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Posts Tagged ‘America’

“Muslim Woodstock”?

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

From Maytha Alhassen, a Ph.D. student studying Muslim American identity at the University of Southern California and blogging for CNN.

The Narcicyst and Omar Offendum take the stage.

Some have facetiously referred to it as the Muslim Woodstock.

But for all the differences between 1969’s three days of peace and music and Saturday’s Takin’ it to the Streets festival in Chicago—a daylong Muslim-led arts and music festival—there is some truth to the comparison.

Read more…

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Obama sends Muslim country singer to Middle East

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

From my friends at Layalina Productions

The Sound of Music and Public Diplomacy

A statement released by the Department of State in April revealed that the Obama administration is providing funding for a music tour in the Middle East by an Egyptian-American country and pop singer, as part of its attempt to improve the Unites State’s relationship with the Muslim world and promote “respect for diverse cultures, faiths and traditions.”

This latest public diplomacy effort, inspired by the President’s Cairo speech, is aimed at building bridges between the two cultures through providing Middle Eastern audiences with an example of a rising American musical talent, and of America’s diversity of faith and heritage.

The 32-year-old singer/songwriter, Kareem Salama, headed to Cairo on April 26th for the tour’s opening performance, accompanied by three other accomplished musicians: Dan Workman, JJ Worthen and Michael Whitebread. The band is expected to be on tour for a whole month, visiting six other countries including Morocco, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem and Jordan.

Sending “America’s first Muslim country singer” to the Middle East is regarded as yet another State Department “soft-power” initiative to improve “Washington’s dented reputation across the Middle East,” writes James Reinel at The National.

Art advocates believe that beneficial outcomes may result from utilizing art as a cultural diplomacy initiative. According to Vishakha Desai, the president of the New York-based Asia Society, art has the ability to “humanize and create a more nuanced understanding” of the other and could be utilized to ease tensions and facilitate communication.

Despite the new budget set aside by the State Department for such efforts, Desai believes that funding is still lacking. “Money remains a huge issue. Even under the current administration with its tremendous interest in using arts and culture to advance public diplomacy, the truth is, there isn’t enough support,” she complains.

Still, Salama seems to show genuine interest in spreading the image of his homeland as an “inclusive country that welcomes newcomers” of all faiths. He maintains, “I want to learn from the people we meet, share my music, share my personal experiences and break some stereotypes and preconceived ideas about being an American Muslim,” adding that introducing country music in the region, if it happens, is a secondary goal.

During the Morocco segment of the tour, the band’s drummer, Mohsin Mohi-ud-Din, expressed his hope that their work would challenge the general misconception that all US Muslims suffer under “Islamophobic oppression,” reports The National. He explained, “Muslims have more freedom in America than they do in most Arab nations.”

In similar vein, a new Arab hip-hop movement has emerged consisting of rappers from across the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, who “have joined forces to spread their message and their music to audiences worldwide,” writes Joshua Asen for Foreign Policy. Some of the artists behind this movement include Shadia Mansour, the group DAM, Lowkey and the Narcicyst.

Asen describes this Arab hip-hop revolution, which Hamas tried to shut down, as a “powerful and natural ally.” He suggests that the State Department should rethink its approach to utilizing hip-hop, which “embodies both the spirit of diplomacy and that of armed resistance.”

However, Asen warns that the exclusion of the Palestinian territories and Gaza on the tour by the State Department may have seemed like the safer option, yet it comes at the expense of sacrificing the “best opportunity for real impact.”

In Somalia, an 11-member rap band called Waayaha Cusub, including one female, has been exiled to Kenya because its lyrics encourage Somalis to stand up to the Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, reports Asharq-Alawsat.

The group’s founder, Shine Abdullahi, who has survived an assassination attempt said, “We will wipe out the fear of our people that no one can speak out against [Somali Islamist insurgent group] Al-Shabaab… They misread our religion and kill people.”

Adbullahi remains optimistic that the band’s work may contribute to rid the country of the insurgent group. “This is real war. Those who refuse to honor their prophet cannot win,” he said.

My name is Khan (or Hussain)… (pt. 2)

March 9, 2010 Leave a comment

When I was blogging last night about the film “My Name is Khan”, and its intersection with President Obama, it did not yet occur to me that the greatest irony of the film is not the Muslim Indian actor named Khan playing a Muslim Indian hero named Khan, who must tell the president that he’s “not a terrorist”. Oh no, not by far. It took the photo above to remind me that the greatest irony here is that Khan, both the actor and the character, had to make this confession to a man who is also considered a terrorist because of his Muslim surname, which, in this case, happens to be Hussain.

