Having dark skin makes one a Muslim in tea-bagger land.
A new poll shows that 1 in 5 Americans think that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. A Puerto Rican man cannot walk through a crowd of anti-mosque protesters without people questioning his religion and place in society. Much like the President of the United States, he is also automatically castigated as a foreigner due to the color of his skin.
The “mosque” on “Ground Zero” controversy is another round of theatrics from the tea-baggers, and like all their theatrics, this one is also full of exaggerations. Simply put, they are protesting a proposal that aims to build a cultural center designed to promote interfaith relations a few minutes away from the site of the 9-11 tragedy. But from the loud bellowing of protesters, one would think that a gigantic mosque the size of the Empire State building is being built on the graves of 9-11 victims from taxpayer money. No, the issue is rather dull and blown out of proportion.
Critics say that the debate over the building of a mosque is a distraction from the more important 9-11 First Responders health care bill that was killed by the GOP. But the issue is not a distraction. The hatred displayed by the anti-Muslim protesters stems from the same conditions that allow a majority of Americans to support racial profiling in Arizona and compels the GOP to use the issue of birthright citizenship as an electoral device: a fear of the Other.
America is undergoing a period of great recession and present unstable conditions allow demagogues to exploit socially divisive issues for political means. African-Americans, Latinos and Muslims are some of the chosen bogeymen “Others” during this era of hate. In the “Ground Zero mosque” narrative, the mosque represents a provocation much like the hijab: it stands for “global Islamic terrorism” and it need not make any sense. On one hand, bigotry on full display in broad daylight is both painful and scary for many people. On the other hand, it tells us that a post-racial America is a fictional entity and we have a long way to go when it comes to matters of race.
For the sake of argument, if the perpetrators of 9-11 did indeed hate us for our freedoms as has been purported time and again, then we are losing a war supposedly waged to preserve those very freedoms? We are losing the freedoms enshrined in the United States constitution and the winner is not a foreign enemy combatant. The winner is the American Taliban.
In I Can’t Think Straight, Bollywood actor Lisa Ray was roped in to play a Jordanian (with a really bad accent, might I add). She’s forgiven due to her unforgivable chemistry with Sheetal Sheth.
But wait. Why not actually roping in an actor from the Middle East to play these roles?
Kal Penn, also of Indian origin, has already done a stint on the series, albeit as a terrorist. I suppose some particular features serve as a proxy for ‘terrorism’ as much as being Latino serves as a proxy for ‘illegal status.’
Of course, there is a difference between mis-representing and under-representing. Ben Kingsley played Gandhi with finesse and character. Straight actors on the L Word portayed their gay roles with compelling performances that made us doubt their heterosexuality.
Still, it begs the question – Why not increase the visibility of Arab-Americans and other peoples from Central Asia and the Middle East on the global platform and tackle stereotypes by giving them such positive roles? There is not a lack of people who can perform in such roles.
American civil liberties get massacred during such crises. Instead of calling Major Hasan an ‘alleged’ shooter till he is confirmed guilty by a court of law (Fifth Amendment), speculators have already gone judge, jury and executioner on him.
What’s despicable is that allegations of Islamic terrorism are already in the media spin and public discourse over this gruesome incident. The mainstream media wasted no time in linking a minority religion to a mass murder simply due to our preconceived notions of who commits ‘terrorism’ or ‘jihad’ for that matter. As a response to this unjust heterogenous racial interpellation, Muslim organizations were quick to come out and condemn the attacks. As a response to backlash, many will back away from the interpellation (I am not a Muslim) rather than condemn all violence.
United States national identity has always predicated on a phantasmic threat of an internal or external Other, from indigenous peoples to slaves to USSR during the Cold War to immigrants and anyone that can be marked with an old Orientalist trope. Often, labels create a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces a bi-polar world-view. The case of Major Hasan might just be one of those self-fulfilling prophecies hidden beneath moral panic.
The actor, who is visiting the US to attend a South Asian event where he was the guest of honor was released after Congress MP Rajiv Shukla spoke to the authorities in the US and the Indian consulate. The actor was detained after his name flashed on the computer. He was asked several questions about the purpose of his visit. His hand baggage was checked. He was not allowed to even make a phone call for nearly an hour.
I know about ridiculous things that happen due to airport security paranoia. I know that even former Indian President, Abdul Kalam, was frisked last month by an American airline in New Delhi. Shahrukh seemed offended and perturbed, rightly so.
“I told them I was a movie star and had recently visited the country for the shooting of my film. Nothing seemed to convince the immigration officer. There were other immigration officers who even vouched for me but this particular officer did not listen to anyone. I even told them I had an invitation from the South Asian community and was there to attend an event.’’
What’s interesting is that Dave from Change.org was just telling me earlier today that Newark is not a safe space to travel for undocumented immigrants. Apparently, immigration officers don’t just discriminate based on documentation but race is also a proxy for criminality.
The LA Times recently ran a story on Aliyah Bacchs, who is a Muslim lesbian that left an arranged marriage and came to her family with two choices: accept her sexuality or lose her forever. Her case is not an isolated incident or limited to Muslims in America as exemplified in the Channel 4 documentary that was shot in Britain.
“I think my mom would rather say that I’ve been hit by a truck than say that I am gay.”
Abdullah says in the documentary that people pick and choose what they want from the Koran. He takes the good parts and does not believe he is doing anything wrong. After all, Allah is forgiving.
While the documentary is restrictive in terms of the fact that many faces are never shown or blurred, it still manages to explore the lives of a group of gay Muslims living in Britain, some closeted and others openly homosexual, but all struggling with some aspect of their sexuality. The double standard of condemning gay men more than lesbians is always worth mentioning : Islam does not have an opinion on lesbians but gay behavior is strongly condemned and punishable to death. That stems from living in a society where the feminine is disparaged and women are merely objects for consumption (and it is true for all countries including the United States).
There were several profound statements in the video. One that particularly struck me had to do with the intersectionality of being an ‘Asian’ and a queer. The gay community wants us to step out and be proud while the pan-Asian community wants us to remain in the closet and constrict ourselves. How does someone deal with that contradiction? Says a queer Muslim in the video, “Are they both competing with each other and we are having to pay for it? Why can’t I live my life?” Why can’t we live our lives?
It’s an un-Islamic notion to be ‘out and proud’ says one member of Imaan — the largest support group for gay Muslims (more support groups can be found here). With colorful hijabs on at Gay pride in Britain, the members of Imaan seem to tow the fine-line between leading their lives as queers who are also respectful of the modesty in Islam. But Abdullah, another gay Muslim, says he wouldn’t have hidden his identity at Pride as it is important for people to see who is speaking, who is telling their story.