’d like everyone, if they can, to spread the word about it and donate if at all possible. I’ve added a link at the bottom to her blog, and at the bottom of her post about it is a “Donate” button. You need a PayPal to donate through those means. I’ve also added a separate link with different means of donating, though! Original blog. Additional Donation site

Some parting thoughts…

To read (from the coursepack): “A Siren Song” and “To Be Young, Gifted, Black, American, Muslim, and Woman.” The author of the second piece, Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, also has a wonderful (but unfortunately infrequently updated) web site and blog, which I also recommend.

Both women describe an evolving relationship with Islam… sometimes moving closer to more traditional beliefs, sometimes moving away from them, and then, sometimes, returning to a middle ground.

Despite our topic being religion, we actually haven’t spent much time discussing spirituality. That was mostly by design, since this project has been about stereotyping and discrimination — as opposed to inner faith — but I thought these two pieces would be a nice way to end the semester, because they give a glimpse at what Islam offers to women and why they might gravitate towards it, in spite of the misconceptions and prejudices from outside the community and in spite of the restrictions some feel within it. Of course these are only two women, and two snapshots. But they provide another perspective.

These will be the last readings for the blog. The last one in your coursepack is optional: “The Little Changes That Happened When Simin Became Avdal’s Wife.” This is a chapter from Erika Friedl’s book about women in an Iranian village during and after the 1979 revolution. Don’t worry about keeping the names straight! I included a hand-written chart of who’s related to whom to make it easier, but really you can read it without keeping track — just follow Simin as she adapts to her new household.

This piece isn’t about Islam per se, and it was published more than 20 years ago, so it’s out of place with other things we’ve been reading. I included it for a personal reason, though. It was assigned to me my first year in college, in a class called “Women and the Middle East,” when I was 17. I was completely absorbed in this story about a girl who was different from me in almost every way: she lived in Iran, in a rural village, she’d only had a few years of schooling, she was 14 and married, and by the end of the book, pregnant. And yet I completely identified with her, which I think is a sign of the power of Friedl’s writing.

We’ve talked a lot about the ways Muslim women and girls are misrepresented (think back to the original Rethinking Schools article). Simin, though — who is a real person; Friedl was an anthropologist — is someone who actually fits the stereotype in many ways. She’s foreign. She’s veiled. She’s young. She’s poor. She’s rural. She’s uneducated. Her marriage was arranged. Her household is gender-segregated. Her family is conservative. The men sometimes beat the women. But even though all these things are true, I think it’s impossible to see her as a caricature. I didn’t always like her, but that was part of her charm: she was very real to me. I have re-read this chapter many times over the years, and each time I’m reminded of how easy it is to dehumanize others by describing them by their attributes (like I just did – “she’s foreign, she’s poor,” etc.) as opposed to really seeing things through their eyes. I’m curious to know if you feel the same way.

Ask Me No Questions

Ask Me No Questions - cover 2 Final book! Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos

A bit of background:

The U.S. government distinguishes between citizens, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants. Citizens include anyone born on U.S. soil, any child of at least one American parent, or individuals who have successfully applied to become “naturalized” citizens. Legal immigrants are citizens of other countries who are living in the United States with recognized visas, greencards, or other documentation. Illegal immigrants – sometimes called undocumented persons, or more offensively, “illegal aliens” – are in the U.S. without documentation.

There is a great deal of controversy about what should be done about illegal immigration. Legal immigration is less controversial, but the line between “legal” and “illegal” status can be blurry. There is a lot of paperwork involved in getting (and keeping) a visa or a greencard, and sometimes people fall out of status without realizing it. In Nadira’s case, that was NOT the situation initially – her family knowingly overstayed their tourist visa. But when they tried to apply to become legal immigrants, their case was complicated for reasons described in the book.

Before September 11, “immigration” and “Islam” rarely came up in the same conversation. This changed immediately after September 11, once it was realized that the 19 hijackers had been living in the United States, apparently undetected. Immigration laws were changed to make it harder to enter the country, and there was much more scrutiny of immigrants who were already here, especially if they were from majority-Muslim countries. (Nadira is from Bangladesh.)

In light of everything we’ve been reading and talking about this semester, what are some things you found interesting about Nadira’s story? I’m especially interested in knowing what you thought about this in comparison or contrast to the chapter about Rasha, who was in some ways a real-life Nadira (although Rasha was detained herself; the fictional Nadira is not).

I also ran across this review of the book, including some criticism of its original cover. (The author usually has no control over this.)