And here’s the kicker: the photo was not taken in some distant, “anti-American” land. It wasn’t even taken in some racist, redneck boondock. It was taken on West 123rd Street, in the heart of Harlem, at the Atlah World Missionary Church. I felt compelled to find out what else the good Pastor James David Manning had to say, so I visited the church’s website and boy, did I find out. From what I can tell, Atlah is a predominately Black, evangelical church, school, and would-be media producer that counts among its ministries:

  • Exploring the lies taught by our “leaders” who have used slavery as the means to incite hatred of white people to perpetuate the lies.
  • Exposing the ill effects of the media moguls of Jay-z, 50 Cent, and others upon Black youth.
  • Exposing the Magnificent Seven – Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Bill Clinton, T.D. Jakes, Louis Farrakan, Don King, and Cornell West, as the American witch doctors.

And here’s a taste of the Pastor’s rhetoric, as it concerns President Obama’s decision to send Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Haiti after the earthquake.

In the end, I’m still not quite sure what this says about America and Obama and Muslims but I do see just how closely our struggle with race (which, contrary to stupid opinion, did not “end” with the election of Mr. Obama) and our struggle with religion are linked in this country, making the identity (and authority) of Obama doubly controversial. What is also clear is the power of visual storytelling, specifically in the form of film and video, in manipulating that identity for the purposes of communicating either love or hate. We’re yet to see many Obama portrayals in film but I suspect we’ll yet see many more, and especially from the rest of the world, who is just as busy as we trying to figure out how the land of opportunity could become the land of paranoia.

My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist

March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

“My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist”. This is the leitmotif of the new film from acclaimed Bollywood director, Karan Johar, and it is one that bears repeating, especially in the United States. The main character, a Muslim Indian with a severe case of Asperger’s syndrome (played by Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, who is also Muslim), first utters these words at the very beginning of the film, as he is being roughly searched at the San Francisco Airport. This sets up the primary theme of the film (which Khan’s grandmother whispers to him before he sets out for America), that “there are two kinds of people in the world, good and bad”. What she doesn’t explain to him, however, is that most people tend to extend this judgement over entire groups and have difficulty making exceptions to their deeply-ingrained prejudices. Such is the painful truth that Khan is forced to learn in post-9/11 America, as a series of anti-Muslim attacks unfold, including one that results in the death of his wife’s son, who isn’t even Muslim. Khan sets out on a Gump-esque mission to tell as many people as he can that he is “not a terrorist”, including President Bush, to whom he shouts those very words at a rally and is promptly tackled by Secret Service and sent to an FBI detention center for interrogation. Khan is eventually released when 2 young Indian journalists come across video footage of the rally to corroborate Khan’s story but the point has been made: In the US, if you’re name is Khan, you will be treated like a terrorist.

And, in the great tradition of art imitating life, this point proved true last summer when Shah Rukh Khan, the actor who plays Khan in the film, was detained at Newark Airport for over an hour of “secondary questioning”. Khan, one of the biggest film stars in India and the developing world, was on his way to New York to promote “My Name is Khan” when this tragically ironic twist of fate occurred. Below is a news report from CNN-IBN.

By the end of the 2.5hr film, Khan has also journeyed to a poor village in the deep South and helped save a Black church after a Katrina-esque hurricane, establishing an interesting link between Muslims and African-Americans and setting up the requisite happy ending (a natural law in Bollywood) in which the newly-elected President Obama awards Khan for his heroism and says to him, “Your name is Khan and you are not a terrorist!”. Then everyone in the crowd joins hands to sing “We Shall Overcome”  and we all live tolerantly ever after.

But only in the movies. In the real world, President Obama has fallen well short of the promise he made last April, in Cairo, “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect…” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Doha last month, at the US-Islamic World Forum, conceding that the Obama administration had not yet fulfilled many of the policy changes it had promised and pleading for patience. The Secretary spoke of “shared responsibility” but the general consensus across the Arab World is that the US commitment has been “insufficient and insincere”. One need only look at the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and ongoing occupation of Gaza, the still-open detention center at Guantanamo, the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, diplomatic deadlock with Iran, and a lack of cultural engagement to see why Muslims the world over are feeling disappointed and deceived.

Meanwhile, the White House recently announced the appointment of a new “special envoy” to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 states that considers itself the collective voice of Muslims around the world. And, guess what… the special envoy is a Muslim! But, luckily for him, perhaps, his name is not Khan. It’s Rashad Hussain, a deputy White House counsel who helped prepare the Cairo speech last year. The White House touted this appointment (which comes less than 1 year after the State Dept.’s appointment of a ‘special representative’ to the Muslim world, Farah Pandith) as “an important part of the president’s commitment to engaging Muslims around the world based on mutual respect and mutual interest”.

In honor of all the Khans in the US and abroad who are not terrorists, I will withhold my applause until Mr. Obama and his special representatives actually get on the stage and start singing the song they promised us all we would hear. They may not know the exact words yet, but it couldn’t hurt to take a cue from one very hopeful Hindi film and just start humming “We Shall Overcome”.

Here’s a teaser from the official website with a familiar melody…

And here’s the full trailer with English subtitles